By Illustrator Michael Gibbs
Jean Tuttle was raised outside of Chicago by an artist mother and an art-loving father, both of whom nurtured her love of drawing from an early age. She began her freelance career in Manhattan, where she based her studio for a number of years after receiving her BFA in Illustration from Parsons School of Design.
Tuttle first became known for her highly designed artwork and unique palette, created using line art and overlays, before switching over to the computer, her medium of choice for the last 20 years. Over the years, Tuttle’s illustrations have appeared in many major publications, such as Newsweek, Rolling Stone, and Time magazines, as well as in advertising and corporate communications, and on packaging and products. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jean about her love of art.
Michael Gibbs: Since love is our theme this month, tell us what inspired you to become an artist? What keeps your passion ignited?
Jean Tuttle: I’m not sure people become artists, so much as they are born that way. I also think that most of us are born with a great deal of inherent artistic ability (we all draw and color and desire to create things as kids, for example). Maybe those of us who pursue it as our vocation do so not only out of love and skill, but out of need. For me, putting pencil to paper (or the digital equivalent) is partially for the pleasure of doing it, but it’s also a way I observe, connect, and make sense of the world.
Michael Gibbs: What inspired the image, “Foodie Couples?”
This was a commissioned image for the Hartford Courant, to accompany an article on an observed trend of couples “spicing up” their relationship via their shared love of food — whether spending “date night” discovering new cuisines and restaurants together, taking cooking classes, or tackling new recipes together at home. The article coincided with Valentine’s Day last year, so it seemed appropriate to introduce a strong heart shape, enclose the couple within it, and draw them feeding each other, to make the image seem more flirty and fun.
Michael Gibbs: How does the concept of love inform your art?
Jean Tuttle: That’s a wonderful question. For me, both love and art are not only about passion and pleasure, which should be a given in both, but are also about communication. And both love and art involve discovery, setting aside preconceived notions, and problem-solving, too. You have to enjoy the process involved in both, including the challenges, and not be so fixated on a happy ending or end-product that you miss the signs that will help you get here.
When challenges show up in love, one needs to remain open to grace, I find; in art, one needs to remain open to inspiraton — believing and trusting it will come, and finding ways over time to actively nurture it. I think creating art and falling in love both involve a huge leap of faith and a lot of work, but bring tremendous satisfaction. Life’s so much richer with both art and love in it, no?
Michael Gibbs: Do you have a muse?
Jean Tuttle: I’ve had a few, including an extraordinarily talented artist that I was lucky enough to meet in art school, before my professional career had taken shape. Sharing a bond of artistic passion and discovery with another person is an amazing feeling — especially when you are 17, and in love.
But another muse that I carry within me is my mother. She was a superb creative thinker and designer, had terrific visual instincts, and an unerring eye. Mom also had a wonderful down-to-earth way of describing how design principles applied to life, and life principles applied to design; it was she who turned me on to the joys and value of visual problem-solving. Plus, it was wonderful to grow up playfully interacting with another person through drawing. That may be why I enjoy the collaborative aspect of my job so much, i.e., working with clients.
Mom was also my best audience and my champion, which probably gave me the confidence I needed to pursue art as a career. (Both these muses have since passed away, but they’re still with me — and I’m not above asking for their help when I’m stuck!)
Michael Gibbs: You have created thousands of illustrations in your career — everything from charts and logos to food and health and “Twilight Eclipse.” What themes are you most fond of, and what would you like to do more of in the future?
Jean Tuttle: Anything that involves solving a problem, big or small, tends to delight me, and feed my soul. I love designing logos and icons for this reason, because you have to be concise and clever about what is included, or edited out. I also enjoy change, a trait I think most artists share.
Once I am comfortable working in a style or theme, I tend to get restless and want to try something a little different. I’ve attracted more new clients when I’m engaged in doing something that interests me, and not over-thinking its commercial application.
That can make for some wonderful and unexpected commissions, as well as has meant that different parts of the market have opened up to me unexpectedly at various times. But it also makes it hard to see too far down the pike. Fortunately, I like surprises.
Michael Gibbs: Your work has appeared in Newsweek, Rolling Stone, and Time magazines. Is there another publication or outlet that you’d love to work with?
Jean Tuttle: I’ve never had the opportunity to design a postage stamp, but think that would be a lot of fun, and a wonderful challenge. I’ve also begun to tackle Web design within the last year.
I will always love to create imagery, and find ways to incorporate that into what I do. But there is something very stimulating to me right now about learning not just the mechanics of Web design but the rationale behind what makes a good site, how it supports one’s business goals, what information one should present, and how. The principles and challenges involved are the same ones as for print, but also different.
The Web is a vast other world, and I can feel my mind stretching on a daily basis just to keep up with and absorb what I’m learning, as well as how it’s all evolving. Speaking of love, exploring a new branch within one’s discipline, like Web design, can be like falling in love again. It’s a wonderful, but slightly scary feeling, and I am loving the process of discovery. I am essentially an optimist. I like to think that whatever I’m engaged in learning will enrich my viewpoint as an artist and visual communicator in some way, regardless of how I choose to apply those new skills.
Michael Gibbs: Many people imagine that life as an artist is a glamorous dream job. Would you advise others to get into the art business? Why, or why not?
Jean Tuttle: When I was in art school, a number of my friends were studying acting. They were told to pursue acting as a career if it was something they “needed” versus “wanted” to do, due to it being such a tough, competitive field.
That seemed to apply to being a professional artist, too, but seems to have gotten even more true in the last 20 years. Especially for editorial illustration, which is one of my loves, because it has become a more difficult way to make a living. You may now need to combine it with different kinds of illustration, for instance, unless your work is extremely current and in demand.
Still, I do think there is plenty of opportunity in the graphic arts field for innovation. There is always new media being developed, and with it, new applications and markets, if one is willing to jump in and explore. Even so, being an illustrator or designer is not a particularly glamorous job. In my own experience, there’s very little job security, very long and unpredictable hours (especially for the self-employed), and in addition to talent, you need luck, good timing, and business skills. It helps if you enter the field willing to work hard and find joy in the process, versus in a particular end result.
So no, it’s not for everyone. There are certainly safer, simpler, and more lucrative ways to make a living. However, I personally can’t imagine loving any other profession as much as art. And in the end, for many of us, it really does all come down to love, doesn’t it?
For more information, visit www.jeantuttle.com.
About Illustrator and Designer Michael Glenwood Gibbs
An award-winning designer and illustrator, Michael has been freelancing for some of the nation’s most well-known publications and companies since attending Pratt Institute as a photography and illustration major in the mid-70’s.
His award-winning artwork has appeared in Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Worth Magazine, Consumer Reports, Harvard Business Review, and publications for United Airlines, Verizon, IBM, Sears, and American Airlines, as well as many book covers and posters.
The illustration (shown above) was a poster created for the Virginia Opera Company’s production of I Pagliacci.