Although Brooklyn artist Jillian Tamaki describes herself simply as an “illustrator and cartoonist,” she contains multitudes. As an illustrator, she contributes regularly to the New York Times and national magazines such as the New Yorker. She’s published two books of her own work, Gilded Lilies and Indoor Voice, which collect her comic strips, drawings, and collages, as well as two graphic novels, Skim and Awago Beach Babies, created in collaboration with her cousin, the writer Mariko Tamaki, and holds a golden needle in the age-old art of embroidery.
There is, throughout all of Tamaki’s work, an aliveness, an energy—call it a creative chi. You see it in the precision and confident looseness of her lines, the sweep of her brushwork, the sort of ease that comes with hours of diligent practice. However, her resistance to computer manipulation and “overpolishing,” suggest that the adult Tamaki isn’t that different from the kid she was growing up on the plains of Calgary drawing horses.
This sense of play, Tamaki says, is essential in nourishing her creativity: “It’s the idea of engaging and paying attention in the moment; I don’t like starting out something with an image as to how it will end. It’s much more interesting to just make decisions by analyzing what the work ‘needs.’ That’s just what makes me happy, though. However you get to the end of an image is fine with me, if it’s what makes you satisfied.”
Tin House didn’t commission Tamaki to do the cover of our Beauty issue. We discovered it, the way one might find an exquisite shell half-buried in the sand. The title of the piece is Choices, which is ironic, given that from the moment we laid eyes on it, there was no question it was what we desired: A piece of art that reflects the many facets of beauty explored in the issue. Physical beauty, personified in the image of the tiny Venus on a half shell, the natural beauty of sand dollars and undulating sea grass, and the mysterious black background—the beauty in what we cannot see. Perhaps your face reflected back at you? Perfection.
To view more of Jillian’s work, visit her website.