Lost in the Cute & the Perverse: An Interview with Crystal Mielcarek

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Introduction

horror: an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust.

American horror is usually synonymous to a small list of stereotypes associated with the country’s movie industry. Perhaps that is the reason why American artists seem to give much emphasis on the shocking and disgusting part of their horror. This trend has led to a relatively monotonous approach to the visual aspect of the experience. Monotone city landscapes, thick outlines, mostly human shaped monsters. Even when done well, at some point this style gets tiring.

Why am I mentioning all this? Because I love it when I see individuals going out of the genre’s cliches and trying their own thing out. Crystal is one such artist who has a very clear vision of where she wants to lead her work. Can horror be found in cute, non-human colorful figures? Can cuteness be found in disturbing gore? Crystal is here with us to answer to those and many more questions.

The Interview

Introduce yourself to us.

Hello! I’m Crystal Mielcarek, a painter and illustrator from the Detroit Michigan area. When I’m not working on my art, I enjoy watching conspiracy documentaries, juicing and playing video games.

What got you into drawing and when did you start thinking of it as a profession?  

I decided art would be my career at a very young age.  I remember always drawing and coloring as a child, and in second grade I got some positive reinforcement from my teacher who wanted to keep a drawing I did of the candlestick from Beauty and the Beast. To me, it was really important to get better at drawing what I saw. Starting out like most kids, I recreated my favorite cartoon characters.  Most of my coloring books ended up being used as references for drawings rather than books I actually colored in. In elementary school I started my first business, I had a binder with clear plastic sheets that I used as a “portfolio” and a friend of mine would take “commissions” from other kids on the school bus.  I’d trade drawings for lunch money, erasers or anything else of value an eight-year-old would have. It was a lot of fun.

Talk to us about your creative process. How do you come up with an idea, what are your preferred mediums and how long does it take to complete a project?  

Everything I do generally starts out in one of my sketchbooks.  I sketch a lot, brainstorming and taking notes is a huge part of my process. There are times where I will just draw a circle in my sketchbook and suddenly a drawing appears. It feels almost entirely subconscious, which explains the dreamy, surreal nature of a lot of my works.  My completed paintings are acrylic on canvas or wood panel and drawings are generally ink and graphite. Depending on the size of the piece, sixteen to eighty or more hours can go into a single painting.  I have been doing a more refined graphite and ink sketch a day and those are an hour or two to completion.

 

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Hanged

 

One of the first things that attracted me to your work was the mix of innocent, child like forums and themes with a creepy, horrorish twist. Why do you focus on that combination?  

I love beauty, but a darker beauty.  That combination has always attracted me. My favorite children’s books were things like “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” which had a dark sense of humor and “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” which had nightmare inducing illustrations paired with humorous horror stories. These must have stuck with me because I’ve loved that style since then.  My first comic book when I was in high school was called “The Happy Angel of Death”. It was about a cute angel of death who just wanted to make friends.  Sadly, everything he touched would die. People say that everything can be broken down into the category of either love or fear.  Using both at once messes with people’s heads and I like that.

How difficult is to promote yourself when your style includes such contradictory qualities -especially for the people who are interested in the cute and pretty instead of the horror part of your work?

I’m lucky that a lot of people seem to respond favorably to that combination. Not every one of course, but enough that I haven’t had much of a backlash.  I’m sure that it would be a lot easier on me if I picked one or the other as a focus, horror art buffs might not like my work because it’s so cute and vice versa.  People are also more than welcome to commission me for something closer to either side of the spectrum, so there is almost more freedom to do everything because I don’t limit myself. It’s definitely hard to know where to draw the line, so I don’t.

In your artist’s statement you mention that “secrets, conspiracies and the occult” excite you. What aspects of your work do you believe portray the elements the best?

Many artists like to spell out their message or use symbols and ideas widely recognized. I tend to leave elements of mystery in my pieces, leaving a lot up to the interpretation of the viewer.  Personally, I feel like that makes my work even MORE relatable since people will come up with their own stories and ideas about individual works. This is also a hard line to walk since many like everything spelled out for them.  When I’m watching a mainstream film, there are so many obvious foreshadowings and symbols that I can predict the end. I hate that. I love being surprised. Everything is not always what it seems.

Are there other subjects that you haven’t featured in your work yet but would like to draw in the future?

I have always wanted to do a series of works based around the seven deadly sins and heavenly virtues.  Right now I’ve got a start on a set of girls based around the astrological signs and I’ve also designed and painted a full set of tarot cards that I’d still like to release in some way as complete decks.  I think many times the themes in my work sort of present themselves to me. Right now I’m focusing on my “girl” characters.  My current project is doing a sketch a day for a year, which I will eventually compile into a small book.  It’s been really interesting watching the evolution of the sketches as time goes on.

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A sketch a day for a year – Day 73 – Fairy pair

You also enjoy creating objects such as kokeshi dolls and earings. What does this activity provide you that drawing doesn’t?

A lot of the time these are experiments. The kokeshi dolls and nesting dolls I’ve made were a lot of fun.  It was a lot different painting on a round object as opposed to a flat canvas.  What originally got me into doing “dolls” was the Munny toys from KidRobot.  I got one a few years ago for Christmas and had a lot of fun customizing it.  That piece got into a gallery show.  I don’t do a lot of sculpting, but I do make hot dog and poop earrings and charms.  These were also experiments so I’d have more of a variety of items when vending at art shows and conventions.  I find my poop charms are a great conversation starter at shows and kids are drawn to my table because of them. The poops are displayed on a handmade toilet seat that people can clearly see from a distance. Many come up to me at shows and ask why I have a toilet seat on my table until they take a closer look.  It always makes them laugh.

In contrast to many contemporary artists you seem to love traditional over digital mediums. Why is that?

Man, sometimes I wish I didn’t! It is definitely the trend these days to do everything on the computer. There are many reasons I prefer traditional.  It’s about the physicality of the items, feeling the paint move across a canvas, working with the texture and getting my hands dirty.  I feel so detached whenever I have to do something on a monitor instead of on paper. I use technology a lot, for layouts, composition, sizing, transferring ideas and color studies but when it comes down to it, my pieces are always objects that exist in the physical world.  Digital works seem almost too crisp and too “perfect” and I enjoy working with the happy accidents that occur when you put a brush to canvas. To me it’s a huge part of the experience.

How much do you value feedback? How has the response to your work been been thus far?

So far I feel really lucky in regards to this.  Artists sort of have to value feedback to a point since it is their livelihood and for the most part mine has been remarkably positive.  I’ve met so many great artists and people over the years and many support the work I do. Some critics are expected of course, there is no way to avoid that or, especially these days, not offend someone. I try to have honest discourse with people who express concerns about the content of my work.  Everyone has his or her opinion and all I can do is try to explain mine.  Like I said earlier, it’s hard to draw a line so for myself, no subject is taboo or out of bounds. It’s important for me to be able to express myself the way I see fit and people generally respect that.

 

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Voodoo Doll

You’re a graduate of the College for Creative Studies with a BA of Fine Arts. What is, in your opinion, the importance of art education for contemporary artists?

I got a lot of technical skill by going to college. You are forced to draw and paint every day.  Those are very good things, but I feel my education missed a lot of key points when it comes to applying art skill in the world of business.  There definitely needed to be more focus on the fact that as an artist you are a business. My suggestion would be to go to college, but not necessarily an expensive art college. Education and experience are important, but there are so many resources these days where if a person has the motivation and desire they can teach themselves. Never stop learning. An expensive Bachelors Degree of Illustration is not going to snag a good paying job, the work you show in your portfolio is what people pay attention to in this field.

You’ve had a lot of experience with both group and solo shows. What are the difficulties and joys of sharing your work with the public? Do you have any fond memories from these exhibitions to share?

Doing smaller group shows with artists that I’m friends with is tons of fun. I did a show a few years ago at Starkweather Gallery with Kill Taupe and Heather Hansma and we had a great time coming up with a theme, picking out the beverages and food and putting together the show itself.  We had a lot of control over what we did there and it really felt like OUR show. Solo shows are a bit more intimidating since I have to make sure I have the body of work to fill whatever the area is. A lot of times the curator takes care of food, drinks and advertising so it’s a lot less hands on.

How easy is it for an artist to make a living doing what you do?

It’s definitely not easy.  I probably work longer hours now than I did when I was working a steady job.  As a freelance artist I have to be really good at budgeting, especially for times of the year when work is scarce. I jumped in headfirst when the office I was working at relocated and I was laid off. It felt like the right time.  A business will grow slowly and patience is definitely needed. Every year gets better and I love what I’m doing.  To me that’s more important.

What is your biggest motivation as an artist and as a person?

As an artist and as a person it was always my intention to do my own thing.  I never wanted the traditional 9 to 5 workday, spending all of my time as a corporate shill making some big business more money and doing nothing to further myself in the process. Money was never a huge important thing to me, but passion for what I’m doing really drives me to work hard. My passion has always been with the arts so this was the only decision that made sense to me.

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From your list of drawings, can you pick one you feel the most proud of?

Currently it would be my painting “Centipedes” which I made specifically to enter in a show called Surreal Salon in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The piece was a big step up for me and I was really excited to be accepted into that show. There were nearly 600 entries and out of those only 60 pieces were selected for display. I am really proud of that.

 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow your steps?

Draw every day.  Improving technical skill is always helpful. Make sure your strongest works are presented in your portfolio. Never give up and never compare where you are to other artists.

What should we expect from Crystal Mielcarek in the near future?

More fun creepy and cute artwork is in the works and a lot of larger pieces. I generally work on the smaller size (11 x 14 inches and smaller) but I’m delving into stretching my own canvas and working much larger for a couple pieces.  I’m trying to do things that will take me more time in between smaller works and convention restock.  I’m only happy if I have multiple pieces going on at once. I’m also working on ideas for a Patreon with some fun rewards and another solo show in May.

Thank you for this great interview. Is there anything else you wish to share with our readers?

Find a passion and go for it.  If you like poop, make poop and someone will love it.

You can find Crystal Mielcarek on

Her personal website

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