Thursday, 5 August 2010

Anita Kunz Interview

Well, to get a good idea of who we are dealing with, you should have a read of Anita's bio on her website. Right, now that you have returned, impressed? Well you should be.

Anita Kunz is a very well respected and highly decorated illustrator and has worked globally for some very big, well known names (such as the New Yorker and Sony Music for example) and produces amazing work. More than that, Anita is an interesting person to talk to. So, as you can imagine, I am very excited to bring you this interview. Enjoy!

The Interview
Hawking © Anita Kunz
We’ll start off nice and light. How were the two weeks you spent teaching for the Art Department at the Illustration Academy in Kansas City? What did you learn from your time there?

Oh yes, those teaching experiences are always great. I was in Richmond Virginia for a week and then Kansas City for a week, teaching at The Illustration Academy/ The Art Department. It’s an intense experience, and the students were enthusiastic and motivated. I always find myself learning from the students. Mainly about their current experiences in the culture. And we do have a lot of fun too!
A question I find myself asking a lot of artists who teach is how important do you find it to teach others? Would you or have you ever considered doing tuition DVDs or books? Have you been asked to do one before?
I really find it important to give back to the community. I remember how powerfully some of my teachers affected me. They were really important to my development as an artist. I would consider contributing to DVD or books, but I’ve never really been asked. Currently I’m doing workshops now and then when asked, but mainly I’m devoting most of my time to TAD.
Borat © Anita Kunz
With the illustration industry in a massive state of change where printed material is in steady decline and digital output is on the rise, you stated as one of the reasons for allowing Google to use some of your imagery as a Darwinian one. That is to say that you, as a professional illustrator, are adapting to the changing market.

Yes of course…if we look back in history there’s always change. We’re in a constant state of flux. The difference is that the change is now exponential. And I don’t understand why artists wouldn’t want to go along for the ride. Sure there are negative aspects to the death of certain markets, but others are opening up. I think it’s important to always reinvent oneself, and develop appropriate strategies along the way.

With that said, do you ever see yourself entering into the computer game and film industries for work? Or do you think you may gear yourself more towards a life as a recurring exhibiting artist, putting more emphasis on your fine art? How else have you found yourself adapting to the changing market?

Hmmm…I’m not sure about gaming, but I would consider film. I’m finding myself moving more toward the fine art area. And I’m really learning a lot about the gallery scene. I feel like I’m starting all over again! I think my adapting has more to do with less specializing and more about trying different markets. I was an editorial illustrator first and foremost for 30 years. I really specialized. I would never recommend for any artist to specialize like that these days!

Censorship © Anita Kunz
With some of your more politically geared work, you illustrate issues concerned with women’s rights, touched upon American socialized health care and also racism (to name but a few!). What other political themes do you tackle and why are they close to your heart?

Well I think that as artists, we have the opportunity and responsibility to contribute culturally to all sorts of discussions. There are so many things going on in the world to comment on! And we all have unique perspectives. In a democracy we all have freedom of speech, and as artists our speech happens to be visual.
Darwin © Anita Kunz
Why do you think culture is an important aspect of human existence and why do you think it is important that artists contribute? How important do you think art is to society and, again, human existence?

Well art has always been one way that we can understand other cultures, and other civilizations, even those that are now extinct. Mythology and story telling is universal among human tribes and societies. My point is that in a democracy where free speech is a precious right, we should be active participants in conversations about everything from climate change to racism to human nature to where we are headed as a species.
You encourage people to find their 'voice' and an outlet for it as, having your own voice, is obviously very important to you. When was it that you first started expressing your political views with your work and what was it that first made you want to do so?

Actually very early on. When I was a young artist I was very influenced by the British illustrators of the day…Sue Coe, Russell Mills, and others who had at that time just graduated from the Royal College of Art. Plus I was looking at Brad Holland, Ralph Steadman and Marshall Arisman. So the idea of expressing personal and political views was something I saw as possible very early on in my career. And at that time, magazines were the easiest way to get political work out into the public. There was far more creative freedom back then.

Questions Every Artist Gets Asked 
Elvis Island © Anita Kunz
In June (2010), you received an honorary PhD from the Ontario College of Art and Design and also The Order of Canada which is Canada’s highest civilian honour. Excluding those, what has been your career highlight to date?

Well that’s right up there! I’ve really had a great year and I’m very humbled and honoured to be feted in that manner. Also, I love anything to do with travel, so when I’m asked to judge shows or lecture internationally I couldn’t be happier! I was asked to help judge an international cartoon competition in Turkey, where I met all kinds of wonderful artists from around the world, including the great Ralph Steadman, and we’ve become friends. That’s really been a highlight of my life!

What was your big break into the illustration industry?

It was really slow and steady in the beginning. But I would say that early on Marshall Arisman helped me a lot. I gathered up the courage to contact him, and I met with him in NY. He helped me by offering lists of art directors to contact, and he also wrote an article for Communication Arts magazine about my work. I’ve always been very grateful to him for his help.
Mouse Owl © Anita Kunz
Dog Cat © Anita Kunz
What was the best piece of artistic advice you have received or can offer?

It really just has to do with tenacity and hard work. There’s really no formula other than that. The harder you work, the better an artist you become! Malcolm Gladwell states in his book ‘Outliers’, that most successful people become so after 10,000 hours of work. That rings true to me!

What do you think is the most effective way you market yourself and your work?

Well I was fortunate in that the magazines who published my work have always been high profile. So for a long time I didn’t really have to market myself much. But these days I try different things. I would suggest that young artists try mailing postcards, construct and regularly update websites, create interesting blogs, enter illustration shows, network, and always try new ways to get your work into the culture.

We have already touched upon the changing illustration market and the need for illustrators to adapt to fit it. As an illustrator and artist, what are your biggest challenges that you face?

I think it’s the same for all of us. It has to do with remaining relevant in changing times. And it’s always about the balancing act between making a living and remaining true to oneself, ones ideals and interests. I think it’s been a struggle like that for artists through the centuries!

Random Questions
Fill Er' Up © Anita Kunz

What film can you watch over and over again?
Oh boy…so many. Recently The Fantastic Mr Fox. It’s so charming…

Do you have any phobias? If so, please list only one.
I guess becoming really sick and incapacitated

If you could go back in time and witness a historical event, what would it have been?
Great question. Hmmmm…I’d say anything to do with Jesus. I’m an atheist, so I’d like to know what actually happened back then and how much is myth!

What is your favourite colour?

Can you play a musical instrument? If not, what would you want to play?
No, sadly not. I took accordion lessons as a child but that’s a subject best left alone.
Thank you Anita for your time! Please visit to view more of Anita's great work and also have a read of her interesting blog


  1. Another great interview, thanks for sharing!

  2. Terrific interview. I love that Darwin portrait.

  3. Great interview, Anita, and wonderful paintings.
    You have such marvelous ideas. I enjoyed this immensely.


  4. great interview. thanks a lot!

    i love the animal illustrations...



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