Summer Pierre's first book, The Artist in the Office (how could you not adore that title) addressed how to stay creative while paying the bills. Great Gals is a compendium of of famous women who are down right inspirational, and best of all, they have Summer's quirky, wonderful illustrations.
What I love so much about this book (and your last one, about being an artist in an office environment) is the quirky spin you put on things. Instead of giving us inspirational women to emulate, you tell us we're already there. That we are those women. Can you elaborate?
We all (men and women) have a story about famous people that says they are special, so that’s what makes them great. This does two things—it makes us want to be them, and paradoxically it discourages us when we our lives don’t seem to match up to this specialness. The truth is, even “famous” people are regular people. The poet Nikki Giovanni, who many would consider fearless and gutsy, started out self-published because she was afraid to try to be published elsewhere. I can relate to that. Susan Sontag sometimes would go see 3 movies a day. Because she is “Susan Sontag” people chalk that up to a voracious appetite for culture, which is part true, but she also did it on occasion for escapism. I can relate to that too. I am more interested in those human aspects than the glory of these lives because it makes me realize that I am in the same world with the same struggles, and I can STILL do what I dream of doing. So many people discount their own efforts and experiences in the shadow of what they consider “greatness” in the media and in history. We get inspired by people, but don’t ACT on that inspiration and leave it to the “experts” to live it for us. Screw that! Let’s all live it! A way to do that is to acknowledge that the lives we have right this second—not in the future, not in some mystical idea of accomplishment, fame, or otherwise—matter.
For 6 years I created an illustrated calendar of great women. Many of the portraits in the book are from various years of that calendar. I have always collected stories and quotes of these great women and it was through that lens that I wanted to make an interactive book based on these stories. I wanted to include quotes that reflected themes that I found in these women’s lives, but also quotes that spoke to me directly, and that lit up the page. I love that Ingrid Bergman said that she had a wonderful life. I love that Lucille Ball likens her humor to bravery. Phyllis Diller’s inspirational spirit is also a punch line. It’s great! I also am a great experimenter of ideas and how to think of new perspectives—so almost all the exercises come from my own journals and questions I have worked through myself.
I think women are tribal people, who often look to other women to relate to, to talk to, to compare notes with, to work their own identities with. I see this book as part of a larger tribe’s conversation. I also try to make things that I would want to find—and as a woman, I would love a book like this that helps me feel grounded in the life I am living now. I hope that women come away with a sense of their own lives being of significance and that they also feel part of a larger tribe of women through history and the present. We’re all in this together.
I think it’s because we are natural multi-taskers and that goes for emotions too. We are constantly multi-tasking emotionally—meaning that we are always negotiating how we feel and what we need with what others feel and need. But like all great skills—and this is a definite skill women have—it has a drawback. That drawback is that often we don’t immediately trust our first instincts in favor of trusting perhaps the second instinct to negotiate. I think this is something we can work on by practicing to trust ourselves. If we trust our abilities and our ideas we can use our negotiating skills for better uses, like tending to doubt and fear (ours or somebody else’s).
Mondo Guerra from Project Runway, how in the heck to make a thriving and extravagant living in the arts, the sad disappearance of bookstores, pie making, and my son’s neck chub.
What question should I be mortified I forgot to ask?
“How’d you get so cool?” Just kidding.