Chicago Illustrator Spotlight: Sanya Glisic

By Betsy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 8, 2011 5:00PM

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Sanya Glisic's Struwwelpeter, courtesy of Spudnik Press Cooperative.
If you’ve had the pleasure of reading Struwwelpeter, you’d know not to suck your thumbs because the tailor with the giant scissors will cut them off. You’d know to eat your soup or else you will die. And you’d know not to tease children who are different than you because such behavior results in getting dipped in black ink. If you haven’t yet learned these important life lessons, no need to worry. Chicago illustrator and Resident Artist at Spudnik Press Cooperative, Sanya Glisic, has created a new version of the 1844 book that uses whimsical and playful illustrations to capture the dark, often morbid sensibilities of the cautionary children’s tales. According to Spudnik Press, “Glisic’s book is a hand-bound piece of art containing 36 pages of full color screen prints utilizing an astonishing array of overlays and halftones.”

Since Glisic is presenting Struwwelpeter at Quimby’s on Thursday, we checked in with her to see how she became involved with such a strange piece of literature and how she cut off a piece of her thumb - just like the naughty thumb-sucking boy - in the process.

Sanya Glisic presents Struwwelpeter, Feb. 10, Quimby’s, 7 p.m.

Chicagoist: What appealed to you about Der Struwwelpeter and why did you decide to illustrate it? What are you trying to say with your illustrations that isn't said in the text?

Sanya Glisic: I've always been interested in old stories and folk tales. When I was little, both my grandmothers would read me old stories, such as Brothers Grimm tales… Part of me identifies with these old tales, their ability to be incredibly grotesque and at the same time, very simple and beautiful. There is also another part of me that is deeply attracted to the dark humor, the absurd.

When I came across Der Struwwelpeter, I had this immediate feeling that I wanted to illustrate it. I love the bizarre characters and the overall morbid, playful mood of the book. Der Struwwelpeter was originally written and published in German in 1844 by Heinrich Hoffmann, and contains ten cautionary tales of misbehaving children. Just really weird, gruesome, incredible stuff.

With illustrating, it's exciting to think of the different ways to creatively approach a story or a character. IIlustration doesn't need to be a literal translation of the text; it can complement the writing in many ways, play with it, expand on it, imagine more of the story, and so on. From the start of my project, the book was meant for an adult audience. I wasn't interested in re-wording or re-writing the stories, in order to make them more politically correct or anything like that. I wanted to emphasize the grotesque and the unusual aspects of these tales with the illustrations.

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Sanya Glisic's Struwwelpeter, courtesy of Spudnik Press Cooperative.
C: Can you talk a little bit about what went into illustrating, screen printing and hand binding these books?

SG: Everything has been pretty hands-on, from drawing to screen printing and eventual binding.

A lot of the initial time went into the planning stages... Figuring out how to convey the story and the character, how to compose the image. I also wanted to experiment more with color-overlays and halftones, geometry and the space of the page. After the pencil drawing is finalized, I move on to the inking process. I really enjoy this part of the process, and I can't rush through it. The finished illustration is then scanned. In Photoshop, I decide where to place the text and the colors. These color separations are printed out on transparencies in preparation for the screen printing process.

This next part is a bit technical; I'll try to sum it up as best I can... The transparencies are exposed to a screen using a light-sensitive coating (similar to dark-room photography). The screen is then sprayed down with water; this stops the exposing process. Once the screen is washed out, it reveals a negative of the image. The printing is done by pulling a squeegee over the screen, thereby leaving an impression of the image on the paper. This process is repeated all over again for the second color, then third, and so forth. With each new color, the pages are stacked back up and printed again one by one.

One of the greater learning curves for me during this project was bookbinding. I decided to do case-bound, or hard-cover books. Although it's much more work, I wanted the exterior to compliment the artwork on the inside. There are numerous steps involved, and I won't go into great detail. Let's just say the process, which involves exact measuring and trimming of all the components, and lots of sewing and gluing, has been an incredible learning experience. It has also deeply renewed my appreciation for math skills. Ironically, I lost a small piece of my thumb while cutting with a utility knife very late one night, and it made me feel like the tailor-man was coming after me as well.

C: How did you get involved in Spudnik Press? What about what they do speaks to what you do (aside from the more obvious "illustrations" part)?

SG: I took my first-ever screen printing class at Spudnik Press in 2008. I was curious to learn screen printing as it was not offered at my university. The class was run by Angee Lennard and Megan Klawitter. Both were amazing teachers, very informative and encouraging. I just fell in love with it and kept doing it since.

What I love about Spudnik Press, and the print-shop concept in general, is that it's really more than just another way to make art. Since you're working in a communal setting, it's an opportunity to be part of a community, collaborate on projects, exchange ideas and materials, and so on. Making art can be so isolating at times, and it's really wonderful to have somewhere to go and work and perhaps run into some friends doing the same thing. It's also incredibly fun and rewarding.

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Sanya Glisic's Struwwelpeter, courtesy of Spudnik Press Cooperative.
C: Aside from this book, what are some of your other favorite themes or subjects to illustrate?

SG: I will always love illustrating stories, especially strange and unusual ones. I also really enjoy working with poetry and music, where I can experiment more with abstract and surreal imagery. I love drawing creatures, monsters, bizarre people and characters, weird stuff from my head... I would love to get more involved with comics, picture-narratives, different ways of storytelling, especially the more experimental and independent stuff.

C: What brought you to Chicago and why have you decided to stick around for a bit?

SG: I moved to Chicago in 2007 after receiving my BFA from the University of Arizona. At the time, my boyfriend was accepted to the graduate program at SAIC. He has since received his MFA and is presently teaching here. Chicago has some amazing artists, printmakers, illustrators, comic artists... some of my favorites. It's a very accepting and inspiring community, and I've made some wonderful friends here.