This week’s official geek is a professional Cuteologist and illustrator extraordinaire. Amanda Chronister has been working as a freelance illustrator here in Philadelphia Since earning her BFA in Illustration from Pennsylvania College of Art & Design. She’s produced work for Philadelphia Weekly, The Post Punk Kitchen, and Herbavore Magazine amongst numerous other outlets.
She kindly took a few moments from drawing adorable animal diagrams to chat with us.
How did you get started as an illustrator?
I sort of fumbled my way into it. I was always creative, but I jumped around from writing to drawing to web design to photography over the years. When it came time to plan for college, my friends all encouraged me to pursue art but I was ambivalent. So I went to a liberal arts school at first and majored in “communication arts” for a year (I’m not even sure what that IS) before deciding I was very much in the wrong place.
So I transferred to Pennsylvania College of Art & Design in Lancaster and decided to try and see if drawing pictures for a living was a valid life choice. I think I got my first paying illustration job during my junior year and it was pretty much the best feeling. I’ve been freelancing ever since, although at this point it’s still a side gig. Hopefully that will change one day.
What artists do you think were most influential in developing your distinct style?
Growing up, I was a HUGE Disney fan. Animated anything, pretty much, but this was when Disney was still putting out gorgeous 2D animation on the regular so they were king. Sleeping Beauty, Robin Hood, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid – I kind of imprinted on them like a baby duck.
Especially Hercules, which is weird since who even remembers Hercules? I don’t think Disney remembers Hercules.
But whenever I watch it again, or look at the art book, it’s evident how much it shaped my style. Other notables are Maxfield Parrish, N.C. Wyeth, Mucha, Degas, and Leo and Diane Dillon. Also pin-up artists like Vargas and Elvgren. I don’t think my work looks anything like any of theirs when taken as a whole, but you can’t help but adopt bits and pieces of the things you love.
How did you become a professional Cuteologist and was that your major in college?
It was not! Only because it wasn’t offered. Which I feel is a serious oversight. I’m pretty sure it’s a legit major in Japan, though. I am just naturally inclined toward Cute.
I’ve tried to do other things, because I like other things – I like monsters and dinosaurs and scary stories and things that do not have large, limpid eyes and tiny, tiny noses. But it always just circles back around to being adorable.
For my senior thesis project in school, I did a series of illustrations to accompany Edgar Allen Poe stories. They are super creepy! But even when the subject is a pile of body parts under the floorboards or a girl who’s about to get her teeth ripped out and kept in a box, the end result? Makes people go, “aww.” At this point I just sort of have to own it.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Usually some combination of the internet, pop culture, current events, funny pictures of animals, and whatever ridiculous “what if?” scenarios are running through my head at the moment. Also, boobs. I love a good pin-up. I’ll get on kicks with certain things and draw them obsessively for a while before moving on to something else.
Like right now I’m on a roll with “Accurate Scientific Depictions of Animals,” in which I draw an animal and diagram its parts in a completely factual way that I did not just make up on the spot at all. A while ago I did a series of Republicats – Republicans as cats – that spawned from a conversation with my boyfriend about how Mitt Romney’s real first name is obviously Mittens.
You work has been featured in Philadelphia Weekly, where else might we be able to find your art?
As far as local stuff, that’s pretty much been it. I’d love to do more, though! Because of the cute factor, I end up doing a lot of stuff geared toward kids – I’ve been working with one particular children’s theater for five years running now. It’s fun.
Also commissions from individuals, which I love – portraits and blog headers and party invitations and things. I did a logo for a vegan group in Providence last year that featured a little dinosaur eating the name, because the person who commissioned it basically said, “go wild.” Which means dinosaurs.
But no one really sees that stuff locally, so the best place to keep up with my work is probably just my blog – willdrawforcookies.blogspot.com. Everything goes up there eventually.
What sort of projects are you working on now?
Right now I’m in the midst of a project that I’m super excited about – I’m illustrating a series of chapter books that will come out early next year. There are six books and the deadline is pretty tight when you’re still working 9-5 for The Man, so it’s been a whole new sort of workload, but I’m having a lot of fun with it and I’m pretty sure that when I get a box of books with my illustrations all over them in the mail I’m going to pee myself and then pass out. Hopefully I will get the box up into my apartment before this happens.
Do you think it’s possible to overdose on cuteness? Maybe dumping a basket of Pikachu painted kittens over your head while laying on a marshmallow bed?
Pikachu-painted kittens sound terrifying! You are a monster. But I think it probably is. I’ve yet to reach a point where I’ve become immune to baby animals and their many fuzzy charms, but if you stared at them for a living it would probably happen eventually.
It’s sort of like how one time I marathoned eleven seasons of Law & Order: SVU in about a month (it was a dark time) and by the time I got to the last few seasons I just started skipping all the episodes that weren’t extra super messed up because all the normal messed up stuff was really boring.
Maybe cuteness works the same way, except you feel less dead inside? Check back in a few years and find out if I’ve started making stop-motion cartoons with dead mice to compensate, I guess.