Fresh AiR: Meet Alex Boersma

LILLSTREET ARTIST IN RESIDENCE:

ALEX BOERSMA

PAINTING & DRAWING RESIDENT 2018 / 2019

Alex Boersma joined Lillstreet in September as our resident artist in the Painting & Drawing department. She’s an artist and scientific illustrator from from Toronto, ON. She received her BA in Geology and Studio Art from Vassar College in 2015, and a Master’s in Science Illustration from California State University, Monterey Bay in 2017. Her artwork engages with the tradition of natural history illustration as a visual record of our changing relationships to non-human organisms. Pull up a chair and spend a few minutes getting to know this lovely artist and her stunning artwork…

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You don’t stick to one medium (which is particularly great if you’re a resident at Lillstreet because opportunities abound for cross-departmental discovery). Is there a technique or element of your craft you enjoy doing most?

Part of the reason I jump around between different mediums so much is because I like working in them all, I can’t choose! I do have a special place in my heart for relief printmaking and scratchboard—there’s just something about working in the negative that is so exciting and satisfying.

Being an artist is hard work, but I imagine being a science artist doesn’t come easy. There are rules to follow! Why do you do what you do?

The thrill of making a discovery, of learning how something works, is an amazing feeling. I love that my scientific illustration work constantly has me learning new things, not only about science but also about new mediums and techniques I can use to communicate scientific ideas to a broad audience. I once had a mother tell me that her son had seen one of my drawings of an extinct whale species and that he was so enthralled he spent the rest of the day researching other extinct whales. That’s what keeps me working—the hope that my artwork might inspire in others the same wonder and curiosity that I have about the natural world and our place in it.

We all have our unique studio set up and the ways in which we go about making art. I once had a professor who wouldn’t start working on his artwork until he swept the floor in the morning. What is something ritualistic you do in your studio space?

I can’t work in silence, so I’ll always have something playing. It can be music, a podcast, an audiobook, or even an old tv show that I just listen to in the background. I also use it as a reminder to get up and move around every once in a while when the song or chapter or episode ends, so that I don’t become completely stagnant.

You’ve reached Zen in your craft. Describe what you’re doing in those moments.

The moment of zen for me comes when I’m close to finishing a piece. I’ve already figured out the colors, textures, composition, etc., and I’m adding in the last few bits and pieces that will bring it all together. When I’m at that stage, I can keep working for hours without a break and not even realize it, just getting totally absorbed in the excitement and satisfaction of those last few strokes that make an illustration really work.

We all have a path that leads us – is yours rooted in science and adventure? What jobs have you done (or do you do) other than being an artist?

On paper, my previous jobs seem a bit all over the place, and not particularly artistically inclined. Through high school and college I worked as a wilderness adventure guide, leading canoeing and kayaking trips. After college I had a brief stint as a whale watch naturalist, before moving to DC to work as a researcher at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. However, every job I’ve had has been connected in some way to the natural world, including my current work as a scientific illustrator.

This is always my favorite question…people out here aspire to be artists. But what do artists aspire to? What is your dream project?

So many dream projects! I’ve really enjoyed doing book illustrations, creating images to go along with a story, and would love to do a children’s book. I’m also obsessed with Lynd Ward’s wordless novels of woodcuts, and would love to experiment with something in that vein. A mural project could also be exciting…

Putting yourself out there is hard work, and that aspect of an artists’ life is often not emphasized in training or art school. Outside of seeking residencies like this one, how do you seek out opportunities to get your work into the community?

As a scientific illustrator, the way I get my work out into the community mostly consists of connecting with clients and collaborating on projects, be it a museum exhibit or illustrating a book or magazine article. A lot of my clients have come to me by referral or through my background in research, or through social media (it’s a pain, but necessary!). But I’ve also cold emailed potential clients, if I really like their work or research and want to work with them, with some success!

As an illustrator, Alex works with museums, scientists, and conservationists, creating visuals to engage the public in scientific ideas. Learn more about Alex BOERSMA’S artwork and research here:  www.alexboersma.com
Take a class with Alex! View her current classes at Lillstreet, here.

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About our Residency Program: Interested in an artist residency at Lillstreet Art Center? Our  artist residencies last for one year, beginning in September, are available in the following departments: Ceramics, Photography, Metalsmithing & Jewelry, Painting & Drawing, Printmaking, Textiles & Fiber Arts. Working across media is both acceptable and encouraged. Our call for application runs early spring. Meet all of our current residents here

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Kate Bek

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By Kate Bek

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4401 N. Ravenswood Ave.
Chicago, IL 60640

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Mon-Thurs: 10am-7:30pm
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Sun: 10am-5pm

About Lillstreet

Founded in 1975, Lillstreet Art Center is a large community of artists and students working side-by-side in a friendly environment which encourages and inspires artistic growth in the individual. Lillstreet Art Center supports the arts through our education program, artist residencies, gallery exhibitions and retail sales opportunities, studio rentals, and arts-based professional development.

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E: lillstreet@lillstreet.com
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