Illustrating the Feminine

Since I was a child, I’ve always had an inclination for the arts, especially drawing. I suppose I ended up choosing illustration because it felt more practical to me, there seemed to be more job opportunities directly out of university (as opposed to fine art, which is what initially attracted me) and yet it still allowed me to be creative on a daily basis, to get my pencils and paints out and explore with artistic mediums. Also, as a high school student, I was drawn to children’s book illustration which seemed the most interesting and glamorous illustration gig I could get paid for. 

Choosing my major, illustration, was easy to me. I had wanted to focus on illustration from the very start because that’s where my career goals and interests were. There were classes with titles like “Interpretive Drawing” and “Illustration Techniques”, which involved painting, drawing, using ink and explorations with design and illustration on the computer. None could compare!

At first, everything at MacEwan was magical, but at the same time frightening. It was my first time living in the city and my first year’s classes were at the slick and shiny downtown campus so I’d arrive for classes feeling a little overwhelmed in the new environment, taking buses for the first time and getting lost in human traffic within the building. The class size was small enough, though, that soon enough my classmates became my community (enough so that I eventually married the boy I sat with on the first day of class). As the years progressed to the last year and I moved to the westend campus, the building became my second home and I spent almost all of my waking hours there. MacEwan had real instructors, living and working in the design industry. They were still filled with passion and it was contagious. 

Currently, I’m a stay-at-home mom to two beautiful children. I also run my illustration business from a studio in my home. I’ve been professionally illustrating for 10 years. I also instruct part time at MacEwan University to final year design and illustration students. I work mainly in traditional illustration mediums – primarily acrylic paint.

I’m just starting a new junction in my creative career, which blends my passion for art with my obsession on birth and pregnancy: belly casting. 

Belly casting is a three-dimensional plaster sculpture of a pregnant woman’s body (usually belly and breasts) used primarily as a keepsake for the mother. The idea has been formulating since the birth of my first son, a profound spiritual experience that empowered and changed me. I’d been searching for a way to incorporate birth into my career path, possibly as a doula or midwife, but fell naturally into belly casting while seeking for ideas to enhance my sister-in-laws blessing way, or motherhood ceremony (like a baby shower, but spiritual, a way to emotionally prepare a woman for birth and motherhood).

Most belly casters don’t take the time to refine the plaster casts, they look quite raw and unfinished. My work involves hours of sanding, smoothing and then painting. In the end, the woman gets to take home a piece of art, that looks like their pregnant form. It’s something to cherish and look back on with joy once the pregnant belly is gone and postpartum belly decides to stay!

 I am doing this to be surrounded by pregnant women, to talk with them and learn from them. It’s such a transitory moment in a woman’s life as no pregnancy lasts forever. As each cast is so personal and private, there’s no real political agenda to my work, but I do hope to be with these women to help inspire them, to give them confidence and the ability to accept their changing body.

 I am an advocate for midwifery, home birth, doulas and women. I believe birth has become far too medically-influenced: we have no trust in our own bodies or intuition, and instead rely on a system that has made birth an emergency, instead of a natural event. Regardless of how a woman brings a baby into this world, belly casts are so incredible and unique, just like each birth experience. 

 Right now, I’m focusing on growing the belly casting business. Eventually, when my children are a bit older, I’d like to do some doula work too.

 I still plan on working with my illustration licensing agent (puzzles, gift bags and wrapping paper, paper plates, etc) and doing illustration, so good design is still my focus. 

Good design communicates a message or story clearly and simply and serves a purpose; it’s functional. Great design or illustration activates the imagination, evokes an emotion or thought within the viewer while still being true to the product, story or service that it is accompanying. 

Digital artwork of every variety seems to be growing and evolving.  This artwork is smooth, simple, slick and flat but there’s also a trend to blend hand painted patterns with this work and also a trend in other circles to create painterly type work completely on a digital platform. 

I admire local illustrators like Gabe Wong, Mike Boldt and Amanda Schutz to name a few because they are working in the exact same industry as I am, and are succeeding. I’m starting to follow other illustrators that work from home with children, and that’s also doubly inspiring – people like Jannie Ho and Holly Conger. 

Advice to a prospective student considering a career in design? Follow your passion in life. There’s no use enrolling into a program you like just because you think it’s going to make you money. Try to find what makes you happy, or feel fulfilled, because when you get out into the “real world” you’re going to be doing that activity for a long time. There are lots of job opportunities in design and it’s so varied – there are limitless opportunities with what you can do with design training. From being your own employer to working for someone at a big firm, painting to creating posh logos for the latest cupcake company, working at a museum arranging artifacts. It’s limitless!

Crystal Driedger is a local illustrator. You can review her work at www.crystaldriedger.com

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