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Interview with Chicago Artist Freddie Levin

Chicago illustrator Freddie Levin has seen me naked; apparently at the time, I asked her if shed ever held a gerbil in her hand. I can envision the headlines now:

Prominent (my imaginary headline, my word choice) Blogger and Botanical Artist Eat Shrooms and Cavort Nude.

Im throwing the drug reference in there because the gerbil question–and the fact I dont remember asking it– make me sound completely high.

Truth is, I was two years old and in the bathtub when I asked Levin, a longtime family friend, my very important rodent question. Years later, I still get naked for artists, and Levin remains a thriving illustrator and business owner, successfully marrying art and commerce.

Our Town Was becoming an artist always a goal?

Freddie Levin I’m not even sure I would say I ‘became’ an artist any more than I ‘became’ a girl. I think the wiring was there from the start.

OT Describe your aesthetic.

FL I’m an illustrator. All my images are pieces of stories. There is always text even if it is wordless. I don’t know what you would call my style, quirky, maybe? I like to put antlers on everything.

OT Who influences you?

FL Joseph Cornell, Maira Kalman, French Medieval Manuscripts, George Cruikshank, Vermeer, Mary Zimmerman. I’m all over the place.

OT Whats your daily process like?

FL I draw every day. I’m either working on a book or an assignment from a publisher or a series of botanical works or filling sketchbooks. I keep several sketchbooks – one for ideas, one for observational drawings and one for planning. I take ballet and yoga classes in the morning and spend the afternoons and evenings on art work. It’s a pretty sweet routine.

OT Whats your favorite medium?

FL For illustration, I have these wonderful overpriced Swiss crayons. For sketching I like Prismacolor pencils. For botanical illustration I have two methods: gouache on black illustration board or sepia ink on toned paper. I love art supplies. Forget candy or jewelry. I can be wooed with pencils.

OT Where do you find inspiration?

FL For my botanical work, I am constantly struck by the elegant way a plant is organized. I find beauty in very ordinary things like a twig or a seed pod or a feather. The rest of my imagery is just the crap that is floating around in my head and which I find endlessly amusing.

OT Why start your own licensing company, what does that entail?

FL My licensing business, Polkadot Pie, is an off shoot of my illustration work. I was already doing things like greeting cards and game boards so moving to creating images for stickers and paper goods did not seem like a leap.

OT Any advice for an artist who wants to follow her bliss without starving?

FL Figuring out how to pay for health insurance is probably one of the greatest financial challenges you will face. Be flexible and willing to re-invent yourself as the market and the technology changes. Freelance work has its up and downs [so] have several ways to make money. And it doesn’t hurt to have a partner with a steady job.

OT What are you excited about working on right now?

FL I’ve been working on an iPad app with the publisher of my Draw books and cartoonist Steve Barr. It will be available any day now through iTunes and is called 123 Draw. It’s a very cool instructional drawing program and I would really like a million of you to please buy it.

To learn more about Levin visit

A freelance writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum, when not writing, supports herself as a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s Story Studio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. Shes kind of looking forward to it actually. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez