It’s hard to imagine a cute asparagus, until you get a tea towel from illustrator, surface designer and prolific foodie Jessica McGuirl. Although her work is digitally printed, every card she makes exudes a warming, homemade aesthetic that makes you feel like your grandmother lovingly sketched each one by hand.
Many of her designs do begin in a sketchbook. She uses it as a visual record as well as a way to think things out by drawing them, making lists and allowing herself to make mistakes, which she will return to later; “it’s like a visual diary,” she says. When Jessica is feeling the artists’ doldrums, she will return to her sketchbooks to rejuvenate ideas and she will sometimes make new realizations about her work.
Jessica has been making art with many different mediums since she was young, but she realized that she was going to make a career out of it when she was applying to colleges, “No one told me no, so I never thought about not doing it,” she said. She graduated RISD with a BFA in illustration in 2007, but her artistic development was only just beginning.
Jessica’s art underwent a metamorphosis during her second six-month visit to Japan. After having an incredible experience during a winter-session course coordinated through RISD, she returned to Kyoto Seika University in 2009 to take an open-ended course that allowed her to propose her own project. After becoming fascinated with Japanese mythology and monsters, Jessica worked on a series that explored storytelling in both Eastern and Western cultures.
After she returned, Jessica shared a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) package with a friend and she began to draw the vegetables that she received each week. “I started documenting [them] and I realized that I really like drawing food. It is more playful than other things,” she says. Colorful fruits and vegetables are now frequently integrated into her patterns; her use of watercolor adds soft texture and the bold definitive lines add a cheerful quality. She also designs custom family recipes through her Etsy shop, emu attacks. After receiving a recipe, she will do research on the country the dish is from and how it is traditionally used in order to develop the colors and aesthetic of the piece. Jessica loves making custom recipes because “it is a way of passing on tradition and celebrating with people; there is something really joyful about that.”
Jessica keeps her hands busy by designing textile patterns, which she prints through Spoonflower, juggling freelance projects and trying out new recipes. She recently won a design competition on ModCloth, an indie-inspired online clothing store. She designed a dress that was inspired by Twin Peaks; it was moss green, nestled beneath a forest of navy evergreens, starry-eyed owls, coffee cups and adorable logs. The dress is expected to be available on ModCloth this summer.
Why First Pancake Studio? It is a running joke in her family; she is the first child, which she relates to the first pancake that hits the griddle and doesn’t come out quite like the others (as many other first children feel). But in many ways, it is just like her process as an artist. The designs in her sketchbook may not always come out perfect, but after reflecting and refining, Jessica has come up with many original patterns, characters and designs.