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As an illustrator, Diana Schoenbrun drew the neighborhood she lives, drinks and walks in, like it’s a caricature of the life she lives as one of its locals. Using the landscape of local buildings, the characters of people and the story the streets provide her walk becomes a story, panel by panel illuminated by ink and color.
She speaks with The Coffeetographer about her walk, her artistic process and the accessibility of art, when in a coffee shop – a space where everyone goes eventually ,for coffee or tea. Now, in Conversation with Schoenbrun.
c.: Are you a coffee or tea drinker?
DIANA SCHOENBRUN: I am both. I am more of a coffee drinker. I tend to drink coffee in the morning and in the afternoon.
c.: Do you have a default drink?
Diana: No. I really like a strong cup of coffee with half and half. I like, just straight coffee – hot or mocha. I’m in grad school at night so I get them occasionally at night; mochas are very rich.
c.: Indeed. I have yet to get into them. On a coffee date to Colson Patisserie, I saw your artwork along the walls, beautiful panels. What’s your relationship to Colson Patisserie,?
Diana: I’ve lived in Brooklyn for ten years, and I’ve lived in Park Slope, on ninth, for six years. I have two, go-to coffee shops, and a couple cafes and bakery. And, I usually go once a month or every other week. At Colson, I really like the chocolate croissants, the basked oatmeal and obviously, the coffee. It’s a nice little neighborhood café and the people are really sweet.
c.: Good adjectives for a local spot.
Diana: So, my relation, I did a project called ‘Walk in Brooklyn’, it’s an accordion book that I made. I’ve shown at Café Grumpy before but I was thinking for ‘A Walk in Brooklyn’ I thought the wall space at Colson would be good, there’s a long white wall and more of a sit down space. I approached the owner and here it is.
Colson appears in the panel as Patisserie. The artist chose not to state the full and actual names of places, allowing the art to be a representation of a walk in Brooklyn.
c.: How did you choose which places would make a cameo in the project?
Diana: All the images have significance; they are based on buildings in the neighborhood. The panels are printed in sections. Its 15 feet long and I wanted the matchup to be as seamless as possible.
c.: The beauty of Colson to me and this art exhibition is anyone’s ability upon entering the space, to travel within it, through your drawings, all while standing in line.. You look over your shoulder and take a journey, literally through the art, which is your own journey – so we’re traveling as you’re traveling.
Diana: This is why, if I could show it somewhere, it couldn’t be broken up.
c.: And, the importance of a good long wall, like Colson’s. So, you’ve shown here, and you mentioned Café Grumpy and Red Horse which is now Muse Cafe and Tea. What draws you to showing your work in coffee shops?
Diana: I’m an illustrator, so I’m dealing with more commercial art than fine art. The nature of being an illustrator is that it allows my work to be more approachable. For coffee shops, I just go and get something to-go and/or I’ll sit. I think if I can envision that my work can be good here and it’s a right setting, then it’s like my work being in an ideal, everyday situation. When people come to the coffee shop, they’re running errands or just getting a coffee because they need it, or to have a talk with a friend. I think you might notice my art, or you might not notice it but it can fit it with a neighborhood environment.
c.: That’s perfect, because all the coffee shops you’ve shown in are in the neighborhood. How does it feel for you to walk into a coffee shop in a neighborhood you live and have your work around you?
Diana: One thing is, is that some people don’t notice it. I definitely realize that it’s not going to be noticed by everyone. Most coffee shops don’t have any art on the wall. If you’re frequenting a place hope you take notice and its something different even if you’re glancing at it for a moment. I think without changing the space, it might add a subtlety.
c.: I think the topic of your art also plays really well – a walk. Walking, and neighborhoods and coffee shops are parallel interests. How did walking become a theme for you?
Diana.: It’s a project that I worked on for eight months doing an MFA in grad school. It was a night program and I did this for a class. The assignment was to walk around your neighborhood; it was open ended.
c.: What was your walking process like?
Diana.: I took lots of photos and walked around for hours – window fronts, storefronts, buildings and architectures. Buildings are like characters. There’s a laundry mat that has some crazy signage, I took a photo of that and then I took photos of people for reference. I look at images but won’t draw exactly from them. I look and get inspired and then draw from my head; it’s more of a stylized way that I work.
For the accordion book, I wanted each panel to be a building. And some streets aren’t exact but are inspired by places. Like, the bakery is ladybird, the pizza place is Smileys, and the patisserie is Colson’s. I only did ten panels, which is a lot but maybe I’ll keep going.
c.: What is your artistic process?
Diana.: If I’m out, I draw people on the subway a lot. I carry a sketchbook with me and sketch if its not too crowded and I don’t look too stalker-ish, I draw people for portraits and I do observational drawings. When I’m at home I draw from my head, pretty common for most artists to do observational as well. So I’ll draw in pen and ink, for a book project I’d most likely start with thumbnail sketches. I like drawing on paper – I need the physical pen to paper for my process and I adjust the layout.
For the accordion book, I take my pencil drawings and go over them with a brush; I use Dr. Marten’s black ink for line inking. Sometimes I do digital color, paint or watercolor. For the Brooklyn book, it was ink on one layer, digital color on another. The thing about ink is I’ll scan it, line work is on one layer and then that gives me the flexibility on the second layer.
c.: Thank you for sharing, it’s always nice to hear about an artist’s process after experiencing their work.
Diana: My style has changed a lot. I did acrylic painting before. Doing my grad program, it changed. People were saying my lines were my strongest feature and I thought I should be a painter. I think I was fighting it; I’m more of a drawer. I think more with line whereas some people think more with shapes. For me, it’s about the line as the starting point.
c.: How conscious are you of storytelling when you are starting your lines?
Diana: I’m project oriented. Sometimes it might be written down and I’ll have it in my head. And sometimes I’ll draw it and it’ll change. About 60-65 percent is story driven and the rest is free from, there’ll be a portrait and I might have a story in my head of who they are. Sometimes I do some projects just for the sake of fun, without having a certain intention in mind. You’re supposed to be able to just play.
c.: One can visit the world’s best art museum and experience art and in the same breath some of the worlds best coffee shops and experience the same. Can you speak to the value of art in a coffee shop to the culture?
Diana: Art in a coffee shop is about making art more approachable. You don’t have to go to a gallery. Sometimes you go to a gallery and you get uncomfortable, you’re not the one whose going to buy the $1,000 art project, or the guard is looking at you. So an environment like a coffee shop makes it more approachable for people. I see a lot of illustrated work on the subway as well. I think that idea is like having my work in coffee shops, it makes it feel like people can approach it and observe it. It reaches a broader audience and that’s good – everyone drinks coffee or tea.
For more about Ms. Schoenbrun and her work, visit here.