drawing and writing between the lines: an interview with Amy Chu

Tackling issues with post-grad life adjustment, work anxiety, and impulse purchases, Amy Chu (@camoot.journal) gives her viewers a multi-faceted look at modern day adult obstacles and the escapism she finds through imagination and art.

A recent grad of SMFA Tufts in Boston, Amy’s work showcases her interest in vulnerability and storytelling while taking inspiration from personal essayists fascinated with everyday life. Her pieces are balancing acts of fine art vs. illustration, grand revelations vs. fleeting thoughts. Each new drawing always leaving viewers to wonder what deeply personal musing Chu will be inspired to create from next. 

text in image reads:
I wish to be beautiful but / curse my eyes ... one will always be misshapen / WAAHHH / Dug to a stye from infancy. "My my." / "You dress well," they say... / "Yes..." to hide my
“Dirty Laundry, pt. 1”

Christian: Tell me who you are and what you do as an artist?

Amy: My name is Amy Chu (she/her). I’m a recent graduate in Sociology and Studio Art. As an artist I think right now I identify more as a comic artist, but that’s always subject to change.

I try to address a lot of concepts about what I like. In the past I was really interested in the gaze, how we interact with art, and the idea of play. Right now I’m in a weird phase and am still figuring out what I do as an artist.

With my comic art, it’s drawn from a personal perspective not really contained to a certain number of panels. The principle I’m using to guide my art right now is, “How do I turn my journal into something that I can share with people.” 

text in this image reads:
...dirty laundry. My mother used to ask me why I save face in public while keeping such slobbish private habits. / Air it out! / Is there anything as shameless as a narcissist?
“Dirty Laundry, pt. 2”

Christian: Do you start off with the writing first or with the image when you create your pieces?

Amy: I start off with the art. My senior thesis project was a “Book on Love” that took over the course of a year and half. The project was a compilation of sketchbook drawings. During that time I would observe things in my daily life, take the sketchbook to public places, and then stitch it all together into one large book format. My drawings were documenting what I noticed; my writing is figuring out why I’m so interested in these things. They work together to process my obsessions.

Christian: Who are some formative artists, and what are some inspiring stylistic movements that have influenced your artistic style?

Amy: A lot of people tell me that my work reminds them of older children’s book illustration. Anything with beautiful linework I really like and am drawn to. I also love Mitsumasa Anno and the Anno’s Journey books. There’s so much detail and so many inside jokes, you could stare at the page forever.

“Dragon Dentist”

Christian: I’m looking at the work you sent me, Study of the Painting of Jane Grey, and the Dragon Dentist. I’m getting a mixture of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket meets the WB Toons Xiaolin Showdown

Amy: Those ones are a bit influenced by printmaking because that was one of the first artistic mediums that I seriously studied. I was really lucky to be in an after-school program where I could do printmaking for free. Which looking back is crazy because the practice is so expensive. 

With the dragon one, hints of Japanese woodblock printing is what I was really aiming for. I think printmakers have a lot of knowledge with playing of negative space. The process and tradition are also something I really respect.

For the Study of the Painting of Jane Grey, I was thinking about how lines can be used to convey tone through cross hatching. What comes to my mind are Rembrandt’s prints that I think really convey that effect well.

“Study of the Painting of Jane Grey”

Christian: For your writing what are some formative books or authors that inspire you?

Amy: I’d say my Bible for a while was Art of the Personal Essay, by Phillip Lopate. It’s an anthology of a shit-ton of different personal essays. Before that anthology I never knew that there could be this perfect genre that I was looking for, or that there are essays that start with “I.”  It’s a lot of observations, a lot of honesty from the author’s opinion, but it’s not necessarily autobiographical because they’re not talking about their life.

I like how they’re just musing about things in their lives. They’re admitting what they know and what they don’t know, and I feel like there’s an element of “research” to this style of writing. The personal essayist is always exploring their topic from inside to out. The personal essayist will take the tiniest most intimate feeling or story (the personal part), and then expand it by connecting to other readings, deconstructing and musing, and concluding about some bigger concept about family, love, or etc. (hence the essay part of ‘personal essay’). In a way they are offering their expert opinion. In a different way, they are admitting how much they don’t know. 

I hope my comics, my art, and my writing achieve the same effect of “didactic littleness” that I admire in my favorite personal essays. A specific author from that anthology that jumps out to me is Joan Didion. I also like James Baldwin’s essay, “Why I Stopped Hating Shakespeare,” especially if you’re questioning why to study western art as a person of color. Virginia Woolf, I really love her writing for its stream-of-consciousness quality. Annie Dillard is also good. I enjoy her writings about perception and the gaze.

Oh my god, I’m definitely missing some of my most favorites, but those are the ones from the top of my head.

“Smelly Fish Hangry Things”

Christian: Is there anything in art right now that you’re really excited about?

Amy: I think right now I’m just really letting myself do whatever I want. While it was nice to have the school and studio structure, I feel like I can really focus on the narrative quality of my work right now.

I keep saying I want to get into writing, but I’m realizing more and more that writing by itself does not do it for me. It’s the combination of writing and images that gets me very excited, especially now as I’m exploring who I am, and trying to be very honest in my work.

Christian: What makes you happy right now?

Amy: It has to be drawing. It helps me work out my feelings and it feels so physical. When I take time to draw, I’m settling down and really focusing on something. It makes me think but doesn’t require thinking. It genuinely makes me happy. It might be a bit of a cliché for an art interview, but that’s what makes me happy.

“Hangry Things”

 If you’re as excited as I am to see what Amy creates next, follow her on Instagram @camoot.journal. There you’ll find plenty of her relatable thoughts and whimsical style.