Creative Quarantine: Illustrator Betsy Siber

Narrow Escape | © Betsy Siber

Illustrator Betsy Siber talks with Esthetic Lens about her experience during the pandemic. She shares how she has found the balance between creative productivity and learning to appreciate the slower pace of life during our current situation.

1. How are you holding up?

Not too bad, all things considered. I hang out with my favorite people every day and feel more in control of my immediate surroundings than ever before. In some ways, it feels like a weight has been lifted. During the first 2 weeks of quarantine, I took a weird pleasure in seeing my calendar empty; no meetings, appointments, or social gatherings. Gradually, it’s been nice to get back to a few things, but I’m still enjoying this slower pace. 

Palmistry | © Betsy Siber, 2020

A selection of masks | © Betsy Siber, 2020

The state of the world is another story. Watching my country fight each other while it literally burns around itself has been awful to watch. It is a daily struggle to keep things upbeat around here while still trying to raise aware, socially and environmentally conscious kids. I’m doing it one day at a time, just like the rest of us. 

Tree Walker | © Betsy Siber, 2020

2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?

I became interested in illustration because I knew it would be a creative career that I could work into my life as a parent. Most projects allowed me to start and stop as toddlers napped, drawing a few things in a sketchbook in 10-minute intervals. As my kids grew and went off to school, I got used to having more dedicated chunks of time available to me. However, with the current online school setup (I have a 1st and 4th grader), I’ve come to appreciate the flexible nature of my work again. I haven’t taken on a lot of new gigs, but I’m busy enough to satisfy myself creatively. Here are a few personal projects I’ve been up to these past 6 months:

In April, I started a 100 Days Project – 100 Days of Drawing on Photographs. Participants committed to doing something every day for 100 days, with the option of sharing their work on social media. I decided to share photographic glimpses into our little quarantine world with some illustrated commentary. Some days were more serious than others. I got to day 57 before the fallout from George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement led me to reassess my use of social media for a while. 

Pole Painting – Gwen and Matt | © Betsy Siber, 2020

Snowy Egret fabric mask | © Betsy Siber, 2020

In June, I completed a home painting project that I had been wanting to tackle for a while. Our 1892 coach house has a somewhat obtrusive pole in the middle of our first-floor living area. It’s pretty important, as it keeps our second-floor standing, however it needed a little pizzaz. On each of the 4 sides, I painted an exaggerated portrait of every family member, complete with our family cat, Dot. 

Four Lunches | © Betsy Siber, 2020

Throughout the past 5 months, I have been sewing masks. I have designed 2 lines of fabric for Michael Miller Fabrics, resulting in bolts and bolts of quilting cotton on shelves in my studio. I’m not great at following through with larger sewing projects, however, I found I could finish a batch of masks within a few hours, and friends and family were grateful to receive them. These mini projects have become a nice outlet for me. 

Gwen’s Evil Eye | © Betsy Siber, 2020

3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?

Sewing masks has brought me back to my sewing machine after a few years’ hiatus. It is a pleasure to create useful physical objects that are appreciated. I am hoping that as the need for masks wanes, this habit will bring about a return to further sewing. 

Pole Painting – Matt detail | © Betsy Siber, 2020

4. Of the artists you follow, who is handling this particularly well?

I wouldn’t say anyone is handling this “well”, but there are a few other illustrators I follow that seem to be channelling their energy into some fun projects:

Donovan Beeson is a skilled illustrator who also creates fantastic mail art. You can follow her work on Instagram and support her Patreon account, Selvage, here.

Lucy Knisley is a cartoonist who has been wonderfully documenting her time in quarantine with her family and recently adopted cat, Rhino. 

Linzie Hunter’s hug illustrations have brought me great joy these past few months.

Pole Painting – Betsy and Inge | © Betsy Siber, 2020

Portrait of Inge | © Betsy Siber, 2020

5. Are there any artists, filmmakers, albums, or genres you’ve been drawn to during the crisis? If so, why?

For music, Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell album has become my anthem of 2020. It perfectly captures the general sense of malaise this year has brought, with a touch of optimism. 

For books and TV, I’ve been trying to balance education and self-improvement with pure entertainment and escapism. Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods have been on my fun sci-fi reading list, while Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy gave me a much-needed primer on America’s broken justice system. Atlanta, The Watchmen, and Jeopardy! reruns have been favorites for evening TV viewing. 

Portrait of Betsy Siber | © Inge Siber

Betsy Siber (she/her) is an illustrator and surface designer from Chicago. She studied Photography at Columbia College Chicago before going on to pursue a career in illustration in 2014. She lives with her artist husband, 2 young daughters, and a cat named Dot. Her illustration clients include Crate and Barrel, Crate and kidsMichael Miller FabricsTarget, Minted, and Barnes and Noble.

Check out Betsy Siber’s website here.