Meet Stacy Michelson, the artist behind the Good Food blanket

Listeners of KCRW are going to be hearing the name Stacy Michelson quite a lot over this coming week, because she is the artist behind the Good Food tote bag, and now the Good Food blanket, that is being used as part of our pledge drive.

DnA wanted to meet Stacy herself and talk to the person behind the sketches that are on this blanket. Here’s part of an interview she did with DnA’s Frances Anderton:

Stacy Michelson and Frances Anderton on the new Good Food blanket. Photo by Christopher Ho.

DnA: Where were you raised? Did you study art?

SM: I’m from Huntington Beach, Calif. originally. So just down in the O.C. I moved up here about nine years ago. I did go to ArtCenter but it wasn’t for illustration, it was for film actually. I was super into music videos growing up. But yeah, I had a great arts program at Huntington Beach High School that had screen printing and photography. So I really got into doing those kind of graphic arts in high school.

DnA: That’s actually pretty great to hear because we so often hear about the arts education being cut from high school particularly in the public school system.

SM: Yeah. And it was just regular public high school and I had an awesome teacher that would let me come after class. I started making bootleg band T-shirts because I would go to concerts and I always saw T-shirts that were cut for guys, they weren’t cut for girls, and they had weird graphics on them. So I started making, like ‘oh I should draw this, this Blur T-shirt would look awesome.’ And so I’d make a couple for a few friends and then that turned into the teacher being like, ‘you should do your own brand.’ And I always put that in the back of my mind. But then when I started working in restaurants and doing signs for people and those kind of things, I was in a band at the same time, I started doing a lot of merch. It all kind of came together and I could use screen printing and I could use illustration to sell products, and I thought this is the best way to sell products and for people to see them.

DnA: Before we delve deeper into this, what was your instrument?

SM: Oh, singing and guitar.

DnA: Cool. Do you still do that?

SM: In my bedroom.

The Good Food picnic blanket. Photo by Christopher Ho.

DnA: But in terms of the trajectory your life went on, it went into the direction of the art.

The Good Food tote bag

SM: Yeah. Well, most artists have a day job so I was always a big foodie. Hence, loving the Good Food program on KCRW. But because you work in a restaurant it’s like you’re that artsy person that has to do a special sign. I feel like doing that kind of stuff, doing it funny, the response that I would get from people, like ‘oh my god that shake has eyes and a mouth!’ Adding personality to stuff, that’s the kind of stuff I love. And then also mix that with the love of food and… my business has changed into designing stuff that’s funny food. It’s like something that’s a teenager would love or somebody that’s a mom.

DnA: Now I understand though that there was a trip away that was kind of pivotal in this journey towards doing food with funny faces.

SM: Yes, Japan. I went there when I turned 18 that was a birthday trip with a close friend. Just seeing the packaging, everything being so fun and funny. I always loved that. I’d pick up something that I don’t even necessarily eat, or want to eat. And you see it and you’re just like, ‘oh my god, what is this, dried shrimp? This is so cute!’ and I don’t even eat shrimp but I want it. It made me think in a different way of how you can use art for all sorts of things that you use in your everyday life.

DnA: Let’s talk about the drawings because the drawings are simple line drawings, sometimes color, and you use a few lines to tell a story. Is that something that you saw other artists doing that inspired you? Is it something that just came completely naturally?

SM: I actually got in trouble for that in high school art class, where the teacher’s like, ‘you need to learn about shading’ and I was like, ‘no I want to draw this little cartoon!’ So I don’t know where that style actually comes from. I had a Shel Silverstein book growing up, I had Ed Emberley, I had those kind of things. But the actual fine art, I was never good at those classes. I’m not good at drawing a face or a still life.

But I do think with art, I think it’s cool that there’s so many different ways that you can do it and not one way is a right way or wrong way. And ultimately you look at something and you see something that makes you feel something, so you like it or you don’t. I think somebody can walk by my products and they either like them or they don’t…

I grew up with a lot of people that did art and made things and when you take screen printing and you see how you can draw something in your sketch book one day and the next day burn a screen, and then the next day you’re wearing the T-shirt, that just makes it all seem possible. Like, OK, well, what else can we do? With pins, nobody’s physically making those pins here. You design them and then you send them out and then they get made. But with my patches I’m drawing those, screen printing them, cutting them down, they’re getting sewn. You can actually make something happen and make products. The focus on handmade stuff is really popular right now and people want to spend their money on that.

DnA: There’s a big trend as I’m sure you’re aware right now for coloring books for adults. And clearly the trend is because there’s some kind of desire right now for people to use their hands and put pen to paper because maybe the digital world we live in takes us away from that experience. Do you feel that people like your work because of the kind of handmade finger to pen to paper quality it has?

SM: Yeah. And I do a lot of shows like Unique LA type design shows, and it is always surprising to me that people can’t believe that I drew something and then I made a product of it and they don’t know how that comes together… And I feel like that’s a really exciting thing when people don’t know anything about art. And I feel like people always say, like, ‘I wish I could be creative,’ but maybe that’s why the adult coloring books is a popular thing. People want to be, but they’re intimidated to be, creative. I just always say go for it because you can try to cook and it could be terrible. But either it turns you off of cooking or you want to cook more. I feel the same way with art.

DnA: Who are some of your favorite characters right now, of your own characters?

Stacy’s coffee cash pouch

SM: Well, Grumpy Coffee. I think people connect with him because they see him and they go, ‘oh my god that’s so my boyfriend,’ or like, ‘oh my god that’s so me, I can’t do the day without a cup of coffee.’ I wake up and I’m like, what am I going to do today? I’m not Grumpy Coffee but I love him because he’s just a grump. And then there’s Miss Matcha. I love Japanese stuff, so I love matcha. And then Jimmy, he’s the sprinkled donut. I love those guys. I love the coffee cash pouch just because it reminds you to get coffee, to be happy.

DnA: So drawing the food started because you yourself got interested in food. And that’s because you took a position on food. As in, there are certain foods you don’t eat.

SM: Oh the vegan thing. Yes. I am part of the vegan cult. It is true.

DnA: But in terms of drawing food, you draw the whole panoply of foods, is that right?

SM: Yeah. And with the picnic blanket there is a picnic scene and that idea was thrown out from one of the Good Food producers, like ‘hey what if Stacy drew a blanket and it could have a picnic and sandwiches and cheese and all that?’ And at first somebody might think, ‘oh you don’t eat cheese,’ but nowadays, I mean, I had a party and I had all these vegan cheeses. So I just look at that stuff and it’s food that I eat. Like if I see a BLT and I’m like, ‘oh my god I want to eat that.’ It is my version of a BLT. I know I’m warped but that is how my brain goes. If I’m drawing something for Good Food it doesn’t bother me to draw a chicken. Maybe I’ll make it kind of funny. There was a chicken recently that had a beer in his hand, that kind of thing. But yeah I’ll draw all food, I do not discriminate.

Michelson listens to each episode several times and often does further research to make sure she’s getting all the details right for her illustrations. Here is the Breakfast Show, illustrated, which aired on March 13. Photo by Camellia Tse.

DnA: The drawing for Good Food is what brought about this relationship that led to this blanket. Are you literally sitting there listening to Good Food with your pen in hand scratching away when ever stimulates the thought?

SM: That started as recording things that I would hear that I wanted to come back to, just like drawing in my sketchbook. So I draw it down, a quick little sketch, or they would talk about something that I thought was really interesting. One time they were talking about dates and how they come from a date palm tree and I looked it up. Truffles, everybody thinks pigs always sniff them out, but nowadays they use dogs. So I drew a little comparison. Then it became this thing, like I should do this every week, because at the end of the year I will have this amazing thing that I could make a scene out of, or just a collection of all these great food facts… so it was a visual Journal of Good Food.

DnA: Would you ever want to merge your artistic talent and your veganism and do food activism. You know, if PETA came to you and said, ‘could you do some drawings for us’?

SM: Sure. PETA, let’s talk, let’s do it. There was a pretty cool thing where Vegenaise turned 40, which is hard to believe, but because I’m known in the vegan community they asked me to design something for their label. Go to Whole Foods and you’ll see it. I did all these little funny sandwiches that are all over the Vegenaise bottles.

DnA: So do you draw straight to a sketch book or do you draw on the computer?

SM: I always draw everything in a sketch book or on paper by hand. I have a light table so I do it the old fashioned way. But that’s only because I’m not very good on the computer. That’s what slows me down. Recently with iPad Pro coming out and that Apple Pencil I feel that that sped up my process so fast. Because now I can draw something, take a picture of it.. you can trace that in a few minutes with the iPad Pencil and Adobe Draw and now you have an Illustrator file. It’s amazing… So having that modern tool has sped up design for me.