SFZF Featured Artist Interview: Sophia Foster-Dimino

Sophia Foster-Dimino never saw another option but to make art her living. Though she knew from a young age that she was an artist, she still worked vigorously to become better at her craft. She tried one process after another. When something inspired her, she would study it over and over again. The people around her encouraged her to keep going. The result of all her efforts can be seen below. Her line work is light and captures movement. And her work shows the amount of thought she puts into each piece. Every detail has a purpose. Every line leads you to another treasure, be it color, figures, or words. 

1) When did you start identifying as an artist? 

I drew from an early age, though that isn't unusual. When I was in kindergarten, I remember using a whole box of markers to draw a rainbow. The rainbow had every color available, including black, grey, brown, and pink...

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When I was a little older, in second or third grade, I remember drawing a painstaking copy of a Lisa Frank folder that had a bunch of orcas on it. Some older girls from the fourth grade saw it, and they were incredibly impressed. I kept it up in my free time after that. I think that's the way these things usually go – you're marginally better at something due to chance, you get a little encouragement at an early age, and that's enough to shape your entire identity.

I attended the MICA pre-college program when I was fifteen, and that cemented my desire to pursue art as a career. I think that was the single biggest turning point – I never really considered any alternate life options after that.

2) What artists / writers inspired you or influenced you the most? 

When I was just about to graduate from high school – like, the day before graduation – my classmates and I were bumming around a used bookstore in Sarasota, Florida, and I found a beaten-up copy of 32 Stories by Adrian Tomine. It's a collection of his Optic Nerve comics. Before then, my experience with comics had been limited to Sandman, Archie, and whatever random manga I could find online... Optic Nerve was my entry point into another world of comics. Within a few months I'd found Chris Ware and (most importantly) the anthology Mome, which I read religiously all through college right up until its demise, just after I graduated. It had been my masochistic fantasy to be featured in it one day... it introduced me to some of my favorite cartoonists: Eleanor Davis, Lilli Carré, Jim Woodring, Gabrielle Bell, Anders Nilsen, Dash Shaw, David B., Laura Park...

Right now I am very drawn to geometric cartoonists like Joost Swarte. I take influence from fine artists, graphic designers, and furniture/ designers as well. One of my favorite cartoonists right now is Henry McCausland – his work is transcendental to me. Some of his comics have been published by Nobrow, and he puts his own zines out as well. I love how he mixes perfectly rigid, cold, metal architecture with chaotic overgrowth... shrubs, twigs, ferns, and grass. His worlds seem bleak, but his characters are very happy-go-lucky, and innocent.

I don't read as much as I want to, but I love Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Borges, Atwood, Nabokov, Lem... I like stories of solitary narrators exploring strange buildings, thinking about human interactions from a remote point. Within the past year or so I read a novella called The Invention of Morel, by Adolfo Bioy Casares. It was very much in line with my sensibilities. I like it when fiction is serious in theme, but not in tone. I also like pulp, I love sci-fi. I really love movies and videogames, and I try to let them pollinate my art somehow...

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3) What is your creative process like?

I do a lot of planning. I do many layers of sketches. Drawing takes a long time, for me. I'm trying to loosen up a bit, but every time I adjust my process it seems like I just get further into a rut. I'm getting more and more obsessed with geometry, so I draw all sorts of intense guide lines for my images. Sometimes it's all too much and I wind up feeling like I'm just assembling Ikea furniture, there's no spontaneity to it. To try and combat this sensibility, when I draw in my sketchbook I go straight to ink so that I can't be too much of a perfectionist.

Right now I think my process is controlling me a bit too much. I should find some way to snap out of it. When I was in college, I did a lot of printmaking. I've had some trouble finding facilities in San Francisco (or maybe I'm just dragging my feet) but I think a change of medium would help me to relax. I've been wanting to try ceramics, too.

4) What's the most challenging thing about creating your work / the most rewarding thing about it?

Because I tend to over-plan, I sometimes get stage fright while drawing, and nothing comes out right. All it takes is a little bit of resistance and I start worrying – "Why isn't this working? Have I lost it? It's true, I'm a fraud after all..." It's exhausting to try and shake loose from self-doubt. It follows me through almost every piece. And then I can't wait to just get it out the door and never see it again. Only months after completing a drawing can I look at it with any kind of objectivity.

It's rewarding when I discover something new by accident. Or, conversely, when I point all my efforts at a visual problem and finally figure out a solution. When things go well, it's usually by accident, though.

I feel happiest when my peers like my work. I'm friends with some insanely hard-working and brilliant artists, and their encouragement really makes it all worthwhile.

I'm also happy when someone has an emotional connection with my work. Sometimes complete strangers are on my wavelength, they take something empowering or encouraging from my drawings, and that really makes me feel like it's all worthwhile.

5) How important is it for you to have a strong community of artists? Where did you find that community?

Community has been really important for me during the past several years. When I was in college, I was severely introverted, a real shut-in... I felt moody and restless all the time, and it was difficult for me to make a lot of friends.

When I graduated I moved to the other coast, and I found myself even more isolated. I eventually reached a breaking point and decided I needed to commit myself to making connections with people no matter how uncomfortable it made me feel. So I joined twitter and started reaching out. It's been a huge help, an amazing comfort, to see that the artists I respect so much struggle with the same weird anxities. I've learned a lot (both "professionally" and personally) from engaging with the twitter illustration/comics community. And I've made a lot of friends.

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Whenever I go to a major comics convention like TCAF, SPX, MoCCA, APE, etc, I wind up running into all these people. I guess this is a situation unique to artists, or at least people who are buried in the culture to the degree that I am, but knowing someone personally really enriches their work for me, it contextualizes it. I've fallen in love with a lot of obscure or difficult work after getting to know the person who made it. I know that comics and illustrations are meant to stand alone on their own merits, but I also feel like one of the most important functions of art is to bring people together, so I guess I'd say that I have both objective and subjective lenses for viewing creators and their output.

6) When did you start tabling at conventions/ or Zine Fests?

The first convention I attended, aside from miscellaneous anime conventions in high school, was MoCCA in 2009. I did table there with some fellow RISD students (we were juniors at the time). I went to SPX for the first time shortly after, though I didn't exhibit. I first exhibited at TCAF, which is my favorite convention, in 2012.

For major conventions, I usually team up with Collective Stench, which is a loose group of ~15 artists – many of whom graduated from RISD, many in my class. They are all incredibly talented and I love to table with them.

SF Zine Fest and APE were a big part of getting to know San Francisco and the local community, for me. I actually first talked to my future husband at Zine Fest 2011!

7) What do you take from events like SFZF, as an exhibitor and as a guest?

Conventions and fests are exhiliarating and a great way to meet new artists (or ones you've covertly obsessed over for months). They're also pretty stressful for me, since I have trouble with crowds. But, to my relief, most artists seem to feel the same way. We all manage. It's a good experience overall.

When I was in college I worked at the school library, and I remain very attached to the concept of a physical library, even in the face of e-books, etc. I've taken a long time to figure out what it is, in particular, that I like so much about libraries, and I think it's something similar to what I like about conventions and fests. When you live and work online, you learn about the things you research, and you learn about the things your friends buzz about, but there's not really a digital equivalent of wandering in a diverse space and finding something completely unexpected. I really value being able to stumble across something I've never seen or heard of before, something I didn't even know was possible. Humans have a natural desire to organize and make things coherent, but the world is never going to be like that, so although the effort is noble (sometimes) it's just as important to accept and absorb how unique and uncategorizable people (and their various forms of expression) are.