Virginian of the Week: Clara Cline
By Keya Vakil
July 2, 2019

Welcome to the second edition of ‘Virginian of the week. This week, we interviewed Clara Cline, a Richmond-based illustrator. Her work can be found on her websiteFacebook and Instagram.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What brought you to Virginia?

I’m a lifelong Virginian, born and raised! I grew up in Newport News, went to the University of Virginia, lived in northern Virginia for a spell, and have been in Richmond for about ten years now.

What’s your favorite thing about living in Richmond?

Richmond has such a hometown feel, even for a transplant like myself. You quickly start to identify with the city and it gives you a sense of personal investment in it. It doesn’t feel like there are too many casual Richmonders; folks are passionate about the city and the direction it’s headed in as it grows, and I love being in a place where there’s a sense of responsibility to the community.

How long have you been involved in art? What are some of your favorite mediums to work with?

I’ve drawn and created as long as I can remember, but never really thought about it as a realistic career path — I actually majored in philosophy in college. My current creative path started while I was drawing at nights to cope with a string of ill-fitting administrative jobs. It was around the time that Etsy was getting started, and it was just a fun creative outlet.

When I decided to go full-time, it forced me out of my comfort zone in terms of mediums; I had to take on as many freelance projects as I could, so I started working with things like calligraphy and large chalk murals that I had absolutely no experience with.

I’ve always been a risk-averse person, so it was such a positive experience to be pushed out of the nest a bit and have to figure out a way to make it all work. Chalk walls are still one of my favorite projects; it never gets less daunting to face a large wall with nothing but a piece of chalk, or less satisfying to successfully complete a large format piece.

What would surprise people about being an illustrator?

I don’t actually get to draw all that often! As my small business has grown, my work has become much more administrative than creative; the average day is more ordering shipping supplies, responding to emails, and bookkeeping than creative work. When I started this work I naively didn’t take into account the “business” part of “creative business”, so there’s definitely been a learning curve.

What’s most exciting to you about your work?

I love being able to collaborate with other creators. I used to be stubborn about wanting to make everything myself, but I’ve started to appreciate being able to rely on the expertise of others to create the best possible product. My letterpress prints are all printed by my friend Colby from Post Rider Press, and it’s such an honor to have my work realized with such craftsmanship. It still feels a little magical to send her a digital file of my illustrations and then see them come to life in this rich, tangible way.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

I think for any small business owner, creative or otherwise, the weight of the responsibility is heavy. Once you start, there’s not really a comfortable resting point — if your business is doing well, you need to commit more to maintain that growth, and if it isn’t, you need to come up with a solution immediately. There’s a strong urge to work all the time, and it’s easy to burn out. Since having kids, I’ve gotten a little bit better about defining my work-life balance, but it’s still a constant struggle.

How does where you live inform your work?

I’ve always been pretty influenced by changes of scenery, and I can sense a difference in my creative flow even after a few days away from home. My Field Guides to the fifty states series has been a sort of in depth exploration of how our environments shape our perspectives, and I’ve become increasingly interested in how our mindsets and sense of self are informed by the physical environment. I’d love to be able to do an artist’s residency and see how it shaped my work.

Why did you decide to focus on wildlife as the primary theme of your art?

I’ve always loved wildlife, and I think a lot of that was fostered on trips to the Virginia Living Museum as a kid. I originally made the Virginia Field Guide as a little celebration of our state’s wildlife and happy memories spent at the museum, but it clicked with folks in a way that spoke to something deeper than people just liking wildlife. I started to get requests for other states, and I became really taken with the idea that there was this physical backdrop to people’s lives that was shaping collective memories and perspectives, and yet, the environment is so often an afterthought.

Do you have a favorite piece you’ve worked on recently or one you’re most proud of?

I recently made a storm drain mural for the City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities to raise awareness about stormwater pollution in the James River, and it was the perfect mix of a cause I’m passionate about, getting to work on Virginia-themed art, and a medium I wasn’t fully comfortable working with (I love a challenge!).

What do you do when you’re not working?

I always wish I had a cooler answer for this! I have a 3-year-old and a 7-month-old, so my free time is usually centered around them. My daughter is at the age where her curiosity about the world is just insatiable and it’s been so fun. Toddlers are scientists in the truest form and I’m always trying to stoke that fire in her, so we spend a lot of time at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens or out on nature walks at Pocahontas State Park.

What’s the best song you’ve listened to lately?

It’s a throwback, but I’ve been listening to Halah by Mazzy Star on loop lately. It’s got this sort of ethereal “western dive bar dream sequence” feel that is just so perfect for summer.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

Related Stories
Share This