Artist Corrie Wessman has found her niche in irreverent illustrations of animals dressed in human clothing. She talks to us about growing up in a neighborhood of boys and her multidimensional personality.
What our childhood like as you were wing up? Was your family close?
My childhood was a bit of an adventure! I grew up in a neighborhood full of boys, so playing with Barbies wasn’t always on my radar. Street hockey, water gun fights, and building bike ramps were more the norm. I was a shy kid with frizzy hair and glasses, but I almost always had a best friend, plus my family (siblings and cousins) and the neighborhood kids to spend my spare time with. Being the oldest of three children, I definitely have some oldest child traits. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a deep sense of responsibility for my brother and sister. I wanted them to be safe and out of harm’s way. I would sometimes dream of saving them from falling off cliffs—I was that serious! We joke about it now, but I think I will always feel that sense of responsibility.
Did your parents encourage art when you were young? Did they view it as a legitimate profession for you as an adult?
To be honest, I never thought about seeking a full-time career in art, so I didn’t talk with my parents about art as a profession. When I started CWdrawings, I knew there was some hesitation from my family, but I think they’ve come around to the idea of art being a feasible career choice.
What is your background when it comes to education and art? Have you had other careers?
I studied art in college with a minor in psychology. I considered pursuing my master’s degree in either counseling or art therapy after my undergraduate work, but (surprise, surprise) I changed my mind. I worked with adult students at my alma mater for a few years in the graduate office. I also worked as a nanny for a while and as a personal shopper and assistant manager at Anthropologie. My résumé is certainly not boring!
What artists or designers do you admire?
I love the work of Amy Judd. Her paintings take my breath away! I also am completely captivated by the work of Alex Kanevsky, a modern impressionist painter. And Garance Doré, a fashion photographer and illustrator, is so inspiring to me.
What made you choose animals for your tongue-in-cheek drawings? How do you decide what outfits they should wear?
I started CWdrawings by offering custom portraits for people, but I soon realized that I needed a little more creative freedom. When I made the decision to start drawing animals, it was like a lightbulb turning on in my head. Every single detail didn’t need to be perfect, and I had more freedom to add whatever I thought enhanced the portrait. I love the phrase tongue in cheek, so when I finally put two and two together and realized it was the perfect description for my drawings, it was as if the stars aligned. My pencil portrait work has a more serious nature to it, while the outfits add some wit and charm—the perfect combo, in my opinion! I often don’t know the outfit an animal will be wearing until I start drawing. The pose and attitude often inspire the clothes.
Do you have animals of your own?
I do! My studio mate, Noreen, is a calico cat.
What art mediums do you use, aside from pencil, to create the animals?
I have painted in the past and love oils, but where I’m at in my life right now, I love drawing and am primarily sticking to pencils. But—spoiler alert—some light paint washes have been showing up in some new work I’ve released this spring.
How long does it take to complete one drawing?
I’ve learned a lot about myself since I started CWdrawings, and I now realize that shorter projects are totally my cup of tea. A drawing that I can start and finish in one day is what I like most. I love the final product, so when I can see that sooner rather than later, I’m a happy camper!
What is your motivation to make art? How do you fight creative blocks?
I still don’t know the solution to creative blocks. When it comes to business, it’s sometimes hard to balance work and inspiration. I don’t think I have that quite figured out! For me, at least a part of it is talking with close friends, family members, and other artists who know me personally and can help piece together fresh ideas. I’m a verbal processor, so I need to talk about and research projects before I’m ready to commit. More important than anything else, I’d say, is to not give up. When blocks come up—and they always do—leaning into those uncomfortable feelings and fears is the hardest yet best thing to do!
Do you feel like you’ve found your calling in art? Or do you have many callings?
I feel that I definitely have many callings. There are so many things I’m passionate about, and art is one of them. For a while, I saw myself only as an artist and actually felt a little empty. When I tried to fill myself up with things that fit into the category of artist, I felt that I was missing something. I now know my passions aren’t limited to one area—my interests are vast! Yes, I’m an artist, but I’m also a sister, friend, daughter, wannabe cook, coffee sipper, wine taster, listener, confidante . . . and the list goes on.
What is the vibe of your studio?
I have a little studio space in my bedroom. I try to avoid looking in the direction of my bed to resist the temptation of mid-afternoon naps with Noreen! Smells are important to me; I almost always have either a candle burning or essential oils diffusing. I find that music is often distracting, so I either work in silence or listen to podcasts—somehow a conversation via a podcast keeps me more focused than music does.
Where do you live now? What do you like about the area you reside in?
I live in a small country town south of Chicago, Illinois, called Peotone. It’s great! I’ve spent a few years of my life working and living in the city, so a smaller, quieter town is exactly what I need! My favorite part of living here is taking long, leisurely bike rides down country roads.
What would you consider to be a perfect day?
I smile thinking about this question as I transport myself to my perfect day. I’m more of a “take it slow” kind of girl. I want mornings to last all day, so a huge cup of coffee and the company of people I love are both a must. I am so fortunate to have funny, witty people in my life. Between my best friend, my sister, and my sweetheart, I enjoy good laughs, good food, and plenty of hearty conversation. And a long bike ride on a sunny day is always a good idea.
If your friends were to describe you, what would they say? How would they describe your sense of humor?
They would say that I am compassionate and deep thinking, I appreciate a quick wit, and I am a little too paranoid about safety! When it comes to humor, I like to banter and incorporate sarcasm any chance I get.
If you had to leave quickly and could only take one thing from your house with you (not including loved ones and pets), what would you grab?
If I weren’t already wearing them, I’d grab two simple gold chain necklaces that are particularly meaningful to me. One is a charm necklace from my mom, which was hers when she was in high school, and the other is a simple gold chain necklace from my sweetheart.
What are your current passions, either inside or outside your field?
I’m currently obsessed with food blogs. I love simple cooking with few and fresh ingredients. These days, I check the Food52 blog regularly for new recipes and delicious food inspiration.
What does your life look like outside of your career?
People are most important. I love spending time with the ones I love: my family, my close friends, and my honey. If I’m being intentional, I love to purposefully set time aside to cook. I’m involved with my church and my youth group. I enjoy mentoring high-school-age kids, so it’s a blast hanging out with them on a weekly basis! I also try to work out regularly when I can.
What’s next for you?
The product line in my shop is growing, and a new twist on my custom pet portraits is just around the corner. Stay tuned for both!
For more info, visit cwdrawings.com.