Satellite Resident Artist: Caroline Josephine Brown
"I feel like I’m still growing as an artist—I think you always should be."
In this interview, I spoke with Caroline Josephine Brown, our Satellite Resident Artist, featuring pieces from her Surfing Merms project…
Collin: Tell me about how you made it to Chicago?
Caroline: I went to Northwestern starting in 2012 and graduated in 2016. I’m originally from Wisconsin and was born in Florida—my family originated in Florida. My parents met windsurfing. Like, my dad was my mom’s windsurfing instructor. So they moved back down to Florida while I was in college. So the summer after I graduated I went down to Florida, but I really wanted to come back to Chicago and it just happened one of my professors who I was in this special program with called the Brady Scholars, he was going to be on sabbatical in Oxford and he was like, “I need someone to watch my house.” This was during graduation, and my dad happened to be talking with him and he was like, “what about Caroline?” He knew I wanted to come back to Chicago so badly. So he was like, OK! And so I lived in my professor’s house for the first quarter I was back, just watching it. It was a great way to be in Chicago and not pay rent. While I was doing that I was looking for jobs but hadn’t found anything. What I really wanted to do was be a freelance writer, but it wasn’t working out. And so I ended up going to this café in Evanston called Bagel Art and they mistook me, somehow, for someone who had just applied and gotten a job there. They thought it was me, and I was like, “no, but I could use a job!” So I left, they gave me the application, came back a week later with it and the owner happened to be there. He looked it over and he was like, “yeah, this is great. I think you’re a little over-qualified so I’m going to introduce you to some other people in Evanston.” And so he introduced me to two other people, one of them is my current boss. He was, at the time, running to be Mayor so he took me on to help coordinate his campaign. And I’ve transitioned since he won into being an emergency management proposal writer. It’s been a wild ride!
C: What did you study at Northwestern?
C: How did you discover illustrating then?
CJB: I think I’ve always drawn. I remember in third grade I drew Captain Underpants on the board of our classroom, and this kid in the same grade erased it and I remember just being so mad. It’s a very distinct memory. And I’ve done it forever. Even in college I would sketch in class—I’d be taking notes and doodling in the margins. I would make cards for my friends. My senior year I was feeling like I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I felt really lost. My dad—we’re a very close family so I talked with him about it and he was like, “you should listen to this podcast.” It was Tim Ferriss. He’s an investor, but he has this podcast where he interviews people who are experts in their fields, so he’ll interview anyone from a yoga teacher to Jamie Foxx. The one that my dad encouraged me to listen to was this one with Robert Rodriguez who did From Dust til Dawn and Spy Kids. In it he talks about how in college he did comics as a way to be creative and then he hooked on to movies. And I was like, you know I’ve done comics for myself. Why don’t it try to do this? So I reached out to North by Northwestern and was like, can I do comics for you? So I did comics for them, and I did some for this publication that’s at a bunch of colleges called The Odyssey. I’d always been a drawer, and now I was like, no this is something I am. I’m an artist, I enjoy doing this. So I created my own website and from there it evolved to where I was illustrating more, putting it up on Instagram. There’s this artist who I really admire who live where my parents do in St. Augustine—her name is Jenna Alexander—and she was doing these cute doodles of couples and I was like, I can do that! I have so many friends who are in relationships and this would be a great way to build a portfolio. So I reached out to people and put it on my Facebook and was like, "I’m going to do couples very soon" and I had a bunch of people interested. So that was my first theme, I guess. Then, the Surfing Merms—there’s “#MerMay” which was a hashtag on Instagram. I stumbled upon it and it just felt right, given I love illustration and I love the ocean. My whole family—we’re surfers.
C: What medium are you using for these?
CJB: These are all done on my iPad Pro. I do them in Procreate, which is a drawing app.
C: Is that your main medium?
CJB: Yeah. I do digital art and I do pen and ink watercolor. Those are like the two.
C: Was there a specific person or thing in your life that encouraged you to start drawing in the first place or did it happen organically?
CJB: I think it’s always been something—like writing—that I’ve always loved and gravitated towards. Each of my sisters and I have very distinct interests. My younger sister is really into music so she has always been playing instruments. I never picked up an instrument. Like, I could play recorder. And my older sister, she’s very into photography and film. So we’re all really creative. My parents are very supportive of us. My dad is an entrepreneur, but that’s recent—like within the last 10 years of his life. And before that he was in a job that he didn’t really like, but he was like, I need to support my family. So he always told us growing up to find what you love and do it, and we’ll support you. They’re great, they’re the best.
C: Would you say that being in Chicago, or Uptown, has affected your art in any way?
CJB: I think something I’ve done a little bit recently—you know, trying to find time to make art with a full time job—is a series of whimsical Chicago themed pieces. Something I love in literature is magical realism, so I’m trying to imbue my art with that too. I’m also a really big fan of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki and I feel like that’s his whole thing—taking the real and distorting it and making a little bit more fantastic. Something I drew recently was the CTA but I called it “The CAT” and there was a cat on the tracks, like the Catbus. I need to finish that… I love living in Chicago. It’s one of my favorite places. Coming back here really felt like home and it’s where my adult life began. I think [Uptown] is so beautiful because it’s near the lake, near the nature preserve. It’s a very cool vibe—so many different people. I love it.
C: How long have you been in Uptown?
CJB: We moved in April. I was in Lincoln Square before. We moved a lot in the last year.
C: Do you do commissions?
CJB: Yes, I do! I love drawing so anytime I can work with someone to make something for them or a gift for someone else, I love that.
C: Anything else you want to add?
CBJ: I met Margaret at the Kombuchade Homebrew Class and I really appreciated—we all sat around here and it was such a small group that luckily we were able to have some meaningful conversations. And Margaret shared some insights into being an entrepreneur and I really appreciated that. Margaret’s really cool.
Something I really enjoy about creating art, especially on Instagram, is that it’s a really supportive community. While I think this is the first brick and mortar place I’m in in Chicago, I have really found friends through being on Instagram. It’s been a really great way to see how other people I really admire do stuff and then to learn from them. I feel like I’m still growing as an artist—I think you always should be. And it’s been pretty recent—in the last two years—that I’ve been calling myself an artist so it’s been cool to learn and evolve from other people.
Caroline Josephine Brown (or CJB) is a freelance writer and illustrator. Since graduating from Northwestern in 2016 with a degree in English, she has helped coordinate a successful mayoral campaign, written proposals for an emergency management consulting firm, and started her own business. Inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s work as well as magical realism (think Big Fish), her digital and watercolor art often marries reality and fantasy. As a surfer, she loves the ocean, and the work currently featured at Intergalactic Cafes was a part of her #mermay2018 series on Instagram (@cjinwonderland). CJB lives in Buena Park with her boyfriend Andrew and their kombucha SCOBY. You can view and purchase her work at www.carolinejbrown.com.