October 27, 2017

In Black & White

A Dallas-based illustrator tells her story between the lines

Local illustrator Brie Underhill’s love of comics started early. When she was young, her grandfather clipped black-and-white comics out of the newspaper and would lay them out on the table for her to read when she got home. Fast forward to today and the University of Dallas grads own comic stylings are receiving notable exposure, including inclusion in group exhibits at Umbrella Gallery, the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, and Shipping and Receiving in Fort Worth. This weekend is your last opportunity to see her work on display at Cultivar Coffee. Here, we chatted more about her drawings and place in the local art scene.

Why comics?
It’s visual literature—effective and poignant because the creator can convey feeling or a message in just a few short panels. I strive for that. I’m a visual/spatial learner so being able to connect images, words, and feelings in one portable form of art is very seductive to me.

What’s the message you want to convey?
A universal understanding. I want people to read my comics and feel sadness, loneliness, strength, whatever. I want them to realize that in their solitude, they’re not alone because it’s a universal feeling. You are unique because you experience that moment by yourself, but you’re not alone in your hurt. I want people to find comfort and beauty in that.

What did your time at University of Dallas teach you?
One of the most important things I learned at University of Dallas was how to effectively manage my time. As insignificant as that sounds, it has been such an important skill that applies to my daily life and my artistic practices. Since my work is so time intensive, being able to plan and effectively use my time has been priceless. Overall, I really liked the school itself. I loved art history lectures, studio presentations, and critiques. I wanted to cram as much knowledge in my brain as possible. That yearning I had in college has carried over into how I collect material for my comics. I want to have an understanding of every situation; I want to “get” people.

How does the Dallas creative community affect what you create?
Both the Dallas and the Fort Worth communities have had a huge impact on me. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some insanely supportive people, but there’s a little bit of healthy competition that pushes us all to create more quality work. It’s hard to be stagnant with active, talented friends. My artist collective, PGS or Peachy Girl Squad, has been one of the most important support groups for me after I graduated. Olivia Cole and Lindsay Ellary are loving, brutally honest, creative…pretty much ideal art world inhabitants. It also helps they’re my best friends.

Tell us about the themes that inspire you.
A lot of the dialogues in my comics are direct responses to conversations I wish I was a part of or was too taken aback by to formulate a good response. Many of them are about reliving a moment I lost and taking it back—winning it. I am an empathizer and my comics are a way of dealing with that.

What do you credit your personal comic style to?
Two of the most noticeable style choices I make are the intense use of repetitive line work and the lack of colors. The use of black and white comes from several inspirations, but mainly weekday newspaper comic strips. I also see it as a challenge. Without the use of color, how can I pull emotion from the reader? My affinity for detail comes from my love for early illustrators like Harry Clarke. Not only does it serve as a way to pull the viewer’s eye into the piece, it has a calming effect for me. I use detailed illustrations as a way of meditation and relaxation.

With your experience, what advice would you give our readers?
Enjoy silence: soft static, high pitch hums… Listen. You don’t have to ask to receive answers. You’ll learn to filter out the good from the bad and things will get easier.

The Details: Cultivar Coffee, 313 West Jefferson Boulevard. Through October 31. Artwork is on display and for sale until closing. brieunderhill.com

Photo | Brie Underhill