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Drawing from the Ups and Downs of the Artist Life

Drawing from the Ups and Downs of the Artist Life

An Interview with Lauren Purje
Daniel King | Jun 30, 2017

Cover art for Lauren Purje's book, and a selection courtesy of the artist. 


Drawing from the Ups and Downs of the Artist Life

An Interview with Lauren Purje

By Daniel King


“In her debut collection, Purje’s cartoon self, charming in her pluckiness, tells tales of hope, angst, disappointment, or empowerment in a way that lingers.” —Publishers Weekly


Drawing inspiration from her own life, work experiences, and the everyday challenges of being an artist in the contemporary world, Lauren Purje (B.F.A. 2009) creates comic strips for the arts site

Her book of web comics You Might Be an Artist If…, published by Top Shelf Productions in early 2017, garnered positive reviews, sold out its first printing, and promises a second edition on the way.


Where and what are you doing these days?

I’m in Brooklyn and comics are pretty much my main focus right now. I’m also working with another writer from Hyperallergic, Tiernan Morgan, to develop a book illustrating post war essays on art theory.  Besides that, I’ve been doing commission work for friends, things like that. For a day job I’ve been working for an old art instructor from the Art Student’s League, helping him out in his studio. Robert Cenedella—I work for him a few days a week. I first met him in high school through a program at Linworth Alternative Program in Columbus, Ohio. Their program is based on experiential learning—students work within the field that they’re interested in pursuing. During my senior year I set up a trip to New York City to work for [Cenedella] and take his classes at the League. Since then we’ve stayed in touch. He’s been a mentor of mine all these years, since I was 17, I guess. He’s a much more traditional, oil on canvas, kind of painter. He works with political themes and satire.

What about your move to New York City did you feel was most difficult?

Well, after I graduated from OHIO, I saved some money at home first. I knew it would be expensive to live to New York City, which is ultimately where I wanted to end up. When I did move—I didn’t have any specific job lined up—I was willing to take anything really. I’d worked retail since I could have a job, so the bar couldn’t really be set any lower than that. As long as I could manage some time to paint I figured I’d be happy enough—but, as time went on, with the limited space I had, I gradually started to draw more and paint less. Drawings are easier to file away, and to pack if you have to get up and move quickly. So, painting became less and less my focus over the years mostly because of convenience, oddly enough. As far as jobs, I started out finding work in art supply stores, and then I landed a gig at a gallery. All of which helped me stay connected to the arts in some shape or form.

So, I would talk to people at those jobs, the customers at the art supply store, for instance. Opportunities would sometimes present themselves. I was better at doing that sort of “networking” when I was a little younger. I was more willing to do almost anything if it involved seeing how other artists in the city worked. It was all new to me, and even the crappy artist assistant jobs were good for me, they helped me figure out what I didn’t want to do.

What challenges are you proudest of overcoming?

I worked at this gallery in Chelsea for about four years, which is a long time for me to stay with anything. I got that job early on when I moved to the city. I started as a gallery sitter doing a couple days a week, but eventually worked my way up to be the assistant director. After so long, though, it started to really grind on me. I wasn’t as interested in the business anymore, and I certainly didn’t want to move up to be director. It started to feel like a trap. So, I quit. I then worked for Jeff Koons for a minute, but then quit that, too— spent some time off after that, to gather myself a little bit. I went back home and got my self together, I felt pretty beat down by everything at that point. It was at that low point that I got all my comics together for the book that I recently had published, though. Top Shelf was my first pick for publishing it, so I sent it, thinking it was a long shot, and with in a twist of fate they signed me on. It was sort of baffling. I get lucky sometimes.

How did comics factor into your artistic development?

I didn’t get into comics until really late actually. I just didn’t realize what was going on in alternative comics, I didn’t know what alternative comics were. I found Jeffrey Brown’s Clumsy at a bookstore and that changed everything. He was working fairly quickly, talking about his relationships, his personal life, the mundane, sometimes boring stuff—I love boring comics by the way. They were drawn so simply, but that sort of made them more relatable on a personal level. I always wanted my art to do something like how Brown’s comics made me feel.

When I started doing autobiographical comics I noticed people around me reacted most to the ones that seemed to touch on the artist’s life. At one point I posted my strip The Artist’s Real Intentions on Facebook, and it got shared quite a bit, and that’s how I eventually connected with Hyperallergic. They saw it online and reached out to me, and that’s when we started doing a strip regularly. This was in 2012.

With the series in Hyperallergic, as long as you can read it on their page, and it has something to do with art, anything goes really. I mean, they could always reject it, but that never happens. So, I set all the constraints on myself, the one-page format for instance. Now, I’m trying to break out of some of those habits and do some different form comics. We’ll see how it goes. I think you can tell in the book, since it’s in chronological order, when I start to change things up slightly, when I felt like things start to go a bit stale. Nothing too drastic, but it’s there.

Talk to me about an average day in creating a strip/comic?

They’re due every couple of weeks, so throughout those weeks I’m writing notes in my sketchbook, jotting down ideas, listening to conversations. When a deadline is looming, usually the day it’s due, I go back through all my notes—and usually find one idea will jump out at me, so I flesh that one out. I spend a good amount of time, basically the whole day, writing. The visual aspect is the last part I care about.

I rip off Jeffrey Brown in a lot of ways I think, or maybe I was consciously trying to in the beginning—his line work just feels more honest, but it’s all sort of a trick. The way I draw characters with fewer features—the brain has to fill in those details, so [the readers] are more inclined to see themselves in it. It’s all a trick.

The strip is just drawn on regular sketchbook paper. I pencil sketch it in really loose, and ink over top, erase the pencil, and then scan, and email it. I find no joy in working on the computer to draw, so I avoid that as much as possible. And I basically send in the strip just before it’s due. That drives Hrag (the editor at Hyperallergic) crazy sometimes.

What about your time as a student at OHIO—who did you work with closely while you were here?

I was a painting major. At that time it was all focused on painting—it didn't have the handy “and drawing” moniker yet. John Sabraw was the foundations professor, and he was my advisor. Though he terrified me, I kept seeking him out and taking his classes whenever I could, because I’m a masochist. But, no, he pushed me in a way that other professors didn’t, so it was worth it. He’s still around cheering me on, which is awesome.

Purje (b. 1987) grew up in Dublin, Ohio and graduated from Ohio University in 2009 with a B.F.A. in painting. She moved to Brooklyn, NY in 2010 where she currently lives and works. See more of the artist’s work on her site:


Read more stories from the Summer 2017 Alumni Newsletter.

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