Artist Spotlight: Morgan Whitlow — exploration in illustration

Category:  The Arts
Friday, November 22nd, 2019 at 11:40 AM
Artist Spotlight: Morgan Whitlow — exploration in illustration by Zeila Hobson
A magazine, 'Ode to Oatmeal,' made by this week's Artist Spotlight, Morgan Whitlow. | Photo: Zeila Hobson

Morgan Whitlow, an illustration major and print minor, was covered in a light dusting of clay and wearing her own hand-crafted earrings when she met with The Spectator in the ceramics studio below Loveland Hall. Her first memory of creating art is illustrating a story in kindergarten.

“I remember creating this little scene with all these ladies in fancy dresses,” she said. “I don’t remember what the story was about, but I remember thinking my picture was pretty good.”

Whitlow was born to a portrait-artist mother and grew up in Bradford, Pennsylvania. However, even as the art in her hometown thrived, she remained unsure.

“I really wasn’t sure of what my path was going to be, even when I got to Edinboro. I really liked art when I was a kid but didn’t see it as a career path. I was always doodling and drawing things for people. I took art classes, but I wasn’t extremely serious about it.”

This attitude towards art changed in her senior year of high school when EU alumna Janelle Turk, a friend from outside of school, came to teach art at Whitlow’s school.

“I took an AP art class with a new art teacher. We’d had a previous relationship, so I did an independent study with her. Throughout that course I did a lot of work, more than I had ever done before,” she said.

“I was held to a set schedule and did everything on my own. She didn’t necessarily check in on me all the time, so I was responsible to keep myself on track. During that year she talked to me about her experiences at Edinboro.”

Turk convinced Whitlow to get her footing at EU and try out the art department before making any decisions about her career path.

Whitlow did just that. Experiences that influenced her were “any painting class,” along with Michelle Vitali’s illustration course. Regarding the latter, Whitlow said: “If you’re in any art major, it can be really helpful to sharpen your skills and be able to create a story visually. It is also a good way to develop certain skills like working with ink and watercolor.”

Though she still hasn’t quite settled on her career goals, she now knows that her future is as an artist. “I say I am an illustration major because it allows me to be the most multi-disciplinary that I can be,” said Whitlow. “It allows for a little bit of exploration because I want to work in multiple media.”

She plans to attend grad school and is hoping to land an artist residency or an internship after graduation. Whitlow also hopes to add drawing as a dual major or minor because she plans to take the advanced drawing classes.

In addition, she engages in the campus art community as much as possible. A member of Painting and Drawing Club, along with Illustration Club, she believes “it’s really important to create a community of artists to be around” and considers joining groups like this is an easy way to do that.

Whitlow also mentioned the value of club trips where they can see art, which can be really hard for students to do on their own, especially if they don’t have vehicles.

She also surrounds herself with artists when she’s not on campus, saying, “I live in a house full of artists that are graphic designers and fine arts majors.”

According to Whitlow, embedding herself in the art community is “pretty great.” She continued: “We talk a lot about studio critiques amongst my friends, and I think that’s something that really helps an artist when they’re first starting out. This is one of the only times you’re going to be surrounded by your peers and talk about their work and have your own work seen.”

She further emphasized the value of studio critiques for budding artists. “That’s what’s most important — seeing people who are doing the same thing as you, [and] seeing their in-progress work and their thought process. It’s hard to artificially create a community like that separate from the university, so it is really nice to be able to do that and be held to a certain standard during those critiques.”

Whitlow also dates an artist, one actually featured earlier this semester: Levi Colton.

“It’s extremely helpful to have someone that you’re intimate with that can also talk to you about your work,” she said. “Him taking my work seriously really bolsters my self-confidence. Sometimes it’s really hard to find someone who will be honest with you about your work, so it is really comforting.”

Standards are important to Whitlow, and she holds herself to a high one. “I’m the type of person that really can’t put things on the back burner,” she said. “I do have kind of a ‘Type A’ personality. I don’t like that about myself; it can be really difficult because I can never quite catch up in my mind.”

An example of Whitlow’s inability to shirk her responsibilities is the fact that she spends copious hours every week in the ceramics studio for her curriculum-required class, even though it’s not her focus of study.

The junior values the art curriculum requirement, as it allows her to experiment with many mediums. “A big part of your artistic journey is figuring out what you don’t want to do,” she said.

“I’ve heard so many people who major in a certain degree or concentration that completely switch when they go to grad school. I think it’s really important to find other loves that you might have, and I think it can advance your work a lot to see how your concept can take a different form.”

Nominated for The Spectator’s spotlight by several notable art students, Whitlow says the key to her success is that she is mindful of her mental and physical health.

“The biggest thing that people tend to overlook is their personal health,” she said. “A lot of art students don’t sleep well, or eat right, or work out, and it turns into a horrible, beautiful mess at the end of the semester. I, personally, have to get enough sleep.”

Therefore, the importance of self-care, according to her, is immeasurable. “You need to give yourself a break. When you’re working constantly, you’re not going to get the results you want.”

According to Whitlow, hard work always beats talent. “I don’t really believe in raw talent.”

She continued: “I believe in genius, but beyond that I don’t believe in raw talent. I think some people are more predisposed to explore certain concepts, but overall the people that succeed are the ones that do it the longest and do it the most. The only thing that can make you a better artist is to make more art.”

Whitlow has also been able to achieve something many others struggle with at the undergraduate level: branding. When told that other students had expressed envy at her ability to self-brand and present her work cohesively online, Whitlow giggled before responding. “It’s very strange to hear that! I think every artist that hears that kind of gets impostor syndrome. I don’t feel like I have a style, so it’s strange, but at the same time I understand it. With other artists, it’s very easy for me to tell, ‘Oh, that’s so-and-sos work,’ even if it is completely representational work, like a figure drawing.”

She continued: “People like to say ‘style,’ and I think that’s more accurate for illustrators, but something like recognizable mark-making is organic. It’s how your body reacts to creating art. As you draw more and more, it becomes easier to see your hand in the drawing, but it is extremely difficult to see that in your own work.”

Regarding how she achieved branding, Whitlow added: “The subject matter is an intentional self-brand. I also think a lot about social media and how to represent myself there.”

Social media is something she’s had some trouble with, though. “I don’t like it. I do it because I need to for my profession. Coming from that stance, it can be difficult to give advice about it. I guess what I would say is take quality pictures of your finished work. Sometimes you need to stage things and have good lighting. Another thing that can help is to create a color palette; I’ve been trying to make a ‘brand palette,’ but that is easier said than done.”

Her further advice to students struggling to self-brand is to be willing to post without feeling the pressure of social media algorithms.

“I don’t think you should be focusing on the algorithm at all as a young artist because it’s not going to be fruitful. I think that people are caught up in catching their ‘break,’ when they should be worrying about the quality of their work.”

According to Whitlow, budding artists also shouldn’t be afraid to post in-progress photos, as it gives insight into their process and humanizes themselves to their audience.

Whitlow is currently taking illustration commissions such as tattoos. She also hand-makes earrings to sell and is talented with embroidery commissions. To see more of Whitlow’s work, or to place a commission order, visit her Instagram: @morganlin.illo.

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Painting is hard! I love art! Interesting!

A post shared by Morgan Whitlow (@morgy_peach) on

Additional Photos:

A magazine, 'Ode to Oatmeal,' made by this week's Artist Spotlight, Morgan Whitlow. | Photo: Zeila HobsonWhitlow posing with her magazine. | Photo: Zeila HobsonA piece called 'Home Run.' | Photo: Zeila HobsonOne of Whitlow's digital illustrations. | Photo: Zeila Hobson

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