Kaye Blegvad is a genius. Her company, Horizontal Press, blurs the lines between art, porn, doodling and illustration. Her prints, so simple and naive - yet totally charming - tap into our neuroses about sex and the female form.
Where are you from? When and why did you move to Brooklyn?
I grew up in London, but my Dad is from New York, so throughout my childhood we would visit friends and family in New York every year or two. After I graduated from college, I decided to move to New York for three months, and I ended up staying for two years. Then I went home for two years… and then I came back. It’s almost been another two years now. No plans to leave any time soon.
Why do you make what you make? How did you get started in illustration + design?
Both my parents are artists, and both my grandparents on my father’s side are, too. I never really considered doing anything else. I’ve always made things, and the idea that I can make a living doing something that I’d be doing anyway is pretty cool.
What is your design process like?
I work pretty fast and impulsively. I like my work to come together organically, and without too much planning - if something is plotted out too carefully, it isn’t as fun to make anymore. There’s no element of discovery. I try to work with only a vague idea of where it’s going, and let it surprise me as I go. Of course, that’s not always possible - for commercial work, you need to do sketches and revisions to make sure that you and the client are on the same track. But for personal work, I don’t sketch, and I rarely alter a drawing once it’s done. I like the immediacy of getting an idea out, without having to worry about exactly what will go where.
Have you always maintained the same aesthetic and illustration style? Simple but expressive?
Yeah, I think my work has had a fairly consistent look for a long time now. I do like playing with different mediums, and different levels of simplification and stylization, but I can look at my work from school compared to my work now, and it’s very connected. I’ve always worked with the same themes, and drawn certain things the same way.
Do you have a favorite print?
I really like the Bullseye Print. It’s the only one I have up in my own home - I don’t usually like using my own work as decor, but I like how that one came out, and the mood of it. Her slightly bored, slightly confrontational face makes her feel like a comrade to me.
A lot of your work centers around women, and being a woman. Can you elaborate, maybe tell us a bit more about drawing women for women?
I’ve always made work about girls and women, and part of that feels pretty straightforward - I am one! I’m making work about what I know. Women’s bodies are such a battleground - it feels like everybody is trying to control or co-opt them in some way, whether it’s telling them to be skinnier, or curvier, or sexier, or less sexy, or to be hidden, or more exposed, and what gets to go into and come out of them. Even our own opinions about our bodies can feel manufactured - like, do I actually think I need to look this way, or do this thing, or is it just because it’s what I think I’m supposed to do? I don’t have a lot of trust for my own feelings about my body. So I guess that’s a factor in drawing a lot of naked women just… existing, looking out at the viewer. It doesn’t have to be a dramatic, confrontational act. Just having a body and living in it feels like a big enough statement sometimes.
Or, y’know, it can also be funny! Nudity is funny and weird, bodies are funny and weird, the way people behave is pretty funny and weird. I try to put humor into my work, especially my work about women, so there’s a balance. I don't want to just put out more depressing work about how messed up everything is.
How does it feel when you know a person connects with your work somehow?
I’m constantly really honored and humbled when people respond positively to my work. I love knowing that somebody connected to it, got something from it, that maybe it made them feel a little better for a minute - let alone that they want something I made in their homes, to look at every day. It’s the best. I feel very fortunate that there are people out there who are on the same page as me!
Tell us about your work with the NYT.
The NYT gave me my first ever job! I went in with my portfolio and met some art directors when I first moved to New York. They’re really great at supporting illustrators who are just starting out, and they use such a wide range of illustration styles in really diverse ways - it’s always great to work with them.
Tell us about your maybe minor fixation with cats.
Haha, yes, I’m guilty as charged. I grew up with cats and have always been a cat person. I like drawing their weird little faces. What can I say? I’m a fan.
What inspires you in general?
I’m really inspired by folk art, medieval art, outsider art… I love the ways things get simplified by artists who don’t have what we consider traditional training. I could look at illuminated manuscripts and art brut forever.