There are so many reasons to fall in love with Arna Miller’s animal illustrations. She manages to convey the characters of the various species she depicts with hilarious accuracy, while also imbuing them with human traits we can all relate to. On top of this, she throws in down-right ridiculous accompanying text and has an uncanny ability to capture various nuances of vintage illustration and printing techniques. Intrigued much? Well, read on my friend, for her main animal of choice to illustrate is that of the feline purrsuasion!
I first came across Arna Miller’s work when a friend sent me a link to the Strike Your Fancy series (a collaboration with Ravi Zupa) – a collection of matchboxes featuring wood block prints of drunken cats in various relatable predicaments.
For obvious reasons, the series attracted a lot of attention worldwide and Miller and Zupa extended the range. This included granting UK company, Archivist Gallery, the licence to lovingly produce a selection of the series as a range of letterpress printed greeting cards now available from Fang & Fur. It also led to a number of bootlegs being produced, including a t-shirt worn by Axel Rose on stage in Taiwan!
I caught up with Arna to discuss where she’s at in life, her inspirations, and of course, cats!
Hi Arna! Just to start with, I was hoping to get a little context as to where and how you live.
I used to be based in Denver (Colorado) but now I’m in Europe. I brought some of my art supplies with me and got rid of all my other stuff before I left the US. This year I spent 3 months at a zen monastery in a small village in Spain sometimes meditating for 10 hours per day, usually only 4 though. We also learned about ego development, trauma release and healing, psychology and learning theory. When that program ended, Corona began, so I went on one of the last rescue planes out of Spain to Edinburgh with my Slovenian travel companion and boyfriend Jože, so I could wait for my 90 day Schengen visa time to start over. In June we came to the village in Slovenia he grew up in to take care of his father who is sick, and I am in the process of getting a Dutch visa so I will settle down in Amsterdam or Utrecht. In Spain, I really did not get much art done, but in Scotland I started back up again. My body and mind were in a bit of a shock from so much change. I really just need a table, and hopefully a lamp, and my paper, pencils and pen.
I read on your website that you draw inspiration from “packaging, matchboxes, magic show posters, and early-20th century illustrations” – where are your favourite places to hunt for these items and do you have a collection?
I don’t have much stuff now, and never was one to collect things. I first found all the things listed above in the Denver Public Library in books. I used to go there a lot and browse the art section and check out books on all sorts of things like World War II plane diagrams, or photography from the Great Depression, or art nouveau architecture, and I found a matchbox book and a magic show poster book and a weird screen printed shirt designs from around the world book. Now I have narrowed down my aesthetic and I just look on the internet now, and save images to Pinterest or a folder on my desktop. I do look forward to frequenting Amsterdam’s library. I’ve been there once and it rivals the one in Denver.
Your work highlights the fact that there have always been fashions in illustration and printing. For instance, in your other cat series, the cats have quite small faces and chonky bodies which gives them a very old-fashioned feel. Not being an illustrator myself, it’s hard for me to further define what exactly it is about these illustrations that mark them as being of a certain era – they make me think of early 20th century/late 19th century postcards. You must have to really study vintage illustrations to get these nuances right!?
Helena Maguire was the best cat illustrator, and she’s my main inspiration. You’re completely right about early 20th century/late 19th century postcards. I believe they were printed by lithograph, so it gave that soft grainy texture, which I try to replicate.
What is it about cats that makes them so irresistible to illustrate?
Their cute faces are irresistible and their personalities. No other animal can match a cat in the way they get into trouble, are cuddly and sweet, and angry or vengeful.
Would you mind explaining the collaboration process for the Strike Your Fancy series? What roles did you and Ravi play?
We brainstormed ideas, I made the pencil sketches, Ravi inked them, and we both worked on the computer design part, passing the file back and forth. And the words evolved as we went. We also invented a registration jig so we could hand print on blank matchboxes.
Were there any specific vintage finds or illustrators that influenced the series?
Matchbox designs in general influenced the series, and Soviet propaganda. It’s a unique experience to design something that is so small.
The Strike Your Fancy matchboxes have received a lot of attention, and the prints are now being produced under licence as cards by Archivist Gallery in the UK. Have you had any issues with non licensed reproductions?
Yes. There are innocent people who find the images and think they are vintage and they’ll send an email saying sorry, I thought this was vintage and I made a shirt or whatever, and a lot of people are getting tattoos which I think is amazing! And on the other hand, there’s this criminal company who is stealing the designs of us and other artists and printing as many posters as they can until we send them a cease and desist letter.
Which drunk cat do you relate to the most in the series? Purrsonally, it’s the “It was definitely time to call it a night” cat. One minute I’ll be in full party mode and the next I’ll hit the wall and realise it ain’t fun no more!
I think the same one for me! The one I wish I could relate to is ‘everybody knew the words’. It’s so fun when a group of people break out in song at the bar.
Thanks so much Arna, I can’t wait to see what you do next!
Want to send a little bit of Arna Miller magic to a friend? Well you can! Check out the ‘Strike Your Fancy’ cards in our ‘For Humans‘ section!