Interview: Tara Booth Brings the Feels and a New Book

For her fans, Tara Booth’s paintings are beyond relatable. She has nothing to hide and comforts her audience by exposing and painting universal neuroses. Check her Instagram to see some new videos she’s been animating and narrating, giving even more life to her raw, emotional, and super funny self-portraits and scenes, which she expertly turns into comics that convey a strong and engaging narrative, even without words.

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Kristin Farr: Tell me about your upcoming book
Tara Booth: My newest book, Nocturne should be out this Fall. The publisher is in the process of editing everything together and sending it out to the printer as we speak. It’s a 60-page comic that started, for me, as an exercise in painting. I wanted to push myself to make something less literal. The publisher, 2dcloud is known for putting out experimental comics and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to make something different and stray from my usual autobiographical stuff. I was not successful—ha ha! The book is totally based on experiences from my life, but by giving myself a new set of guidelines, I did produce something that I think feels very fresh. The comic takes place over one night. An uncomfortable sexual experience leaves the main character struggling to get to sleep, so she takes one too many sleeping pills. The comic illustrates a “zzz-quil”-induced night of hallucination and cake eating.

Your storytelling feels very universal and makes me feel comforted in my own neurosis. You must get that kind of comment a lot. Do you prefer art therapy or real therapy or both?
I do get that a lot, it’s nice. Even when I feel a little unsure about posting something that seems less relatable, I’m surprised by the outpouring of “this is me omg” comments and reposts. It’s nice to be reminded that some of my weirder habits or compulsions are totally ordinary. My work is definitely therapeutic in that way, it helps me connect with other people. If you’re able to share the more vulnerable side of yourself and people still respond with love- then you’re good! There’s so much less to fear! It’s not entirely the social aspect of making work that I’m in it for, though.  My popularity is a happy side effect of my productivity, but it’s the act of painting/drawing in itself that’s most therapeutic for me. I can disappear into painting for hours. It’s the only time I’m able to disconnect and let my anxieties take the back seat. Painting is no substitute for professional help, though! If I could afford it, I’d be in therapy right now. I think everyone should be in therapy!

Who are some other artists you feel are telling stories of women that feel real and relatable, or artists that you feel your work is in dialogue with?
Gabrielle Bell and Vanessa Davis are two autobiographical comic artists that I really connect with. Their work is super honest and smart, and neither of them is afraid to touch on taboos or humiliation. I also just finished reading Melissa Broder’s book, So Sad Today, which I connected with on an infinite number of levels. I hope someday I’m confident enough in my writing that I can take my comics to the next level and add text. Hearing these women’s voices has been life changing and they definitely give me something to strive for.

Where do you live and what’s your favorite dinner?
I live in Chicago for now, I’ve been here for 6 months. I recently moved here from Portland, Oregon, but I’m from Philly originally! I’ve been traveling a lot for the last few years. I can’t seem to figure out where I belong, or if I really want to settle down in one place at all. I’ll be moving somewhere new in June. My favorite dinner is, and always will be… a hoagie.

What’s your studio set up like?
I love my studio! It’s in my house. I rarely leave my house. I have my drawing table, and a long desk covered in a mess of markers, seltzer cans, paints, empty plates, scrapped drawings, and my scanner. I have a big TV that’s constantly streaming shows when I’m not listening podcasts. I work long days, sometimes 9-12 hours, so I burn through shows and podcasts. I have a little couch by a window that I’m sitting on right now, where I take lunch breaks. I have lots of plants on my windowsill, and plenty of knick-knacks. Dog bobbleheads, a wooden snake, and a plastic boy who pees. I have lots of art on the walls. It’s very cozy in here.

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Do you have to pose in front of a mirror as a model for your figures’ posture and gestures?
Ha ha! Not so much. I know it’s hard to believe since my figure drawings are anatomically flawless! It’s gotta be my years of professional artistic training. I’m joking—my drawings are far from physiologically accurate, but figure drawing classes definitely gave me a solid base to work from and made it easier for me to play with the figure in a really fluid way.

Tell me more about your process. It sounds like you use a lot of layers and change the colors as you work.
That sounds about right. Usually I dive right into it with a pencil outline. I don’t do much planning. If I’m lucky, I get it right in one shot but occasionally I’ll have to redraw a few times. I like to keep things quick and direct since I can be pretty impatient. The colors seem to present themselves to me, I don’t do a lot of my painting consciously… but I can definitely tell when something looks wrong. Some of my paintings are finished in an hour, and others might take a few days of paintings and repainting, layering patterns and colors.

Is there symbolism to be discovered in the clothing and textile patterns you create?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no! When I’m being lazy, I stick to florals, but I prefer it when there’s something more to the patterns. I like to choose objects or images that reflect the psychology of the character. Sometimes it’s so obvious, like a pair of sweatpants printed with crying babies. But sometimes I’ll choose something less direct, like swans, or maybe I’ll play with color or tone, and these choices have more to do with trying to set a mood than depicting a literal emotion.

What’s your favorite outfit lately?
I am 100% sweatpants lately. I own two pairs of Crocs… I don’t know who I am anymore. I’m going through a hardcore, self-help transformation this year and it turns out that the beginning of that journey includes a whole lot of time at home. Painting these super cool, dreamy outfits on my characters does help me feel like I’m expressing that part of myself. I wish I had all of those clothes! I wish I had somewhere to wear them! But, getting sober and focusing on more internal stuff, learning to love a sweat-suited, make-up free Tara, that’s  what I need right now. So yeah, my favorite outfit is a wack, unflattering thrift store sweat suit.

How many trolls are you dealing with?
OMG trolls! It actually used to be a lot worse, there was so much more negative feedback… and I wonder if that means I’ve become too tame in what I’m putting out. Could be! I’m so sensitive to that sort of stuff. I’m a people pleaser! I used to engage with the trolls, question their hate, try to “show them the light.” I wish I could be a badass and say that the negative feedback drives me to put myself out there more, but it doesn’t. It makes me want to retreat into my shell and delete my account. I try to stay off of Instagram aside from making posts. I don’t read into the comments as much, and I try to focus on the fact that I seem to have an overwhelming amount of support.

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