How An Illustwriter Got Through Quarantine

How An Illustwriter Got Through Quarantine

Kate Mooney

Talking Felicity, cooking and CBD with Hallie Bateman

Illustwriter Hallie Bateman makes comics about creativity, anxiety, and...well, how would you categorize an “essential” guide to summer fruit featuring a depressed blueberry listening to Elliott Smith? You may have read her work in The Awl, The New Yorker, or in the newly-released Notes from the Bathroom Line, an anthology of art and essays from women in comedy, for which Bateman contributed a comic ode to made-up childhood games (“the weird ways we invent to pass time when we’re kids before we’re jaded by the world,” as she describes it). The 31-year-old is also the author of three books; her latest, Directions, (Workman Publishing, 3/30) compiles advice, aphorisms and inspiration inked on scraps of construction paper, a project that began one random afternoon Bateman spent hanging out with her brother and making art for fun.

The result includes gentle affirmations like “Little by little, become yourself,” straight-up guidance “Take the vaccine. Do not mistake politics for science” and low-stakes suggestions, “Write a fan letter to your favorite restaurant” which Bateman spent a year or so coaxing out in a zen-like process that could be described as a creative abdication of control.

“I would get the lighting in my studio right, turn on music, smoke some weed, allow myself to let my guard down by lulling myself into a place where I could let my subconscious speak,” she says. “I would show up at the desk with this blank stack of paper and have no idea what was going to come out at any given time.”

The LA resident is somewhat of a quarantine pro, having spent the majority of her career freelancing remotely (she even wrote a Daily Shouts, Working From Home: Orientation Day, to serve as a tongue-in-cheek guide for newbies). I called up Bateman to hear all the ways she’s coping, from having an art practice that serves as ”an island of safety where I can go and sort things out when I feel anxious or absolutely terrified,” a flip phone for the occasional social media sanity break and Felicity the show when she wants to feel pure joy.

Did you pick up any new hobbies during quarantine?

Painting on fabric! I discovered a fabric paint called Dye-Na-Flow. It was really fun to suddenly discover, Oh, I can paint on shirts. I made a bunch of shirts for Christmas presents and painted on fabric that my friend made into pillows.

I read Anne Helen Peterson’s book on millennial burnout. She was talking about how every hobby, if you do something cute or you get into cross-stitching, the go-to compliment is “Ooh, you should sell that.” That really struck a chord with me. Because A: I do that, I compliment people by saying they should do that as a job, and B: I do that for myself. The fabric stuff was a fun thing that I was just doing for myself. And I did end up selling some of the pillows! But, I was also like, I’m only doing what I want with this, it’s mostly for me.

What is your preferred workout-from-home?

My main form of exercise is walking. I walk a lot around my neighborhood and go for hikes and I occasionally do pilates on an online platform called Glo. I wrote recently on Instagram about overcoming an eating disorder and part of my eating disorder was exercise addiction. So I am still figuring out how to exercise in a way that’s not based in body goals. I walk, I do pilates, and I play tennis with friends and my husband. There are tons of tennis courts in LA and I was a tennis player in high school so that’s the sport that I like.

Is there an organization or cause you’re supporting right now that deserves more attention?

Yeah! There’s this [charity] organization, GiveWell, I know a bunch about it because my brother works there. GiveWell is built on the philosophy of, how can each dollar do the most good in the world? Instead of giving to somewhere like Salvation Army, where they can’t break down specifically where your money is going, GiveWell evaluates and selects charities that can say down to the dollar, “if you give x amount of money, you’ll save x amount of lives.” It’s so concrete and it’s so different from that thing of, Oh I’m just throwing money towards this problem and I have no idea if it’s helping.

What is your personality in your main group chat?

I have one called Garden Girls, which is my mom and two of my friends and we talk about gardening. We can say that’s my main group chat. My personality is, “Why is my garden failing?” Asking desperately for advice, faving photos of my friends’ and my mom’s beautiful gardens while sending photos of my drooping tomato plants.

What’s a favorite recipe you’ve been making a lot lately?

Ooh. Speaking of tomatoes, there’s this amazing recipe by my favorite cookbook author whose name is Crescent Dragonwagon, for caramelized tomatoes. Pop them in the oven at 300 degrees for 90 minutes, take them out and put balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic, and then you pop them back for another 90 minutes, and they’re incredible. You can put them on toast, they can be a treat of their own, as a base for a pasta...just delicious. Her cookbooks are amazing, readable, autobiographical books, in addition to having great vegetarian recipes.

What tunes are you spinning?

My husband, Jack, is the DJ of my life, it’s such a pleasure. He has wonderful eclectic taste in music and he does DJ sets, like a little radio show you can tune into online. If I’m wanting to get into the zone when I’m making art, this musician called Baths, his album, Pop Music/False B-Sides II is what I’ve been listening to.

What shows are you streaming right now?

Insecure is my new jam. I’m watching through it for the first time now. I started watching it with my mom, we text about how much we love it.

At the beginning of quarantine I watched Felicity for the first time and that really changed my life. My husband and I are now hardcore Felicity fans. I actually made a Felicity-themed bumper sticker, it’s in my online shop. It’s a perfect replica of her campaign bumper sticker for class president, it says “Felicity Porter For President”.

What’s your most watched movie of all time?

One of my favorite movies is Mystic Pizza, Julia Roberts’ first film! A classic I watch on the reg.

Tell me about your at-home beverage game.

I am sober from alcohol but I’m a big weedhead, as the kids say. There is a sparkling THC beverage called Calexo. I never liked CBD seltzers, I always thought they tasted gross like bong water. At the dog park I met the cofounder of Calexo and he was like, “Here, try this beverage!” I’m trying really hard now to become an unpaid Calexo influencer, I talk to everyone about it. That’s my plug.

What’s the craziest place you’ve worn your Jambys?

My husband got me a pair as a present early on in quarantine, it was really sweet, he got us matching Jambys, like the shorts—we got gray with purple lace. Hmm, I wear them out to get the mail? Or lounging in the hammock in the backyard!

What’s the book you’re always recommending?

My enduring love of all time is for Lynda Barry, anything by her. She is who opened my eyes to what cartooning and art and writing could be, she’s my spiritual home. What It Is is a good book to start with but I stand by all her stuff!

Do you listen to any podcasts?

I’m really into The Endless Honeymoon, it’s Natasha Leggero and Moshe Kasher’s advice podcast, I think they’re both really funny.

OK, so you lived in Brooklyn for a couple years before moving to the West Coast. I have to ask: LA or BK?

[Laughs] I really didn’t leave Brooklyn with any kind of exodus, I just had fallen in love with someone who lived in LA and my best friend in the world also lived in LA, so I was just like, that’s my queue after two years in Brooklyn! I will say that Brooklyn fueled my creativity, I was so inspired, so busy, every week it felt like a new person had called, a new opportunity had landed at my door, adventure at every corner. But I was also working myself to the bone, really still in a phase of pulling all nighters and not knowing how to care for myself.

I’m kind of a manic energy artist so New York was kind of fuel on that fire and LA really encouraged me to take it down some notches and has been really good for my mental health to have more access to nature. In New York I felt like, I was my work; I am my art, this is my profession, this is who I am. In LA I no longer am like, my art is everything. In a good way. I’m like, this is really important to me and thus I’m not going to kill myself with it. I’m not going to throw myself under the bus of my art, I’m going to go for a walk and look at the palm trees.

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