Artist Spotlight Interview with Abbie Adams

It is amazing to see how Pittsburgh artist and illustrator Abbie Adams incorporates her sensibility and creativity into her artwork. For her Artist Spotlight with Union Project, Abbie created a limited edition print, “Neighbors”, which depicts a diverse group of people whom we may see every day on the streets or have brushed shoulders with. Abbie’s work has reflected her interests in art and community issues, our contributor Stephanie Sun interviewed Abbie to learn more about her’s creative process.

Pittsburgh artist Abbie Adams

Stephanie: Tell us about your artistic side.

Abbie: I have always been creative, or that’s what my parents said. I studied art in college, but never thought of myself as someone who draws, like an illustrator; I concentrated more on painting and photography. It wasn’t until my senior year that I fall in love with drawing, and that is what sets me off on this illustrator path. A lot of my design work also incorporates drawings.

S: What inspired you in your senior year?

A: I took a drawing class in my senior year, which was something I thought I am not good at and kept on putting off. When I took the class, I realized my love for realistic renderings. It is like putting a puzzle together, very mathematical and calculative. I also discovered that I love to draw in a playful and non-representational style, it allowed me to work with more freedom and subject matter.

S: What is your creative process?

A: I keep a sketchbook. I love working in series, even if nothing comes of it later; and I like doing things over and over again. I draw tons of houses, like hundreds and hundreds of them. I pick a lot of my subject matter in a calculated way, drawing them with a theme or find a set of things to draw. I often draw from photos, but I also love on-site sketching and draw with something right in front of me.

S: You have been in Pittsburgh for a few years now, what is your favorite thing about Pittsburgh?

A: The architecture! I love living here. I am from the Midwest, small town Midwest and everything is either like a square farm house or a ranch house. When I got to Pittsburgh, it’s like a treasure trove of never ending styles and materials, it is so much fun to explore!

My first project here is the Euclide Avenue project, which is a few blocks down the streets from Union Project, and as a way of getting to know the neighborhood, I drew every single house on Euclide Avenue. Then I hosted a show that invited everyone that lived in those houses to come meet their neighbors, and gifted them the drawing of their house. This is one of the wonderful ways that I feast on all these houses and styles, I learned about the history of the neighborhoods, met the people living in these houses and hear their stories. I sometime would also go on weekend adventures, just drive to a part of the city I never been in and walk around; Pittsburgh is so segmented in the way it is built, It is so much fun to explore. A lot of my drawings also come from these trips.

Abbie Adams draws and paints in collections and seriesS: Is storytelling part of your work?

A: Absolutely! I am really interested in illustrated journalism, for a long time I did photography as a way of storytelling. With a camera, there is always something in between yourself and the subject matter, and for me it creates a wall that people can’t easily cross over. With drawing, I get to engage people in a completely different way; if people come up to you when you are drawing and strike up a conversation, it creates a different entry point. To me, there is more curiosity with illustration than photography, I found it to be a great way of storytelling.

S. What triggered the idea of creating “Neighbors”, a print that showed the faces from diverse race, culture, gender, and stage of life?

A: The wallpaper I had in my childhood bedroom has a pattern of dolls sitting next to each other. Instead of taking naps, I would look at each doll and think up a name for each one and imagine stories about them. I think the “Neighbors” print works in a similar way: I love imagining who each person is, where they came from, and what stories are important to them. I rarely draw faces, but enjoyed the process of  mixing textures and lines together to create these characters.

S: The subject matter and timing of the “Neighbors” print seems to align with a changing social and political climate. What message do you want people to receive from your work?

A: I want my work to create joy and tell stories. The world would be a much better place if we took time to listen to each other’s stories and share our own, it starts to make room for empathy. Artwork is just one way to start that process of sharing.

I have thought a lot about creating work that brings joy this year. There are artists who create work that present grave yet necessary truths for the world to see, but at this moment I am more interested in creating joyful work that lifts a person up, either because they resonate with the artwork or simply find beauty in it. We must live in the deep, as my friend Emiola Jay Oriola says, but also create joy-filled spaces to buoy us up.

Abbie Adams' limited edition print "Neighbors"

S: On the side of running your creative business, you have been attending every monthly Creative Conversation Series at Union Project to take visual notes on the conversations we had around race, equity, beloved community, and other issues we face together in the community. What roles do you feel like taking on in today’s society?

A: The idea of being of service to others as a way of living is something that has been instilled in me from growing up in the Mennonite church. Now that I run my own business that idea and those values influence my decisions about how I use my platform, time, and resources.

Part of my undergrad was in Women’s and Gender Studies which will always be a great passion of mine. I have also become increasingly interested in affordable housing, especially here in Pittsburgh, in part because of my work illustrating houses. Whether these issues or themes show up as subject matter in my artwork or I become involved with them in a different way, I always try to listen more than I talk when I show up. I am continually learning from people who have been doing this work longer than I have, and am grateful for every chance I have to have to learn something new.

S: What are your thoughts on arts in the community?

A: I am a huge advocate for arts in the community, it is true that you can tell the well being of the community by how much artwork is produced and made. There is definitely an arts community in Pittsburgh that is alive and thriving; it is wonderful that people are able to make art and be successful here. It makes me really sad when children in schools aren’t necessarily getting the chance to know they are artists, I believe they just need to have the opportunity to discover the creative side. Art is a vehicle that people can have conversations and transforming ideas and relationships.

S: Lastly, how do you want to evolve your work in the next five years?

A: I want to continue to be an observer of the world, create joy, and tell stories. I have no idea where those three things might lead me in my artwork, but that is part of creating!


A big thank you to Abbie for working with Union Project through the Artist Spotlight.
If you are interested to see more of Abbie’s artwork, please visit her website or her Etsy shop.