Illustrator and graphic designer Andrea Huntley tells us about her design studio, Monkey and the Giant, and being inspired by Keith Haring’s ‘Crack is Wack’ mural in Harlem as a child. Find out what’s next for Monkey and the Giant, and why she’s looking forward to her children seeing her in her element as an artist as they grow older.
On the inspiration behind Monkey and the Giant…
Monkey and the Giant is named after the muses of my life: my husband and my son (and now my daughter as well). At first it spoke to my husband who was the giant who towered over my son, the monkey. And now it’s my son who’s the towering giant over my monkey daughter. The name to me evokes the loving relationship between two unlikely characters, and the playfulness that ensues.
Monkey and the Giant began as just a fun musing of an idea back in 2014, shortly after the birth of my first child. I didn’t want to start a business per say, but I wanted to create an online studio from where I could potentially sell my artwork. I had designed the ‘Animal Collective’ prints for fun in my spare time and therefore had plenty of work to showcase. I was planning to become a stay-at-home-mum and was interested in seeing if I could earn some money to help support my now-growing family.
Although I have a degree in graphic design and have been artistic since my youth, I never sought a profession in art; my professional interests had always laid elsewhere (notably in publishing and education). My professional background is punctuated with time spent teaching English in Paris, Madrid, and Seoul, as well as being the Academic Director of an educational publishing company in NYC. Knowing this, my Animal Collective collection probably seems a bit out of the blue. It’s actually an amalgamation of the things I love: education, illustration, and the printed page.
On running her business her own way…
Truth be told, motherhood has taken over my spare time since my official launch of Monkey and the Giant in October 2016 so I haven’t had much time to dedicate to creating new work (or even doing any work as a whole). I have a notebook where I keep ideas so that when the time comes I can hit the ground running, but in the meantime I do all I can to keep things leisurely.
I have my website which I maintain – occasionally hosting promotions for special occasions – and from time to time I update my Instagram and Facebook pages, but beyond that I do very little. I still manage to sell prints every month, which covers the main expenses, and I’m ok with that; I don’t have the time nor desire to manage a full-time job. I’m quite happy to be a stay-at-home-mum while my online studio ticks on in the background.
As soon as my children are in school and I have my time back to me, well, that’s another story! I very much look forward to launching a series of new print collections and taking advantage of advertising opportunities to grow my business. I know that there is a market out there for my work… I just need to take the time to tap into it!
On the artists who inspire her…
Keith Haring and Shel Silverstein are forever an inspiration. I was born in the Bronx and although my family moved to the suburbs of NYC when I was five, we still spent every weekend in the city. Most weekends we would drive down the FDR Drive en route to a museum or gallery and pass Keith Haring’s ‘Crack is Wack’ mural in Harlem at 128th Street, and I loved it. And if we weren’t wandering down the east side of Manhattan then we’d be on the west side, with an occasional stop-in to Haring’s Pop Shop, where I’d stock up on books and calendars and postcards and any other printed materials that bore his fantastically bold and colourful illustrations.
As for Shel Silverstein, he is an American childrens-book author that doesn’t seem to be very well-known on this side of the ocean. I grew up reading his books, and his impact on me materialised when I self-published a book back in 2012, ‘Memoires d’une Enfant Terrible’. He was a phenomenal writer and illustrator, and his playfulness with words and imagery had a direct influence on my approach with my little book, having written it and illustrated it myself. The simplicity of his line drawings have since carried through into my ‘Animal Collective’ collection as well.
On the ‘Animal Collective’…
I know the exact moment that the ‘Animal Collective’ took root. It was a Sunday evening in 2012 and I was emcee for the Sunday pub quiz at a gastropub where I worked in Leeds. On this particular night, one of the pub quiz questions was: What is the collective noun for a group of frogs? I read it aloud, like I did all the other questions, and moved on, not thinking twice about it. An hour later was the answer round and when I got to the question about the collective noun for a group of frogs, I read aloud the question and then the answer (an army of frogs), and then promptly fell off my stool in a fit of laughter. The hilarious image of an army of frogs with little army helmets all lined up in formation popped into my head and I was completely overwhelmed by its absurdity.
When I got home that night I immediately sketched out that image. And then it got me thinking about what other collective nouns for animals could be as visually humorous if taken from a literal perspective… Before I went to bed I had a list of 30 animals. Over the following weeks I casually illustrated dozens of these literal takes on collective nouns, and about six months later I was finished with the first instalment of the 22-design collection.
My favourite collective noun will always be the army of frogs because that’s where it all began. I think it’s just downright hilarious. Among my other favourites is unkindness of ravens, gang of elk, and party of jays, and I love the way the leopard leaps out of the frame in leap of leopards too. The words used as collective nouns in the animal kingdom are so visually rich that it was a pure pleasure illustrating them all and I cannot express how excited I am to return to illustrating more of them when the time is right.
On artistic fulfilment and the next chapter for Monkey and the Giant…
Truthfully, I feel like artistic pursuit – let alone achievement – has waned for me since I became a mother because so much time is spent tending to my children (which is ok with me because it is the choice I have made), but as such they see very little of me in my own element. As they get older and as I regain my free time, I look forward to them seeing me draw, paint, write, and create for myself, and I hope that this sparks their curiosity and inspires them to pick up a pencil or paintbrush and do the same. If they don’t, that’s alright… I guess I’m just looking forward to them witnessing who I am as a person beyond who I am to them as their mother. I do lots of arts and crafts with them, but it’s not the same… And they are still too young to truly understand what it is that I do and how deeply my artistic passion is felt. I think my achievement as an artist will come the day that when asked by a teacher or friend what their mummy does, my childrens’ response will be: “She’s an artist.”
I don’t know what’s next for Monkey and the Giant. It’s like my baby in a way, and I’m just letting it grow on its own for now. In time I will do more illustrations and be more active with pushing the work out across social media, but until then I’m simply curious to see what comes of it organically. It’s a wonderful canon for me as a means of sharing my work, and it’s been a labour of love getting it up and running. And I’m incredibly grateful for the positive reception and recognition I’ve received, from my clientele and from my friends and family.