Bekka Teerlink interview as told to Tori Weston; photos by Mara Brod.
At what age, did your creative journey begin?
My creative journey began before Kindergarten. My mom noticed I preferred drawing to playing with dolls and wanted to encourage me. She made sure I always had plenty of paper and markers on hand- I remember her making a drawer for art supplies in the changing table next to the diapers.
When I was about 5 years old, my dad showed me an art history book full of paintings by great artists (there were lots of nudes.) He suggested I could be a great artist too someday.
So decided I better get started! I began writing and illustrating my first book. It was about 2 kids who were about to start kindergarten. They were very excited- so much so that they forgot to put clothes on before leaving the house. (This plot point meant that I could incorporate nudes into the book and be a great artist.) But before they got to school they were arrested by the police for being naked in public and put in jail. They even missed their first day of Kindergarten.
I stapled the drawings on the side to form a book and proudly showed it to my parents- my first book! I would give it as a gift to my friend Angela from church. Unfortunately my parents were pretty shocked by a 5 year old having drawn a whole book about naked kids (and pretty accurately too) and they actually burned the book. Luckily I kept drawing but attempted no more nudes until college. We laugh about it now and being the only person who both wrote a book and had it burned by the age of 5.
How do you balance work life and creative life?
I struggle with work-creative life balance but I have arranged a situation that mostly works for me. I find the most important thing is to have a stable nine-to-five office job that allows me to pay the bills, doesn’t completely wear me out, or demand long hours. Even though a full time job takes a lot of my time, the financial stability frees up a lot of headspace so I am more focused with the free time I have.
I spend most weeknights and weekends completely engrossed in my creative projects. I don’t go out much or have a big social life- but I’d rather make art anyway. I try to be focused and strategic with what I take on. I have no real desire to try to support myself with my art. It would fundamentally change how I approach my art if I have sales, customers, and making rent in mind. It would become just another job. So I protect my creative world and try not to let outside expectations in. Of course, if someone wants to buy something once I am done with the experience of creating it then that is very flattering.
Your TEDxTalk was focused on your story of creating a way to do more art and becoming a cyclist. What has been the response?
I focused the TEDx talk on my personal story to make bicycling seem more possible for other people. We’re all making lifestyle choices to balance our work-life-creative life. Sometimes just questioning the mundane things we do (like sitting in car traffic) can open up a new world and add hours to our day. There has been a positive response to the TEDx talk and to Bikeyface- some people have even said they started biking because of it. Art is great for communicating complex issues in a simple and personal way.
Why do you do what you do? What’s something you get out of it?
Where should I start? First of all, I think that no matter what I do from painting to cleaning the house I’m always doing it as an artist- it’s just how I think. The medium or the project changes but I’m always creating, making, imagining, organizing, and making connections.
My art (whether painting or comics) is also my way of responding to what is going on in the world around me- sometimes it’s something in my immediate neighborhood (such as gentrification or bicycling infrastructure.) Or other times I am trying to process something much more global like climate change. It’s a way of keeping sane through painting or making a clever cartoon when there is much to be anxious about. Talking never quite helps me get things out of my system- art is a way of articulating what's on my mind.
I find it relaxing to immerse myself in physically crafting something with my hands, color, paint, ink, wood, fabric, fibers, paper. It’s very satisfying to create something and send it into the world. The physical act of making is very necessary to me, especially with a desk job and technology always encroaching on my headspace. But the silence is necessary to make art and quiet my mind. I may have described this a little differently a year or two ago but I’ve been thinking a lot about what I need to get from art right now.
Any thoughts on the local Somerville, or Boston-area creative scene?
I enjoy the Somerville creative scene and how there are so many artists and quirky awesome stuff is going on. I've had a studio here for 9 years and I’d like to keep living & creating here. But honestly I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to be a part of it- I expect to be priced out of here in the near future. But maybe everyone else will be priced out with me- where should we all move to next?
Is there anything new you’re working on? Or an event that’s coming up?
I am getting ready to go to Denver Comic Con in June. I’ll have a table there in Artist Alley with my Bikeyface comics. I like DIY aspect of the independent comics scene and meeting other artists who write, illustrate and self-publish their own books too.