Where did I find such heartwarmingly whimsical illustrations? Well, I’ll tell you.
Meet Gracie Klumpp, an illustrator with a passion for finding and communicating people’s stories. She believes we all have a story to tell. And here on Story Matters, she’s now helping me tell mine.
I’m delighted to have the chance to meet her and her husband face-to-face later this summer when they’re visiting Seattle. (Read more about their epic road trip here.) Meanwhile, she’s graciously answered my questions about storytelling from an artist’s perspective. So read on…
Gracie, welcome! As an artist with a background in animation and visual storytelling, you relish being a part of discussions about what *story* means to us as humans. So I have to ask: what does story mean to you?
Oh, boy. I could talk forever about this. Fortunately, you’ve asked a lot of fantastic questions that touch on most of what I want to say, so I’ll start with a short one here as an overview:
I like to think of God as the Master Storyteller. He’s been telling this incredible story of beauty, love, a dark evil, betrayal, sacrifice, redemption, and victory since the beginning of the world. We’re all a part of this Great Story, and He created each of us with a bit of His Image. Part of that Image is a heart for story, and an urge to create and tell stories of our own. When we tell our stories, we tend to use a lot of the themes and structures of the Greater Story, whether we know it or not, and seeing those connections is something I get especially excited about.
You’re also a Christian who looks for what the stories God tells says about Him, His creation, and us. By “the stories God tells,” do you mean the Bible—or something else?
Yes. I mean the Greater Story of creation to eternity, which includes the Bible as well as the stories unfolding in our lives today. Learning to see what God has done throughout history (in the Bible, including Jesus’ actions and parables, and how the Holy Spirit works today) as a story really changed the way I saw God.
Story has always spoken to me in a way that’s hard to describe, and I think most people experience this at least sometimes in their lives. When I was little I had no idea what it was. I would experience what C.S. Lewis called “Joy,” at seemingly random moments, like in seeing a leaf fall on a walk in the woods, or reading a particular line of a book. It felt like a window had opened into this amazing, beautiful, magical world that I somehow knew and felt at home in—but only for a second. Then it would close and I’d be left feeling homesick for something I couldn’t even put my finger on. It was the most real thing I’d ever felt.
And it wasn’t in church. No one ever mentioned it in church, and no one talked like any kind of magic was real. So what was that? I would wonder. It wasn’t until years and years later that I put together that it was God, and the magic of His creation. It was then that it started to make sense to call it His Story. He did, after all, create the world it is set in. He’s in control of all its arcs and twists. And the storyline is incredible. All our stories mirror it in one way or another, which makes sense, too—He also created us, and in His image.
Seeing the world this way brought together what had been two very separate parts of my life, in a way that made complete sense and blew the top off the way I had seen God and church—and it was fantastic! I started to see how they intertwined in this incredible harmony as threads in the Great Story, and how I was there, too—tiny, but there—in the middle of it. So are you.
That’s the Story I mean.
[Tweet “Story & art & the magic of God’s creation: chat w/ illustrator Gracie Klumpp”]
Your artwork is charming! Is creating it as effortless as it looks? Trick question of course—anything that looks effortless never is. 🙂 But maybe you could share a little about your creative process as well as how you arrived at the name for your Etsy shop, The Chartreuse Umbrella.
Aww, thank you!
I love experimenting, but I have a favorite basic process that starts with regular graphite pencils. Sometimes I sketch things out first as a tiny thumbnail image of the whole illustration I’m planning to do, and sometimes I just dive right in. I’ve tried making it all neat and tidy, but it doesn’t feel natural. I like kind of messy, with what one of my professors used to call my “fingerprints” all over it. Sometimes there actually are fingerprints in the graphite smudges. Then I scan it, and color and texture it digitally. I love the texturing part—it always surprises me how it turns out, which I love!
The Chartreuse Umbrella grew out of my senior project. During college I struggled a lot with anxiety and depression, and to combat that I started creating images of hope and joy in everyday life—those little moments we tend to pass over, but that can mean so much. After I graduated and starting thinking about selling my artwork on Etsy, it made sense to continue the theme, so I came up with the tagline “the ordinary is extraordinary.” I picked an ordinary object I love, an umbrella, and give it an unusual color (that I also love!) for the “extraordinary,” part.
As a freelance illustrator, you promise clients that you can help them get to the heart of their story with a simple, organized process. Without giving away trade secrets, can you tell us a bit about your method?
I have a lot of both my parents in me, which resulted in a rather weird (and sometimes difficult to balance) combination of creative and organized. This took some work to figure out, and I used to lament not just being more creative like a lot of artists around me who come up with this incredibly imaginative, fun work. But now I see the organization is a strength, too. When I work with clients on projects, I’m able to both deliver creative options and an engaging final piece, and also do it on time, making sure they know what’s going on at each step. I’ve found a lot of clients are really looking for that organization part so they know they can rely on me.
The getting at the heart of their story part isn’t a streamlined process—that wouldn’t make much sense. I love sitting down with clients and just talking to them, asking them questions and learning more about them to figure out what it is they’re really like and what they’re really trying to say with their project. Family portraits are especially fun—I love creating images of the family that really represent them, and not just what they look like all dressed up together. It’s fun to encourage clients to talk about what they do for fun, or what they talk about around the dinner table, to get a feel for their family’s personality, both as individuals and as a whole. That part is always different and messy, but beautiful.
You’ve blogged honestly about your own struggles with depression and anxiety. What role does art play in your healing process?
It’s huge. Whenever I’m really struggling, my dear friend, Annalee, always tells me to pull out my sketchbook. In those situations, picking up a pencil can be one of the hardest, scariest things to do, but it’s always worth it. I can process a lot of things through drawing that I didn’t even know I was dealing with, and wouldn’t even begin to be able to talk about. During my senior project I did a series of illustrated journals that were incredibly helpful for me—I would always write them out beforehand, but by the time I was finished illustrating them, completely new things would surface and I would end up sorting through messes I didn’t even know were there. It can be a really healing process.
You’re planning a change of scope for your work, from its current focus on the hope and joy of everyday moments (which is lovely), to stories and creation and what these things say about God and humanity. Why the shift?
I love illustrating those everyday moments, and that will most likely always be a part of the artwork I create. But lately God has really been putting stories and the theology of stories on my heart, and nudging me toward making that passion of mine more central to what I do every day. And in a way, it’s really a more focused version of The Chartreuse Umbrella. It’s like I’m honing in a bit to really get at more of the foundation of the message God’s put on my heart. What that looks like has grown and changed throughout the last five months as we’ve prayed and read and brainstormed and researched and planned, and it’s turned into the company Ethan and I have started called Once and Still.
A big thumbs-up to your summer plans to road-trip with your best friend (a.k.a. husband, Ethan) visiting creatives along the way to talk to them about what they do and how they do it. What do you hope to gain from the experience?
Back in March, we thought we knew where God was leading us starting this summer, and had a lot of plans based on that. When those plans fell through we were confused and a bit surprised, but we knew there must be something else God was leading us toward.
We’ve talked about running our own creative business together as a couple for a long time now, but it wasn’t until all our plans got turned upside down that we really started thinking this could be the year to take our first step in that direction. On a long drive together, Ethan first suggested the idea of a road trip to get our bearings, and it’s grown from there, with God opening doors all along the way.
We’ve been taking classes and planning what running a business together could look like, but we really want to talk to people who have been there, not only to learn from them, but also to build community among like-minded people. Working for yourself can feel like you’re completely alone, but I don’t think it has to be that way. We’ll be meeting with some very talented folks—so excited to meet you in person, Katherine!—along the west coast to get to know them, hear their stories, and learn from their experience. We’ll be blogging all along the way to share what we learn with others, too!
And I, for one, can hardly wait to see how it all turns out. Thank you, Gracie!
After words: Friends, you can learn more about what Gracie does by browsing her website, GracieKlumpp.com. She also blogs at Once and Still, which is all about “viewing the world–and our stories–through the lens of the Greater Story God is telling.”
Plus, don’t miss her Etsy shop, The Chartreuse Umbrella, where you can find more of her whimsical, heartwarming cards and prints.
And now, for you, a question: When you think of “God’s story,” what comes to your mind?