Athena Greenleaf (she/her) not only has a super cool name, she also produces amazing work!! She cultivates a unique abstract style inspired by a variety of influences, and earned 2nd place for Most Innovative Technique at last year’s ISCAcon30! Read on for more about Athena’s artistic vision, her appreciation for filmmaking, and check out her artwork below!

Q: Where did you get your start, and how long have you been a caricature artist?
A: I started caricaturing with Cali Caricature at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in high school and I’ve been working there for about 5 years!

Q: Where do you currently work, and what work are you doing?
A: I’m still working with Cali Caricature, but in the Fall I’ll be starting a master’s program for Animation at UCLA! I’m super excited but I’m still planning on drawing caricatures during the Summer.

Q: What is it about caricature that you’re passionate about?
A: I think the most exciting part is that every face is unique and there are infinite ways an artist can interpret that face. In that way the artform is infinitely deep and infinitely wide.
While I enjoy drawing more stylized and abstract caricatures, I don’t usually have the chance to do that at the retail stand but I still find the more traditional work enjoyable. I love that caricature is a service based art form. I am making an easily accessible, personalized drawing that can capture a moment and make people feel happy. What’s better than that?

Q: Where do you find inspiration from? What or who influences your caricature style?
A: I love Picasso, Orson Welles, Steinbeck, fables and folk songs, art deco design, Norman Rockwell, churches, weird textures, bright colors, and negative space. I try to take inspiration from all sorts of mediums. I also find that a lot of my inspiration comes from not just an artists' works, but an artist's approach to making that work. It’s exciting to understand their thought process. For example if I get a book on Francis Bacon paintings, I’ll try and find a book of his interviews too (Youtube is also a great resource!).
Besides that, just seeing craftspeople make good work is inspiring. Reading the first few pages of Of Mice and Men, then reading the last few pages, makes me want to be a better artist.
As for the caricature itself, when I first saw Chris Chua’s work it really blew my mind, and made me realize there are no limits to how far you can push caricature!

Q: I think it's awesome that you're a big fan of film, and you even studied Cinema and Animation (congrats on finishing!!). What is it about these mediums that excite you, and how have they influenced you as an artist?
A: What appeals to me most about filmmaking is the mix of so many mediums (visual art, writing, sound design, editing, etc). It’s exciting to try and get all those elements to work together in order to tell a story with meaning. Animation in particular is a wonderful medium for experimentation because the only limit is your imagination, and how well you can translate your imagination to the screen.

Q: Congrats also on winning 2nd place for Most Innovative Technique at ISCA Con 2021!! You made some stunning and mind-bending pieces for your wall. What were your goals for these pieces and do you think you achieved them?
A: Thank you!! I had a great time and learned so much by watching all the talented artists!
The only goal I really had was to have fun pushing abstraction. Getting feedback from other artists at the con was very helpful because sometimes a piece can make sense to me, but in reality it’s too abstract to be recognizable. I remember showing what I thought was a finished piece to my coworker, and after a moment she asked, “Is it a dog?” So I went back and added one more line to represent the bottom of a nose and then it made sense to her– she not only knew it was a human face but she knew whose face it was. It’s crazy how one line can be the difference between confusion and recognition. Ideally I want my work to exist right on that balancing point– no line more or less. In that way I think some pieces were more successful than others.
But I actually did have a weird idea (probably fueled by lack of sleep) to make a piece that didn’t have any recognizable features (no eyes, no mouth, no nose), just the “feeling” of a person through shape and color. I think that would be really exciting, to be able to look at an abstract drawing and just know who it is. But in the end I wasn’t able to figure it out and added an eye and a simplified mouth. I don’t know if that’s even possible lol, but it’s fun to experiment and test those boundaries!
I think caricature is in some ways the perfect medium to test the lines between abstraction and representation. Our brains are primed to see faces in everything– a car's bumper is a mouth, or a random pattern in wood grain is a face. So if we naturally see faces in abstract things, then there are limitless possibilities for caricatures to be abstract!

Q: What advice would you give to someone starting out as a caricature artist?
A: Definitely look at other artists' work you admire and try copying their style. And always study from the best (that’s useful for every artform). Even if you never reach their level, just by aiming for it you’ll be better off than when you started.
Also don’t be afraid to take risks (I’m still learning to do that in my live work!). The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work, and then you’ve learned something for next time.

Q: What are your favorite tools to use in your work?
A: For caricatures and illustrations I like to use neocolors, colored pencils, paper cut out, paint pens, and crayola markers.
For my films and animation, I use TVpaint (animation software), Premiere Pro, After Effects, and archival public-domain footage. I love no-budget filmmaking because it forces you to come up with creative solutions. For my thesis short film I had my brother play all the characters (thanks Brandon!) and made all the props out of cardboard. Cardboard’s great because it’s free and easy to manipulate. Big fan of cardboard!

Q: What hobbies or passions do you have outside of caricature?
A: I love watching either really good or really bad movies, reading, looking at picture books, doing fun make-up, and eating sweets. I also have a slight obsession with drawing a repetitive squiggle pattern (you can see it in some of my example works)

Q: Who are your favorite women artists in caricature or in related industries?
A: So many! Kelly O’Brien, Lindsey Olivares, Kiko Yamada, Mae Adao, Ash Stryker, Maria Picasso Piquer, Hitomi Ishihara, Nasrin Sheykhi, Aimee Lew, Betsy Bleed, Melissa Green, Arie Monroe… and I’m sure I’m forgetting people!
I also feel incredibly lucky to be a part of a company where the owner, all my managers, and many of our crew are women. Much of my positive experience as a young woman in caricature is due to their hard work in creating an inclusive and nurturing workspace.

Q: Thanks again for participating in WIC's Artist Spotlight! Where can we follow your work (and view your films)?
A: Thank you so much! This is a wonderful organization, and I’m happy to be a part of it! 🙂
You can check out my Thesis film here →
Other animated work → Athena Greenleaf - YouTube
Instagram →

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