Vanessa J. Thompson-Vaine has worked as a caricature artist since 2014, illustrates children’s books including her own story “The Song of the Armadillo”, and becomes her character Grenchessa for holiday events. Read on for more about Vanessa’s art journey and check out her artwork below!
Q: Where did you get your start, and how long have you been a caricature artist?
A:
I got my official start as a caricature artist in 2014 when I saw an ad on Indeed .com from Goofy Faces LLC looking for caricature artists to work at the retail stand the company was opening up at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina. But I guess you could say I have been a caricaturist longer than that because in school, I would get bad grades in figure/portraiture class because my images weren’t exact portraits... oh well.

Q: Where are you currently working?
A: I currently work on commissions at home, but go out to the client’s location for gigs. I am located in Columbia, South Carolina.

Q: What kind of gigs are you doing, if any?
A: I work all types of gigs/events: birthday parties, employee appreciation events, corporate events, bar and bat mitzvahs, wedding receptions, and much more!

Q: COVID has had a huge impact on our industry. How has it impacted you personally, as a professional caricature artist?
A: I actually contracted the virus from a gig that I took. I traveled two hours to get there and thought it would be an outdoor gig... turned out to be indoors. A week later, got an email from the company that hired me for the gig saying to go get tested because the client has reported that some of the guests were testing positive. Sadly, I was positive too.. then my seven week old infant caught it and days later my husband caught it!!! We were out of work for almost a month, which really hurt ... Several gigs after that had been canceled in the last year and a half due to rising number of cases.

Q: What are some of the caricature skills that you continue to use in your studio work?
A: Quick sketch! I am not cool enough to go straight into marker mode, I HAVE TO have a pencil sketch first! However I take more time with the pencil sketch phase in my studio work than I do for live caricatures, obviously... I also play around with layering colors with the Art Stix.

Q: Are there things that you get from your personal work that retail caricature can’t provide? Do you like having the freedom to explore other topics and themes, for example?
A: I like having more time to work on drawings without antsy people staring at me waiting impatiently for me to be done with the drawing—It takes me approximately 5-7 minutes per face- not fast enough! I love being able to add details and really make it a memorable piece of art for the client.

Q: Tell us more about your children's illustration work. How did you get your start? Do you have plans to write and illustrate your own stories, and what kind of stories do you like to tell?
A: I’ve been interested in colorful pictures, cute characters, and scenery since I was a little girl. Children’s book illustration allows me to tap into my inner child’s visions and bring them out onto paper. Right now, I work as an illustrator for self-published authors, bringing their stories to life in vibrant, colorful drawings. I also create coloring book pages. I hope to one day build up my portfolio enough to get an agent or representative in the traditional publishing industry. I still have a long way to go, but I am optimistic and feel that I can bring something else to the industry.
The idea of taking someone else’s words and creating imagery that doesn’t already exist for that story and seeing the author’s reactions to my interpretations of their work is just so intriguing. I love bringing their ideas to life visually. I got my first book project right after I graduated college. “No Fear For Freedom: The Story of the Friendship Nine” was a huge project to undertake and in hindsight, I wish I was better prepared ..but I am proud of what I accomplished with my skill level at the time. The story has great significance in South Carolina’s history and civil rights history, and getting to meet members of the Friendship Nine in person was just beyond amazing!!!
I have also written and illustrated my own story, “The Song of the Armadillo” which is based off of a Bolivian folktale about a little armadillo who wants to sing as beautifully as the frogs, the crickets, and the canaries BUT armadillos can’t sing and all the animals made fun of him.... I created a series of coloring/activity books to go along with my storybook. I would like to write and illustrate more of my own stories . They would probably be inspired by fairy tales or something.

Q: I also love that you're into costumes and your character Grenchessa Bah Humbug Grump is such a fun concept! Can you describe Grenchessa's origins and personality? What is it about getting into costumes that you enjoy?
A: Grenchessa is a very distant relative of a certain, stink stank stunk fuzzy green guy who hates Christmas. Like her relative, Grenchessa isn’t too fond if the super commercialization of Christmas but enjoys bringing cheer and smiles during the holiday season . She does stir up a little mischief here and there, but she is MUCH NICER than Mr. Grinch. I usually set up a little display for people to come and take photos with Grenchessa. I also have a custom Grenchessa coloring page (that I drew) for kids to color if they want. It usually takes me a little less than two hours to fully transform into Grenchessa. That is my most complex and detailed costume. I wish it was colder in December so that I can dress up as her more frequently before Christmas Eve and not nearly pass out from heat exhaustion. One year it was 80 degrees on Christmas Eve here in South Carolina !!!! I also have simpler costumes that match the themes of whatever event I am working. For example, I was hired to work a five-year old’s Disney’s “Tangled” themed birthday party where I dressed up as Rapunzel. I have also done carnival-themed, tea party, casino, western, Halloween, etc. I love costumes!! They make me feel more extroverted (I actually like to stay to myself, not fond of big crowds of people...even though the jobs I work all deal with big groups 😬) I don’t know how to explain it, but I guess I can kinda take on a different personality depending on the event and the costume. I don’t know. I am just weird like that.

Q: What are your favorite tools for retail and digital caricature?
A: My favorite tools for retail are my French easel and the Art Stix. I work traditionally, not digitally... but I do scan in my work into the computer .. so Adobe Photoshop is my best friend in that regard.

Q: What hobbies or passions do you have outside of caricature?
A: I love watching anime - Sailor Moon is my all time favorite thing EVER- and Disney movies. Y’all .. Encanto is MY JAM!!

Q: Who are your favorite women artists in caricature or in related industries you're a part of?
A: I am horrible with naming people .. but if I have to choose I would say Beejay Hawn - she actually trained me at the Riverbanks Zoo retail stand in Columbia, SC. Her style is so cute and amazing and her speed is otherworldly ! Also, a lady who goes by “Komakes” on Instagram. (Kelly O'Brien)

Q: Thanks again for participating in WIC's Artist Spotlight! Where can we follow your work?
A: Thank you for putting the spotlight on me! You can find my work at www.vanessajthompson.com.
Facebook: www.facebook.com/OutrageouslyVanessa
Instagram: www.instagram.com/OutrageouslyVanessa

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