Phoebe Harris & Her Rough-Hewn Melodies

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Phoebe Harris

Guitarist of the Massachusetts pop-punk band, Potty Mouth, Phoebe Harris is also an illustrator and it’s only fitting that a phrase used to describe their music on Hell Bent can also be borrowed to describe her drawings as rough-hewn melodies. When tied to her selective, quick-stroke coloring that sometimes slows down to veer in a different direction, and often leaves empty patches, the distinct outlines of the subjects in Harris’ drawings garner simultaneous attention from one point to another. This gives the sense that the subjects are pulsating, that they are coming to life, and there is something elegant about all this.

How was visiting London as an art student?

Living in London was magical! I feel very lucky to have lived abroad. It's funny to think about sometimes because a lot of the work I was doing there was completely unrelated to illustration. It was certainly helpful in figuring out what I didn't want to do. It wasn't until my last year of school that I came to terms with the fact that what I loved was drawing. This was a particularly important revelation that I had, because I spent most of my years in school trying to make work that I didn't even really feel connected to. I was making work for other people, not for myself.

Did you also do the Potty Mouth record covers?

I did! I have a lot of fun incorporating visual art into music projects. I've done some t-shirt and record designs for other bands as well, and they're really my favorite kind of projects to work on.

What have you been up to musically and visual-artistically?

Potty Mouth has been pretty busy! We've been playing lots of shows with some of my favorite bands, so that's been a lot of fun. We are playing with Vivian Girls for one of their final shows which feels like a dream come true, and after that, we're getting geared up for SXSW. I plan to step back from the band this spring to focus more seriously on illustration. They'll be going on a five-week US tour in May, and our friend Ali Donohue will be taking over as lead guitarist. Trying to “do it all” has been exhausting and near impossible. I will definitely miss the band, but I'm ready to hunker down at home and focus on illustration in a way that I haven't yet been able to.

What is your process like when you're working on sketches etc? Do you set aside time for it when on the road?

I have been pretty diligent about setting aside time to work on illustration when I can, which means whenever I'm not working and whenever I'm not on the road with the band. It's hard to get any real work done when I'm on the road, so I try to be disciplined about getting work done when I'm home.

I go through somewhat of a ritual every time I sit down to draw. My studio is a bit of a sanctuary—everything has to feel right before I can begin. I'm lucky because I live and work above a non-profit literary arts center that my partner runs. He is very intentional about space, and has a knack for design, and our home definitely reflects that.

I'll usually have an idea of what it is I want to draw before I get started. Sometimes I'll work from memory, but other times I'll work loosely from old photographs or postcards I find at thrift stores. There's something about this I really enjoy—it helps generate ideas, and prevents me from being stuck in my own head too much. My favorite materials to use are colored pencil and ink or gouache. I have been using the same kind of pen for as long as I can remember—Pilot Precise V5 fine or extra fine point. You can find them at any drug store. Best pens ever.

Any earlier and/or new influences?

Esther Pearl Watson, Maira Kalman, and Aidan Koch are some of my favorite artists. I discovered Aidan's work at a zine fest in Brooklyn in 2009. After purchasing her comic Warmer I started to play with the idea of seeing my drawings come together in book form. In 2009 I also worked for artist Dasha Shishkin who was hugely influential to me. She illustrated/designed the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah self titled album, which I coveted in high school. Now she makes huge, beautiful paintings, but with the same delicate quality that her small scale drawings possess.

How was high school? Do you miss being a teenager?

I was born in Portland, ME and raised just outside of it. My high school was pretty small and I didn't have a lot of friends in school. I ended up spending a lot of time in Portland, where I started going to shows and hanging out in coffee shops, and that's where I ended up meeting people with shared interests. I definitely don't miss being a teenager. I was so limited, yet very eager to grow up—it was hard not to feel like half a person.

Could you tell us about your latest exhibitions in MA and NH?

I recently participated in a group exhibition at Nahcotta Gallery in Portsmouth, NH. For the show I painted a zodiac series. I don't typically paint, usually I draw with pen/colored pencil and lately I've been using ink in combination, but I wanted to try my hand at gouache. Not my favorite medium on its own, but I'm having fun trying new things.

This past week I showed a couple drawings in another group show at Headquarters in Northampton, MA. My friend Emma collected works from various artists, and made b&w enlargements of each piece. She covered the walls, ceilings and even the floor of the space with all the enlargements.

Photo by Roger Kisby