I recently had the sheer pleasure of chatting with Lily over Facetime, she’s a delightfully positive woman who radiates joy. A native of Pennsylvania who loves Barcelona, her playfulness was evident by the cat ears popping up behind her shoulders, courtesy of a cute pillow case.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Lily Hufnagel (Soon to change, once the pandemic decides to retire), and I’ve worn a variety of hats with renaissance festivals. Presently, I am one half of the circus variety stage act, Topsy Turvy Show, where my “sister” and I fill the stage with shenanigans and stunts. Additionally, I am the would-be juggernaut behind Lilystrations, the handle I’ve used for almost a decade in regards to freelance art, graphic, and illustrative work for a variety of clientele.
Why do you do what you do?
What I do brings me joy, both on stage and on paper. Creating things that can bring smiles, gasps, oohs and aahs to faces either through performance or the wonder of putting pen to paper gives me more energy than caffeine ever could. If I can bring even an ounce of that feeling I have to someone else, that is enough to continue doing what I love.
What’s your background?
I’ve been some degree of artist since I first started forming memories and having to be told by my mother that drinking paint water doesn’t make you a better artist. Since I was young I had a pencil in one hand, and a Dragonlance book in the other. The artistic nerdery has been present in me for decades, and I’ve used my art to facilitate that ever since. I went to the Ringling College of Art and Design, graduating as an Illustration major with a Bachelors in Fine Arts. I started with the Renaissance fair circuit shortly before I graduated, and it was then that I started working with physical and variety skills before hitting the traveling circuit as Topsy Turvy Show while peddling Lilystrations work on the side.
What’s integral to the work of an artist?
Maintaining your confidence in yourself. There are millions of other artists in the world, and everyone is at a different point in their path to where they want to take their medium, skills, and artwork. It can be really difficult to not judge your own work and progress against someone else’s, which can be equally negative and positive depending on how you approach it. One should always be inspired by others, but don’t get too critical towards yourself because someone else’s journey is at a different point from yours. Different doesn’t equal bad, and it’s an excellent reminder for myself and any other artist. A phrase I heard at one point was “Bad art is better than no art.” I agree with the sentiment, but I change the phrasing any time I share it: “Any art is better than no art.” Never think of what you create as bad. Anything you make is another step forward towards improving, so it can’t be bad if it helps you grow.
What role does the artist have in society?
I don’t think society would exist without artists. The title “artist” covers so many different bases, each of which is overestimated for what it contributes to a modern society. If we lose artists, we lose color. If we lose artists, we lose inspiration. If we lose artists, we lose hope. Artists will always have a key role in the cohesion of a society, we are the glue that helps hold things together.
Explain what you do in 100 words
I create fanciful mermaids and star witches, I bring Dungeons and Dragons creations to life, I illustrate comical lost causes of a creature. I paint things that make me happy, things that inspire me, things full of color and wonder.
How has your practice change over time
My practice is constantly evolving, especially during this past year as I’m at home and have the ability to access more artists and illustrators online. I’ve joined an online community that’s thrust me into the middle of so many talented artists, I’m constantly watching their processes and figuring out new ones on my own.
What art do you most identify with?
Alphonse Mucha and the art nouveau movement is one of the largest inspirations and ideal for me. There are a lot of other artists I would love to identify more with, but their experience and artistic style is so far separate from what I’m currently capable of that it is a lovely/frustrating goal to work towards.
What work do you most enjoying doing?
Honestly, this changes week to week. I’ve always enjoyed painting mermaids, but I got a little burned out on them two years or so ago. Then for a solid week straight last month, they were the only thing I painted. Things vary from one moment to the next, but one thing that’s pretty consistent is ladies with giant flowy hair. I can never say no to some heckin’ flowy hair.
What’s your strongest memory of your childhood?
I was maybe seven or eight years old, and once a week my parents would drop me off at a small art studio in Bryn Mawr, PA, for art classes. I think the teacher’s name was Pierre, and he owned the studio and I think was the only teacher there. It was always so full of color and sunshine there, it’s how I want my workspace to eventually look. He was such a sweet man, and so encouraging of everyone who came into his studio. I still have a small glass bonsai tree he gifted me when I told him I was moving, it had sat in a corner of his studio for he couldn’t even remember how long.
What’s your scariest experience?
I did a student exchange program when I was in college, and as a result lived in Antwerp, Belgium for six months. It was a stark contrast to the learning environment from Ringling, and I never quite meshed with my instructors while I was there. The artistic knowledge and style I came there with was so different and contrasting to anything they knew or taught, I was frequently told during critiques “I have nothing to say to this, I don’t know what comments I can offer.” There was one teacher, the figure drawing instructor, who seemed supportive while I was there, so she became a little bit of a port in the storm of confused frustration for me amidst judging faces and foreign languages. Many of the teachers looked down on Ringling practices, looking at it as selling out for the sake of getting a job. Many of the Antwerp students had a very distinct style that seemed consistent through the school, and the few times I tried imitating it, I only succeeded when I tried to channel my inner six year old. Those pieces received the highest praise from my instructors, but went completely against anything I knew or wanted to grow into. During our final critique for the portfolio we created throughout the semester, many of the professors had terrible comments for my pieces. I was told I murdered my artwork, that it had no soul. There wasn’t a single suggestion on things to do better, purely attacks on what I presented . It still sticks with me today. I’m not sure that I would call it a “scary” experience, but it is definitely a lasting one, and an excellent reminder to me that even if a style isn’t mine, that doesn’t make it any less valid.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
If someone cries sentimental tears when I hand them their commissioned piece, I consider that a win.
Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
It can be. On the circuit, there are hundreds of artists, but I haven’t met as many that deal with the same kind of art as myself. I’m grateful for the ones I have, but they are few and far between and circuits don’t always line up. I’ve found a new community in the online streaming artists, but once I go back on circuit I’m unsure how things will change.
What do you dislike about your work?
I dislike my struggle with color and light awareness a lot, it is ever a work in progress but it isn’t near where I want to be with it.
What do you like about your work?
As long as we’re not throwing light sources into the mix, I love the richness and mixture of colors I put into pieces, and the linework I create with ink pieces. I’m a sucker for extreme details, and I often get lost in the linework.
What superpower would you have and why?
A permanent self healing ability would be pretty sweet. No injury could stop me.
Name something you love, and why.
I love ping ponging between art mediums, and seeing people branch outside of their comfort zones in art.
What is your dream project?
I would very much love to illustrate even a single card for the card game, Magic the Gathering. That’s my goal in life. My artistic style isn’t anywhere near what they currently print, so it’s a ways off still.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Mess it up, dress it up. I still remember this comment from a grade school teacher years and years ago, Ms. Cho. It always sticks with me when I create traditional artwork, I never throw an art piece away because of an error. I always try and find a way to make a mistake work, because it’s a new learning opportunity.
Professionally, what’s your goal?
To continue creating, performing, and painting, for as long as I possibly can.
What wouldn’t you do without?
You can find Lily at: