Design inspiration: the art of Tiffany McAnarney

4 min read
Kristin Hillery
  •  Jul 24, 2015
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It’s no secret that we’re big fans of doodling here at InVision. So when we discovered Dallas-based artist Tiffany McAnarney, who describes her work as “essentially color and line building, feeding, growing, and evolving together,” we had to take a closer look.

Read on to see some of Tiffany’s doodles, paintings, and murals, and to hear what she had to say about her process, what inspires her, and how we can all start doodling more.

How’d you get started as an artist?

In middle school, I lived with my grandparents—they were different from everyone else in my family. My grandmother was a fine artist, and my grandfather was a chemist. At first, combining art and science was a way to connect with them. Then it became something integral to my personhood and world view.

I’ve never had trouble with generating ideas or having something to say, but my technique and craft was pretty terrible. My high school art teacher encouraged me to try photography while everyone was painting and drawing.

I got my BFA in Studio Art (with an emphasis in watercolor and graphite). I spent just as much time in the basement of the library studying quantum physics as I did in the watercolor studio.

“I spent just as much time in the basement of the library studying quantum physics as I did in the watercolor studio.”

Where are you from?

A tiny farm in Oklahoma called Mutual. After college, I moved to the Oak Cliff neighborhood in Dallas, which is where I am now.

What’s your process, from idea to completed piece?

Staring at a blank canvas, paper, or wall for days to weeks at a time. I spend more time in my head than I do executing. Coming up with a narrative is usually my first step. Sometimes it’s thinking of things like the fabric of space, or the way wind currents move.

I try to understand the way something invisible works, and then I make it visible.

Once I have that, I’ll pick out a palette, sketch it out in my journal (or in Photoshop if it’s a mural), mix paint with water to the right saturation, and execute. I usually pour straight out of cups onto sponge brushes and layer colors that’ll blend beautifully.

“I try to understand the way something invisible works, and then I make it visible.”

How do you achieve the dripping paint effect?

As long as it’s a water-based paint, I can water it down to make it behave how I want. I’ll mix tube watercolors/acrylics/latex with water in a plethora of different cups at different consistencies. Sometimes I won’t mix it completely so it clumps in certain spots to create mini-river deltas.

On a flat canvas/watercolor paper, I’ll pour the paints and let them puddle. Once the colors are where I want them, I’ll prop one end up an inch or 2, and let them gently fall. I can guide the paint with a straw or spray bottle.

For a wall, I don’t use as much water in the mix. I just work really quick and spray it with an old Febreze bottle as I go.

Do you have any advice for people who want to doodle more?

It’s all about the product. I used a few different types of journals and pens until I found some I’m obsessed with. Doodling is like a treat for me.

Currently, I’m using a grid-lined Moleskine and a Pentel Sign brush pen.

“Anytime you feel like getting on social media, pull out your journal and scribble.”

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Give yourself a budget and get a few pens and journals. Then carry them with you. Anytime you feel like getting on social media—in waiting rooms or during mid-afternoon slumps—pull out your journal and scribble.

Someone once told me that my doodles remind them of “zentangles”—which is just meditative repetitive lines.

Start with 1 line, then create another that complements it. Then another, then another, and another. Don’t think about it too much—just have fun with it.

Doodling is my way of being a silly, imaginative kid in a grown-up world. Focusing on the lines helps me to concentrate during meetings, church sermons, listening to TED talks, or anything that requires me to listen.

Do you have any big projects or shows coming up?

I just set up my first 1-woman show in downtown Dallas—it’ll feature about 75 pieces I’ve created over the last 4 years. They let me paint the entire elevator bank on the floor.

That thing where office people let you go crazy on their elevator banks #actualjob

A photo posted by tmacstudio (@tmacstudio) on

“Doodling is my way of being a silly, imaginative kid in a grown-up world.”

In October, I’m planning a show with my grandmother at the LIDE gallery in Deep Ellum. I’m in the process of creating pieces that will complement hers.

How often do you create art? What do you do when you don’t feel like creating?

I binge-create. Some days I’ll work 12-14 hours on a mural, and on others I’ll generate 8-10 paintings. But most days, I just doodle.

A friend once said the best way to beat writer’s block is to write something elseTwitter Logo. If I don’t feel like creating, I’m usually just bored. The key is to not let my brain shut down, so I do something else to stimulate it. I’m obsessed with science fiction, obscure French films, hanging out with my neighbors at the coffee shop, and journaling.

After spending time away from what I’m “supposed” to do, and not feeling guilty about it, I’m usually ready to get my head in the game.

Where do you get inspiration?

Going freelance has granted me the opportunity to be curious again. If I don’t feel like working, I study something I don’t understand: the singularity in a black hole, movements of ocean waves, or even love.

I spend a considerable amount of time reflecting on my life—I let my experiences be my muse. With our world being tiny enough to fit into the phone in our pocket, we forget how big and mysterious it is.

How did you find your style?

I think it found me. At the core of who I am, I’m a purist with a lot of grit. I don’t like to erase or go back and tweak—I want to adapt and build upon whatever I’ve got. No matter how terrible I think something looks, I always have faith that I can make it work.

After a few years of doodling incessantly, the lines became more refined and natural. After years of training, I could anticipate how the paint would act if I poured it a certain way.

The key for me was to spend more time figuring out who I am, and then channeling that into my work.

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