The endlessly entertaining ideas of Cari Vander Yacht.

Meet the Artist May 15, 2023

Award-winning illustrator, animator and proud Oregonian, Cari Vander Yacht's brilliant and light-hearted works are full of energetic ideas and potent humor. Her work for The New York Times, Nike, Google and her line of home goods for Wrap always provide a smile along with a little food for thought.

Cari Vander Yacht’s energy, much like her work, is instantly infectious and endearing. Not one for sitting still physically or metaphorically, we were lucky enough to catch up with Cari during some rare downtime in her Brooklyn based studio. “I share an old ketchup factory with four other illustrators. There is no more ketchup. But we do have a tons of packets from all the hamburgers we order here.”

Sharing a space with fine artists, kid's book illustrators, and editorial illustrators means Cari is never short of inspiration and professional opinions when she needs them. “It's very intimidating because they're all extremely talented,” she jokingly says. “There's a big communal table that we eat lunch at and do collaborative drawings on sometimes. We've got big sheets of paper that we'll put out to just chill out and talk. And then we each have our own separate desk spaces, which are essentially our studios. But it’s all open and I love it.”

Deceptively simple in style but overflowing with ideas and humor, Cari’s work is immediate and instantly satisfying. This simplicity is as deliberate as it is charming, “At a certain point I was like, what's the most efficient way to communicate a humorous idea? And so I've been trying to gradually strip it back to figure out the most economic way of explaining an idea, while still making it an interesting image to look at – which is hard, because there's no right way of doing it either.”

The idea behind each work is what helps make Cari's work stand out amongst the crowd.

“I did make a concerted effort to figure out, and I am still trying to figure out how to make a picture look as funny as possible. I think that there's still room to keep exploring, which is fun – tripping and stumbling along the way. I like to noodle around with a bunch of different styles, but I think at the end of the day, for most of us, we have a certain way we naturally want to draw. And to a certain degree, it'll always kind of have your essence to it.”

Cari’s illustrations and animations are hyper-focussed works that center around a figure or object to do the storytelling. When quizzed as to why she chose to translate her ideas through spot illustration, her response is surprising. Half jokingly she reveals, “Your first step is to dislike drawing any environment. Don't like drawing buildings? Don't draw any... Perspective, that's the first thing you avoid.” Getting serious Cari continues, “When it comes to spot illustration, you can really just lay little indicators of an environment around that will always make it more relatable. The less detail that you put into something, the more people can fill in the gaps. Less is more to a certain degree, especially when you're depending on the story.”

Cari's simple and witty animation loops keep the viewer engaged to the very end.

With ideas driving the visual conversation, Cari’s process begins where a lot of creatives do — away from the screen. Starting off with analog tools allows a certain creative freedom, and most importantly mistakes can’t be two-finger tapped away. “I like the unpredictability of pen and paper particularly. A lot more mistakes happen and I think that's kind of where the fun is for me.”

This methodology of developing ideas and embracing the happy accidents that present themselves hints at Cari’s previous professional life before taking on illustration full-time. “It was like going to ideas bootcamp,” she animatedly exclaims of her six years spent as an advertising Art Director. “…Being around ridiculous, high functioning maniacs that were creative was very eye-opening. You'd walk into their rooms and the walls would be covered with all this really cool inspiration. I realized there's no real right way to do this stuff. You might as well just use it [what inspires you] to your own advantage and bring what excites you to it. And that was really exciting for me to learn, and what I latched onto.”

Visual storytelling is an important part of Cari's work

When it does come ‘down to brass tacks’, Cari takes a pragmatic approach to her work. Using all the tools available to a modern day artist, she leverages the individual strengths each medium brings with it. “I love using Procreate, it sits in this interesting spot between my big Cintiq and on-paper sketching. It's a whole other tool – not the same as using a stylus and not the same as using pen and paper. It really is its own thing completely. I notice the difference between my work in Procreate, my work in other programs and my work on paper. And I love that. I find I enjoy doing more line work illustration with Procreate. I feel like it's really fun to start a drawing [in Procreate] and easier for me to do delicate work.”

Even with animation works Cari enjoys the crossover between intuition and technology Procreate brings, “I’ve been really enjoying Animation Assist. I use the Onion Skin, frame-by-frame for certain ones. It's good for when I have a random idea, to just bang it out really quick and see if it works. It's a really interesting way of playing around [with animation], it feels more like if I was doing it by hand than by computer. I feel like it's closer to if I were to just use paper. So that's kind of fun.”

Cari's humor turns even the toughest of human endevors into a delight.

The visual stories Cari tells often come with a certain edginess to them, smoothed off through on-point humor and her engaging style. Maternity cards depicting child birth and Christmas decorations of pooping dogs could be seen as being of an acquired taste, but Cari is always able to bring them back to not only being tasteful, but outright adorable. “When it comes to making edgy work or work that's along that vein, I try not to make it at the expense of anyone. I just believe in empathy. When it comes to things like the ‘You did it!’ childbirth scene card, when I was making that I was like, ‘Childbirth is hard and scary and wild.’ There’s so much stuff already about, ‘You have a new baby, and it’s all beautiful,’ I love all that stuff but I’m also thinking, ‘Holy sh*t, you pushed a human out of your body.’”

Sharp observations about life and how ridiculous it can be breathe life into Cari’s work with insights that resonate with people. But for these observations to materialize requires a combination of hard work and, “having to consciously make yourself look at the world and really look at it. Like when you go on vacation or you first move someplace and everything is precious. Every pigeon, every person smoking a cigarette, is special. Every beam of sunlight, it’s just falling in love again with the world. It’s a mode that you drop into, being receptive to ideas.”

That isn’t to say Cari is simply kicking back and waiting for ‘the idea’ to come, “I love coming up with ideas and I love thinking about possibilities. I do like to squeeze the toothpaste tube of my brain until it’s completely empty.”

Photo by Andy Price. Seeing Cari's illustrations come to life left her 'overjoyed'.

Cari’s exploration of ideas and possibilities has crossed the threshold of the page and been transformed into real-life objects. Her canine Christmas ornaments were an instant hit, with a particularly naughty dog being a Procreate favorite. It turns out it wasn’t just ours, “I love the pooping dog ornament. That’s a year round favorite. It's so funny because you know when you draw these little things and you're like, ‘Is this too weird for them?’ And then they make it, and people love it you’re like, ‘Well, of course it wasn’t that weird.’ Every dog owner sees that multiple times a day if everything’s going well. Of course everyone loves poop!”

There’s a time to take in ideas and feel the magic of the world, and then also you’ve got to get down to brass tacks and make it.

Cari Vander Yacht

Cari was overjoyed seeing her illustration come to life. “When they sent me my samples, it was a box of 50 of them. They were all individually wrapped and I was really feeling McDonald’s Happy Meal vibes, like I was just getting so many prizes. It's a very, very primal child-like feeling of just picking up all these different toys, and they’re all a little different from each other because they’re handmade. I was honestly beside myself with a complete overload of cuteness.”

Having ticked off cute handmade dogs ornaments from her bucket list, Cari still feels like there is a lot more to do. “I think it [my work] could get a lot weirder. That’s a 2023 resolution. Number one, got to get my work on something weird. I would like to make some bigger scale personal projects. There’s still some illustrator scavenger hunt things to check off my list.” Grounding herself a little, Cari leaves us with some sage advice every artist should follow, “For now, the basic plan is to just follow my whims for a little bit and kind of see what comes from that.”

See more of Cari’s ‘over enthusiastic’ work on Instagram, Cari's own website and Wrap page.

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