Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Focus On: Alison Murray Whittington

I found Alison's shop while I was searching for a gift for a little boy. I thought sea monsters would appeal to him-- they appeal to me. Alison's are beautiful, as is all of her work, but more beautiful in person. I've enjoyed all of my purchase experiences with Alison and can vouch for her talents in custom design as well!

Alison Faye Murray Whittington

Tell us about yourself. What makes you, you?
I love the ocean and I love mountains. I like bright colors and light. I miss California every single day. I am a wanderer and a daydreamer. I am obsessively curious and will spend a great deal of time in the middle of the day researching subjects that have nothing to do with my life. I own a LOT of books. I am a haphazard nerd. I have an elastic sense of time. I think the meaning of life is joy.

What made you want to be an artist?
I couldn’t tell you exactly… I’ve always loved making art – I’ve always been a doodler, a drawer and a painter – and I’ve always WISHED I could be an artist, but I never wanted to be an artist, because I didn’t think it was something I COULD be. Does that make sense? It always seemed to me to be something other people – lucky people – got to do. When I realized I could do it too, if I wanted to, a whole new world opened up for me. I realized I was a “real” artist when my art supplies – the things I used to collect or buy or covet because I thought they were cool – transformed into tools I used on a daily basis and when I go to the store to buy more, it’s not only to feed my art supply addiction, but also because I actually need those things. It all sort of happened by accident – this is not the path I envisioned for myself ten years ago – but I count myself among the luckiest people in the world. I get to work for myself and I get to make things I love.

Why paint and ink?
It’s kind of a strange story: when I first considered going into business for myself, I picked the name Paint and Ink as a way of covering both art and writing. Then I wavered around a bit, and switched to Radiogirl Designs to work mostly on graphic design. It wasn’t for another year that I actually started making maps out of, well, paint and ink, and found my old name waiting patiently for me. Things have a funny way of working out just right. Of course, the “official” name of my shop is the Interimaginational Institute for Fantastical Exploration & Cartography. I have no idea where that came from, but I do love it. If it wasn't paint and ink what would it be?

My alter, alter ego, my other, not-so-secret identity, my second alias, is Radiogirl, and it was, actually, one of my first online usernames way back in the last century. If you add my confirmation name, Mary, in between my first and middle names, my initials become AMFM (W). Hence… Radiogirl. And radio has actually played a big role in my life, and, according to my mother, is largely responsible for my existence. But that’s a story for her to tell. But there are a lot of Radiogirls out there, these days, so it’s not as unique as it once was.

How do you see your style?
Whimsical, playful, adventure-inspiring, colorful.

What's the most wonderful thing you've made? The oddest?
I really, really, really love “The Sea of Laughter,” because the colors are so bright and joyful. But I’d most love to visit the Kingdom of Delight or the Realm of Good Cheer or the Land of Enchanted Vistas, or… well… I like all of my places! The oddest thing? Well, I once, at 13, glued toothpicks together on a piece of paper to form my uncle’s name. It was a Christmas present. I think kids today are much cooler at 13 than they were 20 years ago, but even so, I was embarrassingly dorky even by those standards.

What inspires you?
Everything. Seriously! But I am especially inspired by tall ships, fantasy novels and movies, old maps, books about pirates and nautical history, travel, great photography, memories of places I’ve been and the way they made me feel, people who believe in possibilities, and all the good things in life. And some of the bad things too. I turn them into good things by naming treasure map features after them… “Betrayal Bay”… “Mutiny Beach…” It’s my own special way of making the world a better place.

What scares you?
Losing my eyesight and not being able to paint anymore, and the thought of never actually writing that Great American Novel. At least I have written a novel, so the fear of never writing one at all has now been alleviated. But the novel was terrible and is in the cyber equivalent of a cardboard box in the attic, so now the next step is to write a good novel. One thing at a time, one thing at a time.

Tell us about your creative process.
My creative process is multi-faceted. I try to “fill the well,” so to speak, as much as possible. I read a lot of books, from fairy tales to pirate stories to coffee table books about the amazing places of the world. I carry around a notebook to write down great words that I think will fit well with my imaginary places (the last word I wrote down seems to be “dazzling”). I cut apart travel brochures and magazines and glue words and images into scrapbooks (this is fantastic, because it lets me put the magazines to good use and keeps me from hoarding them for years. At least some of them. I still have a good number of magazines that I’ve had for years. But I’ve started taking the scissors to National Geographic, and that, my friends, has been a big step for me in the anti-magazine-hoarding recovery process).When I actually sit down to draw the maps, I usually keep one or two of these scrapbooks at hand in case I get stuck or hit artists’ block, but usually, the places just flow from the pen. I’m hoping to start planning ahead a little more, though, because I don’t want to end up reusing too many words in my maps. Even when I do, I try to make sure they are different uses: like the Kingdom of Imagination vs. the Sea of Imagination. Some words are just too good to use only once.

How did you get on Etsy and where else do you sell?
I found Etsy at the beginning of 2006… through theblackapple. I was bloghopping through craft and art blogs, and I found her blog, which led me to Etsy, and after a month or so, I signed up. I had no idea that Etsy was still pretty new. I wasn’t making maps at the time, and my paintings weren’t all that good (although I still like them!), and I didn’t avidly pursue selling or actively participate on Etsy for a year. I listed my first map on my first Etsy anniversary. I also sell in person at art shows and sales, although I still consider myself a newbie at this. I have had some success at events, at least in getting people to come look at my artwork. I think it’s because I give them candy. Gold candy. Can’t offer people treasure maps if you’re not going to offer them treasure, now can you? My maps are also available at The Red Queen Gallery in Onancock, Virginia.

Describe your shop.
I think of my shop as a magical emporium / museum / institute / library / curiosity shop, where visitors find themselves transported to delightful and magical places as soon as they step in the door. And they can take a little of that wonder home with them, if they like. And I think of myself as a younger, female version of the absentminded explorer / professor / shopkeeper, constantly pushing my glasses up on my nose (even though I wear contacts), with wild hair flying all over the place and ink stains on my fingers. The last two are true, at least. And the absentminded part, too.

Make a recommendation.
A recommendation? What kind of recommendation? I could recommend lots of things! Hmmm… I think I will.

My Etsy recommendation: I just discovered this shop, and I’m hysterically in love! I want to buy them all:

My place to visit recommendation: Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic

My favorite restaurant recommendation: Tangerine, in Philadelphia

My musical recommendation (the greatest band you’ve never heard of): The Floating Men

Tell us the answer to a question that we didn't ask, but should have. If you can't think of anything, tell us something random.
Okay, random: I have traveled, specifically by air, a lot in my 33 years, and I’ve calculated that I have flown roughly 570,000 miles in my life. That’s enough to fly around the world almost 23 times. Sadly, I did not get frequent flier miles for most of that. But I can tell you that I like Virgin Atlantic the best of all the airlines.


  1. What a delightful interview. I've hearted Alison's shop. Wonderful stuff there!

    Maybe we are cousins. ;-)

  2. Such a great interview - it really made me smile! :-) And it's very insightful!

  3. great interview! thanks for sharing! :-)

  4. Thank you so much, Sarah, for giving me this honor of interviewing me, and thank you all for the nice comments! Melody, perhaps we are cousins :)