This summer, I sat down with Amy-Grace Ratanapratum, artist for the piece “Mindless Eye” which accompanies Issue 41 story “I, Iris.” We talked about the motifs in the piece that connect to the story, the interactions between art and writing process, and life for an artist at UC Berkeley.
The following interview took place via Zoom and has been edited for clarity.
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum is a hobby artist majoring in landscape architecture. She has been drawing ever since she can remember, and started with a small Instagram account, @wildergrimm, before creating a more professional account, @thistlescapes. Creating is an enormous part of her life and identity—branching out from 2D art to sculpture, and from fiction writing to amateur singing-songwriting.
Berkeley Fiction Review: What was your artistic process for drawing “Mindless Eye”? What alternatives did you experiment with and how did you settle on the end result?
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: Great. Well, when I was first reading the story every time I came to a certain line, like an image would pop out at me, and it would either be this really strong visceral emotion I felt, or just a little piece of imagery that really stuck in my brain. So, I filed those away to look at later, and I was concocting these little images in my head without actually drawing anything down. Once I finished the story, I saw that there was a design points document made by the author. Within it, she detailed both the themes as well as certain images that she really was trying to exemplify in the story, as well as some book covers and other sorts of visual media that might serve as an inspiration. So, what I found really interesting was when I was reading it I had all of these images in my head, and I went to look at all of the inspiration images that she provided, a lot of them actually really aligned with how my mind was putting everything together. The most inspiring out of all of them that really clicked with what I had in my mind was a really cool book cover. It’s a cover for a book called The People in the Trees, and it has this organic feel to it, as well as all of the plant material, and a certain surreal quality to it.
BFR: Awesome, yeah this is really cool—we can definitely put this link in the interview transcript. So, where did you go from there after you found the cover?
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: I started to sketch out a few ideas. I ended up with three different compositions and design directions to take it in. The first one I did digitally and it really focused on this one image of the tree, as well as eyes, so I kind of made it inspired by aspen trees, which, in their bark it looks like they have hundreds of little eyes in them. Yeah, it’s a really cool plant.
BFR: That’s such a cool detail, I didn’t realize.
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: Yeah, yeah, it’s one of my favorite trees for that reason. My second idea was sort of more of a book cover design, or that sort of feeling to it, where it focused on the ideas of reflections and the distortions of those reflections. I had the main character mirrored on both sides, and then a spoon bisecting the image with a curved, distorted mirror reflection in it.
BFR: So that was one of your initial drafts, right?
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: Yeah, yeah.
BFR: Yeah, one of the ones that didn’t get published.
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: Yeah. So the final one that we ended up going with was this sort of intersection of the imagery of a tree, of eyes, and just— [laughter] There’s this one part in the story mentioning the brain and I just think that the brain has such an interesting texture that it would make for a really good background. So that was what I ended up using.
BFR: Yeah, I remember thinking that the tree looked a lot like a brain. That was definitely my first thought. A funny thing is that as editors, when we looked at your initial draft with the spoon, we were like, “Oh no. Does that give too much away?” So that was just another behind the scenes thing that happened.
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: That was a thing I was a little bit worried about too.
BFR: Yeah, but we all loved the tree and the brain so much that it was a no brainer. [Laughter]
So, moving on. I know you’ve built a lot of subtle motifs from the story into the artwork. We’ve already talked about a lot of them, but I don’t know if we missed a few, so I just want to make sure. I just want to give us some time to, like, dissect the piece itself. Would you like to point out which elements correspond to events in the story?
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: Yeah, absolutely. So, of course the most obvious part was to play around with the motif of the eye—there’s that repetition in the title “I, Iris”—and sort of playing with the idea of Iris as both a name, a flower, and, you know, the part of an eye. So I kind of wanted to make that wordplay even more visual. And then for the tree design, at some point (I don’t think it corresponds to the actual Fiction Review but in the editing draft on page 10) there’s this little portion talking about a scar on her arm, and she describes it as a naked branchless tree, and that was an image—it sort of felt like a shock of lightning when I read it, and it’s just stuck in my brain, ever since. And so I really wanted to get the tree, and somehow incorporate it into the full design.
Then for the brain, that was later on in the story during the race. When she says: “I imagined removing and placing my brain next to my feet on the track.” And the idea of this gelatinous mass of a brain and the eyeballs placed next to it, just sitting there on the track staring at her … I could not get that out of my head.
BFR: Yeah, that’s so cool, especially the scar bit because that’s just such a specific detail and you’re right I’m not sure if it made it into the final draft. I didn’t edit this story so I’m not absolutely certain. Okay, let’s move on. You’ve mentioned that this piece was inspired by a black-and-white drawing by Jonathan Rosen accompanying this article about Les Belles Images, a French novel referenced in the issue 41 story “I, Iris”. It’s certainly a striking piece! How did you find this article and what specifically about this artwork inspired you?
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: So, that article was actually linked by the author because that original story served as such heavy inspiration for the later story. So, that article was linked, and it even mentioned how, strangely enough, the eyes were also a prominent image in the drawing. I really wanted to take that feeling of … there’s kind of a grotesque quality to the image. I really, really enjoyed that very visceral feeling looking at it, especially with the eyes all looking up at the subject and the limited color palette—I love black and white. So, I tried to incorporate that myself by making the only colors the green and purple of the irises.
BFR: Yeah, that’s very cool. When I pressed on the link and saw the article it was very easy for me to see the correlation between these two pieces.
Finally, we’ve already talked about this quite a bit, but I guess, comparing it to how you would usually create a piece of art, how was the process different creating a piece of art specifically to accompany a fiction story?
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: There was definitely an added pressure. Normally when I’m doing art it’s almost always for myself so I’m the only judge of it, and so I know exactly what images are in my head, and how I want it to get out. So, even if I don’t get it right, I know what I was going for. But for this I had like this whole other person who had an idea in their head, and I just felt this sort of pressure of really trying to deliver what they were conveying just through words. And that translation is … I found it really interesting! I definitely want to continue doing illustrations for people because it was cool—even if we weren’t communicating, there was sort of this, like, subconscious communication between the two of us.
BFR: Oh that’s so cool! I didn’t think about how much you’re like talking to the author in that way.
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: Yeah, I did feel like I was sort of peering into their brain and trying to pluck out what they thought was the most important part.
BFR: That’s a really cool way of thinking about it. I definitely didn’t think of that. Okay, so we’re going to be moving on to questions about art in general. But, there’s also some stuff about Mindless Eye in here. “I, Iris” could be argued to be a horror story, and “Mindless Eye” definitely captures the same spooky, unsettling tone! Do you often draw pieces like this, that are very surreal, almost fantastical?
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: I’m not actually sure. I tend to just draw whatever is in my head. I do definitely dabble with different genres. A lot of my art is more character focused so if it serves the character and it serves the story I’m trying to put out onto a piece of paper, then, yeah, I definitely do tend to go for basically disorienting or a little bit unsettling.
BFR: Okay, okay. Do you have a favorite genre? You talked about character driven art—is that what you usually try to go for?
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: Yeah, I definitely do tend to focus on characters. I think that’s sort of the virtue of a lot of online, like internet artists. A lot of them will create their own characters and draw them. So, being part of that culture has really informed how I do my art.
BFR: Cool. So, going back. When did you first begin drawing? What has your journey as an artist been like so far and what has inspired you along the way?
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: When I first started drawing, I was a little kid. I actually had some imaginary friends that I would draw, you know, with the little Crayola felt tip markers. I drew a lot of birds growing up, and that definitely has not changed. The majority of the art I did growing up was during classes, so I was never a good note taker. I always doodled all over my papers. Eventually I ended up taking art classes in high school, and for AP Art I actually made my concentration on birds, so I did 12 whole pieces with birds as the focus. Nowadays, I’m in landscape architecture which is requiring a lot of drawing classes, and it’s been interesting shifting my focus less from characters and subjects and more to the overall landscape and the settings. It’s been a lot of fun to shift that perspective.
BFR: Yeah, that’s interesting, because birds are like one specific thing and now you’re dealing with landscapes. Lots of birds in a landscape!
So, you’ve mentioned that you’re also interested in many other creative pursuits such as sculpting, fiction writing, and even singing and songwriting. Do you have any published works you’d like to share, or otherwise, like, what have you been working on or what are you interested in these days?
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: I tend not to publish my works anywhere, at least I haven’t yet. Most of my works just sort of live in my Google Drive. I’ve had stories in my head for years, and I slowly add and build onto them, and who knows, maybe I’ll actually have a finished product someday. I do have a Bandcamp for what few songs I’ve written in SoundCloud, but it’s completely a hobby. It’s nothing I ever really want to pursue professionally. As far as sculpting goes, I feel like that goes hand in hand with drawing—it’s sort of the more tactile nature of it, which … it’s definitely more natural for me just being able to see the textures. Textures are really important to me.
BFR: That’s very cool. As a fiction review journal we’re very interested in writers and writing. So, I would be really curious to know how your art interacts with your writing process. Do you find that they’re connected in any way? Does it help you to draw something you’re trying to write or that kind of thing?
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: Definitely. I have this crutch I fall on where every time I try to write a scene I have all of the images really vivid in my head and I tend to really bog myself down on the details because in my mind, I have to convey exactly what I’m imagining for other people to see it. And, lately, I’ve been having a little bit of trouble writing and just focusing on my writing. So, recently, if I’ve had a scene in my head, I’ll just sort of storyboard it out in a few little drawings, little thumbnail drawings. And that’s been really helpful.
BFR: That’s really interesting. You know, as someone who tries to write myself I’ve always wondered if it would help for me to be able to draw things. But, sadly, I have zero artistic talent.
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: It all just takes practice, I mean, like I said, I had years of just drawing for hours in class.
Once I was so behind on my AP art portfolio that I asked all of my other teachers if I could skip class and just work on art that day.
BFR: What did they say?
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: They all said it was fine. So, from the start of school until past the end of school I was just working on my portfolio.
BFR: Was it a fun day or was it just kind of intense?
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: Definitely more stressful than I expected it to be. I distinctly remember going to another teacher’s room just to take a nap on their beanbag chairs during lunch. Art takes a lot of energy, and as someone who grew up thinking it was just a relaxing activity, putting so much effort into it was a shift.
BFR: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, as someone who wrote for fun now trying to think about it as something you can publish is terrifying.
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: Yeah, right? Like thinking about other people looking at it and trying to figure out what you’re saying. I don’t know, it’s terrifying.
BFR: Yeah, much easier to keep it in the Google Drive, that’s very relatable.
Okay, so you’re a UC Berkeley student, which is great! How has your first year been? I know this year has been very strange, but have you had the chance to join any clubs or pursue any artistic activities?
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: No clubs for me yet. I’m hoping I can join them this upcoming year. Yeah, I was down in Southern California for the majority of the year—I only moved up to North Cal for maybe two months in the spring. It was interesting. I wish that I could have had in-person classes just for the fact that my professors were all such fascinating people. Really only in one or two classes did we really build a community. So, I think it’s a lot easier when you’re in-person and suffering together.
BFR: Yeah, it’s gonna be interesting going back this fall, I hope it works out. Is there anything you’ve been scoping out, anything you’re hoping to join or look into?
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: I actually haven’t taken much of a look at clubs or groups. Really excited though for my studio classes because I had a studio this past spring, and that was a four hour zoom call. It’s just not the same.
BFR: Yeah, any form of artistic thing online has been very challenging. I’m also a singer, I’m in UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus. We tried, but, you know, it’s definitely not the same online—it’s very hard. Yeah, so I really hope it works out, and I’m glad you have classes that you’re excited for that are going to be in person.
So, second to last question—any new pieces or projects that you were working on that you’d like to share or talk about?
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: I’ve been trying to come up with drawings for the cast of one of my stories. It’s just—I was doing some pencil drawings last night and—it’s a fantasy. I don’t have a lot of details that I can share right now but, yeah, it’s been fun just putting together all of the different characters. Because I’ve had these guys in my brain for five years now, and never really put them all down on paper.
Yeah, that’s a fun thing to be working on.
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: Another thing that I’ve been trying to do is: I am into this one video game and I’ve noticed a lot of artists will do custom skins for the player character, as well as some other sprites. It is a massive undergoing—like I was looking at all of the different frames that people have to draw, and it just seems like so much fun to try something like that for the first time. And if I fail, I fail but…
BFR: No, that’s exciting. That’s a fun thing to try!
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: Yeah, I don’t know much about computers at all, much less about video games or customizing games with mods, but I really hope that I can follow that one through.
BFR: Do you usually draw electronically or on paper?
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: Definitely a mix. I tend to do sketches on paper, just because the feeling of it with my hand is more natural. But for the most part, I’ll use either.
BFR: That makes sense. You gotta get things online, these days.
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: Yeah, that’s the main reason. And there’s so many cool tools that you can use for digital art, even if it’s just, you know, reorganizing layers or changing the opacity of things. There are a lot of things that it would be harder to do with traditional art. And the same goes for the reverse as well: there are a lot of different mediums that are really hard to recreate with digital brushes. So, each has their pluses.
BFR: Okay, so we’re just finishing up here now. Where can our readers find you online?
Amy-Grace Ratanapratum: So, I have an Art Instagram—it’s kind of personal, mostly unfinished work. And that one is @wildergrimm. Then, I have a separate one that’s more of a portfolio account, which is @thistlescapes. That one is only finished pieces, ones that I can send to people. It’s the one I actually sent when I was hoping to be an illustrator for this issue.