If you’re a woman of a certain age, back-to-school shopping used to mean only one thing: new Lisa Frank-branded school supplies. Each September, drugstore aisles were flooded with kittens in tiaras, ecstatic pandas wielding paint brushes, and unicorns prancing on a smiling moon – even that one time when year older Pat Larson called you “cute” couldn't compete with all that!
The only problem with the world of Lisa Frank was that it came with an inevitable expiration date: puberty.
As we got older, the butterfly-festooned pencils and folders slowly disappeared from our backpacks and we were left with a giant glittering dolphin-encircled hole in our hearts. That is until we discovered the work of Robin Eisenberg.
A Robin Eisenberg illustration is like sneaking into prom at Lisa Frank High School only to discover that the punch has been spiked and a local girl gang of neon pizza-loving space broads has taken over the dance floor.
Sexy, saturated, and unhampered by convention, Robin's alien women pop off the page and push you to take your own space odyssey.
Eisenberg's work has the same brightly colored whimsy and magic of the Trapper Keepers of your past but the content is undeniably grown-up – the sundae-eating puppies and anime-eyed horses have been replaced by voluptuous vibrant-skinned women who crush, snack while bathing, binge-watch TV, and roll their three eyes at creeps.
Earlier this week, Konbini had the pleasure to talk with Eisenberg about her unique style, GIFs, and whether the truth is really out there. Read the full interview below!
Konbini: How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it before?
Robin Eisenberg: Documenting the lives of alien babes: adventures across deserts and oceans, quiet moments in spaceships and bathtubs, featuring psychic animals, pizza, donuts, bubble tea, full moons, fancy nails, pinks, purples, and greens.
When it came to defining your signature style – what was that process like? How did your galactic space babes first come to fruition?
It took me a long time to find a style that felt genuinely my own, and when I did it was like, "Finally! This is what has been in my brain all this time!"
As a kid, I drew a lot of unicorns, dragons, and elf babes (usually looking super serious mid-leap in a sword fight or something). I was obsessed with fantasy and sci-fi books and graphic novels, especially Elfquest. (Side note: I’ve been reading through Elfquest again lately and it’s still so amazing!)
As I got older, I started drawing more realistic images, black and white with a lot of crosshatching. It was fun and challenging at first, trying to accurately recreate a photo, but over the years it started to feel really uninspired...
Eventually, I bought a tablet and started drawing a lot in Photoshop. I began experimenting with weirder colors, closer to the kind I use now. Ultimately, this led me to return to the kind of things I used to draw as a kid, although I guess more adult versions.
It was so much fun to finally be using my imagination again as opposed to limiting myself to reality and photo references. I also started getting impatient with all of my crosshatching tendencies and started sketching in Sharpie and using cleaner bolder lines.
What roles do gender and sexuality play in your work?
I love drawing women on their own – exploring space, enjoying a burger, skateboarding, stargazing with an alien cat, driving at night, etc. My favorite fantasy novels as a kid were always the ones about girls running away from home and becoming sorcerers, riding dragons, going on space missions...
I loved stories of girls who chose independence over their expected (and, usually, sexist) path!
In my drawings, I like representing solitude as something beautiful, interesting and fun. I’m personally in a very happy relationship, but I also love being on my own and have always had an appreciation (and a need) for "me" time. I like drawing and celebrating those kinds of moments.
"It’s important to take care of yourself, to try and love your own body, feel at ease with your own sexuality.
I know I’ve struggled with some of those things, so I guess part of me tries to draw women who inspire me and others to feel good about themselves and their independence."
A lot of your work, like your popular X-Files pins, makes outright references to the sci-fi and geek culture, which is pretty dominated by men (or at least coded as a male thing). As a woman, how did you approach and interact with those fandoms?
I come from a family of women nerds, as both my mom and my sister are also massive sci-fi lovers and Star Trek fans. (We drink "Klingon blood wine" and "Romulan ale" on holidays!)
I have faced the usual annoying thing of dudes questioning my Star Trek knowledge or trying to out-trivia me, which is always really boring. I used to know how to say "your ship is a garbage scow" in Klingon which was useful, but my Klingon is really rusty now...
Fortunately, the friends I have all recognize that women are such an important part of sci-fi culture and fandom in general. I’m happy and honored to contribute what I can.
How did you get into making GIFs? What GIF (not of your own design) do you think you use the most?
I just decided one day that I wanted to try animating my art, so I messed around in Photoshop using frame-by-frame animation until I came up with something that I thought was really cool. It was so exciting!
I think it’s always amazing when you find new ways to take ideas from your brain and turn them into visual things. So making GIFs was like opening up a closet full of new pens, or new tools, I guess.
As far as my fav GIFs, I love the women lifting women GIF by Libby VanderPloeg. I also love that GIF of the three dogs with pieces of bread around their faces.
As an independent artist, how did you turn your passion into a sustainable business? What does a typical day look like?
I finally got to the point last year where drawing became my full-time job. It’s gotten to the point where I have almost zero time for anything else. But I really love it – I love working and I feel so happy and lucky that I’m able to draw all day and make a living doing it.
I’ve never really had an issue with feeling motivated/focused when I’m drawing, which is good, I guess. But I’ve found that the main issue is just making sure I take enough time doing things that aren’t centered around my desk, i.e. spending time with family and friends, going outside, exploring for real instead of just drawing people who are exploring. That stuff is so important and I just have to remind myself occasionally.
And, finally, the hardest question of all – Mulder or Scully?
AHHHH it has to be both! I relate so much to both of them. I WANT TO BELIEVE but I’m also constantly trying to see things from a logical and rational perspective. Mulder and Scully forever!