Beyond the Studio with Carlos Carmonamedina

Ready. Set. Travel. But first, illustration with Carlos Carmonamedina. Photo by Sarah Milton.

On Sunday, January 26 from 1 to 3 p.m., SAAM's Luce Foundation Center will host another installment of Beyond the Studio, a lecture and workshop series where participants get to hear from local creative professionals and complete a hands-on activity related to the speaker’s expertise. Each workshop is presented in collaboration with a different local arts collective. Jessica McFadden, program specialist in the Luce Foundation Center, reached out to the illustrator behind the DC is my City weekly postcard series, Carlos Carmonamedina.

A drawing of a carousel with a building behind it.

Carousel on the National Mall and Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building. Illustration courtesy of Carlos Carmonamedina.

Can you tell us a bit about the DC is My City series? How did the project get started, and what’s it been like to watch it grow?

When I moved to DC from France, I began making weekly illustrations of DC and posting them on Reddit. I’m a big fan of personal challenges, and this regular commitment was a perfect opportunity for me to discover the city and to practice my art.

The DC community soon got excited about the series and that motivated me to continue engaging. I never expected this would become a commercial enterprise. After three years, the project keeps growing strong (150+ postcards to date) and DC keeps inspiring me with beautiful vistas and surprising details worth documenting.

In a 2018 Washingtonian article, you’re quoted saying “I’m always up for revisiting the concept of what makes a city, and how the community can be involved in decision making…So it’s—not my duty, but part of my interest—to show what’s behind this building or what’s behind that area. All these voices need to be represented somehow. I try to bring that into my illustrations.”

Can you talk a bit more about “what makes a city” and how community can be involved in decision making? 

People make the city. The interactions they have with their built environment and each other determine the fate of a house, a neighborhood, a whole city. DC is lucky to be full of public spaces, free museums, a nonstop roster of outdoor activities and community events, where denizens can gather, reflect, share, and create. 

What’s your experience in the DC creative community been like?

I can only speak positively of people here. I stumbled into a great spirit of collaboration and support that I haven’t found elsewhere. I was also very lucky to have landed at the Shop Made in DC community from the beginning. Stacey Price has been an incredible mentor and the people I’ve met there are always kind and generous with their time and wisdom.

A drawing inside the Smithsonian American Art Museum courtyard.

Kogod Courtyard at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. Illustration courtesy of Carlos Carmonamedina.

Is there anyone that you’ve had the opportunity to work or collaborate with in DC that you’re excited about?

I’m excited for this workshop with the Luce Foundation Center at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for museums, so being able to participate is truly an honor and I certainly hope It won’t be the only time! 

Similarly, I’m delighted to be working with DC Public Library. Last year I drew the illustrations for their STAR (Sing, Talk, and Read) early literacy program book, Sing with Me D.C. I redesigned their mascots (a pair of owls) hanging out in different DC locations. All DC parents get a copy when they register their newborns in the Books from Birth program. And this opportunity came at the same time as my daughter’s birth, so that made it super special. This year I’ll be making additional illustrations and I can’t wait to show them all!

In what ways would you like to see DC change, moving forward?

I’d like for this city to bring in more foreign artists for residencies, and to cultivate exchanges for local artists abroad. DC has a very robust network of museums and cultural spaces, not to mention all the chanceries. Instead of always looking at New York City, DC should fight for its place as a hub of culture. It has already arrived with its food scene, but it is still defining its visual character beyond the monuments.

At the same time, with all of these changes, DC needs to do better listening and telling stories more prominently. Rapid gentrification signals not just a shift in mood, but crucially the material life chances of already precarious populations as well. Among them, artists are a vulnerable group. If we don’t take care of our creatives, we risk all the amazing things the city has to offer becoming more and more out of reach for the majority.

Are there any challenges you’ve faced as an artist in DC, or in general? If so, how have you faced said challenge?

Once someone asked me how long I’d be able to stay in the city before being priced out. It’s hard to imagine myself starting again somewhere else, but the way the city is growing poses an existential threat to local artists. These days I need to think about how I’ll be able to support my daughter too. It's clear that I will work (creatively) until the day I die, but a lot can happen before then. I guess just like DC, I’m experiencing the tugs and pulls of demographic transition.

A drawing of two musicians from above.

Luce Unplugged performance in the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Luce Foundation Center. Illustration courtesy of Carlos Carmonamedina.

What advice would you give to someone that wanted to pursue a creative career?

Be sure to equip yourself with an endless supply of patience and a robust support network of friends and family. As long as food is on the table, money isn’t as important as having a vision and the determination to get you where you want to be. Oh, and comparing yourself and your work to others never helps – you can be your worst enemy.

A drawing of the American Indian Museum with a curved building facade.

National Museum of the American Indian. Illustration courtesy of Carlos Carmonamedina.

Your workshop highlights the art of travel-journaling. How do you think travel-journaling has been beneficial to you, how long have you been doing it, and do you have any tips for people getting started with it, that want to document their experiences in a meaningful way?

Journaling brings together my creative practice in a way that only truly makes sense over time. Projects that come and go, human interactions, spaces I inhabit and places I move through, comics I love, classical references…they are all compiled loosely into my notebooks. It is play. In that sense it has always been with me. Sometimes I am satisfied with a rough sketch, and other times my repeated returns to an image or an idea is a deep, almost meditative engagement. My travelogues are metaphors for the complex, work-in-progress individual I am, a composition of experiences and aspirations. So I would tell others that maintaining documentation of their creative process is art itself. Travel journaling simply makes the connection between the art and the journey obvious.

To learn more about the artist's work, check out Carlos Carmonamedina's website or follow him on Instagram at @carmonamedinastudio.  Carlos' workshop is sold out, but don't miss the rest of our Beyond the Studio Workshops featuring artists from Shop Made in DC, Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, and the National Cherry Blossom Festival.