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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Q&A with Ariel Schrag: Cartoonist and Berkeley High Alumnus

Meet Ariel Schrag
Berkeley High School Alumnus
Portrait featured on utility on MLK & Bancroft

Q: When you were a student at Berkeley High School, who influenced you?

A: My art teacher, Miriam Stahl, was a big influence. She taught me to have a lot of respect for what I was doing and she really treated it like something that was important. She gave me the time and space to work on my comics and she made me feel like what I was doing was really important and that was huge. I also looked up to her as an artist and a teacher. She had a really big influence on me.

Q: Your portrait was drawn by the students at the Berkeley High Arts and Humanities Academy. It's clear there are many young and talented rising artists in Berkeley. What are your thoughts on supporting the arts in the Berkeley community?

A: I guess it depends on what role you have. If you’re a teacher, then obviously you have a lot of direct contact with the student to support them. If you’re a parent, encourage your children. Showing up for whatever event the child is doing, whether you’re a parent or student, you know, going to a performance or going to their part of an art show- just physically being there makes a big difference. It’s often hard to get people to come out of their houses. I went to CCA for one summer after 9th grade, an art camp, and that had a really big effect on me. It made me feel that art was important enough to spend my summer doing and that I could be taken seriously. I think when you’re not in school, extracurricular art programs are great.

Q: When you started writing, did you start out with the comic form or was it something you became interested in later on?

A: I learned how to write and draw in school. When you’re in pre-school, you’re learning how to write letters and then you have drawing hour. There aren’t necessarily comics that are being taught but I started writing and drawing just like anybody else and I just really liked it so I kept on doing it and did it on my own free time. There were a lot of comics around the house like Calvin and Hobbes and For Better or For Worse and I just liked them and spent Saturday mornings reading this whole Blondie book. I just had an affinity for it, really liked Uncle Scrooge comics and kind of just emulated what I liked. So I think it’s more like being exposed to comics and wanting to copy them

Q: Do you have any words of advice for current Berkeley High School students that are looking to pursue their creativity as a career?

A: Just do it as much as you can is the best advice I could give. I spent a lot of my free time just sitting at home working on comics. Don’t make it something confined to schoolwork, class or what you’re taught. Whatever it is you like doing, do it on your own as much as you can. Keep doing it because that really is the thing that just separates people who are successful at something then those who aren’t. Just hone your craft, whatever it may be.

Q: The Earth Island Institute promotes a message of environmental sustainability. Do you have any particular thoughts on what "sustainability" means to you?

A: I think it’s great. I do feel it’s exciting how more of that is happening around Berkeley. I live in New York now and you don’t see quite as much of that. When I come home to Berkeley it’s nice to see that sort of presence everywhere and I always liked how Berkeley is the forefront of that sort of thing.

Q: As part of the Streets Alive! Project, twelve portraits are now installed on utility boxes surrounding the Berkeley school campus as a way to embed the public space with an intimate sense of community. In what ways do you think we can further bridge the public space of the city of Berkeley with its community and history?

A: I mean, the project you guys did I think is amazing and I’m just so surprised and honored to be a part of it. I love the idea of people walking around and getting to see these pictures of people or just getting to see art. I just love public art in most forms; I think that’s great. I love all murals, all sorts of things like that, any type of public performance art. I think anything that brings people together is great; it can be a common point to talk about. Part of the reason television shows are so popular now is because everybody can feel like they’re watching it together. Everyone watches the show and talks about it and I think public art can be similar in a common space. People can talk about it. If [the public art] is about something political then it can spark conversations. That’s really great rather than someone working in isolation and it’s more difficult to get their work out.

A portrait of Ariel Schrag, drawn by students from the Berkeley High Arts and Humanities Academy, is featured on the utility box on MLK & Bancroft.

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