Editors’ Blog

June’s Member of the Month Alicia Jacobs: The Art of the Six-Word Memoir

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

By Vivian Chum

June Member of the Month Alicia Jacobs (aka aliciacandraw on SMITH) doesn’t just pen Six-Word Memoirs, she hand letters them right into her fanciful dreamscapes of teepees, tornados and skylines. According to Jacobs, the visual connection between the memoirs and her illustrations is the key to her illustrated Six-Worders, which were the subject of her MFA thesis project at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

“I studied a lot of hand lettering before jumping into this project,” says Jacobs. “I really wanted to make sure I could capture the mood I was going for while also matching the playfulness in the scenes being illustrated.”

This year, Jacobs’s work will be featured in SMITH’s latest brainchild—an eBook of illustrated Six-Word Memoirs created entirely by students and published by TED Books, a new division of the TED conference. Until then, says Jacobs, “Now that the school year is over, I’m coming up with ideas for more Six-Word Memoir paintings.”

Check out Jacobs’s answers to our “Six Questions For…” interview.

Name: Alicia Jacobs
Town: Totowa, New Jersey
Member Since: September 13, 2011

How did you get the Six-Word bug?
I attended undergrad at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and took a memoir-writing class during my senior year taught by the wonderful Betsy Boyd. She was the one who introduced me to SMITH’s Six-Word Memoir book Not Quite What I Was Planning. I was hooked the very first time I opened it.

We would start class with an exercise of writing Six-Worders on various subjects, but it didn’t take long before I was jotting them down all the time. I started thinking in Six-Word phrases, and once it started it was impossible to shake.

What inspired you to incorporate Six-Word memoirs into your graduate school thesis?
When it came time to choose a thesis project for the second year of my MFA program at the School of Visual Arts, I was having a difficult time deciding what to do. I wasn’t passionate about any of my ideas and at first I just settled for something that I know would have bored me early on. But when I was sitting in class on my first day at SVU, it finally hit me—since I was so into writing Six-Word Memoirs already, it would be the perfect solution to incorporate them into my work. I couldn’t believe it hadn’t come to me earlier! I was scheduled to meet with my thesis teacher right after class, so I ended up having about a half an hour to come up with an outline for my year-long project. Talk about pressure!

In May I completed the Illustration as Visual Essay graduate program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and am off to find my own little place in the world.

What is the thought process do you go through before illustrating a Six-Word Memoir?
When I first started the project I was choosing memoirs out of SMITH’s books and from the SMITH website that interested me or gave me an idea for an image right off the bat. But a couple months in, the project as a whole started to feel a little bit messy. The subject matter was very diverse, and there wasn’t a running theme throughout the work other than the Six-Word Memoirs themselves. Just about halfway through the school year, I made the piece “Finally finding without ever having looked” and everything suddenly started to take shape in my head, mimicking the words themselves.

This piece led to what would eventually be the final product of my thesis—a series of paintings compiled into a book partially titled “An exploration of places near and far, from underground to outer space.” The goal was to visit diverse locations in each piece with the text hand lettered into the composition. I started writing the memoirs myself to suit the environments I wanted to illustrate, but two of the original memoirs that I chose out of SMITH’s books ended up making the final cut: “It was all in my imagination” and “Life was but a dream, merrily.” I have to thank those two writers for their words; I can’t take credit for them.

Conceptually, some of the memoirs I wrote are a little on the vague side, but they work in the sense that they can be left open to the interpretation of the viewer.

What is your technique for illustrating Six-Word Memoirs?
When making this series, it was important to me to try and make all of the magic happen in the physical painting instead of using the computer to finish them off. Most of my previous work included the use of Photoshop in some way, leaving the final product only to be displayed as a print. There’s something nice about having the original painting to hang in a gallery instead of a reproduction and that was my goal for our thesis exhibition.

From making the first initial sketch to completing the final product, each painting took anywhere between one to three weeks to complete and I tried to always be working on at least two at a time. The timing was tight, since it took almost all of the first semester for me to find my groove and really get into the bulk of the work. I ended the series with a large painting of a map that includes all of the locations that each individual painting visits and a map key to be able to find these places throughout the book that I assembled of all the work.

Now that you’re done with school, what are your upcoming ambitions?
My not-so-secret ambition is to one day own my own letterpress shop and have a collection of Vandercook presses and type. That may take awhile though!

When it comes to art, I’m willing to take on any creative project that comes my way, large or small. I’m always looking to do freelance work but would also love to get into publishing some day. I’m waiting to see what my next undertaking will be.

Since I live so close to New York City it has always been accessible and really great for inspiration, especially when I was younger and first started taking trips in by myself. Now that I’m done with school, I feel extremely lucky to be able to have the opportunity to work in New York, a place that never stops growing and evolving. The possibilities are endless.

Finally, Alicia Jacobs, what’s your Six-Word Memoir today?
Life: one happy accident after another.

57 responses

  1. JAD says:

    Congrats! Great Job

  2. BanjoDan says:

    I enjoyed learning more about you and wish you the best on your fascinating projects.

  3. canadafreeze says:

    Beautiful ideas. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your work.

  4. bevvie says:

    love the illustrations. (framed limited editions. )

  5. bevvie says:

    (signed of course)

  6. jl333 says:

    Nice to put a face to your screen name. Congrats on the feature!

  7. Level1 says:

    I love your illustrations and wish I had the talent to do something like this for my own 6 word memoirs.

    Kudos on being recognized! I hope the accolades continue :-)

  8. kathi wright says:

    it is may of 2013 and i am just reading this. your illustrations are wonderful and imaginative. congrats on this feature, although so very past-the-time!

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    maybe my letters are going to Steve C!

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