Selfie with Soft Serve
medium. Illustration board with pen, watercolor and colored pencil
size. approx. 10.5"x11.5"
by. Jessica Rothman
location. White Plains, NY
Welcome to Ice Cream Social, the summer's socially distant group art show, featuring creators and makers from all walks of life, coming together to share their love of the greatest treat known to man. Each week through Labor Day, come chill with new artists as they discuss a wide range of topics spanning their personal journeys, art, pop culture, and, of course, ice cream!
Visit the gallery to see these and all the tremendous efforts that stayed cool in the spotlight since July 3rd.
There are nine pounds of gold dissolved in the ocean for each man, woman, and child...
Jessica! Thank you so much for being a part of what I hope to be an annual event here with Ice Cream Social. We've known each other for 16 years now, and I don't know if calling you either a designer or artist is apt. You're more like a force of nature.
Oh, you're the sweetest. I dislike the term artist because anyone can call themselves an artist. Not everyone can call themselves a plumber unless they studied and received a certificate in plumbery. I've taken courses in this sh*t since I was six. Six. Straight through. College degree and everything. So I think maybe... graphic illustrator and designer?
I still think that somehow sells you short. But as a designer, if you had to pick a thing or three, what would you say you specialize in?
Tough, but okay: Illustration, complex nit-picky beadwork, and taking things considered trash and turning it into things of value - soda cans, broken glass, elementary school bulk sequins, etc.
Much respect for your upcycling and repurposing. You're like the Little Mermaid in that way. Which reminds me, you've been in the famous Coney Island Mermaid Parade. Tell us about that bit of fun, and what went into your costume.
That was a year-long project. I thought I was going to wear it at Burning Man, so I made the costume to be broken down into flat elements that would fit in a suitcase. It ended up being so dusty I wouldn't take the costume out. I started with a basic brown fabric that I dotted with magenta paint. I did a lot of research on what the ocean floor looks like near the shallows and it's brown with little magenta dots. Then I made all the characters – anemones, a giant yellow crab, a nudibranch, all manner of seaweed, tube worms, a lobster face mask, sea stars, barnacles. I made a calculated choice to only use either trash or things you could find at Michaels – a lot of dry cleaner hangers, old shawls, string, paper mache made from glue, flour and water, cheap felt, plastic beads, a pair of sunglasses I bought on the street, styrofoam. No rhinestones or high quality items. I wanted to prove the point that beautiful things can be made from anything and the only thing you need is your own imagination. And fun fact: I read that there are nine pounds of gold dissolved in the ocean for each man, woman and child so any metal parts I used was gold-colored.
You know I appreciate this level of insanity, especially the idea that anything can be retrofitted into beauty. I'm particularly a fan of the disembodied deer skull you bedazzled once upon a time. Have you noticed any patterns to how inspiration strikes you?
My inspiration comes from an odd place. Most people hear music or experience a breakup, something emotional or cathartic, and that is what fuels them. Mine is an inability to acquire everything my heart desires. Almost every piece I make starts with me saying, "Oh screw y'all, I'll make it myself!" That's how I learned most of my skills, so I could create what I could not afford. Perfect example: A couple years back I went to the Neue Gallerie in NY. It's a museum of German art. They had an awesome mosaic of St. George slaying the dragon. I wanted it but I couldn't have it. Guess what I'm working on now? P.S. It's gonna be dope. Way better than the one in the museum. They wish their St. George is as good as my St, George.
I love how you step on the neck of the dragon of convention.
In illustrating this piece, you had told me "off-camera" that you bought a soft-serve cone, took a selfie, and pitched the ice cream in the trash because... you don't like soft serve. Talk about bucking trends. How is this possible?
Oh no, that’s not correct. I love soft serve but my insides do not. I was dejected when I had to turf it.
Ahh, you're one of those. My condolences. Do you ever get to enjoy any type of ice cream or tangentially related product?
Absolutely. I’m fine with hard ice cream. I’ve been known to polish off a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. And just for clarification, a pint is a single serving. I will not debate on this.
When you're vicing with Ben & Jerry's, what's your flavor of choice?
The brownie core or the caramel core. Now I feel compelled to get some. I’m going to fight it, but I’m tempted.
There is one brownie core left at the bodega. It's next to the final caramel core. You enough to buy one of them. What do you do?
Brownie core because I prefer the debris they’ve mixed into the ice cream.
Before we go spoon-deep into ice cream banter, let's talk about "Selfie with Soft Serve" just a bit. You've got this design element I've seen in some of your other work that's partly contour drawing, but with the addition of these suggestive dotted lines. It's a subtle feature, but adds so much personality to the work. How'd that stylistic choice come about?
I have been working with pen since high school so I’ve been exploring how to show a gradient for decades now. Sometimes I use the dashes getting progressively shorter that you see here, sometimes I use stippling, sometimes little criss-crossing hashmarks. Since this is only a single line the dash style seemed the solid (see what I did there?) way to go.
I also love this watercolor wash effect in conjunction with some of these funky shapes filling out the composition. Is this train of thought, or any special significance to these patterns and fidget spinners?
Yes! I tried to impart how ice cream makes me feel. I remember what it was like to get ice cream as a kid with the summer sun baking as we drove in the station wagon. I grew up watching Sesame Street so I drew inspiration from the Pinball Number animation sung by the Pointer Sisters. It was very 1960s, reminiscent of Milton Glaser. Both ice cream and the pinball numbers make me think of my childhood so I decided to bring those together. I only realized that element looked like a fidget spinner after I was done.
I did not need to appreciate this piece any more than I already do, but tying it into one of the all-time best segments of Sesame Street has done the trick. What were some of the Sesame bits that hit you in the feels? Are you a fan of Teeny Little Super Guy?
I am! The ladybugs’ picnic and the king of eight. And the doing The Batty Bat with The Count. If you go to YouTube and look for a Classic Sesame Street animation compilation you’ll see all the good ones.
I know them all well. Which Sesame Muppet is your favorite? I('m guessing Oscar the Grouch.)
Honestly, I don’t have a favorite Sesame Street Muppet. I do not care for Elmo which I know was a heretical statement worthy of burning at the stake for a long time. My favorite Muppet overall is a recent addition to the catalog, Pepe the King Prawn.
It all comes back to the Mermaid Parade.
That is correct.
Sprinkles or jimmies?
Sprinkles. But my mom, who grew up in Africa, calls them "hundreds and thousands." Apparently that's a term there.
Ha! This is the second time in as many days that I've had someone tell me this. So fill in the blank: Hundreds of thousands of _...
Going into this, I knew you'd ruin something for me during this chat. I'm relieved its only a nonessential like chocolate sprinkles. Which reminds me, rainbow or chocolate for you?
Rainbow. And ants are an excellent source of protein, don't knock 'em.
Cup or cone?
Cone. But not that garbage styrofoam-flavored one. The crunchy one.
Like a waffle cone?
I'll look up what the kind I hate. [pause] Ah, wafer cones or cake cones. Those cones can take a long walk off a short pier. I like sugar cones.
And is it "sherbet" or "sherbert"?
I say sherbert but I won't fight you about it. I will fight you if you say "carmel" and then sass me about saying "caramel." I'm right, you're wrong, don't test me.
"Carmel" is almost as annoying as hearing people say "pitcher" when they mean "picture."
"Supposebly." I will end a friendship over that.
Ours will persist, at least until I beat you to the last Ben & Jerry's brownie core. Jessica, thanks for the excellent chat and wonderful art here at the first Ice Cream Social.
Thank you so much for having me, Scott! Everything about you fills me with joy.
(You don't have to include that last part. That was really for you.)
No, I'm going to run with it, and possible use it as the headline.
The Pinball Number Count debuted in Season 8 of Sesame Street, and ran through Season 33. An award-winning stop-motion remake debuted Season 41.
There are 11 one-minute segments highlighting a number from two through twelve. Curiously, there is no animation for number one.
The Pointer Sisters had recorded a number of songs for Sesame Street as a trio (Anita, Ruth, and Bonnie), but reunited as a quartet with sister June for Pinball Number Count.
"Four of them showed up, even though we only budgeted for three. No one ever turned down an opportunity to work for Sesame Street." –Walt Kraemer, on the Pointer Sisters, Sesame Street: A Celebration – 40 Years of Life on the Street
The similar Jazz Number Count series of shorts was performed by Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane.
What's the last thing that goes through a bug's mind when it hits a windshield?
The brownie's in Ben & Jerry's Brownie Batter Core ice cream are sourced from New York's Greyston Bakery.
It may sound hyperbolic, but Jessica Rothman really is a creative force of nature. Incredibly talented and multifaceted, with a wicked no-holds-barred sense of humor, you're better for knowing her, but if you don't, you can know her work, which blankets the range of corporate to crazy, businesslike and bizarre.