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Tyler Feder: Chicago-Based Artist & Author on Big Feelings, Feminism, and Pop Culture S9E20

Tyler Feder: Chicago-Based Artist & Author on Big Feelings, Feminism, and Pop Culture

· 01:03:12


Rob Lee: You're welcome to the truth in this art. Thank you for tuning in for conversations as we explore arts, culture and community. I am your host, Rob Lee. Today, I'm excited to be in conversation with my next guest, a Chicago based artist and author who's who's joining us today to, you know, have a little story with us. Her work is deeply rooted in big feelings, feminism and pop culture, and she's made waves. Not only has she illustrated for big names like Netflix, Comedy Central, and ESPN, but her unique art has graced the pages of Glamour and Bridget magazines. Celebrated for her Sydney Taylor award-winning graphic memoir, Dancing at the Pity Party, and her beloved children's book, Bodies are cool. She's a true innovator in her field. Most recently, she co-authored Are You Mad At Me? with her sister, which is a book about childhood anxiety. Again, those those big feelings. It is my pleasure to introduce the incredibly talented Tyler Feder. Welcome to the podcast.
Tyler Feder: Thanks so much for having me.

Rob Lee: Thank you for coming on and making the time. And, you know, as I always point out, you know, because there's, you know, sometimes a video component with this, um, for, for the listeners out there, it's always great to talk to another bespectacled person.

Tyler Feder: I started wearing glasses in eighth grade. No, not eighth grade when I was eight. So, uh, for a long time, I was like the kid with glasses in my class.

Rob Lee: I was, I think I beat you by a few years, three.

Tyler Feder: Oh, you were one of those little babies.

Rob Lee: I was, I was. And the glasses were always too big. And my partner makes fun of, she was like, she makes fun of me in two different ways. One, she was like, you were super cute when you had these giant glasses and your little body. I was like, I was never little because I was always the big kid with the glasses. And now the bit is, When you take your glasses off, your eyes disappear. I was like, let me live.

Tyler Feder: Yeah, I always feel like on Scooby Doo and Velma's glasses would fall off and her face just like looked weird. Where are my glasses? I own contacts and I wear them sometimes, but I feel like I look more like me when I have glasses on.

Rob Lee: I think I think glasses are a thing and error. You know, I've thought about it as well. I remember thinking about either doing LASIK or thinking about contacts and high astigmatism, all of that. And it's just like, no, this is just part of my face. And I find that if I'm not wearing them, you know, I've heard this from people who I'm very close with, loved ones, other than the partners, and my eyes disappear. They say I look like I'm a criminal when I don't have glasses on. It's like, why do you look mean? I was like, that's just the way my eyes are. So there you go. There you go. That's just life for me. So, you know, again, thanking you for coming on. And it's always good to get the referral and the connection. And we were able to chat a little bit. So for those who are undipped, I'd like to start off with the introductory, the softball question, if you will. So you're navigating multiple worlds as the author, as the artist. Could you introduce yourself in this multi-hyphenate identity? That's the word that the kids are using, right? Multi-hyphenate.

Tyler Feder: Yeah, I'm a real double threat. I think I usually say author, illustrator, because I feel like people are used to hearing it that way, even though I feel more like an illustrator, author, because illustration was the way that I got into publishing and the writing sort of came in later. So being an artist has been a big part of my identity, like basically as long as I can remember.

Rob Lee: So talk about that a bit more. Like, you know, when, when I, when I think about sort of stuff that I've, I've done and always, you know, that's, that's the way I connect, I suppose. when I was like very young, like, you know, I've talked about in this podcast before, you know, like maybe I was preordained in doing something similar to this, like leading a conversation, directing a conversation. I was very young and I was an MC for like elementary school. I was like five again, cute, you know, with giant glasses and just directing like, yes. And next up we're going to have blah, blah, blah. And it terrifies me now, but I think sort of I can always look back at that as one of those early points or even in high school, being a jerk, you know, I'm I'll be thirty nine soon. So as for recording this, I'll be thirty nine soon. And I was I would watch wrestling and I would have a microphone and I would talk to people in the third person like I was the rock. That's high school for me, but that was my earliest podcast recordings. So when you think about that, as far as, you know, illustrator, as far as author, as far as like, you know, someone with that creative sensibility, what comes to mind when you think back at, you know, growing up?

Tyler Feder: Uh, well, one of my like favorite memories of my identity as an artist is that in elementary school, I want to say maybe like first grade, other kids used to ask me to draw things for them all the time. And I loved it because I loved drawing, so I didn't care. And I was very shy. And I'm still pretty shy, but I was that kind of silent little kid who hides behind her parents' leg. But a really easy way for me to connect with all these kids in the class was by drawing things for them. And it got so disruptive for the class that the teacher had to, like, make a blanket announcement to the class, no more asking Tyler to draw things for you. And I was kind of bummed because, like, it was fun, but I just found other things to draw instead.

Rob Lee: That's good. Were you were you were you one of those kids that you because you enjoy drawing and illustrating so much that you would just kind of like, I can ace this test or I could just take this B and I can finish the rest of the class drawing. Were you one of those kids?

Tyler Feder: It definitely wasn't like a conscious decision. I cared a lot about grades and being like a good student and stuff. But part of this, I think, is because I am a late diagnosed ADHD person in my 30s. But like if you look at my notebooks from middle school, like when we really had to start taking notes in class, it's like three lines of notes and then just like a ton of doodles. Like I just couldn't focus. So there definitely was a lot of drawing happening probably when it technically wasn't supposed to be happening.

Rob Lee: I feel that I used to get into trouble, actually, because I very similarly, I would sit there. It's like, yeah, I can make some money drawing X-Men for these fools in class. So I would sit there and draw Wolverine. I would take my B, knowing that I was like, you know, smart enough and I've retained things or not, at least then not a big reader, but I retain things and I always had like perfect attendance. I was like. I'm here listening to this lecture or what have you. And I was like, hmm, entrepreneurship, let's figure this out. So I would just draw like, you know, almost like almost like a huckster. Like, what is it? Nightmare Alley style? Like, look, man, I got your comics here. Quarter for a comic, quarter for a comic.

Tyler Feder: You like open up the trench coat and it's like all lining the inside of it.

Rob Lee: It's just all things that now I would get sued for. It's like, here's Jack Kirby's best. So, so when you think about sort of, you know, that that that moment where, you know, the creativity, like, you know, because, like I said, you know, I was interested in doodling and these these different things, but I got to a point and again, I mentioned on this podcast, I got to a point where I was like, I really like storytelling. I really like radio. And I remember taking myself, bringing my body, you know, across the street and from this job I was at back in the day to go to Best Buy. And I purchased a bunch of audio equipment. I didn't know what the hell I was doing, but I went over there and did it. And that was one of those moments where I'm in and I made this investment. So for you, when you got to that point, like, hey, I can make a living from this. I can make money from this. I can, you know, spend a lot of time doing this, whatever it might look like. What was that moment where sort of the curiosity turned into more a career, more of like a big chunk of your time and your investment and energy?

Tyler Feder: The thought of being an artist as like a money making career didn't come until after college. I think I like didn't really have a lot of examples growing up of how drawing can be like a real career. I think when I thought about like a professional artist, I was picturing like Da Vinci or something. Like it just felt like this kind of fantasy career. And so I ended up majoring in radio, TV and film and took the screenwriting path. So I was like, well, if I can't be creative drawing, then I can be creative writing. But through all of that, I was doing comics for the school newspaper and I would take like art classes as electives, like just whenever I could. And then when I graduated from college, I went and lived at home for like a little over a year. I was in a pretty bad mental health place. My mom died while I was in college and I was dealing with a lot of anxiety that like was undiagnosed at that point. So I lived at home and got a data entry job. from sitting at a desk and doing spreadsheets all day, it like I felt like I was going to explode. It was like there was nowhere to be creative. So I would like color code my spreadsheets and try to make them fun. But I ended up just like needing some kind of outlet. So I made a Tumblr and an Etsy shop and that gradually got more popular. And I was like, oh, wait, this is like a real thing I could do. And it was so exciting. It's like a million times better than typing up invoices into spreadsheets all day. I respect the people who do that, but man, not for me.

Rob Lee: And in trying to make it, I felt that I felt that like, you know, I I had to do the restart, you know, like I had the the nice job coming out of college, but probably a year in it, I was like, eh, I don't really know. I don't really jam with this. The money's good, but I don't really jam with this. And I've always lived this sort of dual lifestyle, this sort of blade thing, you know, day walker, creative day walker, where it's like I would use the high paying or the decent paying day job to fund the creative pursuits. So, you know, when I made that decision to go over there and buy this equipment that I did not know how to use and just kind of dabble and play with it, I was like, I have the money and I'm not a person, you know, even still not a person that just throws money at a thing. I was like, I got to go over this. Where's CNET.com? Is this the right thing? Am I getting the right stuff? And, you know, really thinking about that, but trying to find creative things within the day job, because this is not good. I'm not proud of this, but I'll say I had a marketing job, my first job out of college, and this is when Soulja Boy first came out. And I remember I, I painted some sunglasses I had, like the ones he wore in the video with the name of the company. And I was like, I am, I am a joke. And even that we, we had a, um, a sales training video and it was this song, I think by Nickelback called rockstar. So we did, we had everyone included. I was the producer for it. And so trying to insert some of these creative things into, and this would be a viral video because it went really well, but insert these things into a job that it didn't really fit for that. It wasn't sort of the sexy marketing job. I was more of the marketing analysis kind of guy. So to your point around like the outlet, having an outlet for it. It just makes sense. So I remember, you know, putting the podcast on the first podcast I did was current events and pop culture is like news and funny stuff. I put it on Pod-O-Matic. Yeah, I think it's defunct now, but put it on Pod-O-Matic. And I was like, I just want to do this and I guess you should put it out there. And that's 2009, you know.

Tyler Feder: It's amazing how much the internet can work for you in a creative pursuit. I know the internet has all sorts of negative sides, like I'm very aware of that, but like my entire career I don't think I would have it or it would have gone way differently if I wasn't able to just put my art on Tumblr and let people re-blog it and have it kind of spread in that exponential kind of way where like someone shares it with their three followers and each of them shares it with their six followers and whatever. It feels like magic, honestly, because like I'm not seeing them in person. It's like I just upload something and hope for the best.

Rob Lee: Just fling it to the Internet. Do your thing.

Tyler Feder: That's what it feels like. It's like, OK, I'm sending it away. I cross my fingers.

Rob Lee: I, I, you know, in doing this and, and I, I'm always surprised when people say, yo, I listened to this, this was good. Oh, I got something out of this. Or I felt that I'm like, oh, cool. I did that eight months ago. I don't even remember it, bro. Sorry. No, I remember every interview. It's just a curse. But, um, yeah, it's, um, it's good. Um, so what, what I'm, what I'm interested in here a little bit is, um, well, actually a lot of it, cause, You know, I like to get into the minutiae, I like to get into how people do what they do. So, you know, creative process, you know, I see, I see illustration, I see writing, I see comedy writing as a second city in here. So let's talk a bit about, you know, how these elements that make up your background and you even, you know, talked about sort of your degree in which you're studying, how that plays a role in as well. So talk a bit about how all that comes together and what you do these days, like, you know, because I'm sure I may have glossed over some things. So please tell me how everything intersects.

Tyler Feder: Uh, yeah. So like when I was going into college, that was kind of the time where I had to decide, like, if not a major, at least like a sort of direction I wanted to go in. And I knew that I wanted to do something creative. So I wanted to do something in the School of Communication. There were like a few different majors in that at my college. And to be honest, I looked at the list of communications majors and I found the one that didn't require a public speaking class. And it was radio, TV, and film. We called it RTBF. And during middle school and high school, I'd gotten really into just watching comedy. I loved Whose Line Is It Anyway. I was obsessed with that show. I got really into Saturday Night Live. And my dad was a big comedy fan, so he told me that I reminded him of Tina Fey. And this was like when she was just starting to be on Weekend Update. And I think he was just like, look, it's a woman with glasses and brown hair and like she's funny. And I gradually just got like more and more obsessed with her. And Birdie Rock came out and I was like, I'm gonna be Tina Fey. And so in college, like every film teacher I had where I was in a writing class, they all like, it was almost like a punchline, like, yeah, Tyler loves Tina Fey. And then after college, I was in that kind of boat of like flailing and trying to figure out how to like, get into the business. And I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and have a lot of family over here. So my dad was like, what do you ever think of taking a class at Second City? like maybe that would be fun. And I ended up doing the writing program. So they have an improv program and a writing program and each of them are like a year long. I think it's like six different classes. And for writing at the end of the year, you get to put on a show, like you audition acting and improv students to be in the show and you like write sketches. And It was so much fun. It was, like, very nerve-wracking. I mean, like, writing something that you think, that you hope is funny, and then having to have the class read it and, like, waiting to see if they laugh or not, it just feels like being naked, like, on stage. But at the same time, the feeling of hearing people laugh is like a drug. Like, it feels so great. So, like, doing that show at the end of the year was so much fun. And I had some friends from that class and we wrote another show that we put up at Second City. And even though I ended up not going into TV writing at this point in my career, I feel like The lessons that I learned there and just like writing and screenwriting in general really translate very well to comics because it's all speech bubbles and stuff so it's basically like kind of taking a script and putting it on the page in a visual way. And I also come from a family where laughing is very important for all of us. After my mom died, we laughed a lot. We didn't laugh because she died, but it was a really helpful way of moving through those feelings. So I definitely try to inject at least a little bit of humor in most of the creative work that I do. Just because it feels authentic that way.

Rob Lee: Thank you. And authenticity is very important. And one of the themes that I think comes up in this where, you know, I'm I'm shy, you know, which people tell me that I'm not. I was like, I'm absolutely shy. I was like, see me in person. I hide behind trees. But I. But my personality is such that I try to insert my weird, quirky whatever into it because that's who I am. And I think that's the thing that people gravitate toward. And I would imagine, and we're definitely going to go into this a bit deeper in a moment, But I would imagine with some of the themes that you're discussing, those big feelings and feminism and even your thoughts around like pop culture kind of show who you are, your sensibilities within it, you know, as they say, scars and all bumps and all and all of those things. And, you know, I've joked about it and I've said on this podcast, it must be true that, you know, me doing this podcast being, you know, or doing a podcast and, you know, sort of the maturation, doing it for 15 years, you know, I was 24. Now, you know, 39. You can imagine, like, there's a lot one learns about a person. If someone's really listening, it's like, yo, I remember Rob used to say stuff like this. Now he's just like, let me adjust my tie, you know, and that sort of vibe and that sort of energy. But you get a take on who a person is and certain things bring true. And You know, I know for the people that I talk to and the people that I admire and I invite on, authenticity is a big thing. You know, just them being real. If I came off as some like fake dude in some fake suit with fake questions, you could you could see right through it. You'd be able to see through it quickly. So, you know, there you go. That's authenticity is a big thing. And, you know, I use the I use the bits. I use the comedy. I use some of those things just to kind of get through You know, the the dicier moments, the sadder moments, these these moments that I don't know, like when I look at doing this, I wanted to. I acted out of annoyance, not anger per se, but annoyance. We had a fruit-colored president say really ill things about my city, and I'm an analyst. I'm a data analyst by day. I was like, you're not talking about the streets, son. You're not talking about the roads. You're talking about these black people here. You're talking about my people. And when you take those shots at, you know, my city and cities that are like it, I think it's the duty of platforms to disprove that in an authentic way. You know, not come on here and let's have the very conservative, the public facing conversation. No, let's have the real conversation.

Tyler Feder: yeah I love that because there's always like so much more nuance and diversity to any place than what someone might like to think if they're painting it with a broad brush.

Rob Lee: I mean I've only I've only been to Illinois, I can't call it Chicago. I refuse. I was an Elgin. So right there. Right. And one for a wrestling show. So right there, you're getting all types of details. I remember. And this is this is an aside. I think it's funny. Me and my buddy went to see this show at the Sears, whatever, some Sears Center or what have you. And we're in Elgin. And I was like, oh, this is Bible thump land. I don't think these places are real. This is what's this is bugged out. And I just remember because my buddy is more of a county guy, he wanted the well, they say if you go to Chicago, you got to get deep dish. I was like, I don't know if that's true. So before we get on the flight, we go to get deep dish. Oh, right before a flight. Right before a flight. And we made sure we… A great choice. I just looked at him while because he had the, I guess, the clear thing. So he's a little further and he's, oh, yeah, you know, I got the clear. And I'm just looking at him in this line that I don't want to be in. Not sure if I'm going to get my plane because with my stomach of a flutter and I'm like, we're in our friendship right now. I don't think this is the real thing. You wanted this tourist, you know, sort of thing. It's like, look, I went to Portillo's. I'm happy, you know? Oh, yeah.

Tyler Feder: I love Portillo's.

Rob Lee: I got to throw some authenticity. So I want to tap back in on, um, so flinging things into the internet, right? Like putting something out there that's, that's digital. And, you know, I, I, I think majority of what I do is that, and what you were touching on, you know, is, you know, sort of this arc it's, you know, over the last, let's say five years or so, you know, putting, putting stuff out there and it's, it's online mostly. And you, you were touching, he was like, you haven't done an interview, like in person has always been in this sort of setup. So, Is there, in this arc, is there a memorable sort of moment where, you know, it's like, yeah, I did that. Like where maybe you worked with a client or you worked on a project or just something that was confirmation for you that just felt like it was a hit. Usually for me, it's, I got this interview with someone, like I got Tyler. What am I doing? I'm out here.

Tyler Feder: Double threat. Man, I think like any time that I've gotten communication from people who have seen my art that has it like kind of shakes me into being like, oh yeah, this is a real thing. Because like with the type of work that I do and publishing and making art and all this stuff, it's like the majority of what it looks like on my end is me sitting at home or at a coffee shop on my iPad drawing or on my computer typing emails or sometimes having Zoom calls. But it's like pretty like limited in terms of who I'm actually interacting with. So it's always such a thrill to actually hear from people who have seen my stuff, because I'm not like there handing people the books or showing them my art the majority of the time, it's people sort of finding it on their own. But I think the most exciting time for me was the first time I ever did the Renegade craft fair. This was in, I think, 2015. And I'd never done a craft fair before. I didn't know what to expect at all. And a whole bunch of people came into my booth and were like, I follow you on Instagram. And it was like so jarring and so exciting. I just felt like, oh, you like me, you really like me. And I think that kind of feeling like really fuels me to keep going when I start feeling so isolated.

Rob Lee: So are there any names that pop up that folks might know that you've perhaps worked with or that you've done work for in that estimation? And as I give you a moment to think on that, it's been guests. It's been some of the guests again, but also I can say a recent thing that You know, I'm a noticeable dude. I'm six four. So I'm a tall dude or have you. And as you remember, it was some guy. He was driving. He's like, yo, you truth in this art. He just stopped in the middle of traffic. Wow. I was like, yeah, you got to be safe out here in these streets, bro. And it was that. But, you know, I'm always like, yeah, I'm just a shy kid is trying to just figure it out. But. sort of that response or, or even we had this huge like LED board in one of the art districts of Baltimore. It's like 7,500 feet tall, something weird. And I was hosting a panel at a film festival. So I did one of the movies that was having a world premiere. I interviewed the filmmakers and it came out in conjunction. And they pull up wearing their fits. It's this movie called Carpet Cowboys. It's about the carpet industry in Dalton, Georgia. So, you know, we had like this denim Barbie aesthetic going on. It's just a lot of cowboy hats and denim and carpet. That's what was happening. So the filmmakers are in town, they're coming from like LA, New Orleans, all this stuff. And so they see me, they're like, you're Rob, I can tell you, I see that, I see that smile. They say, do you run Baltimore? Because we see you in a huge screen right above us right now. And I'm like, oh, right. You know, so when I get down or about or feel like, eh, I don't know if I should even be doing this or whatever it might look like, sort of the community component and as broad as that community might be, just, I feel it right here.

Tyler Feder: Yeah, that. Yeah, it's such an amazing feeling. I feel like connection is just like something that I crave in general. I mean, I think everyone does. It's part of being human. So whenever like doing the thing that I love to do can bring that connection to me. It's really a thrill. I had someone, I think this is the only time this has ever happened, but once like deep into COVID, I was at Trader Joe's, and the Trader Joe's near me was where They were like really being intense about everything and they would only let a certain number of people into the store at a time. So everyone had to wait in the parking garage six feet apart from each other in this long, long line that was like moving so slowly. And I was wearing a mask. So it's like you can see this much of my face. Someone said, are you Tyler Feder? And I was like, yeah. She was like, I love your stuff. And I was like, oh my God, this is amazing. And I mentioned it on Instagram later that day, and she commented and wrote, that was me.

Rob Lee: I really do follow you, and I did not know what was in your card. I'm like, what?

Tyler Feder: Yeah, man, it's like, I just want to hang on to that feeling. It's so cool.

Rob Lee: It's a great feeling and – but I think in it, when those opportunities come up, it's some of those influences where I find like – It plays a maybe a role not necessarily on the work that we pursue, but maybe how we pursue it. Like, you know, I've I hear weird things in the background on, you know, me doing this, this podcast and how I go about it and sort of unsolicited. Hey, you should interview this person or why are you talking to these people? It's like because I want to and because this is an independent project. And then how did you get this person? because I reached out and I asked and I do interesting stuff, I guess, but not being like so on my own, you know, ass that I'm great or whatever. And so, you know, for you, you know, is there like anything that really like huge that that comes up? Like I've had folks in radio industry, I've had folks on TV, like there was this dude, you remember the show South Side? That was it was on HBO Max for a while. It was a comedy based in Chicago and most of the people from Chicago. I got one of the showrunners on one of the actors in the show, and he gave me really good like feedback about sort of doing this. But also he was just like, be nice to everybody. And he's like, look, man, I want to see some Baltimore stuff coming out, man. I want it to happen. And this was right before their last last season came out of the third and final season came out. So and it was just me shooting a shot. And that's up there as far as like, I got a dude that has a show on HBO currently, or, you know, even when, um, you know, Baltimore, we had a few shows wire and we own the city. So the day that the announcement was made for, we own the city being turned into a TV show. I was interviewing the guy that authored the book. He got off the phone with HBO and talked to me right after HBO. So it was just like sort of those things and shooting, shooting shots.

Tyler Feder: Yeah.

Rob Lee: You know, for you, do you have like any scenario that's similar to that? Like, you know, maybe it was like you were working like in a shadow way with some sort of like a large entity that we might know or that just something that just felt really impactful for you and your career trajectory.

Tyler Feder: Yeah, I've had a lot of a lot. I've had several celebrities share my art online, and that is always like, so wild. When I, like pretty soon after I started my Etsy shop, maybe a couple years into it, Mindy Kaling bought a print for me. And so I haven't done a lot of like shooting my shot where I'm initially reaching out to someone that like cold call kind of thing. Hopefully, I'll be more comfortable doing that kind of thing in the future. But She bought like one print and I sent her all this stuff and wrote this long email, or not email, letter to her because her mom had just died. And I was like, your mom died, my mom died. I was saying that her work has been such a comfort for me over the years and stuff. That was like such a cool connection, because like you never know who's going to see what when it's the Internet. Like everyone has access to the same Internet pretty much.

Rob Lee: Right. I mean, as as I'm looking it up right now, because, you know, based in Baltimore, you know, I see this. This is from a little while ago, but it's got me. I see this ESPN post right here. You know, that's so I think the Ravens and 49ers that I'm like, hold up.

Tyler Feder: That was so, so goofy. I did this freelance project of ESPN around a similar time to when Mindy Kaling bought the thing for me. So it was when I was still making my art on paper and scanning it into the computer instead of doing it all digitally. And I got this offer to do this like Facebook marketing thing for ESPN. And I am not a sports person at all. Like I never have been. I know nothing about anything. So it was just so ridiculous. I remember Googling touchdown. Like I know that that's good, but like. No sports team. Yeah, go team. I hope all the players are having fun. I really appreciated the opportunity, but man, there was a time for a while there where I could remember the names of all the teams in the NFL because I had to do like a different illustration for each team. I think all that information has mostly gone out of my head by now, but very cool.

Rob Lee: It reminded me there briefly of my partner watching the game. She doesn't care about sports. She's just like, kill them. Go team. I was like, thank you for the support, I guess. One, kill them? And, you know, it's just like she's tiny with like pink hair. It's just like what looks what accounts for a brat doll. Kill them. Oh, it's like that's sure. So I want to I want to switch into themes a bit, you know, as as I have been sort of the the introsy like, you know, feminism feel that we've talked about that a little bit. And we we've dabbled on to that. And obviously pop culture is in here as well. You know, what draws you like to these these themes and like, why are they important? And so if you're creative work, you're hard and you're writing, why are they important to you?

Tyler Feder: But when I started putting art on Tumblr, I think I was really trying to find a subject that a lot of people would want to read blogs, so I did primarily like fan art and stuff at the beginning. And then once I got more followers, I felt like I had a little bit more flexibility to try to like bring in some other topics. And making like personal sort of confessional-ish style art was something that just like felt really good to do. And I am in a family with three girls, no boys. I have naturally a feminist bent and then my sisters and I have all struggled with varying kinds of eating disorders over the years. And so that was kind of my like entry point into body positivity, like that side of feminism and making art like that. just like felt really good and it got this response that I really liked where people would say like this is the first time I've seen someone who looks like me drawn where it's not in a negative way and that kind of spiraled into working on all kinds of diversity and I mean I think of like caring about diversity as like a pretty feminist-y, liberal kind of thing. Yeah, it's just, it's, I think gradually I realized that this is like, at least for now, the kind of space that feels best for me to inhabit online and with my work.

Rob Lee: It's good and it's important. Thank you for that. I think that it isn't something that's covered enough. I recently had an interview with another podcaster, just crossing streams. But he has an award winning podcast and he's talking about stories, sharing stories and doing interviews with folks who have, who are larger people, who are sort of like, it's a fat positive podcast. And it's interesting, one of the things that came out, a shout out to Wait For It. And one of the things that came out of it is sort of… You know, the conversation is folks want to talk about fat people don't want to talk to fat people and don't want to have their perspectives covered. And, you know, people always get this response, as I touched on earlier, like I'm tall, right? But I'm like a 300 pounder, right? And I've dropped some weight, but I've heard so many comments about my aesthetic. I work with an office of all women and everyone is just, Oh my God, Rob, you look like you've gotten skinny. You're losing weight. And I'm like, this is a lot. And with it, generally I'm conditioned to not care, but I do, but no one is asking me what do I feel about none of my clothes fit or how often I have to think about food and so on and things of that nature. And that's sort of a real thing, but that's on the lower end. And when I'm out there presenting what I'm doing, you touched on coffee shops earlier, right? You're working in coffee shops. I had a signature coffee earlier last year. And it was great. You know, it's great. It's like just my face and coffee. It's great. And it means being so is going to benefit all of that stuff. I had a person slide in the DMs and ask me how much weight have I put on.

Tyler Feder: Oh, my God.

Rob Lee: And that was the. OK, it was literally back to back like, hey, this cool thing. Oh, you're fat. I was winning for a second.

Tyler Feder: Yeah, there's something about like knowing that people are like monitoring your appearance is so uncomfortable. Like even if they feel like they're giving you a compliment, if they're saying you lost weight, people can lose weight for all different reasons, like depression or illness. And just to like assume that it's OK to go around like telling people something about their appearance, even being tall, I feel like Like I'm not like wildly tall, but I was really tall growing up and people would not shut up about it. And it made me so uncomfortable. And it's like, why do you need to be saying, oh, I feel so small next to you? Like what's that accomplishing?

Rob Lee: Right. And I joke with people because it's like, you know, you live with it and you know how to cope with it. And every time something gets through through the shields, the Star Trek shields or have you. But generally, I'm like, yo, if you need a tree, I can just play a tree. You know, I can stretch out the arms, you know, you play with it. But at a point it's. And I think that's why it's so important to have the work and even, you know, seeing like, you know, where your work has gone to, like, you know, your book, Bodies are Cool by Tober. Shout out to that as well. Oh, you know, the Instagram series and seeing sort of that inspiration around that. It seems like it all connects.

Tyler Feder: Mm hmm. Yeah, there's something really special for me about like, finding different combinations of physical features that you don't usually see portrayed and putting it onto paper in a really loving way. I like to draw every body type wearing equally cool clothes and looking equally happy and having fun. I'm one person, but It's a good feeling to know that like in the space that I've created of just like my little corner of the internet that that's a place where people can know that all bodies are good bodies.

Rob Lee: So because I want to be a good host, you know, give give the folks like a taste of what both of those are, respectively. You know, bodies are cool. And by October, like I'm out here following, I'm out here observing, you know, I need to see, you know, bodies are cool, too, with me with like the not like the really long inseam leather pants. That's a goal of mine. So that can happen. Thank you. But tell the fine folks that are saying about both by October and bodies are cool.

Tyler Feder: Sure, so Bodies are Cool came first. That's a book that I put out in 2021 and it's a children's book. We aimed it at like for preschoolers and it's basically just showing diversity in like hopefully almost every way you could think of. And the text is just repeating over and over again that bodies are cool. So the goal is like for little kids, even if they can't read yet, to be able to look at the pictures and see all these different kinds of bodies. And there's never any one body that's singled out on a page. The pages are all Lots of people kind of when I was pitching the book I said I wanted it to be a little bit like where's Waldo obviously it's not nearly as like meticulous as that, but where there's like lots of places that your eye can go. because I've seen how diet culture has affected people close to me, has affected me, has affected just the world in general. And I know that there's this time when we're little before we start absorbing those messages where we think of bodies as just neutral. Like, oh, my friend has curly hair and I have straight hair. Like, that's fun. And I really wanted to like, bring that feeling home. So then Bodtober was this little drawing challenge I made for myself in October, sort of an offshoot of Bodies Are Cool. where each day I would draw a body with a different specific physical feature. So I did C-section scars and cochlear implants and cellulite and just all kinds of features and like highlighting them in a really loving way.

Rob Lee: I mean, again, you know, I'm just looking for like that, that be that theme of like Rob's disappearing eyes. Like when these glasses come off, it's like, yeah, this body is cool as well. This guy's eyes disappear.

Tyler Feder: It's to say that having small eyes is weird. It's like people have all different sized eyes.

Rob Lee: Exactly. And yeah, it's definitely one of those things. I usually ask this question to folks, like, how do you get back to that childlike wonder and some of the things that we're conditioned out of? And it seems that that work is doing a piece of it. you know, of being able to go back to before we got hit with all of these different things. You know, you start thinking about the conditioning and it's like, hey, you big, you should play sports. It's like, I want to write now. You should play sports, hit some weights and create teen. And I was like, this is irresponsible. And not that, you know, anybody was doing that or, you know, in that that way, but it was definitely these these sort of pushes. And, you know, but I think, you know, there has to be a kid that is that has a similar story that I may I may have experienced. And so your work being in the hands of someone before, you know, they encounter it and just that's who they are now or that's what they have to cope with and address now and give them these weird sort of ways of going about navigating life. I think, quote unquote, getting them early is really important because, you know, we get to high school and get to middle school. Oh, middle school is even worse than high school. I refuse to take. I remember the summer before going to high school. I'm wrapping up middle school. I talked to my older cousin and I'm like, yo, do you really have to take a shower like after gym at school? Because, you know, like I got moves and I don't want to get in the shower. because, you know, my body. Yeah. And, you know, and then realizing it wasn't that, but it was a real fear. It was definitely an anxiety thing. And, you know, pieces of it are still there. So those things last forever. You know, but I think if there's a counter to that narrative or to that messaging, like in bodies are cool or have you, it helps. I think that helps a lot, especially getting in the hands of young folks. So shout out to you.

Tyler Feder: Thank you. I've heard from some parents who got the book for their little kids, and their parents, the little kids' grandparents, are reading the book with them. And the parents will say, like, oh, I overheard my mom reading about how fat bodies are good. That's really going to show her. Because I think even though the book is aimed at little kids, I think everyone could benefit from just accepting that all bodies are good. You don't need to be singling people out or making people feel bad. Yeah.

Rob Lee: It's really good. So I got one last real question. And this kind of goes into this theme. You know, I think I've planned things before. I don't know what I do. So let's talk about a recent book. Are you mad at me? It's co-written with your sister, right? So you explore social anxiety, a theme of social anxiety through opal to ostriches story. I like it. So what inspired the sort of collaboration with your sister and sort of this this narrative's lighthearted yet impactful and, you know, coping with the noodles? I like it. I like it. And like and really, you know, what are your your hopes? I detect a theme, but what are your hopes as far as the audience and the reader? So how did like the the genesis of it coming together? And what are your hopes as far as the impact?

Tyler Feder: Mm hmm. So the book came about because initially I was trying to work on another graphic memoir I had put out, Dancing at the Pity Party, which is about my mom dying. And I was trying to do another one that was in a similar vein, but was about mental health. I have anxiety and I've had it like forever. And I was really struggling while I was working on it. I just felt like my ideas were feeling unoriginal and dancing at the pity party had been received pretty well. And so I was really scared of like going downhill with my next book. So I'd been like venting about this so much with my sisters, like, oh my God, I don't know what I'm doing, like no one's gonna like it. And Cody said to me, you should just write a book called Are You Mad At Me? Because I kept worrying that my agent or my publisher were mad at me for kind of dragging my feet on this other book. And I like stopped for a second and I was like, wait a minute, like say more. Thinking about it more and more, it fully started as a joke. And the more we thought about it, we were thinking about that. that book, Are You My Mother, where this little bird is going around to different animals saying, are you my mother? And we're like, what if it's an animal going around and saying, are you mad at me to all these different people? So what it ended up being is this ostrich whose last name is Feather. My last name is Feather. And imagine how we came up with that. And she's trying to run this errand for her family and she keeps running into different animals and worrying that they're mad at her. And each time they're not, and it's for a different like animal related reason. So like her friend who's a bat says, I was just grouchy because I'm nocturnal. the middle of the day, or like the penguins seem like they're all huddling together to exclude her, but that's actually how they keep warm in the snow. Because I think adults can really like sort of dismiss the worries of little kids. Because it's like oh you're a kid like your life is not like you don't really have anything to worry about as a kid you're just worried about going to school or whatever but. As an adult with anxiety, when I think back on my memories when I was in elementary school, the anxiety I remember feeling then felt the same as the anxiety I feel now. It was just that the context was different. And so Cody and I wanted to make a book to kind of like validate those little kids who may be feeling that way and are kind of like unheard by adults, kind of show them that you're going to be OK. Like, no one actually was mad at the ostrich. It's all right.

Rob Lee: It's good. And thank you, again, you know, doing the good work. I mean, it's important, you know, I was a kid that I would have these these different feelings, be upset about things. It's like you shouldn't have those. You're a boy or you're too big for all of that or whatever the thing would be. So you get the double, you know, the double down. And, you know, now having sort of this protective ability as an adult, but still having those those feelings of like, nah, and I'm going to make you feel stupid about it. I'm going to have those feelings and make you feel stupid. questioning my feelings 30 years later. But yeah, it's I think it's it's important to to have that and, you know, have that that that's sort of like represented and acknowledged. You know, and I think as we we get older and as adults, just it's not their fault. It's not there. It's you know, sometimes it's generational. Sometimes it's just we don't talk about these things. And now that we have More of awareness and more like sort of like society's kind of caught up I guess and being more open to talking about this and that these these different complex feel like these big feelings You know, we're able to have work that speaks to it and that maybe provides it in a creative and an interesting way that can definitely capture folks and hook folks early on that it's at least part of how they think and part of how they mature and

Tyler Feder: Yeah, I think like social emotional learning has really been pushed in schools in the last like decade or something. One of my sisters is an elementary school teacher and kids are learning to like take deep breaths and all these different things that like, man, that's so helpful. If someone had just taught me that stuff when I was little, I would have saved a lot of time and stress.

Rob Lee: 100%. I, you know, I've done some teaching stuff and I was working with a school that I may potentially teach with and I was there for a visit and it was a Wednesday and they had on the intercom and I was like, intercoms exist. I was like, I wish I did this as a kid. And they were having like a five minute mindfulness break.

Tyler Feder: Oh my God.

Rob Lee: And I was just like, this did not exist. This is huge. It did. You know, we were in the middle of meetings. It was, you know, for the context of what we're doing, a little disruptive. But I was just like, no, this is very important. Honestly, I remember like. scramming, having anxiety for tests and all of these different things. And, you know, and you have bullying and all of this stuff that happens, you know, young and it's based on differences. And I guess and I don't like you because you're, you know, whatever. And I think having something that counters, as I touched on before, it's just it's just important.

Tyler Feder: What I'm trying to do.

Rob Lee: Well, again, like I said, shout out to you. So I want to move into this sort of last portion. This is the portion where all of the friendships that I create in these podcasts, they fall apart. This is a wrap. All right. So, you know, as I always tell folks, do not overthink these. And I already can tell you're going to overthink it because I do the same thing. But don't overthink these.

Tyler Feder: Don't overthink to me is like just in one ear and out the other. Don't breathe, Rob.

Rob Lee: So, but it's a judgment-free zone, I'll put it that way. And the response is, it's like, look, I said what I said. That's just what it is, you know? All right, so I got four of them for you. It might be five, but it's at least four. So here's the first one. What is your favorite shade of pink? Cause I read this somewhere that of course your favorite color is pink. So I modified this question.

Tyler Feder: That's not a scary question. I like to call it ballet pink. It's like, um, the color of ballet slippers, like really light and a little peachy.

Rob Lee: Okay. So yeah, I see the fact that you had an answer for that. Cause I was like, pink is pink. I mean, Barbie has a pink. It's a specific kind of pink.

Tyler Feder: It's pretty, but it's not my pink.

Rob Lee: No, it's not my pink right there. I like sullen gray, you know? It goes well with pink. What was your favorite book growing up?

Tyler Feder: Oh, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. I still read it. Sometimes my copy is like all falling apart. It's like a take on Cinderella. They made it into a movie, but the movie is not good and like has nothing in common with the book. Shots. Sorry. I like the movie. It's not good. The movie is fine as a movie, but to think that it's supposed to be the same story as the book, it's just like.

Rob Lee: No overlap there. As a movie, sure. As an adaptation, not so much. Yeah, exactly. What was the last movie you watched?

Tyler Feder: I watched Oh, Good Grief on Netflix. It's Dan Levy's new movie. It's about his partner dying. Big surprise. I like watching stuff about people dying. But it was good. Yeah.

Rob Lee: I think it's on the watch list because my partner is a big Dan fan, and we watched his brunch show on HBO, which was like, I'm a food nerd. And I'm like, man, this brunch is whack. The last two movies I watched, and I'm saying this because I think it's kind of funny. It was one I was sitting for a while. I finally watched Knives Out, which I enjoyed. That was a little long, but I enjoyed it. And the other one was Saltburn because you know, tubs.

Tyler Feder: I haven't watched it, but I have read the Wikipedia plot.

Rob Lee: Yeah, yeah. This is the last question I got for you, because always, again, you know, this ties back into process a little bit. What are the three tools that you use most most often during the day? Like for me, obviously, as a mic, it's, you know, recording interface, things like that. And in wine, red wine these days for you, what would be the three tools that you use most often to create?

Tyler Feder: I don't know if this counts as one or two, but my iPad and Apple pencil. That's the main thing that I use to draw. When I started out putting art online, I would like draw it on paper and then I would scan it with this app on my phone and then try to put it into a program on my computer and like fiddle with it. And it was really complicated because if anyone ever wanted edits, I'd have to like draw the thing that they wanted changed and then scan that in. And it was this whole involved thing. And then I had a different kind of tablet. But this is like the best thing I've ever used. I use the app Procreate. It's amazing. I'm trying to think. I got into bullet journaling a few years ago, so I have like a notebook and I have this big thing of markers. I don't make physical media as much as I would like to, but whenever I do, it feels really good. Although I get frustrated because I'm left handed, so I end up with pains or anger or whatever all over my hands. But yeah, I guess that's three.

Rob Lee: Yeah. Thank you, Lefty. I like it. So that's that's pretty much it for the week. We got a lot covered, I think that's pretty much it for the for the podcast and the questions and all. So I guess I'll do my close out. One, I want to thank you so much for coming on and making the time to be here on this podcast with us. And and two, I want to invite and encourage you to share with the listeners, you know, the Etsy store, the website, all of the places. It is shameless plug time.

Tyler Feder: Yes. The best place you can follow me is on Instagram. That's where I post links to whatever I'm doing. My Instagram account is just Tyler Feder. T-Y-L-E-R-F-E-D-E-R. I have an Etsy shop called Roaring Softly right now. It's Roaring Softly dot com. I may be switching to a different platform, so I can't say how long that's going to still be that, but. And then I started a Ko-fi. I think. Oh, I have one of those. Yeah, I looked up how to say it online and it said it rhymes with no fee. So Ko-fi. And I like basically all my stuff is either under Tyler Feder or Roaring Softly. But yeah, Instagram, Etsy. Kofi.

Rob Lee: Kofi, I like it. I have one. I was like, yo, buy me Kofi because I drink. And there you have it, folks. I want to again thank Tyler Feder for coming on to the podcast and sharing a bit of her journey and giving us a little bit more, a little bit more. So for Tyler Feder, I'm Rob Lee saying that there's art, culture and community in and around your neck of the woods. You just got to look for it.

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Creators and Guests

Rob Lee
Rob Lee
The Truth In This Art is an interview series featuring artists, entrepreneurs and tastemakers in & around Baltimore.
Tyler Feder rhymes with cheddar
Tyler Feder rhymes with cheddar
always the pallbearer, never the bride ✨ author/illustrator of BODIES ARE COOL and DANCING AT THE PITY PARTY ✨ sellin’ prints at https://t.co/pMaSfinW5p 🤓 she/her


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