Shaky & Hopeful: An Interview with Meg Fransee

Posted by Ariel Katz on

Meg Fransee is an Oakland-based social worker, psychotherapist and illustrator. She’s also a good friend of Essence and Jihaari and the designer behind the humans-as-yin-yang artwork that features on their Long Sleeve Trash Tee. 

Her work is known for bright colors and abstract characters, painted with ink or risograph printed to become zines, post cards and more. She releases these in limited-editions through her publishing house, Floss Editions, which she runs with her partner Aaron Gonzalez. Through Floss, they make art for and with their friends, and elevate artists in their community who have less access to printing tools. 

We spoke to Meg about her visual language, the romance of shapes, the magical shared experience of printed materials, and how to be kind to yourself during periods of diminished creativity. 

What three words would you use to describe yourself?

Shaky, indecisive, hopeful.

What type of work do you create and what kind of mediums do you use?

I work on paper with paint and ink, and when I work in multiples I use risograph printing and sometimes block printing. I have been exploring paper mache recently, and did a project with clothes/fabric last year. 2D is my comfort zone but I am starting to move out of it. 

Meg Fransee

You have a full-time job as a social worker. How does your average day shape up and what’s your routine for merging your life’s pursuits?

I work for the Oakland Unified School District as a School Social Worker during normal school hours, and my work ranges from providing psychotherapy, to helping write a resume, to attending meetings or court dates with the families I serve. My nights and weekends are dedicated to art making and might involve binding a pile of books at our dining room table, or zoning out and working through some paintings. In ways social work and art making as practices have similarities, because both force you to consistently be broadening and deepening different facets of your practice; they have no end point of understanding or mastery. The practices don’t merge in explicit ways, but more so in unexpected moments like when I am drawing names in bubble letters with a student or teaching them how to screenprint shirts. 

Alongside your partner Aaron Gonzalez you run Floss Editions, a riso printing and publishing house, out of your literal house. Can you tell me a little more about that collaboration, how it all started, and the projects you take on?

It all started pretty organically, I think to varying degrees both Aaron and I had always been interested in DIY/self-publishing, even before we met. There are aspects of riso printing that drew each of us in for different reasons, Aaron really geeks out about technique and the process and I’m much happier experimenting within the constraints of the medium, both of which play greater roles depending on the project we’re working on. 

Meg Fransee and Aaron Gonzalez

Photography (including lead image) by James Rice

When we first started, we didn’t really have a goal in mind, all we knew was that we wanted to make art for and with our friends and for the most part we’ve stuck to that, we’ve even started working with friends we’ve made along the way. With our limited time we try and focus on publishing as opposed to contract printing as much as we can because we enjoy working closely with artists in our community and we try our best to prioritize folks who haven’t worked with riso before.

So much of our lives are strictly digital. What is it about having something tangible like a zine to hold onto or a print hang on the wall that you appreciate most?

This is what makes printmaking so special, to hold and share printed material. To put together an edition of 100 prints and reflect on how precious a single sheet of cardstock feels in your hand, and know that 100 other people can have that encounter once they are all sent in the mail, traded for, or sold at a zine fest is really magical. In our home printed material has accumulated through our separate and joint collections and maps all of our expansive and strange experiences across different times, cities, and people.  

Meg Fransee

Does Oakland itself play a role in your creative process? Was it easy to find a creative community that motivates and inspires you?

Yeah, it does. The printmaking community here is really special. There is so much support and collaboration, especially for books and work on paper. Some of the projects we are most proud of have been the results of work trades with other publishers, like Sun Night Editions or Night Diver Press who have helped us to incorporate screen printing alongside our riso work. We are so lucky to be in community with Tiny Splendor, who organize the annual East Bay Print Sale. There is this way that everybody shows up for each other which I feel grateful for. 

There’s a through-line of color and abstracted forms that’s so identifiable as coming from your hand. Can you talk about the shapes in your work and what makes a scene or idea resonate with you?

I paint and draw like a printmaker. I'm drawn to hard, graphic lines, high opacity, and out-of-the-tube colors. It’s this cycle of printmaking informing painting and painting informing printmaking. Imagery almost works the same way—I build a lexicon of images that I feel connected to and use/reuse them. As a narrative practice for myself I see romance in certain shapes and witness them entering and exiting my visual vocabulary as I make work. Images that are more obviously visually pleasing like a flower or a thigh start to make sense in the presence of fast-food soda or bowls of cereal within this language I am exploring. I saw a cartoon crab at a parking garage a few years ago in Japan and can’t stop putting it in my work. 

Meg Fransee

Has your process changed during lockdown? Have you found yourself making more or avoiding creative stuff altogether?

I always told myself that “time” was my only limitation for creativity; it’s what I pointed to for why I wasn’t executing all the ideas I have. Because lockdown granted me this precious resource and I had to reckon with my creativity still being diminished, it forced me to have a long avoided conversation with myself about my relationship to work, productivity, and creativity. I found myself putting pressure on myself to figure it all out, but was left only feeling more fatigued. One thing that has helped me through this process though has been participating in a weekly “crit club” via zoom with friends—other artists and writers. It has not only helped me to access these creative moments when I can, but also to be more forgiving to myself in examining all the reasons that creative practices are additionally hard during this time. 

Meg Fransee

What do you listen to while you work?

Aaron is in control of the speakers in the studio. He says most recently it has been:

Chubby and the Gang: Speed Kills
Rat Cage: Screams From The Cage
The Tits: Great Punk Tits
Lil Uzi Vert: Eternal Atake
Future: High Off Life
Geld: Beyond the Floor

Lastly, what’s something coming up in 2020 that you’re most looking forward to? 

Watching my godbaby grow!