Freshly Laundered 007 / Virginia Poltrack


Illustrator extraordinaire Virginia Poltrack is lucky number seven in our interview series. Her Mollusca Cephalopoda tee is one of our all-time best sellers and probably not just because she’s exceedingly nice. Click through to learn more about her love for illustration and her experiences with Google Glass.


CB: How’d you get started being an illustrator? Did you draw a lot as a child?

VP: My first memory is watching my Dad draw a picture. I remember watching him draw, and seeing the lines and shapes come together like magic, and I thought, “Why would anyone ever want to do anything else? That is AMAZING! He just made something, where once there was nothing! I want to do that.” I was completely captivated and from that point on - drawing was it. That was all I wanted to do. I think I was 3 or 4, but that path never really changed for me. I have piles of sketchbooks, drawings, pens - you name it. I’ve kept everything. I was just always the “artist”!


CB: Ha! I suppose that makes it hard to move. Where some people haul around boxes and boxes of reading books, you have a whole history of your work on shelves I suppose? What are some of your favorite things to draw?

VP: Oh, I have sketchbooks that are probably 20 years old at this point! It's actually pretty funny to look back through them - the first couple sketchbooks are full of dragons and science fiction characters (although, to be fair, so is my current sketchbook…) I have a few things that I really love to draw - owls, birds, octopii, Star Wars characters. When I went freelance full-time, I talked to some other freelancers to get advice, and one common thing I heard (which was excellent advice) was to always have personal projects. Have a project that you do for fun, with no limitations. This serves a couple purposes. First, you’ll stay busy - instead of sitting around, freaking out because you don’t have any work, you’ll stay busy and productive. Secondly, it keeps your skill set active. Thirdly, it gives you something to post or promote. I decided I would draw all the characters from Star Wars - there are so many, it would take forever, and it would keep me occupied between other projects.

Sometimes people will comment and say, “Why do you draw X all the time?" but again, there’s a reason behind it. If I can’t think of anything else to draw, I’ll use one of those "things”, because I know I can do it. Also, I think re-visiting the same subject is an excellent way to measure progress. If I drew the same owl every day for a year, I could look back and see improvement, which is really important. Right now, I’m working on portraits of all of the Doctors from Dr. Who. Again, it’s fun, I can promote it, and it keeps me busy in between the other projects. Especially working with technology (websites, Google Glass projects, etc) it’s nice to take a break for an hour and work with a pencil and a piece of paper.


CB: That’s awesome! I’d love to be able to have the ability to see how I’ve grown and improved in such a tangible way. You’re right about keeping yourself busy with personal projects, it really keeps the mind fresh and ready for what’s next. Speaking of Google Glass, how’d you get involved with that? You went to the Google I/O Conference recently, right?

VP: Oh, let me talk about Google Glass (I know it’s a slightly polarizing topic for some, and I am biased in favor of it -’s my story about Glass.)

I never really liked technology. I liked pencil and paper. But I watched this promotional video for Glass, and I was just hooked. I wanted to try it! I entered the “#ifihadglass” contest and won. I knew I could make videos and photos about my drawings, but I also wanted to be a part of the technology. I live in Johnstown, PA - when else in my life was I going to get a chance to test out beta technology for a company like Google, and have them see my work? It felt like a pretty amazing opportunity! I have used Glass with my illustrations, but I’ve also been a part of creating apps (Glassware) - like Word of the Day (sends a vocabulary word once a day to Glass), Vignette Postcards (I made seasonal illustrations people can use with their photos to share on social media), Flash Stacks (is a way to send custom content to Glass) and a few others. I went from disliking technology to really being at the front of it! This entire past year, my focus has been on Google Glass and wearables. But it’s been one of the best years EVER - I was invited to Google I/O (their developers conference). I got to go to Google HQ and hang out and meet some amazing people, I’ve had the Glass team share my illustrations all over social media, and the other Explorers have been incredible. I’ve made new friends all over the world and met some of the best people ever - all because of Glass!

It’s also been a crash course in a new way of designing - Glass (and all wearables) behave in a totally different way, and require a new way of thinking about design. I’ve learned a lot about best practices in the last year - what looks best on a translucent display for Glass, how to best display text, logos, formatting - it’s been an education in and of itself. Again, I know that people question the technology for a number of reasons, but for me, it was very simple. It was an opportunity to be a part of something new and exciting - an opportunity that wasn’t going to happen twice. I fully intended to take advantage of this and make the most out of it, and I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job of that!


CB: How exciting! Sounds like it has been a whirlwind year for you, but that you really learned a lot and had fun too. How did you come up with the ideas for the Glassware apps you’ve created?

VP: The Glassware app ideas came from a few different places! The first app we made was called “Glassentation” and it’s basically a way to send slide notes to Glass. Think of it as turning your Glass into a teleprompter, of sorts. My husband does a lot of public speaking, so that one was his idea! Word of the Day (which is my heart - I love that app beyond words) was my idea. I love vocabulary and learning new words. In fact, most of my sketchbooks have vocabulary words in them. If I see a word I don’t know, I write it down, along with the definition, and try to use it as often as I can. I thought it would be a fun application for Glass! It actually evolved from there, as well. Glass has a feature called a “vignette” - which is basically a picture overlayed on a picture. So people started taking a photo with the word of the day that related to the word, and shared it on social media. So that app actually turned into a game, which is fantastic! We also worked with a friend of ours, Jeremy Shore, and he developed the Android / Wear version. So now, if you have an Android phone and/or smart watch, you can get word of the day for that, as well! WOTD for Glass is an official app, which means we went through the review process and had it approved by Google. Moving forward, anyone who purchases Glass will have the option to turn on WOTD and start getting the notifications! We are at over 6,000 active users, which I am so proud of, especially considering Glass is still a beta product that not many people own!

Flash Stacks grew out of Vignette Postcards. Vignette Postcards was actually Google’s idea - they wanted a way for people to be able to share holiday greetings with Glass. I took a bunch of custom typography and made images out of it, that people could send to Glass. So for example, people would take a photo of their Christmas Tree, and in the corner, it would have my drawing of the text “Merry Christmas!”. The problem was - what if people wanted to send their own information to Glass? They had no way of doing that - until our friend Cecilia Abadie reached out with Flash Stacks! It allows users to send photos, text, and other information to Glass, giving users complete control over custom information. We are REALLY excited about this - I think it opens up a lot of opportunities for medical and educational uses. There are a few more apps in the works as well - we have more ideas and projects than time, unfortunately! But it’s a good problem to have, I think. It’s also worth mentioning again, that the community was a crucial part of this process. We used beta testers for each app, and they would give us helpful ideas and feedback!


CB: That’s really interesting how involved the Glass community is with each new idea that comes along. Such a great way to get feedback and make improvements! Speaking of community, how did you find Cotton Bureau and why did you decide to submit your ideas for t-shirts to us?

VP: So I’ve only been “online” a few years - I started with Dribbble (of course!) I used to look at Dribbble every day, but didn’t have an account. Finally, I signed up and got an invitation, and became active in the community and on Twitter. Of course, we all know there are some people and organizations that stand out - which is how I found United Pixelworkers! I went to a Dribbble meet up in Pittsburgh, and I remember a few things - one of which is how kind Jay Fanelli was when I got to meet him (which meant a lot to me!) I also remember talking to him about being in Johnstown - and he said, “It’s not where you are, it’s the work that you do.” I really took that to heart, and appreciated him saying that. So I was a fan of Pixelworkers for years, and was REALLY excited when Cotton Bureau launched! It was a no-brainer for me - getting to work with really talented people that I respect! To me, even having a design accepted is a big deal - and having it go to print or making some money is just icing on the cake! It’s a win-win situation - I can’t say enough good things about you guys!


CB: Virginia, you are too sweet! Thanks for spreading the CB word so much, we really appreciate it. Congrats on having so many tees go to print, we really love your latest tee, Owl King!

Virginia’s Owl King tee expires Wednesday, Sept 23rd at 2pm - be sure to snag one before they’re gone! To keep up with her work, you can follow Virginia on twitter, dribbble, and instagram.