You must understand – I HAD to interview Carrie of Caged Tomato for Bake and Destroy. HAD TO. Her artwork is a cup of drive-in nostalgia, a dash of Saturday morning cartoons and a healthy pinch of tongue-in-cheek and therefore, my favorite ever. That, and – she basically saved my life once. See, when I was only a few weeks pregnant with Teno I was managing a busy cafe, running into the back room every few minutes to throw up and coming home in tears because my ankles were so swollen from being on my feet all day. I had no idea what I was going to do.

Then, out of nowhere, a friend of mine called to see if I might be interested in quitting the cafe and taking care of a little girl named Lila so her mom could start working in the office again. I’d been recommended by another friend, and Lila’s parents wanted to meet me. I tried to contain my excitement at the thought of telling my bosses to eat it and watching Sesame Street all day instead of spilling coffee on my shoes. But wait – who the eff would hire a nanny with tattooed knuckles? Dang it! I tattooed myself out of another opportunity! Well, I’ll just go to the interview and see what happens…

I ring the door bell and…whaaaa? Lila’s dad (Kent) carries her down stairs to meet me and he’s got a whole bunch of tattoos! We go upstairs and Lila seems to be pretty comfortable around me – oh, and did I mention that her mom, Carrie, is wearing a Zeke shirt? Because she is. In the matter of minutes I started what ended up being a two-year gig as Lila’s tattooed nanny. I loved Lila – I still do, and I love her parents. I learned so much taking care of a toddler while I was pregnant (and for the first year after Teno was born) and Kent and Carrie were so unbelievably awesome to me the entire time. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a job I love as much as that one. 

Fast forward a few years and I’m blogging about baking (something I could not have started had Carrie not found me and allowed me to stay at home with Teno for that year) and Carrie launches her line of unspeakably cute, mostly snack-themed artwork on Etsy. Kent is blogging (Carrie is too) we’re all on Twitter (@cagedtomato, @bakeanddestroy, @KentGowran) and everyone seems to be in a pretty good place all thanks to a couple of people having babies and helping each other out. And I guess, in the end, I just wanted to brag that I knew her first. 

Were you one of those kids who was always drawing in the margins of your notebook in school?

Let’s see, I can barely remember back that far, but yeah, pretty much.

Can you think of anything from when you were a kid that influenced your taste in art?
TONS of TV. TONS and TONS! I probably saw about a million commercials. And we ate a lot of junk food too: candy, tv dinners, cereal. I pretty much had a totally typical 70’s childhood, you know, cartoons, Star Wars, Dynamite Magazine, Hey Kool Aid, all that jive.

I remember you being a fan of some children’s book illustrators – who are your favorites? Any titles in particular that you love?
Mmmm, I love Henrik Drescher and Lane Smith. Some of my other faves are The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers and When Sheep Cannot Sleep by Satoshi Kitamura.

Did you go to school for graphic design? 
I went to Ohio University and got a B.A. in Design/Illustration. Then right out of school I worked at a record store. Way to go.

What kinds of work were you doing before Caged Tomato?
I had been working at the same educational publisher for the last 12 years doing page layout, with a little design and technical illustration thrown in. It was a great job, I got really complacent while I was there and didn’t do much of anything else.

Didn’t you draw the Hot Doug’s hot dog? How did that happen? Does Doug let you cut in line?
Why yes, I did! The most famous thing I’ll ever do. My friend Judine O’Shea was working on the Hot Doug’s banner and asked me to draw a hot dog with Buddy Holly glasses and Converse sneaks. So I did. And sadly, no, I don’t get to cut in line.

I think I might be able to guess this by looking at your prints, but I could be wrong – what do you like to draw most?
Well, truthfully, I like to draw animals most. But the world doesn’t need more bird drawings, it needs more donuts.

What made you start making prints for Etsy?
Desperation and loads of free time.

Did you already have a collection of vintage food labels? Where do you get them?
Food labels and recipe cards are something that I see and I think “I must have those!” I got most of my labels from the same seller, inkpainter, on eBay and Etsy.

How do you decide what to draw next?
I usually have a bunch of ideas on a list somewhere. I often think of things to make while I’m riding the El.

Did you ever have any luck finding homemade donuts in Chicago?
I haven’t yet made it down to Old Fashioned Donuts, but I hear tell that is THE place for fritters as big as your head. Also, I’m stalking the Glazed Donut enchantress.

If you had a whole day and someone else’s credit card to do nothing but eat all day where and what would you eat? Take us through every meal and snack – and you can charge airfare too.
Early morning, pop in at Gorilla Coffee in Brooklyn for some fresh coffee, then head to Doughnut Plant in New York—one of each please. Then roll over to Katz’s at lunchtime for a big pastrami on rye. For a pick me up, I would head to Momofuku Bakery and try one of each cookie and pie. And perhaps shove a few pork buns and english muffins in my pockets. Then an early evening visit to the Spotted Pig for some cask beer and bar snacks. Then fly to Yountville, CA for a 5 hour meal at the French Laundry. This is also the day I would magically never get full, right?

What does Lila think of your art? Does she ask you to draw things for her?
She thinks a lot of it is cute, or it cracks her up. She also asked me why the donut lady is sitting on the potty. I have to draw a lot of ponies and mermaids for her. Not well, I might add.

Kent draws, too right? I thought I remembered seeing some monsters he sketched.
He doodles. He wanted to be a comic book artist when he was a kid but got into writing instead.

So that blue truck cake you made for Lila’s 2nd birthday was pretty neat – have you been baking as long as you’ve been drawing?
I haven’t really been baking for that long, I think I just started getting really into food about 10 years ago. Now I’m like, obsessed. And I’m a terrible baker—everything I make has some sort of fatal flaw. Well, most everything.

Do you have a favorite bakery or bakeries? What are they?
I haven’t really been to that many, but I love Angel Food and Bittersweet.

Do you prefer cake or cookies? What about cookies with frosting?
Cookies, totally. Even store bought cookies are like crack to me. Frosting? Eh, I could take it or leave it. (Blasphemy!)

Lila used to come over with some pretty funny musical requests -Clutch, for example. Does her love of stoner metal come from you or her dad?
Stoner metal is one of the areas where our musical tastes overlap, but I think that is mostly her dad. 

What’s the best music to draw to?
I have to find exactly the right music, or nothing works out. Usually some tried and true favorite, sometimes fast: Nirvana, High on Fire, Blues Explosion; sometimes mellow: Neil Young, Palace, Bon Iver, Elliot Smith, Songs: Ohia; if I’m doing a lot of Photoshop work sometimes I like to space out with some Underworld, DJ Shadow, Massive Attack, whatever.

What about baking music?
When I bake I like something that makes me happy, some Kinks, some Pretty Things, some Nuggets, I don’t know. Usually I just listen to Lila, she likes to sing.

Now that you’re a full-blown Etsy wizard, do you have any advice for someone looking to sell his or her art on Etsy?
Whoa, that’s sweet, but I ain’t no wizard. I’ll get back to you when I hit 1,000 sales! I would say make sure you are offering something unique. Also, people like owls.

What’s your favorite custom request so far?
All of them, really. I love it when someone likes my stuff enough to ask me to create something for them. Someone asked me to do the roasting pan and the frying pan because they wanted to get those designs as tattoos. That is pretty awesome. And someone wanted a custom piece for her donut shop. Which is also awesome.

Do any of your designs stand out as a best-seller?
My very first design, the Mix Until Blended.

Is it hard to not spend the money you make in your shop on stuff from other people’s shops?
I do! I can’t help it. I love Etsy. I have an Etsy art gallery growing on my wall.

Do you have a favorite Etsy shop?
I have lots, I adore all my favorites and I love looking through them. I have art by sushipot, plumpoysterderekerdman, matteart, and doubleparlour.

Obviously you made some retro Bake and Destroy buttons for Sweet Cuppin’ Cakes – do you have anything for sale anywhere else (besides Etsy)?
I have stuff at the Renegade Handmade store on Division. And sometimes it even sells! I have plans to do some craft fairs when I get enough stuff together.

Are you working on any new designs right now?
Yes, I’m pretty slow on new items these days, but I’m always working on something.

What about new products – are you looking to expand on your stationary or introduce anything new?
I want to get more cards in the shop, I’m still experimenting with papers and stuff though. I have plans to do a lot more original art, but those are harder for me because when I screw them up there is no undo!

And finally, is this the first time a former employee has interviewed you for her blog? (^_^)
Yes! #boner!

Big fat thanks to Carrie for answering all my nosey questions – and even bigger thanks for her offer to send one lucky commenter an 8.5″x11″ print of their choice from her shop! Leave your comments between today and July 18, 2009 – midnight* CST for your chance to win! 

picture-1*A winner has been chosen! Thanks a lot to Sarah for leaving the winning comment and again to Carrie for hooking us up with one of her awesome prints!