Every artist is the sum of their experiences and influences: in our regular Spotlight section, we ask up and coming artists to share with us their process and their inspiration.
I've always been drawing from a very young age but it was never something that I thought of pursuing as a career so I didn't study art or design in college. I actually have a degree in Science. It was during my undergrad that I kind of got back into drawing and making art. I was reading a lot of webcomics at the time and became aware of a community of artists who were making autobio comics on LiveJournal. I decided to make some of my own and to my surprise people quite liked them. I eventually ended up getting a Wacom tablet for myself as a graduation present (before this I was just drawing the comics in a sketchbook and then scanning them in).
I don't think I was even colouring my comics at this stage I had very little idea of how I would go about doing that. I remember sending an email to James Kochalka (best known for his long running daily diary comic series American Elf) asking him if he used different colour inks for his lines because I didn't realise that you could change the colour of your inks after you'd scanned them in. But I got myself a Wacom tablet and set about teaching myself how to use graphic design software. At the time I was using a program called PaintTool SAI which is a cheap lightweight painting program. It's actually still quite popular among young artists and people are still making incredible work with it. I used Manga Studio for a little while afterwards but now I use Adobe Photoshop for pretty much everything. I was really intimidated by Photoshop and avoided trying to learn how to use it for quite some time but the shortcuts are quite similar to Manga Studio so it wasn't as scary to learn as I thought it would be.
I did do a diploma course in graphic design to get some formal adobe suite training and I did a fine art course for all of about 3 months but besides that I’m more or less entirely self taught.
Because I'm not formally trained in art or design I don't feel like I have a lot of connections in the Irish design community. Most of my friends and peers live overseas. I know only a handful of Irish artists personally. There are good and bad aspects to this. I feel richer for having access to people of a wide variety of backgrounds and I feel like this has made me a better artist and a more thoughtful person. But also I definitely feel very disconnected from the local arts scene.
I generally use my sketchbook to figure out what I want to communicate first before I go into Photoshop. For whatever reason it feels more natural for me to iterate through different ideas and concepts on paper. But recently I’ve been experimenting with colouring sketches digitally that feels like a good mix of both methods. I will sketch something out then take a picture of it with my phone then bring it into Photoshop. I usually mess with the levels a bit to make it a bit brighter. Then I’ll just paint on top of it and mess with layer blending modes and adjustment masks until I have something that I’m happy with.
Probably the aforementioned American Elf by James Kochalka. He would sit down every day and make a comic about what happened that day and he did that every day for 14 years. Often his comics were about very mundane things but they would still be really funny and beautiful. It made the act of making comics very approachable. As far as other artists that influence me I’m a big fan of Pseudonym Jones, Laura Knetzger, Tom Eccles, Maris Wicks, Sarah Sobole, kittenpillar, Allie Mehner, weja, Sam Davies, Lottie Pencheon, titas antanas vilkaitis, Anna Syvertsson... I love artists that make very bold, clean and chunky art with interesting shapes and textures.
I spent a long time thinking that my art needed to be more figurative to be better (I guess because of insecurity over being self taught) and it was making art really unenjoyable and time consuming and stressful to make and there would be long periods of time where I just wasn’t able to make anything. So what I’ve been working on is changing how I approach my work and making it more enjoyable because it wasn’t for the longest time. So I’ve been making fanart, doodles and other really goofy self indulgent things. I’ve also changed up my process a lot, I’m trying to be much looser and more experimental in how I do things and I’ve found that’s helped as well.
I’d say not to be afraid of experimenting and playing around. Half of my favourite pieces come from just messing around and not worrying about the subject matter or the final image/product. You can always use those techniques you learn on weird experimental doodles later in bigger pieces. No time is wasted if you’re learning something. If I wanted to give some practical advice I would say use adjustment layers and always keep backups of your files. Also if you use Photoshop I'd highly recommend Lazy Nezumi's brush smoothing plug in as well as any set from Kyle Webster's brush shop.
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