I’ve colored some of your illustrations and want to post them. Can I?
Depends. I have always allowed people to color my line art for personal practice and to post them with credit to me. I have also allowed people to use my work for institutional projects. If it’s for profit, that’s a no-go unless you’ve consulted me first and you’ve licensed my artwork. I am a working professional and need to make a living.
Can I use your illustrations for my book/book cover?
All book illustration jobs should go through my agent.
Will you do a tutorial on your coloring process?
Okay, it’s pretty shameful how many times I’ve been asked and how many times I’ve said I would and then how many times I haven’t done it. I mean, I’ve never done it. But I want to. To tide you over, I will explain the following: I use Paint Tool SAI for color. I create and scan my own textures, which are usually watercolor washes. I use Photoshop to lay these textures in. The linework is always traditionally drawn and scanned. The tablet I use is the same one I’ve had since March 2003. It’s an old quartz-colored Wacom. I’ve never lost the stylus or killed the nib. I might be a witch.
How can I read/see all of your LiveJournal projects?
I really do get this question at least once or twice a year. The answer used to be much more positive. I no longer post new projects on LiveJournal and have locked down what still exists from the last eleven years. These will undoubtedly one day be deleted. Fortunately, I still flutter around the internet and I’m always making new work. Plus, you can find plenty of really old art if you look!
Why the circus? Why old-timey stuff?
I touch on this a little on the Spectacular project page on my website. In fact, I will now steal from myself.
History fascinates me. Especially histories that involve outsiders, major social change, or incredible juxtapositions. Both the circus and the 1920s embody these elements. I don’t love these elements arbitrarily, or for purely aesthetic reasons (though they are both aesthetically rich, and for a creative person there is nothing better).
I definitely do not believe I was born in the wrong era. I definitely do not believe in the concept of the good old days. I mean, I’m a woman. Awesome couture is not more appealing than rights and vaccines. Still, though, I do wish people would learn that trilbies and fedoras are not the same kind of hat (but they are both named for female characters).
The 1920s gave birth to many themes that still linger in popular culture. Celebrity obsession, outrageous fads, dieting, tanning, youth culture, grapples with new technology and media. Even megachurch evangelism makes its first real appearance. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer, and the world saw governments overthrown and people revolting and extremism trying to punch into the mainstream.
If that doesn’t sound familiar, I don’t know how you even got on the internet.
As far as the circus is concerned, it’s the perfect example of the extraordinary outsider. It’s an insular community made all the more insular because people saw them as outsiders from the earliest modern outdoor shows. While cultural stigma attached to the circus varies by degrees from country to country, the primary anti-circus rhetoric has been exactly the same since the 19th century. These are literal outsiders. These are people who do not have permanent homes. These are people who throw off social norms and do it in public, for money. These are people associated with theatre (something I also love), which didn’t have an easy time in the Victorian Era, either. The UK’s historic issues with anti-traveller bias fed the notion that circuses were bad, scary places. And the best way to hit them was to ban the moving of animals from show to show.
When you look inside, however, you find a wealth of beauty and skill and determination. Of support and corruption and birth and death and all the rest of it. These are people comparable to Olympians, in that they live for their chosen field from the time they’re able to walk. Maybe even earlier.
There may be hazing and rivalries and hierarchies and elitism, but at the end of the day, the rube is the common enemy that unites them all.
I could say similar things about vaudeville, 1920’s Broadway, and Ziegfeld. I love nothing more than the grit of the backstage. The circus has this grit at all times.
What are your influences?
The first artist whose name inspired awe and jealousy was Norman Rockwell. This remains fact. His narrative skills–I mean, the man could tell a story in the wrinkle of a shoe. You could get more out of a square inch of paint than an entire novel. THIS IS NOT AN EXAGGERATION.
The only other illustrator to claw towards that, for me, is Lisbeth Zwerger. If I read her books as a child, they didn’t stick. When I was reintroduced to her in undergrad, I wept bloody tears. What Norman Rockwell does in the details, Lisbeth does in the composition. (Be astonished that I have named a living illustrator.)
Yes, I am a tried-and-true Golden Age groupie. I can’t say that any of this feeds very literally into how I draw, but I do sometimes look at the various monographs I have of various illustrators (Dulac, Nielsen, etc.) while I am dreaming things up. In my MFA thesis project, I almost literally copied the layout of an Oz book.
In terms of the not-visual, I live at the intersection of folklore and fairytale and fantasy and, uh, fact. Ground everything in reality, because that’s how you prove things like gnomes exist. Speaking of which (I often do), Gnomes was the most influential book of my life, until Harry Potter came along and published his autobiographies.
If there is a movie to convey any of me, it’s Fantasia. It even has dinosaurs.
Do you have advice for improving anatomy in a drawing?
There was a time that I spent the better part of an entire year drawing ballet dancers almost exclusively. It happened that I had a ballet dancer for a character, which was the basis for my fanatical spree. But seriously, drawing ballet dancers non-stop gives you a crash course in how the human body moves.
The earliest drawings from this period are terrible. Even the latest ones became increasingly exaggerated because I had a basic vocabulary and too much excitement. But this wasn’t the first time I ever drew the body. Drawing the human form has always been my focus, even from the time I first started pushing crayons around. And drawing that form in action has also been important to me. I had figure drawing sessions in high school and a good six years of regular art classes before the first ballet dancer came out.
Which essentially means that the answer is: you practice a lot.
I have never been a consistent user of the Rules. You know, the body is seven heads high or three wide or the nose sits here between here and this thing and that. Don’t get me wrong–this is a useful and important tool. Know the rules to break them, etc. I just find that I knew a lot of people who got so stuck on proportion that it totally crippled their improvement. Use all the ancient and trusted methods of anatomical accuracy, but if you feel like you’re about to lose your mind, stop and find something more appealing. Sports you like. Cat videos on YouTube. Hamlin the French Bulldog. Effie the Pug. Lil Bub.
In conclusion, repetition of things I liked helped me a lot.
What kinds of references do you use when researching your stories?
Lord have mercy. I have gone into the deepest, strangest parts of the internet to hunt down old books because they were written by circus people in the 1920s and no one else has them. I have cleared out shelves at The Strand and Half-Price Books. I have smelled more musty, rotten bindings than Madam Pince.
All this is to say, most of my references are books. And if a book has a bibliography, I paw through it. Nothing is more satisfying than coming full circle and finding books you’ve read used as references in other books you’ve read without even knowing it was going to happen. I mean, I really can’t imagine anything more satisfying. I really can’t.
Finding books written very close to the time period and by people with the right perspective helps, too. That’s when you have to give your credit card information to websites that don’t even use PayPal.
I also go to libraries. The pinnacle being Circus World’s unmatched and unparalleled Robert L. Parkinson Library and Research Center. This, this is where you go for primary sources. This is where I got to see and touch circus wagons and to marvel at how impossible it is to accurately convey in words how stunning they are.
As I now live in New York, I have glorious things like the New-York Historical Society and the New York Public Library.
This being said, I don’t have the money for extensive travel, or by golly I’d be going to every damn location I ever mentioned, even if it was only in my head and never on paper. Maybe (definitely) one day.
If you’d like to know specific books for specific things, drop me a note. I’ll see if I have something.
What kind of references do you use when drawing?
Oh, all kinds of things. And when I say all kinds of things, I mean that I sometimes am looking at twenty disparate images in order to create something that looks like none of them.
For me, reference usually amounts to looking at images to remind myself the tone I’m going for or the period I’m going for. I use clothing references, of course, and location references. Period details. Things to keep accuracy. If I need poses, I hunt down a many as I can find (often from Getty Images and other stock databases) and usually look at one element from one image, one from another, and something from somewhere else. Most often, I use Photobooth to take a picture of myself. I think all illustrators can relate to that on some level.
If I am doing an homage or reinterpreting a piece of art, I will name that piece of art or artist and you can see where I got my references directly.
Why do you like clowns? They’re creepy and terrifying.