Recently, I held a fan-art competition on my Facebook page Cloud9, and the winner was a friend of mine named Hannah England. A James Madison University graduate and a designer at GRAPHEK, Hannah also created her own webcomic, and does free-lance graphic design. She graciously allowed me to interview her, and gave me some concept art for her Alice in Wonderland-based comic! Enough of my talking...let's get on to what she has to say.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do for a living?
I currently work as a graphic designer at a studio in Tyson's Corner, VA. We do lots of different kinds of work from logos to entire magazine layouts, but most of our projects are association branding and collateral pieces. I also freelance sometimes, but I'm doing less of that now because I want to concentrate my free time on some personal projects, like my webcomic, Delta, that I am making with my friend, Molly Doyle.
When did you start drawing/being artistic?
I can't remember a time when I wasn't making art. My parents said they knew I was going to be an artist when, at two years old, I drew a human face that included eyelashes and eyebrows, something that's very unusual for someone that age. But my favorite "origin story" for my artistic abilities happened about a year after that. Apparently, I meticulously cut out an alligator silhouette from construction paper, including the individual toes on its feet. In retrospect, that was also a good sign that I would be detail-oriented, and that I had a weird sense of humor; the alligator was eating a duck. I was hilarious.
Where does your greatest source of inspiration come from?
It's hard to say "greatest source," since I draw inspiration in little bits from everywhere, but at this point in time I would say movies. I've always loved watching them, but helping my film friends with school projects made me really fascinated with how films come together. Films are the ultimate collaborative art projects, and I love that. I also tend to have very vivid, semi-lucid dreams that take the form of narrative stories. I just had one last night about a mentally handicapped girl who discovered that her intelligence had been supressed because she had discovered crucial information about a super villain at a young age. She had a friend with a hearing aid who was able to detect certain frequencies of the villain's lair, and that ended up saving everyone in the end. I get so many ideas just by being asleep. I like to say it's a crucial part of my creative process. Sleeping in should count as working...
Something slightly less deep...Favorite food?
Pizza. I developed an aversion to wheat in recent years, though, so I am still on a quest for the perfect wheat-free pizza crust.
Favorite artist? (Besides yourself, obviously.)
I'm not sure that I have a favorite artist as much as a favorite style. I'm currently super fascinated with concept art. As a kid, I always loved Impressionist painters because they captured light and color in such beautiful and unique ways. I especially loved Degas for his hauntingly beautiful ballerinas. Leonardo Da Vinci fascinated me, too, because he was not only an artist but a scientist, inventor, and engineer. I think he is a huge reason that I started looking outside of the realm of art for inspiration so early in my life. God is an amazing artist, too. I never get tired of looking at His work.
What’s your favorite piece you’ve ever made?
Every piece has a journey; I make it, I love it, I take pride in the accomplishment, and then I move on to the next thing. I don't usually have favorites because I am more interested in imagining my next challenge rather than assigning particular value to previous works. Every piece is a stepping stone to the next one. However, I do have one ongoing project that will always hold a great chunk of my heart, and that is my webcomic, Delta. I'm finishing up chapter two now, and I will say it is the longest, most ambitious, most nerve-wracking, constantly challenging thing I have ever worked on. I adore it. It is visual art plus storytelling, a combination of two things that I love to do, and is a collaborative project with a great friend of mine, Molly Doyle, who is the writer. It's kind of like being a kid again and playing make-believe on the playground with a friend, only I get to pretend it's this super serious undertaking.
Besides graphic design, what other mediums of art do you work in?
I originally learned to draw because I loved to write stories, and I wanted a way to visually depict the characters and places in my head. Drawing and creative writing are the two arts that I practice the most and have the biggest heart for. I also dabble in a lot of things because if I get a whiff of something interesting, I want to know how to do it. Because of that, I have the ability to quill, felt, craft with paper, knit, crochet, quilt, sculpt with clay or wire, sew, precision cut, carve, screen print, paint eggs... the list goes on. I love this, because each new skill can be appropriated into another. I recently proposed a project idea at work that involved origami. Who knew I'd be using origami skills in a professional setting?
Can you tell us what sort of materials and tools you commonly use?
I typically draw with regular, boring old mechanical pencils on regular, boring old printer or sketchbook paper. For Delta, I draw on Bristol board. The pens that I prefer are the Faber-Castell PITT pens because they come in many different widths and kinds and let me control my lines the way I like to. For big, black areas I use Sharpie markers. I also like playing with colored pencils occasionally, and for that I rely on my collection of Prismacolor pencils. I also do a lot of digital coloring, so for that I have my computer, Photoshop, and an old Wacom Intuos3.
If you could draw or paint one thing, what would it be?
I see two meanings in this question, so I will answer both. First: If I had to choose to only draw or paint one kind of thing for the rest of my life, I could choose people. I love to draw expressions and postures. You can tell so much of a story with a single image of a person. Second: If I could choose one thing that I have yet to create but I very much want to, I would want to draw the design for the next great movie hero or villain. Being able to labor to research and design someone iconic, and then see that character come to life through acting or animation would be so amazing. I would have the ultimate geek out.
If you could have one movie/TV/game prop or costume, what would that be?
The Batmobile. Who wouldn't want to drive around in that thing? Or even just have it in the yard, if it was a totally nonfunctional prop. Or a giant GLaDOS that would sit in the middle of my living room and cleverly, underhandedly insult me all day... but not if she had any actual power. That would be terrifying. Better stick with the Batmobile.
In conclusion, what advice would you give to budding artists?
1) DEVELOP CONFIDENCE IN YOUR WORK. You can't finish unless you start; don't let insecurities about your skills or abilities in art stop you from doing something. If I had let my insecurities about my drawing skills stop me, I wouldn't be nearly two chapters into a webcomic! You are your own worst critic. Even the best professionals will look at their work and see every possible flaw. Don't let those inner voices of doubt stop you from showing your work to others.
2) PRACTICE MAKES BETTER... not perfect. There will always be flaws in your work, and that's okay, as long as you never stop learning. In fact, if you know you're weak at something, do more of that. Use references whenever you can. You may think you know what a tree looks like, but we often simplify things in our minds to symbols that represent the idea but do not capture the uniqueness of a particular thing. Drawing from photos is good, drawing from actual life is even better.
3) NEVER STOP LEARNING. Absorb everything. You can get great ideas for art by learning about science, sports, cultures, or even just by being observant and noticing what people around you are doing or wearing. I took a class about visual and auditory psychology in college and I still get story and character ideas from the things I learned there. Learn from others. Share your work with people you know and get their feedback. Read books about art, about art history, and about the lives of artists you admire. Find mentors who are good at what you want to be good at and ask them questions. Explore different styles from your own, even ones you don't like, because they help you think differently.
I certainly hoped that you enjoyed this. I know it's not entirely about film, but it gives us a neat perspective on graphic design, comic books, and art in general. I also hope that you liked the awesome sketches I was able to show. If you'd like to see more of Hannah's work, be sure to check out Hannah England: Graphic Artist.