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Interview in MacUser March 28th, 2012

It was such a nice surprise to be contacted by Camille Neilson to be featured in UK’s MacUser Magazine for March. I felt pretty honored to have such a nice big spread even if it is a bit tricky answering questions about myself and my work. Here it is! There’s a transcript of the interview at the bottom of the post.

1. What was your first Mac?
My first Mac was a 17″ Mac Book Pro, which I got about 5 or 6 years ago now. It has travelled with me far and wide and enabled me to do my illustration work not only here in my Canadian studio, but also in my travels to Shanghai, Istanbul and across Europe. It’s fantastic to now have the technology to work wherever I travel and to still stay in contact with my clients via email and now even send finished work via FTP.

2. What is the current Mac you are using?
Just a few months ago I bought the 27″ iMac. It’s amazing to have such a gigantic screen to work on and it allows me to open up my artwork alongside multiple other windows. It’s great to be able to have the space to have reference photos along side my artwork. I’m currently finishing up work on a children’s book, so being able to see entire spreads all at once has been fabulous!

3. What equipment do you use apart from your Mac (periferals etc)?
Aside from my iMac I use an Epson scanner to scan either my final painted art or my inked lines which I then go on to colour in the computer. Also, I have an Epson printer to print out any reference photos I need for work. I also constantly use me new trusty iPhone which allows me to never miss emails from clients while I’m out of the studio, take some quick snaps of inspiration and update my website and Twitter feed from far afield. Shortly I hope to buy a Wacom tablet to experiment more with drawing directly in the computer itself. I often like to find a balance between working by hand and on the computer. All of my work has some element hand done since I like to have that personal touch in my work, but everything ends up in the computer.

4. What is your favourite current software programme and what was the first programme you used?
My favourite program would be Illustrator and Photoshop in the Adobe Creative Suite. I use Photoshop every day with my work. I also could not work without listening to audio books and podcasts through iTunes. It’s a great opportunity to keep up with news and keeps me company in my sometimes solitary work life. The first program must have been a very early and clunky version of Word to write school essays with in high school.

5. Can you offer any tips for success?
It’s tough at first going out on your own and quite intimidating, especially entering into a career were success is not often immediate or easily attainable. You have to be driven enough to put in a lot of extra hours and get used to working all-nighters. When the work comes, it usually comes in chunks, so rest tends not to be an option then. When times are slow – which will happen, especially at first – it’s important to remind yourself that it will pass and try to maintain a group of peers to share and stories and encouragement. So often this career path can be lonely since so much time is spent working in the studio and not being amongst colleagues. Getting your peers together to do art shows or group promotions is one way to stay connected and to get inspired by the people around you. Most of your time will not be spent doing art but doing administration, reading contracts or promoting yourself. For all of this business work there’s so many tips online now and it’s great to see artist/designer communities helping each other with tips on blogs and on Twitter.

Just keep promoting yourself and doing good work and it’ll pay off. It might sound obvious, but for you artists, don’t forget that you enjoy art and design! Sometimes when art/design becomes a daily routine it can seem like a chore. So try and remember to work on personal projects when you can, collaborate with friends, and continue looking at things that excite you and add to the vocabulary of your work. It’ll come through in the end.

6. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be an artist although I didn’t quite know what that meant except that I wanted to draw and paint for a living. I was lucky to have such supportive parents who always encouraged me to take part in art shows and take classes when I was a kid. We travelled a lot throughout the Middle East and Africa when I was young, so on trips I would always have a sketch pad for the long airplane voyages. I remember first coming to Canada as a child and being transfixed by all the animals! Coming from a desert country there wasn’t a lot of wildlife running around (other than geckos). So early on I got obsessed with drawing wildlife. Also, being surrounded by the vibrant colours and patterns from other cultures I believe has sunk into my work.

7. How did you get your first big break?
After graduating from school I moved to Toronto and started the glamorous career of waitressing in a Greek restaurant. The job wasn’t the best but I did meet my very first client there. She was a designer and happened to mention a project of hers, designing audio book packaging for the Shaw Festival (a nearby repertory theatre company performing the plays of Bernard Shaw and the like). She agreed to meet up to see my portfolio, after which I was invited to work on several of the covers. That was the start and I think my biggest early break came a bunch of months later when I was contacted by Rolling Stone to do a portrait of John Malkovich for them. I was so thrilled to be included in the roster of amazing artists that had worked for the publication. I think having the name of Rolling Stone on my client list really helped art directors to see me in a more professional light and it opened me up to more portrait work.

8. What or who are your influences and inspiration?
There are so many artists I find inspiring, people like Rauschenberg, Hiroshige, the Stenberg Brothers, Bruegel, Lucien Freud, & Klimt. My inspiration comes from more than just other painters, I also look to designers such as Saul Bass and older comic book artists such as Winsor McCay & Moebius. I also look to book cover design, vintage posters, textiles, folk art, record covers, architecture, & various old ephemera, especially antique type work. I really enjoy traveling, and find a great deal of inspiration that way – I always wish I could do more! The images and impressions from trips really tend to excite me & inspire my work. Vintage illustration is always inspiring. I find the artists back then had such talent and skill. At the moment I’m really inspired by the early work of Charlie Harper, Bob Peak and Bernie Fuchs.

Not to forget that there are certain film directors and cinematographers that will always impel my urge to paint.

9. What mistakes have you learned from?
Never to procrastinate, since you never know when a job might pop into your inbox. The more prepared you can be the better. Also, after experiencing some jobs that went on for too long, I’ve learned that a good contract is a must and is helpful to both sides of the project, especially for bigger jobs. Being as clear as possible early on about an assignment’s timelines and revisions is especially important.

10. What’s your ideal project?
It’s really hard to define what my ideal project would be. Sometimes the most simple illustration job ends up being really fun and something surprising can come out of it, so you never know. I’d definitely like to work on more art shows and travel to other cities with them. I’ve not had one in the UK yet, so maybe you guys can help me out with that! I usually get hired to do ‘pretty’ work which is fun, but it was definitely enjoyable to do something more intense, like the Lion for Two Crown King’s album cover. I’ve always been into Horror and sci-fi so it’s nice to start bringing some of these influences into my work. I’d also love to publish a book at some point about vintage American dance – another hobby of mine. Now, to only find the time for all of this!

11. Tell us something good…
I’m working on my first children’s book at the moment, which will be out this summer. Usually I work on one-off illustrations for magazines, so it’s been so nice to do a more substantial piece of work. I’m exited to see how people like it since it feels so different form my usual work.

12. What’s your favourite gadget and why?
Not sure if this qualities as a gadget, but possibly a coffee maker? I think coffee is one of an illustrator’s best tools for those late work nights. I also just bought a Canon Rebel Camera that has been great to take inspiring photos on vacations for possible use in my artwork at a later date. I really enjoy walking around foreign cities and having a lens to force myself to pay attention to some of the amazing details around me including architectural features, signage and people. Such a huge world of inspiration out there.


Talk us through these examples.

This piece was originally done for a Toronto art show, (La Carnita’s Uno show) but I also thought it would fit well with my Halloween-themed mix for a website called designers.mx, which is a site that brings together designers and illustrators to create cover art for their own mix tapes. The themes for this piece were Mexico’s Day of the Dead and carnitas which is a Mexican meat specialty. The original “Carnitas” was entirely painted by hand, but for the album cover I tweaked some of the elements in the hair and changed the lettering all in Photoshop so spell out “Inferno”.

A bigger painting done for the band Two Crown King‘s album cover. A couple of great things about this piece: the band gave me full reign to come up with a concept and I got to collaborate with my husband, Jamie Lawson, who designed the packaging. It’s always great to join forces with talented friends and to bounce ideas off each other to come up with something special.

Hawaii & Australia Maps
I created this for 7×7 Magazine. Besides the layering and multiplying effects, another great thing about working digitally is being able to separate the composition across various layers, maintaining the flexibility to move the elements around. This is especially handy when doing maps. In this instance, I also loved how multiplying the layers produced a sort of ragged, printed effect. These two examples were part of a series depicting different road trip routes through various countries. The sign post shows who far each destination is from San Francisco (where the publication is located).

White Throated Sparrow
This was for an article for Cottage Life Magazine about male sparrows competing for females with their song. Here the lines were inked by hand and then colour was added in the computer. I really enjoyed working this way with this piece and playing with the colour and multiplying lines and layers for a unique effect.

Chris Weingarten
An illustration for a Columbia Journalism Review article (& Point 5 Design) about the music critic Chris Weingarten and his move to doing 140 character music reviews over Twitter. Here the client already had a photo they wanted me to spruce up and just asked for me to include the Twitter bird. So I came up with this composition of flowing elements containing symbols of the ‘death of the music critic’ and also show the subject’s love of bands and tattoos. First I sketched my ideas over the photo with pencil and then once the drawing was approved by the art director I went onto inking the lines by hand. Then I scanned the line-work and added the colour in the computer with Photoshop. I have a catalogue of previously scanned paint textures to use when I’m doing work digitally, so I can drop some “real” paint into my composition so it still has the atmosphere of one of my fully hand-done pieces. The nice thing about doing this piece digitally was having some of the layers translucent over the others. I was pleased with the overall effect of this.

Mark Jacobs
Spin Guys Magazine asked me to do a portrait of Marc Jacobs and his new Cologne “Bang”. I got inspired by the name and painted the piece in various fragments with a lot of overlapping colour and dynamic shapes. When working on portraits I always try to collect multiple images from the internet so the portrait looks fully unique.



2 Responses to Interview in MacUser

  1. jen says:

    well deserved recognition, and a cutie profile pic! congrats!

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