Each month I interview one of my alumni, to see how they are getting on ‘post boot camp’. This month Clara Dudley chats to me about her work, plans and dreams.
When did you first feel like an artist?
Since I could pick up a marker as a toddler. I drew constantly as a kid.
Do you have a ‘day job’
Yes, I have two part-time graphic design jobs; I work between a small creative studio called Mr & Mrs Stevens, and at Dublin City University (DCU). I’ve always thrived best doing multiple jobs as it always keeps things interesting. As side projects, I sell my illustration prints online on Etsy, and at various art markets in Dublin.
If so, does it drain or fuel your personal work?
I love graphic design so much; it is definitely a support to my personal illustrations, as it has provided me a total skillset for learning about printing and marketing, thinking critically about composition, and the basic skills of setting up and creating artwork digitally. I like the diversity of projects I get to work on in design, and the communities and colleagues I have.
Where do you find inspiration?
The content of my work is inspired largely by dreams, nightmares, memory, mythos and storytelling, place and landscape; there are often political themes and symbolism that inform my artwork, particularly environmentalism and climate change, feminism and gender, violence, nature, capitalism, and history. And sometimes, I just like to simply draw beautiful things. The visual styles that inspire me draw from graphic novels and comics, classic fairytales and children’s book illustration, folk art, and science fiction. I sometimes refer to my illustration style as “sci-fi folk art.”
How do you research if you need reference material e.g. Pinterest, Library, personal photos, etc.
I use a lot of Google image searches to find reference images. I also sometimes “cast” my friends or family as center characters, or use personal photography for landscape images.
Do you work from home or in a studio/shared space?
For my personal illustration art, I just work from home. The expensive state of Dublin is such that I could not continue to afford a studio space of my own, though I did have one briefly. A studio is so important as it is a truly dedicated space for the sole purpose of creating.
What is that like?
Working at home – I find it comforting, though at times distracting.
Have you ever experienced creative blocks?
Yes, I have. Though I always have ideas to draw on, sometimes too many – that can be the issue sometime. If I have too many ideas at once it can be hard to get any of them out in a clear way.
If so, how do you deal with them?
I permit myself to take breaks from art – especially because it is not my primary mode of income; I can produce as much or as little new work as I want, so I’m ok taking breaks if other work or personal stuff doesn’t allow for a lot of art time. But if I’m frustrated with a creative block, I usually just look at the piece very critically for a while and think on it until ways to solve the issue come to me over time. Music can help a lot with visual inspiration.
Do you ever equate your self-worth with your artistic successes?
At times, yes. It can be hard not to if it is such an important and huge part of who you are that you are putting out there to the world. But I’ve relaxed quite a bit about it – I think my artistic success is based on a clarity of vision and voice that matters a lot to me, and my satisfaction when a piece means a lot to someone and they actually buy it just to have an enjoy. That makes me pretty happy, and is one of the best aspects of making art.
Are you a morning lark or a night owl?
Notoriously, a night owl. But I’ve learned to enjoy mornings much more now than before! Partly because I enjoy my work and don’t mind getting up and doing that for the day.
Does critisism affect you?
Not really. I’ve always been confident in my artwork; it is just a part of me I carry everywhere, and I can’t really be shaken from it. I often get rejected from competitions or artist call-outs – but I just don’t really care because if I am making the art that I really love making and it didn’t work for that opportunity, than I’m better off. I’m just happy doing my thing, and as long as I can do that I don’t mind rejection or criticism. Incidentally, one of the lowest grades I got in college in my short-lived tenure as an Art Major in California was for a painting series – a series that I loved doing and that others’ gravitated to. And then years later they were picked up for a literary journal, Puerto del Sol, and they were published inside and on the cover. So I didn’t care in the end about that initial criticism; I knew what I made had expressed exactly what I intended it to, and it proved to be powerful work that wasn’t impacted negatively by one person’s criticism. If your art and creativity is a part of you, no one can take that from you – and it will speak to others from a genuine place.
If so how do you handle it?
If I were to really be impacted or shaken by criticism, I do think it is worth listening to – especially if it is from someone whose opinion or perspective you respect. I think it can only help in the long run to be open to that feedback, and have a critical mind to balance that with your own opinion. There’s no reason to change something only to meet someone else’s view, but if they have a good reason or good insight, there’s no reason to simply reject that either.
What was your favourite commission to date, if any?
I have only had a few so far, but my favourite recently was for Totally Dublin’s “12 Illustrations of Christmas” special in December 2017, which featured 12 Dublin-based illustrators and our interpretations of what Christmas means to us. It was a great and fun opportunity to make a piece that reached many people and I was really happy with the result.
Is you work primarily imagination based or observational?
Imagination based. I rarely do observational artwork.
Do you keep sketchbooks? If so is it daily or now and again?
I do keep sketchbooks but only to develop very rough compositions and ideas – stick-drawing-level rough! I tend to keep ideas very loose until I confirm the layout, and then develop the final piece directly on the paper.
Do you enjoy location drawing? If so do you have a favourite spot?
I don’t do much location drawing – it was never a particular favourite of mine, as I usually develop fantasy or concept-driven pieces. However, I do think the act of drawing from direct observation does help develop your skills significantly.
Do you have a list of favourite pens, pencils paper or art materials? If so what to you love about it/them?
I only draw with black markers/pens; I use different sizes of Staedtler pigment liner pens, Sharpies, and thick black markers. The only paper I use is Daler-Rowney smooth heavyweight A3 size 220 gsm. I colour my work in Photoshop after scanning at 300dpi in Text mode on my scanner – that picks up high-contrast black tones only, and makes the scan much easier to colour.
Do you have any ‘tricks’ or habits if you are having trouble with a piece?
I try to always check in as I am working on a piece: does it stimulate a strong and engaging feeling or emotion? Is it having the effect I intended? Are all areas of the piece functioning together in a harmonious way? If it is not working, what are the trouble areas or elements that keep nagging at me? Because I work with digital colour only, it is a great and flexible way to experiment with different palettes until I get to where I want it to be – and if it’s the drawing itself that is problematic, I can re-arrange or edit the elements digitally as needed.
What does your inner critic say (if anything)?
“That is so cliche!” If I am thinking that, I’ll ask myself: what is the main motivation behind my piece, and am I sticking to it? I try to stay close to the personal concept, and not follow a visual zeitgeist or “trend” just because I think it’ll be a popular choice.
Which artists are you most jealous of, and why?
Probably large-scale muralists. I have never done anything large scale, but would love to do a major painted piece one day!
Would you throw a piece away (or delete it!) if it was not working, or would you just ‘keep at it’ until you were happy?
I have definitely admitted defeat on a few pieces! But I keep them, no matter what, in case I can come back to it later and see how it can be fixed.
What would you do if you weren’t an illustrator?
I’d just be a graphic designer, I guess! But alternatively, I’d love to work in documentary media or journalism, be a creative director or magazine/print media editor, or start a food business.