Today’s interview is with Stephanie Shimerdla, freelance illustrator and curator of Obsidian Dawn, a website offering a massive collection of custom brush packs for Photoshop and GIMP. Read on below for more about what has inspired and influenced Stephanie, as well as some examples of her amazing artwork – examples like this!:
Would you like to explain a little about what you are doing?
A simple question I know, but something that I always think is worth asking: what’s the dream?
As for my artwork, I have lots of dreams there! Especially since I’m just getting started on it again recently. I’m looking to work as a concept artist or freelance illustrator. Anything from designing characters and scenes for movies, games, etc. to making book covers, fantasy/sci-fi/etc card game artwork, and various other commissions.
One dream would be to work with a movie or gaming studio and see some of my concept artwork come to life. That would be amazing. I’d also absolutely love to be commissioned by one of the bigger card game companies out there one day to create an illustration for one of their cards. Beyond that, I hope that my artwork can really speak to people in one way or another. I think that’s probably something that any artist hopes for!
How can we help you achieve that dream?
You’ve mentioned that for making resource packs you often get inspiration from daily life; have there been any specific motifs or ideas which have caught your attention in such a way that you couldn’t ignore? What do you think it was about these designs that attracted your attention so much?
You’ve discussed your family as being very influential in your development as an artistic, but starting a website offering brush-packs to artists is also a very entrepreneurial – and benevolent – undertaking. Have there been anyone or anything in your that you think has contributed to this enterprising spirit?
So I’d have to say other artists were my biggest inspiration. The ones that were offering their Photoshop Brushes to others. The ones I downloaded and tried. They were the most influential, simply because they’re the ones that really got me started. I thought that was pretty awesome of them to do that for people. And I’ve always had a very giving spirit. That has mostly to do with the way I was raised, I’m sure (thanks to my parents!) For the first 5 or so years, my brushes were completely free to use as long as people credited me. Eventually, I started learning that people wanted to use them WITHOUT crediting me, and that’s how the licenses were born.
So, my family has been really influential in my artwork, but not so much with the Obsidian Dawn side of things. I have had a very hard time explaining to them exactly what Photoshop brushes are, in fact.
Staying with your family for another question, I’m interested to know your thoughts on how your family’s influence has altered your creative direction. It sounds like you had a very supportive background for creative artwork, including your father’s skills as a story-teller. Can you think of any specific ways that your family’s support continues to inform your creative decisions?
So when it came to my painting, I branched out into my own, which mostly happened to go the way of my father’s fantastical stories. I did a lot of fantasy work early on. So a lot of my brushes were made for that kind of stuff, too. Glitter, pixies and fairies, wings, etc. But I also realized I really enjoyed painting women’s portraits, which I had never been very good at with traditional sketching. So I started making brush sets for that, too. Lips, eyebrows, eyelashes (which remain one of my most popular sets), makeup, skin textures brushes, etc.
Fantasy and Sci-fi certainly seem to play a very important part of what inspires you as an illustrator. What do you think draws you to paint characters from these sorts of worlds? Are there any illustrators you draw inspiration from specifically? If so, what is it about their art style that you find so influential?
They are all amazing with color and lighting, which have always been two of my big draw points. But also with making you FEEL something, which is really what art is all about, isn’t it? I started focusing on the emotions behind the paintings and did a lot of what I term “Emotive” paintings along that line.
I’m still trying to find myself and my style, however, as I’ve only back at the illustration for the last 6 months or so. This time around, I’m trying all kinds of styles and content, to see what I enjoy the most.
Following on from the previous question, in what way do you think that the subjects you paint as an illustrator inform the brushes you decide to create for Obsidian Dawn?
A vast majority of your paintings seem to revolve around the creation and portrayal of characters; are there any personal characteristics you find you often attribute to characters, or try and focus on while you’re painting them?
I really do like character development, though, when it comes to books and games. I always want to hear more about a person to really figure them out. I really enjoy doing that with my artwork, as well. Trying to figure out the story behind someone and to portray it as visually as possible – that’s tons of fun for me.
How long was the transference process to digital art? Did you find you had any snags along the way, and in what way did you find you could overcome them?
“Every artist was first an amateur. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” — Joseph Chilton Pearce
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” — Edgar Degas
Those are three of my favorites.
Typically, how long does it take you to compose and complete a piece of illustration work? Do you find that you have subjects or characters that are easier to engage with?
I don’t really have any preference for subjects or characters. I’ve painted a few men here and there, and find them about the same degree of difficulty as a woman. The real thing that makes it or breaks it for me, when it comes to a character, is good references for the pose and/or lighting that I’m looking for. With good references, I can paint just about anything, I think!
With brushes and resources, how do you know when a brush you’re making is ‘complete’? Have you a prescribed method to test each brush, or can you detect when one is ready for release?
With both illustration work and creating brushes, I was wondering to what extent do you find your digital art equipment informs what you create? Are there any things you find it can do which allows you more freedom that hand-painting? Are there any limitations you have found you can work around?
The only real limitations to digital are some of the textures and things like drip-marks that are created when it comes to real paint. And sure, you can recreate them, but it takes more time and is less…. raw. That’s the only thing I really regret not having when it comes to digital, and I don’t really know a workaround. You can reproduce those drip-marks, for example, but you have to do it purposefully. They can’t just be something that happened when you were painting and then you decide to leave it and incorporate it into the painting somehow, using it to your advantage.
But there’s enough advantages to digital to far exceed that “raw” quality that you tend to lose when it comes to some parts of the painting process, so I don’t mind.
You’ve said that you chose to study Computer Science and Mathematics instead of art; I’m interested in what factors led to that decision, and whether your perception of art has changed through the prism of studying something many might see as very dissimilar. Do you think you engage with art in a different way now than you did when you decided against studying it before?
Ironically, computer science has a lot to do with the art of creation, as well. You’re writing programs, and that’s a very creative process. It’s a left-brained creative process, but still one, none-the-less! And truthfully, my painting has always been pretty left-brain influenced, as well. I tend to zoom right in and get down to the details, even though that’s a horrible thing to do when it comes to composition. I’ve had to actually train myself to work on the big picture first, THEN do the details. It’s a constant battle for me, actually. I have to force myself to zoom out and do big picture stuff first. That’s my “left brain” wanting to kick back into action.
I’m not sure if that’s my major playing a part in my process, or if it’s just my age that’s shifted the balance of my creative process more to a logical, detail-oriented side. But I’m getting better again at letting my creativity run a bit more wild and letting that right brain free.
So as a military wife, Obsidian Dawn originally started when you were in Korea and I’m interested to know how else an unfamiliar place inspired you to create. You’ve said that the earlier brushes you made were more image-based; do you think that you became more perceptive of the world around you when you had more of an outsider’s perspective? If so, do you think that’s carried on in the way you observe the world nowadays?
My earlier brushes were definitely more image-based. That was mostly based on people’s requests, truthfully. I never really understood how people used those, and I’ve since stopped making them. By image based, I mean things like shoes, hats, soccer balls. You can’t really make brushes out of those things very well, since brushes were made to be “painted” in just one color. Whereas objects are obviously made up of various colors. I offer those kinds of things as transparent PNGs now-a-days. That makes for a much better choice when it comes to adding that kind of stuff to your images. Some scrapbookers and such still use some of my image-based brushes, however, so I leave them up.
I’m not sure that I really became any more perceptive to the world by being in Korea. I’ve always loved to look at things and really enjoyed the beauty of this world. That’s not something that’s ever changed for me. I think the artwork was mostly just an outlet — a way to express some of those feelings I had when most of the things that I loved were halfway around the world from me.
I still use my artwork and my brushes/resource creation as an release for my feelings. I think it’s actually been great for stress relief for me over the years. And now, lo and behold, there’s a new trend that’s seemingly everywhere — coloring books! They’re now saying that coloring can be as good a stress relief as meditation (and truthfully, IS kind of a form of meditation, I think). Not really surprising to me.
What else have you got going on outside of Obsidian Dawn and freelance illustration work? Have you any other pursuits that you find inform your art?
I also make all of my own websites, and I taught myself HTML and PHP. Granted, I had a base on that kind of stuff from my computer science degree.
Finally, What advice would you give to someone just starting out as an online creator?
Use resources provided by other artists, photographers, etc. There’s tons of helpful stuff out there!
Understand that there’s going to be a learning process for anything new that you’re trying, and don’t just jump into something expecting to be great at it. Learn it in steps. If you find that you’re not very strong in a certain area, look up tutorials on that subject, or buy a book about it. That’s how I taught myself Photoshop, too, which can be a daunting program to learn. If I didn’t know how to do something, I just looked it up. Eventually, by doing that, you learn enough about the program to be considered a master! So build on your foundation in steps or layers, and you’ll eventually get to where you want to be.
“Do something today that your future self will thank you for.” (Another awesome quote!)
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