Monday, May 04, 2015

Confessions of a Working Artist: Q & A with Karina Dale

I am thrilled to introduce you to the amazing artist Karina Dale (or xKxDx, as she is known on various social media sites). 

In addition to creating the. most. amazing. illustrations -- often literally giving me visuals on characters that previously existed only in my head -- I love the niche she has carved for herself in the world of fandom.

After an in-depth discussion over how her approach to creating characters with lines was almost exactly the opposite of mine for creating the same characters with words, I knew I wanted you to meet her.  So...

Heeeere's Karina!

Q:  You are active on many social media platforms: Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler… How do you balance engagement with time management?

A:  I don't. I'm terrible at that. I'll engage a whole bunch, be funny, not post a lot of art or anything, then forget it all exists for a week. I do things exactly how all the social networking experts say you're not supposed to, but somehow, people stick around. Time management is literally the bane of my existence. Falls right behind getting old and getting sick!

I try my best to weigh my work-a-holic tendencies with having a little fun and hanging out with my friends, but most everyone knows that hanging out with me usually means competing with whatever project I'm working on. I think most people like to see the stuff I make a lot more than they want to hear my witty one-liners on Twitter anyhow. I'm cool with that. I know what I'm good at!

Q:  What are your preferred subjects for illustration? What is your preferred medium? Why?

A:  My preferred subject matter is people. All kinds.

I love diversity and I try my best to celebrate it. I like characters that don't already have a face, or characters who are allowed to change, depending on who is doing the drawing. Books, comic books, movies, television, etc.

I love drawing the people I know, but there's very little room for interpretation. As a realist I'm gonna draw my buddy looking like my buddy, down to the detail. But the Winter Soldier, let's say, he could be Sebastian Stan as cast by MCU, or my husband, or maybe Brock O'Hurn. Who knows?

As far as mediums go, I prefer digital art by necessity. I'm allergic to plastics and petroleum products. So, almost all paints, color pencils, watercolors, charcoal and graphite fixatives, etc. are out. I like digital art but it sucks sometimes not being able to actually hold your finished product until the printer spits it out.

I'm not really that great with digital mediums specifically, though. I don't use Photoshop. I use a painting emulator called SAI. I mostly use it as a direct replacement for traditional media, which is why my art often looks traditionally made. I just treat my computer like a sketch pad or a canvas. It probably takes a lot more time than it should, but I like the process of sketching. I've been doing it my whole life. It's what I'm good at.

A portion of a Karina Dale character illustration
for KNIGHTFALL, my novel-in-progress.
Gorgeous art: Karina. Watermarks that obscure it: me.

Q:  What is your process? 

A:  I'm freelance, totally independent, so a lot of the time my process involves getting comfy, putting my reference pictures on my TV and drawing blue, red, and black lines until I don't hate it. There's a lot of that sort of thing recorded over at my livestream. You (Ami) have gotten a lot of my unfinished sketch art and basically it's just refined black lines on a white background. (IMHO "refined black lines" is an understatement. A.H.) There's never a lot of process to that. Keeping it simple gives you more freedom to change stuff and make it cooler.

After sketching I sometimes color. That's a process, but I've worked the last year on simplifying that as well. Now coloring works a lot like sketching for me. Instead of a bunch of complicated work, I lay down a base layer, a lot of color, and blend it together until I think it looks right. You can't just do that sort of thing right out the gate though. It's a learned skill, just like sketching.

Q:  What are some common misconceptions people have about artists?

A:  That we're cool, or super excited about all the things we draw. It's work a lot of the time.  I like work though, and I also like when people buy my things. As a freelancer, it's very validating to sell all the pretty things. Basically, if I like a thing and the rest of the world likes that thing too, I'll draw it a lot. It does not mean I'm super, intensely into it. I'm weird, so a lot of the stuff I like falls on blind eyes. You won't see a ton of obscure subject matter being posted in my streams.

Also, I am not cool. I have a house, a partner, some dogs, a few bad habits and an ugly yard. Talking to me for an hour might be entertaining, but living a day in my life is a snoozefest. Contrary to popular assumption, I don't have the energy to be cool! Regardless, a lot of people say that to me when they meet me and I legitimately have no idea what to say except 'thanks.' I have a few stories about being an interesting human being but most of them happened a decade ago. Pro tip: compliment my line quality, then we can talk.

Q:  So: Sterek. Discuss.

A:  You wanna open that grab bag of chaos? Fine, we'll go there.... Man, I hope my consistently jovial attitude in this interview comes across well. I'm funny. I'm always funny, except when I'm not.

I digress. Sterek. Yeah.

So, I had a pretty nice career going in pin-up and promotional art, but the ingrained misogyny and patriarchal, racist, sizist, ageist, transphobic (etc.) bullshit was like a lake of oily muck you could never wash off. Our general audience was that asshole, entitled white dude with all the money to drop on shows and merch. It sucked. I loved my fellow creators, but the daily struggle of dealing with consumers of pin-up and similar art made life inside rigorous.

One day I was enjoying my moving wallpaper (aka Color Television Shows via Internets) while I was drawing and this moment of curiosity struck me: does anyone else think this big, burly dude and this weird skinny kid in this strange 1980's movie to television remake have real chemistry? or is it just me? Did Mtv do it on purpose? I had to know! Back then they were comedy gold, and it actually read like a slow burn gay pairing. I was impressed with Mtv's bravery and writing. I went online and looked it up. Within a couple days the Sterek fandom sucked me into their world with a kind if enthusiastic happiness I have never seen before.

It was a bunch of ladies, queer kids, and miscreant youths. I had finally found my people! I quit pin-up and started doing fandom art instead. I had an idea I might like to do concept art, but that would mean going back to work for the privileged dudes with money, so nah. Thanks anyways. I'll stick around and make fandom happy. Take the jobs I like from people I respect. Sure, I like Sterek okay. They're cute if you ignore the flaming balls of crazy the network decided to throw everyone, but eh, that's what I'm for. I'm happy to bring alternative versions of reality to life to make all my friends happy. It's like my own personal form of queer activism.

Sterek inadvertently changed my life. Maybe it was my attention to detail and curiosity that pushed me there, but the fandom kept me around. They've been amazing. I can't thank them enough.

Q:  When you teach artists’ workshops, what are some of the most common things you see other artists struggle with — and what suggestions do you have for them?

A:  Fuel for motivation and the self worth needed to feel like your creations are worth creating. If I could bottle and sell that, I'd make millions. I spend hours talking to people about how to build up the positive inner voice and ignore the outer negative voices. I wish I was better at giving people those tools honestly.

Also, how elitists and ableists ruin art done for enjoyment. AKA not getting paid, just doing it for fun. If anyone ever tells you 'you cheated, that's not art,' they're a jerk and their opinion is null and void by default. More people need to understand both sides of saying something that destructive about art someone has created purely for enjoyment.

(A.H.  Karina recently taught an artist's class which included the Most Excellent Handout Ever, with regards to dealing with joysuckers, trolls, and naysayers.)

Ellie, from THE LION'S CLUB, portrait in progress.
Q:  What three pieces of advice would you give to an aspiring artist?

A:  Practice for yourself, be kind to your hands, and find really great cheerleaders.

Q:  You consistently advocate for artist credit and don’t hesitate to call out online offenders who post art without crediting the source. Any advice to other creatives for balancing vigilance with maintaining creativity?

A:  It's nearly impossible. Every hour I spend filling out DCMA forms is an hour lost creating. People are welcome to repost my art on platforms that don't support reblogging my original post. All they have to do is tag back to me. Other artists have other rules, but those are mine. For some unknown reason these kids would rather steal a bunch of art and piss the artists off than network and make friends. I don't understand it at all.

Of course, most working artists and fan artists want exposure. Their audience is great, please, by all means, I invite them to post, if they credit and tag back. For some reason there's this new psychology of online attention seeking that doesn't include sharing credit. They'd rather steal and watch their numbers go up, like a video game, than make friends and be part of a team. /end rant.

I try not to spend so much time being an online vigilante now days. All those people end up getting their accounts deleted anyways. They have the half life of any virus. If you don't want to be that guy, make friends, ask, respect content. It's all part of the new online language. The internet is growing up just like we are; one day, hopefully, these ideas will be a generally accepted online social practice.

Q: So, where can people find you?


I'm KarinaDale or xKxDx almost everywhere!

A.H. See? See why I wanted you to meet her? I am so grateful to Karina Dale for graciously agreeing to do this interview. I trust you found it as inspiring as I did.

No comments: