A quick Q and A on questions I regularly receive from artists, students and art enthusiasts. If you email me any variation of these questions, I will direct you here. 🙂[Last updated May 25, 2016]
My name is Kmye Chan and I am a scientist-come-artist currently living in Paris, France after several years in the UK. I work as a researcher by day, and as an illustrator and gallery artist during my free time.
My favorite medium is alcohol-based markers (Copic, Promarker), which I typically use in combination with inks (Dr Ph. Martin’s Bombay inks), watercolours (Winsor & Newton, Daniel Smith) and pencils (Caran d’Ache and Faber-Castell Polychromos). My linework is done with pigment liners and brush pens of different brands (Sakura Microns, Unipin, Copic liners, Derwent, Faber-Castell, Pentel). I work on hot-pressed watercolour paper (Arches, Sennelier, Bockingford) which I sometimes mount on wood panels.
I usually start with an idea which I can mull over for quite some time – sometimes ideas that have been having around in my head for years. I’ll try to make word associations, contraries, puns and plays-on-words on that idea to come up with a slightly different and unexpected take on the original idea. At that stage I generally have a fuzzy image in my head of the visual impact I want the image to have – general composition and color scheme – and I come up with a quick thumbnail sketch. I then proceed to a full size sketch – I start with a number of lines and geometric shapes, and use these as guidelines to place my elements into an harmonious composition. Once I am happy with the sketch (and often that means starting from scratch a couple of times over!), I transfer it to the final paper with a lightbox, and line the final lines in waterproof ink. Then I proceed to color, first with ink or watercolor washes to set the mood, and then with layers of either markers or ink. Final details are added with pencils and acrylics.
I have previously posted my process checklist here: https://kmye-chan.com/2015/11/10/building-a-picture/
I am self-taught. I’m afraid I can’t help with art college advice or applications.
I am instinctively attracted to artworks with strong composition and high reliance on lines and value contrasts. My tastes gravitate towards 19th century art a lot: “Golden Age” illustration(Rackham, Dulac, Beardsley, Nielsen), as well as Symbolist art, Art Nouveau and Pre-Raphaelite art. I also love Surrealist art, 16th century Flemish painting, and comic book/sequential art. I follow many contemporary artists and illustrators online for fresh inspiration and emulation; see the “favourites” sections of my social media accounts for a sample of art I love.
Like most artists my style and themes are constantly evolving. A general thread through my artwork, however, is an atmosphere that is somewhat melancholic, otherworldly and wistful – not sad, exactly, but never fully cheerful either. Most of my illustrations feature characters that are strong and slightly wild, and have a general feel of wonder or eerieness.
How did you find your style/your technique?
That’s an extremely frequent question and unfortunately it’s next to impossible to answer satisfactorily. The truthful answer is that it’s part taste and inspiration, and part work hard over the past ten years. I experimented with many things, and made an effort to pick and choose what I liked in my work and wanted to keep, what I didn’t like anymore and wanted to move away from, what ideas I wanted to work with, and what other artists had done before me and that I’d like to emulate, digest and process into my own work. It’s a long process and not an entirely conscious one – but mostly it’s really just hard work.
How do you stay motivated/deal with art block?
Art block happens to me when I set my own expectations too high, or when I’m not making progress. To avoid this I try to draw regularly, as much and as often as possible, especially in my sketchbook. It doesn’t have to be good artwork: I exercise and experiment while giving myself full permission to fail. It removes much of the pressure of creating and while it does not have the fulfilling effect of working on a large, full-fledged artwork, it is very fun, carefree and motivating. I also love reading art instruction books – again they usually make me want to experiment and test the new knowledge I just read about.
Tips to improve?
As I said above – art instruction books are my favourites. My favourite of aaaaalll time that I recommend to everyone is Creative Illustration by Andrew Loomis, it’s just great. Noah Bradley also published this list on his blog that is a great starting point: http://www.noahbradley.com/blog/10-books-every-artist-must-read/
Finding your audience and your network
I have written about this in more detail here: http://kmyechan.tumblr.com/post/76524314497/hi-what-advice-would-you-give-to-a-budding-artist
How do you balance being an artist and a scientist (and other PhD-related questions)?
I have written about this in more detail here: http://kmyechan.tumblr.com/post/144454651875/hello-first-i-would-like-to-say-how-much-i-love
Have you considered quitting art/science and concentrating only on the other?
I have, but I couldn’t quit art entirely (it’s a part of who I am) and I wouldn’t like being an artist full-time, at least now. I love my job as a scientist and I appreciate the stability it brings me. It allows me to pick and choose only those art projects that I am truly enthusiastic about, and do my own thing. So this works well for me just now.
What did you wish you knew when you got started?