F A Q !

I was recently asked by another art blog to answer some questions, so in case you were wondering...

Here are some frequently asked questions.

*Please tell us about yourself and where you live/work: your education, profession, hobbies, and interests.
 My name is Melody Newcomb. I’m a freelance illustrator. I live in Harlem in NYC, USA. I graduated almost two years ago from the School of Visual Arts with a BFA in Illustration. My hobbies and interests include movies, museums, galleries, and reading. I’m also fascinated with biology, nature and science. Watching the Planet Earth DVDs on repeat is always fun.

Calm Foods, Client: Bust

*What was it like moving so many places as a child?
It was interesting to say the least.  I learned a lot about myself as a person on my own and met a lot of people. I became more and more of an introvert every time I moved and found refuge in books and drawing. It wasn’t all that bad though. By using my imagination I created new worlds and characters for myself. At the same time my fascination with biology and nature grew, which I often reflect in my art. 

*What was it like growing up in a multicultural home?
I’m half Chinese and half Caucasian, my mother is from Taiwan and my dad is from Oklahoma (and is Scots-Irish) and I’ve been Tibetan Buddhist since I was 7. To me this is normal, but I realize how lucky I am to have been raised in such a way. It’s given me a really unique perspective on life and has taught me to be open to different cultures, which in turn has informed my art.  

*How did you choose illustration as a profession? 
It was something that happened serendipitously. As high school was coming to a close I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I thought I’d be a biologist. My parents were the ones who really encouraged me to pursue the arts. I had always loved painting, and drawing, and I was good at making up stories. When I went to art school I realized Illustration was the field that I wanted to belong to. 

Gouache Heads: Maya Angelou

*(This was a bad question in my opinion) Your journey into art: Please tell us about the milestones of your journey into the world of art. When did you seriously decide to become an artist? If you are an amateur artist, how do you manage to balance your work-hobby equation? (Hobby seems like a bad word to me)
Once I decided to go to art school, I had already decided to become an artist. I don’t recommend anyone going to art school without their full intention being to use their degree because it’s a lot of money for nothing if not. Professionally I consider myself a novice, a newcomer. However I would not call my art a hobby, its how I make a living and how I intend to support myself. Working another part-time job to supplement that does not mean that your art becomes second best. I do work the occasional part-time job, and it is difficult to maintain. I would tell young artists to either find a job that fulfills them creatively or work a job that you don’t care about that you can leave behind because your art work is most important.

Soon after graduating I got my first job working for The New York Times, and I consider that a milestone since I felt instantly validated as a real working illustrator and since then continuing to work is something I consider a milestone in itself.

*Would you recommend SVA?
I would, not because I believe in jumping into the responsibility of school tuition and a difficult professional field, but because I personally learned and benefited so much from the environment and the teachers. The teachers especially opened my eyes to the possibilities of the profession, and were great mentors throughout school (and after too). 
*What or who has influenced your work the most?
Art has always surrounded me in my house growing up so I’ve always been very open-minded when it came to different art forms. When I was a child I was glued to the TV watching cartoons and anime, which I would obsessively trace to teach myself how to draw. I first became aware of illustration through the illustrated book covers I read.  The beauty of nature and biology fascinates me, something that I strive to capture.
There’s a philosophy that I greatly take to heart that embodies what I believe art is meant to be: Authenticity in fiction and art is not useful because it can never meet reality thus we heighten the reality to penetrate the subconscious. That being said my obsession with realism and recreating texture is perhaps an attempt at a heightened reality. 

*Tell us about your key area i.e. illustration and how did you arrive at it. What equipment/supplies ect.  do you mostly use and why?
Illustration is recreating a story, prompt, or theme for a client through art. Entering the illustration department of SVA opened my eyes to Illustration as a profession, before that I had no idea that you could still make money as an artist commercially without the successes of the “fine art” world. Illustration chose me really, it requires a specific temperament, I like working within constraints of a job.

I use mostly traditional mediums, watercolor, ink, paint, paper. However I apply these using unusual techniques or complete these works using Photoshop, which allows me to explore and push my art further.
Our Cats, Client: The New York Times

*Some of your artwork is very alluring with the lavish use of colors and floral designs/embellishments, whereas, some of it is dark and edgy. What is your own critical assessment of your art?

I try not to be so critical of my work. I want to pursue any and every avenue of creative thought and inspiration where they strike. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t but it makes it more interesting for me, and what is most important for myself, as an artist is to keep feeling interested and engaged in what I’m doing. If I’m bored or I’m doing things mechanically then what’s the point? Its more important for me to listen to my inner voice than to worry about cohesiveness or what others may think of it. I know that eventually I’ll find my artistic vision but then again I could up and change completely. That’s life. Evolution.

*Describe your creative process. 
I begin with thumbnails and word associative brainstorming.  Then it’s onto sketches and gathering reference. This process can take as long as the final. The final- painting, gathering texture, and drawing layers varies on what I want the final to look like. 

*How important is the business aspect of illustration?
I cannot stress enough the importance of business in illustration. It’s unfortunate that art schools don’t focus more on the basics of business practices, so its up to you as the individual to learn on your own. Or better yet ask your teachers and colleagues for advice. Another great resource is the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook for Pricing and Ethical Guidelines, which contains estimates for fees and formats of various contract types.  

*What are your views on contemporary art? How different or distinct is your style from other artists? Do you believe the internet and social media have greatly influenced/affected contemporary art in some positive/negative ways?
 My work is certainly distinct in some ways from other contemporary artists and similar to many others, I think because I’m aware of what’s out there and I choose to follow my interests and try not to let outside influences change my work. Contemporary art is a broad term to me, there’s so much to consider. I’m drawn to explorations in traditional mediums. I admire where illustration is going but I can’t connect with it emotionally. Which I think separates me from other illustrators. I strive for that connection with my work  (not to say that other illustrators don’t either) but I put precedence on that connection.

The internet has had its impact in that it’s allowed for greater accessibility, I believe that it hasn’t influenced illustration or art but it does affect the fame of the artist or rather perpetuates fame. I don’t measure my success by my followers, I put my work out there because it exists but it doesn’t determine my work for me.

*What do you like best about being an illustrator?
Being an illustrator is great for many reasons, the most obvious being that I get to draw pictures all day and make cool stuff. What I like best is the challenge of finding the perfect solution to a picture or metaphor that also compliments my personal aesthetic.  There’s nothing like that “Aha” moment when all the pieces fall together. 
Gouache Heads: Simone de Beauvior

*What have been your biggest achievements? Please tell us about your awards, clients, ect.  Tell us about your future plans/projects/ambitions, your sources of inspiration, and your favorite artists/books/quotation/website. How do you keep yourself motivated?
 I think one of my biggest achievements has been continuing to work. It’s easy to get discouraged and feel dejected when there’s not a lot of recognition or jobs but if its something you want, you can’t give up. My clients include The New York Times, Bitch Media, Bust Magazine, and Time Out New York among others. I feel great doing work for magazines and newspapers that I read and admire. I would love in the near future to continue my editorial work as well as try my hand at publishers and books.
I’d also love to travel, meet artists abroad and find new sources of inspiration.
A lot of my favorite artists are contemporary illustrations in their prime today. Some I’ve had as teachers and others as friends. It’s exciting for me to see all the projects they’re doing and how they’re taking their work to new levels. I take inspiration anywhere I can get it; you just have to be open to it. Inspiration is easy, it’s acting and carrying it out that’s hard and getting it done makes you a professional.
As far as awards go recognition is always motivation to keep working but you have to want it yourself to be able to maintain. I'm taking a break on entering competitions for now, not because I think I'm not good enough but I think that mentally it causes me to focus on how other people are doing rather than where I want my work to go.

*Any advice you wish to give to aspiring/budding illustrators, your fans and readers of the post.
 Learn the business of illustration if that’s what you want to do. The managerial side is just as important as the creative side. To work for yourself takes a lot of self-discipline which a lot of young people don’t have, so you have to really want this. 
Also don’t be so hard on yourself the first two years. Relax, make mistakes, learn from them. Let your art develop naturally; let your clients find you. Eventually you’ll find your voice, and your niche in the market.

Hope you enjoyed this post! 

My school portrait. 
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