Interview with Midwinter Graphic Novel Artist – KSwainArt

Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? Where did you go to school, and what classes did you study (if any)? What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?

I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil! By high school I knew I wanted to make my career into something art related, but wasn’t sure what. What I REALLY wanted was to make comics (manga specifically–it’s what I grew up with), but everywhere I read about it said it was extremely difficult and not a field you could get into with any stability. So I explored a lot of different options throughout high school and college: concept artist, art teacher, graphic designer, animator, etc., and took a variety of classes just trying to see what stuck. This is why, despite having an associates degree, I went to college for 4 years! But I was happy I did, because now I have a lot of lesser skills that diversify my portfolio. (It was a community college though, and all I could afford.) In college I reconnected with an old writer friend, and she was strong in writing but weaker in art, and I was the opposite. We decided to use that to our advantage and collaborate on something, and that’s how my current comic, Midwinter, started development in 2011. My last class in college (early 2013) was a project development class, and I used it to make concept art and a few comic pages for Midwinter, because up until that point we had just been writing. I remember very clearly that, while I was doing those pages, I got such a strong sense of fulfillment that I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life. Fast forward to now, and I’ve had a variety of jobs (art related and not), contract work, vending experience, funded a few Kickstarters, and still making this comic. I finally made it to full time this year after 7 years of struggle. Most of our business income is through selling merchandise at the moment, but it’s a passive stream that allows me to work on my comic, so I won’t complain.

How do you go about designing a new piece of art, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?

This is probably better described in a flow chart, but I’ll try! First I decide the goal: is this for fun or for profit? I try to make sure it’s both, but ultimately it starts as either a drawing to unwind (that happens to have a canvas large enough for print, just in case) or a drawing that will be finished and sold (that is typically more compositionally complicated and is made for a specific kind of merchandise). If it’s a drawing that I’m putting work into composing, rather than just going with my default comfort zone, I consider the following: general concept, narrative thread (if any, but the strongest pieces have this), scope of the area I’m drawing, amount of characters, scenery, what angle best serves the purpose of the drawing, colors, rendering type (cel shading, soft shading, watercolor, etc.), and probably more. Depending on what I’m going for and the time frame I have to complete it (and also my attention span), I prioritize some things over others. It is not often I have a robust enough concept to check all those boxes, but every now and then my brain rewards me.

What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work with?

I work from home and manage myself and a small team that work on the comic with me. I have two co-owners (a writer and editor, though we all wear several hats) and two art assistant contractors. So my days are a mix of planning, keeping up with business needs, communicating with people, and actual art making. Some days are heavier in one thing than others. Being both the manager and the person that puts in the most labor to produce content is taxing mentally, so I revel in the days when I can turn off my brain, put my head down, and work on art. My comic team is on retainer most of the time, they have their own jobs and we aren’t in production the entire time. We’re usually in production 4-8 months out of the year, then the rest of it is spent focusing on preproduction, merchandise, events, and the like (or it was, before covid). I love lists, so I make a big list of my goals this year, break it down into smaller goals, then place those goals in each month. I’ll usually have one big priority thing, a few others that need to get done, and at least one thing that’s a “want” rather than a “need”. Then every time my work week starts, I make a list of the tasks I need to do each day while referencing my goals to make sure I stay on track. I try not to plan specifically what I want to do each day more than a week out because plans ALWAYS change, something happens or I get behind, and I want to be able to start with a clean mental slate each week.

What are some of the things that you have worked on?

When it comes to my own projects, just Midwinter really. It’s a long form cyberpunk fantasy, so it’s rather dense and will take us awhile to complete. We’ve been tossing around ideas for smaller projects in the future, though!

Is there a character or illustration you have done that you are most happy with?

Despite the state of the world, I feel like I’ve completed some really good art in 2020 and I’m really happy with my style. It’s hard to choose!

What projects are you working on now? (if you can tell us)

We’re actually doing a Midwinter prologue right now to try and improve the beginning of the comic and get people invested. My other priority is fulfilling my recent Kickstarter!

Who are some of your favorite artists out there?

Ahhh, there are a lot. Mostly in webcomic circles.

Ashley Cope, creator of “Unsounded”

Jess Herron, creator of “Midnight Furies”

Ayme Sotuyo, creator of “UnDivine”

Shazleen Khan, creator of “BUUZA!!”

Keii’ii, creator of “Heart of Keol”

Michelle Stanford, creator of “Centralia 2050”

Mad Rupert, creator of “Sakana”

All indie creators. There’s so much good content out there, but I definitely connect most with my peers.

Could you talk about your process in creating your art, as well as the types of tools or media that you use?

I’m completely digital and have been for years. I use a desktop with a Yiynova 22″ screen tablet, Clip Studio Paint, and Photoshop. Shortcuts are my best friend and I try to set up my files with multiple purposes in mind.

What part of designing is most fun and easy, and what is most difficult?

The technical execution comes easy for me, but coming up with well rounded, creative concepts is always difficult. I am most creative when presented with something to work with, so the blank page is my greatest enemy. I have to keep up on feeding my mental library a lot.

What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself creative?

Consume media, both in and out of my wheelhouse, go outside, have new experiences. Stretch.

What are some of your favorite characters from other creators that you enjoy?

I don’t honestly keep these on hand! I love a lot of things and are happy to view them when I see them.

What is your most favorite subject to draw? And why?

My specialty is definitely characters. I’m most comfortable with the human form, but I also just love thinking about how someone would present themselves and what factors into that. It’s like getting to know a person.

What inspired you to become an Artist?

I don’t think something inspired me to become one, I just am. It is innate to my personhood, maybe because I started so young. I have a speech impediment that developed when I was 5, so since I had a lot of trouble communicating that way, I opted to express myself with drawings and that’s never really stopped. Even if my life had unfolded to where I had a completely different job, I don’t think anyone could stop me from drawing.

What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?

Oh, there’s so much! I used to be a very precise, clean artist, and have been actively trying to break that. So I’m referencing a lot of different media that’s looser to try and learn how to imply detail without spending a lot of time on it. Talking shop with writers has also helped me a lot in understanding how to construct emotional beats and contextualize the beginners advice you see thrown around online a lot (Like when show, don’t tell doesn’t apply!). But other than the technical side, I’ve probably learned the most about taking care of yourself and trying to avoid burnout from my fellow creatives. It’s a very supportive community.

What wisdom could you give us, about being an Artist? Do you have any tips you could give?

Do your research, for your art and your business. Surround yourself with people better than you and listen. Help others and take feedback gracefully. Find a trusted few to spitball and brainstorm with. Let go of ideas if they’re not working, you’ll improve faster by creating a quantity of work rather than polishing a turd.

And most of all, don’t push yourself so hard that it affects your health long term, mental or physical. Listen to your body and your needs, take a break and sleep. A tired brain is not a productive brain.

If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted?

Email is fine, or you can DM me on Instagram or Twitter! My handle is @kswainart

Finally, do you have any of your art work for sale (sketchbook, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?

You can buy my comic and its merchandise here:

https://gumroad.com/midwintercomic

(The volume 1 & 2 books will be coming later this year!)

And any of my other unrelated merchandise here:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/KSwainArt

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