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Interview with artist Cathy Wilkins

Posted on March 13, 2006 by Flames

How did you get started as an illustrator?

I started illustrating part-time right out of high school in 1987. I had taken the painting courses (flunked right out of that class!) and the sculpting class (B!) while in high school. I worked part time for a man who came into the diner I waitressed at and he hired me on as a freelancer for his sign business. I did mostly business illustrations for delis, salons and the local hops. I gave it up for a few years because I just didn’t have the time between my family and my full-time job. After a while, drawing every sandwich known to man wears one down. I picked it back up in 1997, at my husband’s urgings, selling a few pieces here & there while learning Photoshop & Painter. My first published piece was titled “Under the Sheets” and was used for a book called “Headshots”. I’ve also been working part time as an illustrators assistant since 1997.

Seeing how an established illustrator works and the business end of things has been a blessing I couldn’t be more thankful for. Since 97 I have been steadily increasing my portfolio, bringing it up to par and bringing in new clients every year.

Do you have any advice for the hopeful artists out there?

I have lots of advice…

Master your tools! Whether it’s a wacom pen or a paintbrush, learn everything you can about it. Search the web or library for any advice or tutorials you need. There’s lots of online groups an artist can tap for guidance. I am members of both Epilogue.net & ASFA and they have online workbenches and critique areas on their community boards. Look at art to be inspired by..look at everything you can get your hands on and immerse yourself in what you love and what you want to do.

Something that I struggled with for years and only now seem to have on the run is working with reference. I hated using it..I felt that I could get it right if I had enough time. I made it very hard on myself on MANY a deadline night because I would refuse to shoot any or work from it. Those are usually my weakest pieces. I see a lot of work by emerging artists that suffer for lack of reference. You can’t beat a nice piece of well lit reference or a model. I still don’t always use reference because it doesn’t always call for it but having used ref, my sketches are stronger and I’m getting more confident I can hit the nail without it.

You also have to be able to take a critique. There’s no whiners in art.

Listen to what other eyes are seeing. And don’t hate your art director or client too much for wanting changes. They’re buying the art- give them what they want. You can also count on long grueling hours, grumpy you & grumpy spouses and a sore back. It’s not easy work and a lot of it is business related but to me, it’s the best job in the world. On my worst day I wouldn’t want to do anything else. Also don’t work for free if you can swing it. Get something for your efforts. I can understand the ‘wanting exposure’ end of things and I have done it myself but only with existing pieces and with a written & signed agreement, with samples included in the deal. You want exposure, promote yourself. Promotion is vital to an illustrator. Send a small tearsheet or portfolio to clients. Don’t hit one potential client, hit them all. Do a web search on the clients you want and mail them something they can have in their hands. I’ve sent out as many as 20 small portfolios and tearsheets and had only one positive response from that batch. I took a hard look at my portfolio and resent to more potentials 6 months later. Two responses! It can be a long hard battle getting your foot in the door but worth every bit of effort. Keep at it.

What can you tell us about your work on Vampire: the Requiem?

I loved working on VtR. Every scene & description in that book moved me. I
think the pieces I turned in were strong compositionally (maybe a little too referencey in some) but turned out nice overall. I remember there being a piece I didn’t get notes for (Belial’s Blood) and having to turn in a sketch on a Friday and the final art the following Monday night. It was a mad dash right to the very end! My favorites in that book was one I didn’t use reference for- Ordo Dracul and one my son posed for on pg. 220. I remember really impressing myself with the bats, broken bloody nails & loose change on the sidewalk until I saw Mattias Snygg’s pieces. Props to me ceased and the Snyggfest began. He rocks. As do all the artists in the book.

What challenges do you face when trying to portray the mood of Vampire?

My biggest challenge has been trying to successfully convey some of the more subtle scenarios described in some of the chapter notes. Its a vampire game-it should have a clearly vampiric-dark-eerie feel to the art. I don’t always hit that mark. Sometimes I just play it way too safe. Theres two pieces that come to mind- one of a smelly lab partner and another of an ordinary bus or subway scene. I look at those pieces now and think- why didnt I make someones eyes glowing or a couple of bite scars?

Do you have a favorite Clan or Covenant?

Yes! I like the Ordo Dracul & Nosferatu. I dont know why I’m drawn to those two…maybe there’s a creepiness I can relate to.

What can you tell us about your work on Demon: the Fallen?

Demon was the first work I did with White Wolf. I was actually away on my honeymoon when I got the e-mail from Pauline Benney (along with another potential client who I missed the boat on entirely) and what she had to say about Demon was interesting to say the least. Finally someone was asking me to illustrate the scary stuff and looking to pay me to boot! It doesn’t get better than that and I immediately said yes. She sent along some samples and I couldn’t believe who the other artists were..I mean RK Post? Holy moley! Brom? More please! Ken Meyer Jr and Bergting? Artistic juggernauts! And here I was in the same book. There had to be some mistake. I may have asked Pauline that at one point.

I think my best pieces of I’ve ever worked on with White Wolf are in the Demon Players Guide.

What has been your most challenging work in the industry?

Working with White Wolf definitely. They’ve also been the most rewarding. The deadlines are tight most of the time and sometimes I’m not sure how to approach illustrating what’s in the notes. I have a tendency to want to play it safe with them and I know that’s not what they want to see. You could really go all out based on what’s in the art notes. When I have to explain to family members why they’re being asked to pose lying on the ground or biting each other while I snap photos, I’m not sure they always believe me. I tend to get the odd strange look at family gatherings. I’ve become the weird spooky cousin.

Working with Weird NJ has also had its own challenges. I do a lot of cryptid & ghosty work with them. I just finished 5 pieces for them depicting Big Foot & Skunk Apes and a Frogman. There’s not much in the way of visual reference for these creatures so I had to read through a lot of really interesting stories of people’s sightings and encounters with these beasts. Sometimes the descriptions are vague and unclear as it was usually a sighting that occurred and was over within a matter minutes.

Do you have a favorite medium? Why?

My favorite is the digital medium, hands down. I use an older Mac G-3 with a tablet & stylus and digital camera. My two favorite programs are my Photoshop 4.0 and my old hog Painter 6. My favorite tools in Photoshop are the layers feature, the airbrush, the smudge tool and the filters. In Painter I really only use a few tools-the coarse textured brush to blend what I’ve laid out in Photoshop and the ‘Just Add Water’ brush in liquids. The move tool is also handy in that program. The digital medium is also wicked fast and clean. I’m not mixing or smearing or making an enormous mess in my studio. I don’t miss paint thinner or Gesso one bit.

I also love to sketch with my pencils though I don’t usually finish anything in pencils. I like to drag them over to the Mac and go to town on them in photoshop.

What’s next for you?

There’s a lot that’s ‘next’ with me these coming months..I’ve got a webpage update coming soon at www.monsterparade.com that’s been long due. Lots of new pieces for White Wolf will be added. I’ve just finished up 12 new pieces for WW since December and am looking forward to more work from them. I am also tapped to illustrate several more cryptid related pieces for Weird Nj. The Lifetime Channel & Mike Mathis Productions are using my Mothman piece in an upcoming special regarding the paranormal so I’ll have about 5 seconds of screen time..I can’t wait to see that! It may take weeks for me to get over my bad self. I also plan on taking some time off this summer and painting something in oil for a personal piece. It’s going to be a collaboration between myself and my hubby. Should be an interesting year!

For more information on Cathy’s current and upcoming projects, check out here website at www.monsterparade.com.

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