Making it as an artist - techniques, time management and temptation. Ask me anything!

Karen Ruffles
Jun 13, 2018

Your chance to find out exactly what it is professional artists do all day. Whether you're a new artist finding your feet or a collector with that one question you've never dared ask, I'm here to help. I've done animation, illustration, exhibitions and have my own range of merchandise.

Human Skull, charcoal pencil on watercolor paper, 2018.

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How do you see new and old technologies evolving and combining? What do you see coming out of this collaborative response?
Jun 20, 4:33AM EDT0
Do you ever create hidden meanings or messages in your artwork?
Jun 20, 2:44AM EDT0

My work pretty much does what it says on the tin - I'm what's usually classified as a representational artist so my work is easily recognisable in terms of subject matter and so on. I don't really use symbolism much as I'm generally trying to describe an object or situation to my audience and so my message is clearly broadcast.

Occasionally something will come up where there is symbolism in the subject matter, such as a recent album cover commission, where tarot cards were mentioned in the songs. I added elements into the image to represent each card. With drawings like the physalis below, it's a straight study so no meaning beyond the beauty of the thing itself.

Jun 21, 8:02AM EDT0
How have you dealt with any criticism you have gotten because of your creative endeavors?
Jun 19, 11:28PM EDT0

Not everyone likes some of the work that I do - especially the monsters and that's fine. It would be easy to be take such things personally because of course as an artist my work is very personal but if you're going to put yourself and your work out in the world you have to accept that not everyone has the same tastes. 

Take Stephen Under The Bed - when I first posted the completed picture online, I asked what people thought and someone replied with 'dark and depressing.' Now that's not how I see it - dark, yes, creepy yes but not depressing. I could however completely see how someone could feel like that about it, someone who didn't feel comfortable with such imagery. Most importantly, it had done it's job, someone felt something about it so whether they liked the piece or not it stood as an expression and that is ultimately what it's all about.

Last edited @ Jun 21, 7:50AM EDT.
Jun 21, 6:11AM EDT0
What is creativity to you? Do you consider yourself to be creative? Why or why not?
Jun 19, 7:40PM EDT0

Creativity is more about how you think than what you do - creative people explore, look for new ways of doing things. It's even been proven that doing familiar tasks in a different way - taking a different route somewhere, doing things in a different order helps unlock the ability to think creatively so it's a great excuse for artists like me to keep playing. 

Jun 21, 7:50AM EDT0
Do you use drawings as preliminary studies, or to chart the development of your paintings and your thinking?
Jun 18, 5:32PM EDT0

I do have sketchbooks for the dark fantasy work, they include reference sketches as well as early layouts. Much of that preliminary work and research can be used again so I hang on to those.

If I'm doing a straight study of something, I generally go straight to the finished drawing (I rarely paint) and lay it out either direct onto the paper or, especially with larger pieces, get my outlines sorted on tracing paper then transfer that.

Jun 19, 7:54AM EDT0
What’s next? Do you have any projects on the go at the moment which are nearing fruition?What is the most memorable exhibition works that you have ever been to see? What was it that made it stick in your memory?
Jun 16, 9:00PM EDT0

I'm very excited about the project I am currently working on - a fully illustrated horror anthology with author Sean Walter, entitles Tales In Sombre Tones. When the book is complete, we are taking the show on the road with a touring exhibition featuring animation, 3d representations of the illustrations and readings to bring people inside the book. Here's the first image.

As for the most memorable exhibition I saw -it was a college trip to the Royal Academy, London, which at the time housed some enormous paintings including a very memorable battle scene. The paintings were kept in darkness and to view, you had to push a button to illuminate them. As the lights came up, the sheer power and vitality in the image really stuck me, so much energy captured in one still moment. 

Last edited @ Jun 17, 7:25AM EDT.
Jun 17, 7:24AM EDT0
Is there any aspect of your charcoal paint practice that you’d like to develop going forward?
Jun 16, 8:41PM EDT0

Hi Mary

I'm constantly working on my technical skills and am always looking out for new subjects to capture - each teaches me something new about translating textures and form from a 3d subject into a 2d representation. 

I particularly like images such as the seal above, where I had contrasting textures to deal with - the soft fur of the animal and the damp, crumbly shale it is resting on. By constantly challenging myself in this way, I am more confident to plan increasingly ambitious drawings in the future and scale my work up for even more impact. 

Jun 17, 7:06AM EDT0
Do you think that creativity involves putting your heart and soul into your work? Or is it more like letting your mind flow freely?
Jun 16, 8:30AM EDT0

Both are important - really, they are tied together. To allow your creativity to flow you have to be in tune with what you are doing so it has to resonate with you and you have to keep your mind free of other clutter for it to work. 

My most popular pieces have always been those that had the biggest effect on me when I was working on them - partly because the emotive subject matter translates but also I think because something else shines through, those pieces have a power that a straight study doesn't. 

Jun 16, 1:06PM EDT0
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in creating more art?
Jun 16, 7:08AM EDT0

I think that however much you love what you do, it's important to take time out to refresh yourself and process what you're working on. Even when I'm working flat out, I try and take an hour for a walk every couple of days - I often work at night so I especially enjoy going out as the sun is rising when it's just me and the birds.

I also seek out books, films and music that suit the mood of whatever piece I am working on - some subjects I know very well now and have collections to go with them. Other times I put a deliberately random playlist together and flip through until a few things have grabbed me and build around that. 

Jun 16, 12:51PM EDT0
How much of your week do you spend working on your artwork and how much do you spend managing the business side of it through marketing, promotion, sales,...etc?
Jun 14, 1:30AM EDT0

Hi Monjy,

on average it's about 50/50. I'm still developing my practice so in addition to organising a touring show for next year, I'm trying out a new range of merchandise which I'm selling to retail outlets as well as direct to my own customers. That involved finding bloggers to review and model the t-shirts, which I then used for press releases and so on. The purpose of all that is to create an additional income stream to keep things ticking when I'm working on bigger pieces. 

My goal is the get the admin down to a couple of days a week - in the mean time, I try and prioritise my drawing time, in that I do any practical work in the mornings while my head is clear before I start in on the rest of the business, much more productive that way.

Jun 14, 5:43AM EDT0
How does one develop their innate talent enough to be called a professional?
Jun 14, 12:47AM EDT0

There are two measures of professionalism for artists - first of course your work has to be consistently of a high standard and while often evolving, recognisably your work. The second is how you conduct yourself, a professional artist is expected to be reliable, responsible when dealing with galleries and the public. 

Both essentially come from experience and years of practice. There generally comes a point when the practical work develops a certain feel and comes together, that's normally the point at which you start attracting regular clients wanting a particular thing. The second aspect is something you learn as you go along - getting to know what people are likely to expect from you before you enter into business relationships. 

Jun 14, 5:50AM EDT0
Is there a time in the day when you feel most inspired to work?
Jun 14, 12:35AM EDT0

I often work best in the early hours of the morning when everyone else is in bed. I think it's the quiet and the fact I'm not expecting to be disturbed that allows me to let my mind wander and I normally do my most inspired drawing then. It's the time when I try and do my sketchbook work, play with ideas. 

Jun 14, 5:54AM EDT0
What are some of the animations you've done and where can one see them?
Jun 13, 9:08PM EDT0

You can view some of my stop motion animations on my Vimeo page, along with some time lapse clips of me drawing. I'm currently planning new films which will be part of a touring exhibition next year. I'm working on an illustrated anthology with author Sean Walter and the plan is to use some of my desk models, have them acting out key sequences from the stories. 

Jun 14, 6:01AM EDT0
What is a piece of art that you wish you could own and why that particular one?
Jun 13, 8:48PM EDT0

I'm actually one of those artists who isn't generally that interested in art as a subject - I am driven to do my own work but don't collect, though some of that is also down to practical consireations as I work from home and space (read full of pencils and skulls lol). 

If I did have the wall space it would be this piece by Rhea Sherriff-Hammond - I shared a bit more on why in an earlier question further down the page.

Jun 14, 6:10AM EDT0
What does a day of work look like for you?
Jun 13, 5:36PM EDT0

I start as soon as I wake up, with my first coffee. I have a quick check round online - a lot of my customers are overseas so messages often come in overnight. If I have drawing to do, that's next before I get distracted and while I have good light. Afternoons are for general business management.

I try and get out for a walk most days - I'm lucky in that I live on the coast so within minutes can be down on the beach. In summer, I do that at the end of the day to unwind and plan the next day.

Jun 14, 6:21AM EDT0
In what ways do you use your art as a form of emotional expression?
Jun 13, 5:05PM EDT0

That's an interesting question - the more emotional pieces are my monsters - though I don't see it as being a deliberate expression on my part, more translating how it feels to be them to the world. It's quite an intense experience, especially with Stephen so I've learned to balance that up as I go with the things that ground me - walking, cooking, physical experiences to counter the mental strain so that I don't burn out.

It also works the other way - to be able to access that side of myself and feel the things I need to, to be able to work I have to take time out of the business occasionally and be inspired. I have collections of music, films and books to suit various moods and make a point of sitting and properly appreciating them rather than as background noise.

Jun 14, 6:42AM EDT0
What is the piece of art you've worked on that you feel most proud of?
Jun 13, 11:35AM EDT0

It's got to be Stephen. Not just because of the original drawing but because of the effect he has on other people and their responses to him. He's had stories written about him, presents bought for him and I still get messages from people who saw him at shows years ago enquiring how he's doing. You really can't ask for more than that as an artist.

It's how I came to create an entire file with contributions form other creatives, telling his story as so many people were fascinated with where he came from and what he's like to work with. You can view all that in Stephen's Corner on my website. 

Jun 14, 6:50AM EDT0
Do you believe that online videos that teach a person how to draw are as effective as attending a live session with an artist? What are your reasons for saying so?
Jun 13, 8:53AM EDT0

I think both can be very effective - in person allows you to ask questions as you go which I think can be very valuable when learning something new. On the other hand it's not always possible or practical to gain that kind of experience and a lot of people now are very effectively self taught with the help of such videos. 

I think people often have the idea at the beginning that 'tips and tricks' will enable them to draw better sooner but ultimately, it's practice, years of it, that makes for a good artist. There are a few basic lessons that can be taught - how to really see and understand something you want to draw for example, how to get the best out of your chosen medium so you're not reinventing the wheel. However, it's probably best to regard any lesson beyond that as inpiration, encouragement to get on and work more, allow your own style and way of producing things to develop.

Jun 14, 7:03AM EDT0
What is the best way to store sketches?
Jun 13, 8:32AM EDT0

The main thing is to store work in a stable environment, somewhere with good air flow so you don't get mildew and to avoid papers holding moisture which can distort them. I have a double shelf built into my easel to store unframed works, where they aren't liable to be moved around and smudged. If possible, lie the work flat and layer with some acid free tissue if you have to store several pieces together. 

Jun 14, 7:11AM EDT0
What do you find is the most challenging form of drawing?
Jun 13, 6:24AM EDT0

Hi Kristen,

for me it's the early, draft stages or more imaginative pieces. For straight up representations like Saltwick Bay, below, it's just time and patience once you have the technique down. 

For things like album covers where a composite image is often required, you're often putting together material from various sources, photos taken under different conditions etc and matching them up into one cohesive piece. That happened with the jackdaw on the cd cover image below, where to get the pose we wanted I had to work from several different images of that type of bird.

Jun 13, 7:58AM EDT0
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