Interview with Patricia Ann Lewis-MacDougall
Featured Artist for June 2005
Interviewed by Patrick Keith
To begin with, let's get the biographical details out of the way. Can you tell us a little about yourself--where you're from, what you like to do in your free time (apart from art, of course!)
Okay, my life started out in Hamilton Canada, an industrial town in Southern Ontario but most of my childhood memories come from my Grandfather's fruit farm and the beautiful landscape of Winona and the Niagara Escarpment. I use to wander when I was a little girl into the woods and spend hours observing the flora and the fauna, finding fossils and wasting time day dreaming about the world that surrounded me. I still day dream but apply it to my own illustration
projects so now on my free time I try to keep my puffer fish, Siamese fighting fish, Dragon Goby (fish) and house plants alive as well as swim, and do little bit of Yoga. I still go up into the woods but now I have Larry and my dog to share the woods with.
Which other artists, historic or contemporary, would you say are your greatest influences?
My greatest influences...That's not an easy question to answer. The best answer I can give though were the artists that illustrated the books which my grandmother had when she was a little girl in England then passed them on to me. Artists like Gordon Brown and Edmund Dulac were my favorites from that collection. As my career grows, there are way too many illustrators and artists that influence me one way or another but the ones that stand out the most would be Jeffery Jones, Sulamith Wlfing, Ivan Bilibin, Harry Rountree, Mobius and Claire Wendling! Oh yeah! I should also mention Miazaki.
Do you have a favorite fantasy artist or artist you admire?
Actually my favorite contemporary artist is a wildlife painter named Ron Kingswood. His compostions are breathtaking! Also, with aid of the internet, I've discovered wonderful eye candy that comes from my fellow fantasy artists from all over the world. It's amazing how many different styles there are in the illustration industry today.
Any tips and tricks concerning the business side of things? How do you handle difficult clients?
I guess I have been pretty lucky when it comes to difficult clients. I use to be a story board artist for television animation and I had to deal with many different directors who all did things differently. What I learned from that is that whenever I'm working on a commercial project, it's very likely that there is more than the art director or film director that has sway on your work. It is usually a team effort to publish a story, or create concept art. Therefore I find out what's the general feeling the team is trying to convey and keeping that feeling the foremost element in my work.
Oh! However, if you consider difficult clients that are companies who have a problem when it comes to paying for your services then I use the 'three strikes you out rule!' I usually let a client off easy if they have trouble paying me the first time and we end up negotiating the problem, but if they do it a second time I make a note of it. If the client does it a third time I will no longer work for them. There's only been one or two clients that have reach the third strike (not giving any names!)
Got any funny or interesting stories to tell about your experiences in the art world?
Um....Hmmmm...the only interesting story I can think of is when I came home from a 3 month contract job in China and I was held up in Canadian Customs waiting in line to declare a rather large amount of Asian art books that I picked up for reference purposes. The poor family in front of me was arrested for carrying an illegal substance with them and the police where all over them, making me so nervous that I was shaking when it was my turn to declare my books. I kept staring at the gun in the officer's holster, wondering if it was loaded while he wanted to know why I bought so many art books. I told him that I was a commercial artist and all of them were going into my reference library. The officer tried to figure out if I could do something illegal with them and if I went over the spending limit that a Canadian could bring home (there were a lot of books!). Well I did go over the limit, but not
by much and he believed me when I said what I did for a living and let me go. So after I paid the duty on the extra books, I lugged my way down the ramp hoping to be greeted by my beloved husband.
Well he wasn't there.
Because customs took so long, Larry thought that I was still in China and didn't tell him. So he went to get a pack of cigarettes and break his habit of being smoke free for 13 years. He was walking out of the airport shop when he noticed me and my large suitcase full of Chinese art books standing there looking confused. Well we're happily together in our studio again and the Chinese art books are nestled in the book shelves.
You and Larry have collaborated on art previously. Do you find it helps the process being one part of a creative pair?
Working with Larry is like the both of us turning into a completely unique individual illustrator. The art looks completely different from what our styles are. It's almost like there is a third person in our studio when we compare our combined work to our own stuff. I'm more than willing to do it again when it is called for but the outcome can feel quite bizarre. I think it's because both our styles are quite distinct and far from each other. Larry's is more painterly whereas my work's strength lies in the line. We always critique and encourage each other when it comes to our individual work. So whether we are working together or apart, we are always there for each other when it comes to the creative process.
Can you describe your creative process - how you come up with ideas for a new piece and how you take those ideas and create a finished piece of art?
Unless required by an art director, I usually don't do thumbnails. I figure out the composition right on the final piece. I know that can be a bit tricky, you might end up with an image with problems but I don't like to redraw an image. My images always look stiff and lifeless if I redraw them. If I must redraw an image, I'll rework it in the computer, hoping that I can keep that same loose line digitally.
All my digital images exist because I needed to rework the line! After that I apply tone first then colour whether it's with prismacolour,
watercolour or Photoshop.
I get my ideas from things that I enjoy the most: An interesting design in nature, childhood memories, favorite stories from books or film, and music. Lot's of music. If I can let my imagination soar from listening to the right tune, and it can be almost anything, I can come up with a storyline for an illustration. All of my bird riders are from day dreaming to music.
If you could work with absolutely anyone (artists, companies, writers--anyone at all) on a project, who would it be?
I would love to work with Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials Trilogy). Or on anything that he's written!
There is a wide assortment of represented media in your gallery. What do you like about working in one particular medium as opposed to other mediums?
I want to say that the medium is not an issue for me and that if the line and drawing is strong, whatever I use to lay down color will only be secondary to the line. Well I can't say that (even though I did). It is an issue for me. I'm too explorative and can't settle down with one medium. Perhaps it's a good thing that my style is lined based and not anything else. This is something that after 10 years of being in the business, one would think that my mediums of
choice would become standard. Well other than using co-erase pencils to lay down line work onto vellum, mylar, or any paper that I have lying around in my studio, I usually work with traditional materials, mainly Prismacolor. I like Prismacolor because if used with vellum, it has a quality that I don't find anywhere else. When looking at an original illustration done with those pencils, the hues glow and become inviting. Unfortunately, it takes awhile for me to finish a colored pencil piece. So, if I'm in a hurry, I work in Photoshop. However, certain gallery owners prefer more traditional methods.
I don't know how long I will be staying with Prismacolor pencils before that "I need to explore with a different medium!" hits again. But so far, no one has complained about the "medium" hopping yet!
Your digital pieces are consistent with all of your other work. How has the transition to digital been for you? Any particular gear you like to use?
As I mentioned above, I enjoy working with Photoshop. I've had people in disbelief when I show them a print of Instinct or The Novice and tell them that it's digital. They're convinced that those images are some water based medium until I show a detail from one of the two. I really only go digital when a drawing needs help digitally, or I'm in a rush job or feel too lazy to clean off my drafting board. I always start with a drawing on coloured paper though.
So what is your day like now? Do you have a set working schedule?
Oh, I wish I did! Not only do I do fantasy illustrations and children's illustration, I also work in the giftware market which has a fast turnaround. So I'm constantly reworking my work schedules to correspond with the clients I'm working with. When I do find my schedule light, that's when I work on my own projects.
What do you think the most important thing is for an artist to learn, technically speaking?
Life drawing. Even if your style is crude, it will still look stronger if you know how to draw rather than faking it!
Do you have any words of wisdom for artists who are just starting out?
The key phrase there is 'Wisdom!' However, if I have something wise to say is to take this job seriously. I don't know an art director who likes his projects to be treated on a part-time basis. All the successful illustrators that Larry and I associate with are very dedicated to the business.
And the trademark Epilogue interview question: What cartoons did you watch as a kid?
I watched as many different cartoons as a kid that I could fit in between weekend chores and homework. Picture a little girl
quickly turning on the TV to watch Fat Albert and the Cosby kids, Pink Panther or Jabber Jaw and then dusting that TV in hopes that her mother would think that she was doing her chores!