Hi guys! Last week I posted an article about Chira, and this week I was lucky enough to have a lengthy chat interview with her. In talking about her process of drawing comics, she makes some incisive, necessary comments about the artistic process in general. She also shares with us some of her favorites and interests. Here’s the transcript:
Ellen: I’ll start off with a question I actually wish people asked me, which is: is there something you’re obsessed with right now? It can be music, or a book, or an artist, whatever. Something that keeps you up at night thinking about it?
Chira: Oh well, immediately at the moment it’s the Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” musical. It’s been on loop all day every day for the past week haha.
Ellen: Yeah, I checked your tumblr and saw that fanart! It’s great! Although it’s really difficult for me to listen to Act 2 because I’m a big crier. So since you’ve been drawing for quite a long time, I wanna know: do you ever become more satisfied with your art over the years? To me, it sometimes seem like my dissatisfaction is so…prominent.
Chira: Absolutely. I’ll always be disatisfied in the sense that I know I can do better and nothing I do will be perfect, but the more skill I develop gets me closer to the results I want to achieve. So I can’t help but me more satisfied the more refined I get.
Ellen: Is there a sense of balance between the two?
Chira: Depends. My disatisfaction is usually when I’m not hitting the right note to the picture, sometimes this is because I’m lacking in skill or because I’m doing something wrong. So usually there’s a large disbalance when I don’t see what’s wrong, so to speak? Because I can’t fix it if I can’t see what needs to be fixed. But if I know what I want then it’s just a matter of patience.
Ellen: Is that patience cultivated?
Chira: I imagine so. I’ve always been stubborn so the patience is always there even when I’m impatient.
Ellen: (I have elephant memory and don’t even know where I saw this), but you’ve mentioned when you felt like you were lacking in an area, you would spent a lot of time practicing and focusing on that area. For example, drawing hands and feet. Is this quite systematic, and can you describe the process?
Chira: Yeah! I mention it a few times. I don’t know how systematic it is, but in any area I feel weak in I dedicate myself to tackling that weakness head on. I think there’s a saying that goes “Don’t worry about your comfort zone, your strengths will take care of themselves, work on what makes you uncomfortable.”
And I definitely always think that way. I’ve always been someone that lets my ambition drag my skill upwards kicking and screaming. I never drew backgrounds and I felt SUPER weak in colors, so Sfeer Theory was my opportunity to focus on both. And every project after has been like “okay focus on something you don’t usually do.”
I actually have a comic gig from someone who hired me to do sci fi and aerial dogfights and I was like “well I have no idea how to draw this but no better time to tackle this head-on than now I guess.” Haha.
Ellen: I know questions about style are trying for a lot of artists. I think you developed a way of drawing quite early on, but did you ever have trouble seeing so many great artistic influences and trying to incorporate them into your art, while still staying faithful your natural drawing style?
Chira: Not really? I never really feel threatened trying out different styles. At worst, I don’t like how it looks and I move on, at best, I learn something new and I grow from it, so what’s the harm?
I don’t have a huge opinion of my own style, since for all that it’s extremely recognizeable as my own I feel like it’s not consistent at all in aesthetic, and there’s a reason for that — I intentionally change it up from project to project. So I don’t really feel I have a “style” even in my own style, it’s just recognizeable as my personality.
Ellen: Haha, I gotta thank you for saying that. It was a little bit of a personal question because the way I draw is so far from consistent, and I also can’t help trying new things. I know LeSean Thomas said on twitter not to worry about what ties your art together stylistically, because the fact that you drew all of it is what ties it together. The worry comes and goes.
Chira: I would agree with LeSean! It comes from me so it’s automatically my style, even if I’m mimicking someone else’s.
Ellen: How long do you draw each day?
Chira: Uhhh, on average I say I work on art about 15 hours a day. There are days when I don’t do anything and there are days when I work maybe 5 hours. And then there are days where I work like 30 hours straight. But 15 hours has been pretty consistant, from the moment I get up to the moment I go to sleep.
Ellen: Nice! It’s gotta be brutal but I think it also feels good to get a lot of solid work done. Oh my gosh though, 30 hours?
Chira: Admittedly I’m a workaholic, sometimes to an unhealthy degree. I rather people not follow in my footsteps, heh.
Ellen: Are there any things you’ve learned about drawing comics that you wish someone had told you when you started out? I know 99% of that knowledge and experience is a result of hard work. But I’m also thinking about my own experience with drawing evenly spaced columns in perspective; I literally eyed the distance for years until I learned you could take the midpoint by drawing an X connecting the columns, etc.
Chira: I don’t think so… I mean all the stuff I wish I learned is all the skill I worked hard to get now. But there isn’t anything in particular I would’ve done differently.
I had the foresight enough to make my canvases large and keep bleed areas in check and keep my DPI high. I suppose if there was anything I would have learned about CMYK colors sooner.
Ellen: Have you ever forced yourself to start and finish a comic? Are they always good learning experiences?
Chira: Technically everything I do is forced start and finish, heh! You don’t learn anything until you start and you don’t learn from your mistakes until you finish. That’s how I think.
Ellen: Are there any comics you recommend, either to learn how to draw comics or just for enjoyment? Or just, comics that have stayed with you for years.
Chira: The comics I think are aesthetically gorgeous tend to be European: Blacksad, Curiosity Shop, Siegried, Beaute. But I enjoy a lot of manga for how it handles its visual direction and versatility, so like Monster, Vinland Saga, Vassalord, Zombie Powder…
The only American comic that’s ever stuck with me is the “Prince of Persia: The Graphic Novel” adaptation, and I believe that was done by European Artists haha.
Actually all the American comics I like tend to be by European artists, there was a Batgirl oneshot DC released recently that was done by Bengal…
So! I’m clearly not big on the American in-house works.
Ellen: Have you ever animated something, even something no longer than a couple of seconds?
Chira: Just the bouncing ball exercise every animator student starts with. I learned very quickly I’m not an animator.
Ellen: I recently read some notes from Chris Oatley and Claire Keane about good exercises to develop characters. They include drawing a character’s room so that it reflects their personality without even looking at the character themselves, and drawing characters in poses to answer a question.
For example, Claire Keane did sketches of Rapunzel drawing her hair through her nightdress while thinking of the question, “How does she deal with her hair while changing clothes?”
Have you ever done anything similar while developing your characters? Is there anything you like to do while developing them?
Chira: Those are both extremely good exercises! And yes I have, though not conciously.
That was part of the challenge of learning to draw environments, because no one thinks of settings as having “personality” or “character” but the world you draw in has both. And nothing is more personal to a character than their living spaces.
Me and Alex (my creative partner) tend to learn a lot about the character backgrounds we do when I draw their home spaces, everything they own has a story to it.
As for how I intentionally develop the characters I draw, it all comes down if I can envision them or not. I need to connect with their emotions and their thought process and I sort of channel them… if this sounds vague and intuitive it’s because it is, haha. I’m not that methodical in design.
Ellen: Man, I am honestly so passionate about environments. I like them so much that I even get uncomfortable designing objects or characters without thinking about the context first, it feels like there’s a huge void.
Chira: Yeah I do everything from the details up, if I can’t envision the story behind it then it doesn’t get drawn.
Ellen: I’m glad you said there’s something you still can’t quantify about designing characters. If things can be described perfectly there’s no reason to draw them.
Chira: My connection to what I draw has always been a vague “something” heh.
Ellen: Do you have an art wish list? Sort of like…a backlog of art you really want to draw but have no time?
Chira: As for my backlog… All my obligations, I think! I think I have a list of ideas somewhere whenever I have the free time, but I usually just draw whatever the inspiration strikes, since I draw from my emotional resonation a lot so it’s very “in the moment” sort of thing.
Ellen: Do you keep a dream journal or a visual diary?
Ellen: Do you have a favorite Disney movie?
Chira: Yes! My very favorite Disney movie is Tarzan. Tangled is a close second. But definitely Tarzan
Ellen: Can you explain a little why Tarzan is your favorite?
Chira: It’s probably the most beautiful movie Disney has ever done, next to 101 Dalmations and Atlantis — but Tarzan is way more ambition when it comes to depth and fluidity. It also has the kind of emotional depth and intimacy I resonate with very deeply.
Ellen: (ATLANTIS!) Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. I hear you!
Chira: Atlantis has some really amazing animation, it’s too bad it was dismissed for being basically Stargate haha.
Ellen: Sighs a lot. Yeah, I think it gets a bad rap. I was crazy about it as a kid, couldn’t imagine any world more lush and wonderful. Anyways! Are there good books you’ve read recently?
Chira: I’ve been really into Dashiell Hammett’s books recently. He’s basically the one who pioneered the noir detective genre, which sounds like he’d be boring but he’s surprisingly progressive and his prose is frank and clever.
The more I read his books the more I detest the movie adapations of his books, haha. He’s most famous for “The Maltese Falcon,” the movie is garbage after having read the book!
Ellen: What are your favorite bits of history/historical periods? Or even, favorite historical figures and bits of trivia?
Chira: Oooh, well. I’m a huge history nerd, but I’m drawn to periods of revolution the most. The french revolution has always drawn me, but I also enjoy anything in the 20th century.
Ellen: Do you have a lot of future projects planned?
Chira: Oh, tons. Probably more than I can get done in my lifetime. So it’s just a matter of how much we can get done.
Ellen: I love hearing that!. Wooo! That’s actually it for my questions. Thanks so much for doing this with me! I’ll definitely keep following your progress on tumblr. Hopefully one day I can show up on your dash! My art that is! Though the both of us might not know it haha.
Chira: Do you have an art tumblr?
Ellen: Yes I do…I don’t know how to continue because I’m so shy and private. It’s sort of bad because I know sharing your work is such a good thing.
Chira: Oh, well, no pressure. I’d be curious to see your work but if you’re not comfortable don’t worry about it.
Ellen: I think one day I’ll be able to tell people! Thanks for saying that. And thank you so much again for doing this interview. I totally hope to keep in touch. Heart time! ❤