Please introduce yourself to our readers!
Hello, I’m Chelsea, a freelance illustrator in my early thirties living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I’m the writer and artist of the fantasy webcomic “Stray Sod,” and hopefully many more things in the future.
Can you tell us a bit about some of the projects you’ve worked on so far? It looks like you’ve had quite a varied career!
Honestly, it feels like I’m still at the beginning! I got my first illustration job while attending art school: collaborating on a sci-fi comic about people coping with mysterious animal mutations. It sadly never got past the contract stage but I learned so much about working with others and working in the comics medium. After college, word of mouth brought me a few great assignments: logos, technical drawings for manuals, and even a children’s book which was also never published. But these projects were spread out over years, and I was distracted by my day job (a travel agent at the time), so eventually I felt I had to make a decision. I was still living at home, so I resigned and gave myself a year to work on a personal project and give my illustration career a real chance.
In 2013 I launched “Stray Sod,” planning to build a readership online and end up with a body of work to either send to a traditional publisher or print and sell myself. I still do graphic design on the side, and to get out from behind the computer, I also provide lunchtime supervision at an elementary school. It keeps me connected to that time in my life when my love of stories took root.
Can you tell us about Stray Sod, your web comic? What are some of the challenges and benefits of working in an online format? Can you tell us a bit about your online community?
“Stray Sod” follows a self-indulgent teenager who has to step beyond her comfort zone to find her sister who has disappeared on a family vacation in Ireland. Chafing against rules derived from folk tales and a flirtatious elfin guide of questionable intent, she must try to find the empathy to navigate the shadow world and bring her sister safely home.
My favorite thing about the online format is that you can instantly publish something, there’s little waiting for your readers, and you can receive feedback from them on each update. When you sell a book to someone, you don’t usually get to watch them read it. But publishing online, page by page, allows you to witness someone’s interest build as you lead them through the adventure. Sometimes that can be the big challenge, too, because the responses aren’t always what you expect! When that happens, you have to be willing to rethink the way you’re telling the story (while deep in the process of telling it) or learn how to set aside some feedback.
The online community interacts at the bottom of every update I post, and even though I can’t always answer them, they are a supportive group. They don’t complain over delays in updates that have happened due to personal matters (especially our sickly puppy!), and I love sharing what I learn about Irish folklore with them. And though a comic with a teenage female protagonist expects a certain audience, I hear from readers of different ages and genders who add their own perspectives to what my character is going through.
Can you share some of your experiences visiting and participating in cons?
I have rented tables at big pop culture conventions all the way across the spectrum to community craft shows. The most motivating experience so far was at a comparatively intimate show featuring local comic creators, put on by a group called Panel One (www.panelone.ca). Everyone who participated and who visited was interested in storytelling and what people were working on in our area–it was exhilarating! I had also never come close to selling out of books before. So if you can only do one show a year, I’d recommend finding one with a narrower focus, like comics or publishing rather than all of geekdom in general.However, I never would have known about Panel One if I hadn’t met some of them at a big convention. It can be easy to feel lost among the recognizable names and beloved franchises, but aside from the fun of being in the thick of it, there is a huge value in meeting people. As an introvert, the word “networking” gives me anxious palpitations. But when surrounded by people with similar interests, I started to notice I was networking by accident. I would just be shopping on the show floor, asking questions about what people were selling, and sometimes someone would see my exhibitor badge and want to know what *I* did. Business cards would be exchanged, and little did I know a new opportunity would open in my future.
Where do you find inspiration for your works?
All the typical things, of course: music, movies, children’s books, novels, other comics. Traveling has also influenced me, not only because it exposed me to different cultures and surroundings, but also because it made me feel completely out of my element–the key to a good adventure. To really get my drawing juices flowing, I might look at colour palettes, patterns and textures in fashion or interior design (Pinterest is my best friend). I am moved by lighting, too; light shining through leaves or windows is my favorite thing and I will put that in a drawing whenever I can.
But the most enduring inspiration for me comes from nostalgia. In the end nothing gets me going like opening one of the illustrated fairy tales my mom used to read to me, or coming across a toy that I used to imagine was alive. And luckily, I get to watch children play every day at work, which may be as close to time travel as I’ll ever get.
What techniques do you use to make your illustrations?
I have moved over to digital almost completely in the last few years, a stylus replacing my pencil and pen. But my process is the same–gathering inspiration, deciding on the narrative, then planning in thumbnail drawings, trying out different layouts until I find one I like. As I refine the drawing, I’ll use references from life, usually myself. The Photo Booth on my Mac is full of weird angles and absurd expressions.
For me, productivity techniques are just as important as artistic ones. For instance, I have a severe fear of the blank page, so to jump-start productivity, I try to stop working at a point that will be easy to jump back into tomorrow.
What’s the best part about being a creator? What parts aren’t perhaps quite as nice?
The best thing, to me, is when someone reacts emotionally to something I’ve done, telling me in perhaps not so many words, “Yes! I get what you’re saying! This means something to me, too!” By contrast, the negative feedback, particularly when not constructive, is not easy to face.
I also find the discipline needed to work from home a challenge. When there is laundry, people texting you because they know you’re home, or puppies pooping on the floor, its not easy to put in a full day’s work at the desk. And even when I do sit down to relax with family, there’s always a feeling of guilt in the back of my mind, as if I should be working on something else.
Can you tell us a bit about your career path so far? Did you always know you wanted to be a creator?
No, I wanted to be a pirate. But I guess after realizing that those romanticized days were long gone, I sought to live out adventures in other ways. Using a typewriter and some pencil crayons, I wrote and illustrated many “novels” that recorded the imaginary adventures my friends and I lived out. The desire to tell stories grew from there.
Being of the Little Mermaid generation, I first believed I wanted to be an animator and work for Disney, but it only took one summer animation camp to cure me of that ambition. (Incredible work, but I am not well suited.) So after that, I thought would become an author, and I learned as much as I could about writing fiction, even getting involved in rigorous peer reviewing. But I was still drawing when I should have been taking notes in school, and my writing and art merged even though I had read very few comics in my life. After I was accepted into art college, my road still did not feel clear. But by never ignoring what I loved, I was able to choose a major that would allow me to tell stories the way I wanted: illustration.
Can you tell us about some of the projects you’re working on now?
I wish I could! My collaborative projects are in their beginning stages, and I’ve learned it is just as easy for things to go one way as the other when an assignment is new. I do have more *personal* projects on the back burner for both children and adults, many within the realm of fairy tales and/or exploring self-confidence in girls and women. My hope is that when “Stray Sod” is complete, I can take what I have learned from the experience and make the next story even better.
What advice would you give to someone who might be interested in pursuing an artistic career?
I would tell them to begin *now.* Don’t put off starting and completing your project. The advice I received on taking courses and reading books and practicing and developing my craft was all beneficial, but none of it was quite so meaningful to me as learning how I was holding myself back.
Finishing a project is not only the best way to learn about the craft and about yourself, but also a powerful way to attract attention and inspire others to want to work with you. Rather than waiting until you feel you are good enough (guilty!), choose one of those ideas you’ve been playing with, develop it, and execute it. Then you can get feedback on it and polish it to submit somewhere, or you can start something new with heightened assurance of yourself and your abilities. At the very least, you will be able to say you have finished something, and you never know where that could lead.
Thank you for inviting me into your corner of the web to interview me!