Guest Interview:Heidi Black on ElectricAbyss-The Art of Heidi Black

For the past two years, I’ve tried to utilize this blog as aresource to other artists, both aspiring and established.  I share my experiences, processes, and knowledge with you guys because I enjoy teaching and sharing.  My friend, Heidi Black, has been generous in her help with aiding me in working toward this goal, providing numerous tutorials and guest posts (like this one, and this one, or this one, or this one), as well as accompanying me to various conventions (like all of the ones at the bottom of my review page).  Heidi is a talented, dedicated, and very hardworking,and has recently completed her Masters in Sequential Art at SCAD College of Creative Careers.  She’s been working on an artbook/tutorial book for the past few months, and has recently launched herKickstarter campaign to help fund the printing and distribution of this book.  I’m extremely supportive of this Kickstarter for my own selfish reasons (I desperately want to know how shepaints digitally, and I want access to her brush pack, which is one of the incentivesat the $10 level), and I asked her for an exclusive interview to properly introduce her and her work to you guys.

About Heidi Black, in General:

Hey Heidi, tell us a little big about yourself:

Hey!  I'm a recent graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design with a MFA in Sequential.  Thats the boring way of saying I'm a master of comics. 

When'd you first get interested in creating art?

The overused answer is since I could hold a pencil, but itisn’t far from the truth.  The older I get, the more I realize my elementary school art education was phenomenal, and we were introduced to a lot of mediums and processes, even if we couldn’t use them to their full potential.  It was long my favorite of our “extra” classes (art, music, P.E., and library).  When I was in third grade, Disney’s The Lion King premiered, and I decided I really wanted to become an animator.  I stayed on that path especially after being introduced to Japanese anime in junior high, and while I still wanted to do animation in high school, I spent a lot of time drawing comics as well (while I am tempted to look back and say they are horrible, they were a stepping stone without which I would never be where I am today).  In college I chose illustration as a major,and somewhere along the line realized animation was a lot of (often very thankless) work, so I decided to do its slightly less punishing cousin,comics. 

Who were your biggest inspirations back then?

I was really into Disney as a kid, especially the Lion King.  In high school I got into manga,and I really loved Kaori Yuki.  I discovered One Piece in college, and that kind of shaped how I did comics for along time after.

Which is one of the biggest challenges you face when creating a piece?

The two biggest challenges are getting started (always the hardest part) and the “ugly phase,” where I have an idea on paper that I just can’t get out right.  A lot of drawings get abandoned in the “ugly phase.”


Doing thumbnails and roughs. Again, the getting started part. The further along I get, the more I generally enjoy working.

Artbook Specific:

So, Heidi, give us the inside scoop on your upcomingartbook- ElectricAbyss, the Art of Heidi Black. What first inspired you to compile your tutorials, tricks and tips intoa physical book, as opposed to a collection on a site like DeviantArt?

I've actually always wanted to put together an artbook.  I really love buying them – they are a weakness for me – but the more I worked on putting together an artbook, the more I realized that instead of just a book of art, what people really love from my DA and tumblr and so on has been my tutorials, so it morphed into a book of tutorials – a “how to art” book, really.  Plus, this gives me the opportunity to sell it at cons, and as such reach a far wider audience.  (I am asked at least once at every con about how I do some bit of coloring, or what scad has taught me, or something I answer in my artbook).

I know this, but others might not, what qualifies you to put together an artbook such as this?

A good art education is probably my biggest asset here – I know being self-taught is the current rage, but in addition to learning a lot in my high school, college, and graduate school, I've also taught workshops,panels, and classes – really, teaching helps one learn more than anything else,I've found!  Being able to express how and why I do something rather than just doing is a huge benefit to my own art.

What does the $2000 go towards?

The $2000 is a basic goal – the cost of printing and shipping the artbook and the rewards. I've now posted stretch goals as well. Additional funding from the stretch goals will allow me to take time off from my other work in order to provide more content for this book and more rewards for backers.

You announced stretch goals last night. Would you mind sharing them with us and how you see the extra money making this artbook an even better purchase?

Stretch goal: $2500 – At $2500 I will add a materials guide to the beginning of the book, talking a little more about each of the materials I use, evaluating different brands, and talking about cost effective alternatives to more expensive brands.

Stretch goal: $3000 – At $3000 I will unlock an additional 16 pages of sketch art and process work, and every backer who contributed $30 or more will receive a pack of postcard art

Stretch goal: $4000 – at $4000, I will add two more tutorials in the book: mixed media techniques and cut paper illustration.

Stretch goal: $5000 – at $5000 I will include a digital 15-page pdf “coloring book” of various lineart drawings for ALL backers, plus an additional in-book tutorial (backers vote)

Why stretch goals? My goal has always been to be able to provide this how-to book for $20, and more backers means a larger print run, resulting in lower printing costs per book! This means I can make a longer book with more content!

As I put together my book, I am taking time from my regular freelance work and my day jobs to devote to making more art and tutorials for all of you. The initial $2000 covers the cost of printing and shipping the book and the rewards, and little else. Raising additional funds will allow me to create a longer book and give you, my backers, more rewards!

Here's a little sample of some of the backer rewards Heidi's offering as incentives!

Cat paws and Christmas ornaments not included.

Have you considered Livestreaming the creation of these tutorials and sharing them with backers as exclusive content?

As for Livestreaming, lets go with "I haven't Livestreamed in a while, and I'd have to find a good program and server, but if people are interested, I'd be willing!"

What does your artbook offer that you think others don't?

My book, rather than covering one or two mediums, covers a wide variety of media and shows the different results you can achieve with each one.  I talk about markers – not just how to use them and which ones are good, but how to layer with them and color theory behind using different colors to shade and blend.  I also talk about colored pencils and different ways to use them, as well as emulating traditional media in Photoshop, digital coloring in painter, color theory.... there's really all kinds of things in the book!

Do you plan on releasing any artbooks in the future?

I'd love to!  This book has a lot of basic techniques in it, and I'd love to be able to make more specific books later.

What sort of quality should we expect from ElectricAbyss? 

The printer I am looking at is Amazon's Create Space, but I have not worked with them before.  I will work my hardest to make sure the print quality is superb – while it will be a soft cover, perfect bound book, I want this to be of the best quality I can afford – which is why this Kickstarter is so important!  It allows me to create a high quality product.

Have you started looking at printers yet?

I have.  I've heard good things about Amazon's Createspace, and will probably use them, though I amstill looking for other places, especially local Savannah printers.

Won't it be difficult to create an artbook of this quality with a price point of $20? What are some challenges you have faced/expect to face regarding the creation and distribution of this book?

Printing cost is the first major issue. $20 is at-price for most printers for a book of this quality, meaning I would get no payment for any of the actual labor, supplies, or time I put into the book and tutorials, nor would I be able to cover shipping. I've managed to find a printer that will print for less, but $20 is still a tight stretch for me. I've always wanted the goal to be $20 for the book though - and Kickstarter backers are lucky, as my at-convention and post-purchase price will probably have to be increased to $25!

As for distribtion - without buying an ISBN and barcode, I have no way to submit this to distribution centers. Amazon's Createspace thankfully works as a distribution if I do purchase these, but most of my sales are probably going to be from people who know me online or see my work at conventions. Its just kind of how this goes - a book like this is going to gain most of its publicity from word of mouth. 

What is one of the biggest challenges you've faced so far, working on this artbook?

The biggest challenge has been the time constraints.  Running a Kickstarter and promoting it hasbecome a full time job, which is hard when I also have to pull a lot of time into my other freelance work as well as looking for additional jobs.

What aspect have you found most rewarding?

All the amazing people who have come out of the woodwork to support me.  My coworkers from my job in Toledo as well as so many SCAD kids have shown a lot of support and have passed the word along! 

What do you most look forward to?

I'm as excited as everyone else to see this in print!  There's something so awesome about holding areal book I made!

What are some tidbits and treats that we, as backers, can look forward to?

Comics, bookmarks, prints, charms, posters... most excitingly, original art!  If my stretch goals are unlocked, there will be additional rewards for many backers as well!

Heidi was kind enough to provide us with a sneak peak of the artbook.

Time at SCAD:

You've recently graduated from SCAD with a Masters in Sequential Art.  Can you tell us a little bit about your experiences there?

Wow, it was a whirlwind of two (and a half) years!  I can't believe I made it!  (there were times I didn't think I would, it was so busy!)  The professors in the sequential department are amazing people, and I learned so much (not just as far as art, but how to be a human being!) There are a lot of amazing students there as well, and the opportunities provided by the department have been really awesome – I've met some really cool artists like Sean Gordon Murphy and Scottie Young because of SCAD.

What was the most important thing you've learned?

Listen to what others tell you.

Your biggest regret?

Not taking Paul Hudson's anatomy class until my last quarter.

Any advice for kids looking to get into comics?

Its a punishing medium. Not so much because of anything intrinsic to it, but because it is a very small field, and you will put a lot of hours into a page that people might look at for thirty seconds.  There are jerks in our field, but there are jerks in any field, and I find that there area ton of people who are super nice, and love what they do, and are willing to help. 

If you are serious about doing comics, READ comics.  Not just manga, or superhero, or indie, or webcomics, but some of all of the above. Every different kind of comic has its strengths and weaknesses, and if you only read one kind or another, you'll wind up falling into the pitfalls that each has – I initially started with just manga, so I have to fight using panels that read right to left, and a lot of the tropes that are common in manga.

How about kids applying to SCAD?

If you can, get your gen eds out of the way at a local or state college.  SCAD is a prettyexpensive school, and going into debt for an education is one of the few debts you can't get out of with things like bankruptcy.  $200K of debt, 23, and jobless is no way to start life.  Getting those gen eds at a cheaper school will not only help your wallet, but generally art school gen eds are not as good because they know you're focusing on art.  Instead of simply math 101, you'll be able to learn a little bit more.

Teaching Experience:

We've done a lot of conventions together, and taught quite a few panels. Which was your favorite?

I'm not sure its my favorite, but the most surprising one was certainly the anime and anatomy panel at AWA – we walked in and there was a full room!  It was quite nerve wracking,but also really fun.

As graduate students, we're required to have at least one internship in order to get our MFA's. You've also TA'd two undergrad classes in the Sequential Art Department.  Tell us a little (or a lot) about your experiences with those.

If I were to go into teaching as a full time career, I definitely want to teach college or high school.  I have the most fun with kids who really REALLY want art, who are passionate about it! 

The first of my internships was with a painting for comics class, which was actually interesting for me too – as an illustrator, I had done a lot of painting, but I'd only ever done one painted comic, and its a bit different from black and white.  So I learned and taught at the same time.  But the professor I worked with was absolutely amazing.  Plus, it was a summer class so it was laid back and fun. 

The other clas s was an intro class, drawing for sequential with the amazing Tom Lyle.  Tom Lyle was my very first professor coming into SCAD, and the two classes were quite similar, so it was an interesting juxtaposition of “where we started” and“where I ended.”  It was so awesome to see how much those kids improved though – some of them started out needing a lot of help, but pushed themselves so far in ten weeks!  I could really see the passion in the kids.

What have you learned TAing at SCAD? 

Patience, more than anything.  I tend to be a very fast worker, and don't always take time to explain what I'm doing. I've had to slow down and think about things, which has led to better decisions in my own art. 

It also gives me a chance to revisit fundamentals, and really instill them into my own work. Plus, there's nothing quite like teaching.  I guess this is hard to explain if you don'tl ike it, but for those of us who do, there's so much reward in seeing someone's face light up when they really get what you're talking about, and can takesomething you showed them and really make it their own, and improve upon it!

Before you TA'd, you volunteered at several schools,teaching art and comics.  Would you share with us a little about those experiences?

Its one of the most awesome things ever when a kid comes up with their sketchbook to you and asks if you'll look through it, and you can see how much they want to do art, and their influences, and their creativity and passion. 

Do you prefer teaching kids (k-12) or college students?

Nothing against younger kids, but I really like high school and college kids.  Its great when I can really sit down and explain how to make their art awesome, and they're able to understand the critique and really take it to heart.  It is kind of a different way of teaching,and I'm one of those fixer people – I like to present a solution when I see a problem, so working with teens and adults is just easier for me.

What do you find most difficult about teaching?

Staying positive.  I can be very harsh on my own work, and sometimes I have to take a step back and remind myself that I have a lot more experience than the kids I'm working with. 

Which is harder, teaching in a convention panel setting,or a classroom setting?  Which do you prefer?

I'd say 100% I prefer a classroom setting.  I find its a lot easier to teach when I can be in a smaller, more intimate setting, and can talk one on one (or one-on-twenty), and really focus on whats good and bad about people's art.  It also means I can talk in concrete how to improve, rather than just abstract generalizations.

How will this experience translate into your tutorials in ElectricAbyss?

Having teaching experience, plus just experience at conventions and talking to people online really narrows down what people want as far as tutorials go, and means I have a good idea of a question base people often ask.  It also means I have a pretty good idea of what works as far as how to deliver the answers effectively, which is important.

General Working Conditions:

How about a shot of your workspace?

I have a rather extensive setup, but that’s because I’ve had many years of doing art to collect all these things.  Some essentials beyond whatever materials you may use, in my mind: 
1. Daylight balanced lamps.  These will help you stay true to colors.  Other lights will tint your paper and materials strange colors, and the scary part is our brains naturally compensate so we can’t always see it.
2. A comfortable chair.  I just use a chair pad, but honestly I spend alot of hours sitting in a chair either at my art table or at my computer, and we tend to wreck our necks/backs/shoulders/arms as artists.  A comfy chair won’t fix all your problems,but it will help some.
3. A flat drawing surface.  One large enough to hold your projects and materials. 
4. Some kind of organizational system.  I just bought a plastic bin set from Walmart or wherever, one of the cheap $10 kinds.  But I know where my materials are when I need them.
5. Reference books. There’s a pretty good chance that if you draw, you will need reference at some point. They are kind of hidden in these pictures, but they are along the walls on my window area.  I also include artbooks in here - my own collection has “art of” movie books, artbooks from manga artists in both Japanese and English, and books I buy from other artists at conventions.  Also, Magic the Gathering cards.
6. A bag large enough to carry your supplies in. While teaching, it was amazing how many times I saw students shove an 11x17 piece of art into a tiny bag, wrinkling and tearing the piece up.  While I don’t believe that every piece of art one makes is precious, its good to keep your work in a presentable fashion.  A bag big enough to carry your work and your materials, plus containers that won’t spill (especially important for ink and liquid media) are 100% necessary if you plan on working anywhere besides your secret art lair.

What you can’t see from these photos is that they are back to back with each other - all I have to do is turn around from my computer to grab most of my art supplies, or walk a few steps from my drafting table to my computer to turn on some music. 

Who are your biggest inspirations, artwise?  Process wise?

I'd say too many to list, but some of my favorites: Sean Gordon Murphy, Eiichiro Oda, Ron Mazellan . . . plus almost everyone I follow on tumblr and DA. 

What's your favorite medium for art creation?  What about comics?

Three years ago I would have said markers, colored pencils,and Corel Painter, hands down.  Since then, I've probably changed over to watercolors and Photoshop – watercolors because they go pretty far, but I didn't know how to use them well until recently, and Photoshop for pretty much the same reason.  I still like markers and colored pencils, but watercolors are easier to carry around, and I've learned a lot of tricks in Photoshop to make things go a lot faster.

Which medium do you find the most challenging?

Hands down, acrylics and oils.  I have a tough time with paints, and part ofit is that I was never taught how to use them – mostly, I have just been given them with a “go forth and paint, we don't want to ruin your creativity by showing you HOW to paint!”  Watercolors used to fall into the same category, but I've had some tutelage in them since then, from both professors and other artists.

That being said, I don't even touch chalks or oil pastels.  I can't stand grainy gritty mediums.  Its a texture/sound thing.

How do you overcome artblock?

Jobs that pay.  Seriously, though, everyone talks about inspiration and muses and creative block as if you can’t tell an artist what to do, they’ll draw what they want.  Which is true to some extent, but having to pay bills with one’s art also goes a long way.  If my only job was to sit down and do illustrations that I wanted to do, I would encounter days that I didn’t have anything creative to draw, and as such, I wouldn’t be getting paid. 

At the same time, art IS a form of expression, and drawing what we want to draw is important.  I consume all kinds of entertainment - music,art, video games, books, comics, movies, television - and I pay attention to the world around me.  Sometimes inspiration comes from weird places, such as conversations overheard while I’m out and about, or an object I see at a store (craft stores are great for little trinkets that inspire art), or a phrase in a book or movie, or even just a color.  I also look at artists I really like - both older and more classical artists and new artists alike, and in many fields, not just illustration or comics.     

Music is another huge form of inspiration for me, and I think many artists feel the same way (its one of the reasons we tend to get so picky about music). Someone will probably come out and say someday that creative types tend to have mental “issues” such as synesthesia which help us connect music and artand creativity and all that good stuff, but until then we’ll just call it inspiration.

Would you mind showing us the process of a comic page, from concept to finish?

Phew.  I'd love to,but its gonna take some digging.  I post thumbnails and roughs on my own blog,   I can answer this question in more detail later.


Are there any other sites of yours we should visit?

My tumblr is my most updated site, though sometimes I post random stuff besides art on it
My deviantart is generally for my finished art
I'm really bad about updating my blog and twitter, but here they are

Do you have any last words for the readers of this blog?

Becca is the most amazing of all of the friends.  By far. 

And for those of you who've stuck around to the very end, a treat.  Heidi's posted a sample tutorial for her watercolor process!

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