What do you get when a Greek god gets it on with an ordinary sedan?
Artist Kate Glasheen knows the answer. What might sound like a pornographic knock-knock joke to many became the quirky character of Carmine in her hands, in her recent graphic novel with Tom Pinchuk Hybrid Bastards, which was released this past summer from Archaia.
With an iconoclastic, dazzlingly-colored style, Glasheen is an up-and-comer with an eye for design and a consistent sense of humor. We caught up with Glasheen for the seventh installment of Artist's Alley to talk about her approach, her references, and how education can affect natural experimentation and creativity.
Newsarama: Kate, just to start off with -- how'd you decide that art was what you wanted to do?
Kate Glasheen: I started to draw pretty automatically as child and I never stopped between then and now. It helped that my mother is also an artist-- she probably watched me working with the same satisfaction a football dad watches his son playing pee wee ball. There weren't really any decisions involved with that. There was one moment when things could've gone very differently when I was applying to college. I had loved english in school probably as much as I loved art, so I split my applications down the middle into what type of school I would apply to. I got accepted into both types, so I was making pro and con lists between doing one over the other on a daily basis, I was so torn. Right at the very last minute I chose Advanced Clowning over both of these interests.
Nrama: Were there any creative hurdles that you had to overcome in order to really "get" how to approach illustration? And how did you overcome them?
Glasheen: Oh yeah, it's a long list that probably grows every day as my awareness does, too. It may actually be too long for this interview, since I'm pretty sure I don't have permission to go bible-sized. I think I can sum it up like this: as soon as I went to school for art, it created a pressure for my work that had never previously existed. All of a sudden, there had to be a purpose for these images I was creating. That in itself threw up a serious filter on my creativity. I started making art how I thought it was supposed to be made, rather than continuing with my own experiments. It was a strange mix though, because I also learned so much from school, learning while I was un-learning.
Nrama: Stemming off that last question a bit, you have a very interesting visual style -- can I ask, how'd you decide that this was "the" Kate Glasheen style?
Glasheen: This was also never really decided. What you see my work as is what it has evolved as for the most part. There was no one moment when I was drawing with a more traditional style and it hit me that I needed to be working another way; through all my training, every time I'd do something I'd like, I'd retain a little more, and a little more, until I arrived at what you see today. It's kind of the culmination of my inspirations and endless hours spent drawing and getting familiar with how I prefer to work.
I know my layouts are also viewed as unorthodox. The first teacher I told that I wanted to get into comics replied with,"That's great, but if you're going to do it, do it differently". She was awesome, always pushing boundaries, and basically got fired for making one of her homework assignments to go meaningfully vandalize something. Anyways, what I got from that was to push to make the page visually appealing-- to make it it's own piece of art as much as it is a vehicle for the narrative.
Nrama: Just to get us in the mind of the artist for a minute: What do you think your approach is, as far as attacking a page? Could you walk us through sort of how you move from a blank page to the finished product?
Glasheen: I start with my sketchbook and list the narrative events that need to happen on that page. I'll then sketch around, usually to music or with a movie on in the background so I can kind of space out with it. I'll completely fill up a page and then stop to see what I've got. If I can pull out images that I'm happy with, I redraw them on a clean sheet and start experimenting with placement and flow. If I can't, I keep sketching. Once I get that second phase of images organized in a way that I feel works both as a compelling series of images and as a narrative sequence, then I pencil it out on the large scale and get inking.
Nrama: Getting technical a bit here -- what sorts of tools do you use, as far as your art goes? And what opportunities and/or flexibility do these tools afford you?
Glasheen: This is actually the opposite of technical. I use pencils, pens, erasers, and bristol board. I keep it simple for a few reasons, and pretty much all of them are related to my impulsiveness. If I want to draw, I pick up a pen or pencil and draw. I have no patience for any kind of prep work or mixing. These are also the tools I've spent my whole life using, so I don't have to spend time practicing and practicing just to start making art. It all really comes down to me wanting to jump on the urge when I feel it.
With "Hybrid Bastards!", all the color work is done with acrylic wash, but I don't enjoy coloring half as much as drawing, which is why most of my solo work for exhibitions has grown to be solely ink.
Nrama: A question that I think you might have an interesting take on is the role of the artist as storyteller. What's your two cents on that? How do you try to inject storytelling into your work?
Glasheen: I feel like the best comics find this rare equilibrium between the writing and the visuals. I find it's when they both do the same amount of work to tell their story that they really excel. I wouldn't say I'm there yet, but this is what I'm aiming for with my comic work. There is a mentality that the artist creates pictures for, or to go with, the writer's story. This already sells the book short, because there is so much an artist can add within their own visual vocabulary. While of course there is a certain amount of illustrating the writer's ideas that has to go on (there wouldn't be a book if this didn't happen), there is also so much that can be said with gestures, with physical features, with the images' pacing, with the layout as a whole. I try to be as natural as possible when it comes to the characters and their actions, but I try to put a lot of thought into the more logistical items.
Nrama: As far as designs go -- well, you've had some pretty interesting stuff come out with Hybrid Bastards!, and I know I've seen a few other bits from some other stuff you and Tom Pinchuk are brewing up. How do you approach character designs, as far as making characters and objects seem so distinct?
Glasheen: I approach it as if I was using references from life (even though I usually don't). If you're with a few friends, you could look around and see that every person there has a very unique look when compared to the others. I try to design characters with that in mind. In a lot of anime and some comic styles, there's like this template for men and another for women, where every one of them looks exactly the same except for their outfits and hair. That started driving me crazy when I was younger, so after I did jail time for the rampage it sent me on, I made a little "note to self".
Nrama: Let's talk about color for a minute -- you put out some particularly evocative, bright colors as far as Hybrid Bastards! goes. As a one-woman show for the initial pencils and coloring, what's your philosophy as far as color work goes? How do you feel colors should interact with pencils, and how do you define "good" coloring?
Glasheen: Yeah, for Hybrid Bastards!, the story was this crazy comedy, and I wanted the colors to reflect that. I ended up going for this whacked out circus palette. It felt right for the book, but in general I prefer very minimal palettes. This actually pertains to one of those creative hurdles you were asking me about earlier; for a long time I felt like you had to color things like they looked in life. Unfortunately, life's color scheme can look pretty ugly on paper, so I learned to sacrifice that kind of accuracy for aesthetics any day.
I don't have a definition for good coloring, because I don't think there's any one way to make it and there's a lot of other things to take into account. Certainly for each medium you can use, there will be people with good craft and people with bad craft, but even people with good craft can use an inappropriate technique for the work that's being colored. I prefer light washes if I'm coloring my own drawings because it's so focused on the line-work, that color is more of a vehicle for the line to use. However, there's other styles that can be very dependent on color, and while a wash may not be strong enough for something like that, something out there would compliment it perfectly.
Nrama: Finally, something I should ask -- are there any big lessons that you've seemed to learn (and re-learn) over the course of your artistic career? As someone who is an up-and-coming artist in the comics world, what do you think people should know that they don't?
Glasheen: Excuse me while I scream into a pillow for five minutes. Okay, I'm back. The biggest lesson I have learned to date is to create only for yourself. Though this might sound obvious, actually embracing it is the most important thing any artist can do, and probably also the hardest. Forget commercial success. Be aware that the chance of you making a living off of what you love is a small and shrinking miracle. Be aware that as a freelancer you will often have to decide between your pride and a paycheck, and sometimes you won't get either. Be aware that if you're not doing your work for yourself, than you're robbing yourself of the only thing that is certain, and the one thing that is greatest about dedicating your life to the arts.