Katie O'Neill

Where did you grow up and when did you decide to become an artist?
I grew up in a small city in New Zealand, which meant that the internet had a huge influence on my development as an artist. It’s difficult to say when I decided to become an artist - for me, drawing and creating has been a constant through my life regardless of whatever else I was doing such as work or school. That’s still my attitude about it now - to me you are still an artist even if you don’t dedicate your life 100% to it. Whether you spend your Saturday painting watercolours or hammer out some comic pages for a few hours after work or do a full time studio job. I think for most people they don’t decide to become artists, they just make art while making life work - I’m very fortunate to have met with opportunities that allow me to sustain myself through art as well.

Did you have a favourite subject to draw when you were a child and do you still have one today? If you do, what makes it so special?
I’ve always liked drawing creatures, which is still a pretty big theme in my work now. As a kid I loved Pokemon and virtual pet websites, I loved making characters that lived within a world and had distinctive designs, personality and societies. I was attracted to the huge array of visuals possible with creature design. This background has proven very handy when designing creatures for children’s media such as the Tea Dragons. It’s still something that has a very strong place in my heart, and now I find it even more interesting to try and come up with good shapes, interesting combinations of features, and body language while capturing the qualities that I loved as a child.

From the initial client idea to the final work: what goes through your mind when you are designing and what is the method you use when starting a project? Could you describe it?
To me, getting the feeling of a project right is the most important first step. In comics in particular I think it’s essential to decide on the project’s voice early on, because it’s such a long-term project that in many cases you will be working on for over a year. If you aren’t sure of the style and feeling at the start, it can get muddled over time. Of course you’ll develop and learn more about the characters you’re drawing the more you draw them, but it’s good to get them as definite as possible from the beginning. Webcomics are more flexible of course, but in print media I like for the product to look consistent all the way through. I like to spend a bit of time going through media that seems to fit the voice I’m after - but not to the point where that’s all I have in my head. I try to make sure I understand the client’s intentions as clearly as possible. A lot of friction happens when there’s misunderstanding between client and artist. Finding out the target demographic, as well as influences that the client has in mind that they may not have communicated in the brief, can be extremely helpful in coming to the right approach. When developing for comics, you definitely need to brainstorm with actions and sketches, so if I can get hold of the script before the visual development actually starts, that’s what I like to brainstorm from. Taking lines, scenes and panels from the script gives you a good working model to experiment with different designs. 

What is your process in colouring your art and what type of tools and media do you use?
Up until recently I was using a Wacom Cintiq 13” HD to create my art, and while it was extremely efficient and made inking a breeze, it was also completely ruining my posture! There are ways to set it up correctly, but I’m so tall that I always felt hunched over, and it was creating a negative association with drawing. So I’ve recently gone back to the trusty standby, the Intuos tablet. It’s been a massive de-learning curve, but with a separate monitor I can finally have correct posture. Even though it’s challenging to draw with, I feel much lighter and healthier when I sit down to draw. In terms of programs and process, I use Clip Studio Paint pretty exclusively. I sketch with a tiny brush with very little size variance, set the sketch layer to black lines/15% opacity or so, and then just start drawing shapes underneath. I think the closest description of my colouring style is a “freehand vector” - I use the layer organisation and shapes that you would use as a vector artist, I just draw everything by hand. Once the main shapes and colours are down, I’ll usually start texturing if I haven’t already - I try to stay pretty methodical and name all of my layers. If you use Clip Studio Paint, I highly recommend spending an afternoon and trawling the internet for good brushes for it. It can take a while to find ones that suit you, but it’s totally revolutionised the program for me. 

What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
The project I’m probably most known for is Princess Princess, which started out as a webcomic and was picked up by Oni Press to become a book under the title Princess Princess Ever After. It’ll be in comic book stores from September this year. This was my first attempt at a longer, singular narrative and I’m really proud of the result, and so excited that it’s found its way to print! I think eventually I’d like to work on a full graphic novel, but my upcoming project is a graphic novel for children and involves the Tea Dragons designs I’ve been working on for a year or so. It has a similar audience to Princess Princess, and I’m excited to throw my all into the artwork!

Working for a company or freelancing: what suits you best? And why?
A bit of both, depending on the project. I like stability and schedule - I’m definitely not someone who is stifled by a set routine. But I also find freelance projects fun and challenging, and I like getting to work with a variety of people and briefs. Because I write and draw my own stories, I definitely need time to work independently, but I feel like I produce much better work for myself when I also have a stable income and routine to depend on. For me, working part time at a studio and the rest on freelance/personal projects would be ideal.

Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, there are lots of choices. When you’re young, sometimes you know only one thing: you love to draw. What should a young artist take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path?
That there is no single right decision - I have friends who started out studying animation and ended up using it solely to draw comics, or who started making comics but realised the workflow didn’t suit them and focused more on illustration instead. I also have many friends who didn’t study anything at all - they just drew whatever came naturally to them and developed that. Life is long, and art is exciting! There are so many different mediums and media to experiment with, and to me it seems inevitable that you will understand yourself better over time. The only way to truly know what you want to do is to choose a path, give it your best, and be honest when asking yourself if it’s making you happy. Pretty much every skill you learn when studying art is transferrable to another aspect of it, and things you might think are totally unrelated might actually give you a competitive edge in a job.

What’s your point of view about the industry today: what are the expectation for someone who wants to make a living with an artistic career?
In some ways it’s easier than ever to make a living from your art. With Patreon and Kickstarter, the opportunities for monetising your projects online are better than they’ve ever been. That said, there’s still a huge expectation that being a working artist is some kind of blessing or privilege, as opposed to a highly skilled job requiring extensive training that deserves to be paid fairly. Fighting against this expectation can be difficult. It’s expected that you’ll “pay your dues” by working jobs for little or no pay until you get a fair wage, which is not guaranteed. It’s a pretty rough system and difficult to go against the grain when there are so many artists online now producing amazing work and a slim number of jobs - which some companies use as an excuse not to pay a fair rate. My advice for young artists is to not avoid “work for exposure” deals at all cost, but not to jump at every opportunity and always make sure you are honing a skill, gaining professional experience and a strong portfolio piece from the deal. Know your worth and when you do get a great opportunity for paid work, knock it out of the park. I would also advise trying to get a foothold making money from your own projects as soon as possible, as these can provide great returns that belong entirely to you.

Finally, Where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
My Twitter ( twitter.com/strangelykatie ) is the most active social media I use! I also have a website where you can read my comics and view my work ( strangelykatie.com ) and a Patreon ( patreon.com/strangelykatie ) where I post monthly sketchbooks and phone wallpapers!

Thank you Katie :)