AJ: Narrative and character based. Even if it’s just a person on a white background, I’m always thinking about story, and so story tends to manifest itself in the gesture, in the expression, in how two characters are interacting, or even in something tiny like a detail in the clothing. I get very attached to who these characters are, and so I try to find ways to incorporate personal, specific touches whenever I can—little things that make you believe this character might have a life outside of being in my drawing, y’know?
CH.89: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
AJ: Being named after a Disney princess, it was sort of like a weird, prophetic destiny that I’d wind up loving cartoons and musical theatre. I had these very formative experiences, growing up, being really obsessed with singing the Pocahontas soundtrack in the car, which eventually evolved into singing Wicked in the shower. So, from the start I had this taste for broad character acting, and making these huge, grandstanding gestures. The thing about musicals is that you really only have your characters sing when they’re feeling so much emotion that they can’t do anything else but take this larger-than-life approach and belt their face off. In college, this all somehow translated to me emphasizing swoopy lines, gesture, and body language in my visual work.
CH.89: Can you talk a little bit about what your creative thought process is like when starting a new project/ piece of artwork?
AJ: When I sit down to do a more finished illustration, I think, “What’s happening? What needs to be shown?” There’s a lot of rough comp-ing involved, and taking the lasso tool and moving stuff around. Just trying to figure out the best way to illustrate the moment I’m focusing on, how to make the audience look where I want them to look.
With comic projects, I never do anything without planning out at least the rough beats of the story arc first. It’s actually ridiculous how much time I spend staring at Microsoft Word documents, slamming my head against my desk, in an eternal cycle of “copy-‘this scene might work better if it were over here’-move-paste.”
So basically my thought process can be summed up as: “think about what you wanna do, make an enormous mess, and then move it around until you’ve got something.” There’s a lot of forethought, but there’s also a lot of trial-and-error.
CH.89: Is there anything in particular that you would want people to take from your artwork?
AJ: That they’ve been thoroughly and successfully emotionally manipulated by my design choices, while I sit in my lair laughing maniacally whilst stroking a giant white Persian cat.
No, but really, if they at least went, “Aw” or chuckled a little or had some kind of emotional reaction, that’s enough for me.
CH.89: Can you talk a little bit about your lifestyle as an artist and what that is like?
AJ: Right now, it’s basically been “get up and then draw.” But I also feel like it’s important to expose yourself to as much experience and other forms of artwork as you can. Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If I feel like all my work has been looking…same-y, unspecific, or like iterations of the same drawing over and over, I try to step away from it and look at something else, do something else. Watch a movie or get out of the house or something.
CH.89: When starting out an artistic task, do you think it is better to have a particular direction/set plan guiding your way? Or, is it better to act on impulse and go from there?
AJ: You need both. Too much planning results in a mechanical, predictable piece. It’s boring. Believe me, I am incredibly guilty of this. At the same time, too much impulse can wind up too random and chaotic. But see, impulse is what your sketchbook is for—just drawing whatever, whenever you feel like, even if it’s silly. The thing is no one’s gonna be looking in your sketchbook so you’re allowed to be bad and you’re allowed to experiment. Then you can take what you learn from those experiments and then incorporate it into your more “finished” pieces.
CH.89: What is one major lesson you’ve learned as an artist thus far?
AJ: Speaking of allowing yourself to be bad, it’s taken me a long time to realize that the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect and art is a process. It seems so obvious, but it’s something I still struggle with, and it’s true: You only learn by actually doing. You can read all the tutorials in the world, but it’s not gonna mean a thing until you put the pencil to paper.
CH.89: Do you regard personal style & taste to be of highest importance?
AJ: Sure, and if that means drawing every single one of my characters in peter pan collars and high waisted shorts, then so be it. Personal style adds specificity. Art is pretty much about taking your view of the world and putting it on the page. If you have no view—even if that view is just “STUFF I THINK IS CUTE” or “REALLY GOOD FOOD” or “MY REACTION TO THE LATEST MARVEL MOVIE”—then what are you drawing? Even the little inconsequential stuff you like is valid as subject matter. You’re allowed to draw it.
CH.89: What do you consider to be the hardest thing about being an artist?
AJ: The fact that it’s never a simple uphill climb. It’s a really unpredictable course. I could be feeling really good about my work one day, have good career prospects and everything, and then the next day I could have a huge setback. It’s that one step forward, two step back effect. It’s hard, but you do it anyway.
CH.89: What is one thing you love about being an artist?
AJ: That I get to make stuff, and that it makes people happy, including myself.
CH.89: Is there anyone in particular, any artist’s that inspire you in any way?
AJ: My formative inspirations are Rumiko Takahashi the artist of the manga Ranma ½, Glen Keane the lead animator on Ariel from The Little Mermaid, Clio Chiang the feature animation storyboard artist, and Heather Campbell the contract artist for Valve who used to draw a lot of Harry Potter fanart back in the day. All of them have inspired me in ways I can never thank them enough for.
Right now, I’m also trying to get better acquainted with some of the figurative masters. J.C. Leyendecker for one. I speak a lot about big sweeping gestures, but I’m in this place right now where I’m really appreciating and exploring more subtle indications of body language and character. I’m also looking at a lot of superhero comic artist work, and the way they’re forming their compositions with black and white. It’s beautiful stuff.
CH.89: What do you think of technology in terms of being a useful tool for artists today?
AJ: Though I’m primarily a digital artist, the most useful thing that technology has given me is the ability to befriend so many different artists from around the world. I’ve met some awesome people from just posting my work and then stumbling on other artist’s work. I’m big on organizing collaborative illustration zine projects, and there’s absolutely no way I’d be able to collect such talented pools of artist friends without social media.
CH.89: Do you think being an artist allows you to view the world differently from those who don’t follow creative paths?
AJ: Maybe, in the fact that when I see something cool in everyday life my first reaction is, “I wanna draw that.” Makes it kind of awkward when that cool thing is a person, and they see you drawing them, get creeped out, and walk away.
CH.89: Do you enjoy traveling? If so, do you have a favorite city?
AJ: I wish. I’m lucky in that I spend so much of my time in NYC, which is culturally rich anyway (plus I’m a sucker for a good Broadway show), but the older I get the more aware I become of how little of the world I’ve actually seen. Hopefully one day!
CH.89: Do you have a favorite author or book?
AJ: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. It encapsulates everything I love about children’s fantasy—humor, heart, and applicable meaning to real human struggles.
CH.89: Any future goals or plans for your artwork?
AJ: I came out of college last May a different person than I was when I entered. My goals have shifted a lot, but ultimately I just want to tell stories. Comics seem to be the right vehicle for me to explore, but I’m also very interested in storyboarding for animation.
CH.89: What does being an artist mean to you?
AJ: It means I get to draw cool things (and some not-so-cool things) and that other people, besides myself, get to see all the little silly ideas I think about all the time.
CH.89: Any last words on the aesthetic of your artwork?
AJ: Sometimes I’ll stumble across random people on the internet saying things like, “THE HAIR’S TOO BIG!!!” and “THE ARMS ARE TOO LONG” and y’know what? It used to freak me out. The fact that people would be speaking of my work, without necessarily speaking to me.
And then I realized that that’s just a thing that’s going to happen. When you put your work out there, you can’t control how people react to it, and that’s okay. And maybe you can take some of those notes in mind, think about it for next time, but the thing about aesthetic is that not everybody is going to like the same thing. You learn to filter out comments you respectfully disagree with, and you stand behind your aesthetic choices.
So, my aesthetic is big hair and long arms and cute outfits and minor story details, and I think that’s pretty cool.
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