Welcome to the Women in Fantasy Illustration interview series. I am interviewing a selection of women who work in the Fantasy Illustration Industry. You will find the links to more interviews at the bottom of the page.
Today’s interview is with illustrator and concept artist Carmen Sinek. Carmen speaks honestly of some rarely mentioned struggles and also shares some really good advice with us. I hope you will enjoy this interview!
1. Please give a brief introduction of yourself, your career and your work
My name is Carmen Sinek, and I’m a freelance illustrator/concept artist currently living in Mesa, Arizona.
My career has taken some unexpected turns, from a studio concept job back to freelancing. It has been a process of discovering what I really love about making art, and then adjusting my career goals. There are times when you will get the job you want, just to find out it doesn’t actually make you happy. And if that happens, its time to change course.
There are times when you will get the job you want, just to find out it doesn't actually make you happy. And if that happens, its time to change course.
My work… well, I’m still largely figuring that one out. While I have been mostly digital up until now, I’ve been exploring traditional mediums again and working on getting a more traditional look to my digital stuff. Digital painting comes with unique challenges, among which are overcoming that smooth, plastic look and finding your own voice.
Digital painting comes with unique challenges, among which are overcoming that smooth, plastic look and finding your own voice.
2. When did realize you wanted to make a career out of illustrating?
Four years of college, a useless bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry, and $27,000 in student loan debt later than I wish I had.
Before moving to San Francisco and study at the Safehouse Atelier, I worked in a couple of medical laboratories. And while I have always loved science and found the work itself interesting, the laboratory environment wasn’t for me. I curse way too much and make too many penis jokes to succeed in that field.
Art and games were my only other significant interests, so that seemed like the logical way to go. Thankfully, the gaming industry seems to be mostly okay with all of the jokes about my coworkers’ moms that went unappreciated in a hospital setting.
3. What difficulties have you faced in transitioning into becoming a professional artist?
Jealousy – Nobody talks about this one for some reason, but it can cripple an artist. You will probably get jealous sometimes. When your friends get those killer jobs or their careers take off in spectacular ways, you may feel left behind. You will struggle with beating yourself up because you aren’t “there” yet, and you’ll wonder if you’ll ever get there at all. It’s a shitty feeling. But as you learn to focus on your own work and progress, and not get caught up in the constant stream of other artists sharing new achievements on Facebook or Twitter, you will leave those negative feelings behind.
Jealousy – Nobody talks about this one for some reason, but it can cripple an artist. You will probably get jealous sometimes. When your friends get those killer jobs or their careers take off in spectacular ways, you may feel left behind.
Confidence – Karla described this one pretty accurately in her interview. Unlike jealousy, this one will probably never go away. There will always be moments when you struggle with your abilities as an artist. Having faith in your work before there are jobs and fans and Facebook likes to support it can be hard, but it’s essential. The more you distance yourself from everything that happens after you finish an image and focus on the process of creating it (even if it only gets five likes, or none at all), the happier you will be, and your work will show it.
4. What do you like the most about illustrating?
First, the challenge and the endless sense of opportunity. There is no limit to what you can do, and the progress of an artist is unpredictable. I’ve often been told that you don’t find your style, it finds you. It also changes over time, and it’s impossible to know what you might be painting in two years. Or five. Or ten. You’ll never run out of things to learn or new directions to take.
I've often been told that you don't find your style, it finds you. It also changes over time, and it's impossible to know what you might be painting in two years.
Second, the people. The illustration community has the kindest, warmest community of people I have ever met. Even though we’re all competing for the same jobs, artists take the time to help one another at every stage of their development.
5. What do you like the least about it?
Flipping my canvas horizontally after four hours and realizing that the faces on my characters are lopsided.
6. Please tell a little about your process and your choice of medium.
I am shamelessly digital. Early on, my process was complete chaos.
Draw one sketch -> start painting way too early -> detail pass -> paint face for four hours -> turn face layer off and realize it was better four hours ago -> paint same face for another hour -> realize the drawing was wrong -> spend an hour on Google Images searching for face in the exact angle I need -> find one with the wrong lighting -> try to make up lighting -> fail -> cry a little bit -> surf CGhub for two hours trying to make myself feel better -> feel worse -> finally fix the face -> accidentally flatten image and save over PSD file -> cry some more -> change color scheme -> think about how rest of drawing was rushed -> cover everything in details to make up for poor drawing -> change color scheme again -> lament not doing proper color studies -> force self to finish painting.
Eventually, I started listening to the artists around me and tried to follow a consistent process for my professional work. Now, it is more like:
Thumbnails -> Develop detail sketches -> Gather Reference ->Final Drawing -> Is the drawing right? ->No, seriously. Is the drawing right? -> Color Studies -> Final Painting.
Thumbnails -> Develop detail sketches -> Gather Reference -> Final Drawing -> Is the drawing right? -> No, seriously. Is the drawing right? -> Color Studies -> Final Painting.
7. You have recently become a mother (Congratulations!) How is balancing new motherhood with a freelance career?
Thank you! It’s a challenge. I am fortunate to have a husband who helps me out a lot, which makes a big difference. I am only working part-time, but once the baby was home, I had to learn to be more efficient. Do more with less in a painting. Don’t get engaged for an hour on Facebook arguing about Monsanto and looking at pictures of my fellow artists’ cats. Every brushstroke becomes more important, because the poopdragon could wake up at any moment and set fire to all of my deadlines.
You don’t get a lot of sleep, but having a kid is an amazing experience so far. You get to watch another person discover the world for the very first time, and see the sense of wonder they have in it. As an artist, that’s incredibly inspiring.
You get to watch another person discover the world for the very first time, and see the sense of wonder they have in it. As an artist, that's incredibly inspiring.
8. You do both concept art and illustration? What would you say in the main difference in how you approach the two and which is your favourite?
Illustration is my favorite, hands down, but my time as a concept artist was still enjoyable and educational. I opt for illustration only because it gives me time to really get into a painting, whereas concept art was very fast-paced and focused on utility. There is a lot of crossover between them, but the biggest difference for me is in the details. In an illustration, I have a lot more tools to help tell the story. In character concept, the story is told in the details of the character; their clothes, posture, and facial expressions. It’s a different kind of storytelling.
9. What is the best advice you have ever received regarding your artwork and career?
There are two. The first, from Mathias Verhasselt, being to focus on your art and trust that the rest will fall into place. Networking helps, but many artists are not particularly social. Where your meet-and-greet skills might find closed doors, your work can open them if it’s good enough.
The second, from James Kei, is that persistence is key. You will get told no. You will hit obstacles. And that’s going to suck. You’re going to beat yourself up about it, think you’re a shitty artist, and that’s okay… but only if you get back up and keep moving forward.
You will get told no. You will hit obstacles. And that's going to suck. You're going to beat yourself up about it, think you're a shitty artist, and that's okay... but only if you get back up and keep moving forward.
10. What are your hopes for the future of your career?
I want to do pretty much everything. Books, comic covers, advertising. I have a “hit list” of companies I want to work for, but I’m also excited to see what opportunities come up.