Welcome to the Women in Fantasy Illustration interview series. I am interviewing prominent women who work in the Fantasy Illustration Industry. You will find the links to more interviews at the bottom of the page.
This week’s interview is with none other than Priscilla Kim, who creates stunning illustrations featuring strong characters in masterful palette of colors.
1. Please give a brief introduction of yourself, your career and your work.
I started working in the entertainment industry as an associate producer at CCP, but after several years of that realized that I wanted to create things myself, not help others create (as necessary as that position is). As an illustrator, I’m drawn to portraits and women, particularly heroic women, and strive to incorporate a narrative or a history into each image, or at least to imbue each image with emotion and mood. Right now I work during the day as an artist and animator on slot machines, and freelance at night for various RPGs, publishing companies and private commissioners.
2. When did realize you wanted to make a career out of illustrating?
I’d been drawing regularly since I was about thirteen (thanks to an urge to depict my roleplaying characters), but I’d waffled about actually pursuing art as a career for almost ten years, due to fears to whether I would actually like doing it full time, if I had the chops, et cetera ad nauseum. It was only in about 2012, 2013 that the waffling slowly coalesced into a certainty that I did want make something I could point to and say, “I did that.” I started taking the first concrete steps toward that in 2013, via taking SmART School courses and getting serious about regularly doing studies and producing work.
3. What difficulties have you faced in transitioning into becoming a professional illustrator?
Mostly internal ones, honestly! My biggest problems are motivation, procrastination and the regular cycle of getting down about the state of my work. Otherwise, I’ve actually been incredibly lucky in that regard – I’ve mostly received a lot of support and lucky breaks. I was forced to take the plunge when I got laid off by my last full-time job, but I’d already been encouraged to take courses and attend figure drawing to level up my skills there. Through various friends and connections I was able to find a temporary position at an animation studio, then got hired by my current job, which has been great for continuing to improve while receiving a steady paycheck and being able to attend various conventions and workshops. I haven’t yet had to tackle the trial of full-time freelancing, so I’m sure the greatest humps are in the future.
4. What do you like the most about illustrating?
That warm glow of finishing a piece is the best feeling.
5. What do you like the least about it?
That misery when you look at it a few days later and realize it actually sucks is the worst feeling. 😉 (Of course, the truth lies somewhere in between, as it usually does.)
A little more seriously, the never-ending goalpost-shifting gets a bit hard sometimes. Depending on what point in the regular cycle of getting down about my work I’m in, I’m either at, “Yeah, okay, that turned out nice, I like it. –but there’s something missing, I can just feel it,” or at, “Fuck, I suck, why am I even trying?” I am never truly content with my own work, because even as I get better, my aspirations get higher. Sometimes I get unreasonably frustrated that I am not as good as I want to be already, or not as good in a specific way, or or or – well, you get the idea.
6. You recently attended the Illustration Master Class, can you tell us a little about the experience?
It was a great experience! I think a lot of the reason I’ve drifted toward SciFi and fantasy illustration specifically, as opposed to concept art or anime conventions or other things that lend itself to SciFi/Fantasy subject matter, is because the community is so awesome. I’ve realized that I take a lot of inspiration and motivation from the people around me, and being surrounded by other artists who are just as serious and just as interested in art, while also being universally encouraging and welcoming, is the best environment to make me want to create even more art. Having that community and those discussions, along with a number of amazing instructors who can guide me along the path, made IMC an unforgettable experience that I’d love to repeat.
I also got to speak about my experience at IMC on a One Fantastic Week episode, alongside Tawny Fritz and Marc Scheff, for a more in-depth explanation.
7. How do you go about selecting your subject matter for personal work? What do you tend to gravitate towards?
I tend to gravitate toward heroic women in my personal work, oftentimes depicting characters I’m attached to, whether my own or others’. I’ve been tossing around ideas for a post-apocalyptic Arthurian YA saga, so my purely personal pieces, when I can get to it (and am not doing something for one event or another), have been reflecting that. Lately I also really like the juxtaposition of flat, graphic spaces and rendered figures, and try to play with that when I can. But really, mostly, women with big swords.
8. Who are some of your main artistic inspirations and why?
I tend to respond more to specific images than artists, really. I do have a folder of images and artists that are goals, which I update every so often: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/j341xnkqymyekxb/AACeglTJ8N-3TSN5V8o7DXd3a?dl=0 Right now, I’m jonesing on Dave Palumbo (which has been a fair constant for a bit), particularly his composition, color and brushwork; Sam Weber’s concepts, details and color; Ruan Jia’s sort of weird, ethereal colors; and Matt Rhodes’ narrative and design sensibilities (I love his style, too, but it’s not what I’m aiming for, obviously). Tommy Arnold’s dedication to and discussion of art is also always inspiring, particularly the sense of motion endemic in his work. Dan Dos Santos has also been a big influence, in part because taking his SmART School course was one of the first things that really made me feel illustration was an actual possibility for me, pushing me from “talented hobbyist” to “okay, this could be a thing.” His use of color and light still sticks with me a ton, though I’m interested in exploring in a more desaturated direction.
9. What is the best advice you have ever received regarding your artwork and career?
Figure out what you love to do and do a lot of that (and then figure out the target audience for that and aim it there). This is pretty constantly reinforced in most any talk I’ve seen or had. If you don’t know what you love to do, do a lot of different things and take stock of your reactions to those things until you figure it out. It’s okay if it takes a while. Just keep creating.
10. Do you have a philosophy behind your work? If not, then what are some of your goals for the future?
Most of my philosophy boils down to, “Do I like this?” If I can make a piece that looks good and evokes an emotion or a story (and preferably not “laughter” when I’m aiming for “pathos”), I’m fairly satisfied. That said, I’ve noticed I do tend to go for the empowered figure, and shy away from women being either overtly on display or unduly in distress. Perhaps it’s a power fantasy thing for me, being a very tiny woman. 🙂 I have a list of companies that are my high-end goals to work for someday, including book covers and (of course) Magic. I also want to work on some of my own story ideas and see where they go; the ultimate goal is to write a novel and do the cover and illustrations for it, à la Janny Wurts or Todd Lockwood. I actually wanted to be a writer originally, when I was that kid who did nothing but read. It’s hard enough to master one discipline, though, so I’m focusing on art for right now!
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this interview with Priscilla Kim, check out her website and social media for more!
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View all Women in Fantasy Illustration interviews here.