Welcome everyone to the first interview in our new blog series 'Inspiring illustrators'. Every week we will have a new interview with a professional artist working in the ranging field of illustration. I am more than delighted to introduce illustrator Tamara Campeau as our first amazing professional, sharing with us her experience and passion for her craft.
Hello Tamara, welcome to the blog, I am looking forward to what you have to say.
What are some of the biggest challenges you find in being a professional artist?
Hi Cara, thank you for having considered me for this cool project of yours! I’m delighted to contribute.
To answer your first question, I would say first thing that comes to mind, the business side. Something I’m working still to perfect and become well versed in. Other then that, I would say sketching regularly sometimes could become a challenge because life just happens such as house chores, grocery shopping and errands etc.
Your style is a combination of analogue and digital techniques, Can you run us through how you create an artwork from start to finish?
My process starts with a quick thumbnail in my sketchbook, something to get the general gesture and feel of the piece before taking the next step. I then create a cleaner version of my initial gesture, cleaning up the lines and adding detail as well as making more final decisions about the lights and darks of the piece. I will then take this more finished sketch and scan it into my computer to work into the image more on my Cintiq tablet. Sometimes I will work directly from my sketched line work and other times I will draw the line work digitally. I will then proceed to doing gray scale studies to figure out the lighting and contrast of the image. Once satisfied, I then research reference images relevant to the subject matter of my illustration in order to have a more accurate representation. After all these steps are completed I then move on to the final stage that being color application.
The whimsy of your work naturally lend itself to children’s book illustration? Was this always your intention or did you just fall into this category of illustration?
No. When I first studied in illustration at Dawson College in Montreal (2004-2008), I did not know what I wanted to do. The program was pretty vague; they showed us a little bit of everything in the industry of illustration such as technical drawing, 3D modeling, narrative, editorial and many others. By the time I graduated I had an interesting skill set but yet I had no idea what I really wanted to pursue as an illustrator but I definitely knew I wanted to further my education in illustration or fine art. So I ended up taking some time off and traveled a bit. I can’t remember exactly the moment I knew I wanted to be a children book illustrator but I remember looking at books in the children section at the local library in downtown Vancouver, and realized I could do this type of work and it looked really fun to do. From that point on I became obsessed with children books and their illustrators and started researching that industry and working on my skill sets. Before going back to school in 2013, I had tried freelancing a bit as a children book illustrator for about a 1-2 year period while working odd jobs. I finally got my first gig to illustrate a book just a few months before starting university at Sheridan College. During my studies I had freelanced a tiny bit in the summers for small publishing companies and editorial. To conclude, not at first, but eventually children book illustration became my intention.
Your work has a beautiful quality for story telling, how do you convey story in your illustrations? Do you have a system or advice for developing the world in your works?
Once I have an idea in mind and a thumbnail decided on. I will do a lot of research on my subject matter. Research is important because it makes your environment more believable to the viewer. When researching and thinking of the environment the character is living in and what he/she does in its everyday life I think of representational elements that would best describe the characters personality. I’m trying to describe who they are within the world they live in without using words. I leave it to the audience to put the pieces together. If they can, it means I have done my job properly in the end. My job being a visual communicator.
Where is your favorite place for creating?
Um well most of my work is done digitally, and I work on a 27 inch Cintiq, so I can’t really be mobile when I work on a finish piece. However, when working in my sketchbook, I do enjoy (with a nice coffee) drawing in café shops. Other then that, I like to doodle, while watching a movie/show, it’s relaxing and therapeutic for me.
What is some advice you could give to artists starting their education or deciding whether to take part in professional art classes? As you have done several professional courses for illustration, did you find structured learning beneficial to your artistic practice?
I would say it depends on the person’s determination. There are many artists that are self taught and are very successful. But not everybody can do that. In my case, although very determined, structured learning was beneficial for me. But my maturity level also influenced my success as a student. When I first went to college and studied in illustration I was younger, early 20’s, and was not that serious about my education and it showed in my work. Having taken some time off made me realize what I really wanted to do. And that made of me an overall better student and me much more determined and focused when I went back to school. Therefore, I would advise, if you are uncertain about being an illustrator, if you can, wait! Take some time off. And really figure out what you want to study in first. Because once you do, you become that much more committed and focused on your education. Especially if the school your going to is going to be expensive make it worth the buck! For the most part, art schools are quite expensive!
If you had one key piece of advice that you would give an illustrator beginning their professional journey, what might it be?
Persistence. And draw everyday. I know it is a boring and simple answer but it is the truth. Especially drawing. Once your drawing skills get higher in caliber, everything else seems to fall in place to some degree.
What is some of the inspiration behind your work?
I would say Disney movies definitely from the 90’s, such as Pocahontas, The Lion King, Hocus Pocus, Fantasia, Land before Time, A Bugs Life. In literature, Winnie the Pooh, The Bernstein Bears, Little Critter series. Especially Bernstein Bears and Little Critter I remember never really reading the words just holding the books close to my face and looking at all the details the artist would put in the illustrations and being so mesmerized by it. I would find other little stories happening in the backgrounds of the illustration aside from the main event. I love that so much. And when I can, I try to incorporate that concept in my own work.
Do you carry around a sketchbook at all times for those moment when inspiration hits? Also do you prefer to sketch analogue or digitally?
I do carry a tiny sketchbook with me in my bag. That said, for the most part I typically set a place and time for sketching only. I definitely prefer to sketch traditionally then digitally. I work digitally primarily when it is to create and finish an illustration.
Out of your professional and personal works which is your favourite and why?
I like a few of my personal pieces. Two pieces I did recently actually, about autumn. A top view of a girl laying down in a bed of fall leafs and another top view of the same girl looking in a puddle of water. I like them because they are simpler then my typical work. It was a bit of a challenge because I had to holdback sometimes but none the less they were fun to create. Other reason why I enjoy them is the concept behind them and my use of negative space. And lastly, one piece I still enjoy is one I created last year around the holidays for a school related greeting card competition. The theme was holidays. I did a toy storefront view and theirs a mother and her boy and their dog looking through the window on a winter night. I really like this piece because of the narrative, and also I was able to really play with lighting and warm colors versus cool colors.
Did you always intend to be an illustrator, how did you know it was the right career for you? When starting out did you partner your creative work with part-time jobs to help kick start your work financially?
When I first went to college in Montreal, I had applied in a fine arts program and I got rejected. That really hurt at first and I was starting to question my existence! As a result, I went in a general visual arts program. In the first year, I came across these students that were selling artwork in the hallway. Different types of artwork I had never seen before on different surfaces and rendered in different ways. At the time for some reason when I thought of art, I thought it was only drawing and painting. I remember seeing this alligator rendered on a black scratchboard, it was so beautiful. I asked the student selling what is this for?, he replied, ‘oh were selling this work to raise funds for our Illustration grad show ’ I was like what? Illustration what is that?. Anyways I researched the school curriculum about the classes this program offered and was immediately amazed and in love. The following year is when my illustration journey began!
Finally, what is your dream project?
As weird as this sound, I never thought of a dream project. I’m always focused on just being an illustrator and getting work. I guess I should think of that. However, I would like to eventually illustrate a children’s book for Scholastic. Does that count as a dream projectish?
If you would like to know more about Tamara and her beautiful work please head to one of the below links.
Society 6 Shop https://society6.com/tamaracampeauillustration