Celandine: I was hoping to do this in a slightly different way to usual interviews, to have it like a frank chat about art between two artists rather than just straight question-answer. I’m so happy to have you as my first art chat buddy! 🙂
Tiffany Ambrose: That works for me.
Celandine: So, how did you first get into the whole online art community scene? Did you start with Threadless, or elsewhere?
Tiffany Ambrose: I started over ten years ago on the Drowtales oekaki board. I don’t remember how I found it, but it was a really fun way to learn and to share art.
Celandine: Was it just for fun, or was there a commercial aspect to it? I’m wondering because I started with Threadless and I don’t think I would ever have fallen as deep down the rabbit hole as I did if it hadn’t been for the magical prize.
Tiffany Ambrose: Just for fun mostly. I think that’s why I have a hard time approaching art as a commercial endeavour, I’ve always done it for myself and for fun. Even on Threadless I draw what I want and hope people like it too.
It’s pretty hit or miss.
Celandine: Heh, I tend to do the same thing. There’s some part of me that just can’t bear to brainstorm on what pun or popular character mashup might be a hit with the audience. Although I have a great amount of admiration for people who have good instincts for this.
Does it surprise you which pieces do well and which don’t? It always feels so arbitrary to me, I’ve had surprises in both directions and it’s possibly part of the reason why I gave up on even trying to guess what people like.
Tiffany Ambrose: Usually, yes. Things that I think are crap, people love. But once in a while, you scribble something down and you know you’ve nailed it. That’s how I felt with my Cheeseburger Spaceships print on Threadless. I doodled it and was like bam, I got this.
Celandine: Haha, that one just had ‘WIN’ written all over it. Pew pew!! …Yeah, sometimes you just know.
Tiffany Ambrose: But that is very rare for me.
Celandine: I think it’s rare for 99% of us. They do say that artistic success depends on tenacity and perseverance more than on what you actually draw – that as long as you keep at it for long enough you will inevitably find your audience. Do you believe this? Looking at the general art scene I’m starting to feel there’s something to it.
Tiffany Ambrose: I really do think so. Consistency is really important too, I think. But if you keep doing what you do, do it well and do it often, you’re bound to attract people that like your work. People ask artists how to succeed at art, and it’s really just perseverance and the ability to reflect on your work.
Celandine: Yeah, the reflection part is really important. Like letting go of things that didn’t work, no matter how much you personally liked them. It’s definitely more legwork than I imagined. I always had this idea that you had talent and then bam – you were an artist. It’s more like you try and fail and try and fail and eventually you notice that every time you’re failing a little less. But it’s all a long process of failing up, so to speak. Definitely builds character.
So you’ve started the awesome webcomic Puppy Scouts recently, how’s that going so far? Is it what you expected?
Tiffany Ambrose: It’s only 15 pages or so and I can already see that I’m improving. I update it whenever I get time to since it’s more of a personal exercise to learn the ropes of comics. It’s really fun! And forces me to draw backgrounds, which I need to do more of.
Celandine: It’s looking absolutely amazing so far, can’t wait to see where it goes. One thing that fascinates me when reading long-standing webcomics is how radically the artist’s style always changes and improves from beginning to end. Do you know where the story is going, or are you going to be surprised along with the rest of us at how it turns out?
Tiffany Ambrose: I have a general idea, but specific events will be played out from page to page. At first I had no clue, but I’ve done some brainstorming with my husband since I started it and if I do get that far it’s going to be crazy and really fun. I hope I do!
Celandine: What’s the hardest thing about making it?
Tiffany Ambrose: Imagining a scene in your head and then trying to make the most out of the page and the panels. Like right now, this blob thing is attacking the pups, and I’ve been knocking different ideas around in my head on how to go about that. I like to look at other comics to get ideas, because it can be tough. And I want to get progressively better as I go.
Celandine: I think you practically can’t avoid it. Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona is drawing to a close now and I just recently looked back to the start and it’s such a stark difference. You don’t feel it as you’re reading because it’s a slow and steady progression but you go back to the first page and you’re like WOAH!
Tiffany Ambrose: Agreed, Penny Arcade is another one of my favorite examples of that. It’s a huge difference.
Celandine: I was just thinking about them, the art style transformed completely. I think it’s natural, if you keep drawing the same thing it’s bound to look better and better. Makes me think I should sketch more.
Who are your favorite webcomic writers? Is there anyone who sparked that ‘Wow, I wanna do this too!’ feeling that got you into it?
Tiffany Ambrose: Oh, gosh. There are so many! One of my favorites is Hamlet Machine, who does Starfighter (NSFW), which is an 18+ yaoi comic. He’s some mind bogglingly talented and makes it look effortless. And I read lots of print comics too, like Adventure Time, MLP, Runaways, etc. Too much, actually. I’m way behind.
Celandine: haha, I’ve found that I was a much better consumer of content before I started creating it. Drawing takes up so much of my time, all my tv shows and books and comics and movies and things have sort of gone bye-bye.
Celandine: I have been glued to Nimona recently, and the miniforms like XKCD.
Tiffany Ambrose: I love Nimona too, though it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve read it. I love Noelle’s style and you really root for her characters, which shows that she’s written them well.
Celandine: We were just talking about it in the Disqus thread under the last panel, somehow you root even for the bad guys. Every character has a really strong and clear motivation and a spirit you’ve got to admire on some level.
In a way it’s amazing what the internet has done for the democratization of art – anyone can start a webcomic or any other artform and over time work up a large following and share it with the world. These are all things we never would have seen a decade or so ago. Do you think this has made it easier to be an artist, or harder? I mean, the competition is kinda nuts 🙂
Tiffany Ambrose: It’s made it easier to get your work out there, but it’s getting it noticed that’s the hardest part. So it’s a real struggle to find an audience, for me anways. I just hope that if I keep doing what I do, people will keep noticing.
Celandine: Someone once said ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint’, and I’ve been trying to live by that. I think it’s probably the greatest misconception young artists have – how long it really takes to ‘make it’. Whatever that means. Do you have some personal definition of ‘making it’? Like, a goal that, once you reach it, will signify you’re on top of the hill?
Tiffany Ambrose: ‘Making it’ for me would be being able to make the things that I love full time. But part of me feels like that will never happen (I’m a bit of a pessimist), so I don’t hold myself to too high of standards. I really just want to have fun making things, which I do.
Celandine: Yeah, same for me I guess. Some part of me feels that I can’t really identify myself as an artist until I’m making a living off of it. Do you think it’s achievable in general? Like, if a young person came to you for advice and said ‘I want to become a full-time illustrator’, would you be like ‘Go for it, kid!!’ or ‘Uhh maybe keep it as a hobby and get a job to pay the rent.’?
Tiffany Ambrose: If somebody has the time and ability to put everything they have into art, I would say go for it! If you don’t want to worry financially, I’d say get maybe get a day job, then do art on the side and build it up. As an outsider looking in, living off of art seems scarily uncertain. I’m sure it’s not so bad once you’re in it, though. Or maybe it is! I have no clue.
Celandine: I’m getting the feeling that a small number of people can really rely on it for a comfortable life with no worries. You have to really hit the zeitgeist. (Here I mean primarily people trying to work full time as illustrators and pattern designers in the online art community – PoD sites, crowdsourcing companies etc).
Also I always wonder about how much of your personal style and preference do you have to give up on in order to become more commercially viable. I guess that’s the real holy grail, finding a way to marry those two and managing to sell things you love making.
Tiffany Ambrose: There are artists that have unconventional styles that really inspire me to just keep doing my thing, like Gary Baseman and John Burgerman. They’re happy, doing their own thing and making a living off of it.
So it is possible 🙂
Celandine: I have to go google those people now to get inspired 🙂 It’s definitely possible, it comes down to the perseverance we spoke about before.
Thanks so much for the chat, I’ve really enjoyed it! Any last words of wisdom or inspiration for young designers out there? Or me?
Tiffany Ambrose: Keep making things! 😀 And no excuses.
Celandine: That’s the best mantra!! Saw a nice version of it the other day – ‘Draw something today, even if it’s shitty.’
Tiffany Ambrose: Yep! And one that I keep close by is “Ideas aren’t worth anything in your head. You have to get them out to see what they can do.” Really motivating.
Look out for more art chats in the future. Let me know if you know an artist you’d like me to try and chat with!