Welcome back, art fans! This week’s artist spotlight goes to Birdco, a 35 year old veteran who draws ponies for his daughter! You can find his DA here, his Ask Palette tumblr here, his “You Might Be A Brony” tumblr here, and the interview after the break!– How long have you been into art?
My first foray into art was Photography. I have been into photography for nearly 25 years, and I specialized in landscape and building photography.
My interest in Drawing and comics is much more recent. While I have had an interest in drawing for a long time, I had no training, and I wasn’t very good. This really discouraged me. I introduced my 4 year old daughter to My little Pony in July 2011, and she and I like doodling together. She really liked my Pony drawings and asked for more, which is what got me started.
My interest in comics came from my early, failed attempts at writing starwars fanfiction, but I never had the drawing ability to pull it off. Once I started drawing ponies for my daughter, I quickly started drawing pony comics for myself.
– How did you learn how to create art?
The artistic style I use now was developed purely through trial and error, and a few crucial tips from some people on DeviantART and Ponychan’s /art/ that helped me get past some critical technique hurdles.
I started with sketching screen captures of the show, which had the Ponies in positions that I wanted to draw for my daughter. I made my daughter a drawing a day for several weeks for her to color, and I varied what I drew, making drawings of all the ponies. an example of this phase of my art is here:
Soon after that I discovered Equestria daily’s drawfriend, Deviantart and Ponychan, and I saw all the interesting fan art there, and I wanted to contribute. this is when I started branching out my art some. I experimented with coloring my drawings with MS Paint, which was extremely frustrating, and expanding beyond just drawing what I see in screen captures to add to the drawings. For example:
I think what really got me going in improving my techniques was my comics. they found a much wider audience than my drawings with this one being shown on Equestria Daily. This drawing was my first experiment into Painttool SAI, which someone on ponychan recommended.
Now that I had a tool that I could use easily, and an audience interested in my comics, the rest was just learning to use the program, and refine my drawing techniques. My classroom follies comic series is a timeline of the improvements I have made in technique through experimentation and repetition.
– How did you get into pony art? What inspires you to create it? Tell us the story of how you came to start drawing ponies.
I started into Pony art when I was doodling on a white board with my daughter. She asked me to draw a pony, so drew Pinkie Pie. Her response, “No, I wanted Princess Equestria (Celestia)” and she handed me her pink My little pony Alicorn. So I did this:
I have two inspirations for my art, first my daughter loves sitting with me when I am creating it, and it is an activity we can share (for most of my drawings atleast). Second is the Brony community myself. When you have hundreds of people watching your DA page, and providing feedback on your art, it is a strong motivation to create more, and put your best effort into it.
-Have ponies changed the way you think as an artist (what inspires you about ponies)?
Ponies are the sole reason I draw. They are simple to draw, yet they are amazingly expressive in their range of emotion and expression. Also, Lauren Faust and the crew at Studio B created a beautiful and expansive world for these ponies, and wonderful personalities to explore. Additionally, the sheer amount of creativity in the Brony community has expanded upon what Hasbro has created to flesh out the characters even more
Frequently, when I am trying to create a comic or drawing, I will think up of some random situation to put a pony in, and try to imagine how she (or he) would react. Its a fun exercise
– What made you decide to create comics with continuity, instead of just one shot comics? Why do you like to draw sequenced comics, and what are the benefits of creating them that way?
I have always though myself as a storyteller… a storyteller who can’t write to save his life. So I’ve turned to comics as a way to tell my story.
My story is in the re-occurring themes in my comics. Cheerilee’s frustration in the classroom, Rarity’s interest in “literature” the CMC quest to get their Cutie marks by doing the most dangerous things possible. Once these themes become established in the readership, it can be a big draw for readers to come back. Right now, my big theme is Sweetie Belle’s flammible difficulties with magic. My regular readers know this is a problem for Sweetie Belle, so I can continue the story with another comic without having to explain too much, and focus on the humor.
I find this makes it easier for me to make my comics funny. Also, I’ve found a lot of my viewership are there because of the continuing storylines in my comics. It’s a win-win for me, I like telling stories, and my watchers enjoy it too.
While all my story is told across all my comic series, each of my series was made for a specific purpose. Classroom follies was made for more subtle , verbal humor, with multiple jokes layered into a single comic. Mythbuckers is my visual humor venue. My most recent series, Magic practice, is my main story telling arc where I combine the best qualities of Mythbuckers and Classroom Follies.
– How have ponies effected your life in general? What does drawing ponies give to you as a person?
Ponies, and drawing ponies have really reduced the stress in my life. Friendship is magic has created a palette of characters and situations where I can apply my creative talents. This act of creation gives me an easy way to accomplish something that is appreciated by a lot of people. This has really helped me work out the day to day stresses of life in the Navy, and had reduced my blood pressure quite a bit (Birdco’s results may not be typical, please consult a physician before using My Little Pony, Friendship is magic as a blood pressure control regimen)
Also, the cuteness of the show is a good counterbalance to the seriousness of my day job. I don’t know why, but cute always seems to cure the grumpies.
– Tell us about your tumblrs? What is the general idea behind them? How did you come up with the ideas for them?
I have 2 tumblrs, Ask Palette, and You might be a Brony if… Both were results of artistic boredom and random thoughts.
Ask Palette was the result of a little contest I ran with my watchers to design me a OC pony. Palette’s design, submitted by http://zekroraptor.deviantart.com/ was not the winning design, but the second I saw it, I knew I had to draw it. it resulted in this drawing this and the tumblr.
Ask Palette is roleplaying/ask blog where Palette’s personality was based off my 4 year old daughter. I use the blog primarily to interact with other ask Tumblrs, such as Ascii Ponies and Pia Ikea’s blog, to ask questions that would come from a kinder-gardener. I draw Palette when I really need to draw something cute.
Palette is just one of a family of OC ponies I have acquired art for through a series of art trades I have done, all of which may find their way onto the blog when I get around to drawing them. My favorite of these is Kayleigh the engineer, which is a reflection of my engineer self on the pony world (and yes, I do have a large, heavy hammer, every engineer should)
You might be a Brony if started as a open question to my watchers for something to put on the blank poster in my CMC clubhouse background. I asked “You might be a Brony if… _______” and they delivered with almost 50 replies, many of which were pretty funny. So I did the next logical thing, I made a Tumblr which encourages others to submit these one liners, or drawings that represent their Brony experience. From time to time contribute one liners, or art but I am mainly just an administrator of the blog.
– What else do you do besides art (hobbies, jobs, etc.)?
I am a Lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, in the Surface warfare community. What does that mean? it means that I work on the large US warships that ply the worlds oceans doing a variety of missions. Currently I am in a phase of my career that has me ashore for a few years. I just completed studies at the U.S. Naval War College, where I earned my Master of Arts in national security studies, and am on my way to a really sweet job working with the Australian Navy
My hobbies are varied. I play with my children, read, draw pony art, snorkel and open ocean swim, bicycle… ect. I’ll even engage in auto racing if I will be in any one place long enough to justify the investment. The biggest problem I have is time. The Navy isn’t a job, its a lifestyle, and it makes huge demands on your time. I have to be very careful how much I spend on any one activity, especially when family time is involved.
– Do you have any future projects that you are exited about?
I do, it is a comic collaboration I am working with Mandydax http://mandydax.deviantart.com/ continuing the Manehatten project, a story arc I introduced in Classroom Follies 15. Mandydax is taking the idea and expanding on it in their art style, which compliments the story.
-What was your favorite project that you worked on?
It’s not fair to make me chose…
actually, my favorite project was my 1000 watcher celebration picture. It was the first artwork I livestreamed from inception to completion, and I used it to showcase to those people who watched what I felt was the best aspects in my art, an art style very close to the shows, and detailed backgrounds. I also rolled out a new tool in this work, shading, which I was very happy with the result of.
It also highlights what I call “subtle seductive” An art-form I have been working hard to perfect. it’s a way of drawing ponies in a suggestive manner that does not require plot, or openly seductive posing (or R34). It allows the watcher to draw whatever conclusion they want, without forcing something mature down their throat.
– Are you working on anything currently?
Since my art computer is literally on the slow boat to Australia, I have shifted my creative energies to collaborations with other artists, providing constructive feed back to other artist that ask, and fanfiction.
This is my third attempt at fanfiction, but it is one I think will succeed. When you have 1100 watchers, some 200 of them who have fanfiction posed on the DA pages, there is no shortage of help when you ask. I have been getting a lot of good guidance. It’s helped me take my storytelling talent, which is well developed from my comics, and get past the hurdle I was having with the writing execution.
– What advise would you give new artists?
Two things, repetition and experimentation.
You can only develop artistic skills if you practice. I am a new artist, Ive only been drawing for 7 months, but I have practiced a lot, doing, on average, one artwork a day. I don’t suggest the same thing over and over, I do suggest drawing the same character in a variety of poses and expressions.
Oddly, comics are an excellent way of getting this practice. In a single comic, you will need to draw the same character multiple times in different poses and expressions. This helps you get good fast.
Don’t be discouraged if the artwork doesn’t come out quite right. That will happen a lot. Take a close look at those artworks and think about what aspect of them seems off, and use that knowledge to focus your future efforts. If you draw things that you have difficulty with, soon it won’t be as hard anymore.
Also, don’t stick to artforms you are good at. Experiment. While my comics helped me refine my art style, my other ventures into background, artworks, and drawing OC ponies are what allowed me to add new skills and techniques with allowed for further refinement in my comic art.
In this, I want to put out the value of taking requests, and doing art trades.
Taking requests are a way to get ideas for drawings that you might not otherwise come up with. These ideas can be the inspiration to put real effort into a piece of artwork. My Tub Time comics were the result of a request that caught my attention and which inspired my creativity.
The key to getting these requests is to foster an interactive relationship with the people who look at your art. If people think that you value their opinion, they will be more open to offer it. I’ve worked hard with that relationship on my DeviantART page, and now I get dozens of responses whenever I put out a call for requests.
Art trades are another way to improve. Specifically, when doing an art trade, you are drawing something that another artist wants. This forces you to get out of where you are comfortable drawing, and can really improve your art. I only got to the level I have after I engaged in a series of art trades with other artist.
The other benefit of art trades is that it helps you create relationships with other artists. This is important, because they can offer guidance on how to improve your technique, and provide really valuable feedback on your art. Probably the most valuable relationship I have developed was with Sliverlynx on DeviantART, who I talked into doing an art trade with me, now I go to her whenever I have a question about an artwork of mine
One final piece of advice is that there are some artists out there that are as focused in helping and interacting with other artists as they are in creating their own art. If you can find one of them, and establish a relationship, it can really help you get the advice you need to improve. I try to be that kind of artist.
Who are those types of artists? Frequently, they are the ones who Livestream. Livestreaming is the ultimate opening of an artists creative process to the public, especially if they interact with the chat while working on the artwork. I have learned a lot from watching Jakelion (Owner of the Pia Ikea blog) and Dembai (Sliverlynx on DA) art livestreams. Both of them are interactive, and work at a pace that allows close examination of their art technique while covering a lot of ground over a relatively short period of time.