Welcome to another edition of artist of the week! This week’s artist is Carnifex, creator of the tumblr Ask Velvet! You can find his DeviantArt here, Ask Velvet here, and his mod blog here! Carnifex was not only kind enough to provide us with an interview, but also some exclusive pictures you won’t see anywhere else! Please enjoy and support this fantastic artist!
How long have you been making art?
For as long as I can remember. There was never a time when I didn’t draw in some form or another.
How did you learn how to create art?
I’m self taught. When I was a child, the coolest things in my life were dinosaurs, Saturday morning cartoons and Disney films, so I started out by drawing tons of monsters and adventure stories. At some point there came the addition of girls, because puberty had struck and they were suddenly interesting. Combined with the monsters and adventure stories, Damsels in Distress became the best thing ever.
As I produced tons of these over the years, it went up for me that humans in general could actually be fun to draw, but they were still just assets, nothing to be serious about. Until I joined Conceptart.org forums in 2003.
Now these guys really know how to draw, so after my first getting-showed-up-because-I-walked-in-like-I-owned-the-place, I decided to suck it up and become serious about art. Studying anatomy also meant that I could draw better Damsels in Distress ;)
At some point I noticed that I could actually, maybe make a living off art, and I realized that it’s what I wanted. You could say that’s my current work-in-progress, the biggest one yet.
What is your creative process? What are the steps you go through when creating art?
Well, if we’re talking about the technical steps, it’s usually pencil sketch, cleanup and colours. These days I work pretty much exclusively in Photoshop, and what looks like pencil is actually a custom brush tip that I made for myself. Sometimes I’ll ink over the sketch instead and add shading later on.
If we’re talking creative steps, usually I’ll just sit there mulling over an idea, until finally it clicks in my brain and I know exactly what to draw.
Other times I’ll just sit there and doodle without a single thought in my head, looking for interesting shapes or designs. Usually that’s when I return to my monsters.
How did you get into drawing art about ponies?
Back when I first discovered ponies, in April I think, it was like an explosion of awesome in my brain. Here they were again, those feelings of Saturday morning cartoons, the pure, unbridled fun of adventure. The episodes were well underway already, so I had all the time in the world to watch them back to back, which made the whole thing even better. I think only when I had arrived at “The Show Stoppers”, there were no new episodes yet, so I had time to actually look into the fandom.
I stumbled into Ponychan and was delighted to see so many other people with the same child-like enthusiasm for ponies that I had developed at that point. I was still hesitant to actively contribute though, because I’d never been so immersed in a fandom before, much less in one that was “now”. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore though and just had to express my love and joy for these characters, so I started a thread in the /art/ section and it’s been going ever since.
At one point I was talking with friends about other sites that were devoted to ponies, and Fimchan came up. I learned that great/infamous artists like Megasweet were posting there, and with my stomach full of butterflies, I decided to try my luck aswell. Well, Megasweet quickly warmed me up to the place by being a very welcoming dude, and I still prefer it for posting my pony art, because it’s smaller, which means more direct feedback, and less strict about nsfw content. Can’t rob my Ponychan followers of art though, so I cross-post.
Tell us a bit about your tumblr, and about your OC, Velvet. How did you choose the profession she is in?
Funny story, actually. Velvet was originally created as a background character for a picture I’d drawn. It contained my “ponysona” (who later became Velvet’s partner Strap instead) and I wanted to give him another character to play off on. I had no idea what design and even more so cutie mark to give her, so I decided to go with things that I personally like on girls – bangs and school uniforms. The uniform helped hide her cutie mark.
So now I had this character whose design I really liked and wanted to draw more often, but no name and cutie mark. In order to make her into a proper character, I needed those two things. A friend of mine suggested the name Velvet and a thread and needle as her cutie mark, which immediately struck me as perfect. It seemed to go with her whole “fetish” theme, and at that point I remembered a picture by Lauren Faust I’d seen, an early design for Rarity and the fashion she’d sell.
It had been scrapped because it contained a bridle, which struck everyone on the team as very “bondage-y”, but while it was out of place in the show, I thought it could very well work for a fan character, an expansion of the universe. After all, who’s to say ponies don’t have bondage devices and kinky bedroom games? So I decided to take up on that and make Velvet a pony that sews and sells such clothing.
So now I had this really interesting character with a cute design and a great back-story, but she still wasn’t more than a character that I might occasionally doodle and otherwise ignore amidst the various other concepts that I had floating around.
And she would have remained that way, if it hadn’t been for another friend of mine. The guy behind (now-defunct) Ask Blueblood offered to give her a cameo on one of his answers, and as soon as I saw her in that format, I knew that I wanted to use it as well, that I wanted to tell her story that way. The viewer questions would be sure to provide me with interesting interactions, and I’d always have something to draw. I’d been hesitant earlier because it represented a pretty big commitment to more or less regular updates, but I figured in the worst case I’d simply close it down again.
Obviously I didn’t, and at the time of this interview, Ask Velvet is closing in on 4000 followers on tumblr.
What steps do you take when creating storylines for your OC characters? How do you come up with them? What plans do you have for Velvet’s universe?
For Ask Velvet I actually don’t think too far ahead. For the most part it’s the viewer questions that lead me towards new storylines. For example, when Velvet’s little brother ate a mistletoe, I initially hadn’t planned to make it into a “Velvet’s brother gets mistletoe poisioning”-storyline. I wasn’t sure whether mistletoe was poisonous for horses anyway, so I had included that bit as a little visual gag, the typical “how did he reach up there anyway?” But then all these viewer questions started pouring in reminding me that mistletoe was in fact poisonous for horses, so I figured “Hey, this’ll make for a much more interesting story than Velvet simply saying goodbye to her family after the holidays”.
So that was that.
Other times I’ll want to introduce new characters or places though, so I’ll subtly start to nudge things into that direction, visually. For example, if I show Velvet packing lingerie into a box with a bow on top, viewers will usually start asking “Who is this box for?” and voilá, I can bring in a new guy.
For the most part I make up stuff as I go along.
What advice would you give to someone trying to create a good OC character? What advice would you give to help them begin world-building?
Rule of thumb: don’t make him too complicated and make sense. Start out with the basic stuff like name, cutie mark and profession. Cutie mark and profession are an indicator of what he’s good at, so you have your first Pro’s and positive traits. To balance him out, you’ll want to bring in Con’s and negative traits. If you want to be on the safe side, start out with an earth pony. Since they have no initial advantages, it’s harder to accidentally overpower them.
For example, let’s say we have a coal miner pony. His special talent is mining, he works all day with a pickaxe, so he’ll be a big burly colt with a dusty coat and a pickaxe cutie mark. His positive traits are that he’s strong, knows his way around underground and will help any pony who isn’t as strong as him. Now, by being a miner, he probably isn’t as well off as some other ponies, so he’ll dislike hoity-toity types who fancy themselves better than others because they are richer. He’s used to thinking straight ahead, because dreamers who don’t pay attention don’t last long in the tunnels. Thus he’ll have little fantasy, take the direct way if he can, and stick to what he knows. He’s stubborn to a fault, because mining requires him to be persistent.
So now we already have a first well-rounded character. To start world building, we’ll want to bring in other characters, because you can only have so many inner monologues before it becomes boring. Characters become interesting when they’re forced to interact with others characters. (In Ask blogs, the viewer may sometimes substitute other characters though)
Say if we had Coal Miner’s buddy, the Canary. He’s a very thin and nervous pony who scoops out the tunnels in search of poisonous gasses and constantly checks if the tunnel walls are holding. His biggest advantage and simultaneously biggest weakness will be his paranoia, because he’s constantly used to something going wrong. Coal Miner the Stubborn will be his rock in turbulent waters and maybe even tease him about his constant paranoia. Both of them dislike their superior, the somewhat fancy Diamond Glimmer, a pony who wants his workers to look for diamonds while they are in the tunnels, so he may buy his way into the upper class.
And so on.
Sometimes it will take a lot of trial and error to get the right visuals to go with the personality, and there are a lot of factors that contribute. The best thing to do is to think about how their daily lives may affect them.
Let’s go back to Coal Miner for example. Since he does a lot of hard work, his coat is bound to be a dusty brown or grey, and his hair may be black from the coal dust. For better visual contrast it could be white though, depending on what type of rock he’s digging into. The Canary could be a somewhat sickly green, because he’s been exposed to poisonous gasses multiple times. Diamond Glimmer is rather plain looking too, but tries to gloss it over with extravagant accessories and bright colours. Coal Miner will walk upright as he pleases, because he’s a strong pony who doesn’t have to fear falling rocks as much, but he’ll still be walking cautious most of the time cause he knows that the tunnels can be treacherous. The Canary will be zipping around in a very nervous way, constantly ducking, and maybe even sniffing the air occasionally. Diamond Glimmer will walk around like he don’t give a fuck, cause he’s the manager and knows better than those grunts. Not.
So in short, body language, expressions and colour association all play into what makes a character visually interesting. If a character goes around with a constant frown and is bald, you’ll assume he hasn’t had a very happy life. (Oh hey Cranky, I was just…*smack*)
Sometimes you’ll want to start with the design instead of the back-story, but as you fill in the details, you’ll want to adapt the character to the surroundings, not the other way round.
Of course, if you just want to make a “cool” character without any relation to the show, you’re free to do so, but don’t expect anybody to take him serious.
Another little example: the evolution of Velvet’s mom and dad. Their first designs were started way before Velvet even was the idea of an idea. Mom started out as a baker, and dad as a grumpy artist. Her dad kind of split into two characters, one who became Strap, and the other who became her dad (An accountant of sort. When you can’t get things done on time, it’s time for Crunch Time). Both her mom and dad’s colours and physical details (horns and stature) were changed over time to fit better with Velvet herself. Funnily enough, mom’s personality also was what I had originally planned for Velvet.
What do you like about tumblr as an artistic medium? How would you compare it to other art websites (deviantart, etc)? What pros and cons would you say there are about tumblr as compared to these other websites?
I’d say tumblr is perfect for sketches and comics. Uploading and tagging multiple pictures is quick, easy and comfortable. The way the Ask box works is perfect for direct viewer-artist interaction and customizing the page is as easy as it gets. For some reason it also feels pretty personal.
Deviantart is kind of more “serious” in that you actually have a gallery. Tumblr is more like a webcomic archive that you have to dig through, whereas with deviantart you have everything in front of you at once. It’s more of a showcase, whereas tumblr really is a blog. Both have their merits, but for displaying finished artworks, I prefer deviantart. It kind of has that “here to stay” feel to it.
Have ponies changed the way you think as an artist (what inspires you about ponies)?
I love their deceptive simplicity. You can pull off an amazing range of emotions and postures with them, but they’ll never become cluttered or overworked. In a way, their simple design animates you to come up with better characters, because a really flashy and detailed character will make you go “awesome” by simple standing there, but for simpler ones, you have to show them more in action to convey their awesomeness. Also, because they are so adorable by nature, I’m never afraid to draw something overly kitschy or happy-go-lucky with them, because it works.
The tumblr interaction is probably my favourite part though. It’s such an unusual and new dynamic between artist, viewer and the creation. Any of the three parts may steer the others into a new direction suddenly.
Oh yeah, and ponies helped me to draw circles instead of ovals. (Their heads…)
How have ponies affected your life in general?
The biggest thing ponies have done for me is to help me rediscover feelings. It may sound stupid, but like many others I had built up shields of cynicism around my heart over the years, even more so thanks to the internet. When I discovered ponies, those shields were broken, and for the first time in years I dared to fully immerse myself in something with heart and soul again. I was reminded of the unbridled enthusiasm I had felt as a child for those cartoon characters that I had followed almost daily on TV. There were never any thoughts of “it’s just a show” or “these characters aren’t real”, only “this is awesome”. It allowed me to more fully connect with fictional characters again, and I don’t regret that one bit. I feel it’s a better thing to live a little more through these fictional characters’ stories than say, through the real-but-unbelievable stories of celebrities.
In any case it was amazing. I actually cried, physically cried for the first time in years again at one point (not because I was watching ponies at the time though).
Besides that, I’ve met many new people, a few very cool artists among them, who all share the same enthusiasm for these characters. It’s amazing how creative the community is as a whole, and incredibly fun to mull over all the possible directions that you could go with the universe.
Even more so, a lot of people have gotten to know me, which is even more amazing. This is the first time that I have a real fanbase for any of my stuff. It’s an indescribable feeling.
What else do you do besides art (hobbies, jobs, etc.)?
Well, since I’ve started doing commissions alongside Ask Velvet, I haven’t had that much time for anything else, but recently I’ve returned a bit to gaming. Skyrim is everything that Oblivion should have been, I love it. Can’t wait for Mass Effect 3 to come out either.
Music has always been a big part of my life, but I haven’t touched my piano in a few years now…
What is your dream job?
Freelance illustrator, I think. It’ll take a while yet until I’m there though.
What was your favorite project that you worked on?
That would actually have to be my “Elements of Discord” series. It started in June, but I still haven’t finished it. It’s drawn in a more sketchy style than Ask Velvet, because it’s really a whole assload of pictures to draw, and for this one, I already have everything planned out in my head. I remember sitting up until 5 in the morning for nights in a row, drawing till my wrist was killing me, because I wanted to finish new pages. People were quick to respond and demand more, and it was such a fun ride, because when you know how the story is going to continue, you can’t wait to share it with people and see how they react. A small adrenaline rush every time, this drawing - feedback cycle. When the new episodes were announced after the summer break, I was so dumbstruck by the fact that they had named the villain “Discord” as well that I took a break for some time. In between I started Ask Velvet, so updates have been slower on it, unfortunately. But I will finish it! It’s a true epic.
You can find the story so far on my deviantart account.
Do you have any future projects that you are excited about?
Well, as said I can’t wait to finish the “Elements of Discord” series and see the reactions of people along the way. For Ask Velvet I have a few things planned yet as well, of course. Some questions have been sitting in my inbox for a few months now, and I really want to answer them.
Are you working on anything currently?
You mean beside my Ask blog, commissions, comic and other updates? No. ;)
What advice would you give new artists?
Draw everything and anything. Don’t be afraid to touch new mediums, styles or subjects, because everything contributes to your creativity pool. Inking teaches you about confidence for example, painting about light, pencils about motion. If you dabble in fashion design, you can then apply the knowledge to your imaginary characters. Animated characters teach you how to simplify forms.
Study anatomy and proportions, study perspective, study light. These three are the most important things when it comes to creating believable pictures. Big shapes first, then smaller ones. Don’t be afraid to kill your babies – meaning, don’t be afraid to rework something.
Start with pencil and don’t spend your money on expensive programs or tablets at first, because the tools don’t make the picture.
Don’t take anything for absolutes, only suggestions. Just because someone hasn’t tried it before, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Be aware of the rules before you bend them though. Don’t be too arrogant to accept critique, but notice when it boils down to personal opinion.
Don’t feel discouraged because you see someone who’s better than you, and don’t feel depressed because you can’t draw like them. If you could, you’d be them, but you want to be your own person. Style comes through routine, so don’t press it.
And most important: have fun, and never give up!