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Interview with Claire Latchem aka Superfex

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Claire Latchem — aka Superfex — is an Illustrator and designer from South West of England. Claire says, character design, animation, model making, vector and tattoo design influence her work greatly. She also enjoys exploring vivid color palettes and different line weights. Her style of illustration is cute, energetic and playful. Read more about Superfex at the jump.

Q Hello Claire, give us a brief bio of yourself; tell us where you're from, and about your formal education. Who is Superfex?

Hello. Well I'm 22 years old and situated in the southwest England. I was born in Frome where I lived for 19 years before moving to Plymouth for 3 years whilst I studied Illustration at the University there. Before I took the Illustration course I primarily studied as a Photographer through school. Firstly at GCSE and A-Level and then progressed to carry out a National Certificate in the subject before being accepted onto the Photography course at Plymouth University.

Though I studied Photography for many years I always found myself drawing and familiarizing myself with the Adobe Creative Suite. My fascination with Illustration soon took over and any spare time I had was devoted to Superfex. I set up Superfex when I was 16 and have been working under the name ever since. After a lengthy conversation with the head of Illustration I then switched from the Design: Photography degree course to the Design: Illustration one where I thought my skills would be more suitable. I now reside in Bournemouth where I continue to freelance as Superfex.

Q What are you working on currently, any interesting or exciting projects? What is a typical day for you?

I have recently just finished an editorial commission for the Magazine, Computer Arts Projects who were a delight to work with. It was my first editorial commission and I was asked to create four characters that represented the different stages of self-publishing a magazine for the editorial issue. I have designed 4 playing cards to be part of a promotional card pack for 'Versus Project'. 13 illustrators were contacted and I chose to do the eights so I settled on the theme 'Pieces of Eight' and designed a different character for each card with the corresponding suite in mind. There will be an exhibition in Bristol alongside big names in the industry such as Ben Steers and Aaron Miller to march the launch of the project, which, hopefully, will be held at the end of October. Details are yet to be confirmed. I am also currently in the middle of setting up an art collective with a few friends, which, I've wanted to do for quite some time now. But you'll have to wait to find out more.

Q When did you first notice your interest in design and illustration? You studied Photography, what made you switch to illustration as your career?

I have always been a creative and imaginative person even at an early age where I took part in a club called 'The Young Illustrators'. I find this amusing considering my line of work these days. I remember drawing a comic strip about a crocodile and watching a lot of Funny Bones. I guess that's where my fascination for animation came from alongside Disney and my adoration for the character Buzz Lightyear of course. I found myself drawing any chance I get whether it was whilst some geography teacher was rambling on about waypoints or whilst I was on the phone to a friend for an hours as she moans about her boyfriend or even in the car park to Toys R Us whilst my friend James has an interview (where I'm also filling out these questions).

I do still love Photography and take huge pleasure in organizing shoots and manipulating images. I still continue to do so for various projects but it has taken a back seat to my Illustration work. When I realized my passion for Illustration was growing rapidly and has exceeded that of Photography I decided to set about changing my career path. I know for sure that it was, and still is, the right move for me.

Q What five words would you use to describe your design style? Do you feel your design style has evolved over the period of time? How has it changed from when you first began?

Hmm 5 words, well people always say my work is 'cute' even when I lace it with Macabre. I also think my style reflects my personality in a lot of ways so: Cute, Energetic, Vibrant, Edible, Playful.

I don't think my style has changed dramatically but just developed and matured over time. I remember drawing my 'Ice cream Monster' piece, which, was a breakthrough for me. It was just a doodle that I colored in Photoshop but I felt like it was something new and different so I just started creating characters and working on the drawings on the computer. I then started to use Illustrator a lot more and it was after my first submission to Lafraise that I really got stuck into character design.

I love that you can draw something that has no boundaries. If I want to make up a creature that looks like a bear but has horns, wings and an appetite for soap then that's ok. There are no rules, just underlying guides that need to be taken into consideration such as expression, body language and character in itself. People can always relate to character design, as they will most often then not, be based on actual human characteristics. They are imperfect, flawed even and people can identify with that on many levels even though they are fictitious.

Q Could you outline your creative workflow? What software and applications do you use on a daily basis? What does your workstation look like?

Like any illustrator it all starts in my head. I will scribble my thoughts, usually with a biro, on any scrap of paper that's lying around. I then pick the best ideas of the bunch and sketch them out a bit further with format and composition in mind. A lot of my work is portrait format, there's just something about it that works well with the flow of my lines.

Once I have my heart set on one particular idea I will then sketch it out to the right size, usually in pencil and once happy with it, 'ink' the lines with my Staedtler Pigment Liners. I literally swear by these pens and never use anything different.

Then I will scan it in and either vector it using Illustrator or work on it in Photoshop. It really depends on what the work will be used for. It's a lot quicker to work on it in Photoshop but the quality isn't as great so it's ok for small media. I tend to use Illustrator these days for most of my work as vector images can be resized to any dimension without loss of quality so that gives me peace of mind as an artist.

My workstation can only be described as 'Creative Clutter'. To most people it probably looks a mess but I find having illustrative material scattered around and pasted all over the walls helps to inspire me and ensure I don't get too complacent with my work. I am always striving to 'better myself' as an illustrator and whilst this can be frustrating at times it also helps keep me constantly moving forwards.

Q Where do you get your inspiration? Are there any designers that you admire? Do you find yourself browsing any online design community or websites?

At first I used Deviantart a lot and found it very useful to talk to fellow creative's, get constructive criticism from my peers and also collaborate with others. Sadly my respect for the site has diminished over the recent years with the amount of people who use their accounts to steal artwork or even verbally attack other people. The amount of times I've seen my work passed off as someone else's on there just made me reluctant to even update the content I have on there. I have however stumbled across some serious talent on that site including the likes of Karl Kwasny, Cronobreaker and Damien Vignaux.  I do however, have my own dedicated website that I primarily use as an online portfolio and means of contacting me for work but I keep in contact with other illustrators and art directors via Twitter these days. One site I do love to peruse through on a daily basis is BloodSweatVector. Founded by illustrator extraordinaire, Jared Nickerson, the website plays host to a whole heap of vector delights.

Q Which is your favorite piece of work that you have created so far and why? What was the inspiration and idea behind it? Do you have any specific plans for the future direction of your artwork?

My favorite piece I have created so far has to be the alien shirt design I did for the clothing label, Sourjelly. I got to exercise a really bold and psychedelic color palette which, I normally wouldn't risk using but I think it turned out really best for the subject matter illustrated. I think it's a well-rounded piece and functions perfectly for the intended medium. As mentioned before I have quite an obsession for anything Buzz Lightyear so I love to illustrate things related to a 'Space' theme. I wanted to illustrate an alien with various space paraphernalia around him. I used the rocket's flight paths to pull the whole design together and give it that essential strong composition. I also generally love creating t-shirt designs as you get to express yourself through just wearing the design, much like tattoo design which, I also have great passion for. As for the future, I have many dreams and ambitions I hope to achieve. I want to explore a more traditional side to my style but not phase out the vector of course. I also want to start producing more self-initiated projects as well as the collective I mentioned earlier. Essentially I just want to progress as Superfex, produce more work and show my versatility across the design spectrum.

Q How do you recharge your creative batteries? Apart from art and illustration what other things do you enjoy?

I'm 5ft 3, I barely sleep, I don't eat a lot and I am always on the go yet everyday I am bursting with energy and motivation. I don't know how it works but I do feel great satisfaction when I've had a productive day so I endeavor to achieve the feeling everyday. When I do have the time I like to watch movies or socialize with friends. But if I'm not drawing then I'm looking at other peoples work or updating websites and If I'm not doing that then I'm planning personal projects, going to exhibitions, sculpting things out of clay, working out costs for printed material or even baking cakes so I am always creating. My website designer even described me as having Creative ADHD. I have a lot of ambition and a lot of drive but this is sometimes a downfall and I want to excel in all areas of creative media be it illustration, film making or even stop motion animation. Being creative is my life and I take great pride and pleasure in it so it's never a something I feel the need to escape from.

Q Thanks for the interview Claire. What advice would you like to give to aspiring designers and illustrators?

I'd say not to be too picky with the people you talk to in your daily lives. It's often the 'weird ones' that provide you with the best ideas and character traits. Try to learn for yourself and not for other people. Sure it's nice when other people also enjoy what you do but don't let it be the reason for making it. Keep producing new work of the highest quality to strengthen existing skills and maybe pick up a few new ones whilst also keeping your portfolio 'fresh'. Lastly I would say if you want to be successful then you're the only person holding yourself back. You alone, have to get out there and make yourself known and remembered but try to keep some dignity in the process. Respect among others is key.

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