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Interview with Sharon Milne aka ChewedKandi

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Meet Sharon Milne, also popularly known as ChewedKandi from the north east of England. Sharon works as a civil servant doing payroll administration but she says she is absolutely obsessed with vector art and her passion is reflected in her illustrations. In this interview she talks about how she got started with digital art and how it has evolved over the period of time, about her love for drawing portraits, her ideas and her inspiration.

Q Hi Sharon, give us a little background bio of yourself; tell us where you're from. Who is the person behind the username, ChewedKandi?

Oh hai! Well most people call me Shar and I’m from the north east of England, from a wonderful city called Newcastle Upon Tyne. I live with my boyfriend and my awesome cat Sameria.

I’m absolutely obsessed in vector and find myself spending as much time as I can taking part in the vector community or creating vector art. When I’m not vectoring I am gaming with my boyfriend, playing either World of Warcraft, Left 4 Dead or Rockband! I lead a pretty normal life and have a very normal 9 to 5 job working as a civil servant doing payroll administration. Glamorous, huh?

Q When did you decide that you want to be in the digital art field? What attracted you to vector art and illustrations? Did you take any formal education in this field or are you self taught?

It wasn’t really a conscious decision to start doing digital art. I started out building my own website and then playing with the layout of my website and the design of graphics and navigation elements. I was paying a lot of attention to trends and started to see vector art being used as graphics in website layouts. After seeing a tutorial explaining it was the layering of shapes, I thought I’d have a try of it. Back then, I didn’t know the difference between vector and raster… and I was creating graphics with the pen tool in Paint Shop Pro on raster layers. This later became known as vexel art.

I soon started playing around with Illustrator and after the initial uncertainty you get, I fell in love with Illustrator and vector and never looked back.

The main things which keep me addicted to vector would be how versatile it is, how quick it can be to change colour and lines… but also because with the pen tool, you don’t even need a steady hand. It’s only been the past year I’ve gotten myself a Wacom tablet. You can get along just fine with a mouse!

Q What is your work flow for creating a typical image? What tools and applications do you mainly use?

My lifelong partner is Adobe Illustrator CS4, I would be married to it if it was possible. I can’t sing it’s praises enough. So all my work is done in there. I’m always finding new things I can use in there and although I’ve used illustrator for some time now, I always feel I haven’t quiet learnt enough of it.

Work flow wise, everything starts with a fabulous stock image… I’m not quiet at the stage yet where I can draw confidently without them. I do add some of my own elements to it so it deviates away from the original. I usually change the colours and contrasts of the stock image and sketch ideas in Photoshop. I then bring over the reference to my baby Illustrator.

My main process is using a base layer/shape of 100% opacity set to normal and then layering shapes of lower opacities of say 5-30% on top, sometimes varying in blend modes. I create the shapes mainly with the pen tool, however for finer strands and some “effects” I use the paintbrush with a brush I’ve made myself 9 times out of 10.

I often finish up with some colour tweaking with layering gradients on top or to help mask any errors or areas I’m not fond of. Throughout the process, I like to upload works in progress online. Most of my friends I talk to online are into vector so sometimes a little feedback is encouraging and can also give you some insight. Feedback isn’t just for the end product!

Q Most of your illustrations are portraits, what attracts you the most about it? How would you define your artistic style

Aren’t people beautiful? A lot of stories can be told by expressions and elements of the face. I love the detailing needed for certain areas… the eyes and the amount of colour for the iris… making the lips so smooth… the style of a person’s hair… the shadows cast on the face… the addition of jewlery… these are all little details I enjoy vectoring. Often sitting in front of a portrait for over 20-30 hours the expression changes as you’re concentrating more… the happy face you might be rendering may end up looking so false and empty in the eyes. It makes you wonder why he/she is having to put on a fake smile. Your imagination just runs away with you.

Artistic style? I wish I had one I could cling to if I’m honest. Although my work could be seen as realism, there isn’t really anything I could claim to be my style. I’m a work in progress and I kind of like that. I’m always experimenting and pushing myself to try new styles and new tools. If I was asked to duplicate I style I’ve done before, I’d probably be unable to do that effectively because I just kind of go with the flow.

Although one thing I tend to keep constant is adding beauty spots/moles to a persons face… did you know that the placement of them was used as a subtle message? I used to add them without any thought but when I researched them for “Viva La Mouche”. Since then I’ve put them on my portraits and thought about what I wanted them to convey.

Q What do you wish somebody had told you when you created your very first illustration? How much do you think has your art evolved when you first started till today?

I think when I first started working in raster, I would have loved to have known about vector. I look at pieces I’ve done in raster which are about 1,000 x 2,000 and would love to have printed out in a large scale… it breaks my vector heart I couldn’t have them so large. If someone just stopped me after my first vexel and told me to how fantastic it is working in vector, that would have been a god send!

My work has definitely evolved a lot in the years I’ve been doing this. I’ve went from more or less carbon copying stock images to putting my own spin on things. I promise myself these days to not carbon copy stock images. Be inspired by them, don’t copy them.

Q You seem to be fond of writing and creating video tutorials, what is your most used/favorite illustrator/vector tool, trick or technique.

Oh I love writing tutorials… I get such a kick out of hearing that a tutorial I’ve done has gotten someone into vector or it has taught them something new. Probably more than hearing praise on a vector portrait I’ve done.

I’d probably say the “trick” I love the most would be using masks for skin shading. I don’t have to be as accurate with overlapping on the edges of the base layers. Since starting to use masks it’s cut my work time by atleast 30%. When you discover a trick which not only cuts down time but makes a piece look a ton better, that is a trick you need to remember and use as much as you can!

Q Which among your illustrations is your personal favorite and why is it your favorite?Do you have any specific plans for the future direction of your artwork and illustrations?

See I get asked this and it changes from time to time. Depending on what sort of mind set I’m in, I’ll prefer one piece over another. At the moment I’m very happy with “No School Tomorrow”. Now this is in raster and not vector… however it’s inspired me to get into more conceptual pieces and it is the inspiration for an on going series of vectors I’m working on… and one is in the planning stages at the moment. So far I’ve done 2 other Gasmask Angels as I call them and hope to produce at least one per year.

It was probably the first piece I did which got me thinking about more than a pretty face and got me using other elements and references to combine to make one piece.

This is something I want to keep on doing… I love conceptual work and hope to keep pushing myself into this direction. I love art you can just sit and think “why?” with. It pumps my creative nads.

Q Are there any artists that you feel had an influence on you? What websites do you visit on a regular basis for design inspiration?

A lot of artists have influenced me in some way or another. Be it Andy Warhol as a teen, oh man I love his work. I traveled from Newcastle to London one summer with a friend to see his work at the Tate Modern. It was like going to a rock concert. Seeing his work close up. It took my breath away. I can recall the moment of seeing the “Marilyn Diptych” through the clear glass and viewing it from the side and seeing the subtle textures of the medium. I’m rambling… it’s a very fond memory of mine. I love the clean edges to screen printing which I guess has sub consciously leaned me more towards vector.

A lot of vector artists inspire me… be it seeing things in a different light or using tools I never thought of using or just how they push themselves. To name names people like CrisVector, CD-Marcus, Phig, CQcat and PixelledandDead. These are all people who are also on DeviantArt which has been the first art website/community I’ve been a part of and one I hold very dearly.

But it’s not just vector artists who inspire me, other artists from there including Snowmask (predominately a water colour artist), womanwithagun (a vexel artist) and arachnid15 (a nude photographer) inspire me a great deal.

I’m rather fortunate to be close friends with a lot of them, so I get to ask the “how the hell did you do that?” or pick their brains and discuss techniques with them.

Other than DeviantArt, I’m a big fan of VectorTuts+ and Vectips… sometimes when you read over a tutorial you discover a tool in Illustrator or a technique you didn’t know before. Even if it’s drawing an object you might never do, there is always something you can take away from it.

Q Apart from art and illustration, what other things do you enjoy? How do you recharge your creative batteries? How is a typical work day for you?

Let’s first get the work element out of this… because I’m a civil servant (a person working for the government) in a payroll role. It’s the least creative thing I know… working out people’s tax and national insurance is rather dull don’t you think? I love the maths element but apart from that it’s not what I see myself doing in 5 years time. Hopefully I’ll discover what I want to do soon and how to use my passion for vector to earn me a living!

But apart from vector, I’m big into my gaming and music. I play a lot PC games and some Xbox 360 games. It’s something my boyfriend and I have in common so we tend to do these things together a lot. Although the music side we tend to argue about that. He’s more metal/rock, I’m more pop/rock. Oh the drama!

I can’t go without mentioning my cat… yes I could possibly be a crazy cat lady in the making, but my cat Sameria has a lot to answer to! She’s just such a wonderful companion. My boyfriend knows he comes second best to her and frankly he doesn’t mind because she’s so awesome!

Q Sharon, thanks for the interview! What message or advice would you like to give to the aspiring artists and illustrators?

No no, thank you for this opportunity.

I just want to say that for the majority of us, it doesn’t happen overnight… you don’t wake up and decide to work in vector and suddenly you’re producing work of a high standard… it can take a very long time and a lot of passion to get there. But as long as it’s something you really want to do, it will come to you. Just be pacient and keep on pushing yourself and working hard.

It’s been over 8 years now for me and I’m still not 100% happy with the work I produce… keep pushing and you’ll get there.

Sharon Milne on Web

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