Anna Dittmann's paintings are a sight to behold: ethereal portraits inspired by nature that look like they're watercolor or ink, but are in fact digital masterpieces. Anna's no stranger to Tuts+, having created a tutorial for the site this past June. I was absolutely delighted this month to tear her away from working on her BFA at SCAD and get the lowdown on her art.
Thanks so much for the interview! Let's start at the beginning: What got you into illustration?
Thanks for inviting me. As a child, I wanted to recreate the world as I saw it. My first canvases were the walls of my bedroom and it’s been a strange, fantastic ride since. I began taking painting more seriously when I discovered Adobe Photoshop around age 13. When I realized people actually make a living drawing, I was determined to pursue a career doing something I love.
Who or what are your main sources of inspiration?
My inspiration comes from organic natural elements, mythology and history, movement and texture, lyrics and melodies, expressions, color variations, and pretty much anything which makes me want to grab my tablet and paint!
You attend SCAD currently, studying Illustration. How far into your degree are you?
Yup, I'll be starting my senior year this fall. Yikes, time has gone by fast!
Did you attend any school for formal training in artwork?
Before college, I was mostly self-taught and practiced digital art through web tutorials and trial and error. I took a few traditional art classes in high school, and fortunately, a painting teacher encouraged me to look into art school. Though SCAD was an impromptu decision, it's been great. I love being surrounded by creative people with a similar passion for art, who push me, teach me, and inspire me on a daily basis.
What is your creative process like?
I normally start with a vague concept in mind and sketch out my idea in black and white. After tweaking the composition and values, and being generally nitpicky, I start seeking out references and refining my sketch. Next, I throw in textures on a variety of layer modes such as soft light, divide, multiply, whatever may feel best. I add color using layer modes, and particularly like curves to manipulate hues. Toward the end, I detail the piece, sharpen it, and call it a day!
I often work on more than one image at a time because it keeps me refreshed when going back and forth. I draw whenever I can, but I’m a night person at heart and feel most inspired after dark. I like using a chalky brush for a more traditional effect—it's the first on the list. I'll occasionally use the others to achieve certain textures and traditional effects.
What programs and tools do you use in creating your work? Anything you're especially fond of that you'd like to recommend to readers?
I paint digitally using Adobe Photoshop CS6 and my lovely Wacom Intuos 3 tablet. I was instantly hooked my first day of using a computer and tablet. Working with unlimited colors and canvases helped me experiment more, allowing me to grow and develop my style. Of course, I still have so much to learn, and regularly discover new techniques and tools. What I love about art is that, with any medium, it’s an eternal learning process.
For how long have you been an illustrator?
I started with local portrait commissions in high school. After becoming active on social networks, I began creating a more professional network. My first big job, two covers for the magazine ImagineFX, was four years ago. Since then I've been working somewhat steadily.
What's your typical workday/school day like?
Going too long without holding a stylus or pencil makes me antsy. I draw almost every day if I can, even if it’s just a doodle. Sketching and painting is very relaxing (except when going through an art block; those are the worst!).
My daily schedule includes lots of procrastination, unproductivity, and snacking. Unless I have early classes (which I try to avoid), I get up in the afternoon. I’m not a morning person! In between classes I'll work on homework, personal projects, and commissions, with a healthy dose of TV shows, interneting, and baking. I normally stay up till odd hours of the night getting stuff done that I've been putting off all day.
How about your work space? Can you give us an insight into where you work?
I move around a lot, so in my workspace is always in flux. But I love painting by a window (with a hot cup of tea).
Do you find time for freelance work?
I currently freelance on a part-time basis, as that's most flexible to balance with school. I like the freedom of managing my own hours, pricing, and number of clients.
Your color palettes are quite ethereal. What is the inspiration behind them?
The colors are inspired by florals, creatures (particularly insects), art, food, everyday objects. Even though I tend to start in black and white and prefer limited palettes, adding hue is my favorite part. After seeing an inspiring color scheme, there’s nothing I want to do more than paint.
Lately, a lot of your artwork has a watercolor/ink feel to it, but is digital. Do you work with watercolor or ink as well? Or are you interested in expanding to other media (messy, real-life media)?
For school projects, I revisited acrylics, pen and ink, mixed media, and oils. Watercolors are unpredictable, though I've learned to have fun with the medium! I love their spontaneous quality and try to incorporate the style into my work. While I primarily paint digitally, I do create and scan traditional textures to use in Photoshop.
Nature plays a big part in your artwork. Flowers, butterflies, birds, and fish are regular features in your portfolio.
I often draw inspiration from movement and organic shapes by incorporating abstracted natural elements. I love the beauty and unpredictability of nature. It’s a perfect complement to the human figure. When I can, I love finding escape outdoors.
What are your current goals as an artist?
While I do enjoy freelancing, I think my ultimate goal is to make a living off personal art. If that’s attainable and where that would lead, I have no idea! Thinking about what’s yet to come makes me anxious—in the best of ways.
Let's chat about fan art. What media has influenced you most in creating a piece based on it? What are you currently geeking out over?
I have to admit, I have unhealthy fangirl tendencies. Game of Thrones was inspiring lots of painting last season. I also love Sherlock, Doctor Who, all things Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks, Marvel, Harry Potter, etc.
At the moment I'm currently rereading the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series and binge-watching Battlestar Galactica.
What words of advice do you have for emerging illustrators who wish to engage in painting as you have?
If you love what you do, love your process, and love the experience, it will show in your work!
Draw every day, even if it’s just a little sketch. Figure out which aspects of your favorite pieces you are attracted to, as well as what you personally enjoy creating. Combine these inspirations, and your own voice will emerge. Explore the possibilities. Gather an online presence, get your work out there, and never stop making lots of wonderful things (whatever that may mean to you).
Many thanks to Anna for taking the time away from freelancing and her studies to answer my questions and run through her portfolio to choose images. I expect she'll achieve her dream of making a living off of her personal artwork sooner rather than later.
For more of Anna's artwork, or to connect with her via social media, check out the links below: