Friday, March 22, 2013

Aja Wells

How is it that you came to be an illustrator? 
When I was really young, about 5 or 6, I saw a beautifully illustrated alphabet book. I remember staring at the scales on the alligator forever. I read the word "illustrator", and thought it was the coolest word I'd ever read. After that, I loved to draw, especially animals. When it was time to go to college, I briefly considered a career in science as a veterinarian, but as it turned out, math was no friend of mine. So I continued with my study in art, became a full time graphic designer working in house at a firm, and slowly built a freelancer career over a couple years. I've now been working as a full time freelancer for three years.
Did you go to art school?
Yes and no. For my undergraduate degree I went to Humboldt State University, which is a small state college in northern California. I studied Art Studio there and emphasized in graphic design, because there was no illustration program. I really enjoyed graphic design, and worked as a graphic designer for two years after college but it never satisfied me on a deeper level. I then went to the University of Hartford and earned my MFA in Illustration at the Hartford Art School. The quality of the education was outstanding. However, I strongly feel that whether you go to art school, a state school, or do not attend college at all, the most important aspect of your education will be your own personal drive.
Were there1 or more individuals that were an influence in your becoming an illustrator?
Is there any other artist or person that or continues to influence your work? 
My undergraduate experience was fairly frustrating because my college had a fine art bent to it and I did not feel like my classes were preparing me for a real career in the arts. However, I did have one amazing professor, M. Wayne Knight, who took me under his wing. Wayne was the graphic design professor, and in additional to helping me learn tons of photoshop tips and tricks, he privately tutored me in drawing and painting during his own free time. He's the one who first opened my eyes to the world of illustration, what it meant to be an illustrator, and how to put together a basic portfolio. Without Wayne, I would have left college completely clueless to the world of illustration. Artistically, I am greatly influenced by late 19th century/early 20th century artists like Racey Helps, Mainzer, Garth Williams, Beatrix Potter, and Ernest Shepard. Contemporary illustrators I love include Peter de Seve, Stephen Silver, Omar Rayyan, and Kei Acedera. 
What inspires you now? 
Lately, I've been really interested in watching how technology is changing our field, and observing illustration and animation blend into more of a singular field, through interactive children's apps and games. While some would consider the changing landscape more nerve wracking than inspiring, I think that we are living in a very exciting time. Lots of doors are opening up for illustrators in new markets, and if you can stay abreast of how things are changing, the potential to have a varied and exciting career is better than ever before. It is also a wonderful time to do self directed projects. The ability to affordably create ebooks, apps, podcasts, and animations is something that just wasn't in place even 5 years ago, and watching others take advantage of these mediums is absolutely inspiring. When I need a boost, I also love to read Stephen Silver's blog, watch his art rants, and listen to his podcast. Great stuff! I also keep in touch with many illustrators through facebook and g-mail chat, which is at times very much needed for moral support.
Is there anything you would like to share regarding your technique or style of Work for instance what types of medium do you like to work in? 
I work pretty much in two styles, one is sort of more cartoony, and one is more whimsical with slightly more realistic proportions. I do all of my painting in Photoshop CS5 with a small cintiq tablet or an intuos tablet. I always keep a moleskine sketchbook with me, and when I want to finalize a drawing on paper instead of digitally, I love to draw on Strathmore's "Visual Journey" bristol-smooth paper. This is a fantastic sketchbook and holds up to almost any medium. I sketch both digitally and on paper and I think it's critical to try to draw for at least a few minutes every day. (see attached image of digital and traditional side by side). When drawing in the computer, look at different brushes and find ways to incorporate textures into your work. For years I hindered myself by not incorporating textures in my work, which resulted in very amateur looking artwork. You can easily make your own brushes or find free or cheap ones online, so definitely start exploring.

What types of markets do you do art/ illustration for? 
I originally started out wanting to work only in children's publishing. However, my first book, "That's Not Your Mommy Anymore- A Zombie Tale", was a mock children's book that tilted my career into more humorous titles. In addition to those two markets, I also do character design for animation and am beginning to fiddle about in interactive books and other apps. 

 Are there links to your images you would like to share? 

My website,, is currently under reconstruction, but you can check
 out my FB page for art and musings in the meantime:
Do you do other things regarding art like teaching, or Classroom visits? 
I have previously taught graphic design as an adjunct professor at Humboldt State University, and I also occasionally guest lecture at different colleges and lead sketch trips at local zoos. I hope to teach more regularly in the next couple of years.
 Are there other creative interests you pursue like writing or music? 
Honestly, illustration takes up pretty much all of my creative brain. I enjoy listening to indie music, watching good film/documentaries, and reading, but these are things that I enjoy for recreation. Whenever I spend time on different creative pursuits, I always end up thinking, "Why am I doing this when I could be drawing!?".
 Do you currently have product with your images on the market? books, gift or home products? 
Yes! Here is a link to the book That's Not Your Mommy Anymore, I have three other books coming out this year, but they won't be available until Fall, 2013. The first to hit stores will be "The Very Hungry Parasite" (a humor book), pictured here. I can't release the other names of the books yet, but one will be humor and the other is a children's book. I am also working on two self-published iPad apps which I hope to release later this year as well.
What is the thing you love best about what you do?
I love the freedom. Being a full time freelancer means that stability can be elusive, but the flipside to that is that I have almost total control over my time and my life. When I have dry spells, or I feel like a break, I can just pick up and go on a hike or skip out of town. The idea that I could have a boss who would tell me I can't attend a wedding or that I've used up all my days off is not a part of my reality. This doesn't mean I don't work hard or that deadlines don't exist. I often put in 16 hour days and most weekends are also spent at the studio... but at the end of the day, I control where I live, when I work, and I'm doing what I want to be doing. It's the only way to live.
What kind of  advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?
Draw every day. Draw from life. Draw from pictures. Draw other people's work. Pay attention to what kind of work inspires you. Use facebook and Pinterest to discover new artists. If you can't name illustrators who inspire you, or if you can't think of at least 10 contemporary illustrators right off the bat, then you aren't paying close enough attention to your field. Join professional organizations. SCBWI, Society of Illustrators, Guild of Scientific Illustrators, Graphic Artists Guild, College Arts Association... there are so many professional organizations that run conferences and are fantastic resources. Illustration is a small field, and it can feel isolating at times. The beauty of the internet is that you are given a digital network to connect with other artists. Make illustrator friends, ask people you admire if they'd critique your work. Read books (anything by Andrew Loomis is fantastic and you can get his PDFs free online!), listen to podcasts, watch animated films. Immerse yourself into art entirely. Don't burden yourself with thoughts that you aren't good enough or that you've got a long way to go. Just start creating, do it now, and you'll see improvement quickly.

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