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Interview With Brenda Lyons
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Interview With Brenda LyonsArtist Spotlight
by Constanza Ehrenhaus
Brenda Lyons is an absolutely charming young artist with a strong passion for feathered beings, fantasy or real. Not only her watercolors are vibrant with magic, she also makes wonderful masks that are absolutely stunning in real life. She is most loved by her fellow artists, witty, kind and talented... what is there not to love?
From reading your comments during the last years it is clear you went to school for art. What exactly did you study?
I went to Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana for my Bachelor of Art in Studio Art, and for graduate school I attended the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, Georgia, for my Master of Fine Arts in Illustration. Oddly enough, I chose Rocky Mountain College not for art, but to major in equestrian studies. I spent my first year of college learning to ride and train horses. It wasn't until halfway through my first semester that I realized a life working with horses wasn't for me, but I decided to finish that year before changing my major to art.
At Rocky, I had mostly a foundational education in art, learning a wide variety of media and techniques. I spent several semesters taking metalworking classes, and eventually took an independent study course so I could continue working with metals. Unfortunately, metalworking requires more specialized equipment and facilities than painting or leatherworking, so I was unable to continue after I graduated.
While at SCAD-Atlanta, I learned a great deal about not only illustration techniques, but about the marketing and business aspect of it as well. I had very knowledgeable and skilled professors who were also professional illustrators. What they taught us was the most current information about the illustration market. We had lectures and demonstrations from professional illustrators, including James Jean, Yuko Shimizu, Anita Kunz, Sam Weber, and others. While at SCAD-Atlanta, I also learned a great deal about digital illustration, as well as how to use programs which previously, I had only minimal knowledge.
There is a lot of 'don't go to school for art, it is useless, just put work and if you are talented you'll make it'. How do you feel about this? Is there anything you think school gave you that you couldn't have done by yourself? What is the advantage of going to art school?
There's a little truth to this statement, but a lot of idealism as well. We all dream that we can train ourselves to become great artists, and develop our work to a point where art directors will be tripping over themselves to have us work for them. The reality is that creating a successful illustration can be complex, and while there are some artists who are self-trained and are extremely talented and successful, many of us will benefit immensely from some sort of artistic training. Art schools also give you facilities and opportunities such as nude figure drawing, well-lit studios, and technology that you may otherwise not have access to. In addition, your professors are experienced experts in their fields, and are always able to answer questions and teach you what they know.
Art school for me was extremely helpful and a valuable experience. I gained a new perspective on what the illustration world requires for success, and I also grew in terms of concept and technique. While it can be a bit discouraging, understanding how difficult and competitive the art world can be only helped me. I feel more prepared and understand what I need to do to find success in field that can be rather daunting.
I don't think it's required you go to art school to be a successful artist, however. There are other types of classes out there -- evening art classes offered at a community college or art center, and even online classes, for example. I also cannot stress enough the importance of books! Browse your local library or book shop for books on drawing and painting. The best books are the ones that teach you to 'see' objects, and how to draw from life.
In this age of digital techniques, why do you choose to work in traditional media?
I have always been drawn to traditional media, even when I had a computer. I did go through a short interest in digital art when I got my first computer in 2001, but the novelty wore off and I went right back to my colored pencils and markers. There is something satisfying about the tangible aspect of a physical piece, of actually putting down the paint with your own brush, and controlling the pigment with your own hand. I have done digital work before, but I feel it always lacks something. It's too clean. I prefer the roughness, even the mistakes, that come with traditional media.
What is so special about birds in general and gryphons in particular?
I wish I could answer for sure! I have always loved birds since I was a child. Falcons were my first passion when it came to art, and I would draw them over and over again. My most beloved books were those of birds, and I remember spending hours in the library looking over the paintings of John James Audubon. Later, I discovered the work of Peter Parnall, whose flowing, naturalistic birds of prey in detailed ink caught my inspiration early on.
For me, birds (particularly birds of prey) have always had a spiritual aspect to them. I have often been told that my birds have more expression than my people, and I feel it's because I can express that spirit through the figure of a bird easier than through the human form.
It wasn't until I started getting serious about fantasy art when I started painting gryphons. In a way, it's satisfying to have a quadruped bird, which in essence gryphons are! It opens the opportunity for all sorts of compositions and personalities that are difficult to portray with a bird alone. I also enjoy combining bird with mammal, and the possibilities of different combinations are endless.
Tell me about the birdflowers series.
When I was still new to watercolors, I was stuck with inspiration (which is something not at all uncommon for artists!). To break out of it, I decided to do a series -- I paint birds for each month of the year, whose feathers were based on the petals of that month's birthflower, and eyes were based on that month's birthstone. As I painted each month, I not only was challenged with making the flowers and stones (sometimes of colors that clashed) work well together, but also to make each painting unique. I had to create 12 unique poses for bird that were essentially the same size and shape. It was a fun and rewarding challenge.
Which you think are the best assets in your art work? What do you think needs to be improved?
I feel my avian work and control of color would be the best 'assets' in my art. As for what needs to be improved? I'm extremely critical of my work (as many artists are) and I always see room for improvement with every piece. However, if I had to pick out the biggest areas for improvement, it would be human anatomy, composition, and creative concept.
From the beginning of my art education, I have struggled with the human form, and although I have improved since my early attempts, I still have a long way to improve. I have difficulty 'seeing' the human form, and it's a problem I don't seem to have with animals. As for composition, I feel this can be solved with simply spending more time at the thumbnail stage instead of jumping right into the painting. Sometimes I get a bit too eager, and just want to start painting!
How did you get started with your gorgeous masks? How is the process, from conception to end product?
I've always been intrigued with masks, but it wasn't until a year ago when I first tried to make my own out of leather. I had a lot of ideas that I wished I could make three-dimensional, but was stuck as to what medium to use. Paper-mache was too light, plastic didn't have the shaping properties I wanted. Then I discovered the leather mask work of Andrea Masse-Tognetti (also known as Merimask) and discovered -- 'hey, I could make the ideas I have out of leather!' She was also kind enough to have posted a leather mask making tutorial online, which answered a lot of my questions of 'how the heck do I work with this stuff?'. After much trial and error, I eventually figured out how to make sturdy, well-fitting masks with the detail I wanted.
My mask designs start with a sketch. Often a huge page of sketches only result in one or two masks, because I have to draw out all the 'junk' before the good designs come to surface. I have a 'template' I drew so each mask I make has the same distance between the eyes. This is very important! If you can't see comfortably out the eyeholes, then the mask is useless. I draw my design around this template, and if the mask is to be symmetrical on both sides, I will only draw half the mask, then put a folded piece of tracing paper over it so I can draw the other side precisely.
My process, in a nutshell, starts with a flat piece of 7 or 8-oz leather (leather thickness is measured in ounces). I transfer my design by tracing over the lines of my design on a piece of tracing paper, placed on the wet leather. Since the leather is wet, the lines press in and stay. Then I use a swivel blade to cut the lines of my design into the leather, and use beveling tools to make the design three-dimensional. I cut out the eyes and the shape, wet the entire mask, and then shape it on my face. To get it stiff, I place it in a warm oven, alternating between reshaping and drying. Once dry, I dye it with alcohol-based leather dye, coat that with an acrylic sealer, then paint with acrylics. Once painted, I seal it with several coats of flexible acrylic varnish, and put on the ribbons.
Why do you favor leather? What advice can you give to people that would like to try leather crafting?
Leather is easy to shape in carve, and is extremely durable. The only complaint I have is that there isn't an animal-free alternative - I have had people request non-leather masks, and unfortunately I don't have an alternative material to use. For those who wish to try working with leather, you need a few basic tools. The most important are a swivel blade, leather shears, and a spoon tool. As you work more with leather, you will find you need different tools to do different things. As for leather, you want to use vegetable-tanned leather. If you're just starting out, you can get some rather inexpensive small amounts of leather at Tandy Leather Factory, though their quality is not as good as Wickett & Craig (which is very affordable, but you will end up with a lot of leather at once!)
Don't be afraid to practice on scrap pieces of leather! Don't expect your first mask or leather project to be perfect. You will make mistakes, and that's okay -- that is how you learn how to use the medium.
Do you consider yourself a furry?
No, I'm not a furry. I do enjoy the art, however!
Do you think the anthro community is misunderstood?
I don't have much experience in with the anthro community, however, as an animal and fantasy artist I've seen a lot of seemingly mindless hatred projected at furries and anthro artists. The way I see it, if someone has that lifestyle, why attack them for it? A lot of people assume that anyone in the anthro community is automatically doing perverse things, which is not true. I think a lot of people believe if you draw an anthropomorphic animal, it automatically means you are a certain kind of person. Some people simply enjoy drawing certain things. It isn't necessarily a representation of their lifestyle or beliefs.
Do you do conventions?
Yes, I send work to conventions and attend some as well. The conventions I have attended (or will attend) include Dragoncon, Connecticon, Anime Weekend Atlanta, and Anthrocon. I have also sent work to CONduit and MileHiCon. I hope to attend and send to more conventions next year!
Where can the readers find your art?
The site I update most often is my deviantART site. My main website is www.falconmoon.com, and I have an art blog at featherseeds.blogspot.com/, which is where I often post sketches, studies, and works in progress.
What others say:
There are few who can claim the title Jack-of-all-Trades, Master of All like Brenda can, though she will humbly deny such claims! I am the proud owner of one of her hand-crafted jewelry pieces and several pieces of original art. Painting, jewelry, leathercrafting, writing, Brenda pursues all of these art forms with unflinching passion, dedication, and perfection. Keep an eye on her because she is a rising star in the art world!
Bren's been a friend for a few years now, and she's the kind of person I'd describe as an earth spirit, closely bonded to nature, and very grounded. Her art, and love of birds reflects who she is more so than a lot of artists I know, and you just know that every piece she does has a little part of her embedded in it. I count myself lucky to know her.
I think she's an amazing artist with both talent and personality. I met her once and she was just as sweet as can be. Her work is stunningly beautiful and full of color. She's also very multi-talented, and puts a lot of work into both her paintings and 3d art (like the masks).
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