Interviews: Socar Myles
Interviewed by Audrey Wildhagen
Socar Myles is a wonder with pencils, Photoshop, and pen-and-ink. Chances are, if youve come across a piece of fantasy or horror art with a pet or a rat as its main focus, this woman probably drew it. Her galleries at Elfwood and Epilogue remain screamingly popular. She has her own site as well for your viewing pleasure.
Woodworks: So. What was it that inspired you to start creating art?
Socar Myles: I've always liked to draw. Even when I wasn't any good at it, I liked it. There wasn't really any defining moment, any sudden motivation that inspired me to start drawing--it just happened naturally. At some point, I started enjoying it enough to build the rest of my life around it. I'd say that happened around the time I went off to university for the first time. I was in pre-med at the time, but soon changed my mind and went to art school.
WW: Was there anyone who was there to lend a hand or encourage you?
M: There have been lots of excellent folks along the way, some in the real world, others on the Internet. I can't think of anyone in particular who's been there all along, because I've moved around the world a lot over the last decade or so, but I've probably got the best group of friends I've ever had at the moment. They're the sorts of people who aren't afraid to tell me the truth, to tell me when I'm doing something right and when I'm being my usual knuckleheaded self. You need that kind of person around when you're in a competitive business like illustration. Folks who'll just give you endless praise won't help you figure out a business plan, or ferret out the flaws in your technique.
WW: How long have you been drawing and painting?
M: I got into it seriously a little over ten years ago. Since then, I haven't stopped.
WW: Are there any other genres that you dabble in other than fantasy?
M: Horror, mostly. Not chest-ripping, closet-busting, spine-wrenching horror, for the most part, with blood and gore all over the place. I like a more subtle breed of horror--things that are more creepy and unsettling than overtly horrible. The best kind of horror, the way I see it, is the kind where you don't know whether to be entranced or repelled. Horror images should be beautiful, so you want to look at them, but, at the same time, ugly enough so you don't. That sense of being torn between two extremes is what makes them effective.
WW: It is evident that pets and rats are your main focus. What is it about them that is so addicting to draw?
M: Animals, in general, have a certain liveliness and grace about them, which I really enjoy, both in life and in art. Rats, in particular, are great. I've had rats around me for most of my life, and I love the little guys. Right now, I share my apartment with a five-pound monster rat named Stella. Stella's main hobbies are biting my furniture, biting the carpet, and biting me, but I love her anyway. She's really a magnificent creature, in a ratty sort of way. The other good thing about rats is their form. They're great subjects for drawing: they're all curves, no angles, and they can twist their little bodies into any position. Thus, they can fit into any composition. People have big gangly legs and arms to worry about. Rats, they're just big sinuous fleshtubes with feet on. Oh, and hair. And ears.
WW: What is your favorite medium to use?
M: I get the most enjoyment out of pen-and-ink. I tried out the digital thing for a while, when I didn't have a scanner, and I still do a fair bit of Photoshop art, but pen was my first love, and it'll always be my favourite.
WW: What's the hardest medium for you?
M: Watercolour, definitely. One mistake in watercolour, and that's it. Game over. I'm way too clumsy for watercolour, me.
WW: Do you have any role models?
M: Good question. Most of my role models come out of books, rather than out of the real world. Right now, I want to be as nice as Eiji Miyake from "number9dream", as brave as Piscine Patel from "The Life of Pi", and as brilliant as Joe Kavalier from "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay". (I spend way too much time reading, I think.)
WW: Tell us about your pets!
M: Oh, man. I could fill a book with Stella. She's really something else, that rat. I've got an information page up on my site about her, complete with pictures, if you really want to know about her: http://www.rattysghost.com/appendix_hugerat.html
WW: What are your plans for the future?
M: To pay off my Visa bill, come up with a business plan that'll win me the financial stability I've always dreamed of, and draw loads and loads of rats. At this precise moment, I'm working on a compendium of strange creatures, a couple of book-cover illustrations, and the usual list of small commissions.
WW: Will you illustrate any comics in the future other than "The Restless Season"?
M: I have recently done two more contributions for the same anthology "The Restless Season" appeared in (Fleshrot: Tales from the Dead--more info. At www.fleshrot.com). The first is a gruesome take on "There Was an Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe", and the second is a fun midnight frolic with a coven of cute little forest zombies. Aside from those, I have no immediate plans for more comics, but I wouldn't say no if an interesting opportunity came along.
WW: How many hours in a day would you say you spend drawing?
M: Generally, between eight and sixteen. It all depends on my workload, and how much energy I've got.
WW: Is there any special process you use when creating?
M: I think my method's quite standard: I begin with a sketch, then proceed from there, working from background to foreground. When painting, every so often, I stand back and squint at it, to make sure the values and composition are right. If I can't get a rough idea of what's going on from three feet away with my eyes crossed, I'm doing it wrong.
WW: When is the easiest for you to write: morning, noon, or evening?
M: Whenever I've finished work for the day. (That varies wildly, however. Sometimes, I get up at eight in the morning and finish work at dinner time; other times, I get up at ten at night and finish at dawn.) My daily routine is something like this: I get up, eat breakfast, draw till I get tired, do whatever else I've got to get done, then write up my day in my journal, if anything of note happened. Sometimes, nothing happens at all, so I skip the journal and play a computer game instead.
WW: Tell us a bit about your formal education. Did you learn more from personal experience or from a classroom?
M: I went to the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. Some of the classes were pretty useless, like the one where the teacher tried to get me to make a video, for some godforsaken reason. I barely even knew how to work the camera, so that was a bit of a pain. The drawing classes I had, however, were invaluable. I couldn't have gotten very far without them. I had a couple of excellent professors, and I learned more from them in the space of a few months than I'd done in years on my own. Nowadays, having the foundation I got from art school, I am able to learn quite quickly on my own, but that foundation was 100% necessary. Some people probably don't need it as much as I did, but I had virtually no natural talent, so I needed to be taught everything from scratch.
WW: What are a few of your pet peeves?
M: Folks who make smacky noises with their lips when they eat, Netspeak, people who use swear words as substitutes for words they don't knowthose things never fail to make me wince. Oh, wait. Did you mean art-related pet peeves? I don't have too many, really. I've got a live and let live attitude when it comes to art. If it's not to my taste, I'll just find something else to look at. It used to get under my skin when someone sent me gratuitously negative feedback, where it seemed like they hated me or my art simply for existing, but I've since realized that I have no particular desire to be liked by absolutely everyone.
WW: What are some of the hobbies you enjoy when you're not drawing?
M: I love, in no particular order, word games, reading, birdwatching from my solarium, people-watching from my solarium, and playing practical jokes on people. I also like to swim, but I don't get the chance very often.
WW: What was your most renowned moment as an artist?
M: I don't think it's come yet, to be honest. I haven't won any particular renown so far.
WW: What are some of the things you've learned from freelancing and taking commissions?
M: I've learned the value of a level head. No matter how good you are, or how reliable you are, weird things always contrive to happen in the freelance world. Art directors get fired in the middle of projects, leaving you in limbo. Customers change their minds mid-commission. You spill ink over a whole page of tiny, intricate spot-illustrations you've just agreed to do on a five-day deadline. All of these things have happened to me. The actual solutions to the problems vary (find out who the new art director is, come to a compromise with the confused customer, and redo the spot illustrations, respectively), but the most important part of all of them is not flying into a panic.
WW: Tell us a bit about "Making Fun of Plato".
M: Ha, ha! That's a funny question. "Making Fun of Plato" was a silly Internet joke, which started in, I believe, 1997. Could've been '96. Quite a while ago, anyway. Initially, the idea was to make the most ridiculous, offensive website possible, then submit it to all those web award sites, which were very popular at the time. There were Web awards for everything: excellence in design, sexiness, content, appeal to colourblind pervertsyou name it, someone had a Web award for it. I thought this was ridiculous, so I decided to see how many awards I could win with the world's most abysmal site. Thus, MFOP was born. I needed something to fill the bad site, besides a godawful design, so I wrote up a load of pure rubbish. It was entitled "Making Fun of Plato" because there are, indeed, several well-concealed jabs at that venerable gent in there (and a lot of totally obvious, anvil-over-the-head jabs, as well). At any rate, MFOP did, indeed, win most of the Web awards I put it in for, confirming my suspicion that the average Web award host has no standards whatsoever. I'd meant to take MFOP down after a while, but every time I did, I got deluged with "Where's MFOP?" e-mails. Can't imagine why. It really is abysmal...but it's still up there, by popular demand.
WW: Do you have any advice for any beginning artists out there?
M: Don't take your art too seriously. If your art is bad, it doesn't mean you have no talent, or that you're a bad person, or even that your art will always be bad. Even spectacularly good artists have bad days, when they turn out nothing but rubbish. Anyone can become spectacularly good, given enough practice, and enough devotion to their craft. I see it all the time, folks getting upset because they never get into Spectrum, or they never get into Epilogue, or someone on an art forum ripped their latest masterpiece to shreds. It doesn't matter, though. I mean, the minute you're finished with a picture, that picture's in the past, dispensed with. You learn from the mistakes you made with that one, and move on to the next one. The next one will be better. The one after that, better still. After ten thousand pieces of bad art, or twenty thousand if you're slow on the uptake, like me, you'll come up with a real masterpiece. Enjoy the journey from where you are now till that day, because once you DO come up with that masterpiece, you'll be good enough to see its flaws, and understand that your journey has only just begun in earnest. Oh, and one other thing--never, ever snap at someone who's giving you a critique, no matter how much it stings. Even if the critique could've been worded a little more gently, odds are the intent behind it was kind. If you lose your head and bite someone's head off, they won't bother again. Plus, they'll have no head, which might rather put a crimp in their style. (Ha, ha.) Bite off enough heads, and you'll get a reputation for it, at which point, no-one will bother with you. You can still learn on your own, of course, but it's always better if you can get a hand up once in a while.
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