Category Archives: Art

Coming Up Roses: Interview with Nat Sampson

Welcome back! For this week’s interview, I’m pleased to spotlight Nat Sampson. Nat is an accomplished comics artist and author of numerous zines and other illustrated projects. A multi-talented creator to be sure!

Recently, Nat and I discussed their inspiration as an artist and what upcoming projects are on the horizon.

When did you first decide to become an artist, and who are some of your favorites in your field?

Nat SampsonI’ve been drawing consistently since sixth grade, but I only decided to become an artist “for real” in 2013. I was in grad school and realized… school was terrible! Oops, ha.

Most of my favorite comic artists are the folks I know via social media and the big ole web: Jane Mai, Mia Schwartz, Rory Fransis, Carta Monir; I’m in love with the artist collective, FANGRRLZ! As far as “formal” print comics: Okazaki Kyoko, Matsumoto Taiyo, and Ronald Wimberly.

What’s your “typical” day as an artist? Do you have certain rituals (e.g. listening to music or working at a specific time of day)?

I try to get to work as soon as I get out of bed, which can be tough. I wash my hands with a bar of lavender soap before I start drawing! I try to eat beforehand if I’m feeling up to it, and I always have a glass of water nearby to stay hydrated. If I start early enough in the day, I like to take a break two hours in, to walk around and maybe get coffee. Sometimes ya gotta get outside for a bit!

And music, always music while I work! Music helps me to concentrate and develop visual ideas.

The style of your art is bright and striking and at times even subversively cheerful and humorous. However, you never shy away from serious themes in your comics and zines. Your previous work has touched upon topics such as drugs and violence as well as sexuality, identity, and suicide. Is it ever challenging to find a balance between the contemplative, grim aspects of your work and the more humorous elements, or does this balance come naturally to you?

Girls I LovedI think the balance comes naturally. I use humor to cope with my mental illnesses, trauma, dysphoria, etc. It’s sort of like, “If I can’t make light of this, how can I possibly deal with it all?” But then again, a lot of my own laughter and humor comes from the absurdity of how ridiculous, irrational, and frankly terrifying being alive can be. Like, can you believe this shit?!
When it comes to my art, the balance in presentation is a byproduct of my own needs. Zines and comics are cathartic for me, so my work mostly speaks to what I need to do to process what’s going on in my life. In one of my earlier zines, BRAT, I accidentally let it veer from “overtly humorous anxiety-confidence talk” to some heavier mental health concerns. That wasn’t on purpose, but it was what I needed to do, and so I think that’s okay. Some of my really old stuff from grad school is a lot of self-contemplation followed by self-mockery… I don’t think that’s always 100% healthy, but it’s one way for me to relate to myself and my weird lizard brain, so I think it’s okay.

My work is kind of a conversation with myself that goes, “Hey, how about we think about this absolutely bizarre thing you’re doing/feeling/thinking? Why are you doing that? It’s ok for you to acknowledge this thing that’s happening, but really, what the heck are ya doing? Doesn’t something about this strike you as kind of goofy? If it’s not funny at all, what are some other ways we can address it?” And the readers get dragged along for the ride.

Out of your published works, do you have a personal favorite?

Definitely MOIST! If you want to talk about the balance between contemplative and humorous? It’s upside down and backwards in MOIST, oh boy. I love it. I also retroactively love “girls i loved”, if only because I didn’t realize how good it was until people started telling me what an impact it had on them as they read it.

What upcoming projects are you working on?

I’m writing a big “for real, for real” fiction book that will hopefully come out… sooner or later?! Plus I’ve got some autobio projects that will hopefully be out in the fall. I’ll also be featured in One Beat Zines’ anthology, ‘Performance’! Make sure you check that out!!

Big thanks to Nat Sampson for being part of this week’s interview series! Find their work online at Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and their official site!

Happy reading!

Arachnophobia: Interview with Betty Rocksteady

Welcome to our first interview of February! As you might already know, it’s Women in Horror Month! That means for the next four weeks, I’ll be featuring some awesome spotlights on those morbid females like me who like our genre blood and guts-filled.

Women in Horror Month 7For our kickoff interview for Women in Horror Month, I’m pleased to present author and artist Betty Rocksteady. I first discovered Betty’s work through her illustrations at Theme of Absence. She created an incredible black and white image for my story, “One Wish for the Wishing Well.” That’s when I went down the rabbit hole and learned about her other illustration work as well as her illustrious career as a fiction writer.

Recently, she and I discussed favorite authors and artists as well as her recently released novella, Arachnophile.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors? Likewise, who are some of your favorite artists?

Betty RocksteadyI decided to be a writer when I was about 6 or 7 years old. I was an avid reader and I wanted to be the youngest published author, but I could never seem to finish anything. I had quite a few stops and starts with writing over the years since then but never really took it seriously. When I started approaching 30, I realized it was up to me to make it happen. For a long time I believed I wasn’t a writer because it didn’t come as naturally as I wanted it to, but then I realized it was a skill like anything else and if I was willing to be bad at it for a while, I could end up being pretty good at it. So I wrote a story a week for a year or so, and read a ton of books on writing, and took some workshops, and things are starting to come together for me! I’m really proud of how far I’ve already come.

I read a lot of horror, and Stephen King has been my favorite since I was around 12. I still read everything he writes. I also like the usuals – Clive Barker, Joe Hill, Jack Ketchum, John Wyndham, Richard Matheson. Ira Levin, Nick Cutter. Mo Hayder writes some really really weird crime fiction. Lately I’m into Kealan Patrick Burke, Max Booth, C.V. Hunt… Oh god, this is a huge list.

My favorite artists are Edward Gorey, Virgil Finlay, Sam Keith. I like pen and ink illustrations and weird comic book art.

You are both a visual artist and a fiction writer. Is your approach different when creating a story versus creating a sketch or a visual piece? Do you often illustrate your own stories?

I’ve illustrated a couple of my own stories, and I also do illustrations for other people’s fiction monthly on Theme of Absence. Drawing and writing are actually more similar in process than I realized until you asked! Usually they both start with a seed of an idea that I chew on for a few days, turning it over in my mind. Eventually I progress to sketching/brainstorming on paper. When I’m writing, I like to know where I’m going and how I’m getting there. I always know beginning middle and end when I start, but sometimes it goes differently than I expected once I start pounding the rough draft out. Drawings start rough and loose and get tightened up with each stage of drawing.

Your sideshow poster art is incredible! A fantastic combination of the vintage and the macabre! Have you ever daydreamed of joining a sideshow, and if so, what would your special performance talent be?

Thanks! I love sideshow lore and I used to read a lot about it. If I were in a sideshow I would be some sort of cat trainer. Or a fortune teller. Or I would combine the two and train cats to help me tell fortunes.

ArachnophileYour recent novella, Arachnophile, involves a man who becomes romantically entangled with a spider. Tell me a little about the inception of this story.

I was invited to submit something for the New Bizarro Author Series, and my editor, Garrett Cook helped me brainstorm some pitches and we tossed ideas back and forth. The one he liked best was one that I wasn’t all that sold on, but he encouraged it into fruition and a lot of strange and unexpected things happened. I’ve always been really creeped out by spiders, much like the protagonist of this book. Things sort of changed as I researched and wrote it though… also like my protagonist, although not quite to the same extent! The whole book has a warped Eraserhead vibe to it, and it plays on a lot of my personal fears and disgusts, and I’m really happy with how personal and strange it ended up being.

You’ve written short fiction and now novella-length fiction. Any plans for writing a novel in the near future?

I would love to write a novel some day. I have another novella I’m finishing edits on now, and it’s really terrifying. I’m also working on some more short fiction. A novel is definitely going to happen, but I’m not sure whether it will be sooner or later. Once an idea comes that needs a novel to breathe in, that’s when it will happen.

Out of your published works, visual or fiction, do you have a favorite?

I’m really proud of Arachnophile. I have a brand new story called These New Appetites in F*cked up Fairy Tales Volume 1 that has some of my favorite characters I’ve ever worked with. It’s an unsettling story of when girl meets wolf.

Big thanks to Betty Rocksteady for being part of this week’s author interview series. Find her online, and be sure to check out the official Women in Horror page for ways you can get involved this wonderfully bloody February!

Happy reading!

Clay Warrior: Interview with Melissa Ciccocioppo

For our final January spotlight, I’m pleased to introduce artist Melissa Ciccocioppo. Melissa and I met a few years back at–you guessed it–a coffee shop (AKA my natural habitat and the only place I manage any socializing at all). Soon after meeting Melissa, I noticed all her rad jewelry and, of course, inquired about the artist. Turns out she designs it all herself. From a cache of Krampuses to Nightmare Before Christmas goodies, this is one designer who knows her way around polymer.

Recently, she and I discussed her evolution as an artist and where she plans to go from here.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become an artist, and who are some of your favorite artists?

Melissa CiccocioppoI never really “decided” to become an artist. I’ve been drawing since I could lift a pencil, though I wouldn’t really consider myself a fantastic illustrator. Art was the only subject in school I liked and excelled in. My older brother has always been my biggest influence. He’s an amazing artist, one of those people where everything he touches, whatever the medium, is instant gold. He’s 12 years older than me so I grew up watching him and wanting my skills to be just as good as his. He’s also part of the reason I decided to pursue a degree in graphic design (he’s been in the graphic design business for years). I do have an Associate’s Degree from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, but unfortunately it’s not a career path that I see myself embracing. Computer work bores the crap out of me and is, at times, incredibly frustrating. Since I started sculpting, I’ve discovered some really amazing artists. Two of my favorites are Emily Coleman and Ellen Jewett. Emily sculpts incredibly lifelike animals and fantasy creatures. Ellen sculpts the same, though her style is more surreal and whimsical and she works in ridiculously tiny detail. Through Instagram, I’ve also discovered that Russians in general have it in their blood to be polymer clay wizards. I follow way too many to name them all, but Evgeny Hontor is probably my favorite. She too creates ultra stylized animals and fantasy creatures. I highly recommend checking out all of their work!

My husband is an artist, and he comments over and over about how difficult polymer is to manipulate. What inspired you to get involved with such an unusual (and at times temperamental) medium?

As I said before, I’ve got this graphic design degree but I don’t use it. After graduation I was freaking out because I didn’t know where my career was headed and had lost my motivation to create art. I thought, “man, if I have to sit at a desk and do art on the computer for 40 plus hours a week and have to quit my job at the coffee shop I might as well just kill myself now.” Then one day (sometime in September, 2009), a customer came in wearing these really wild gauged earrings. I asked her where she got them, and she said she made them out of polymer clay. I had never heard of the stuff, and remembered the one time I sculpted anything, it was in 7th grade and it was a pink and black dragon and I LOVED making it. Unfortunately, it didn’t survive for more than a week because one of my idiot classmates knocked over the display table it was sitting on and it shattered into a million pieces. Anyways, I needed a fun new way to fuel my creativity and also liked the idea of having customized gauged earrings for myself, so I went out and bought a sample pack with like, 12 colors. I was instantly hooked. I certainly didn’t have the skills and techniques then as I do today, but I loved doing it, and that’s all that really mattered.

Many of your designs lean toward the fantastical side of life. Have you always been a fan of fantasy and horror, and what was your earliest experience with these genres?

KrampusAlways! Oh man, I remember loving the show Are You Afraid of the Dark? on Nickelodeon when I was like 7 until I started having nightmares; then my parents banned me from watching it. In fact, they did a pretty good job at hiding the horror genre from me (they’re ultra Catholic and conservative). When I was 10, they went on vacation for a couple weeks and I stayed at my cousin’s house down the street who was 3 years older than me and allowed to watch all the horror she wanted. That was when I watched my first R-rated movie, Halloween H20. Oh my god I had nightmares all week! Every time I looked at the doorway, I saw Michael Myers standing there. He’s still my favorite slasher, and I still have this weird phobia of like, looking out a window or something and seeing a stranger in a mask staring at me from afar. I’ve always loved Halloween, and while I did go through a goth phase in my teens, I still hold the same interests; I just don’t dress in all black anymore. My jewelry designs wouldn’t be as fun if they weren’t so colorful. As far as my interest in fantasy, that has also always been a huge part of my life. My older sisters have always been my inspiration for all things geekery, the older of the two being more heavily involved in fantasy stuff than the other. She still plays D+D, was involved in larping for a few years, and introduced me to anime when I was 10. My earliest documented record of my love for fantasy creatures has to be this homework assignment from like, 1st grade. I had to draw what I wanted to be when I grew up and I had a ridiculously hard time deciding between my two favorite things so I drew them both: a McDonald’s employee and a dragon. I loved me some chicken McNuggets!

You were selected as a featured Pittsburgh artist for the RAW showcase in 2013. How did you get involved with RAW, and what was the experience like?

I can’t actually remember who it was that asked me to join the RAW community. At the time, RAW was fairly new to the Pittsburgh area and it was getting a lot of hype. The rules were simple: sell 20 tickets for $10 each to the event you’re featured in and get the table for free. Any tickets I didn’t sell I had to pay as my entry fee. I think it was March 2013 that I had my showcase at CAVO. That place is the swankiest venue I’ve ever sold my stuff at. So swanky, I felt a bit silly selling my creations there since my work is cute, colorful, low-priced, and… I dunno… generally, unswank? And all the people filling the place seemed like upper class snobbery. It took a few hours for people to really notice me. I definitely blame the fact that I was next to a bar for the hoards of drunk ladies swooning over my jewelry by the end of the night. It turned out to be my most successful event to date! And then I went on to win the Accessories Designer of the Year award at the end of the year, which was a huge shock.

Out of your creations, do you have a favorite piece?

My squid design is probably my favorite single piece because that’s the design that got me selling my work. About a month into my new sculpting hobby, I started having a series of random wacky ass nightmares about giant squids eating me or my family members. It made no sense. I’m an animal nerd but at the time I knew nothing about squids or cephalopods in general. So then I started researching them and found them to be both terrifying and fascinating. It inspired me to branch out from gauged earrings and start making other things, like squid pendants. Pretty soon people were asking to buy them and the rest is history. My favorite series of sculptures are definitely the Spazimon. I think it was sometime in 2012 when I was looking through [my partner] Spaz’s artwork that I found this adorable bunny rabbit/bee creature drawing and asked him if I could sculpt it. It turned out really great and he suggested that we keep going with the collaboration. He drew about 150 silly looking creatures and I sculpted 23 of them. We even came up with little bios for them describing what they ate, what environment they lived in, how they mated etc. We even created a description for the world they live in, Spazciopia. We had a gallery showing at The Irma Freeman Center for Imagination in Garfield in February 2013 and people really loved it! In the beginning of February I’m actually planning to get 4 of my favorites tattooed on my leg! Currently, Spaz and I are working on a new series of creatures called the Lippy’s and hope to have another gallery show sooner than later.

Big thanks to Melissa Ciccocioppo for being part of this week’s spotlight. Find her on Etsy and on Facebook!

Happy reading!