The Gallery Rebecca Barnes
by Evan Miller, Apr 11th 2009
After a fantastic weekend at Anime Detour, I now find myself at Sakura Con in Seattle. The little differences between cons never cease to amaze me - the way the fans act, what's popular, and most of all, the crazy panels that people come up with. Case in point: Sakura Con runs three "Speed Dating" sessions - one of them for GLBT fans - that apparently gather an attendance base large enough to warrant use of one of the biggest halls in the convention center. Honestly, it sounds like fun, and it certainly beats many of the alternatives ("Hey mom, check out this guy I met on /b/!").
A word of advice to all fans seeking romance (and yes, I'm leaving the sarcasm out): remember that you offer someone more than just your identity as an anime fan. When you're looking for love, make sure that the person you seek has more in common with you than a love for schoolgirl outfits or the way pecs are drawn in yaoi dōjinshi. Anime can be part of your personality, but don't limit yourself by having it be the only trait others see.
While you're at it, if anyone has really awful BO, loves themselves more than you, or spends more than a minute explaining how living in mom's basement is their "best choice" for living economically, run in the other direction. Or, if you're feeling mean spirited, laugh heartily.
This week, we talk to an up-and-coming fantasy artist who went from doing commissions on Gaia Online to selling their work for a living.
Note: The last edition of "The Gallery in Japan" will appear next week.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the artistic side of the anime fan community in North America is the way that artists come together to help one another out. Although intense competition for Artist's Alley tables at conventions can make things seem competitive and unfriendly, simply sharing space with other artists can often lead to friendships - and even collaborations - between artists. This bond is no mystery to Rebecca Barnes, a Tacoma-based artist who started out as a commission artist on the popular online community Gaia Online. Eventually, she decided to test her skills at the Artist's Alley at Kumori Con in Portland, Oregon after her friends suggested she promote her work more. The response from the fans was more than she ever hoped for. "The atmosphere was so fun," says Rebecca. "I didn't know what to expect, but I enjoyed the reactions my work got. You can't get that sort of response online."
According to Rebecca, much of her artistic development was nurtured from a young age by a live-in art tutor: her older sister. As residents of a small town in upstate Michigan, there wasn't a whole lot to do, so it seemed only natural that the sisters would spend most of their time as a pair. They would often draw together and shared a lot of the same hobbies, especially video games. As a result, Rebecca's early doodles began taking on a "fantasy-esque" flavor that is still apparent even in her recent works. Although Rebecca still claims her sister can "draw ten times better than I can," as her sister headed off to college, she decided to pursue a degree in English and let the artist's spotlight fall on Rebecca. "She says she wanted to give me space to develop as an artist," says Rebecca, who moved into high school as the sole artist of the family. Around the same time, her focus shifted to new forms of inspiration, including anime. Series like Trigun and Cowboy Bebop appealed to Rebecca, not just because of the art or the storytelling, but as touchstones to a culture unlike her own. By the time she finished high school, Rebecca's work was a mix of fantasy creatures, anime influenced designs, and acrylic paintings. It was clear to her friends and family that a focus on art was in her future, which is why she packed her bags shortly after high school and headed south to Lansing, Michigan to take art classes.
The beginning of college coursework helped usher in a number of changes for Rebecca. Her coursework, which included graphics and animation classes, helped her touch up and improve the anatomical elements of her work, as well as adjust to life drawing and other disciplines. Unfortunately, the classes didn't offer exactly what she was expecting. In the hunt for new inspiration, Rebecca's search took her to a few places she expected, and others she didn't. First and foremostly, the growth of online communities devoted to artists helped Rebecca network and make friends with other artists like her. For someone who grew up in a rural area, the sense of community was a huge asset to Rebecca, who began to take pointers from other artists and study their respective styles. In a completely different vein, Rebecca took an interest in online games and community sites like Gaia Online. The games kept her creative side alive, while Gaia provided something far more valuable: an opportunity to take her art before the public in a limited way. At first, Rebecca was accepting commissions in exchange for the "in-game" currency on Gaia, since she assumed that her work was not at the level where it could be sold. It wasn't long before that assumption was shattered; after being inundated with requests for art, she began selling her work on Gaia for profit. The venture proved successful, and over time, Rebecca built an impressive portfolio of work and a body of customers who sought her out for commissions.
Gaia brought another, more personal development to Rebecca's life: she met her boyfriend there, and after he proposed to her, she decided to leave Michigan behind and move to his area: Tacoma, Washington. Although moving to Tacoma meant that Rebecca had to take a 9 to 5 office job to pay bills, the transition did not mark the end of her participation in the art world. After getting so much positive feedback from people online, Rebecca decided to try her hand at selling art publicly through conventions and Artist's Alley. "It felt like the natural next step for me," says Rebecca, who enters 2009 with a full list of conventions on her schedule and a new self-published sketchbook of her work. The work featured in the sketchbook speaks to the skills of its author in that it features realistic anatomical features and a manga flair while also featuring long ears, shading, and other elements that speak to the strong influence that the fantasy genre. On the side, Rebecca also continues to try new techniques to add to her work, as well as work on her efficiency as an artist. "I'm still a little slow as I draw," she says, "but working with Pencil more has really helped me visualize and improve the anatomy and feel to my characters."
Ironically, Rebecca's future as an artist may feature a chapter from her past. Her sister, who inspired so much of her artistic development, is currently working on her own novels and children's books. Rebecca says that a collaborative work with her sister isn't far off, but in the meantime, she continues to do what she loves to do: share her art with more people and get her art more attention. She hopes to release her own comic sometime in the near future, but admits that she wants to keep practicing. "I've found that there's no limit to what you can do," says Rebecca, who continues to practice drawing styles and techniques to build her own style and improve her art. For her, and many other artists like her, although art courses can be helpful, nothing is quite as helpful as the support of your peers. If the support she has received so far is any indication, when Rebecca finally does publish her own comic, that support will still be there for her.
Rebecca Barnes: I have always imagined Xylona as a kind of loner character that gets forced into a life that she wasn't expecting. As for themes, I think overcoming hardships is the easiest way to sum it up - we've all had plenty in our lives and it's nice to know that it is possible to get through them. I would set the world in a sort of Sci-fi/Fantasy mixture; I love seeing a bit of gritty reality mixed in with mythical concepts/themes.
ANN: We talked about fantastical elements in your work earlier. What do you think is the least fantasy-inspired element in your work, and why do you use it in a fantasy setting?
Rebecca: I've been told that I have some very angular sharp elements in my style, which is not typical in fantasy artwork. I think it developed when I started really focusing on making crisp line art, it was just the easiest way I saw to manage it. I don't really know if it works, but I love the look it gives to my pencil work.
ANN: Ganto is one of your sister's characters. What did it feel like to draw a character created by one of your biggest inspirations, and how did it affect the drawing process for you?
Rebecca: It was a little scary - my sister is also one of my biggest critics, so I knew I had to get it perfect. In the end, I decided to throw in some of my own flair even though it wasn't what she'd originally imagined because I hoped it might give her some extra inspiration.
ANN: You told me how important support from commissioners and friends has been for you. Turning things around, what is the harshest criticism you've received from a peer or commissioner? What has been the most constructive?
Rebecca: I would definitely say my harshest criticism comes from my sister... some of which is most likely valid, but it was hard not to wonder if it was just a difference in taste. I don't really know if I can pinpoint the most constructive criticism; I like to compile all of the comments I get on my work when I post on DA to get an overall feel for what people like and don't like about my art, it's like tallying up votes.
Are you an aspiring manga artist looking for some extra page views? Do you have a friend or loved one who draws extremely good original manga but needs a boost? Don't just sit there! Submit two links to your work, including one original piece (no file attachments please! File attachments will remain single even if they attend every single round of speed dating offered at Sakura Con), to evan [at] animenewsnetwork dot com, and you could be featured in a future Gallery column!
All works © Rebecca Barnes.
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