by Evan Miller,
Before I get to this week's column, I want to send a shout out to all the previously featured Gallery artists who I got to hang out with at FanimeCon last weekend: Ziang Her, Lanny Liu, Elda The, Rebecca Barnes, and Hans Tseng. A lot of previously featured artists will be attending some of the upcoming Summer conventions, so we'll try to keep you posted as to where they'll be so you can purchase some of the work you've all been reading about. Good idea, yes?
This week we welcome the youngest artist to ever be featured in the column!
There are a number of ways to be recognized as a professional artist instead of an amateur. The most obvious is to attend art school, undergo formal art training, take an apprenticeship, and so forth. The tricky part is what happens before that, when the "amateur" artist is (for the most part) the only person responsible for pushing themselves to develop and improve their style. Although she is only seventeen, Tracy Liang has been working with friends and teachers to develop her style for years, but her attitude still speaks to when it was simply her hobby. "I'm pretty disorganized - I just draw what I like," she admits. The results of her efforts, regardless of what motivated them, are easy to see; as I was walking the halls of FanimeCon last weekend, numerous artists commented positively on how good her work looks. This fall, Tracy heads to Chicago to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and continue working towards a career in art. There is a lot that she wants to learn, such as getting through artist's block faster and putting more elements into her drawings. Still, it is hard to argue that she doesn't already have a good head start.
As she grew up, Tracy was addicted to cartoons and animation, and it wasn't long before she was doing doodles of her own. As she was growing up, she was drawn into the world of anime and manga through Sailor Moon like other girls her age, which inspired her to incorporate elements of manga into her drawings. However, it wasn't until her older sister showed her some of the graphic designs that adorned the covers of her journals. "When I saw those," remembers Tracy, "I knew that I wanted to do art." At first, she set to work drawing characters in her spare time. When she got her first pen for inking, she became even more serious about her art and started experimenting with different design styles. Meanwhile, her love for anime continued to grow as she became a fan of One Piece and watched the entire catalog of Hayao Miyazaki's animated films in middle school. As a fan of anime and manga, it was only a matter of time before Tracy heard about a fast growing online community with a huge pool of amateur artists: Gaia Online.
When she first visited Gaia, Tracy was surprised by not only the number of artists on the site, but the diversity in their styles. After making friends with a few artists through the site, she decided that she should endeavor to diversify her own style as well. Her online friends helped make it happen, forming a small group that would regularly critique and support each other's work. "We would try to speed draw together, working to become better," remembers Tracy, who doesn't hesitate suggesting a similar approach for new artists. "It is really important to show others your art when you are starting out like that. It's so helpful it's ridiculous." Her circle of support still exists today, with many of her friends now putting most of their art on Deviant Art instead of Gaia. Their advice continued to push Tracy, who decided to attend "Portfolio Day" with a group of art schools during her Sophomore year. The verdict of the school representatives on her art wasn't quite as positive as what she was used to, as they told her that she would need a stronger portfolio to gain acceptance to art school. Undeterred, Tracy enrolled in studio classes locally, where she began to work with other mediums such as oil painting and charcoal. With studio training and the support of her friends, Tracy decided that her style was ready for an audience, and she made her first appearance in an Artist's Alley in her junior year. She admits that there were tough spots in her path as an artist, but she has never lacked a motivation: "I see other artists that are good at what they do, and that pushes me," says Tracy. "I think all there is to it is that art is what I have always loved."
Tracy's recent work is indicative of an artist who has developed their own flair, but isn't afraid to experiment with something new. She has produced a series of black and white pieces where shading and thicker lines are used to define certain parts of the piece. "The black and white look has a very clean feeling to it, which I like," says Tracy, who hopes to experiment with intense colors in a similar format in the future. Her current color work is soft and carefully shaded, which gives it a classic feel. In many of her works are some of her original characters, who are not specifically identified by their back stories, but just used to fit a specific piece. "I tried to give my characters back stories once, but the descriptions would ramble on and make no sense," admits Tracy, who has also experimented with sequential artwork on her own but hasn't released any of it to the public yet. As practice, she has also worked on backgrounds and drawing males (as opposed to the female characters with which her work is commonly associated). Although she is devoted to practicing her skills and making her art look better, Tracy admits that she has faced many of the hurdles that other artists face as their hobby becomes their profession. "I think every artist has ADD a little," she says with a laugh. "Whenever I get artist's block, I'll try to wait it out a bit, or go back to something that inspired me." Those inspirations have become as diverse as Tracy's style has; the artist admits that she has recently drawn on games, classic rock, game concepts, and more for inspirational cues.
The piece seen here (called Find Nirvana) is an example of the black and white style that Tracy has developed. The elements in the piece range from traditional Japanese elements like a daruma to cassette tapes and a guitar. "I like graffitti and the graphic look that you see on t-shirts," says Tracy. She describes the makeup of the piece as a combination of elements - not too unlike the many creative cues that have guided the changes in her own style. "I like mixing the old and the new," she says of Finding Nirvana, adding, "plus I love rock, so the guitar is awesome."
At the time of this writing, Tracy is just a week or two away from finishing high school. Her ambitions reflect her works thus far in that they are all about adding details. "I want to be able to draw a whole city, not just the people in it," she says. "I want to take away all the limits my style has now - to be able to draw everything that could possibly pop into my mind." She's already working towards that goal; along with taking commissions for a wide variety of character types, Tracy plans to keep pushing herself to see what skills and techniques she can acquire on her own, as she has done thus far. Of course, she cites her art friends from the internet as a consistent base of support, and she still works with them to exchange critiques about the pieces they create. As Tracy Liang departs for college, it's clear that she's most excited about what she can learn to improve her style. Considering her record, she may end up playing a role similar to the one she's played until now: the role of a talented artist who can not only learn from her peers, but help teach them as well.
Tracy Liang: I think I drew that when I was in my sort of "secret ops" phase. Not that I was in secret ops, but for a while I was really in love with the idea of these sort of mercenary soldier groups or what not and I obviously had to draw something for it. I'm not really one for traditional stereotypes so I threw off the uniform, added some street duds. As for the expression, I find sarcastic brats really fun to draw. I don't know, my mind works in strange ways.
ANN: This is kind of corny, but if you could travel back in time four years and give the younger you some advice about their art, what would it be?
Tracy: Get off your lazy butt and take some classes. If I had known that taking technical classes would be that helpful, I would've done it so much earlier.
ANN: Your characters have a very unique fashion sense, as if nothing was spared in creating their costumes. How do you develop these designs and pick the elements that go into them?
Tracy: The costumes I design really depend on the character. I like designing characters by "classes" like a video game so I like taking elements of their "class" and incorporating it into their clothing. Putting in details is really just a pick and choose thing and depends on my mood at the moment. I also watch a lot of fashion runway shows to get inspiration on clothing shapes and what not.
ANN: We talked a bit about what you are looking forward to in art school, but what are you most apprehensive about?
Tracy: I'm most apprehensive about the work load. I heard art schools can be really intense and the classes are really long. Otherwise I'm pretty golden, I can do laundry, I can make cereal, all is well. Oh, for a while I was also scared that I might get roomed with some crazy cat lady but I don't think that's going to happen.
ANN: What is the harshest criticism that you've ever received as an artist, and how have you overcome that criticism?
Tracy: That my art style was too cartoon-y and generic to work. I'm still working on making my drawings recognizable but on the cartoon-y end, drawing from life really helps.
To see more of Tracy's work, check out her Deviant Art page here.
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 be wrapped in bacon, fried, and submitted to "this is why you're fat"), to evan [at] animenewsnetwork dot com, and you could be featured in a future Gallery column!
All works © Tracy Liang.
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