This month I'm excited to share an interview by artist Heather R. Hitchman She'll be sharing some of her inspirations and talking about her ongoing work on a project called Terratoff. Heather is a member of the Changeling Artist Collective which specializes n faerie and folklore art. She currently lives and works in Kissamee Florida.
First I’d like to get to know a little more about you, Heather. Could you tell us a little about yourself and why you create.
Thanks Autumn, I have always loved to draw and tell stories. Even before I could write I remember making picture books as a kid and telling the story aloud from my head to my family and friends. Art and storytelling brings what’s in your imagination into reality in a tangible way, like an adventure for your mind. This is why I find the fantasy, fairy tale, and historical genres so appealing. You can “go” to places and time periods that you never could in reality.
Can you share a bit about your creative process? How long does a painting typically take?
It varies, I am both a traditional and digital artist so the process involved and times differ depending on what media I am working with. But the “theory” of the process is similar for both. I try to create a few new pencil drawings a week for my personal project “Terratoff”. Those usually take about 3-4 hours, but some have taken as long as 6 hours if they are really ornate. My collection of digital work thus far contains all of my finished full color pieces, those can take up to 80 hours to complete. Right now I am experimenting with how I can marry those two media together, and also incorporate watercolors as well.
Whichever media I work in, I start with gathering reference images to inspire and educate me on the subject of my choosing. Once I have my inspiration, I begin making tiny thumbnails to get the feeling and composition right (I have several pages in my sketchbook that are covered with thumbnails on top of each other) if digital, these are just scribbles on the screen.
This is when I think about what story I want the scene to tell, who is this character? What are they feeling? What are they doing? What about this scene do I want the focus to be on? All those questions and more circulate through my brain like a checklist that I must answer in my drawing. Sometimes the message is as simple as an emotion. Sometimes the scene is more complex with several characters that are interacting. Whatever the situation, the message or feeling must be clear.
Once I have an idea I like, I will lightly sketch out my drawing with a colored mechanical pencil for traditional, or a thick hard edge brush for digital. I make sure to pick either a cool or warm color depending on the direction I want the final drawing to go.
Once the loose sketch is done I move on to the “refined” drawing. For traditional, I take out darker pencils and begin layering on clean contour lines and details. I keep things as clean as I can as I go. From there it’s more layering, progressively working in more and darker colors to create depth until the drawing is complete.
For digital I am a little more loose, mostly because trying to get a perfect line each time with a tablet is a time killer. I find it saves much more time to ink with a small brush but loosely, then go back to cleanup later.
So I end up doing several layers of inking. It involves a lot of carving away and building up lines to create depth. Once the inks are done I will apply several layers of loose digital color under my lineart, color adjust, and then render above everything! I could talk about this for ages so if anybody wants to know more keep an eye out for my Twitch streams to see the ENTIRE process in real time and ask questions as I work! https://www.twitch.tv/heatherhitchman
Thanks for sharing such a detailed description of your process. What are some of the medias you enjoy working in?
For most of my professional career I have been a digital artist, but about 2 years ago I was beginning to feel a bit stagnant with that. I had what every artist dreads, massive art block. I started to wonder how I could get “the love” back into my art. In my soul searching, I thought about when I was a kid and how I would just draw and draw with pencils for hours on end. I wanted so desperately to get THAT feeling back, the simple joy and need to draw. So I dedicated myself to begin regularly pencil drawing and it worked! I spend time each day working on both digital and traditional pieces and it has helped me grow as an artist, stay more consistent, and have more fun.
Now that I am feeling fairly confident with my pencil work, I am introducing a new member to the family, watercolors! I am still learning, but the possibilities of how all 3 of these media can work together is really exciting to me!
Yes! I'm a firm believer of mixing up your media if you begin to feel stuck. I'm interested in seeing where your watercolors take you. Now, you live in Florida, so is your work influenced by your location? If so, how?
Not so much from my current location, (Kissimmee Florida) I am far more inspired by my homeland in England. I am really inspired by the folklore and darker fairy tales that originated from the UK. The nature, culture, and the feeling of nostalgia I get when I think of the old streets, smells, and sights are always a great inspiration to me! The land and history are so old and filled with stories! I have been fortunate enough to travel back twice since we immigrated but I am itching to return again as soon as I can.
England sounds lovely. I've always wanted to visit. This leads nicely into my next question. I'm always interested in finding out what inspires fellow artists to create, what are some of your inspirations?
Lots of things inspire me, music has always been a key part of that process. I often listen to a song on repeat and a story will manifest in my head like a movie. I can then recreate the story of the song in my art. I quite like to sing as well, so I have been known to sing along to the song as I am drawing… you’d be surprised how these two artforms work together to make the experience of creating art not just more fun but therapeutic as well.
Some other things that inspire me are fashion, nature, fantasy and of course, fairy tales.
When did your interest in fairy tales begin and how do you feel it has influenced your art?
I’d say fairy tales have been an interest for as long as I can remember! When I was a kid it was my job to read my little brother and sister bedtime stories every night. I always remember it fondly as a great bonding experience, fairy tales were especially fun. I loved the magic and endless possibilities they contained. As I grew older, I began to discover that there were darker versions of those stories, I loved the play of dark versus light to create something beautiful.
You’ve mentioned Terratoff a few times. Can you tell us more about the Terratoff project? I’m especially interested in hearing about the ’Rott’.
Terratoff has been an evolving world building project I have been working on since I was a kid. Eventually it will become a series of heavily illustrated novels.
I believe I started working on it as a kind of coping mechanism for the huge changes in my life around the time of my immigration. I felt lost and out of place, so I wanted there to be a world I could belong to again, even if only in my head.
The story of Terratoff is a "paranormal fairy tale" about a magical world ruled by creatures of magic, born of an enchanted tree. This tree filled this world with magic and life...until it began to rot away...as trees eventually do.
The tree’s new children became corrupted and twisted by the plague as well, and war between "The Pure" and "The Rott" began to wage. The Rott want to consume Terratoff and protect their beloved mother tree from being destroyed... the Pure aim to vanquish the Rott and stop it from spreading to neighboring realms...including "the world of man."
The “Rott” are creatures of magic that have been corrupted by “the Rotten Plague”. The condition literally rots the creature from the inside out, twisting their personality and physical appearance into something monstrous. Their best personality traits become heinous character flaws, and their physical mutations are a reflection of their inward transformation. They lose their ability to use healing and elemental magic, which are replaced with teleportation and the drive to corrupt the magic in other “Pure” creatures. They frequently teleport to our world where they play tricks in the shadows, moving objects and whispering night terrors into sleeping ears. The most powerful Rott are able to teleport inside of a vulnerable human host, which they then bring back to Terratoff to be used as their protective shield in battle.
As time goes on, the Pure find a way to rescue these “possessed” people and bring them to fight at their side, training them to resist the powers of possession that once robbed them of control of their bodies.
The novels I am working on will tell the tales of this war of light and dark, good and evil, hope and fear. The story revolves around light and darkness, and how both can be good and evil...nothing is what it seems.
Wonderful! I have to ask, do you have a favorite fairy tale?
That is a tough one! This may sound cliche but I would probably have to go with “The Little Mermaid”, the HCA version. I love the sad ending and the dark themes told through an enchanting and beautiful story. My favorite part is how she selflessly sacrifices herself for the man she loves...transforming into foam and becoming one with the sea.
Are there any events or projects that you are working on and would like to share a bit about?
Quite a few things are coming up for me this year. I will be repeating #Junicorn (a month of unicorn drawings in June) #Smaugust (a month of dragons in August) and probably doing more of my “Faunsona” giveaways.
I am developing my new Twitch channel, and making plans for a world building themed Patreon as well as some kickstarters for limited edition prints.
Is there anything else you'd like to mention or give a shout-out to?
Definitely a shout out to my husband and fellow artist Tad Lambert. He pushed me to start working on Terratoff seriously and is always encouraging and probably my biggest fan. I also want to thank all of those within my very active and wonderful “online family” that engage with me on Facebook, Instagram, and all over the web. Their enthusiasm for my work keeps me going.
Thank you Ms. Heather for taking the time for this interview. I loved learning more about your art!