Today we’re joined by Cipher. Cipher is a wonderful writer and digital artist who specializes in fantasy and supernatural stories. She’s currently working on a couple different stories at the moment, all of which sound absolutely fascinating. When she’s not writing, Cipher does some digital art, mostly character design. It’s very obvious that she’s a very dedicated artist, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.
Please, tell us about your art.
I’m primarily a hobbyist writer, but I draw stuff on occasion, usually when I have an exam coming up or an assignment due. I tend to write stuff geared more towards fantasy or supernatural, as I love a story with something magical in it.
My current WIP is about a pretty gold merman, pirates, and fairies (in the background). The main character is of Middle-Eastern ethnicity, and is asexual! His merman boyfriend is whatever the merman equivalent of pansexual is, and one of two primary antagonists specifically a sex-repulsed asexual man. The story features characters of many different nationalities (as far as I can make that happen with a fantasy world) such as African, British (Scottish and English), Irish, Indian, Middle-Eastern, Caribbean, and French! It deals with some potentially triggering themes at times, but it’s also a story about accepting people for who they are, and accepting that your first impression of someone may not be that accurate. Also pirates!
I also have a vampire story planned, which will contain a single father main character with a tiny child because why not! I have a secret “other account” that I use to write self-indulgent fanfiction because I have to entertain myself SOMEHOW. My niche tends to be more in writing gay romantic relationships or very close platonic friendships with a kind of found-family vibe.
Any art I draw tends to be really ridiculous and silly, or it’ll be art for my own stories or someone else’s.
What inspires you?
Everything inspires me. My own experiences and emotions, music, my friends, other content I view. Sometimes I just really want to indulge in a particular thing, and if I can’t find it out there, I write it myself! With the merman story, I kind of inspired myself? I had originally written a short series of novels which I wanted to do a spin-off for. And I was getting really into merpeople at the time, so I wanted to include one in this spin-off. The merman character I created and his human boyfriend wound up being way more interesting than what I was already writing, so I scrapped the spin-off and started telling their story instead! I have specific songs I listen to for this story, and I also tend to watch YouTube videos (check out Stella the Siren!) of people in costumes swimming around as merpeople.
One of the big themes in this story is being trapped somewhere and not being able to leave, even though logically, it should be easy. Another theme is prejudice, another is acceptance (or the lack thereof, in some cases). I drew these themes heavily from my own life, and I feel that in some roundabout way, some of the themes in this story are an accurate metaphor for the experiences some people have with their asexuality. This wasn’t my intention when writing it, but this has wound up being the result.
What got you interested in your field? Have you always wanted to be an artist?
I can remember wanting to be a writer when I was younger. I had big dreams of wanting to be a best-selling author like J. K. Rowling, I wanted to be famous for it, I wanted to earn lots of money! And it was primarily the Harry Potter books that got me interested in that. My first story ever was a (badly) illustrated retelling of Disney’s The Little Mermaid (ha, I’ve come full circle!). As I grew up, I made friends with similar interests. We all wanted to be writers, we all liked to draw. Since then, I’ve decided I actually NEVER want to be published as I’m content with sharing my works for free online where I can interact with readers on a more personal level. And my digital art is really just a hobby. I’d love to develop my skill enough to do graphic novels or webcomics, maybe open up a Patreon. But again, it’s nothing I want to pursue professionally.
Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?
Not that I know of? I guess when I write, I throw a lot of myself and my own emotions into the writing, and I NEVER intend for this to happen. It can sometimes make me feel very exposed when posting a new chapter, as I realise (though readers may not) that some of my deepest emotions and thoughts are out there for everyone to see.
What advice would you give young aspiring artists?
Of course it’s important to improve your craft, whatever it may be. But NEVER let anyone tell you that your work is “cliché” or “unoriginal”. Guess what? NOTHING is original. Everything has been done before in some way at some point. What matters is that you have fun creating it, is that you enjoy what you do. You should have fun coming up with plots or ideas for drawings, you should have fun creating characters and giving them tragic backstories or smart mouths or the perfect physique, or whatever else it is that people like to make fun of others for. Indulge in yourself. When people constantly criticize you, and make you feel like you aren’t good enough to the point where you no longer want to create your art, THEY are in the wrong. You can’t please everyone. I once had someone complain that my 18-year-old Middle-Easter male character’s facial hair made him look less cute, and she would rather he didn’t have it. Like, I’m sorry my boy doesn’t fit your ideal “uke” aesthetic. My best friend drew a picture of him with a full giant beard and moustache as retaliation for me 😀
So first and foremost, make sure YOU are happy with what you create. Create primarily for yourself and not for others. Constructive or polite criticism, take it with a polite smile and a “thank you”, but learn to recognize when someone is genuinely just being mean. Remember that everyone advances at different speeds, and not everyone is perfect at everything.
Never let anyone, not even yourself, make your art less fun for you.
Some more writing-specific advice! In my opinion, a story is made up of three components. Writing, characters, and plot. Ideally, you want at least two of these things to be good to make for a story people will like! But in my experience, good characters are what work! They could be walking down the stairs for breakfast in the morning, but if your characterization is strong and done well, people will care about it. Pay special attention to your characters and creating them, and showing who they are in your writing, and giving them reasons for doing the things they do. Plot can be whatever you want it to be. Writing improves with time. Read a lot (professionally published works, really terribly-written fanfictions, the works!). Learn what you like in another’s style and what you don’t like. Utilize and borrow these things in order to refine your own craft.
Be kind to yourself! You’re creating art!
Where on the spectrum do you identify?
I identify as asexual, panromantic.
Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field? If so, how do you handle it?
Not that I can think of. A fellow writer did once tell me that she really “didn’t get all that crap”, however given her own upbringing and where she’s from, it didn’t bother me too much. I also had a rather rude person leave a comment on my story about sex in the story’s future, and when I explained there would be none because my main character is asexual (and his love interest is half FISH), she became very blasé, laughed about asexuality, kind of implied she didn’t think it was a real thing. I offered to explain it in more depth to her, and how it specifically affects this main character versus the sex-repulsed villain, but she never responded xD
Most of the ignorance tends to stem from people simply not knowing what asexuality is – they’ve either never heard of it, or they have misconceptions about what it is. And that’s fine, because I myself knew nothing about it until only a year or two ago. The best way I deal with THAT is to tell them that it’s okay if they don’t know or understand. I give a little explanation, and offer to go more in depth with them if they want, or I offer to point them to resources. Most people I’ve encountered have been very pleasant about it. Those who aren’t, just don’t talk to them. And remember to use that block button if necessary!
What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?
The most common one I’ve personally encountered is that people assume I’m afraid of sex. They assume this is the case, and they think I say I’m asexual so I either won’t have to have sex, or it’s an excuse so I don’t have to admit I’m afraid. Generally speaking, this is not the case at all. I’ve also had people think I don’t want sex, or “there must be something wrong” with me because “everyone wants sex!”. And finally, my number one FAVOURITE – “you just haven’t met the right person yet! That will change when you meet The One!” You know what, maybe it WILL change if I meet The One. Maybe I’m specifically demi-sexual. Maybe I just haven’t met my type yet. But for someone to try to invalidate my current sexuality like that is NOT okay. I never have felt, nor do I think I ever WILL feel sexual attraction. This, however, does NOT prevent me from having relationships, from having sex (physically, thoughts, “alone time”, etc) or from living a perfectly fulfilling life.
What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?
That honestly depends on why they are struggling. The main thing to remember, I think, is that you know yourself best. If you think you’re asexual, call yourself asexual. If it’s dangerous for you to “come out” you are under NO obligation to do so. Ace positivity is everywhere on the internet, which is fantastic! However, you are no less ace if you choose not to participate or contribute, or if you choose never to talk about it. Your pride doesn’t have to be loud. You are no less ace if you only SOMETIMES feel ace, or if you used to not be, but now you are. There are resources out there where you can find a more specific term for your sexuality if you wish, but if you think you are ace, then that is what you are and no one can tell you any differently. There is nothing WRONG with you. Hundreds of thousands of us have thought the same thing. “I must be straight by default” or “I don’t understand why she’d cheat on him” or “sex isn’t that great”.
Asexuality is such a broad spectrum that of course everybody has different experiences. Different circumstances, different emotions, different actions, etc. Just because you’re not like another asexual person, that doesn’t mean you are less asexual. You can absolutely know if you’re ace whether you’ve had sex or not. I knew from about age 11 or 12 that I was ace, I just didn’t know the term for it at the time.
And for those of you who, like me for a while, wished you WEREN’T asexual, I have this to say: you are who you are. You feel what you feel. I hope you can come to accept yourself and realise that there is nothing wrong with being asexual. There are people out there who love and support you, and fellow ace people like myself are always here to chat should you need it ❤ Remember, the world in general still doesn’t understand a lot about asexuality. We’re still trying to get them to figure out that being gay is a real and normal thing! For many of us, being ace isn’t always easy. But we’ll get there. Just have pride in who you are, avoid Ace Discourse, and live your life!
Finally, where can people find out more about your work?
You can find my writing here on Wattpad as well as an artbook that I update sometimes: https://www.wattpad.com/user/Ciphertext
I’m also on Tumblr where I sometimes post art, but mostly I reblog fandom stuff, memes, and Vine compilations: https://ciphertext-x.tumblr.com/
Thank you, Cipher, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.