Interview: Abi Stevens

Today we’re joined by Abi Stevens. Abi is a phenomenal visual artist who specializes in digital art and illustration. She makes colorful illustrations featuring monsters, myths, and folklore. Abi also does additional work about chronic illness and has recently run a successfully funded Kickstarter for enamel pins. It’s clear she’s a dedicated and passionate artist who loves what she does, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.

Black Shuck
Black Shuck

WORK

Please, tell us about your art.

I’m a digital illustrator and I make colourful and detailed illustrations inspired by mythology, folklore, history and all things fantastical. My work is often influenced by elements of ‘visual history’, by which I mean historical art forms, architecture and objects. In particular I love stained glass windows and illuminated manuscripts. You can see references to these sources in the stylized borders and iconography in my work. I also enjoy including hidden details in my work and incorporating symbolism such as the language of flowers.

More recently my subject matter has expanded into more personal areas; exploring my experience with chronic migraine, and I plan to expand into other chronic illnesses and mental health issues as well. Most recently I have been creating enamel pin and sticker designs incorporating the words ‘chronic warrior’ and ‘migraine warrior’.

What inspires you?

Growing up I was obsessed with fantasy and science-fiction books and I devoured every story I could get my hands on. It was my own personal escape from reality and so this early love of the fantastical has carried heavily over into my own creative practice. I think we all enjoy stories of lives grander and more bizarre than our own. In some ways my artwork is still a means of escape, but one that I can share with everyone else.

My love of fantasy and science-fiction naturally expanded over time into a fascination with mythology. As an atheist I find the incredible range of deities and monsters we have conjured up across the world fascinating. There are mythical creatures so ingrained in our modern collective consciousness that everybody can recognise them. These imaginary beings are powerful historical heirlooms and vehicles for education and social narratives.

This sense of wonder carries over into my historical inspirations. I enjoy dramatic historical narratives and learning about different cultures through their past. However it is historical art forms that really spark in me a sense of wonder: details of architecture, stained glass, and illuminated manuscripts jump out at me and inspire me to create my own art.

Glass Books of the Dream Eaters
Glass Books of the Dream Eaters

What got you interested in your field?  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

Growing up I enjoyed creating but I was curious about a lot of things and my ideas for the future were pretty vague.  I was interested in pretty much anything that didn’t involve maths and for a long time I couldn’t make my mind up about what I wanted to be: a writer? A fine artist? A psychologist? A historian? A teacher? It took all my teenage years, 4 A levels and a Foundation Degree before I really knew what an illustrator even was! By happy accident it turns out I chose to study the one subject that can encompass all of my varied interests at once. As an illustrator you get to explore all sorts of subjects and there are so many possibilities for what you can do with your work that I never get bored. It’s an ongoing process; learning, improving skills, observing and researching, and overcoming challenges and deadlines, and I don’t think I could ever be ‘done’. Once you’ve chosen to be an artist, I think it changes the way you observe that world, and it really becomes a way of life as much as a vocation.

Kickstarter

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?

It’s not so much a signature per say, but I like to hide narrative or historical details in my illustrations: things that people who look hard enough will appreciate but that might go un-noticed on a first pass. This can mean anything from references to the language of flowers, to stained glass window references and various symbolism. I love the idea of people discovering something new in my work each time they look at it. For example ‘Volant’ (my flying mythological creature illustration) includes interactions between the larger mythological characters and smaller real-life animals that you may not notice on a first look: such as the moths being drawn to the flame the Phoenix carries, the blue tits trying to protect their friend from the Griffin, and the Siren’s child trying to catch a bat.

What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

First of all, to always be true to yourself and try not to be swayed too much by the trends on social media. It’s helpful to be aware of current trends but the best way to improve your work and stand out from the crowd is to stay true to your own interests. Passion for your subject is what will pull your best work out of you.

And second, don’t compare yourself negatively to other artists. Everyone is at a different point in their journey and has different resources available, so the only point of reference that is truly relevant is the measure of your own personal progress.

mental health online
Mental Health Online

ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum do you identify?

I dither a bit to be honest as I’m still figuring myself out, but I usually go with Grey-Ace.

Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

Not yet. To be honest my sexuality doesn’t come up much in conversation and while I’m pretty open about it online, it hasn’t been discussed in a professional context yet, or really in many personal ones. I’m hoping I’m lucky enough to avoid that kind of behaviour in the future as well. I know others haven’t been so lucky.

mental health
Mental Health

What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

Probably the idea that all asexuals are sex-repulsed and A-romantic. There’s actually a wide spectrum of asexuality and this clumsy assumption left me feeling completely out of place for a while. I didn’t feel like I fit clearly under straight or LGBT+ labels and that was a lonely feeling.

What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?

I think to pay close attention to their instincts and how their body is feeling. I’ve got some uncomfortable memories from times where I squashed down my instinct that something didn’t feel right with the idea that I should want certain things, I must feel a certain way, or put another persons wants before my own comfort. Our cultural preconceptions of what ‘normal’ is can have such a huge negative impact on our ability to cultivate a healthy self-image, and if your on the ace spectrum it can require a lot of effort to re-program yourself to listen to how you really feel and not how you think you should. This is possibly the biggest hurdle to being comfortable with your orientation.

migraine
Migraine

Finally, where can people find out more about your work?

I have a website at www.abistevens.com which displays my portfolio and also a blog with an introductory blog post explaining more about my work.

You can also find me on Twitter (AbiStevens_Art) and Instagram (abistevens_illustration).

At the moment I am running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the Chronic Warrior and Migraine Warrior enamel pin designs I mentioned earlier. The first pin has already been funded and we’re on our way to the second. You can find that here.

poster
Poster

Thank you, Abi, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.

Interview: H. Anthe Davis

Today we’re joined by H. Anthe Davis. Davis is a wonderful self-published writer who specializes in a hybrid of dark and high fantasy. She’s currently working on a series that involves plenty of magic, monsters, and body horror. Though she has only been publishing for a few years, Davis already has four books out. She’s very obviously a talented and dedicated writer, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.

shelfie1

WORK

Please, tell us about your art.

I’m a self-published writer, specializing in a hybrid of high- and dark-fantasy — lots of magic, lots of monsters, big dollop of body horror.  I’ve been writing since I was a kid, and working on this series for…honestly longer than I like to contemplate, but I actually started publishing the series in 2013 and I now have four books out.

What inspires you?

I am a voracious reader of fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and science/adventure/disaster nonfiction.  I’ve always been interested in the process of building a world, especially in making it internally consistent and essentially realistic — and to that end, I’m kind of interested in everything.  Arts, culture, sciences, religion, politics, psychology — all are important (in various levels) to building a consistent and convincing world, and the more real it feels, the more impactful the stories written in it. I do a lot of background work on critters, maps, mythology and the like.  It’s a passion.

What got you interested in your field?  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

My mother has always been a big fantasy buff, so I started reading her big stacks of paperbacks when I was quite young.  Eight or so?  I have a book report from that age that I wrote on one of the pulp fantasy series she read back then, complete with illustrations.  Mom was also a social worker back then, so I also read some of her psych texts, and got very interested in the psychology of the characters both in what I was reading and in the proto-stories I was already spinning. I never wanted to be anything but a writer (even though I tried to be a physics major for a while there in college).

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?

Since my body of written work isn’t terribly large yet, I don’t have anything secret, but I imagine one or two of my immortal characters will be around in everything I write, passing by in the background quietly, only noticeable if you’re already aware of who they are.  There’s one character who’s been with me since I was about thirteen, who I don’t think I’ll ever set aside.

What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

Make a habit of your work — set aside a space and time in your life where you can consistently create.  Wean yourself off any time-sucking entertainments; I lost ten years of my life to MMORPGs, gah, World of Warcraft you were fun but you almost destroyed me.  Chew on criticism, don’t swallow it whole; I’ve learned a lot from constructive critiques, and used it to fix a lot of issues with my work, but some criticism comes from people who weren’t paying any frickin’ attention or who just think too differently to accept what you were trying to do.

ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum do you identify?

I am asexual aromantic.  I don’t want to be involved with anyone else’s body or emotions. Heck, most of the time I don’t want to be involved with my body or emotions — I just want to do my work.

Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

Most people aren’t aware that I have any preference or lack thereof.  In my Day Job, though, I have been nagged about my singlehood.  The nags means well, I guess, but that stiff traditional mindset has caused tension in the past.  I am a prickly person, so I don’t know that I handle it well; I think I usually respond to the tune of ‘naaaah that’s not gonna happen’.  Regardless, I haven’t been nudged about it in a while, so maybe that was good enough.

What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

That it can be ‘cured’ by the ‘right person’.  I know that for certain portions of the ace spectrum, that is kind of possible — you grow close to them and then get interested physically. Demi-sexual, right?  But that’s not a frickin’ cure, it’s organic interest. It can’t be forced.  For me, if anything, getting closer to someone makes me even less physically interested, something that two almost-not-really-boyfriends had a hard time accepting.  I know myself better now, and am better at not putting my foot into that sort of trap. You can like someone strongly, platonically, without dating them or being physical.  If they can’t handle that, it’s not gonna be a good relationship.

What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?

Don’t let someone else’s professed need for you overwhelm your own needs.  Don’t date people out of sympathy/pity — it’s not good for either of you.  Don’t fall into the cultural trap that says you need another person to complete you.  You are a complete person in and of yourself, and only you can decide how you should express any emotionality or physicality you need — or don’t need. Finally, your wants and needs can change over time; we’re not our labels, we’re living, breathing, changing creatures.  Don’t be afraid of that.  Explore it.

Finally, where can people find out more about your work?

I have a website!  https://warofmemory.com/
I am also on Facebook under my pen name, https://www.facebook.com/HAntheDavis/.

Thank you, H. Anthe Davis, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.