20 Jun Meet Character Card Artist M.J. Works
As we were getting ready to release Firstborn, we wanted to create some amazing swag for readers. We found MJ Works, a talented your artist who creates character cards (among other things). She designed beautiful cards depicting eleven characters from the series, and one fun bonus card. We asked MJ to tell us more about her art and her creative process.
Q: What’s your process for deciding how to depict a character?
MJ: Depicting characters is one of my favorite things to do. The more time I have, the more I explore sketching them, developing concepts, and researching references that may help me bring the character to life. Working with Tosca was especially great because, even though we were under a tight deadline, she did all the reference research for me, providing very detailed presentations on who each character is. From there, I just have fun and draw!
Q: Have you worked with authors before? How do they differ from other clients?
MJ: I am currently working with four other authors from different genres and they are all wonderful. Because authors spend so much time creating their stories, they are very understanding about the creative process and what I need to create illustrations for them. They are much more open minded with sharing ideas and treating the project as more of a collaboration than a job. It’s quite rewarding.
Q: How long did it take to create each of these Progeny character cards? What was it like bringing a character from a book series to life?
MJ: I was really excited when I got the job to illustrate Tosca’s characters because I adore the genre. Costumes, masks, diversity—it was all super fun. I worked on each character over a couple of days, roughly about six hours in total for each card. Some took longer than others during moments of art block, or when Tosca and I had to figure out how to approach certain changes.
Tosca’s story was the first work I’ve done for an author who already had some character designs. I’m usually the one to design the characters around the story, but it was very interesting to receive the written descriptions and renderings of the characters. As I read The Progeny, I can’t emphasize enough how cool it was to read about the characters I worked on. It almost felt as though I was reading about my friends or people I know personally. I have become familiar with them in a unique way that no one else will experience since the familiarity came with the process of bringing them to life. Very exciting.
Q: Tell us about some of your favorite projects.
MJ: I love everything I do, but my favourite project right now is actually a comic issue about my original creations. It’s still a work in progress, but I have teamed up with Zelpha Comics who has helped write the story and will be publishing it on completion. It’s a fantasy story that will focus on my Harpy creatures who face all kinds of challenges in an unusual world. The story will have a bit of everything from drama, romance, adventure, mystery, action, you name it. I am hoping this will be a start to my long-term goal of creating a graphic novel series on my favourite original character of all time, Skylar Fox. The comic issue about the Harpies will be featured at Niagara Falls Con by Zelpha Comics.
Q: How did you get started?
MJ: I started when I was just a kid. I always knew that this is what I needed to be doing to be happy in life. I was doing commission work as early as high school. After I went to college and worked with people in the creative industry, I realized how much improvement I actually had to do to keep up with the immense competition. I spent all the time I could improving in every way and then, on the first day of 2016, I quit all my side jobs, decided I was done being a student, and devoted my full attention to making my illustration business grow.
Q: Who has been most instrumental in encouraging your creative endeavors?
MJ: Definitely my parents. They are not familiar with the creative industry or how it works and, although there were many times they had doubts about my career choice, they believed I had what it took and offered whatever support they could. It’s hard starting a business, but another source of encouragement came from people who follow me on social media, particularly through Deviantart, when even my oldest drawings would get loads of support from friends and followers and really gave me motivation to keep practicing and get where I am now.
Q: You’ve been at ComicCon! What’s that like??
MJ: Fan conventions are a lot of fun! I’ve been to so many already and I look forward to going every time. If you haven’t been to a convention like Comic Con, go! You’re missing out and I highly recommend giving it a shot. I am usually in the Artist Alley part of the conventions selling prints and artwork. It’s so rewarding having people walk by and ask me questions, discussing projects, and pointing at my booth impressed with what they see. I have made some of my best contacts at conventions. It really is a great environment and, although it’s an exhausting couple of days that kill your feet, it is worth it every time!
Q: What advice would you give artists trying to make a living through their work?
MJ: It is so hard to make a business out of something like this that you have to want it so bad that you will do whatever it takes. Make sure that your interest in art is more than a hobby and accept that it will take years to develop your business. You must have excellent time management skills and be self motivated. You have to have a thick skin and be ready for rejection. You have to practice all day everyday. This is not a nine-to-five job, this is a wake up-sleep job. A lifestyle.
Q: What tools/programs do you use?
MJ: I am huge on multi media! My studio is full of so many different tools, some times I have difficulty deciding what to use. I have a giant drawer occupied with colored pencils alone, haha. My favourite program to use is Photoshop. It’s the easiest to paint on and will be even easier when I get around to purchasing my own Cintiq!
Q: Favorite art supplies?
MJ: So many! I love Copic markers and water colors for traditional work. I love colored pencils on tanned paper and ink on everything. I always like line art, you can tell most of my illustrations have it. I am not crazy about acrylic paint though. I will paint once in a while if the client wants this, but I avoid it when I can.
Q: What do you like to listen to while you’re working?
MJ: I listen to a lot while I am working and it isn’t always music. Sometimes I like listening to audio books, play Youtube videos with motivational speakers, news and trending topics. Some times I will binge some of my favorite shows or play documentaries on history, crime or conspiracy theories. When I have art block, I will play speed paints or tutorials by other artists to get back into it. When I can’t think of anything, I’ll put something random on from Netflix, haha. Because I work at the same time, I miss a lot and avoid playing things that will distract me from my focus, but this rarely happens.
Get your own set of Progeny Series character cards designed by MJ! Buy HERE.