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Technique Talk: Illustrator Tara Helfer

Posted by Jackie Mantey | January 15, 2013 02:40 PM

Technique Talk is a weekly online Alive feature that spotlights the process of a Columbus artist. Know someone we should talk to? Send tips to jmantey@columbusalive.com.


 

Tara Helfer. Photo by Meggy Stropki.

Growing up amid Pennsylvanian woods, Tara Helfer learned to embrace the darkness, natural and otherwise. Themes of urban legend, folklore and hunting wrapped their roots inside Helfer during her early days spent exploring the wilderness. Today Helfer edits the comic anthology “Unicorn Mountain” and freelances her illustration, comics and animation skills. What is most compelling about Helfer’s creations is the storytelling she’s able to encapsulate in her characters through her intense and varied linework. See Helfer’s work below (and here, which includes some sweet experimental game designs) and read up on how she creates.

"Invisible Street," by Tara Helfer

"Perchtenlauf," by Tara Helfer

"Piglady of Perryopolis," by Tara Helfer

What kind of art do you make and why?

Illustration, comics and occasionally animation. Art is a natural form of communication for me. I was a shy kid growing up and turned to drawing in a somewhat vain effort to deal with my deep-seated fears and impulses. I didn’t have a lot of friends at school, and at home I lived in a secluded area with acres of forest that grabbed my imagination and went running. The subjects of my work and frequent escapism tended to repel people away, but as my work improved there came brief, scattered moments when a piece would resonate with a viewer. He or she would approach me with my piece and start talking wildly about their grandma’s Christmas towels or a reoccurring dream...something weird like that. It struck me as ridiculous, albeit a little gratifying, that a person would be totally fine with confiding that very personal information with someone they just met. My art became a comfortable way for me to connect with others. People are naturally conversationalists and storytellers, but for me there is an emotional benefit to creating art that surpasses conversation. When I don’t work for a few days at a time I feel cut-off, as if I’ve lost my voice.


When do you make art?

At night since I work during the day. Because of my day job I work in the morning and late at night. There’s a sweet spot between 11 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. I usually get carried away and stay up until early morning.

"Razor Boar," by Tara Helfer

"Roadside Spectacular," by Tara Helfer

"Splat Rabbit," by Tara Helfer

How often do you make art?

Weekly for most projects. A more detailed piece or painting can take up to three months. I try to keep something on my plate at all times

Where do you make art and why?
My studio is in my living room. I have a spot next to my computer and another close to a window so I can gather energy from the sun. I try to be flexible and carry supplies with me wherever I go. Artwork ends up being smaller than me, but I prefer the intimacy of something that can be held.

 

Teeth Dream Pg. 4

Teeth Dream Pg. 5

"The Shaman’s Son," by Tara Helfer


What has been inspiring your work lately?

Dalecarlian horses and slime molds. 

What advice that you’ve found invaluable would you give a new artist?

Whatever it is that you’re doing, make sure that you’re making art for yourself. Don’t make it your goal to impress people or you’ll be miserable.

What do you do while you work?

I’ll either put on ambient or upbeat music. Anything with words or lyrics throws me off focus, but during the final stages of a piece I’ll listen to audiobooks. When planning a piece, whether it’s a sketch or keyframes, I need complete silence.

"Thunder Horse," by Tara Helfer

Untitled by Tara Helfer


Do you ever experience artist’s block? If so, what do you do to combat it?

I don’t experience artist’s block. I’ve found that inspiration doesn’t come unless it’s chased. There are brief periods of depression where I nearly stop functioning, but I find that doing some judgment-free sketching using a permanent medium (like ink) or something that is not intimidating (like crayons) helps those moments pass quickly.

Three artists, living or dead, that you would invite to a dinner party:

Jim Woodring, Lynda Barry and Francis Bacon. While I find his work visually stimulating, I identify with the sense of urgency in Bacon’s paintings and philosophy. Lynda Barry saved my love for making things. Over Christmas I got into Jim Woodring’s art and comics and feel like we might be kindred spirits.

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