Illustrator and Fan Artist Jade Gordon

Jade Gordon

by Rasmus Rasmussen on April 10, 2012

Jade Gordon greeted me with a warm and honest smile on the floor of the Emerald City Comic Con. I first met Jade at a concert where I caught a glimpse of her awesome fan art. It made me curious about her work, so I looked it up, liked it even more, and finally reached out for an interview. She agreed, and in this interview she shares a few glimpses into her process and work, not only with fan art but as an illustrator.

AP: You have a very distinct style that’s fun and very comic book like. How did you settle on this particular look? What makes it appeal to you as a way to express yourself?

I never really know what it is that people see as a distinct style in my work (though I can sometimes see it in others’). I try to break out of habits into new styles, themes and techniques once in a while, but somehow people can still identify things I’ve done. If I seem stuck in a particular style/theme rut, it’ll generally be a lack of tools, space, time… or I’m just not getting the right kind of research done (It can be far too easy to just keep looking at more of the same stuff you like rather than looking for new things!).

The appeal to using specifically a comic book-like style? I’m not sure saying “easiness” would be a good way to explain the tendency toward that. Any ease I have with this style tends to be a time-saving feature as well. Sometimes I just want to make something quickly, or sometimes it is complicated enough that time saving becomes a real priority. Perhaps “fun” is more apt, particularly in the cartooning sense. I often think of single frame portraits in comic styles as more of a “cartooning” venture, and in my head I tend to see an animated version.

AP: You are very active online, from posting your artwork to engaging with fans and fellow artists. What role has the web played for you, as a vehicle for inspiration and network?

These are all forms of communication, if art and creativity is about communication, then these seem natural mediums to put a lot of things into. I’m not sure how else I’d really make connections with fellow fans and artists when it comes to specific topics. The ease of communication via the web is a real bonus. I can deal with it in my own time, in my own way, and make much faster connections than I would be able to otherwise. There’s a pretty big contrast in terms of how it was to create in a void pre-digital advancements, and also a priceless tool when many opportunities and abilities have slipped from my grasp. Being poor and disabled, there’s a kind of
where-there’s-a-will-there’s-a-way awesomeness of what technology can help someone do.

AP: You have become known for your fan art, specifically portraits. What appeals to you about creating fan art? What is the most memorable reaction you have had from someone you’ve portrayed?

There are a fair number of appeals in fan art for me.

It frees me from having to be responsible for it – I don’t have to worry about copyright theft. It frees me from having to worry about deadlines or demands of any kind. It is a form of escapism, I suppose.

It helps me reach both existing fans of stuff I love, and entice other folks who may never have heard of the subject.

It is the best way I can think of to show my gratitude when I cannot afford to literally re-pay people who make awesome stuff that I consume. There are so many people putting out amazing things that make my life better and doing it for FREE, and I can’t always afford to buy their merch, see their live shows, buy their albums, etc. Even if I could afford to buy it all, I don’t know if that would go the full way to expressing how much their work means to me.

I think it crystallized in my mind a few years ago, when – and this seems overly dramatic, I’m sure, but it is how I feel – Adam Savage saved my life. This is a quote of mine from around that time:

“There are 3 main presentations that Adam Savage does that I consider motivational speeches. Obsession, Failure, and his 100 Wishes (aka Made of Awesome). I take away from these presentations: inspiration, hope, curiosity, excitement, desire for learning, and so much more. There have been many dark days for me since disability really took hold of my body these last couple of years, and these videos have had more than a small part in keeping me going, helping me focus, helping me heal from all the ability I’d lost emotionally and mentally to

When I saw the talk on Failure, it was like a searing arrow to the center of my brain, it kind of mixed everything up and reorientated my perspective in a pretty vital way. I was out of coping mechanisms, and his talk gave me a very different view of my life, and how to cope with all of the stress and disheartening events. My epiphany : I’ve been doing this living things all wrong!

I’m not sure about “most” memorable reaction, but two of my favorites…

When I brought fanart of the character “Codex” from “The Guild” to Felicia Day at PAX in 2008, she practically jumped over the table to give me a hug as thanks. It was pretty much all I could do not to start crying like the gigantic sappy dope that I really am.

When I brought Mike Phirman fanart after a “w00tstock Presents” show, he knew who I was before I even opened my mouth to say “Hi”! I wasn’t really sure how to respond. There is an honest to goodness reason he was nicknamed “The Human Smile”, Phirman is so, so nice! He is both the bearer of facial sunbeams, and the giver.

AP: Your other work includes T-shirt designs, album and book covers, and more. Where do you typically find work, or how does it find you?

Friends, World of Warcraft guild-mates, and people who have seen and liked my work however they’ve found it. I admit I rather enjoy and prefer work coming from the fan communities I’ve been engaging with – we’re generally on the same page not just in terms of interests, but ethics, responsibility, and level of shared technical knowledge.

Previous to that I spent an awful too-much time sucking down job listing feeds, appealing to agencies, and trying to look under every traditional stone I could. It was grueling, and never seemed to bring particularly fruitful results. The best luck I’d had was probably work I’d gotten through the advisers at college.

AP: What is your process like from initial idea, deciding on elements, composition, color and so on, to finished piece? Would you share an example of your approach?

I suppose the best way to tackle this question would be to pick the subject of fanart, as I don’t really know how to answer it for other media or topics just now!

The initial idea for fanart is generally something the subject said, did, sang, or whathaveyou. If I get a really intense mental image – back to that cartooning and animation in my brain – I try to doodle it as soon as I can, while the spark is fresh.

I will also spend a bit of time digging up photo references of the subject when possible. I try to find the full range of angles of a person’s face – from weirs and unflattering to best side possible. I’m never trying to create something unflattering, but it helps to have a deeper dimension of understanding for the shape of a person.

If I can come up with something I like (sometimes even a dozen tries will yield nothing I want to complete, that is always sad!), I will work on the drawing for a while. I have been stuck on Uni-ball Color Pencil Lead, 0.5 mm in Soft Blue for a while. I’ve tried ot break away from it, but there’s something about the quality of the line I’m addicted to.

If I’m just looking for something quick, I will ink by hand, lately with some very awesome brush markers I get from Daiso when they have them in stock (this is getting tough, they don’t carry the same ones often, next time I need to just buy whatever whole case it is they have!). My art bestie Kelly Martin (who is awesome to the power of a at least a dozen! We were in Comic Strip Club in college together!) got me to try them out a couple of years ago, and I use them so much I burn through them all the time. Previously, I would use almost exclusively Staedtler Pigment Liner pens in .005-.3, and the occasional other random marker. After inking, I scan it and do everything else digitally (Particularly with ink work I need to edit digitally because I don’t usually have the fine tuned control of motor skills for detailed work anymore/currently.).

If I want to do something larger scale, or with more precision and cleaner lines, I will try to do that all digitally. That can take a tremendous amount of time. I’m not sure how to go faster without really astronomically costly upgrades to my technology.

I tend not to worry too much about composition until everything is digital, because it is much easier to manipulate. Even then, I’m mostly just trying to keep an eye out for awkward tangents.

I’m not really sure I think much about color. I’ve gotten a number of compliments about my use of color, but to me it seems to mostly end up being ALL THE RAINBOW. I always mean to experiment with things like a more limited palette, or a specific color theory… and then I sort of forget.

Check out Jade Gordon’s website for examples of her work, and be sure to follow her on Twitter as well.

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