Marvel illustrator on managing your demons

"The test of whether we thrive or fall is how well we get through these challenges," says illustrator Rebecca Guay.

rebecca guay

With Mother's Day just been and gone - Marvel and DC comics illustrator and founder of Illustration Master Class, Rebecca Guay, remembers how her own mother (and a generous helping of Wonder Woman lust) spurred her on to persue her dream.

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When you first started Illustration Master Class, what were your hopes?

I wanted to provide a place where aspiring illustrators and early professionals could connect with teachers who would push their work forward fast, as well as connect with industry professionals who would give them work when they were ready.

It's a big tent, this industry, and everyone's welcome and the community is supportive. But you do need to get to know this community and the people who help make things happen – and that's where the IMC comes in.

What was your first paid commission?

It was for a story for Cricket Magazine, titled Spider at the Well, directly after 
I got out of Pratt in 1992.

petite morte

"Petite Morte": It's important to be able to paint just as well digitally as traditionally says Guay

Do you have any painting rituals?

I usually go from a sketch to establishing values, all with a book on tape or a movie playing. If I don't have something going to keep my butt in the chair I'll wander off. Although I need total silence to get the concept in place.

When did you first realise that you wanted to be an artist?

In first grade, when I won the 'Draw 
a portrait of your teacher' contest.

card lady

"Sarah Bernhardt": Rebecca's portrait from her junior illustration class. Her teacher showed it around the room without a word, a key moment for the artist

Who was your first artistic crush on?

Anyone who was drawing Wonder Woman, then Paul Smith's run on The X-Men, then more serious love affairs with Egon Schiele, Klimt, Solomon J Solomon, Waterhouse, Dulac and more.

Do you remember the first image where you thought you'd nailed it?

It was a piece I did in my junior illustration class, a portrait of Sarah Bernhardt. My teacher took it off the wall and walked it around the class just showing it to everyone without saying a word. It just blew me away. That year so many things started clicking in my work.

I'm better now, but I think it still has merit. If one of my students brought it in to me, or something that showed similar spirit and craft, I'd be happy.

Little Fish

"Little Fish": One of Rebecca's gallery pieces, she is never finished with a piece until it "takes her breath away"

Do you remember your first bit of praise that spurred you on?

My mum went to Massachusetts College of Art and Design and when I was about 11 she said my work was already better than hers ever was – that was so encouraging. She was a great teacher too: she showed me all the ways I could improve right from the very beginning. Although in my professional career it was probably that event with my teacher that was most significant.

And your first knock back?

I've had so many rejections from publishers – especially early on – it's hard to count. Everyone who makes it has also been rejected and dissed a hundred times. The hardest part is holding yourself together and being resilient in the face of rejection. In another year you may have that book deal or gold medal or big original art sale, but if you crumple and give in then it'll never happen.

The Visitor

"The Visitor": This image was used as the cover illustration on art Spectrum 21

What advice would you give to artists just starting out?

Be dog determined, persistent and never give up in the face of rejection. Also, make sure you paint as well traditionally as you do digitally. Original art sales are a big part of a successful artist's income, so do both well. And be honest with what needs to happen to make your work better – what areas in craft or concept you need to push more in.

Who's the first artist you turn to for inspiration or to beat creative block?

There are so many. But currently I just love John Currin, Sam Wolfe Connelly, Greg Ruth, Will Cotton, Josep Sert, Vincent Desiderio and Frank Duveneck.

What's the first thing you teach a pupil?

Don't let the daily demons in your head eat you alive and keep you from working. Everyone has them, everyone struggles with the 'I hate it' moments in a piece. The test of whether we thrive or fall is how well we get through these challenges, so dig deep and go long – manage your demons and remember it's a marathon not a sprint.

How do you know an image is finished?

When it takes my breath away.

rebecca guay painting

Rebecca prefers silence for conepting, but not for painting

Words: Rebecca Guay

Rebecca Guay is an illustrator who has worked on everything from comic books to children's literature. She currently focuses her attention on gallery work and was featured as the cover artist for Spectrum 21.

This article first appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 104.

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