Interview with Artist Melissa Pagluica

CM: What is your background/education in art?

MP: BFA in intermedia studio with an emphasis in electronic arts at CSU Chico.

CM: When did you decide you wanted to be a professional artist?

MP: I knew in college that I wanted to do something with my art professionally. But I had no idea how. So I just kept following this need to create art (giving myself art projects. I guess art for art sake then?). It wasn’t until after college that I attempted conventions. Looking back, I wish I had spent my college summers being involved in the convention scene but I wasn’t aware of them yet. Today, there are conventions everywhere. They are so accessible it’s amazing! But back then, there were only a handful (mostly far away) and it didn’t help that I was shy.

With the help of my friend Allie, she tabled with me at a local anime convention in Sacramento. It was my very first one as an artist and I loved it! It just clicked for me and I thought “I need to do this. A lot”.

image03By then, I had my day job so I was only doing a few conventions here and there. But the response I was getting was amazing so when when I went from full time to project base (this is when the recession hit) I took it as an opportunity to really push myself with my art.

When I went from full time to project base I started to really leap into the convention scene. They acted as a deadline to get more work done and I kept adding new shows to my schedule. Being surrounded by other artist striving to do their thing was a huge inspiration. Suddenly, I wasn’t a casual exhibitor doing art on the was a real direction I wanted to go in as a career. But I realized that I couldn’t make the full leap yet. There was still a lot more to learn and I was still exploring what exactly I wanted to do WITH my art. And HOW it would sustain me. The day job gave me the ability to figure this out.

For a while, it became two jobs on the plate. One was safe and reliable; the other was still unknown but filled me with purpose. I knew no matter what it took I had to push this second job.

CM: Recently you made the transition to being a full time artist. Prior to becoming a full time artist, how did you balance a “day job” and your artwork?

MP: When you take on art as a career, you need to be ready to sacrifice your time and understand how much energy it will take. The weekday schedule became day job work first followed by art work projects. The concept of weekends held no meaning for me other then I was free to do my one job instead of two. And for awhile…there were no vacations.

I was able to keep this up for a while, but the stress of two jobs did take a toll on me. So this is my advice for balancing two jobs:

  • Your health is important. No matter what, you need to build up your endurance to sustain this workload. Which include eating right and working out. Can not stress this enough! I started to work out and I notice crazy huge benefits immediately.
  • Understand how to say NO to things. I like to make people happy, including my coworkers. But it got to a point that I needed to push back or else I’d being doing things that cut into my art work time.
  • This is a random one but for my own sake: I cut out all video games that have no ending. I can get obsessive so I really had to think about how my time was being spent. Video games are fun but when I look back in 20 years I’d like to see my goals produce results like a completed comic book ..not “oh yeah, back then it was great spending hours on that one game…”

What is crazy about this line of work is understanding that at certain times…you’re not going to find balance until you find a way to start slowing minimizing the day job. My goal was having my day job be the opposite of helpful/paying bills, to having it be in the way. It’s what gives you the signal “hey, perhaps it’s time to make that last final leap!”

CM: What are some challenges you’ve faced as you worked towards becoming a full time artist? What are the lessons you learned from them?

  1. Your health is important. Make sure to carve out time for yourself (both for mind and body).
  2. Reach out to the people around you. I have a hard time doing this, but the people you start to network with in your art community will be like a second family. They look out for you, encourage you, and since we are all learning together we are all eager to share what we learn so that the next artist who joins the journey may, hopefully, not make the same mistakes we did.
  3. Don’t give yourself a mountain you can’t leap in one jump. I believe in setting yourself up to succeed. When starting my comic I had to learn this the hard way. My first story idea was too epic for me to take on so I didn’t want to start it. ATC (Above the Clouds) was simple and had clarity. My goal was the learn and when I saw manageable workloads for me to take on it became easier to do the work!

image07CM: Now that you are a full time artist, what are you most looking forward to?

CM: TIME! Oh my god all the time I will have at last. It’s hard to work on a project and have to stop your groove for something that is not related. Or the days when “time is not your own” and you can’t get any drawing in. Those days were so painful. Now, I get to focus on developing my vision and I know the hours I put in go towards work for myself and not someone else.

I have all these ideas I want to start putting into motion as well. I can have side projects to my main project! I can really focus on developing my career as a comic book artist.

CM: Do you prefer traditional or digital art? Why?

MP: I always said that digital art and I were meant to be. When I was in high school, in my least favorite class (science)…I met a boy who had a copy of photoshop. We luckily sat next to each other and he offered me a copy. This changed my whole world. From that day on I tried to learn as much as I could! And since I’m an introvert, I welcomed the online community that was also excited to explore this new medium.

That being said, as someone who got their BFA in intermedia studio (which meant I got to dabble in all areas!) I started to value the importance of exploring other mediums. Traditional art (painting, sculpting, drawing) informs my digital art. Working in one medium really helps to see another in a new light. It gives you new perspective so I would really advocate not limiting yourself to one.

image01CM: Can you tell us about your comic Above The Clouds?

MP: Above the Clouds is a story about a young girl name Eily who is given a book about a hero who must go on a journey to save a great world tree from dying. Totally in love with story, she is heartbroken to find out the story isn’t done and must go on her own quest to convince an author, who doesn’t believe himself, to complete the tale.

I gave myself a fun rule that anything outside the book would be silent. To help push myself as a visual story teller, Eily and the other characters must rely on facial expression and body posture while anything written down or in the story that Eily is reading will have words and dialogue. To really help make the story come to life.

CM: What was harder, writing the comic or illustrating it?

MP: Writing by far! Taking on all the hats of a comic book creator, I am slowly trying to learn and understand the craft of writing. It is very difficult but also rewarding.

CM: Why did you decide to create a comic?

MP: Growing up, I was obsessed with stories. I loved them so much. In kindergarten I remember memorizing the books we read to share with my dad. In middle school I made a journal of all the books I checked out and wanted to read. And in high school, it got so bad my dad had to limit how many books I was allowed to buy each week. I really, really want to be a story teller. My illustrations reflected the need to convey a story or a moment in time. So it was naturally the next step to become a comic book artist that blends both these elements to together (art and story!).

image04CM: Where did you find the inspiration for the story?

MP: I had another story idea I was working on for a year, but it wasn’t moving forward as a project. And it was largely inspired by the Norse mythology I was reading. When I put this story on hold, I think many of these ideas transferred over into ATC, but with more clarity and direction.

CM: What is something you’ve learned about art writing or illustrating this comic?

MP: A blank page can be scary. Sometimes you have no idea what lines should go down on the page. But I’ve learned to let that feeling go. Just start in one place…just put one line down and the rest will follow. 

CM: Can you tell us about some of the main characters?

MP: I will say that each character represents an aspect of “hiding one’s self” or not fitting the role they are placed in.

Two of the main ones:

Eily, who who is suppose to be a lady and please her mum, can’t seem to live up to this role.

Cian, who has always lived by the sword, is also unfilled with his role and secretly wants to live by the pen but is afraid, not only to try, but to share this aspect of himself with people.

image11The side characters also play on this aspect. One that is a wallflower (the psychical aspect of hiding onself) and one who is good at their role but finds that it may mean limiting other aspects of their happiness.

And of course the book hero, whose world is being consumed by darkness and must go on a journey to stop it. The book hero, or the caretaker, was always very happy with their role until one day it wasn’t enough. What is fun about the Caretaker is that I give this character no face. Not only to contrast Eily’s world that must rely on facial expressions, but also I like the idea that when one reads a story they like to see themselves a the hero.

CM: What is something new you’d like to learn or get better at as an artist?

MP: Gah! Perspective. If I were to give advice to any artist….don’t let this one slip by. I know it’s painful but very necessary.

CM: What advice do you have for artists striving to achieve that full-time status?

MP: It’s a process. There is going to be a transitional period. It could take 1 year or maybe 5. During this time, really hone your craft. Take business classes and seek out professionals who are doing what you want to do. Do the numbers and track your progress before making the leap. Also, save money aside for that rainy day. It’s going to be really hard. Accept this aspect and roll with it. I promise you that it will all be worth it. If your going to spend hours of your life doing something it might as well be for your dream!

image02Creator of the comic Above the Clouds, Melissa Pagluica has been traveling around California to different comic book conventions selling her illustrations and comic. She has been featured in Monster & Dames and has enjoyed working with Boom Studios, Committed Comics, and various other studios as a variant cover artist. Melissa is also a tea freak and is owned by a cat name Lui.

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