Our featured Apex Magazine cover artist this month is Beth Spencer, a unique illustrator putting her own stamp on the art of photo manipulation. Spencer has worked to develop a style that is her own, trying to avoid the cliches of photo manipulations in art.
APEX MAGAZINE: This month’s gorgeous Apex Magazine cover, “The Flux Capacitor”, is a great combination of photographic images and digital illustration. What are the challenges on the process side of creating digital illustrations like this one? Do you have a story in mind that the image speaks to or is more of standalone idea?
BETH SPENCER: Seeing as many of my ideas come to me as I’m creating an image, it’s safe to say this is a standalone concept: I just liked the idea of this steampunk fairy being able to create some sort of time travel contraption. The main challenge—which is not so much of a challenge for me these days (this image is from a few years back)—in creating these images is to make them look as much like illustrations as possible. I do this by painting—highlights, shading, new colors—on top of most of the photographic elements I use.
AM: Manipulating existing photographic objects in your images seems to be balanced with needing to illustrate completely new objects. How or when do you decide to use a photographic object, as opposed to painting a new object? Does that depend on the nature of the object and/or the overall image?
SPENCER: Well, there are usually specific things I’m prone to paint myself—hair, ribbons, make-up, cloth, shading, highlights, etc.— And I do this simply because it gives a more painterly look to my pieces. With most of my pieces my goal is make something that looks like an illustration as opposed to a photo manipulation.
AM: Your overall portfolio is balanced between images that have a look closer to photographic reality versus pieces that feel more illustrative. Does that evolve with each individual piece as you are working on it, or do you go into specific pieces with the final look in mind?
SPENCER: I usually have an idea in mind of what look I’m after going into the piece. Most of the time I’m looking for a surreal illustration-y type look. Occasionally my pieces go in a more traditional photo manipulation direction.
AM: Digital art, especially when it’s created using photographic textures and images, is often criticized by more traditional media artists as “pushing a button to create”. How do you approach those conversations? Do digital artists need to explain or defend their methods any more than a traditional media artist, like an oil painter?
SPENCER: Believe it or not, I’ve never had that conversation. I find that most people—and fellow artists of all stripes—are pretty darn open minded about the pieces I make. I’d like to think that that’s because they see what can be created when you eschew photo manipulation cliches and push the boundaries of the art form.
AM: On your DeviantArt portfolio, most of your pieces include information on where each part of the image came from, including textures, models, and the individual parts. What could other artists be doing as well, to either promote other places or to help and encourage other artists?
SPENCER: I sincerely believe there’s an artist in everyone. I encourage people to play and create. And I also offer tutelage on employing my techniques. Ask me a question, I’ll answer it. I have no desire to have trade secrets. I want everyone out there playing, creating, and having fun.
Beth Spencer has been creating art pieces since the mid-2000’s, and her newest photo manipulations can be found on her DeviantArt page at https://vacuumslayer.deviantart.com/.