This month Apex Magazine has its first cover made by three artists: Angelica Alzona, Alyssa Winans, and Pamela Zhang! Despite this work being done years ago, each of them still work as professional artists. We are excited to dive into the process of collaborative work.
BRADLEY POWERS: What was the process of making this piece and how is it different from each of your individual processes?
PAMELA ZHANG: As I recall, we all just really wanted to create a piece together, so we came up with the system to each spend a set amount of time on the piece before passing it off to the next person. We sketched out a rough composition by slapping some colors and shapes onto the blank canvas and decided what it would become as we worked.
ANGELICA ALZONA: A benefit of collaboration was that anytime one of us hit a wall, we could pitch it to the next person who would tackle it with fresh eyes. It was novel to draw both reactively and proactively in one piece—I would work off their decisions one night and throw in a new idea the next.
ALYSSA WINANS: We didn’t do much sketching or planning, which is very different from how I usually work these days. Most of my illustration work requires several check-ins at different stages (sketch, color, final), so it’s refreshing thinking back to a time when it was just the three of us letting the drawing take us where it wanted to go.
BP: Clearly a story or an event is taking place in the work. What was the inspiration behind the story? Did a story write itself as you worked or was it planned out in advance?
WINANS: We didn’t discuss a story in depth, but I think the piece is a reflection of what we were all individually excited about at the time. We were students, so we were consuming and creating a lot of art as we experimented with both style and subject matter. The characters and their relationship is a snapshot of where we were at the time.
ZHANG: We were all really into sci-fi and fantasy at the time, and I was inspired by things like comics and video game concept art. I was really into artworks of futuristic landscapes and pretty girls, so as the piece developed, the shapes and colors we laid down became those things. Most of the time, we were all in the room together, either doing other work or playing games, so we did some discussing, but for the most part, the “story” developed pretty organically.
BP: As illustrators, and Pamela as a ceramic artist, how do you go about communicating a story or specific idea with your art?
WINANS: In my professional work, I’m often working off a manuscript or a set topic, so reading or researching that and pulling out key themes or imagery is where I start. From there, the piece might become more literal or metaphorical depending on the subject matter. Stylistically, I personally rely heavily on color to set a certain tone for the work to convey the mood or idea.
ALZONA: These days I primarily do editorial illustration, which is collaboration in and of itself, albeit between artist and writer. It involves taking a story and creating imagery that expresses the concept in a way that isn’t redundant, but rather, complementary. I begin by figuring out the tone, which in my work is mostly driven by color, lighting, and dynamism in the perspective. From there I word map imagery associated with the subjects in the story and brainstorm different ways I can combine them in a way that reinforces the story’s concept.
ZHANG: To me, working in ceramics is very different from painting. I like playing with 3-dimensional forms more, and I like how having to consider functionality often forces me to come up with unique creative solutions. In illustration, I often felt frustrated that my concepts were a bit ham-fisted. I have to make sure my ceramic pieces are 1) possible to even make and 2) usable, which forces me to be more subtle and nuanced with my ideas. The main thing I have to keep telling myself when it comes to both ceramics and painting is to not overdo it. Provide fun hints and let the consumer come up with the rest. Making art is a conversation, and a conversation is only rewarding if both parties are heard.
BP: Your individual styles are vastly different! What did you learn from working as a group and how did that change your work moving forward?
ALZONA: As someone who tends to overthink every decision I make in a piece, the loss of control allowed me to let go, relax, and see where things took us, which is an attitude I have since tried to practice in my own work.
ZHANG: Not to be corny, but being in art school made it easy to find people whom I have great respect for as artists, and simply love as people. Alyssa and Angelica are both so incredibly talented, and it was such a treat to get such an intimate look at their artmaking process. Especially with the range of tools available in digital art, it was very interesting to see which tools and aspects of a piece each person relied on or shied away from. For example, I was big on polishing the details of the anatomy and structure, but an absolute dullard when it came to creating a sense of light. Working on the piece opened me up to different processes, while also helping me lean into my own strengths.
WINANS: Even though I would have said our working styles were pretty similar back then, working with someone else’s mark-making makes you realize how different individual hands can really be. All of a sudden you’re putting a brush stroke next to someone else’s and seeing the variation up close. I think that sort of collaboration makes you really sit up and pay attention, not only to how others work, but to your own decisions as well. That awareness plays into the artist I am today, regardless of how my style has evolved.
BP: The growth that all of you have taken in your artistic careers is absolutely incredible. As working artists, what advice or insight can you provide about working and growing in creative careers? Do you have anything to say to artists just starting out?
WINANS: For working artists, some advice I often give is to make sure to carve out time for creative play and rest if you can afford the time to do so. I know that sometimes circumstances make that impossible, but it can also get so nose-to-the-grindstone that art can stop being enjoyable. Taking time to give your eyes and brain a rest, or to draw something just for the sheer joy of it can be valuable in staving off creative burnout.
As for artists starting out, I’d say to try and break big dream goals into small, bite-sized ones. If you have a place or a job or a level you want to be at, it can be daunting and discouraging to try and take that on as it is. Try breaking it down into the steps you need to achieve that goal, and set yourself up for small achievements and visible growth metrics on that long road.
ZHANG: The more you mess around and experiment and practice, the more you will learn about yourself. Mess around as much as you can. Your strengths, weaknesses, interests, and voice will emerge, and you can use what you learn to nourish your growth as an artist. Also, it is so, so, so, so, SO important not to take criticism personally. If someone doesn’t like your work, that’s feedback you can use, not an attack on your character! It’s pretty freeing to admit to yourself when your work feels ugly or boring.
ALZONA: Connect with other artists. If you get booked for a job that has an office and you’re able to work on site, do it. For the connections, sure, but also the camaraderie you naturally form with other freelancers you might be working with. Have each other’s back. Share your rates. As with most creative fields, our industry is often highly exploitative. When I started out I was charging a third of what the person next to me was, and would have continued to do so had we not shared rates. Advocate for yourself and for the people around you. Litebox.info is a great resource where people anonymously share the rates they’ve been paid, listed by company.
Most importantly, draw what excites you. It’ll show through and grow to become the work that excites others. I promise.BP: Thank you all so much for such an engaging and inspiring interview! Readers can find more of Alyssa’s work at www.alyssawinans.com, Angelica’s work at angelicaalzona.com, and Pamela’s work at pamelazhang.store/ceramics.