Claire Latchem, a.k.a Superfex, is an incredibly talented, 20 yr old college student from Plymouth, England, currently studying illustration at Plymouth University. Some of you may already be familiar with Superfex and her creative abilities. I recently had the opportunity to chat with her briefly and get to know her history, her work and what inspires her with her creative process. I’m quite sure there is something we can all learn from this inspirational interview.
VECTORVAULT: Hi Superfex! Tell us a bit more about your background. What did you want to be when you grew up? How did you get started as an artist/designer?
SUPERFEX: As a child when people asked me what I wanted to be it would either have been a zoo keeper or a vet. Since a young age I had always wanted to work with animals. As I got older I did a week of ‘work experience’ at a farm that’s open to the public not far from my hometown. I guess that’s what put me off! Waking up at 6am in the morning to go capture some goats that had escaped (and do escape on a regular basis) was not fun at all.
I remember when I was about 13/14, I was asked to pick my subjects to study at school. Of course you still had some that were compulsory but I looked at some leaflets and saw one for photography. I decided to take that class purely because I hadn’t done photography before and my dad had a nice b&w film camera.
Over time, illustration became a hobby which I did in my spare time and it slowly took over my life. I find it funny that now I draw animals, sculpt animals, paint animals and I even have an animal themed exhibition coming up this year so although it’s not exactly what I pictured as a kid, it’s still related.
Give us a little more information about your work. Did you go to school to study? What or whom inspires you the most? Are there any particular websites that you frequent to find inspiration?
I studied photography for 6 years at various colleges and I even did the first year of a photography degree at Plymouth University before deciding it wasn’t what I wanted anymore and I transferred to the neighboring illustration course.
I started using Photoshop for photography; though I was hardly ever taught anything about it through the teachers. I started playing around with illustrator about 3-4 years ago because a friend implied that it would be too hard for me to use.
Well I guess I showed him!
I find inspiration from literally anything: posters, magazines, art, photography, food, sculpture, anything really. If I see something I like then I photograph it and stick it in my scrapbook. I always carry a small sketchbook and a camera around with me wherever I go.
Books and Magazines are a great source of inspiration. I purchase Computer Arts Projects and Clutter Magazine on a regular basis. There’s nothing like a good book to flick through too. I often go to my local Waterstones to look through their collection and if I happen to find one I like I’ll order it from Amazon when I get home.
I found setting up an account on Deviantart years ago extremely beneficial to me. Not only was I able to talk to like-minded people and get useful critique on my work as I progressed, but I have also met some great friends and even picked up the odd job here and there. I think being part of an art/design community is a great way to improve your skills, develop your own style and have fun!
Some of the illustrators that have influenced me greatly are:
What is your typical work day like? What tools do you use to help the design process from start to finish? I.e. traditional art tools, digital art tools and anything in between.
A typical working day involves a pencil, sketchpad, pigment liners and my computer. Though I do like to experiment with other materials, I think pigment liners will always be my preferred medium as I like having control and nice sharp lines. Like all illustrators, I sketch all the time. It’s the best way to come up with ideas; develop them further. Sometimes I stumble across something that I hadn’t thought of before and probably wouldn’t have, so sketching is a big deal.
Once I have something that I’m happy with, I will sketch it out again at a much larger scale and trace it with my pigment liners. I will then take that into Photoshop and work on it that way. Most of the time, especially with shirt designs; I import my line art into illustrator and go over it again with the pen tool. I find doing it this way rather than just using ‘live trace’ so much more rewarding- I have control over my lines and I know there won’t be any mistakes.
What are the most difficult challenges you face when making your art visible to the world?
I find what’s most challenging is just keeping your style and work fresh, hoping people will like it. With such great illustrators and designers around I sometimes feel like I can’t compete with their awesomeness, but this usually just drives me to be better and produce more work.
The only other thing that can be a little challenging is money. I’m a terrible spender! My desk is completely covered in vinyl toys by artists like the ones I’ve listed above. Being an illustrator who is still struggling to fly I don’t make huge amounts of money and whatever I do make goes straight back into art again whether it be for a new sketchbook or to get some sticker made.
So yes sometimes I find myself a little out of pocket and that can be hard but you have to spend money to make money and I’m optimistic things will come right in the end.
What one mistake has taught you the most in your design career?
I guess some people would see me choosing photography and not art to pursue throughout college was a mistake, but I know I have gained a good eye for composition and many other valuable skills through studying photography.
Other then that I can only think of the t-shirt shop I tried to set up a year or two back which failed miserably because I didn’t plan it out very well and got far to giddy therefore making some bad decisions and rushing the whole project. Again, because of this ‘mistake’ I have learned a lot and became a better artist in the process.
What advice would you give to an up and coming graphic art designer?
Take a sketchbook, pencil and a camera if you can wherever you go.
Sometimes, it’s good to take on a little free work. You can make some great contacts and friends this way and things always have a funny way of coming back in your favor later on. Don’t rush things; make sure they are the best they could be.
Collaborate with other artists. Have fun!
Looking forward, what kind of impact would you like to see as a result of your work?
I’m not holding out for world peace or anything like that because it would be pretty foolish to think one piece of art could do all that, especially strange furry animals wearing baseball caps and bowler hats. I just hope to bring a smile to someone’s face once in a while or brighten up someone’s day.
At the moment I’m doing a lot of collaborative pieces. I love working with other artists, bouncing ideas back and forth, seeing how they react or interpret something and generally sharing an enthusiasm about something with another person.
I’ve recently helped set up a project where a sketchbook will be sent to about 50 illustrators around the globe and that will be auctioned off for charity at the end. Keep your eyes peeled for that because there are some big names involved but that’s all I can say, sorry.
Speaking of charity and animals, I’m hopefully teaming up with my friend okkle to produce some limited edition screen printed posters, which all the proceeds will go towards various animal charities. I also have a few exhibitions this year, some of which will be donating to charity too.
So folks, as you can see, we all start somewhere and we all can learn a lot from other artists along the way. Just from reading about Superfex, looking at her impressive portfolio and hearing the great tips she has given us, with a little elbow grease and maybe even some pigment pens, we all can be successful. Check out her site where you can see even more of her incredibly inspirational talent and have a look at some of the artists that inspire her; they might just inspire you as well.
Artist contact: firstname.lastname@example.org