Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Open House Day 15 - Steve Upham

Some of you may know me as the editor/publisher at Screaming Dreams. But what you may not realise is that I originally started out as an artist and designer. I only got into the publishing side of things as a side project a few years ago. The original SD website, which began life at the turn of the Millennium, was dedicated to my artwork only. Now I am coming full circle, in a way. This year I started working full time as a freelance designer. So my services are for hire, if you need any cover artwork or whatever!

For as long as I can remember I have always wanted to be an illustrator. I am fascinated by the way artwork can be used to great effect in a commercial environment, such as on book covers for example. So it's not just creating the artwork itself that interests me, it's the application of the work for a specific purpose. I enjoy doing the layouts and typography side of things, as well as the illustration, so working with books is perfect for me.

At Uni I didn't study illustration though, as at the time it had fallen out of favour in the education system. Instead I pursued a career in 3D design, specializing in product and furniture design. After Uni I started my own craft workshop making traditional wooden furniture, which I did happily for over 10 years. Unfortunately in the summer of 2008 I was admitted to hospital with a serious heart condition, so I had to give up the craft shop because of my health.

But as I'm not one to stay idle for too long I have been continuing with my artwork projects in the background, between all the hospital appointments. And this year I finally returned to working full time. Although I have to admit it's not the best time to be a freelance artist, with the economy in the state it's in right now. Commissions are not easy to come by at the moment and the pay isn't great, but it's something I enjoy doing and that's the main thing. If you are happy in your work then that's half the battle I think.

I enjoy working in a wide range of subjects, but I have to admit that the horror stuff is probably my favourite. Some of my earliest memories of TV are the old B&W horror movies and the Hammer films. I guess they left a permanent mark on me! I have always loved science fiction too and anything to do with space. I find these subjects very interesting to work with as they allow the artist's imagination to run wild. Getting paid to draw monsters and aliens is just so much fun that it doesn't even feel like "work" half of the time. That's not to say that it isn't hard work of course, because it's a very time-consuming business. But it's also fun too.

Although I was originally trained in using traditional media, these days most of my work is digital. I use a variety of 2D and 3D software to create my illustrations, with Photoshop playing a huge role my my life over the past decade. The evolution of computer graphics really has changed the way artists work now, although that's not to say there isn't still a place for more traditional art. In fact I'm trying to find the time to get back to my easel and oil paints too. As much as I love working digitally, I do also enjoy "real" drawing and painting as well. It's about finding the right balance and using whatever media is best suited to the job in hand.

Being an artist can be a pretty solitary existence. Stuck in front of your computer (or easel) day after day, can leave you with little interaction with the outside world. Of course the Internet makes it easy to keep in touch with people online and allows you to share your work with the world, which is fantastic, but I also think it's very important to get out there in the "real world" too. Which is why I really enjoy attending the conventions and entering the art shows (and even organizing them sometimes). FantasyCon in particular has become an essential part of my annual calendar. I have made so many good friends there over the years and it really does feel like my second family now. It's great just to meet people face to face and chat about all the things you share an interest in. I highly recommend it.

On the subject of the Internet, it's essential that as an artist you have an online presence where you can display your work. There are so many different ways you can do this now, from blogs and social networking sites, to online art communities or even your own dedicated website. As I mentioned earlier, when I first started the Screaming Dreams website it was purely to display my own artwork galleries, but since then it's grown into other areas such as the publishing too. I've found this has worked out quite well for me though, as the art feeds off the books and vice versa. By doing the publishing it has also opened up more opportunities for my illustration work. That's actually how I started doing cover art for other small presses, after they got to know my work through the SD books. So it pays to be flexible I think and you often have to try different things in order to reach your ultimate goal.

Anyway, as long as I'm doing something creative with my time then I'm a happy man. So it's back to it now as I have a list of deadlines that is more scary than a horror story by Gary McMahon! Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings here. Oh, and don't forget to visit my website at http://www.screamingdreams.com and check out the artwork gallery section. Remember, I am available for new commissions.