Galen Dara likes to sit in the dark with her sketchbook, but sometimes she emerges to illustrate for books and magazines, dabble in comics, and hatch wild collaborations with friends and associates. Galen has done art for Lightspeed, Edge Publishing, Dagan Books, Apex, Scapezine, Tales to Terrify, Peculiar Pages, Sunstone, and the LovecraftZine. She is on the staff of BookLifeNow, blogs for the Inkpunks, and writes the Art Nerd column at the Functional Nerds. When Galen is not online you can find her on the edge of the Sonoran Desert, climbing mountains or hanging out with a loving assortment of human and animal companions. Follow her on Twitter @galendara. Her illustrations for Lightspeed are collected here.
How would you describe your aesthetic? What’s beautiful to you?
I like the dark. And have an affinity for the symbolic, the poetic. Things hinted at, the play between hidden and obscured, abstract and real. I like trees and bones and internal organs and birds. Also, I like things reduced to their most basic idea and shape, with all the excess stripped away. Some of my favorite artists are Kent Williams, Jillian Tamaki, Amano Yoshitaka, Ashley Wood, John Jude Palencar, Eric Fortune, Zdzislaw Beksinski, etc.
What are your favorite tools to work with? How long does it take for you to learn a new technique?
I currently use Photoshop and Painter. I am kind of a hack and slash sort of artist: putting down large areas of paint, then carving away with an eraser, painting more, erasing more. Hacking, slashing, carving away till I have the forms I want. Towards the end of a painting, I start concentrating mostly on the negative spaces. I use a lot of textures and only a very few brushes. That is probably my weakest area; there are so many features available in my art software that I just don’t utilize. One of my goals this year is to push myself to pick up a few new tricks and techniques. (I’m a quick learner; it just takes me a while to break out of my comfort zone.)
Do you explore other mediums—I know you’re an avid photographer, but is that a different focus to your art, or more like a hobby? Or is there no difference?
I love photography and it was with a camera that I first got back into digital art making after my son was born. It’s currently on the back burner as I build up my illustration career but I am very intrigued to start incorporating photography and other mediums into my illustrations. We are moving into a place where I will have my own dedicated studio area and I am looking forward to having the space to get back into traditional mediums: My background is in painting, installation art, and mixed media assemblages. I would love to find ways of incorporating these into my digital illustrations. The way that Dave McKean creates art is something I aspire to, the way he has of mixing a broad range of mediums.
How did you get started?
I have always been artistically inclined, but it took me a while to find my focus in it. Eventually (after a lot of poking around) I got a degree in painting (that detoured into installation art during the very last semester). But after I had a baby it all got put on the back burner for a while.
I got serious about making art again a few years back and it was during the time that Jaym Gates and Erika Holt were putting together their first anthology, Rigor Amortis. John Remy had a story in it and mentioned to Jaym and Erika that if they were interested in illustrations for their book he knew an artist friend (me). Hence, I was re-introduced to the art world doing little ink zombie erotica drawings. That was the start of something awesome, a fun opportunity that grew from there. (Including further creative projects with Jaym, Erika, and John over the past few years.)
Do you have any rituals or routines that you get into before you start producing art? What’s an average creative day for you like? Is there a different process for doing something for Lightspeed?
When I illustrate short stories, the first thing I do is read the story with a highlighter, marking all the phrases and lines that catch my imagination. I’m looking for key details that might be pivotal to the illustrations (i.e., a description of the character or location), but more often than not, I’m looking for the feel or the symbol of the story. The little poetic elements that put a hook in me. [Note: You can view all of Galen’s Lightspeed illustrations here: lightspeedmagazine.com/tag/illustrated-by-galen-dara —ed.]
That’s ambiguous, I know, but the bottom line I’m aiming for is a marked up story and a jumping off point. Then I start finding my reference imagery. Looking for a color scheme, looking at how other artists have handled similar ideas, looking for just plain old photo reference so I can draw things more accurately (I take a lot of my own reference too, if I’m trying to nail a particular pose, etc.). And then I just have to jump in and start drawing (digitally, with a Wacom tablet). I have an idea of what I’m aiming for, but once I start drawing it takes on a life of its own and usually begins to boss me around a bit. I’ve learned to just trust this process; if I fight back too much I just end up with a mess. Sometimes I end up with a mess anyways, and have to start from scratch. It happens. My average creative day? Hehehe, well, it usually involves desperately trying to cram as much drawing time as I can in and around my family’s schedule. I aim for 6 hrs a day. I long for more, sometimes get it, but take whatever scraps I can.
What’s your favorite work you produced? What’s your favorite by someone else?
I’m always aiming to make my new favorite piece, but I really like the one I did recently for Aidan Doyle’s Lightspeed story, “Ghost River Red.” And, hmmm, my favorite by someone else? That’s hard, that’s always changing too. I haven’t mentioned James Jean yet, he is incredibly diverse, and I love all of his work.