Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ten Questions for Socar Myles

I can't really remember how I became acquainted with Socar's work. I remember it being a few years back, and I think I was trying to pull together the Golden Age of Illustration show with Jeff Menges, who was co-curating (the show was September 2013). I am pretty sure Sam Araya mentioned her to me during one of our conversations, because it was through him I became her Facebook friend, so it very well may have been him who converted introduced me to her World of Weird.

Her work reminded me instantly of the book called "Hecate the Bandicoot", an obscure poetry book filled with ink drawings devoted to a Bandicoot with an insatiable appetite. Socar's work was quirky, detailed, loosely composed (but well thought) and in some ways, utterly bizarre. Her website (, her titles (such as "Douchebirds"), even her name just smacked of cheekiness. I liked her.
I DO NOT LIKE THIS MANHOLE, pen an ink on toned paper,  image 17 x 6"
I thought her drawings were lovely, but I wasn't quite aware of how utterly delicate and detailed her work actually is until I got the originals into the studio. When you look at them online or published, you don't realize that these drawings are small, usually around 9 x 11" on average. So detailed are they that your eyes can actually cross looking at them. Images of little French grannies making lace until they go blind run through my head when I look at how teeny tiny her marks are, and how she cleverly makes use of negative space.
Since then, I've been showing her work to astonished visitors here at the studio, but when people ask me about her, I only can say "She's from Canada", which sounds a bit ridiculous on my part (as if Canada's imports consist of comedy actors, hockey, and ink drawings). I sent Ms Myles a list of questions; some of them are mine and some are questions I get from visitors. She was more than happy to send me back answers. Here they are in their unabridged glory!

1. What is your educational background (artistic)? Where are you from and how long have you been in Vancouver?
I arrived in Vancouver in 1997, to attend the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, and have lived here ever since, apart from the two years I spent in the north of Sweden.  I hope to move to a more rural area, one of these days.  Canada’s great glory is in its natural state, which one misses out on, living in the heart of a big city.

2. What inspired you to work with pen and ink?
Pen and ink has always been my favourite medium.  I love the drama of black and white, and the challenge of conveying every possible quality of light and shadow with only black lines.  I’ve used other media—oils and digital, most extensively—but so far, I’ve always come back to ink.  Ink allows a great deal of precision and control, which I like (though sometimes, it’s a double-edged sword:  a mistake becomes very obvious, when everything around it is meticulously planned and executed).

3. Your work is highly detailed. Do you use a loupe and a specific type of pen? What's your table setup? 
I don’t use any type of magnifying lens—alternating between distorted and regular viewing is too dizzying.  Recently, however, I’ve been prescribed reading glasses, so I suppose I’ll soon get used to it.  Pen-wise, I use a regular pen-holder, with various types of nibs.  My favourite’s the Speedball Hunt Artist Pen 100, which is a fine-pointed but flexible nib, capable of a variety of line weights.  (Increasing pressure allows the tines to split, resulting in a wider flow of ink, while light, brushing strokes can be used for shading so fine it looks like pencil, from a distance.)  At the moment, it all happens on a little plastic folding table, which likes to collapse and pinch my knees, every once in a while.  I am hoping to replace that with a proper drafting table, this year.
Socar's workspace
(my imagination is not too far from reality, it seems...)
4. What kind of illustration work are you doing these days? Where do you see yourself in the near future (books/concept art/etc)?
I am working on a book project, called “Mr. Gnarlypouch Doesn’t Like You.”  It’s about a whiny curmudgeon, who expresses his hateful thoughts about various (perfectly innocuous) people, places, and things.  He can’t find it in himself to demonstrate a positive attitude towards anything in his world.  But I’m making each illustration as beautiful as I possibly can, partly to show how distorted his thinking has become, and partly because some good friends of mine have volunteered themselves as subjects of his dislike, and I want to represent those people as they really are, not as he sees them.  Because I am financing this project myself, I am slipping it in between regular assignments, so the date of publication is still at least a couple of years off.

5. Who is your contemporary inspiration in art? I know Harry Clarke is also an inspiration but I'd like to hear about living artists too.
I’m inspired by a great many living artists.  I’ll name just a few, though, who are significant influences.  First, Carel Brest van Kempen (, for his depictions of animals going about their lives—I like the fact that his images of nature are more than just studies of animal physiology:  he takes the subject’s lifestyle and ecosystem into account, and adds little relevant details for the devoted viewer (tiny insects and birds, interesting animal behaviours, and so forth).  I also like to put some thought into what else is going on, beyond the central subject, what secondary stories might be transpiring in the background.  I also like Niroot Puttapipat (, who seems as heavily influenced by the Golden Age of Illustration as I am, and whose linework is invariably elegant.  His work has a lot of humanity about it:  you can see his curiosity and interest in the world around him, reflected in each line.  I should also mention Stephanie Law (, whom I’ve known longest, of these three.  Her work has a dreamlike quality, which I enjoy.  Furthermore, she has great skill with lighting and texture, which inspires me to push harder, with my own work.
Little Mermaid, by Harry Clarke, one of the great illustrators of the Golden Age
6. Do you consciously or subconsciously add any specific element to your images? for example, a certain type of butterfly or pattern
There are a few running themes, yes—some silly, some serious.  On the silly side, there’s the “antennabird,” which is a tiny, plump bird, with insect-like antennae on its head. The antennabird is shorthand for flights of fancy, and the lighter side of life.  I like to hide him in my more serious images, as a little escape for the observant viewer, a means of extending a glimmer of hope.  I think the antennabird made his first appearance in 2004, and has popped up quite consistently, since then.  
Another element I like to add is the presence of three distinct sections:  the sky, the ground, and the underground.  This is supposed to invite the viewer to look more closely, by implying that, although the main “story” is usually (though not always) happening in the “ground” section, there could be something more important under the surface, and room for speculation, up in the clouds.  The presence of the underground is also related to the running theme of death and renewal, which crops up in my work.  I like to draw dead stuff finding new purpose as nourishment for living stuff, and as a record of its own history, with the potential to be dug up and revisited.  
I have no idea whether or not these elements actually function as intended.  But the antennabird is also decorative, and the three-sectioned composition is also pleasant to look at (for me, anyway), so it doesn’t matter all that much.

7. What would we find you doing on days when you're not working on art? Is there a specific activity you enjoy?
When I’m not working, I’m often birdwatching, or reading.  But I don’t have a very exciting life.  I don’t know how to drive, so I mostly stay in my own neighbourhood, and enjoy the temperate climate, and the view of the water.  Ages ago, I wrote a novel, and found a publisher for it.  That publisher instantly went out of business--before I could even get my advance!  Feeling discouraged, I sort of forgot about writing.  Maybe I’ll try again, one day.

8. What kind of literature inspires you or your work?
Children’s literature is a big inspiration for me—mostly, the books I read when I was wee.  I try to incorporate the feeling I got from “The Wind in the Willows,” especially, into my work.  I often think about the Riverbank, and its tangle of life, even when I’m drawing something completely unrelated.  I sneak little decorative details—grass, leaves, flowers, little animals, the sun—into nearly everything, even if it’s just a swathe of fabric with little suns or roses on it, or a bird looking in the window.  My favourite non-children’s book is “Crime and Punishment,” but I don’t feel the desire to illustrate that, or pull in themes from its pages.  I don’t know, though—maybe something got in, anyway, and I didn’t notice.  That can happen, sometimes.
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, pen and ink on toned paper
9. Mythology plays a strong role in your artwork. Is this an interest of yours? Do you have any spiritual belief system that helps you with your work?
I do have an interest in mythology, yes.  I don’t have any spiritual or religious beliefs of my own, but I’m very nosy about other people’s.  But I try to adapt the imagery and symbolism I like best to my own purposes, rather than referring directly to something that already exists, to avoid taking anyone's religion out of context, and perhaps conveying something that wasn't intended.  (Some of my work does refer to specific myths, but that is commissioned work, rather than something I thought up on my own.  When I do work of that nature, I try not to filter it too much through the lens of my own ideas, and stick to what’s written.)

10. If you could have a solo show of work, what kind of theme or body of work would you compose and in what medium (if not pen and ink)?
I’d like to do a show about infirmity of the body, and its effects on the mind.  But I don’t think I’d do that in any medium other than pen and ink.  I would need the delicate linework I can’t achieve with any other medium, in order to properly convey my ideas on the subject.  How else could I show that feeling of not wanting to exhale, because the breath of life is something that’s not attached to the body, and only ours for a moment, and impossible to get back, once it’s gone?  Well, probably I could show it some other way, if I were a better illustrator, but we all have our limitations.  Oh!  Maybe I’d use something that wasn't really illustration, like words.  I mean, I’d have drawings there, but there would be something to read, or maybe a recorded message, to go with them.  Is that cheating?  Maybe it’s cheating.  It’s definitely not proper illustration.  But I couldn't think of anything else.
Get Out of here, Pirates!, pen and ink on toned paper
Socar Myles has a wall of work here at Krab Jab Studio; she is one of our represented artists. She will have a new piece of work in the upcoming show PAIN at A/NT Gallery in Seattle (opening August 2nd, 2014), and in the meantime, visit her blog on a Gorblog! for more on her technique and her projects.

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