Spotlight on Artist Alyssa Winans

ALYSSA WINANS is an illustrator, animator, and game artist working in the SF Bay area. She grew up outside Chicago, and spent much of her childhood reading and writing stories with friends. Her illustrations tend towards the surreal and fantastical, and have been used for T-shirts, posters, hats, and book covers. When not drawing, Winans spends her free time making desserts, gardening, playing games, and perusing cookbooks from the library. She is a big fan of potlucks, and loves sharing food with friends.

What was your introduction to working in the field of science fiction and fantasy art? What were the influences that drew you in?

My first job in fantasy art was actually on a MMORPG game: I got an internship as a weapon concept artist. I spent a year designing swords, bows, and grimoires before the company went under, but SF/F was a central part of my life long before that. My parents and sisters kept a lot of SF/F books in the house, so that was the bulk of what I read growing up and has been the foundation for much of what I draw today.

Talk a bit about one of your most interesting cover projects. What’s it like to illustrate an author’s work? How do you engage with the work and make it your own while still honoring the source material?

Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard, was one of my more challenging projects. The author crafted this world filled with rich visuals and nuanced complexities. I wanted to highlight those details without overshadowing the main narrative, so it was a tricky balance to strike.

Illustrating an author’s work is both thrilling and terrifying. It’s very important to me to try and capture a bit of the heart of a story, but at my core I’m a very literal person, so I usually have to spend extra time thinking through the bigger picture. As for making it my own, my personal artistic inclinations manifest in color choice and mark making, both of which are flexible enough to play around with while still supporting the narrative direction.

What’s more important – inspiration or perspiration? Is being an artist a higher calling or a craft like any other?

Tough call! I naturally fall more on the craft side, but I think they’re best in collaboration with each other. There’s been times throughout my career where I may have been inspired and wanted to make something very specific, but I didn’t quite have the skills to bring my idea into reality in the way I’d hoped. I still have to work hard to be prepared for those inspirational moments as they come.

How do you keep it fresh for yourself and keep learning new techniques and improving your craft? Have there been any recent changes or discoveries in your art process, or do you feel settled into something that’s really working for you already?

I try to draw in a consistent way for my freelance work since that’s what clients expect, but I like playing around with style in other parts of my life. I’ve been studying animation at my day job, and that’s affected how I think about drawing and form as well. For me, when it stops feeling like I’m ‘‘playing’’ and trying to discover new things as I work on a piece, it’s time to experiment and try something new.

Is there one thing you wish you could have learned early on about making art or working as a commercial artist, from someone who was experienced in the field, that you would like to share with other artists?

Breaks are helpful, both short and long. Sometimes it’s just pausing every hour to stretch your hand and back, or to fetch some water. I’ve also found that a lot of learning can happen when I’m not actively drawing, looking at art, or even thinking about art. I understand that the difficulties of an art career and deadlines can make a more substantial break a luxury many can’t afford, but I find that a little room to breathe brings something different to what I want to draw, and the decisions fall into place faster than if I’d just stuck it out.


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