Sunday, October 18, 2015

Artist Interview: HANNAH MARSHALL by Dave Wolff

Interview with HANNAH MARSHALL

Before we started this interview you showed me some of the artwork you have designed. By what process do you usually create?
The only constant in my entire process is this: all the artwork I create is done with my current Android smartphone, a Samsung Galaxy Note II, from start to finish. I use multiple Android apps, some free and some paid, to digitally manipulate each piece. I begin with an original photo (or screenshot, for celebrity tributes and fan art, that was taken with my phone) or song lyrics and quotes from movies. If the photo is the inspiration, I begin the digital editing process. If the lyrics or quote catches my eye first, I have to find a suitable subject or object to photograph that I feel belongs to the words I am quoting. Very often, the lyrics and quotes I use are not an obvious paring with the photo I find they belong to but they are relevant and related to each other. I have always been drawn to the obscure and to things that are not obvious. I like my pieces to visually provoke thought and feeling.
Then, creatively, I begin by using a series of different photo-editing apps, I first crop the photo and/or I separate it from its original background and replace that with another background photo.
Next, I layer in the text. When I add the text, it isn’t just about the words. I love using many different fonts and I like to convey a message through them as well by using different font combinations, sizes, heights, colors, and finally the placement of each word within the picture.
Next, I add layer after layer of various filters and effects. I also add frames, lighting angles, blurs, lens flares, masks, and textures to create a sense of depth and feel to the piece. I mix, match, add, delete, and repeat the process until I feel the work is done. I have been able to lose myself in a piece for to two hours easily. I really don’t keep track of the time. I start and stop, leave and return to pieces until they are complete. Some have a little planning ahead of time, usually when I cannot work at that moment. I then take notes on what I want to do for later use. Most pieces are completely random. I see something and snap a picture or hear a song and an idea forms. No two pieces are alike and I doubt I could duplicate a past piece if I was asked to.
I have about ten different photo editing apps on my phone and usually use at least two when creating a piece. I cycle through the apps depending on which effects, filters, fonts, etc. I want to experiment with as each app has different options.

What first gave you the idea to create art using smartphones? Did you find you could create more than with traditional equipment?
Through a Facebook group for the town I live in, I read a story written by a local artist that created collage-type art on his smartphone. I sent him a private message, then we talked on the phone, and we eventually met and were friends for a time.  He showed me his art and the app he used to create it. I discovered that I once had the app he used and had deleted it without ever trying it. I downloaded it again and started to play around with photos I had taken around the house, of myself, and my dogs.
In terms of traditional equipment, I find the smartphone cameras are easier to switch between functions than traditional digital cameras. In regard to digital photo editing software, I am trained in both Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator and find they have capabilities that far exceed what any smartphone app can currently do. I hope that one day, I can have the full power of Photoshop and Illustrator on my smartphone. That would be truly amazing. I love the freedom creating on my phone gives me. I work on pieces when I ride in the car, outside everywhere, and anytime I have to wait for anything whether it be at an appointment or in line at the store. When I have to stop, I hit save and toss my phone back in my pocket or purse until I can work again. When I am really lucky and have time, I can lay on my couch or sit outside and work as long as I want.

Can you explain where your inspiration came from?

My inspiration has come, over time, from a few different sources that all pointed me in the direction of what I refer to as “Smartphone Art.” Inspiration for subject matter comes from anything and everything, anywhere and everywhere, which can be extremely overwhelming at times. I find myself taking notes on future pieces I want to create so that I don’t forget. I create pieces based largely on my current mood and state of mind. Inspiration for my very first piece came from an hourglass my grandmother had in her kitchen since I was born. It was the first object around my house I took a picture of with the intention of turning it into a piece of art. Immediately, lyrics to a song I grew up listening to, “Time In A Bottle” by Jim Croce, came to mind. I paired the two and created my first piece. I am also greatly inspired by causes that have had an effect on my life or the lives of those I love. Mental health is one I am very passionate about and have done several pieces in relation to it. To date, my two most challenging and rewarding pieces were both created to raise awareness of mental illness by using Robin Williams as my subject.

What spoke to you about Time In A Bottle and what about the song were you trying to recapture?
The lyrics I used in that particular piece were “But there never seems to be enough time, to do the things you want to do, once you find them.” I find my life to be exactly that. A struggle to find what I really want to do in life and then, once I think I have found it, I struggle to find the time to do it. Life moves fast and as a parent of a 19 year old, full time college student, wife, and a woman starting her own business, there never does seem to be enough time. This first piece was definitely less obscure and very literal compared to most of my other pieces.

Where are you currently attending college, and what classes are you taking to develop as an artist?
I am currently attending a local community college in Aurora, Illinois. I will complete an Associate Degree in Web Design and Development, after the Fall 2015 semester. Upon completion, I will have been trained in many of the Adobe Creative software programs including Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and Dreamweaver. I have also had two other HTML/CSS web design classes. This particular degree includes both front end design and back end programming. I despise programming. My final semester will consist of JavaScript, SQL, InDesign, and Game World Development. I dread the first two classes and cannot wait to take the other two.

What made you want to take computer courses? In what ways have they helped you pursue a career in computer graphics?
I took a class about eight years ago called “Creating A Web Page” at the college I attend now. I wanted to continue taking classes but was unable to at that point. When I had the opportunity to go back to college full-time and for free, I remembered how much I enjoyed that class and looked into the requirements for their degree program. Part of the required classes were graphic design courses and they were my favorite classes. Second were the HTML/CSS coding classes. I despise the required programming classes but I have no choice. I have had extensive tutoring and still really don’t understand the back-end programming.

Tell the readers about this business you are starting. Does it relate to your love for designing computer art? Have you started this business independently for the most part?
I will be starting my business entirely on my own. In college, I discovered everything I did not want to do. I don’t enjoy working on a design team or creating websites for clients one-on-one. Both present more negatives for me than positives. That led me to thinking of ways to still use my degree beyond developing my own websites and a select few others. My business will incorporate not only my love of computer generated art but also my passions for crafting, front-end web design, and research. I am still working on the final details but I will say how strongly I feel about creating multiple sources of income. I will start one business but create two separate products. I will still work with a very limited number of clients one-on-one. I enjoy donating my web design time as well to other artists and very small businesses like mine. I wish I had more time to donate. Finally, I have designed sites using a barter or exchange agreement for goods or services in exchange for my design time. I am very flexible and adapt to situations well so I use those qualities to the best of my ability. I feel they are crucial if you are interested in starting your own business. 

In what ways do you relate to Robin Williams? How do you find it easiest to channel it through your work?
From what I have learned in regard to Robin Williams’ lifelong battle with depression and his heartbreaking suicide, I found myself relating to what he had to say in many, many ways. I have lived with severe anxiety and depression from about the age of five or six. That’s when I noticed I reacted to things differently than other children. I have always used humor to make people laugh, so they would accept me and to take the focus off my anxiety as that was the most difficult part of my illness to hide. The depression was much easier to conceal. I had watched Robin on TV since I was little.  He was always laughing and joking faster than the speed of light. I am similar around friends and in social situations even when I feel horrible inside. I can only imagine he felt similarly. It is so very frustrating.
Therefore, the creation of the two Robin Williams tribute pieces was extremely helpful to me personally. I felt a sense of purpose while doing something I discovered was very relaxing and eased my anxiety and depression, creating art on my phone. It takes me out of my own head and I am able to focus intently on the art I am creating. With anxiety and depression, focus is often very difficult to achieve even when doing things you enjoy. This medium not only gave me the ability to raise awareness to an illness millions of people fight daily, but also in my style, and through a very familiar face. In turn, these pieces inspire me to create more to raise awareness for other causes I feel strongly about such as Autistic children.

Do you remember Robin Williams more from Mork & Mindy or his movies (The World According To Garp, Good Morning Vietnam etc)?

While I watched Mork & Mindy growing up, I remember Robin Williams more from his movies. I believe the first movie I saw him in was Popeye. He was, however, an extremely versatile actor and brilliant comedian with perfect comedic timing. I enjoyed movies from most every genre he acted in. Funny comedies like RV, darker comedies like Death To Smoochy, children’s movies and animation voice overs (when Nikki was little) like Aladdin and Flubber, action and adventure movies such as Night at the Museum and Jumanji, comedies with a serious side as well like The Birdcage, and finally, his more serious acting roles in Bicentennial Man, What Dreams May Come, and One Hour Photo. I also remember watching his stand up on HBO.

Do you have other sources of inspiration besides those we discussed?

I am also inspired by fun pieces. Ones that really get me out of my own head and let me escape from me for a while. My dogs are my greatest source of inspiration there. Another unexpected source of inspiration is a woman I met through Pinterest. We originally met there due to a shared love of crafting (jewelry making in particular). She sent me pins, we became friends on Facebook, and then I saw a piece of digital art she posted to Facebook. I found out she does her pieces on her smartphone as well. That led me to create “Smartphone Art Geekery”, a very tiny Facebook artist group of two (so far), where we share tips, tricks, apps, ideas, and anything related to digital photo manipulation via smartphone. I would love to meet others who use this medium to create art so we can all learn from each other and have a place to share our work.

What kind of tips and ideas have been exchanged on Smartphone Art Geekery since the Facebook group started?

I started the group just a few weeks ago, so not much has been exchanged. I am very fortunate that the first group member I invited has been very forthcoming with the apps she uses to create the beautiful pieces she has shared so far. I am putting the group and my art page closer to the top of my priorities list lately. I find the art I create and the interaction in my small group to be very relaxing and rewarding. In the near future, I would like to upload many of my pieces, talk about the apps I utilize, and have the ability to discuss the new cameras on the smartphones coming out as well as new apps in development.

Would you like to see other artists get involved in Smartphone Art Geekery and share their ideas?
I definitely would love for other artists to join my group! That is the best part of a Facebook group, many people sharing what they know and also learning new things. I just want to keep the focus on art created using any type of smartphone. Discussions on apps, tips, tricks, and new technology (for example, discussions on the camera capabilities of new phones entering the market) are always welcome.

Who was the first member of the group? What are some of the ideas you have exchanged between one another?
The first member of the group was the woman I met through Pinterest that I talked about earlier. Since the group is so new, she posted many of the pieces she has already created along with the apps she used.  I will be doing the same with my work.

Has anyone new entered the group recently? Are you promoting it on Facebook so interested parties can join?
I have not had many people enter the group because I have not promoted it on Facebook due to the lack of content. I recently merged my artist page on Facebook with a new page I created under my own name. All my followers were still there, just nothing I had posted. I basically had to start over and upload all my work and the descriptions again. Time has been my biggest enemy.

Who or what would you consider most inspiring to you as an artist?

I have to credit my daughter, Nikki, as being my biggest source of artistic inspiration and encouragement. In nineteen years, I have watched her develop into an amazing fine artist. I always took note of the freedom art gave her to express her feelings. She would dive into projects without overthinking (as I tend to do) and took pieces into high school to be critiqued by her peers and graded by teachers. Much of her art is very dark and was very different than what her classmates created. I would never have had the courage to do any of that in high school and I still don’t always in my college classes today. She is a constant reminder that I need to allow myself the freedom to let go and make art without always having a specific purpose or message perfectly planned out before creating the piece. She has also shown me that it is alright to make what I always considered mistakes. I learned from her that a mistake in art is only my perception. One piece can make ten people feel ten vastly different things and they will see ten different things as well. I have no control over what my art does or doesn’t do for anyone or what they do or don’t see in it. I learned from her to create for the sake of the release. To empty my head of what I am thinking and feeling at that time. To just let it go.

Nikki Marshall’s work has been featured in the print issues of Cerebral Agony. How do you feel about her having been published in her late teens?

I could not be more proud of her! I don’t have the words to describe how happy I am for her as well. To see her recognized for countless hours of hard work and at that age is amazing. I would have never had any idea she would see this kind of success so early on. It is wonderful!
I am and I know Nikki is very thankful to the people that helped her and encouraged her along the way. Nikki’s high school art and photography teachers saw some really dark art yet they still encouraged her style rather than try to make her create pieces more similar to her peers.
Aside from family and our friends that have been supportive, there is one person very special to me for his support and encouragement of Nikki’s art. Johnny Hellion ( has been very encouraging of Nikki in many ways and has been very giving of his time. Her art is very different than most other artists her age and that was hard on Nikki at times. Having an accomplished artist like Johnny give her so much encouragement is like him giving Nikki a gift I can never begin to repay him for. It is one thing for your Mom to be proud of you and encourage you, but it is entirely different when someone creating art in a similar genre as you do and who understands things about it that your Mom doesn’t, takes the time to be encouraging and supportive. I am so thankful we both have Johnny as a friend.
Cerebral Agony was the first publication Nikki was in and I am very thankful for the opportunity you gave Nikki as well. I feel it has already and will continue to open doors for her well into the future.

Does Nikki feel fortunate to have had supportive teachers even if her art differed from that of the rest of the class?
She definitely does. She has gone back to visit her art and photography teachers at the high school since her graduation and is also friends with them on Facebook. We hope one of them can make it to the monthly show she exhibits in.

What were Nikki’s earliest influences as a graphic artist? At what age did she create artwork for the first time?
Nikki actually has not embraced graphic art. She is committed to fine art still. Mostly charcoal and pen works. She has always been creative in the way she played and learned. Quick to learn and resourceful. She began to draw when most children do, coloring first then drawing more as she learned to write.

How did Nikki develop her art after designing her first pieces? Did you feel it was important to encourage her?
Nikki developed her first pieces in high school and really developed her own style, particularly in her charcoal work, during her junior and senior years. I feel, as I watched her complete class assignments, that the deadlines didn’t give her a chance to think about what she was creating at the time. Nikki now has a month between shows to complete pieces that follow the theme of each show.  Like anyone would given that much time, she is able to be more critical of her work. Of course that can be good in some ways and bad in others. I have encouraged Nikki to create since she was little. Creativity, to me, is one of the best gifts to have. I knew she was getting encouragement and good feedback at school. At home, I did what I could to support her. Mom stuff like driving her to the art supply store, having pieces matted for shows at school, and just being there for her by attending shows and helping out with suggestions if she was stuck on a particular piece. After high school, I found a local show and we approached the curator. So far, Nikki is the youngest person to have participated. I still look at pieces and make suggestions but Nikki has amazing ideas on her own. I still do everything I can to give her the time, space, and supplies for her to just do what she does best.

Is Nikki taking or planning to take college classes? Has she sought publication in other magazines of lately?
Nikki and I are currently at the same college. She was awarded a full scholarship. She began taking art classes then decided to combine her love of photography and writing into the pursuit of a degree in photo journalism. She will need at least two years at a university after this year. As a scholarship recipient, Nikki is required to do 20 hours of community service each semester. She has taken up to six classes in a semester as well as participating in a local monthly art show. She has not sought publication in any other magazines due to a lack of time on her part and mine. The planning for my small business, my classes, her classes, volunteerism, art show, and part time employment take up a great deal of time. I would like to see her pursue more publication of her work as well as sell art prints from the website I have created for her. The website,, is currently a gallery of her work and she has the Facebook artist page. Somewhere, in all that, she makes time to create new works.

How much work has gone into designing Nikki’s official website so far? Tell the readers about your volunteer work and some of the shows where you and she have showcased your art?

Much of the work done on Nikki’s website was actually done for class projects for both of us. Rather than make a fictitious website for an end of the semester assignment, I used all the digital images of Nikki’s actual work (she had to photograph all her work for an assignment in high school) and created a gallery site where she could show the many forms of artwork she does and eventually have the capability of selling prints of her charcoal work as the originals are very large and I would like to keep and frame many of them. Due to time and a need to help contribute financially, I am unable to volunteer as much as I used to. Two semesters ago, I did free work on a non-profit website for a local company that provides daily work for disabled adults. I was happy to do the work and help get a website together that they would not only be proud to show off, but will hopefully make the process of donating to their cause much easier. As far as exhibiting my artwork, that has yet to happen. I have submitted twice to the monthly, invitation-only show Nikki participates in locally, but have not been invited at this time. Aside from exhibiting in the show I just mentioned and helping to curate shows in the art gallery located inside her high school, Nikki has not entered her work in any shows. Between college and work, her free time is limited.

Johnny Hellion has appeared in Cerebral Agony and Autoeroticasphyxium zines. Have you seen any of the artwork he created or read any of his poems? In what ways has he been supportive of Nikki’s work?
Nikki and I have both seen all of Johnny’s work and poems that are on his Facebook Artist Page and what he has shared on his personal Facebook page. We both enjoy all his work and look forward to anything new he creates. Johnny has been supportive of Nikki’s work in a couple different ways. I became friends with Johnny first, through Facebook, and after talking a while I told him about the art Nikki did. I showed him her Facebook Artist Page and he decided to post a link to her art page on his personal Facebook page. Within two days, Nikki had over 200 new likes. It was truly amazing. When he has time, I know Johnny has talked to Nikki through private messages and has been very helpful by encouraging her to continue to create and has just been a good and supportive friend all the way around. We both feel very fortunate to have met him online and would like to meet him in person as well.

Which of Johnny’s written works made a lasting impression on you? How do you interpret his approach to writing?

Of Johnny Hellion’s written works, I very much identify with a poem he wrote in 1998 titled “Unclean Mirror”. While I feel I have a talent for writing as well as digital art, one form of written work I have no gift for is poetry. Aside from an off-the-cuff limerick or funny little poem, I do not even attempt to write let alone try and interpret poetry. I enjoy this particular poem of Johnny’s as it is one I can relate to on a very personal level. It is very meaningful to me and I feel I have also experienced the emotion and feeling he expresses in this work. I feel, like myself, that Johnny likes to create works that are unique and his without much care for what may be mainstream at the time.

What do you notice is lacking in mainstream entertainment these days? How do artists like you, Nikki and Johnny Hellion provide an alternative to what we see aboveground?
I feel that today, mainstream entertainment really lacks individuality. Work seems produced strictly based on what will sell rather than to express yourself as an individual. I don’t discount the need to earn an income, yet I feel you can become driven only by the desire to make money. I started creating art on my phone to reduce stress. I still have not made a penny from this particular type of art. If I did, it would be wonderful. If I never do, the other benefits I receive are still moving me in a positive direction… growth. I look at every opportunity as a chance to learn. I don’t feel that I have wasted time that way. I frequently feel I have not only wasted time but money as well when I invest both in mainstream entertainment. I feel Nikki, Johnny, and many other artists I have found online, are able to provide an alternative to mainstream entertainment since their focus is on expressing individuality. Not only through their own art but by interacting personally, via social media, with their followers. They are accessible. You can message them personally and ask questions like what their motivation was in creating a piece or what methods were used to create a particular piece. I help Nikki with her Facebook page and her website. She has gotten a number of personal messages from her followers that are very complimentary and encouraging.

-Dave Wolff

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