Karen May Metcalfe (1977) creates Art, illustrates Books, Magazines and comics, Teaches illustration in Tiltan collage, and acts as a DJ on her spare time.
A Graduate of the Animation department in Bezalel-Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem, Israel (2003); A Graduate of the Plastic Arts Department in Wizo Haifa, Arts High School, Israel (1995)
Among her publications: Magafayim Adumim (Red Boots) by Miryam Rot; Chicken and egg by Noa Lazar; Zaur Ha Dinozaur by Talia Rahimi; Do Re Mooo by Shirly Yuval; Illustrated and published a Mini Comics Book The Metcalfes (sold in Israel and the USA); and more.
Exhibitions: Participated in Hebrew Comics 3– X+Z at the Comics and Caricature Museum, Holon; Ei Sheket dual exhibition with Oren Somech at the Edge gallery, Nahariya; Personal View dual exhibition with Oren Somech at Dizingof center, Tel Aviv; The Opening exhibition of the Comics Museum, Holon.
How did you first get into illustration?
Well… I think I have been drawing ever since I remember myself – when I was a kid my mom always had a table with colors and papers open so we can draw anytime. She herself is an artist so it was part of our everyday life. In high school I studied Art in Wizo Art school in Haifa and there, mostly from the interaction with my class mates I was exposed to illustration and began to take interest, but I was more into sketching and realistic drawing.
After My army service I decided to study Animation In Bezalel Art and Design Academy and there I had wonderful teachers like Tzahi Farber, Dana Shamir, Noam Nadav and Rutu Modan who Taught me Illustration (specifically) and Got my appetite for the subject going but still it took me a while to decide that that was what I wanted to do. After I finished Bezalel I didn’t draw for about 2 years (I guess I needed time to rest my mind and hands from the intensive experience) and one day I saw an Illustration exhibition that inspired me and placed all the pieces I have been collecting for years in place, and ever since I have been illustrating.
How do you start a new project of children book illustration?
After reading the text I usually start by sketching the main characters. I usually take the first sketches then go and look at books and websites that I like and then I sketch some more. Then I read the text again and try to see what info I have missed in first reading, I also break down the text and see what are the highlights of the story – what feelings do the characters arouse in me and if they remind me of people I know. And then I sketch again.
After I have decided on the characters and color pallet I wish to use, I usually create thumb nails with the layout of the book, deciding on the composition in each spread and the composition of the whole book.
Sometimes when I am not sure how to approach the book, I just start with something technical like opening photoshop and placing the text on spreads the size of the book. This way I have all the files ready in the correct size and I have an idea how much space the text needs and how much space I have for illustrations.
Can you tell us about some of the challenges you face in your work?
I would like to refer to one of the known issues for every artist or illustrator – Artist block. Many illustrators I know have stories about what they do when they experience an artist block, to avoid sitting and illustrating. The irony is (and I think most illustrators will agree with what I am about to say) that most people who are not Artists – once they hear that I'm an illustrator tend to say "how wonderful – you probably sit all day, draw and enjoy it". Of course I feel grateful and blessed for having the privilege of working in one of the best jobs in the world but still, artist block is sometimes a real and hard part of the deal. I think it is something that isn’t talked about or dealt with enough in Art schools. You can be an outstanding talent – but if you haven’t the tools to deal with creation under a deadline or to get rid of artist block it is almost impossible to be an illustrator. If you ask my students (I teach sketching and illustration in Tiltan collage in Haifa) they would probably say that this is one of the main subjects I talk about in my classes. There are many ways to deal with this but I will say what works for me:
-Writing down what is bothering me and what is distracting my thoughts from the subject.
– closing all tabs and even the internet for one hour (I know it's hard that is why I say one hour).
– cleaning the house and tidying the area I'm working in (it's amazing what strange ideas I sometimes have while cleaning….)
– going down to the beach with my sketchbook (looking at real people on the beach or in the bus always makes me realize you don’t need to invent caricatures – they are out there alive and kicking…)
– Looking at books I like the illustrations and art in them – and if I don’t have enough at home I go to a book store and sit there.
– listening to music or D.j ing (creating a different art that involves immediate feedback from the crowd like d.jing – which is my second line of work, has a great effect on me)
Sometimes not to fight the feeling but accepting it just opens the block –
I think there are many other things that can be done but the important thing is not to freeze or sink into negative thoughts. It may sound like a cliché but remembering that we are lucky and privileged to work in this field .always makes me smile and gives me the motivation to rush into a new project
What would be your ultimate goal as an illustrator?
I think for any type of artist the ultimate goal is to be taken into a project because of their specific style, and therefor get absolute freedom and credit in all the artistic decisions. So in a way it doesn't matter if it's designing characters for an animation movie, creating the scenery for a theater play or illustrating a book. I guess for me the important thing is to be dynamic and to try lots of different things in art, illustration and comics. It forces me to change, to move forward and try new things, which I think is important for any artist.
Tell us about an interesting illustration project you were involved in
One of the books I enjoyed working on the most is a book for pregnant women. It was a book for grownups but the format was like a children's book and it had illustrations on every page.
Noa Lazar, the Author, wrote the book after she became a mother herself and I was already a mother too, so I could identify with her humoristic descriptions in the book about the experience of being pregnant and becoming a mother.
I was glad we decided to make the book black and white with only one color as an addition (Red) as I prefer minimalism and always prefer the more sketchy parts on the coloring.
Another wonderful part was to work together with design Studio 1kg that did the graphic design of the book. I felt their artistic decisions matched our vision of how the book should look – from the cover, throughout the whole book, and right up to the printing itself. I am always amazed what a huge difference the design and choice of paper makes on the illustrations and the whole feel of the book. I hope I will have the privilege of working with 1 kg again and with other good designers.
What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?
I guess the best advice I can think of in the spiritual aspect is to consume as much Art as possible – and not only Illustration drawing or painting but also music, theater, movies, animation, dancing, opera etc…. I believe that this is critical for inspiration and creation, and it opens your mind and keeps you alert and thinking.
On the more practical side, I think that taking part in contests and group exhibitions in the early stages forces you to create even when you are still not making a living from illustration and gives you a subject and mission to express your artistic ideas without having a customer that may sometimes ask for a more solid result. This can defiantly open doors and keep your artistic brain going. But I also must add that it is important to know on the long run not to work for free and not to sell yourself cheap, because sadly people tend to appreciate more things they pay for, and of course the goal is to be able to make a decent living – so it’s a tricky sort of situation.