“Most jobs that I’ve landed came about via making fanart of things I loved and actively seeking to engage in communities of projects I wanted to work with.” – Shibara on the importance of being active in online communities.
Shibara is an illustrator who has worked in many areas, and has been active in the Transformers fandom creating fanart. Last year she started contributing colour art for the Transformers TCG starting with Wave 4, providing colours for character cards such as the alt modes of Barricade, Thundercracker, Jetfire, both modes for Nova Storm and Detritus, and the Energon Edition version of Cliffjumper.
Shibara was able to answer a few questions about her work on the TCG and beyond. Enjoy!
What was your first experience with the Transformers franchise?
My first experience was watching Beast Wars when I was around 10. I loved it with all my heart. I had a Tarantulas toy, which I played with to disintegration back then.
What sucked you into the Transformers in the long term? Comics, toys, cartoons, movies?
Hmm, none of those, technically. The glue that stuck my heart to Tfs was the fandom, specifically fanart and fanfics. That, and the untold amount of hours I spent absorbing lore on tfwiki, trying to figure out what on Earth was I reading.
How long have you been drawing and colouring Transformers? What initially inspired you to start – and other than drawing robots, what else inspires you to draw?
I’ve been tinkering with Transformers art since early 2012, when I found the franchise again, as an adult.
My main source of inspiration for art has always been stories. I chose to become a professional illustrator above all other art-oriented studies because of that, and it’s been that way alien robots, too. All my art of them was initially fanart of fics I loved.
What formal training do you have as an artist; how useful has that training been for your work?
In one way or another, I’ve had somewhat formal training since very early on, doing art courses though my childhood and teen years. After that, I coursed a Bachelor in Fine Arts (which I dropped when it was clear it could offer no more I could use as an illustrator), and then another two-year course, specifically aimed at published illustration.
All of it has been important for my development as a professional artist, but also not enough at all, for example, none of it taught me how to work digitally.
That being said, and even though nowadays there are all sorts of self-study material available online, I don’t think I’d have had the discipline to teach myself all I needed to learn to get where I am now.
You wrote an interesting tweet the other day about being a freelance artist: “Social media handling, marketing and networking are tools that have a much deeper impact on being able to survive as a freelance artist than any kind of technical skills”. What marketing and social media techniques have helped you establish yourself as a freelance artist? Have there been any mistakes you’ve made along the way?
I honestly don’t think there are specific techniques as much as broad rules of thumb on how to handle these things. The most important probably is to generally seek to have a positive impact in the communities we enjoy being a part of.
Actively producing, joining or organizing projects, celebrating and expressing appreciation for the themes and the media one loves and the productions of friends and artists, openly and frequently engaging others in the stuff they love and paying attention. Most jobs that I’ve landed came about via making fanart of things I loved and actively seeking to engage in communities of projects I wanted to work with.
All those things which are essentially ‘try to be a honest, good person in a community’ are what I’ve found accidentally helped me build networks online, because basically if you are honest, respectful and show love for the work you do, people are already well predisposed to want to work with you.
That being said, I might not be the best person to talk on these matters? I’ve never managed to amass a huge following anywhere (though I’ve also never lacked for work).
Do you feel any anxieties having to manage a social media presence, and putting our your own creative works independently?
On this matter, I feel all the anxiety my brain can possibly hold, and then some more.
It’s something I honestly wish I didn’t have to do, because I’m an extremely introverted person and I find social media exhausting, and often upsetting.
I *am* pretty confident in my work, so I’ve never feared uploading it for the world to see, and I enjoy the small social circles I’m part off immensely, but putting myself out there is quite a different matter. It’s a lot of work.
What advice would you have for someone wanting to put their own art out on the internet
I’d advise first of all to do it, if you want to.
There’s nothing stopping you, and it’s a very happy way to connect to others with a love of what you are making art of, but also, to be aware that it is in a way making oneself vulnerable to other people’s reactions to it.
Showing our art online puts us all at risk of equating views and favs to the art’s worth, and that’s a pretty slippery and unhealthy slope to slide down. If you feel like putting art online for everyone to see is making you more upset than happy, it’s ok to show it only to the people who you know will appreciate it.
Back to Transformers, what work have you done in an official capacity for Transformers?
The extent of my official work has been coloring Transformers TCG cards, through Volta. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say exactly how many since some have not been published yet.
When did you get drafted in to work on the card game?
Very early 2019.
What challenges did you have to overcome doing colours for the card game?
Mainly, the work rhythm. It’s been a much more demanding schedule than those I’ve had for most other projects. I’m a finicky person for details and such, so I tend to work slowly and thoroughly. The need to work neatly but quickly was a huge change of pace.
Also, the need to respect certain artwork guidelines strictly. It took me a number of attempts to get the hang of some stylistic elements (and some others I still struggle a bit with). My thoughts go out to Sara P-D, our art director, who is a human being entirely made of patience, as far as I can tell.
One of my personal favourites in Wave 4 has been Nova Storm; she has a very different look compared to the toy version. Tell me about the process of colouring this card. Did you have to take a lot of direction in terms of colour choice (e.g. the much more metallic gold look)? Were you even aware of the new Nova Storm toy when you were doing colours for the card?
Aaah, I’m afraid that for this card in particular I had little input regarding color. It’s one of the few cards in which I started working when there were already rough colors in place, so I didn’t make any decisions on that front, nor was I aware of the new toy in particular.
Were you aware the character was meant to be female, or was that a surprise to you as much as everyone else? If so, was there any creative colour choices you took to ‘feminize’ her; if not, would you have?
I was a surprise for me too! And I think it was excellent!! In recent years there has been an interest in portraying a more diverse aesthetic for female Tfs, sometimes less traditionally feminine, and I have to say I’m 500% on board with that. I definitely wouldn’t have added anything to make her more traditionally feminine, if it had been up to me.
Another card that has had universal praise has been the alt mode side of Barricade, which I believe you are also personally very proud of. How did you go about approaching colour work for this card? Are the various light effects happening on that card elements you added, or part of the original lines from Sara Pitre-Durocher?
In all honesty, I approached it the same way I try to work most other cards, which is putting together a color scheme that works as harmoniously as possible with the colors already present in the character’s paintjob, while making it pop from the background.
The original lines from Sara didn’t include the light effects, but they did suggest the illumination for the background, which immediately put me in mind of a night-time drive through the city, and how the car lights look when speeding by, and that’s where the light effects came from.
Recently you revealed that you did artwork for the new Cliffjumper in the Energon Edition. How did approaching this card differ from the regular cards? Did you have to alter how you coloured the card due to the difference in material this card uses?
I had no idea it would be printed differently than regular cards when I was working on it, so I didn’t really do anything differently than what I usually do. I think I remember noticing the size was a bit different, but since the Tf TCG has the peculiarity of having several sizes of cards for the characters, I didn’t think much of it at the time.
Were you aware of the original Cliffjumper card when you were doing colours for the new version, and were you aware of his status as this very rare, sought after card?
I did know there was a previous Cliffjumper card, because I had seen images of it at some point, but I had no idea it was particularly sought after…. until this question xD
What about unofficial and fan works? Has there been anything fan-made that you’ve worked on and are particular proud of?
Without a doubt, the project I’m proudest to have been part of was the Snapshots Transformers Fanzine. It was a project organized directly after IDW ended, focused on celebrating all the joy that the comic run brought to us fan creators. It was a wonderful labor of love.
There’s a really intriguing picture in your portfolio that has Megatron and Galvatron at the top, a Quintesson at the bottom and Cyclonus in the middle looking distressed. What’s the inspiration for this particular piece? What do you imagine is going through Cyclonus’s head?
Well, I can tell you exactly what is going through Cyclonus’ head on that image, because it’s actually an illustration I made of a fic called ‘And I alone have escaped to tell you’ by Astolat: https://archiveofourown.org/works/12794250.
In a tiny nutshell, Cyclonus from an alternative disastrous timeline realizes that to prevent the future where he came from, in where the return of the Quintessons ravages the entire species, Unicron would have to be defeated before he met Megatron, Galvatron would never come to exist, and the work and cause of his whole previous life would amount to nothing.
The pic itself is a love letter to one of the best fics I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading ❤
Beyond Transformers you’ve also done some work on some board games. How involved were you in the production of these, did you have much creative freedom on these projects? How did working on these differ from your other works?
I’ve never been involved in the production of games beyond the artwork aspects, but I’ve had very varied levels of creative freedom. From projects where I had strict guidelines, and even worked with characters where I had to reference certain real life actors to make the faces, to other where I essentially decided the aesthetic completely.
The most important difference between the artwork for board-games vs, say, an individual commission, is that the accent has to be put in the functionality of the art, particularly as a support for the game play. For example, making images for a party game for many players will require very easy to understand art, because it needs to be readable from every point of a table with many people. That sort of thing.
I’m really curious about your art for Paul Shapera’s Fairypunk trilogy – how were you involved in this project? Were the album covers inspired by the music, or did you have to create them without knowing what the music would sound like?
Aaah, it all came about when I made a piece of fanart of one of Paul’s previous albums I absolutely loved: ‘Uncle Raven’s Super Happy Funtime Carnival’ He really enjoyed, so he asked me to come on board illustrating the upcoming trilogy he was developing.
The covers are definitely inspired by the music. I was given a few vague directions regarding the content of each one, and then either the record samples for the singers, or a number of completed songs that talked about the main elements Paul wanted me to illustrate.
It was a pretty amazing and surreal experience being able to work on covers for an artist whose work I’ve loved for ages.
What other non-Transformers projects have you been involved in?
A whole bunch, though few that were not individual commission work recently.
Probably the biggest one, aside from the ones already mentioned, would be the cover for a local edition of Jonathan Green’s ‘Alice’s Nightmare in Wonderland’. I’m also a returning artist for the Object Head Zine, which is a beautiful, quirky mazagine celebrating object-headed characters (I’ll be doing my third on 2020) and I’ve participated in Echoes of Thunder, another excellent zine by Alchemy Art Group.
Earlier in my life I’ve participated in somewhat more unusual projects. I’ve done flashcard images for a primary school study program teaching English in China. I did one or two gigs making live cartoon of people at events and conventions, designed packaging art of novelty items, including stuff like joke-meds, wall clocks for kids, ‘Visit Spain’ souvenirs, edible chocolate lingerie… I took a lot of very random art jobs when I was starting to work in this business xD
Are you happy to do card signings, and if so where can people find you? (conventions, etc.)
Of course, I’d love to!! I’ll be attending TFN2020, barring any crazy happenstance, so people can find me there. Hopefully I’ll be having a stand at the Forge too, though that has not been confirmed yet.
Finally, is there anything else you want to add or say to the Transformers TCG community?
I’d honestly just like to send a thank you for the enthusiasm with which our work has been received.
I already loved working with characters I particularly care for so much, but personally my hype levels go through the roof when I see the amount of love this game is getting, and the positive response the art has been receiving.
Shibara Cardography (22/1/20)
Character Cards (Colours):
Detritus, Shadowsteel Iceblade, Nightbird (alt), Sergeant Springer (alts), Raider Novastorm, Sergeant Barricade (alt), Sergeant Thundercracker (alt), Captain Jetfire (alt), MTX-M2 Anti Gravity Cannon
Character Cards (Colours):
(continued updates to this list can be found here)
Thanks Shibara for the interview. You can follow Shibara on Twitter!