Artist Spotlight - Hannah Lynn
In recent years it seems like there has been a bit of a resurgence in the popularity of coloring books among fans of all ages. Hannah Lynn is one of the most talented artists to currently be working on this fun medium. Not only is her artwork popular among younger children, but it is becoming increasingly popular among parents, and young adults. In a recent trip to Salt Lake Comic Con 2016, she was kind enough to take a moment or two and talk with the staff of iGeekOut. This interview is the result of not only that discussion, but more than a few emails being traded back and forth.
When you were a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
First, I wanted to be a mom. Besides that, I really wanted to be an illustrator. I was always making bookmarks and selling them door to door around my neighborhood, and had my first commissioned job when I was only 11 years old. My 7th grade science teacher paid me $60 for a detailed colored pencil drawing of a bald eagle for his son’s birthday. I still tossed around many other ideas like being a doctor or a scientist, or even a teacher, since being an artist by profession was much less a possibility in my day because the internet didn’t exist yet.
What originally got you interested in drawing?
I have been drawing and coloring since before I can remember! It was just something I always did.
How (and why) did you choose to become an artist?
Ironically, I didn’t follow the path to become an artist by profession until much later in life, after I had started a family, because I grew up in the 80’s and early 90’s before the internet really existed for artists like it does now. I had taken about 10 years off of doing much in the way of art, as work and family became the main priority in my life. I picked up drawing again as a hobby for me, as I desperately needed an outlet for stress as a stay at home mom and online business student. Since I have always been entrepreneurial, I started selling my work right away on eBay, and things very slowly branched off from there.
What was your first “Big Break?”
For me, what I would consider to be the first “big break” was the moment that I knew I could actually “make it” as an artist by career, even if it meant I would still probably struggle for a bit. I had a few small contracts and had sold lots of originals and prints before I got a decent licensing contract about 6 years ago that would keep me quite busy for the minimum term of the contract, which at the time was 3 years. I was also accepted into San Diego Comic Con as an exhibitor that same year after being on the waiting list for 3 years. Up until that year I was still considering it to be a part time gig on the side, and was still looking into other options for long-term employment or other business ideas.
What decisions in your career do you consider the most beneficial?
There are lots of decisions along the way…many forks in the road. It gets a little hairy when you are making an income and you have to let go of something that is making money…but not enough money for the time you are putting in. When first starting out, you can’t say no to anything, because you have to make any dollar you can. You have to bend over backwards to make customers happy and take every job you can get. But those decisions to stop offering bookmarks online and only offer them at shows (even when a handful of people were asking for them online), for example, were ultimately the most beneficial, and the most difficult decisions to make. But, I’m the CEO of my own company, and I’m relying on the big boss to make those tough decisions for the overall health of the company, so that the talent will still have a job 30 years down the line.
Did you receive any formal training (i.e., schooling) to become an artist?
Nope! I have an Associate’s in Business and a 10-year degree from the School of Hard Knocks. When I first started, I literally went to the local craft store and got some cheap cardstock, Crayola colored pencils, an Exact-o knife, and a small cutting board so I could make the little ACEO cards I started with. I had no idea what I was doing. I scanned them and uploaded them to eBay as one-of-a-kind originals because I had no idea how to reproduce a print. As the prices of the originals went up, so did the requests for prints. I taught myself how to use Photoshop by stumbling through it so I could create prints, and upgraded my materials to higher artist’s quality pencils and pens with my earnings. I still learn new things every day in that program! I taught myself how to do a little bit of code for website editing by looking page source codes and messing with them; that’s pretty much how I’ve learned to do everything—by trial and error. You can do anything you are truly passionate about if you have the desire to learn!
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I have always loved character art, specifically eyes and female characters. Early inspiration came from my childhood cartoons and animated feature films from Walt Disney. Today, I find inspiration in almost everything around me. Something as simple as a strawberry can be the theme of a piece.
What is your favorite medium to work in, or with?
I prefer watercolor pencils and ink on heavy weight, hot press illustration board to create my pieces. Although, I do work with acrylics on wood occasionally just for fun.
Do you draw for a target audiendce, or simply create art that you like to view?
Starting out, I didn’t think people would want character art, but I was only doing it as a hobby anyway so what did I have to lose? I was excited to learn that they like what I had to offer! I have had many suggestions to do other things like landscapes or art featuring boys, but I stick to females and their animal friends! This is mainly because that is what I like to paint, and they have always sold. If you look at my early portfolio from when I was a child, it is mainly females, character art such as the Little Mermaid or animals (always cartoon style), or random female eyes surrounded by stars and such. Today, as a professional artist with a distinct brand, my artworks are very congruent and pretty consistent across the board because I aim to be recognizable and trademarked. I want people to know exactly who painted the artwork when they look at it. I do have a series that is in a different media (pencil and ink) and in a different style, but the subject matter is the same (fantasy females).
How do you come up with your ideas?
Ideas can come from absolutely anywhere! Personally, I draw them from my own personal life and from when I was a child. My artworks are very childlike, because that is when our dreams were the biggest and we didn’t place limitations on what we could accomplish, what was possible, or what was hiding in the forest. The fantasy genre is all about that. It’s all about dreaming up whatever, and being as creative as possible without any walls to contain it. It’s about taking your dreams, as crazy and as colorful as they can ever be, and making them tangible through a piece of art. You’ll also notice lots of animals and nature in my pieces, because I am an animal and an avid outdoors enthusiast. There is something so majestic about the forest and the animals that live within it; only in our dreams and through art can we build a scene in which there is a perfect forest, lush with thousand-year-old trees and strategically placed waterfalls…all while we are feeding berries to a wild deer and snuggling with a baby bear; because in reality those things elude us. There is something incredibly mysterious about the ocean, since we know so little about it; it’s like another planet with its alien like creatures and insanely colorful whimsical underwater plants…it begs the existence of a human-like creature to explore it and live in it. Everyone wants to be a mermaid and swim where no human can breathe, chat with the dolphins and play tag with sea turtles; or to be a fairy with wings that can soar high above the clouds and explore the deepest areas of the forest where all the wild animals roam undetected. It’s the stuff dreams are made of. To me, that is what art is about. It’s about going through a portal and escaping reality. Reality is average and abundant. Art is rare and intriguing.
When you start working on a project, what do you do to “Get in the Mood?”?
Google and brainstorm!! Looking at pictures of a particular theme is a great way to get in the zone. I am a visual person, so I need to flood my brain stem with the world I am about to enter. Sometimes I’ll watch movies in the style of the theme as well, like Halloween for example.
What is your favorite artistic style?
Interestingly, as much as I love fantasy art, I also really love folk art paintings of landscapes and the countryside or little towns, because they are places to escape to where everything is perfect about the human condition (also a form of fantasy he-he!). A large painting with a young couple flying a kite, the bakery just down the road, a family raking up leaves, an adorable red barn with happy cows outside of it, and a momma duck with her little ducklings in the town pond with the bench next to it waiting for you to come feed them. No fear, no sadness, no crime, no problems. [It’s] Like Heaven.
How do you deal with “Artist’s Block?”
If I have a big block, I get away. I have to hit the reset button and go out hiking, shopping, visiting with friends, etc. Most of the time it’s because I haven’t gotten out enough. There are things all around that inspire us, but if we stay in the same place looking at the same four walls all day, it can get a little dreary. The internet is helpful, but it’s not the same as just getting away to the forest for a hike, breathing the fresh air, and letting the mist from the rushing river hit your face. Or, sometimes I will use my creative energy doing something else like cooking something I’ve never made before, decorating, or gardening, until the painting muse returns.
What is your favorite part of a project?
When I first get to add color to the piece. After the concept sketch has been done, the line art has been transferred, all the major layout decisions have been made, the penciled-in details have been defined, the inking has been done, and the pencil lines underneath have been erased. All of that is work to me. The fun starts when the color comes out. My second favorite part is about in the middle, when the new world I have created is really fleshing out and my face is so close to the paper that I feel like I could just jump in and live there. That is when I wish I could share that moment with everyone, because it is unlike any other experience.
How often do real life events impact, or influence, your work?
All the time! Artists are emotional beings and most are affected by everything around them, positive or negative. The change of the seasons, the illness of a family member, coming back from vacation; they all bleed through. I got some new baby ducklings after one of mine passed away recently, and they inspired an illustration in my Enchanted Halloween Coloring Book, alongside a mermaid in a pond on an autumn day..
If you could pick any one artist to work with, who would it be, and why?
I’m kind of a loner, so I am not sure about that one!
When working with another artist, how do you divide the work load?
Again, I work alone. I have not done any collaborative projects.
What does a typical work day (or week) look like for you?
90% work like processing orders, website updating, social media, image editing, answering emails, dealing with copyright infringement cases, accounting, etc. and 10% art. I have made efforts to tip the scales in favor of creating lately, and I am accomplishing that goal slowly but surely. Outsourcing my coloring book printing/publishing to Createspace was a big one for me. Ironically, as a professional artist, I still fight for time to create and paint like someone who is moonlighting as an artist. I always joke around saying I should run away with the Circus, as the Artist Who Never Paints.
For comic books and graphic nocels, which is more important – story line, or the artistic depiction of story line?
I have never done a comic book or graphic novel. That is entirely new dimension that I haven’t explored yet, and may never.
What other artist, besides yourself, do you consider the most exciting right now, and why?
Honestly, I don’t follow a lot of other artists so that I can stay as original and authentic as possible.
Which of your artwork is your favorite, and why?
I get this question a lot, and the truth is I don’t have one! I’m just as bad as my fans. You should see me trying to choose the 10 most popular artworks for making pins for a show or something. The list ends up being 75 images long before I just give up!!! I just can’t choose; they are all like my children.
Do you have any plans to either continue, or start, a new series, and if so, how many pieces do you envision in it?
The possibilities of ideas and themes for my artwork are endless. I have at least five more coloring books planned that will take me at least the next year or two, and quite a few new storybook princess paintings to add to the portfolio.
I know that things are rather busy for you right now, but what do you do to decompress in your offtime?
I spend time with my family (husband and two girls), my animals (dogs, cats, ducks, chickens), and my garden. We recently bought a beautiful home out in the country with a couple of acres, so I spend what down time I do have just hanging around and taking in the views of the city, mountains, and canyons that surround our property, since I work from home. I kind of piddle around feeding the chickens, watering the flowers, taking a walk down to our pond, or watching the wildlife when it comes by (we get skunks, deer, rabbits, and lots of birds including owls!) which gets me some exercise and some outdoor nature time on a daily basis. One of my favorite things to do is to go out onto our big wrap around front porch when there is a thunder and lightning storm and just watch it. The sunsets are a pretty amazing treat on the porch as well. As a family, we love to go hiking, camping, or to National Parks like Yellowstone, which we are just an hour and half outside of. We have a family vacation planned in January (when it’s snowing and cold here) to Maui, and I’m very excited about that! I hope to pick up some tropical inspiration there.
Is there anything special, or specific, that we should be keeping an eye out for?
I have a very special coloring book planned that I have been keeping under serious lock and key for almost a year now; sorry no hints! I haven’t told anyone about it because I had so many others to publish before I can make this one a reality. I’m almost there. Just two more books (Christmas and Punch of Color Girls-the sketchy tattoo girl’s series) and then I can get to the one I’ve been dreaming about for the last year! It has to have the proper attention. I’m thinking of booking a writer’s style retreat to do it, so I can eliminate distractions and really get in the zone, but we will see how well real life allows for it when I get to that point and am ready to do it!
If you could say any one thing to a budding artist, what would you say?
I get this question a lot at shows where I exhibit my work. Parents will tell me that their child is talented, but they have no idea where to point them in terms of becoming an artist when they grow up. I tell them the same thing every time. Go to business school unless you have a clear designated path. Learn how to market yourself if you want to make it your living. There are as many ways to make money as an artist as there are colors in the spectrum. Do you want to be a gallery style artist, where the pieces you sell are one of a kind hanging over someone’s fireplace? Or maybe you want to be a video game designer? Do you want people to collect your artwork like they do mine, and travel to shows and do signings and talk to people? Or would you prefer to just do the artwork and have an Agent find ways to sell your work on products? Or maybe you want to be an architect and design houses or skyscrapers? Play to your strengths. My youngest is insanely talented in art already, but she is extremely talented in math as well. Add that to her natural personality traits of being a bit shy and introverted, and you have all the makings of a successful Architect there.
I have always been business-minded and have been making money on my artwork since I was five, literally selling stuff door to door, and I have an employment background in management and sales. So, I am an independent artist and entrepreneur because I enjoy creating products that people can use and enjoy in their everyday lives (like coloring books or bookmarks, or a print for their daughter’s room), and I like talking to people (not all the time, I need my quiet solitude and uninterrupted creating time). So that makes it a good fit. You are much better off taking something that you are already a six at and bringing it up to a 10, than to take something you are a two at and bringing it up to a five or six. Talent is only about 10% of this whole game. The rest of it is your passion, hustle, and building something amazing over a long period of time. Make sure you are investing in something long term rather than running after every little thing that you think will make you money. If you do things solely for the money, it will get old and it will show through in your work, or you will quit at the first real challenge (and they are coming!). In the beginning, it’s a must to explore all the different options, because you are trying to find your way and looking for what sticks. But once you find it, shed the rest and hone your focus. Then keep putting in the hours towards that and keep your eye on the prize. There are so many shiny things that are just waiting to steal your creative juices. FOCUS and have patience! You have to go through each step to get to where you are going; there are no shortcuts.
What personality trait is the most beneficial for an artist?
Being self-motivated is pretty important, because most artists are self-employed and have to be the ones to push themselves to get things done. Even under contract, or under the direction of an agent, proper time management is key since artists are generally provided a window of time in which to get things done, which offers quite a bit of wiggle room. If you are a procrastinator like me, you will use all of your wiggle room up front and then work 16 hours a day and drink five cups of coffee each day until the project is done. Let’s just say I’m not a fan of deadlines. But, most artists aren’t, because creating art isn’t much like any other job on the planet, and it requires a certain “ebb and flow” to it. Art isn’t done until it’s done, and we can’t put an ironclad time stamp on it until those hours are over. To quote a project timeline, I look at how long my last one took, double it, then think about how long I think this next one will take, triple that, and then add it to the first number; this provides a formula in which I can actually meet a deadline, and it’s still by the skin of my teeth! I can spend hours just thinking about a project, and it looks to everyone else like I’m doing nothing. But, it’s all part of the process.
What do you consider your best work?
Actually being an artist by profession. It’s one of the most difficult professions to claim for a living.
If you are interested in seeing some more of Hannah Lynn’s work, purchasing some of her great books or art pieces, or simply want to follow her, then use these links. As you can see, she has a very large social media pressence. Join the club, and see what else she has to offer!