At the Corner of Art and Writing: An Interview with Novyl
We love her for her art, her support of community, and her wit. Novyl is a character artist and writer, with a drive for telling story through art. She recently chatted with Loud Coffee Press about growing up in a creative family, her views on art, and its intersection with technology.
1. Tell us about your art background. How did you get into drawing and how did it progress to character portraits?
I was born an artist, I think. My father is an artist and he got my mother into art as well. Most of my father’s friends, and thus my mother’s friends, are artists too. And they aren’t just any run-of-the-mill artists, but professionals in their fields and very well known and respected.
I was surrounded by art from birth. It’s in my blood. My ancestors were engineers on the Taj Mahal, according to my father.
We were also exposed to international art at a very young age, when we traveled all over Europe, visiting all the famous galleries – The Louvre, The Van Gogh Gallery, etc. I think I touched the Sunflower painting! LoL!
I’ve been creating for as long as I can remember. I was awarded “Most Creative” awards at school for my writing, my art, and general curiosity about the world.
It’s as natural to me as breathing.
I seriously started drawing when I was around 11 or 12. Well, actually, it’s weird. I always took my drawing skills for granted, really. It was just something I could do and I enjoyed doing it. It came to me so easily.
I used to read a lot of comics, and I was always attracted to comic art.
I remember from my trip to the Louvre, I was around 6/7 years of age at the time, the one painting that attracted me the most (I didn’t much care for the Mona Lisa) was one by Roy Lichtenstein.
I remember standing in front of this painting – it was quite big, or maybe I was little? – and I was mesmerized. I don’t know why. I didn’t know it then, but my love affair with comics had begun, though I’d yet to read a single one!
But this attraction to the painting must have been what attracted me to comics. I was drawn in by the bold art style, especially in the Marvel/DC universe, the dark, light, the exaggerated musculature.
When I first started out drawing, I asked my father for some advice. He just plonked a massive anatomy book on me and said, “Here, practice.”
The anatomy book was utterly boring and dry. But even though I didn’t practice from it, it did give me a good sense of muscles and bone structures of the human body.
Most of my own practice came from copying comics. One of my favorites was this guy called “Badger.” He isn’t very well known, but he’s my favorite hero.
Graphic novels also influenced my art a lot. I love the 2000AD series and art – it’s absolutely fantastic! Slaine was another character that I fell in love with.
My father had books of their art and I would look at these drawings and paintings for hours on end, studying all the details and shadows and lines and curves. I would wonder at the art itself, the stories it was telling, and I would create my own stories for them or just go insane wondering what the stories were! What did the artist intend? What did the writer intend? And then I would practice drawing from these as well.
I have been writing from a very young age. My first story was published in the national papers when I was only eleven. So, creating characters was in me already and all these comics, art with stories, would fire up my imagination even more.
I did create a character in my mid-teens, inspired by Badger, called Foxana Madness. I still have the story I created for her in my head.
Foxana was orphaned at a young age, when her parents died in a car crash. Unfortunately, she was with them, but she suffered serious head injuries and was slightly brain damaged.
This has led to her being a psychopath, a little bit insane, but with a conscience.
She is kind of an anti-hero. Quite mad. But with a soft heart inside. That little girl is still there inside her, never having grown up.
And then this guy, Spellbinder, her arch-nemesis, falls in love with her and she with him.
It kinda went a bit crazy from there. I didn’t fully work out the kinks.
However, Foxana became the precursor to another character I created in my mid 20’s.
James Devillian. Ah, James. I spent a lot of time with James. Wrote half a book, which got lost in the digital ether somewhere.
So, James has the spirit of an ancient warrior god stuck inside him, called Zin, who is completely insane, power-hungry, cruel and very good at killing inter-dimensional beings.
How James got Zin stuck inside him:
At a boarding school for boys only, James was bullied a lot. He was a thin, skinny boy, unable to defend himself and was picked on.
Some boys decided to prank him by performing an ancient ritual on him, that they’d found in the library. The idea was to scare James, but they ended up doing a lot more.
James’s psychiatrist thinks it’s a split personality disorder. Or is it? It’s a question that gets floated around a bit.
James hates the fact that Zin takes over, whenever they are faced by demons. It’s the main conflict that the story of James DeVillian is built on. DeVillian was heavily inspired by Slaine.
That eternal internal struggle; I think that’s a theme that has run through a lot of the characters I create.
In my late 20’s though, the art fell away to science. I started doing my degree in physics, had kids, got a divorce, started all over again. Creating fell to the way side for a long while. Almost a decade.
I did draw now and then – but it was very sporadic.
It was not until late 2018, early 2019, that I really started to get back into the art again. Art and creating.
What really spurred it was when I helped a student achieve merit standing, after helping tutor him. The family was so happy and so impressed that I managed to get him up to speed in just a month! So to thank me, they got me ART SUPPLIES! I got a sketchbook, watercolor pencils and graphite pencils!
It was kind of like the Universe/Allah giving me a nudge, telling me, “Hey, time to get back into it again!”
And I did and boy did it take off! I started drawing and posting on Instagram and got such a great response! I’d gotten some traction on Deviantart – but nothing like this. And it felt so good that I kept on doing it! Haha!
Then people started asking me to draw characters for them and I did and they LOVED IT! And that was even more encouragement.
Now here we are!
2. How does being an artist help with your writing and vice-versa? What is the point of convergence?
In the previous question, I talked about how I would look at the art by Vallejo, Achilleos etc and wonder at the stories. What is the artist trying to convey?
Sometimes, the art would be for book covers and I would wonder, “Is this exactly what the author had in mind?”
What I have come to notice in recent times is that, rarely is the vision of the artist the exact same as the vision the author had.
When I have drawn for people, I have given them how I see it. They have provided references etc, but is it EXACTLY how they imagined it? It comes close yes, but not exactly, has been my feeling.
I think my struggle has always been to try and bring my vision to life, as authentically as I am seeing it in my head.
They say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” That may very well be true. Whenever I am struggling with a character, I end up drawing them.
You pick up more with your vision, when you have an actual picture in front of you. The images in our brain are so ephemeral and ghost-like, they disappear as soon as you get close to grasping them. Like water cascading through your fingers.
Once I have a portrait though, the character becomes more concrete, I can hold on to it and
examine it. There is so much that can be inferred from an actual image in front of you, than just some hazy fog in the head, is the way that I see it.
So, this desire to make things concrete and the desire to bring authenticity to my vision is what drives me and is what I’m trying to create.
It doesn’t always work though. I have done four versions of my character Talia and I’m not happy with either of them.
And then there are some characters – I draw them ONCE, and their entire story makes sense and they become a living, breathing person!
3. We’ve heard you mention the use of technology in your art. Can you expand on that? How do you feel technology enhances art?
Technology has its advantages and its disadvantages. Advantages are faster processing, less mess, more detailed and finessed work, easier to learn. Disadvantages are too ubiquitous, forgetting how to do things the hard way, not enough effort required, digital files easy to lose, fucked if there is an electromagnetic catastrophe.
I do think people should learn to draw with good old-fashioned paper and pencil before moving to the digital realm.
I always do my drawing by hand and then I apply digital filters on top.
Honestly, my preference will always be getting my hands dirty with graphite and pastels and chalk and paint. Creating with my hands. Using actual materials.
I’m not entirely certain if technology enhances art as such.
The most expensive paintings in the world aren’t digital.
If anything, because of the ubiquity of digital art, it’s possibly losing its value, since anyone can do it now!
4. We’ve seen you draw some pretty amazing character portraits. When you do a commission for a writer, what type of information do you need to draw their character portraits?
I normally need a character description – both physical and personality.
And I need a couple of reference photos of what they think it looks like. These can be from Pinterest or Google. It gives me an idea of the kind of aesthetic you’re wanting.
Don’t give me too much! That can confuse me!
5. Where do you think the future of art is headed?
I honestly don’t know right now. Art is always in flux. Things change quickly.
But, I do know that art isn’t going anywhere.
Art is an essential part of being human.
6. Where can people find you if they’re interested in seeing more of your art or commissioning your art?
People are free to DM me about commissions.
I also have a website: https://lyv0nlyv0n.wixsite.com/lyv0n
a. Two books you’d recommend to any creative:
That entirely depends on the type of creative! There’s too many!
b. Do you prefer modern science fiction or classic science fiction:
c. Do you prefer writing fantasy or science fiction:
d. Planes or trains:
e. Favorite junk food:
Potato chips. Chocolate.
f. Do you like sharks:
Err… I am indifferent to sharks. Unless one is trying to eat me, then I hate them!