K.C. Garza is a freelance illustrator and concept artist currently living in Florida. Originally from Texas, she graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a BFA in Sequential Art. She’s done work for games, comics, and music albums, as well as self-published the webcomic Superbitch for four years. Her portfolio can be found at kcgarza.com. She provided art for this week's story, "Dragon-Smoked Barbeque" by M. K. Hutchins.
This interview was conducted by email in September 2016.
Tory Hoke: As an illustrator, how did you get where you are today?
K. C. Garza: I've always drawn and painted, but a keystone moment for me was discovering digital painting when I was eleven or twelve. Back then a popular thing on the web was Oekaki boards—message boards centered around a really basic drawing program. So I basically learned to draw digitally by playing around on these boards after school. When I got to high school, I got serious about pursuing art as a career, and I was always driving out of town for life drawing classes, submitting to competitions, or selling my prints at local art shows and festivals. Around then I started tinkering with making my own websites and online stores, and I got my first drawing tablet. I ended up getting a pretty sizable scholarship to the Savannah College of Art and Design and started taking on freelance commissions while going to school and drawing my webcomic, Superbitch, on the side.
Last month of my senior year I got a job as a 2D artist at a small video game studio here in Florida. When I graduated, I moved down here and worked there for about a year and a half. In that year, I decided pretty definitively that games aren't for me. About a year ago, I left there and have been doing freelance concept art, coloring for comics, tabletop RPG illustration, album covers, and just about anything else that comes my way.
Tory Hoke: A few works in your portfolio have a "Day of the Dead" makeup motif. What attracts you to that theme?
K. C. Garza: My dad's family is Mexican, and I grew up in central Texas, which has a lot of Mexican cultural influence. I've always had an interest in that part of their folklore, Dia de los Muertos, and I'm not sure if it's just an aesthetic attraction to the whole 'Catrina' look or a kind of fascination with the Mexican way of looking at death. Last year I started doing a series of Aztec and Mayan goddesses, but I think only about two or three of them ended up making it into my portfolio.
© 2016 K. C. Garza, "The Tempest"
Tory Hoke: According to your ArtStation page, last year you made the leap to freelance. What was that transition like? What have you learned?
K. C. Garza: Nerve-wracking, terrifying, and amazing. I'd been freelancing on the side all through school and while I was working full time, so really the transition was just figuring out what to do with all this newfound free time. I'd been kind of preparing for it while I was at the game studio, steadily saving up a bit of cash while really working up my portfolio. But you're never really as prepared as you think you are when it comes to running a small business or going solo.
Freelance is what I've always wanted to do though, so when I got laid off from my full-time, I sort of resolved to making it work. I said I'd give myself about six months or so, and if it didn't work out, I'd just try for another studio job. So I ate up everything I could find on freelancing, marketing, self-promotion and social media and worked on improving my painting skills. I set my webcomic aside to focus on all this, stopped going out and spending as much, went to more cons and shows—basically gave myself a crash course in becoming an independent artist. It's been simultaneously the hardest, scariest, but most rewarding thing I think I've ever had to do.
© 2016 K. C. Garza, "The Black Mudpuppy"
Tory Hoke: What is the art community like where you are?
K. C. Garza: It's fairly small but dedicated. I live in a mid-sized beach town where there's not really a whole lot going on in general, but there's a pretty passionate group of creator-owned comic artists and an art students' guild that focuses on life drawing and plein air painting. A friend of mine also owns a gallery that puts on shows just about every week, including a Dr. Sketchy's that meets up every once in a while.
Tory Hoke: What other artists inspire or interest you?
K. C. Garza: I'm a big fan of some contemporary fantasy artists like Karla Ortiz, Noah Bradley, Charlie Bowater, and Pete Mohrbacher. Lately I'm also studying a lot of 1940s to 1960s pulp illustrators, like Frank Frazetta and Charles Copeland.
Tory Hoke: What would you like to see more of in contemporary F/SF art?
K. C. Garza: I'm continually surprised by the amazing stuff I see coming out every day! A few years ago I maybe would have said less cheesecakey women-in-chainmail-bikinis stuff, but even that is balanced out by the sheer range of creative concepts and new approaches I see all the time online.
© 2016 K. C. Garza, "Monster Slayer"
Tory Hoke: What's your dream project?
K. C. Garza: I think getting into visual development for film and animation would be pretty rad. Working on more creator-owned comics would also be a lot of fun, or maybe doing covers for a book I really like. Not sure if I have any one specific dream project just yet though.
Tory Hoke: What's next for you?
K. C. Garza: I'm not really sure. I know at some point I plan on reviving my webcomic, but I'm kind of taking my time on that. I have a few story ideas for other comics or even prose fiction, but they're just rough concepts and nothing I've really spent much time planning yet. For right now I'm pretty much just enjoying what I'm doing!