The artist describes her story as being “non-linear” noting that she would love to say that she knew where she was heading in the beginning but that wasn’t the case.
“I suppose if I look back there are signs, but it’s easy to fit something into place retroactively. I’ve gone a lot of different directions, and I’ve probably forgotten half of them,” Clare tells me.
Naturally, Clare was always interested in art and tells me that she was one of the arty kids in primary school.
“My aunt loves to tell the story of babysitting me when I was just a toddler, and hearing my cousin from the next room say “I don’t think my mom will like that…” as I was showing him how to flick paint to create splatters. In my memory, most of it got on the page, but I guess not…”
Clare says that growing up, she would have considered veterinary rather than art as a real “job” and yet, art and creativity featured in her life in more ways than one.
“I used to be absolutely terrified of all things monster. But then I saw a behind the scenes of Jurassic Park and my cousins had a copy of Thriller on VHS with a “making of”.
“Suddenly it clicked with me that I could make the monsters too, and that took a lot of the wind out of their spooky sails”.
Clare’s geekier side took over as she approached her teens and after a long time of watching shows likes Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she was convinced that she would go work into makeup fx and special effects.
“Back then IADT only had entrants to that course every two years!” she tells me. “I did a few little makeup artist courses and work experience during secondary school but they focused more on fashion makeup than prosthetics and monsters.”
But when CAO time rolled around Clare made the decision to apply for science instead of art college.
“My logic there was I could still get into special FX through chemistry – blowing stuff up – but also have a greater chance of finding a job in Ireland on my way there.”
Clare spent three months in science in UCD before she realised it just was not for her. There was a gaping hole where art used to be, and it just didn’t gel with her overall.
Clare tells me that she had a lovely mentor there, Hubert Fuller, who supported her in making the final decision to leave.
“It’s a really scary choice, changing your mind, but I’m grateful for both his support and the support of my parents in taking that big step. After that, I worked in the Art + Hobby shop for a few months before doing a portfolio course in IADT.”
While working at the Art+Hobby shop Clare was able to passively absorb extra art information and loved trying out new materials – particularly sculpting and modelling items. She took her chances in that year’s CAO and ended up applying for Animation and Modelmaking, Design and Digital Effects.
“I loved the idea of animation and I have my Uncle to thank for the suggestion of the Modelmaking course, he heard about it through his work and said it sounded right up my alley – he was right”.
Clare tells me that her modelmaking course was an awesome choice. The course covered a little bit of everything though sadly puppetry was removed which was something she was really looking forward to that.
It started with the construction of different types of boxes out of various materials and then covered more creative projects as time went on.
Each project presented a new challenge and skill set. Sometimes digital, practical, or both. They were able to explore their own self-learning too if what they wanted to do had skills that they hadn’t acquired yet.
“One of the highlights was a digital project we were doing that involved digitizing the Blaschka glass models that are held in the Dead Zoo. We were given a tour of the Dead Zoo and given limited access to the top floor. From there we picked which model we wanted to try to replicate and were given some images to work off of. There’s something extra cool about being able to access areas of a museum that are rarely visited though.”
For Clare’s final year she focused on practical modelling. The limitations on the two projects was that the first one needed to fit within a 1ftx1ft box, and the second, needed to fit inside a 1mx1m box.
“Being the gamer nerd that I am, my two projects were games related. Portal 2 had just been released so my first project was a slightly scaled-up version of PotatOS which lights and a button that allowed her to speak phrases from the game.”
The second project was a large scale model of D0G from the Half-Life game series.
Both of the projects in Clare’s final year involved trying new things she had never done before most notably large scale molding and casting, painting with large spray guns and figuring out electronics.
“I’m lucky I had the help and support of my partner, friends and family and I worked through it,” she tells me.
“It was an exceptionally stressful time, but I worked through it. During the final show at the college, my friends and I also brought a load of the 1ftx1ft projects over to the big 4Dmodel show in the UK and had a display among a lot of UK modelling courses.”
“Not too long after finishing college I started working in an Architectural Modelmaking company but left after a few years due to health reasons. I also used my skills to try out a small prop store and stall for a year, that was fun, but wasn’t really viable long term.”
After taking some time off to look after her health, Clare joined a company in Dublin as they needed some community management.
Clare had experience running her own site and doing some social media with other jobs so decided to give it a go. This, in turn, became a full-time job where she mainly worked with Telltale Publishing on 7 Days to Die as a liaison between the community and the team who were porting the game.
“This was my first adventure into working with a videogame community and one of my tasks was to take bug reports from players and pass them onto the team,” she explains.
Clare discovered that she loved working with online game communities and got to create a community where she could oversee the regulars and watch it steadily grow.
“Even though it was part of my job to gather information to help those working on the bugs, I took great pride in helping players, be it by providing workarounds to help them or listening to their issues”, she tells me.
“Of course you need to be careful too, you can be on the receiving end of players who are extra frustrated or maybe venting, so even though you understand their frustration and want to help, with community work you need to make sure you take care of your own mental health too”.
Clare stresses that mod teams and rulesets are important to ensure the community stays healthy without censoring genuine feedback.
That role with 7 Days to Die came to an end when Telltale closed (and Publishing with it) but after a short break between communities Clare is now working with a new dev team and helping to build it up.
Apart from community management, Clare works with traditional artistic tools and digital tools something that she finds equally satisfying but for slightly different reasons.
“I used to always draw but my main pieces were focused on making birthday cards for others, or less realistic closer to illustrations kind of work,” she explains.
In terms of her 3D molding work, she says that the casting and painting involves a fair bit of accurate chemical mixing and is almost like a puzzle with a set method that you tweak to suit your environment.
Clare says that pulling something out of a mold can be very satisfying, but if it doesn’t work it can be equally frustrating and you need to backtrack to find where you went wrong, which extends the puzzle.
“With any kind of Art, Digital or Traditional, there’s a point where I get into a flow and the work becomes almost meditative”, she says.
“I find there’s something in my brain that switches and starts seeing shape, form and colour rather than objects or a whole image. Following and meditating on what I’m seeing is a lovely sensation, but I have to be careful not to go so far that I forget to sleep or eat, my hunger sensors like to switch off if I’m concentrating on something I’m really enjoying”.
According to Clare, for her, the process for each traditional art piece follows a general path. She removes white backgrounds as they’re too pristine and then tints the canvas.
She then works on creating a rough outline, sometimes using guides or grids to make sure everything lined up.
“I usually keep a reference to hand. Even if working from the imagination it’s good to have references for elements of your piece handy.”
“After my outline is done, I might block in some solid colours but I usually pick something and work on it. Picking where to start can depend on my mood, what colour or shapes I want to tackle. But if it’s a landscape or outdoor piece I’ll almost always start with the sky and then work from background to foreground from there – this is particularly useful in any traditional work because I would often work in building up layers whereas in digital you can jump around layers all you like.”
Clare says that it’s important to step back and zoom out a lot because you can get bogged down in the details that no one is really going to see.
“It’s easier and sometimes more effective to suggest details and let the viewer’s eyes do the rest of the work. If you’re going for realism though, you might want those details, but need to watch out for balancing how much you render your whole image and that one area doesn’t pull the viewer’s eye more than it should.”
Clare is also a digital artist something that she says is much easier to get into these days.
“My current toolset is a Wacom Cintiq 16, a gaming laptop and PhotoShop. But you don’t need to jump in the deep end right away. Any decent laptop or computer will run your tools and programs of choice.”
Clare recommends free digital software online such as GIMP, Photopea (browser-based Photoshop-like program) as well as the Magma Studio browser app which can also be used for free and allows you to collaborate with other users online.
Pro-tip from Clare: “Clip Studio Paint is fast becoming a favourite alternative to Photoshop for artists. It’s a once-off payment rather than a subscription-like PhotoShop and offers some beautiful illustration tools that PhotoShop doesn’t have. They often have sales so you can pick it up even cheaper.”
Though some artists do use a mouse, Clare says that this can negatively affect your wrists and recommends picking up a cheaper drawing tablet while learning.
“Wacom is a favourite brand among artists but XP-Pen is also a popular alternative,” she says.
“I used a Wacom Intuos for years and know a lot of professional artists still do as it’s much better for your posture overall. Having a screen to draw on does not make you any more or less of an artist. Sticking with what’s within your budget and overall what is most comfortable for you to work on is important.”
Another tip that Clare highly recommends is writing out or printing a list of hotkeys and to start using them while you’re drawing; something which will save you a lot of time.
“I actually have a mini keyboard I bought to map my favourite hotkeys to,” she explains.
“I do not have the finger spread for some on the list, so it just makes life easier to have them in a neat area. A lot of artists also sing the praises of ProCreate, so if you already have an iPad, then investing in a pencil can be another way to get into digital drawing.”
In terms of upskilling when it comes to her art, Clare feels like she is always learning.
“When I drifted a bit towards animation before, I did some classes with Animation Skillnet. This is a fantastic resource in Ireland and I always learn a lot from their talks and courses”.
“I always sing the praises of Matt Kohr’s CtrlPaint.com and Stan Prokopenko’s Proko.com who do a wonderful combo of both free and paid lessons.”
Clare warns that it’s worth, however, expanding who you look for when it comes to lessons and tutorials.
“If you stick with one teacher, then you could end with your art looking just like theirs so it’s important to look beyond your favourite artist/teacher. Talks and panels can be great for this, Lightbox Expo was held online recently and a lot of the streams and content is available online for free.”
“This helped introduce and reintroduce a lot of amazing artists to me and boost the number of sources of creative content I have to check out.”
As well as attending lessons and talks, Clare also likes to try doing some exercises or “studies” to flex her artistic muscles.
“I’ve mostly been focusing on colour and light studies lately, but you can learn a lot from doing masters studies – trying to replicate a painting by an old master, or part thereof – too.
Finally, Clare tells me that it’s worth not pigeonholing yourself into a style if that’s really not your thing. It may take some reflection to figure out.
“Don’t try and force yourself into a style or feel bad if you don’t know yours yet, it develops naturally over time, often when you’re not looking.”