Teal Barnes

Posted on January 8th, 2016

Teal Barnes came to our attention last year with a trio of strips she contributed to Dirty Rotten Comics. Teal’s work is recognisable for its soft lines and pastel shades, an aesthetic that perfectly complements her observational and often introspective strips. This week, Tom spoke with Teal about working across different mediums, the construction of narrative in comics, and the value of her sketchbook.

TM: Playfulness seems to be a key element to your work. Is that something which naturally comes out as you work or do you deliberately approach or establish it from the beginning as a general tone?

TB: Whenever I start a new piece I like to allow myself as many mistakes as I need to get the creativity flowing. With this in mind, at the beginning of every page I focus heavily on just making marks (this could be a list of things I have to do, some leaves I found in the park, a receipt, or just anything really!), which is fun and from those marks I can make something more serious and develop an interesting composition. This approach gives me the freedom to experiment with ideas and develop new techniques.

TM: Mistakes can create some incredible responses, they can also inject a freshness that gets stamped on to the more pre-destined structure. That’s also one of the benefits of working with non digital tools. What kinds of mediums and materials do you use?tbarnes_int_1

TB: I try to use as many mediums as possible. Mixing up materials and using different canvas helps to keep my creative flow constant. If I ever feel stuck with an idea I usually do a few thumbnail sketches with different mediums. This allows me to investigate the idea further and see what line quality works best with it. I’ve gone through many different phases of favourite mediums and canvas. A few years back I did a series of 12 paintings on fabric. For the process I digitally drew the image and projected it onto the fabric and painted on the picture with acrylic. Currently, I am trying to do half of my work traditionally and half digitally. I love Photoshop and use many different water-colour brushes to give my work a more textured look. When I work traditionally I usually start by using highlighters, colour pencil and water-colour then I add whatever medium on top that I think will complement the composition.

TM: How do you find that digital / non digital relationship? Are there particular strengths or weaknesses you’ve found that you could share with us?

TB: Honestly, I find it hard to balance the two practices. Usually I work so much in Photoshop that I find it hard to draw on paper again (I feel many artists have this struggle). That’s why I think it’s very important to have a little sketchbook to bring out and about. That way you can always be drawing traditionally, and jotting down ideas. I find that if I don’t do this my creative flow stops and I usually start having art blocks. But since I started using a small sketchbook I’ve found the transition from digital and back to traditional easier and more intuitive. This being said I do think digital and non digital art can go hand in hand. I use a lot of natural looking brushes in Photoshop (Kyle Webster brushes) and sometimes I scan in leaves or drawings and add more to them digitally.

tbarnes_int_2TM: I understand you’re currently toying with zines made from some sketchbook work, can you tell us a little more about that?

TB: I’ve always been interested in telling stories through my art, but I struggle to come up with ideas that could keep me interested long enough to make something out of it (like a graphic novel or web comic). I find that in my sketchbook I can create many narratives on different pages, and I can go back to them and add more visual stories as I see fit. I don’t feel any sort of commitment to an underlying plot or reoccurring characters which opens me up to any ideas.

TM: The more abstracted the type of narrative, the more difficulty there can be for a reader to ‘enter’ it. What kinds of lures / techniques do you find help make the reading experience engaging?

TB: I agree with what you’re saying. I feel that there is a very fine line between a well thought out abstract narrative, and a story thrown together only to complement an idea. I hope that as I develop my sketchbook I can create images that are relatable and don’t feel hastily thrown together. To keep the reader engaged I try to add situations, expressions and places that are recognisable. If you are able to recognise something it’s easy to interpret images and relate them to your own experiences.

TM: There does seem to be a much stronger reader connection when it comes to narrative in giving someone something familiar, be it an everyday setting or recognisable character type, and then taking that into something new. However, I think even if your zine work is quite heavily abstracted and experimental, like so much small press, there’s this unshakable sensation of personal creation behind it. A human touch. It feels very ‘lived’ and so its world becomes more of a given than a mission you have to create…

TB: That is very true. This kind of freedom really gives me the chance to explore spontaneous emotions and layer on characters and situations. It’s a really fun process that I think anyone at any art or writing level can enjoy and get really decent work out of.

TM: Do you see the zine work as part of your comic work, or separate? Perhaps an experimental piece? They still seem to carry some narrative, although books almost naturally perform that way.

TB: At the moment I see this sketchbook as a visual diary. The main focus behind it is the idea of mark making and layering. I’ve always been precious with my work and I feel as though I’ve reached a plateau in my development as an artist. To break out of the mould I’ve been using this sketchbook as a safe place to experiment with different mediums and record moments I’ve shared with friends and witnessed strangers share with others.

Thank you to Tom and Teal for this week’s interview. For more of Teal’s work, check out her Tumblr blog.