Crush Day 4 will be today

Having a bit of a freakout. Gained some weight, the scale said 134.8 this morning. I am aware that sore muscles retain water as they are inflamed and angry, but just kinda freaked about it. I’d really like to lose ~15 lbs. My back and triceps/chest are still quite sore, I think my triceps are going to just be freaking killing me after today. Ready for it though!























The story panels of Sometimes a Fire
Lately I’ve become very taken with these storyboard-esque illustrations by Ann-Michelle (aka Sometimes a Fire). Her digital paintings (she calls them ‘panels’) assemble a few frames from a scene, a snippet of script and are accompanied by a reference quote. It adds up to a very effective tribute to some of our favorite moments in Breaking Bad, Mad Men and other shows.

Ann-Michelle was kind enough to answer some questions recently about her work. The 35-year-old education technologist from Boston is relatively new to Tumblr (only 4 months) and is also new to digital illustration. And while she’s no stranger to creative expression (she was a once photojournalist who interned at Rolling Stone), being on Tumblr has fueled her inspiration and given her an outlet to create, learn and share her new work. As she told me, “When you have that artistic energy in one part of your life, it has a tendency to work its way into other realms, and that can be a wonderful thing.” So true. 

You mentioned that you used to be a photojournalist. How did you get into that profession?
I was always into art classes in school, and in high school I took a photography class and just totally fell in love with it–the medium, the darkroom process, the whole thing. I wanted to be just like Annie Leibovitz and work as a staff photographer for Rolling Stone and go on tour with bands. So I majored in photojournalism in college (minor in art history) and ultimately I got to study abroad in Australia and intern for Rolling Stone and photograph bands just like I’d dreamed. Seeing my name in photo credits and bylines in Rolling Stone was pretty much the culmination of everything I’d ever wanted, but at the same time, working there taught me that those magazines don’t even have staff photographers anymore. What Annie Leibovitz did in the 70s is the domain of freelancers these days, and I just never felt cut out for a totally freelance lifestyle.

How long did you work in that field, and ultimately, why did you leave it? Journalism is a stressful profession. I tapped out after 10 years.
I did some freelance work and pursued magazine jobs for probably two years after college before landing in the industry I’m in now. Looking for print media jobs in a time when the industry was floundering inspired me to build my skill set on the new media side of things, so now I’m totally tech-focused.

What did you get creatively from photography that you don’t get from illustration?
Photography forces you out into the world. You have to go and find images and be present. Illustration is a more insular pursuit. Both have their appeal.

How did you make the jump from photography to illustration? When did you start illustrating?
I’ve been working with Photoshop for photo editing and graphic design for a long time. I think i started in Photoshop v3.0! So it was kind of a natural progression to just keep experimenting with the Photoshop capabilities and see what else I could create. I only just started with the digital painting technique…probably within the year.

A lot of your work reminds me of storyboards and the storyboarding process. What do you call these pieces with snippets of script and the accompanying illustration?
It’s funny you say that because I never thought of it that way, but I call the each of the pieces in a set “panels,” which is totally storyboard terminology. I like to include the script snippets when I’m portraying these cinematic moments that are as much about the brilliant writing as they are about the cinematography and performance.

What are your goals when making one of these pieces?
My goal is usually to convey either a specific moment or an overall theme. Either way, I’m usually trying to really get at an emotion–whatever it was that left an impact on me personally and made me want to capture it.

Typically you add a third-party quote to these pieces. Why is that important to the overall piece? Usually, I think it’s a very effective assemblage.
Maybe it’s the photojournalism thing: always include a caption! :) But really, I think when I watch a truly impactful moment on screen, I instinctually relate it to things I’ve read and remembered that left a similar impression. Art and language are so inextricably connected in my mind.

What artists do you consider influences?
This one’s hard! I could come up with a long list of photography influences, but a list of contemporary art and design influences is hard for me. Part of why I got on Tumblr is to remedy that and get more familiar with current artists. I can say that Edward Hopper is my favorite painter, and I definitely aim for his simplicity of composition and stark emotion. The fact that I was watching “The Strategy” from this past season of Mad Men and picked out those Hopper references was absolute Kismet. I mean, come on: “Hotel Room” is my desktop wallpaper. I was already laughing to myself at the parallel when the more obvious “Nighthawks” shot came on screen. [Check out her Mad Men/Hopper homage]

Which pieces are you most proud of? Which ones are your favorite?
Hmm… I’m definitely proud of the Last Words to Walter White pieces. Those are probably the first in this digital painting style that actually came out close to the way I’d planned in my head. And that’s also the one that really took off, which is so crazy to me.

My favorite might be my first Breaking Bad piece with the Saint-Exupéry quote, because it represents what was, for me, one of the most beautiful shots in the series. I think the moment where Jesse takes a brief second to watch the birds in the sky just before he closes his eyes to, ostensibly, die is just brilliant. It says so much about the depth of the character – that despite all the bad decisions he’s made in life and all the times he’s been manipulated by others, there still exists in him that artist and aesthete who wants an instant of beauty before he dies. Very similar to the sequence of him imagining he’s crafting the wooden box rather than cooking in Uncle Jack’s meth lab. Anyway, yeah… That was the shot where I made the instant association to the quote from Wind, Sand, and Stars and it really haunted me. So I love that I was able to create something from it.

Most of the work on your Tumblr is digitally made. Do you also work in traditional media, or are you primarily a digital artist? 
I did quite a bit of pencil sketching through college(ish?). When I was in high school I used to draw portraits of musicians from photos in Rolling Stone and Spin, so I guess I was making fan art before I knew what that was. Recently I went to look for my old sketchbook, but it seems I tossed it in a pre-move purge. That was super dumb of me. I remember deciding they were all too creepy-looking to hold on to. The end result of my portraits was always that: vaguely creepy. So, now I just stick to digital. I hope they’re not still creepy!

What’s your process for creating a typical piece and what tools do you use when making them?
I work on my MacBook Pro with Photoshop CS5 and a mouse (I’ll get a stylus when I upgrade my computer next year). I always start with a screenshot for the base layer of my file. First , I do a fair amount of manipulation to the screenshot. I usually have at least a couple adjustment layers and I paint out a lot of background elements to simplify the composition. Then it’s a combination of using the smudge and paint tools to create the brush strokes. My go-to brushes are the round fan, round point, flat point, and round blunt tips. [Here’s a video of Ann-Michelle making a piece.]

What’s the biggest challenge working digitally?
Being reliant on screenshots. I’m getting better at painting in elements not present in the source, but it’s definitely a learning curve for me.

How many hours does a typical piece take?
It takes 3-8 hours per panel, depending on the complexity.

Do you have a ritual or routine when you are creating art? Paint us a mental picture of you creating art.
Honestly, I’m often sitting in my office, wearing a telephone headset, with a Web conference going on my laptop screen and Photoshop on my widescreen monitor. Doesn’t that sound so conducive to creativity!? Otherwise, the time I’m able to dedicate is early in the morning before work. Then it’s a similar setup, but with good music playing and a hot cup of coffee.

What’s your favorite episode of Breaking Bad and why?
Ozymandias” is amazing, but it’s also kind of a one-hour punch to the gut. Maybe “4 Days Out.” I like the relationship-building in that one.

Who’s your favorite character on Breaking Bad and why?
I’ll say it’s a tie between Jesse and Mike. Aaron Paul and the writers gave Jesse such compelling complexity, and while he was by no means a “good guy,” it was hard not to empathize with him. And I loved the clarity with which Mike viewed Walt and how he called him on his bullshit to the very end.

Why do you create fan art? To sell, to pay tribute, or something else?
To pay tribute; to try to capture and extend (and share) a moment or theme that I found powerful.

If you don’t sell your work, why not?
I do not right now. I don’t see myself selling fan art, given my understanding of copyright and trademark law. But I can see opening a digital storefront in the future, using fan art as a way to direct people to my other work. I just need to finish my Master’s degree this year, and then I’ll have more time to work out a plan.

You sign all your pieces “Sometimes a Fire.” What does your pseudonym mean?
It’s a handle I’ve used on and off for years. It’s the title of the third chapter in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, which is itself a reference to Puck’s line in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

“I’ll follow you, I’ll lead you about a round,
Through bog, through bush, through brake, through brier: Sometime a horse I’ll be, sometime a hound,
A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire;
And neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn,
Like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn.”

Both references speak to characters’ shifting identities. When I first used it years ago I put the extra “s” in by accident, and now I just keep it that way because the correct version is usually taken.

Why use a pseudonym?
I’m just extremely mindful of my digital footprint. I’ve only been posting to Tumblr for 4 months and I needed some time to figure out what the hell I was doing with it and if it was worth attaching my name.

How are the internet & digital technologies important to you as an artist?
They represent my entire toolkit! Even with the photography. I was trained in film and darkroom photography, but am totally digital at this point. And social media has had a huge impact on me. I had many years in which I wasn’t creating anything because I had no outlet for it. Having found a forum for sharing work and being inspired by others has been incredibly creatively invigorating. I didn’t even realize how creatively stagnant I’d become before ending up on Tumblr, to be honest.

What advice would you give to a young artist trying to get a start?
I would never presume to advise someone trying to make a living in the arts, seeing as I never did it. Though I could say: Be prepared to market yourself. That’s where I stalled. But to new artists in general, I’d say, just create. Create anything. Create prolifically. When you have that artistic energy in one part of your life, it has a tendency to work its way into other realms, and that can be a wonderful thing. And I guess, don’t be concerned about where inspiration comes from. I felt super self-conscious making fan art at first, and sometimes I still do, but ultimately I enjoy it and it gets me practicing my skills…so, why not?

As an artist, where would you like to be 10-20 years from now?
I’d like to be doing more original work, developing new skills and techniques, and maybe selling some work and taking commissions. That would be amazing. And someday I’d like to have my own darkroom.

Follow Ann-Michelle at: Sometimes-a-Fire.tumblr.com / Gallery

– Interview by Shayne Bowman, Heisenberg Chronicles


baby bear’s first date w/ fen and he can’t even look him in the eye bc hes so besotted