We hooked up with Maddy, an amazing traditional and digital painter that we’ve known for years, and talked about her creative journey, favourite artists, and the impact of moving from the United States to the Netherlands.
Hi Maddy, how are you? What have you been up to lately?
Doing great, thanks! I’ve been enjoying summer as much as possible before autumn begins and the cold weather arrives!
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I currently live in the Netherlands but I am from the United States. I was born in the Northeast but spent most of my live in Florida with year-round summer. I’ve always been a lover of nature and fantasy. Its been wonderful living in Europe for over a year now and getting to explore historical places that feel right out of a fairytale.
What was your first exposure to art and how did that impact you?
My first major inspiration with art came from Anime. I remember watching Sailormoon, Pokemon, and Tenchi Muyo on tv and loving the art styles and designs of the characters. In particular, the Sailor Moon Manga was a big inspiration and I would try to draw images from the covers and illustrations. Drawing my favorite characters was a big motivation for me.
You are mainly known as a digital painter, doing both character design and your version of existing characters, was that your choice from the start or did you explore other types of art?
I began with digital art around 6 years ago now, but before that I did traditional art my whole life, mainly drawing rather than painting. I bounced around through a lot of mediums I didnt feel at home with until I found Pen and Ink. Thats where my username/handle “MadeleineInk” came from, because for a number of years that was my medium of choice. This included drawing with micron pens and painting with liquid sumi ink. Beginning with digital painting was a big adjustment at first, but now I feel very at home with digital and really love it. Over the past 10 months or so I began doing traditional art again and it feels right. I enjoy using both mediums and seeing how they can influence eachother.
More recently you have been doing a lot of environments, is that a direction that you felt it needed some improvement, or to vary a bit from the character design?
Absolutely! I used to shy away from painting characters in full illustrated scenes, and often used abstract backgrounds. I wanted to be able to make more complete illustrations so I knew I needed to work on backgrounds and scenery too. Moving to the Netherlands also helped because I was really inspired by the new environment and landscape which gave me an even bigger push in that direction.
What are some of your favorite artists and works on any medium and why?
Oh, that’s such a tough question! I have tons of artists am inspired by and it changes by the month. I’ll try to name a few that have been inspiring me consistently over the past year. Loish, Nathan Fowkes, Jeremy Fenske, Jason Scheier, and Dave Greco. These artists all have wonderful use of color, light and mood in their work. When I look at their art I feel a flow of energy and a sense that I have been really transported to a new place.
Take us through your career. What have the ups and downs, key learnings, things that made you a better artist?
There were quite a lot of ups and downs including a 1.5 year break from art after college where I worked at a call center and felt so very far from ever having a carear as a full-time artist. For many years art was something I did on the side while also supporting it with unrelated full-time work including retail and serving at a sushi restaurant. I just kept going with it and looking for any opportunities to get into creative work.
My first time working as a full-time artist was for a company that created artificial interiors for large-scale fish tanks like you see at the public aquarium. It seems very random and unrelated to what I do now, but it was an amazingly fun job. I did design renderings for the tank designs and also worked on sculpting, painting and creating silicone molds.
I think that job gave me a boost of confidence to keep going forward with my personal art. I begin doing digital art around that time and eventually started livestreaming my art process on Twitch. That was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because it resulted in me meeting many wonderful friends and people who’ve had a huge impact on my art. I love the community there.
As far as a key learning, livestreaming really taught me to embrace the art process in a new way. I had to get over any “shame” in sharing the mistakes and the “ugly stage” of my paintings. Letting go of that fear and accepting the art process for what it is really helped me to gain a more healthy relationship with my art. I look at it more as an ongoing journey in learning now and don’t expect each next piece to be my masterpiece.
What have been your most difficult struggles and how did you overcome them?
I started touching on this with your last question, but basically letting go of “perfectionism” was a big thing for me. The funny thing is my art was far from perfect, but I felt very up tight and restricted because I really wanted everything to be “good.” I felt worried about how my art would be percieved and didn’t want to allow any mistakes. But this really restricted my learning and artistic growth because you absolutely must make mistakes in the process of learning and growing and trying new things.
Livestreaming got me more at ease with those things. I also took a break from making full illustration and focused my streaming time around doing studies focused around fundamentals. Timed studies forced me away from the detail work I often got hung up on and I was able to focus on things like basic composition, shape language, color and mood, value structure, etc. Doing these studies has also allowed me to experiment with style more freely.
How would you describe your style? How can people see something and say “hey, that is definitely done by Maddy”?
I’d love to have a better answer for this one, but its tough for me. I think part of what makes it difficult is that I’ve had big shifts in style, influence and subject matter over the past two years since I began livestreaming. Before that, I did tons of fan art which is what I first got into when I picked up digital art. I was highly influenced by artists like Sakimichan who I found early on through deviantart. Her tutorials on patreon were one of my first resources in learning photoshop and were a huge help to me! As a result a lot of my early digital work is very influenced by her style.
Lately I’ve been doing tons of photo studies and Virtual Plein Air painting, and finding a lot of artists that have inspired me in new ways! Getting into traditional painting has also influenced my work because I’ve tried to incorportate some traditional elements and textures into my digital work. My current work is overwhelmingly green. I love painting natural scenes with a fantasy twist and as much dappled ligthing as possible.
Can you share some insights on one of your works and break it down for us? Why did you made certain decisions on shapes, colors, shades, pose?
Lets look at my illustration of Madeliefje, my original character. She is supposed to be a Goddess of Spring, so I chose to paint her surrounded by a lush green environment. I was hoping that her warm skin tone would stand out among all the green. I wanted her to feel demure and innocent, so I chose a pose that I felt reflected that. I began the plans for this painting in black and white so I could see the values more clearly. I wanted to surrounding environment to be darker and for the character to really glow in the sunlight.
Artists can be inspired by many different things. Where do you get inspired and how do you process those into your own ideas, concepts, and designs?
Over the past year, I have been most inspired by the environment in the Netherlands. I love taking trips to different forests and taking reference photos for painting and just enjoying the environment. I am working on the final paintings in a traditional gouache series titled “Lush” which is completely inspired by summer in the Netherlands.
Can you take us through your painting pipeline/workflow?
In planning for an illustration, I always start with a mood board. Reference/mood boards are great because they provide useful reference for during the painting process, and they can also help get you psyched up and inspired to start a project. I’ll include my own photos, photos from the internet, and even other paintings or artworks that have the right mood inspiration for what I want in my illustration.
I will usually create a few greyscale thumbnails to experiment with composition and value. After the composition is decided on, I sometimes have to make changes to my reference/mood board based on those specifics. When I finally get to the canvas to begin, I start with a sketch. I dont get very detailed with my linework since it wont be present in the finished illustrations. After a rough sketch I just get into the painting. I try to keep my layers as minimal as possible nowadays, but I do like to keep things seperate like the character and the background for easier changes to those elements.
What is the craziest project you have ever done so far?
Well, when I think to some of the “craziest” projects I’ve worked on, my mind goes back to working in aquarium design. Some of the most fun projects were the really large public aquarium tanks that we had to climb into and build the sculptures inside the tanks. I went on an instal trip one time, and actually went into the tank with lobsters and horseshoe crabs to install our sculptures. It was pretty fantastic and hilarious.
A lot of people also know you as a Twitch streamer. How has this affected you in terms of getting paid jobs, exposure? What are other benefits of streaming your process?
I know I already began discussing some things about my Twitch experience earlier, but livestreaming has been one of the best decisions I made in my life and I never saw that coming! I’ve made friends with so many wonderful people and artists. It feels really great to be part of a community of people who share similar passions and support eachother. Getting live feedback and suggestions on my art as I’m working has been really helpful for artistic growth and just getting comfortable taking criticism. Also, financial support through subscriptions and donations has helped allow me to focus more on personal work and study which has been a dream come true for me.
As the latter requires a shared focus on the stream and interaction with viewers, how do you balance between achieving goals off and on-stream?
Luckily, at the moment things feel well balanced for me. Its true that I probably paint a little bit slower to make time for interaction with viewers, but I enjoy it and wouldnt want to give that up! I still do a good amount of painting off stream in the evenings and weekends to finish up loose ends of what I dont finish on stream, or to just have some personal painting time.
What are your personal goals for the next two to five years?
I’d love to do more traveling! There are so many places I’d love to see and paint. I would love to take a travel sketchbook and do some urban sketching or plein air painting around Europe.
After a week of hard work, where is the one place you go to relax and just enjoy free time?
Especially in the summer, I love going to the forest or to a nature park, either cycling or walking. There is a large park near where I live with lots of water and beautiful willow trees. I’ve painted a few scenes from it actually, I really love walking there.