Natalia Andrus on Creating the Eerie Ink Drawings for “The Plague Doctor” [INTERVIEW]

Natalia Andrus (Eerie Ink) is a freelance artist who works in multiple media, both digital and traditional. I had a chance meeting with Natalia at her SiliCon booth in San Jose last summer and immediately knew her style of art would be perfect for my new book “The Plague Doctor“. Fast forward to today and Natalia has completed three incredible black ink drawings inspired by poems in my book. I interviewed Natalia for the Viewless Wings Poetry Podcast to learn more about how she transformed my poetry into exquisite ink art.

Below is an edited transcript of my interview with Natalia.

James Morehead: Looking at your online portfolio of ink pen, acrylic, and digital artwork, I’m impressed by the vivid images you create. What first sparked your interest in visual arts?

Natalia Andrus: “I think it all started when I was younger. I did a lot of art and received a lot of comments and encouragement from my classmates. I’ve also had many good role models. Both of my great-grandparents were artists, so I had a lot of their artwork hanging around my house growing up. The ink artwork I do now is actually inspired by something called Inktober, where artists participate by working solely with ink or pens to create pieces based on different prompts and themes. That’s kind of how my ink artwork got started.”

James: It was fascinating looking back through your Instagram account, seeing how your skill as an artist has developed and a distinct style has emerged. How would you describe your style of art, both ink and non-ink?

Natalia: “I would describe it as hard-cut. I love having lines that aren’t quite symmetrical or perfectly parallel, as I think it adds a lot of dimension to my work. I would also describe my style as being very creative and imaginative. I don’t like to do artwork that’s just a direct interpretation of what’s going on. I enjoy taking different elements to build something completely original because I think that’s what art is all about. It’s about creating new things and interpreting them in your own way.”

James: You create art using various types of media, including traditional and digital. How do you decide which media is the best for a given subject? When you have an idea, do you decide on a particular form or type of media first, or do you start with the media and then create the art?

Natalia: “Most of the time, I begin with a specific medium that I want to work with. For example, with Eerie Ink, I choose a prompt and decide beforehand that I’m going to create it in the Eerie Ink style. The prompts I choose usually align with that style. My Eerie Ink style is distinct, and I make sure to pick subjects that have that eerie quality. This method has worked for me in the past, particularly with my digital art. Since I use color in my digital pieces, I typically aim for more expressive or interpretive works. My style varies greatly from Eerie Ink to digital or even pencil illustrations. Overall, I’d say I usually pick the media first.”

James: Looking through your portfolio, I see that fantastical and animated characters dominate your work. What attracts you to these fantasy and animated characters? What interests you about those subjects?

Natalia: “I think I’m so interested in them because I grew up watching and reading a lot of fantastical stories. I wanted to create my own characters and represent their stories through the images and pictures that I use.”

James: When you create a character, do you imagine a backstory for them that isn’t represented in the artwork but exists in your mind, as if you’re imagining a little world they’re in beyond what you decide to visualize?

Natalia: “Absolutely! Sometimes it’s more detailed for some characters than for others. I enjoy adding that extra element because it makes the art more interesting and fun. If I don’t have a specific backstory, I try to convey an emotion they’re feeling. Although I might not have a specific story that goes along with it, I imagine these illustrations becoming full-on scenes with characters. I envision what it would be like if someone was there in person and it was real life, and if it would be intriguing and interesting. My goal is to create a story that catches people’s eye and that they can relate to.”

James: As a poet, I capture raw images and mold them into a piece of poetry. Can you talk about going from a pencil sketch, which I saw during the process of creating artwork for my book, to a fully realized piece? What do you learn from the pencil sketch and how do you take it to the next level?

Natalia: “I actually love the pencil sketching process because it allows me a lot of creative freedom. You might have noticed that I sometimes change things when I create the final piece. With some of the pieces, I’ll do one specific part very detailed, like in a cyberpunk piece where I had a detailed sketch of the girl but left the background loose. Often when I do the final inking, it’s almost like the pen takes on a mind of its own, and I just roll with it. That’s why I love it so much—it’s very instinctual.

“The sketching process helps get the creative juices flowing and allows me to put everything on paper, then experiment with lines. I have a lot of exaggerated lines, and if I went straight to ink, I don’t think I would be able to relax or enjoy the process as much. It’s also fun to see how the piece turns out when I fill in the black spots and the contrast that occurs in the final artwork. Sometimes even I’m surprised by the outcome.”

James: I guess if you didn’t do the pencil sketch first, the stress would come from the unforgiving nature of black pen since there’s only so much you can fix before starting over again. Is that what you’re getting at?

Natalia: “Yes, that’s true. However, I do appreciate some of the unforgiving nature that comes with ink, which is why I like to leave things loose. It makes me trust myself and not second-guess things.”

James: I first became aware of your work at the SiliCon event in San Jose last summer, where you were displaying and selling your Eerie Ink black and white hand-drawn pieces. The detail, shading, and paint-like texture created with ink pens is extraordinary. How did you develop this skill?

Natalia: “Thank you for the compliments. I developed this skill mainly through practice. I initially participated in Inktober, and while my early work wasn’t quite like Eerie Ink, it was an early form of it. If you go to my Natalia Illustrations account, you can see those older Inktober pieces. My mentor, Kip Rasmussen, saw my work and encouraged me to do more and make it a whole thing. I did one and just loved it. From there, it evolved, and I got more ideas. Inktober’s prompts inspired me, but I also started creating my own prompts and interpretations. It’s been a lot of practice, and I’ve improved in efficiency and confidence with ink compared to my first Eerie Ink piece. The key has been creating more pieces, studying anatomy, improving my thumbnail sketches, and telling stories through characters.”

James: You created three commissioned pieces for my book, each based on a poem and the photographs that partly inspired those poems. Can you share some insights into how you took these starting points and created something completely new, from the intermediate sketches to the fully realized pieces that complement the poetry and are distinctly your own? What was the process you went through after I handed off the starting points?

Natalia: “I wanted to encapsulate what you were trying to convey while also adding my own creativity. For instance, with the plague doctor image, I appreciated that it was a woman and incorporated the tendrils of fog you mentioned in the poem. I took specific elements, like the outfit the plague doctor was wearing, and combined them with the reference photos and the poem’s themes.

“For ‘Memoir of the Automaton’, I focused on the structure of the face and where things were being revealed, pairing that with the poem’s description of the automaton’s fingers, which I wanted to visualize.

“With the ‘Humerus, Tibia, and Laughing Skull’ piece, I knew I wanted to incorporate paint drips and bulldog bones, as they have so much potential in illustration. My main objective was to pick out elements from the photographs and poems, combine them, and create something that encapsulates the originality of the photos while personalizing it for the readers. This way, they can read the poem and relate it to the artwork. That was my primary focus during the process.”

James: The ink art you’ve created adds such an element to the book, and I’m excited for people to see it. The Plague Doctor piece opens the book, so that’s the first thing they’ll see. What are some advantages and disadvantages of creating art using ink pens versus digital, since so much art has gone fully digital? There’s a distinctly hand-drawn element in your ink art.

Natalia: “For advantages, I’d say ink art is bold and it’s fascinating to look at the originals compared to digital. With digital, there’s lots of potential, but black and white ink drawings just aren’t the same on a screen or as a printout. Looking at the original piece with lines on the paper adds value. I also use a white paint pen sometimes to emphasize certain white areas, which doesn’t show through in the prints.

“A disadvantage is that you don’t get as sharp of lines with ink. Some might see this as an advantage because it adds to the roughness and style of traditional artwork, but it can be a hindrance if you want to do extra small details. With ink work, you can’t easily fix mistakes, which can be time-consuming, while digital works offer undo buttons for convenience. However, I think that having a bit of struggle through the process makes the outcome more satisfying.”

James: I love having the originals, seeing the impressions on the paper from your pen, and the little details like the white pen you used to accentuate the contrast. That extra dimension added by a hand-drawn piece of art is very cool. For those discovering your work for the first time and considering a commissioned piece, what advice do you have to help ensure a successful collaboration between the person asking for the piece and you, the artist, trying to express yourself but also meet the requirements of the commission?

Natalia: “Well, James, I think you’re a perfect example of how to approach a commission. You provided me with your poem and a picture, giving me creative space to work, which is where I thrive. When people want something specific but don’t clarify, that’s when issues may arise. I try to ask questions if needed, but clients should be clear about their preferences. Giving me creative freedom often leads to the best results. If a client has a very specific idea, we can discuss and make adjustments to ensure the final piece is what they envision.

“Having one or two reference images is an excellent way to start a commission. If a client provides too many reference images, it can be overwhelming, and it’s impossible to incorporate everything. Providing three or four references and being clear about their expectations is the best way to go about it.”

James: I aimed to give you a clear starting point and then step back. I commissioned you as an artist because I liked what you had already done, and I wanted your take on it, not something overly defined by me. I’m glad to hear that the approach I took was helpful. For artists hoping to create a career from their art, can you share a bit about what you’ve learned about selling your art? You’re at the start of your career and still figuring things out, but what have you learned so far?

Natalia: “I think one important thing I’ve learned is to build relationships with people who support your career. This includes making friends, working with customers and clients, and being willing to make deals. For those starting out in marketing, create a social media presence and identify your niche. That’s why I have two separate Instagram art accounts. It’s important for customers to know exactly what they’re getting and what your style is. Also, have a website or a clear way for clients to contact you and purchase your products.

“Currently, I use Instagram and TikTok as marketing platforms. However, the most sales and networking come from in-person events like the SiliCon convention or selling at Salt Lake FanX in Artist Alley. Attending these events allows you to connect with people and reach a large audience, so take advantage of every opportunity, even if it’s not convenient. At the beginning, focus on making friends and maintaining high quality in your work, setting a standard for yourself and your customers. This way, you’ll know what to expect moving forward.”

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