Artist Interview: Ailene Cuthbertson - flavia bernardes art blog

Ailene Cuthbertson is a digital painter from Raglan, New Zealand. She creates gorgeous art with glimpses of adventure, dance, swirly skirts, fantasy, mystery and magic. Did I mention she's the sweetest, most generous person ever? And today she's sharing a little bit of her process and inspiration in this interview. 

What inspired you to become an artist?

I didn’t set out to become an artist. Since I was little, I’ve loved to draw, paint, play music, write… But I hit a few bumps in the road a few years back leaving me with tattered confidence and I actually stopped all of that. But I survived the bumps. After a particularly nightmarish experience at my stuck-behind-a-desk job, I decided I needed to bring creativity back in my life and started art school.

My art journey gave me confidence - to experiment, to play, to get emotion onto paper, and to be true to myself. My current series is really personal. I’m using self-portraiture to transform myself into female archetypes. It helps me realise my imagination, my inner stories, how I wish the world was, and bring it all to life.

As part of my studies, I exhibited the first pieces of my series at the local arts tour. I was blown away at how much some people connected with and had an emotional response to my art. And now, I can say: “I’m an artist”.

flavia bernardes interviews artist ailene cuthbertson 

When did you begin making digital paintings and what made you choose the digital format?

I work as a software developer (total nerd) so I’m happy snuggled up in front of my computer with a hot tea. I brought home my Wacom tablet and pen a few years ago, and suddenly a whole world of possibilities blossomed in front of me.

I've been experimenting with a couple of different techniques. One is called composited photographs. I edit and stitch together digital photos, placing my characters in otherworldly scenes and adding splashes of magical fire or sand or light. The other is called digital painting. I craft my own digital paint brushes and palette of colours. Then I start with a blank canvas and draw on the traditions of old master oil painters while I build up layers of coloured pixels to paint the scene.

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What’s the best and the most challenging part about being a digital media artist?

The wonderful part about working digitally is that you can experiment with anything you can dream of. Want to turn day into moonlight? Need more flames licking up your character's arms? Add a magical light source above the water? Deepen the shadows to make the scene more dramatic? And all by adding onto the piece, with the ability to tweak or undo.

But you know what they say about great power… Limitless options is a great way to get artist's block. I can do anything, so sometimes, I can't decide the direction need to go. And it's easy to get caught in the perfectionist trap. I'm so obsessed by getting it perfect I can ruin the chance of stumbling across those happy accidents that can really make an artwork sing and bring the scene truly alive.

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How do you get inspiration for your painting?

I'm inspired by places I wish I could go, heros I wish I could be, things I wish I could do and adventures I wish I could have.

My latest adventure had me searching for mermaids. It all started with an old map the colour of coffee-stains. In one corner I discovered the words “Mermaid Cove” (totally not in my hand writing). So of course I had to find the mermaids and paint them…

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Can you describe your creative process?

I work from reference photos, so if I want to paint mermaids, I needed some shots of me underwater. I was lucky that at this point my boss came to my rescue with the equipment I needed to capture underwater footage of these mythical creatures - a GoPro. Then off I went to the local public swimming pool, where I'm pretty sure they had no idea mermaids are hanging out in their dive pool!

I captured about an hours footage before I was totally water logged and my eyes stung from the chlorine. And there, (in amongst the frames of me struggling to hold my breath and looking anything but graceful and serene), were my water dancers. They weren't your traditional mermaid though, with the body of a woman and fish tail from waist down. They almost looked human. Ethereal, fey, water dancers with long, translucent fins.

For my painting, obviously they needed a better habitat than a swimming pool. So I started by making a “plate”, an underwater background scene matching the pool’s perspective and light source that I could place my dancers in. I turned the pool’s sides into a rocky cliff face, and twisted gnarled vines up the sides. With my dancers in the scene, it looked empty and rather grim with no other life, as though the mermaids were hungry sharks that had scared all the fish away. And my mermaids aren't predators. So I painted in their companion fish using photos from my trip to an aquarium as reference. I was listening to a podcast recently where the artist was talking about how important good references are - I certainly can't do without them. So wherever I go, I take photos because you never know when cliff faces, vines and fish will be useful!

The last piece to this painting was deciding what the water dancers are all swimming towards and completing their story. Each of my artworks is a glimpse into a story, like you've opened a novel part way through and read just one paragraph. I love that the viewer can look at my work, and fill in the magic and mystery of the story with their own interpretation.

And that's my adventure with the water dancers.

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A big thank you to Ailene for sharing her beautiful art and creative process with us. 

You can find out more about Ailene on her blog and instagram. And you can get her gorgeous wallpapers here.