The common thread is a desire to represent characters that were absent in the stories I read growing up. I’m doing my best to combat the misogyny prevalent in this industry by designing strong, diverse and complex female characters in my work.
From a young age, Tanna Tucker spent countless hours drawing, and she learned quite a bit by copying characters from comics, video games and video game manuals to understand the original artists’ problem solving. When she reached junior high, she developed a strong interest in RPG games, young adult fiction, anime and manga. By this time Tanna was not only drawing characters she admired, but entire scenes from the games she played. “This was before graphics got too cinematic and you still had to use your imagination,” she says.
The San Francisco-based illustrator’s early work was greatly influenced by Marvel comics, the Dark Horse Star Wars Expanded Universe, Japanese animation (especially Hayao Miyazaki’s films), and fantasy literature. As Tanna grew older she discovered Art Nouveau, illustrators from the Golden Age, Frank Frazetta, Mœbius, Sergio Toppi, and classical painters. “I wish someone told me about Andrew Loomis, George Bridgman and Harold Speed a loooong time ago!” she says. “Go study them if you aren’t already; your understanding of the figure will improve immensely.”
Tanna worked hard in art school, but often had to deal with the frustration, she says, of figuring out what exactly she needed to practice. “I knew drawing every day was important, but I didn’t always know how or what to practice in order to improve my technical skills.” So even though she studied art in school, she had to teach herself a lot. She also owes much of her creative growth to supportive art groups on the Web. “Near the end of school I met other artists through online communities that were interested in academic drawing, realism and illustration.” These artists shared resources and tutorials, “which helped me target and improve technical weaknesses,” she says. “Once I found these sites, things became a thousand times easier.” This gave Tanna a solid foundation in technical skills that opened up her abilities, she says, to invent believable yet fantastic worlds.
Although she’s still experimenting with her style, Tanna describes it as a “very painterly yet line-driven style influenced by comics and animation.” The artist actually took a hiatus from comic art for a while until four years ago, “through a magical confluence of circumstances I came back, first as a reader and then as a creator,” she says. “I realized many of the goals I wanted to achieve, both ethically and technically, could be better accommodated by this medium.”
These days, Tanna has been greatly inspired by art and music being released from the Afro-futurist movement, and it’s evident in her stunning work. Her characters resemble bad-ass legendary heroines-of-color from fantastical, magical worlds. “My work combines interests in folklore, African diaspora and race/gender representation in art and comics,” she says. “In terms of genres, my interests are all over the place, but the common thread is a desire to represent characters that were absent in the stories I read growing up. I’m doing my best to combat the misogyny prevalent in this industry, by designing strong, diverse, and complex female characters in my work. In fact, I think we are in a very exciting and revolutionary time with comics. With social media, crowdsourcing and alternate ways of publishing and getting your work out, creators are empowered more now than ever to tell their unique (and needed) stories.”
The artist’s tools of choice are pencil, scanner, Photoshop and Wacom tablet. “Line work is important to me and I have to have that resolved in the drawing before moving onto any rendering or color,” Tanna says. “I usually work within single images but have begun experimenting more with the sequential format.”
As for her process, whether the project is client-based or just for fun, Tanna begins all of her work with research. Most of her pieces can be considered science fiction or fantasy, but Tanna’s goal is for her designs, characters and worlds to have a realistic basis, whether it be historically, culturally or geographically. “Once I’ve finished the research and world-building, I move on to sketching compositions and ideas,” she says, shooting any figure references needed to then work on the final drawing.
Tanna’s ongoing challenges include getting started on work, overthinking pieces, and “narrowing down a zillion ideas to focus on developing one, and then having faith that I’ve made the right decision,” she says. “It’s also a lot of dismissing insecure and negative thoughts that can sometimes creep in when working on something. For me, there can be a lot of emotional ups and downs that occur in the process of a single drawing!”
And like many working creatives, Tanna’s greatest challenge is establishing a healthy work/life balance. “It can be difficult to maintain a disciplined practice on top of working full time,” she says. “I think time off, rest, nutrition and fitness are just as important, and should not be sacrificed in favor of producing.”
The artist works 40 hours a week at her day job, so she uses her time “off” to work in her studio. “When I’m not drawing I like to read, travel, be outside, and enjoy good food and beer with friends,” Tanna says. “I love hiking and backpacking, and when possible, spending extended periods of time in the backcountry. I always come back replenished and incredibly inspired. There are so many beautiful and sacred places here in the California wilderness that it’s impossible to not be affected after experiencing them.”
Draw when you feel inspired and especially when you don’t feel inspired. The difference between an artist and a hobbyist is discipline. This is what makes it a practice.
The past two years have been busy for the artist, and she has much in store for the future. “I’ve got to be apart of some amazing projects,” Tanna says, and this summer she’s working on several new ventures. “I’m currently collaborating with my comic writer friend Mark Turner on a story that we plan to pitch this year, along with a personal project, which explores the Mythic West and its stories of dispossession and exclusion. I’m attempting to recover these stories and better understand my relationship to them by (re)imagining them, often in a fantasy/alternative universe setting. Right now I’m researching, world building, and experimenting with the visual mood and tone.”
And her advice for novices? “Draw and study as much as possible and just start making. Don’t like your drawing? Finish it, identify what needs to improve, and on to the next one! Study figure, color, light, and perspective. Draw from life. Draw from your imagination. Draw when you feel inspired and especially when you don’t feel inspired. The difference between an artist and a hobbyist is discipline. This is what makes it a practice.”