One-on-one with Ali Phelps

Boneshaker Press is proud to introduce you to Ali Phelps a new Boneshaker artist who contributed to the third volume of Encounters with the Imaginary. Check out Ali on her website !

What’s your background?

I went to school for animation, but my career started in the mobile game industry. After several years of working in games, I quit full-time and became a fully independent artist working with client contracts and private commissions.

What got you interested in the arts to begin with?

I, like so many others, was obsessed with Disney films; they really shaped my childhood! I was also an avid reader and intuitively began creating my own worlds and characters, then telling stories with them through illustrations and text.

When did you decide to dedicate yourself to art?

I’m not sure that I ever considered doing anything other than art, except maybe becoming a cake decorator. From an early age, I was heavily inspired by animated movies, gorgeous picture books, and music. Those three things shaped my desire to learn more about being an artist and pursuing it as a career in my adult life.

Do you remember the first piece of art you made that you were really proud of? The one that made you say “yes I am an artist!”

Yes! I’d be surprised if anyone didn’t; it’s a very powerful moment! For me, it was the first digital illustration I ever painted. I was obsessed with digital art when it first started appearing on DeviantArt back in the day and wanted so badly to learn. I waited 3 years before I got my first wacom tablet and a rickety old version of Photoshop, and struggled with it for far longer than I enjoyed.

Through months of practice, I finally finished my first illustration of an old original character of mine with a full background [ndlr : 2010 version in following illustration]. I was so proud – I printed it out and taped it to my high school backpack.

The Saint & The Seraph - Ali Phelps
The Saint & The Seraph


Do you collect anything?

Just kidding!

I collect rabbit merchandise, artwork from friends and admired artists, and Japanese language learning books.

A Rising Star
A Rising Star

What sacrifices have you made on behalf of your art career?

When I was a budding student fresh out of college, I was certain that I wanted—and was destined for—a career in the games industry as a character concept artist. Having been warned that it was a fiercely competitive job, I abandoned a quiet life in the small state of Maine and traveled alone to the opposite side of the country to California to pursue this dream.

I spent the majority of my 20’s isolated in my bedroom with a computer, rejecting social invitations and choosing to work every day, sometimes for 12+ hours without breaks. There would be days where I was so stiff and tired from working, but consumed by guilt if I so much as took an hour break to shop for groceries. It was an extremely unhealthy lifestyle, but I thought I needed to do this in order to “make it”.

One thing I’d say now is that no job is worth sacrificing your life or your health over. My dedication benefited me in a boost of skill and career opportunities, but I was miserable and needed a structured work/life balance—which I can now say I finally have, and am much happier for it!

Do you ever feel like giving up and doing something else? If so, why and how have you overcome that feeling?

There are days where I struggle immensely as an artist; I feel that I’m not skilled enough, don’t produce enough, don’t have a big enough fan base, etc. When I feel this way, I like to take a step back and give myself space from whatever is frustrating me about my work. Letting those feelings fester only tends to ensnare me in a web of self-deprecation and worthlessness.

The Real You - Ali Phelps
The Real You

There was a quote I read many years ago that went something like, “There are two types of people in this world: those who give up, and those who don’t. If you don’t give up, you’ll have no choice but to succeed.” It’s something I think about often and has helped me view failure more as a tool, rather than an obstacle. Every time I fail, I’m learning what not to do. There are no shortcuts in art, and if you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.

These thoughts keep me going and help me to press on through the challenging times.

How do you measure your level of success/achievement?

I think a lot of artist frustrations stem from comparing themselves to other artists, which is unfair because everyone’s journey is different. I was tangled up in this mindset for a long time and dealt with a lot of feelings of failure until I stopped comparing myself to others and focused on comparing myself ONLY with myself. Seeing my own improvement over time has brought so much more positivity in how I view my own work.

What themes/ideas do you pursue?

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately, mainly because I was trying to find a cohesive theme to tie my artwork together. Thematically, I’ve been pursuing the realm of the “in-between”.

By that, I mean I’m fascinated by the people, feelings, and occurrences that are stuck between two wholes. Twilight is a great example, as it’s a moment that’s trapped between day and night. Supernatural beings are another example—most are not fully dead, and yet not alive either.

What is your dream project? If there were no time/money restrictions what would you create?

What I aim to be—more than anything—is an author / illustrator. I’m currently working on two personal IP’s; one is a fully illustrated, short, fantastical story about a young dreamer who is seeking her purpose in life, while the other is more of a traditional full-length novel that focuses on four characters in a semi-realistic fantasy world.

My long-term dream is to sustain myself financially by my own work, while my ultimate dream is to turn one of my books into a stage musical.

Shadow Singer | The Storyteller - Ali Phelps
Shadow Singer | The Storyteller

How do you keep your creative spark? What keeps you motivated?

My creative spark comes mostly from music. I often feel myself flung into various emotions that translate into scenes in my head. Those scenes inspire me to both write and illustrate!

When my creative well is low, I always go back to my roots to dig up those little gems of inspiration: animated films, walking outdoors, rainstorms, reading a book, and working with polymer clay.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

“Everything begins with a thought.”

My mother told me this. A thought is a very powerful tool. Negative thoughts attract more negative thoughts; positive thoughts attract positive. A great idea starts with just a thought; the same is true for a new art piece, or an artist slump. Thoughts carry a lot of power and whether you’re intentional about it or not, what you think about really does have an impact on how you treat yourself and others.

Lately, I’ve been working on changing my mindset into that of a positive one and have seen improvements in my mood and general feelings about my work.

What was your first step towards being a professional?

The biggest (and most difficult) step I took was investing in myself. I’ve always been stuck in a poverty mindset because, as a freelance artist, jobs don’t always come when you need them to. So I’d work on that old laptop that barely can run Photoshop, with my 8×8 wacom tablet from 6 years ago, on an old, creaky desk with a color that was uninspiring.

When I finally convinced myself to invest in new equipment and make my workspace a creative, comfortable retreat, things drastically improved and I found I performed way more efficiently.

Dragon Hunter - Ali Phelps
Dragon Hunter

What’s your main challenge when beginning a new piece of art?

I always struggle with the thumbnailing stage. I hear that a lot of artists really love this part of the process and go wild with ideas, but I tend to get stuck on one specific idea and it’s hard for me to break out and explore other compositions.

I’ve seen all the videos and heard all the podcasts and know how important it is to experiment with shape language, placement, and scale… but it’s the most boring and uninspiring part for me. If I could, I’d render and paint details all day—especially characters and faces!

Was there a moment or decision that was a big setback? And what did you take away from that?

Two years ago, I quit my job(s) working in the game industry in favor of having a better work/life balance and time to pursue my personal projects. It took a full year and then some to finally come to terms with that decision; I knew it was the right one, but I struggled with giving myself permission.

It came to a point where I was so stressed about all the time I had and all the jobs I no longer had, that I couldn’t do anything and felt like I was fumbling through my days, wasting time. It took a long while to accept my new path and start my creative journey from the ground up.

As hard as it was, I truly believe that it saved my life. I didn’t realize how miserable I was by sacrificing my artistic values in order to fulfill other people’s dreams and not my own. It wasn’t until I started doing my own work again that I noticed the change in myself—my imagination, which seemed to be blocked off for years, opened again, and my overall mood took a noticeable positive shift.


Checkout the Kickstarter Campaign for vol 3 of  “Encounters with the Imaginary”


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