Saturday AM: Garrett Ley Interview

Garrett Ley may still be in art school but he is already working as an artist to showcase his talents. With a successful Kickstarter project, Garrett and his deviantART friend, Kevin, were able to have an Artist Alley table at Anime Central and create a collaborative artbook. As a life long fan, Garrett hopes to combine the worlds to fine arts and anime. Garrett spoke with Saturday AM about his life on deviantART and artist opportunities presented to him in his fledgling career. 

Saturday AM: You’ve been on deviantART for 6 years (as TGA-Tsurugi: and we saw you at Anime Central—as an independent illustrator how important do you think deviantART has been for your networking and do you rate it over conventions or do they both have their pluses and minuses?

Garrett Ley: I believe deviantART has been key for both networking and improving my art. It’s where I started out when I was just a little artist and what has helped me grow. I’ve had people redline my work, help me work through my often too large ideas, and give me helpful critiques that have stayed with me! Truly priceless. It’s that type of community aspect that has made it very worthwhile. It’s really where I got my start, and after six years it would feel like blasphemy to throw it under the bus! There, I went from an unknown 12-year old inexperienced artist to becoming friends with some of the artists I grew up looking to. It’s really been incredible and if you stick with it long enough, good things will come. 

Although, it is wonderful to see the faces of people who know you from online and get your work out to a new audience at conventions. Conventions are a great equalizer in the way that you find out that everyone, even your idols are human, but they offer a different type of community—one that separates the artist from the audience and makes it more consumer-producer based. Money is nice and it is a wonderful feeling to know that someone would spend the money they earned on your work, but it’s definitely not the only reason I do what I do. Art is something that comes from the soul, and it’s important to know it can be valued by simple appreciation rather than money all the time. I appreciate people just taking a second to look at my work at conventions and am thankful if they decide to spend money on it. 

In terms of networking, it’s definitely easier to network at a convention. If you’re in the alley, all it takes is a quick conversation to befriend someone you look up to because they know how hard you worked to get there because they’ve done it themselves. But of course, you always leave feeling inferior and wanting to improve. deviantART, on the other hand, really pushes you to improve your work if you want to get talking to people you look up to. I think I prefer that more, because networking there is not something to take for granted. It’s something you have to work up to, and it’s part of the fruits of your labor! So, in short…they both have their pluses and minuses haha!

Saturday AM: Your style is definitely improving from your early work in 2010 to today—what do you attribute that to? Drawing more ambitious ideas? Doing a regular webcomic or just getting older, wiser and more mature with your art?

Garrett Ley: Well, thank you! I’m glad to hear that. I suppose I attribute my improvement to practice and my recent entrance into art school. You’re drawing all the time both from your imagination and from observation. Both help in different ways and help to develop a keen eye for fixing mistakes. However, drawing more ambitious ideas has truly helped me leap great bounds by going outside of my comfort zone with almost every piece.

Saturday AM: When I look at your work, I get a definite classic manga vibe from artists like Go Nagai and Leiji Matsumoto—which is unique as most amateurs tend to have styles more akin to modern mangaka like Kishimoto or Kubo-san. Who are your influences in manga as well as Western comics?

Garrett Ley: That is so interesting to me! I have never been told that my work had a classic manga vibe, but I suppose it could be because I never got too heavy into a lot of mainstream shonen manga like Naruto or Bleach. I do like shonen manga, even modern shonen manga, but prefer it to be conceptual. I tend to like manga artists such as Katsura Hoshino, Takeshi Obata, CLAMP, etc. However the more classic part of my style could come from when I first fell in love with manga with InuYasha by Rumiko Takahashi. Her style was always very classic, and I’m sure it influenced me quite a lot, as that was my first experience with manga. 

Saturday AM: What tools do you use for creation of your pieces? Are you more digital or traditional when it comes to your art skills, and would you prefer to have your work replicated digitally or via a traditional print book?

Garrett Ley: I am a traditional artist and use Copic Markers to create my work. As a result, I’m very tactile and I’m sure there would be no feeling like holding your work in traditional printed form. I have always been after that. However, having work published by any means is an honor in itself, so I’m not picky!

Saturday AM: How did you start using Copic markers for your art? How did the company end up contacting you for demonstrations and examples?
Garrett Ley: I began using Copic markers after I saw that they were offered as a prize in an old Beckett anime magazine. I was about eleven and I remember it saying, “used by professional manga artists!”. I found out that they really were and that they were used by a lot more artists than I had ever thought. About a year later, I was told they were at a local art store so I picked a few up for myself! I ended up really loving them. I’d tried digital art in the past, but Copic markers gave me the immediate satisfaction of creating what was in my head without stepping into the digital realm at such a young age. I just did what felt natural. The company ended up contacting me about six years later via deviantART and requested to use my work in their 2012 catalogue. It was an absolute honor to be featured by my medium—something that I never could have expected to have happened so early to me. Eventually, we built a relationship and I have been doing tutorials for their blog for a couple of years now! A dream come true.

Saturday AM: Your works like Siri, Psy Chic, Indigo Sunday and Mona Lisa have a very strong design aesthetic and use of intricate background elements. Do you see yourself as more a designer/illustrator or more of a comic book artist? Do you have plans to do a sequential comic book and/or webcomics in the future?

Garrett Ley: I see a little bit of both in myself. I have been a strong believer in design principles since I learned them and have applied them to my illustrations, which ended up being more effective than I ever could have imagined. However, that is definitely something I utilize strategically rather than a definition of who I am as an artist. There is always a heavy story within my work, and I see that as a characteristic of a comic book artist or illustrator. While the storyteller in me has always been there, the designer part of me is more of a recent addition that has worked well for me, but I could never be happy simply designing. My dream is to be a manga creator, so I absolutely have plans for a comic book or webcomic in the future! 

Saturday AM: Do you prefer creating original characters over fan art?

Garrett Ley: I absolutely do! While it’s great fun to create fan art every once and I while, I find a thrill in creating something original.

Saturday AM: Would you ever go work for a Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image or Viz? If so, what title would you most want to work on?

Garrett Ley: I would take any opportunity to work with any of those companies in a heartbeat! While DC and Dark Horse are a couple publishers of mainly western work that have integrated some manga, I’m not sure what I would have to offer a company like Marvel but that would not stop me from trying. The ultimate dream would be to work on my own title, but I love Teen Titans, Clover, DeathNote, D.Gray-Man, and more. I would take any opportunity to work as an assistant on any of those titles, past or present. However, I like them all the way they are now and would be deathly afraid of messing them up!

Saturday AM: How did you decide to create your Kickstarter project?

Garrett Ley: I met my good friend, Kevin Florkiewicz (known online as 5FlavorsofAnime – in high school, and we both really liked anime and manga, so we quickly became friends. As a result, we had a lot of the same aspirations even though he does a lot of three dimensional work with plushies and perler designs, and mine is illustration. One of those aspirations was to occupy a large-scale anime convention table in the Artist Alley. Around 2012, both of us established that a Kickstarter project would be something we wanted to do together, and with many ideas for artbooks in the back of my mind and a good community of artists I knew on deviantART, we decided to conjoin ideas and create a project that funded the creation of a manga/anime product so that Kevin and I could achieve our dream of being in an Artist Alley and create this artbook that features 1-3 exclusive pieces from each artist. With each idea after the next, we just kept pushing the envelope with the project to see how much we could do, and eventually it became what it is today! 

Saturday AM: Would you recommend other artists to use Kickstarter for their creative projects?
Garrett Ley:
Kickstarter is a great crowdfunding platform, and I would recommend it to other artists. Just bear in mind, you need to really be passionate about your project. It is all or nothing, so if you don’t reach your goal the creator gets none of the funding. It needs to be your life for a little bit—all you think about and all you want. It really takes your days away from you and becomes your life for the months leading up to it and during the funding, itself. You’ll have to write a lot more than you think too! All in all, though it was a wonderful experience. It’s just a matter of being driven enough. A partner doesn’t hurt either!

Saturday AM: What do you think you will pursue after graduating art school? 

Garrett Ley: My dream is to eventually create a manga so I would absolutely love to pursue that. Maybe even go to Japan for a time! 

Saturday AM: Please give our fans who hope to become professional illustrators some advice.

Garrett Ley: Keep looking, keep searching, and never be satisfied. Have a constant itch to express yourself and never stop moving toward accomplishing your dreams.


By Kasey Michael-a lover of all things entertainment. Born and bred in North Carolina, she has a degree in Film Studies and can usually be found in front of a screen.

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