My favourite thing about art is finding a sense of flow – it becomes a combination of puzzle solving and meditation. It can be very difficult in today’s day and age to create only for yourself and not to hope you’ll get a lot of likes and clicks or people buying your art when you’re done. I have spent a lot of time creating art that, even though I was happy with it, a chunk of it was geared towards someone else. Making time to create something I want to make is lovely and relaxing (for the most part) and it takes a lot of pressure off too!
My name is Clare Byrne and I’m probably most known for being the former community manager for the console version of 7 Days to Die by The Fun Pimps, which involved working as a liaison between the player and the teams working on the game from Telltale Publishing and Iron Galaxy Studios. I worked with the 7 Days to Die teams through GameSparks and worked with the GameSparks marketing team at the same time as a community manager / promotional content creator. But I am also working on my 2D portfolio which you can see at https://www.artstation.com/clare_3c.
I joined the 7 Days to Die team very close to launch, but I took to it really well and I quickly learned I loved being a community manager – it was a lot of fun getting to know regular players, having our own community jokes, and then on the more serious end, helping players solve issues and work with QA teams to submit bug reports and make the game even better. After successfully managing the 7 Days to Die community for a number of months, GameSparks asked me to work with marketing on their own community. Even though most of my day was spent with 7 Days to Die, it was great to add that new challenge to the mix. No community is the same, and I got a taste of two rather different types.
Art is my background – it’s where I’ve come from so it feels like it’s always been there. All of the things I like to do tend to reflect back into my art in some way or another and help fuel my imagination. I don’t remember the first time I picked up a crayon, though I do remember getting in trouble for being a bit eccentric with my paint in my aunt’s house! Art is very normal and natural to me because it’s always been there. Even if I’ve swapped disciplines or didn’t pay as much attention to it for a while, it’s a constant in my life.
There are so many artists that inspire me – my Instagram and Twitter are bursting at the seams with the amount of artists that I follow and love; it can be hard to keep track of all of them! The two that come to mind are Peter Mohrbacher for his Angelarium series and James Gurney for his amazing command and uses of light and colour.
When creating my own pieces, I’ve never been one for everyday subjects and will always lean towards the fantastical. When I was younger, my main source of magic would have been books and movies; as I got older, the worlds got so much more complex. Wonderfully crafted worlds, whose stories invoke some sort of emotional response from me, are probably my biggest influencers.
I studied art at Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology. The course itself gave you a taste of a lot of different areas of Modelmaking – I always loved making things with my hands, so exploring different areas and processes was fantastic and gave me the urge to look for more information and techniques outside of the studio. In the final year, we could choose between a final project in 3d modelling or a physical one – I chose physical and made a scale model of d0g from Half-Life. It was stressful ( there were tears and countless cups of tea), but I’ll be forever thankful for the support I got from friends and family and I came out the other side with something I was damn proud of.
Modelmaking is one of those areas that has a large number of subsections under its belt. Modelmakers can make digital models, physical ones, or combine both by 3d printing. If you work on model railways or airplanes, wargames terrain or small figures, you’re a modelmaker. Product prototyping, custom collectors toys, cosplayers making their own props, architectural models, parade floats, puppet making – there are so many ways you can use modelmaking both as a hobby and as a profession.
When in college, I helped make some props and costumes for burlesque nights, school shows, and our own college performance piece in 3rd year. After college, I worked in an Architectural Modelmaking company in Dublin, making model buildings to showcase new developments in Ireland, the UK, and other parts of the world. The most impressive one we built was a gigantic moving scale model of what the new Battersea Power Plant development was going to look like. A photo made it back to us with Elton John standing between the parts that separated – that was pretty cool to see!
There are a lot of steps that go into making models. This is how I made Twig, my design and plan for a collector’s toy:
Concept: Twig’s original idea came from Lord of the Rings lore about the Ents and how the Entwives had all left, with no one knowing where they had gone. I began to wonder about an Ent’s life cycle and what a small or young ent might look like. Thus, the idea for Twig was born.
Primary Sculpt: I used a bit of tinfoil padding to use as a centre skeleton for Twig. I then built up layers with a firm oil based clay (so it wouldn’t dry out) Even though it was a firm clay, Twig spent some time in the fridge whenever the heat from my hands softened the clay too much. I used my sculpting tools and a bit of rough granite from my parent’s garden to shape and texture Twig’s bark. I knew I wanted to use black buttons for his eyes so I kept an area flat for them so they could be glued on at the final stages.
Molding: Twig’s base served as the base for a mold to be made. A box was made with one removable wall around the Twig sculpt. Silicone rubber (with most of its air bubbles tapped out) was poured in slowly on top of Twig, taking extra care not to trap any air around his limbs. After pouring, the box is tapped to ensure most large air bubbles are removed.
Casting: After leaving the silicone to set, the loose side of the box is removed and the silicone block containing Twig is wiggled free. Because Twig is a complex shape that cannot just be pulled free, a zig-zag is cut down the side of the block to free him. This will also act as a key for putting the silicone block back together.
Once the original Twig is removed, the Silicone block’s open side is lined back up and I used the box created for the mold to hold it when casting. The first cast, using two-part resin, is usually thrown away – this contains any remaining fragments of clay left behind and acts as a way to clean out the mold. Different resins cure at different speeds, but it usually does not take long before a second cast can be pulled from the mold – I would often brush the inside with a release agent, which can help preserve the life of the mold.
Clean up: There can often be air bubbles that show up or a seam that needs to be cleaned up. Anything unsightly can be filled in and sanded back fairly quickly – the greater the care taken when making the mold, the less the need to clean up at this point. A lot of modelmakers will also wash any resin pieces in a bucket of warm soapy water at this stage to remove any oils or release agent that would prevent paint from sticking.
Finishing: Once any blemishes are dealt with, the cast Twigs are given a coat of grey primer – grey helps to show detail so any extra tidy up needed would become obvious at this point. It also acts as a base for further paint. Twig is then painted with acrylic paints, layering dark to light browns on his bark, with a light dry-brushing to bring up his bark’s texture. In select areas, flocking (fibers used to give a soft texture, often used for grass on model terrain) is added to give a mossy effect on his bark. The whole model is then sealed with a matte spray varnish. This coat of varnish takes the sheen out of Acrylic paints and will also prevent Flock from falling off. With his body completely painted and dry, the button eyes are added and he’s done!
I think the model I’m most proud of is my final college project of d0g from Half-Life because I put so much effort into it, but also because I shared photos of my model of d0g with the character creators over at Valve Software – they were thrilled to see it; apparently, it did the rounds of the office before the social media team shared it and crashed my blog. It probably takes top place with a fairly accurate Sons of the Harpy mask I made a few years ago. When I added the fabric below and it all came together, that felt pretty awesome!
My Portfolio is my main project at the moment. After working in tech for a while, I didn’t give it as much time as I should have, so some skills need to be retrained. Art is like a muscle that you need to keep exercising otherwise it would go all wiggly and out of shape. I’d love to go back to re-mold Twig now that I’ve learned a bit more about molding and casting, both from experience and online resources. I also had 4 other friends for him planned that I would love to make too.
I was actually surprised by how much overlap I had with art and my tech career. These days, if you want your name out there or to catch the eye of someone for commissions, you need to manage your own community as an artist. Every community is different but a lot of the skills are the same, just on a different scale. I still love interacting with someone who may like my work, and project management stuff (like JIRA for QA or Trello) has helped me back in the studio to organise myself and my tasks a bit better. I don’t have a JIRA set up for my portfolio, but the mentality and the experience are there.
Art and Modelmaking are very rewarding, but set yourself realistic expectations. Don’t lose hope if something doesn’t work out – failing is a part of learning and art is not a magical talent that is only gifted to some. Art is a skill anyone can learn; the only difference is some may take to it quicker. Don’t compare yourself to others, start at the basics rather than the deep end, and enjoy creating and learning for yourself first. It’s a pretty stellar feeling and it’s never too late to start, so there’s no excuse to not at least give it a try!
There are a lot of people who work in tech that also have a creative element, and there are people in creative roles that can be very technologically minded. Nothing is exclusive, one aspect of your life can help with the other. Sometimes the lines are invisible and you may not notice the influence, but it’s there. There is immense value in a creative passion, but we don’t always see this side of people. If we’re in a tech bubble, talking about tech things or reading profiles of others in tech, we may not see the whole person. Join in the creativity, no matter your passion. It’s good for you and your mental wellbeing, and it helps you grow in other directions. If you’re creative and don’t already showcase it as being part of you, maybe think about giving it a go.