Sunday, August 12, 2007

Artist Profile: Der-shing Helmer

Der-shing Helmer
, known to many as Alexds1 is a recent graduate of UC Berkley who currently resides in the Bay Area. Though she studied biology, specializing in the systematics of reptiles and amphibians, there’s no doubt in mind that deep down inside Der-shing is comic book artist at heart. Her work has a unique flavor and a style that’s all her own, chock full of vibrant in your face poses. At the moment, this 22 year-old biologist is working on two projects: A cutesy story about cats called Snowball in Hell and a Sci-fi/Fantasy epic. Here’s hoping she’ll get published someday so we can all buy her wonderful work.

How long have you been drawing?

I’ve been drawing since elementary school. Once harder school started I realized I could zone out in class by doodling, so I got in a lot of practice all those years!

What was it that made you want to pursue art, even as a hobby?

Spite! Haha, there was this girl in my 3rd grade class that drew dogs really well, and it pissed me off because she'd show them off all over the place. So I tried drawing to get her to shut up... happy ending, I had an art class with her again in 7th grade and I was
better. Inspiring story, isn't it?

Who are your main influences?

When I first started drawing the only art style I had readily available was Sunday cartoons in the newspaper, since I wasn't allowed to watch much TV. Later I got into anime and it was pretty much downhill from there until I graduated from high school. I've been working really hard over the last few years to break away from the anime influence, mostly by looking at other art on the internet and slowly assimilating the bits I liked into my own style. So to answer the question, nobody in particular, the artists most inspiring to me at the moment are Johane Matte and Aysha Shehim.

How would you describe your own style?

Cartoony. I love drawing wild expressions and dynamic poses, I have a unnatural drive to make everything as eye-catching as possible!

How do you come up with ideas for your comics and artwork?

My original works and comics are all taken from my life or interests one way or another. Its fun to take a random boring subject I'm interested in, like fermentation or ecological succession, and morph it into something that a layperson would (potentially) enjoy.

Can you describe your technical approach to creating a picture?

Sure... For a nice quality picture, I start off with a colored pencil sketch, because it looks cooler. Then I go over with regular pencil and transfer it to nicer paper if necessary for inking with Microns/ Pitt pens. Next, follows up with scanning into the computer for corrections and colors. Up until recently all my colors were done with a mouse, something that people don't necessarily expect. Lately though I've been trying out digital inking and coloring with a tablet, which is progressing slowly.

What programs do you often use?

I can't live without Photoshop anymore, thankfully my friend ganked a copy of CS2 for me. C:

What traditional media do you like to work with?

Definitely need my mechanical pencil, I've trained myself to achieve a lot with it including shading effects, but outside that I dabble with acrylics here and there, since they're so forgiving. It’s been invaluable to physically paint, it puts a new perspective on digital painting, at least for me.

How's your work environment?

Messy! I don't use a lot of fancy equipment, just my desk with a bunch of junk on it. For a "lightbox" I've got a piece of plexiglass and a lamp that I invert *haha* and of course a bevy of pencils and pens, my weirdo triangular ruler and a brush to get all the eraser shavings on the carpet where they belong. Pretty normal I guess.

What are your future aspirations?

Of course I'd like to take my art somewhere, the goal is to one day get published for real instead of making minis on my free time, but who knows? In the meantime I'm focusing on getting my masters, and possibly teaching biology one day.

Well you’re very talented, so what's your reason for not primarily pursuing anything art related as a career?

Thanks, as much as I love art, I start feeling claustrophobic as soon as I have to do something that someone else tells me to do. Doing art as a side project on my free time is so much nicer, and learning it on my own is both rewarding and satisfying. And, honestly, art as a career seems really cutthroat, and I like being able to fall back on my 'real' education (however boring).

What interests do you have besides drawing?

Various and sundry... I read a bunch of junk; I love herping (catching reptiles and amphibians), hiking and backpacking, that sort of stuff. Most of the time, I'm really boring.

Give a list of your 5 top favorite books.

Ooh, that’s hard. In no particular order:

- Into the Brazilian Wilderness by Teddy Roosevelt
- Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin (lets pretend it’s one big book)
- Enough Rope by Lawrence Block
- The Wastelands by Stephen King
- Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

If you could meet anyone real or fictional, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Sherlock Holmes! Because he kicks major ass, I should probably say something more profound but I can't think of anything...

If you could go back in time and change something in your life, what would it be?

I'd have eaten more vegetables. But seriously, I'd have studied harder in college. It makes the future a lot smoother.

Do you have any general advice for people out there?

Be happy? How general are we talking about? *Haha*, but art wise, draw everything. Really, just sit down and draw random things, draw people walking around, draw
dog poop, whatever... don't stop sketching and eventually you'll get to the point where people will want to give you an Internet interview.

Any other comments or things you'd like to address?

Yes. Embrace criticism, both in your real life and in regards to art. Realizing how crappy you are at everything is, in my humble opinion, the first step in becoming the best you can be. Sure it sucks at first but after a while it’s sort of enjoyable to hone in on and zap away your problem areas, if you don't claw your face off first… Good luck with that!

To see more work by Der-shing you can visit these sites:

alexds1@deviantARTdeviantART site – Sketch comic and Sketch Journal

You can also email her at alexds1[at]

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