Introducing an amazing illustrator, Ashanti Fortson!
Hi, I am so honored to have you, Ashanti! You are amazing, and I recommend everyone to check out your incredible resume and artwork at your site, https://ashantifortson.com & on Twitter and Instagram.
Hi! So happy to be here; thanks for inviting me. :]
Your new project, Cress & Petra, is very exciting! Can you update us a bit more on that?
Sure thing! To start off with some context, Cress & Petra is my debut YA graphic novel, out from HarperCollins in 2023. It follows the relationship between its two titular protagonists: nonbinary, undiagnosed-autistic teenager Cress, who’s frustrated with the academic expectations their mother places on them; and plant-loving Petra, the first autonomous, fully sapient android in existence, who tries to navigate the world’s perceptions and expectations of her.
I’m currently pencilling and lettering the book – pencils being full-size sketches for each page, and letters being the typesetting for the book. It’s nice to see it coming together! While I can’t share too much about the book publicly just yet, I do share previews and concept art for the book on my Patreon page.
Which piece or series are you most proud of and why?
The work I’m most excited about is work that I’m currently making, which I want to keep relatively under wraps for now! In terms of already-public work, I recently completed these two illustrations as a commission based on chapters in the client’s novel. Each illustration needed to convey multiple chapters from the novel, so I decided to play with storytelling in the border and frame of the illustrations as well as the main images. I could feel my process getting more expressive while making the pieces, which is something I’m always trying to push further.
What would you say is your main source of inspiration?
There isn’t really a main source of inspiration in my process; I take inspiration from anything and everything in the world around me. The ideas for my comics are often inspired by emotions I’m experiencing, concepts I’m thinking about, story nuggets that pop into my head, moments or places I observe, the feeling of certain things, something someone says to me, etc. Art can be borne from anything and exists in the context of everything, so I just live my life and jot down what’s impactful.
Visually, I have plenty of influences, and they’re always changing. Some favorite influences are the manga Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki and textile art as a whole. I look at a lot of embroidery nowadays, and I find myself using more and more processes that evoke stitching and textile.
What are your favorite artist tools?
I work digitally most of the time, specifically with an iPad Pro, the Apple Pencil, and the apps Clip Studio Paint and Procreate. Photoshop plays a role in my process too, but I’m trying to phase it out due to the high subscription fees.
I also enjoy colored pencils and embroidery quite a bit! I use traditional media mostly for fun.
What does your workflow look like?
That depends on the project and the stage of the project! My overall comics process involves multiple different stages that involve different workflows depending on the objective of the stage and the type of story I’m making.
- Conceptualizing: this is when I’m building and connecting the themes, bones, and emotional core of the story. This mostly happens in my head!
- Outlining: I start assembling all the bones and building the muscles and sinew of the story. My outlines are always very detailed, running through the story scene-by-scene and moment-to-moment. I start broad and then narrow down to detail.
- Scripting: Using my outline, I write my script for the comic. My scripts involve panel descriptions and dialogue, and I always write my first drafts on paper. I do a lot of editing before I start thumbnailing, too.
- Thumbnailing: I draw the page layouts and panel compositions for the entire comic, at a small scale for easy editing. This is when it starts becoming a comic!
- Pencilling: Full-size sketches for each page in the comic. Detail is included, but everything is kept pretty quick and loose. I include the final (or near-final) text on the pages at this stage as well.
- Linework: I do the final linework for the comic once I’ve finished the pencils. I try to keep this stage loose as well, and I always draw my linework with color in mind.
- Color: I finish up the pages with color! This is where everything comes together. I tend to get frustrated with my pages until this stage, but afterwards, I feel a lot better.
What are some pieces of advice you have for other artists?
Learn and practice the fundamentals, but don’t worry about needing to do things a specific way in order for your art to be “correct.” No rules, just right.
You have been successful on social media, and your IG is how I discovered you! Do you have any pointers for artists looking to better market their art?
Honestly: while social media can be great for getting new eyes on your work, it’s far from the end-all-be-all of either making art or having a career making art. I would highly encourage artists who are worried about their social media presences to take a step back, focus on their craft, and make real connections with industry peers. I can’t tell anyone how to do that, because the answer will be different for everyone.
There’s plenty of advice out there about how to grow a following on social media and promote your art online, so if that’s your goal, I’d recommend searching for that advice! I’m someone who very much dislikes social media, so I’ll always encourage others to find their paths outside of it.
Do you have any favorite resources for learning art?
Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter by James Gurney. It’s great stuff, regardless of whether or not you’re a realist painter.
(Editor note: Link is to original author’s home website, not an affiliate link*)
When did you start making art? What does art offer you?
I’ve always been writing and drawing, ever since I was a toddler. Comics specifically are how I connect with others – they’re a very important form of communication for me, as an autistic artist. Most of my art follows that guiding purpose as well: there’s always a story I want to tell.
Any closing remarks?
I’ll close this out with a piece of advice I hold very central to my work. When making art, search for the emotional core of what you want to communicate, and let that be both the anchor and the North Star for your thought process and creative process. Intentionality and thoughtfulness are key!