I’m happy to introduce you to Amanda Blanchard. Amanda and is a talented, multi-media artist and illustrator. She is a graphic artist, portrait charcoal drawing artist. Amanda is awesome and creative on many levels. She has developed her own “soft sculpture” technique that simply fascinates me.
Rinnie: Do you want to talk a bit about how you got in art. I know you’ve been doing art your whole life. When did you first realize that you were really attracted to doing art and creating unique, interesting things?
Amanda: When I was six.
I was particular with crayons – I always made sure that I had the right colors together. When I was six, green and pink were my big colors – I liked spring green specifically. Everything I wore was spring green. Those were the colors that I like identified with – I made sure everything was in those colors.
You know, I drew as well as a six year old could draw, but I knew that I really loved it. I had a passion for it. I started getting into different artists at that time. Even though we didn’t have the internet, my parents took me to museums and gave me books. I was exposed to different artists starting at that young age.
On Soft Sculpture
Amanda, how do you describe your Soft Sculpture work?
Soft Sculpture is a 3D design out of fabric, or yarn or anything that’s soft. It can look like a toy. What I make looks like toys, but they are engineered. They are designed and sculpted from a design I created. Each one is unique.
I now have people say to me “Can you make several of these?” to sell mass market. But each on is different and they take time to make, because I also design the clothes. I make them out of fabric or yarn or whatever. But I also will take a sphere or something and make a bigger sculpture, but it’s still considered a soft sculpture because it’s made of textile.
How did your unique soft sculpture style come about? What was your inspiration for this unique talent?
Truthfully, it was out of boredom. Even though I liked doing art and drawing, I didn’t have the proper training to do it. I didn’t feel I had the tools physically and mentally. I didn’t feel prepared to do the drawings that I felt that I could do.
And I had little kids, and having pencils, scissors and all sorts of things around was kind of dangerous. I was like “What can I do?”
The answer came when my husband at the time had his spleen ruptured. He was in the hospital for a week. Out of frustration and boredom, I learned how to knit because I wanted to do something that would distract me, but I wanted to be creating at the same time. But, I was struggling with knitting. I knitted okay, but I didn’t realize that the tension was really bad and that’s what was the problem with that.
So I turned to crochet because my mom used to crochet. I asked her “How do you do this?” and she says “I don’t remember.” So I had set out and teach myself how to crochet from books. From the internet, I learned how to hold it properly, and I advance.
Long story short, I was just creating clothes and things like that. And then i went to see Sweeney Todd. I really liked that movie. I saw that somebody made a doll of Mrs. Lovett.
I was like, “I can do that” – so I made a doll of her. And then I made a doll of Sweeney Todd.
And I thought “This is fun!”
Then my brother says to me “You should make zombies!”
And I thought “Okay” and then my first thought was “It has to have an eye coming out!” It has to be missing it’s eye. But I was also thinking “How in the world am I going to do this?”
Art is all about problem solving. You have an issue, and you have to overcome it. It’s not just “I’m being creative,” but there’s also an element of challenge. And so in this case, the problem was “How do I do this?”
I went back to the stuff I’ve learned from knitting. There was a technique of how they make sweaters in Sweden, where they do a flat thing in the round. They don’t have to do the purling side, unless it has purling on the front. And the technique makes the work go faster as a way to get the work done. Then they sew up a side in two lines, and they cut it to keep it from unraveling.
So, I thought “What if I do this with crochet?” I tried it and it worked – I had eye sockets!
So I started developing it. Then with the next doll, I was able to put the eyes in the head, because in the first one, hers was too swollen. She had a dead eye and it was all swollen and gross and couldn’t go back in her head. It was a design element – a design theory. So I started doing them with their eyes in their head, so they could come out – making it an element of surprise and interactive. I love that stuff.
Because I didn’t have the drawing skills, I made the dolls until I took some fine arts classes. Then all of a sudden, my dolls got popular, and I was learning to draw. So I kept doing the dolls alongside drawing. If you look at my Instagram, I’ve got fine art stuff and then zombie dolls. It looks like they don’t go together. But to me they do, because I don’t want to be limited to one medium.
You mention that you didn’t feel like you had drawing skills – but you are an amazing portrait artist. It sounds like you took some classes, but you are also self-taught. How much of your talent came from classes and how much did you teach yourself?
I was already doing portraits – painting and drawing them. I just didn’t have the fearlessness that I have now – knowing how to take darks and push the lights out.
I knew how to create a portrait and make it look like the person. I didn’t know certain techniques. There’s so many different ways to approach portrait drawing. There’s not just one technique. How I approach it will depend on what the drawing is. Maybe I’m going to just take a picture and draw it freehand. Or maybe, I’ll take the picture and actually trace it in order to get the placement of everything so it looks exactly like the person. These are the two different approaches I take.
Those are my two main approaches to portrait drawing. – freehand and tracing. Some may say “artists shouldn’t trace,” but why not. Tracing is a tool – why not use it? You’re only using that tool to plot out where everything is – you’re not using it to create the drawing.
In my last portrait – I drew the eyes too close because I did it freehand. But the eyes are amazing. So I’m not too upset about it. The kid had these amazing eyes.
I look at him and the eyes are too close. But the more I look at it, though, I like the way it looks. It works for the drawing in the end. But if I wanted to be really particular, I would have traced the image to get his eyes in the right spot before I started drawing.
Let’s talk about fearlessness. You mentioned that you know until you know right now you have you know no fear about your art. In my own creative, artistic journey, until I reached a certain level of fearlessness, everything I created felt awful and bad. And now, after reaching transformation, I really like what I produce. Even if it doesn’t resonate with everyone, I like it.
In your journey, what led you to that transformation into a fearless artist and just knowing that what you’re doing works?
Part of it goes back to making the dolls. I can look at these artists that make what’s called Mama Rooney dolls – these cutesy little dolls, and I think “I can do them.” But mine never looks like theirs. They look different and that can be frustrating “Why don’t mine look as neat as other somebody elses?”
But it’s my style and you don’t see that amongst other people. Mine are a particular style. “That’s the way, I make them.” It’s not the way that they make them. I’m not trying to compare myself to anybody else. That’s where the fearlessness comes from.
When I was taking classes, I would watch what other people were doing and pay attention to what I felt looked right and what I felt felt good and what gave me goosebumps.
What if I look at somebody else’s art and think, “That’s beautiful. Why can’t I draw like that?” What if I get upset about it?
No, instead I’m going to look at it and figure out how to do that if I really want to draw it that way.
What I realized early on is that I never want to be hyper realistic in my art. That’s where a lot of artists spend their energy – to make things look hyper realistic and as perfect as possible. That’s what photography is for. You don’t need to make your art look like a photograph when you have photography.
Yes, it’s hard work and people put a lot of effort into it. But it loses its personality.
There’s this is one thing people tell me all the time, “I would be an artist, but I can’t draw a straight line.” Guess what? I can’t either. I can’t draw a circle, I can’t draw a straight line. That is why you have tools to help us make the circles and straight lines if you need them. But even if you have all the perfect straight lines and circles, you’ve lost some personality and some warmth. It becomes a cold white room, where everything’s perfect, but loses it’s personality.
I want to have life and personality, even in black and white. Even if my picture is black and white and gray, it’s going to have personality and it’s going to be engaging. And it will have a focal point that will draw you in, In nine times out of ten – it’s gonna be the eyes. It just is. If they have this amazing ear, I’ll focus on the ear. But the eyes are where the soul is of everybody. That’s where the soul is – and the eyes are the soul of my drawings.
So when you are preparing to draw a portrait of somebody, do you spend a lot of time looking at the eyes?
No, I know that I’m going to spend time with the eyes when I’m drawing them. I map out the entire thing. If I’m doing a white charcoal on black paper, I’ll take the white charcoal, map out where I’m going to be put everything and then slowly bring those features into the drawing.
When I’m doing the eyes, I make sure that I contrast them. The irises just have the soul in them and they’re not perfect. I don’t want to just have bright round pupils – I want to have the personality that’s in the person coming out of the eyes, along with the light and the life in them.
You teach drawing one-on-one with people. What is your approach to teaching when you are meeting someone for the first time and they want to learn to draw a face?
I want to see what they can do before I even start teaching them. I want to know where they are in their ability. I don’t necessarily want them to get to my level, unless that is their ultimate goal. It’s going to be a long road to get to that point. They might not have the actual ability to get to that point. And there may be no reason to teach them that path. It doesn’t mean that they’re not going to be good – it’s just helping them find the good at their own level and ability.
When you talked about people saying “I can’t do art, because I can’t draw a straight line,” I go back to thinking that creativity is in the very fabric of human DNA. Everything about life is powered by human ingenuity – everything from art to culture to the systems that we take for granted – the postal systems, the telephone lines, the cell towers. It all came to be because people invented it, created it, and dreamt it up. Without human ingenuity and creativity, we’d still be living in caves and being cave people.
What do you what is your thoughts on creativity? What if somebody says, “Oh, I can’t do that, because I’m not creative?”
A lot of the problem with art is we don’t value it, because people think it’s easy. They don’t realize that it is not. But people need art. What’s the one think people did when the pandemic started? They started watching movies – that’s art. They started watching music and live music shows on zoom. They are looking at art – and everything is designed by an artist.
And as far drawing straight line, I think it’s an excuse and a cop out, There was this one person and whenever she would sit down and talk to me, the first thing she said, “I wish I could do that, I I just don’t have the time.”
I don’t have the time, either. I work, but I’m still going to do it, because I have a drive. I have to get something creative made. It’s not because I need to be get attention from it. It’s a drive and a need for me to create something.
I’m practicing until I get somebody is paying me and saying, “I need this.”
You know, I started doing illustration because somebody said, “Can you do this?” To this day still I’m doing illustration for the same person because he asked “Can you do this?” And I could – I produced what he needed. And so he keeps coming back saying “Well, can you do this?”
I do it and he pays me every time. I never was an illustrator. I never thought about being an illustrator. And yet I fell into it and and I enjoy doing it.
Cool! Thank you Amanda!
Great conversation – where can people find you?
On Instagram: amandablanchardart, By email: webloreArt@gmail.com.
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