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Anna Dittmann is a digital portrait painter in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her work intertwines and fuses nature and the human figure, allowing natural forms to literally become part of her subject’s anatomy. She is showing us a visceral representation of our ideal relationship with nature, a relationship that has withered and decayed with time – the connection we once nurtured, lost. Despite her creatures’ alien appearances, they feel as natural and awe-inspiring as the Scottish Pentlands that surround Dittmann’s home. Despite the fantastical articulation of their bodies we cannot deny that they feel irrevocably right. This fusion reflects Dittmann’s personal relationship with nature – always lusting for more, a reverence that inspires her to seek out new experiences. Here are my questions, and here are her answers.
Do you like to read? What is your favorite genre? Book?
I used to be a vivacious reader when I was younger, but unfortunately have let reading slip into just a holiday or occasional park stroll affair. I was a huge fan of fantasy and sci-fi in my youth, one of my favorite series being the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. And of course Harry Potter has seen me through most of my life. I’m trying to get back into listening to audiobooks while I work, the latest being Dune – a fascinating adventure. It’s fun to get lost in another world’s words while you paint, and even speeds up the process by minimizing distractions.
Where are you currently living? Would you like to live somewhere else in particular someday?
For about the past year, I’ve been living in the beautiful city of Edinburgh. My Grandmother has roots in Scotland and her bookshelves are lined with images of Scottish scenery and history. I was convinced at an early age that it was far and beyond the most gorgeous country. I made up my mind – I would live there one day. After graduating last year, I said my goodbyes to America, packed my bags and tablet, and moved. It’s been lovely and I’m still so grateful that I get to look out my window at the rolling Pentlands every single day. I’m sticking around for the haggis too, of course.
Do you have an idea for a pet project, or something experimental that you’ve never tried before, that you’ve been nursing for some time?
About a year ago, I wrapped a personal project I had been painting on a monthly basis. I assigned myself the task of creating a portrait centered on the symbolism and imagery behind each month of the year. It was demanding, but incredibly fun. In the end, I created a calendar from the combined images and distributed them through my site. I’d like to create another series like this, though I’m not sure what that may be…yet!
What kind of mark do you want your art to leave on the world?
I just hope my art can bring just a little beauty and warmth to someone’s world.
In general, what do you want your viewer to feel when they look at your work?
Capturing emotions and crafting a story through expression is what I aim for. I hope the viewer feels captivated and engages with the portrait, inspiring curiosity and a sense of intrigue.
Have you ever considered switching from a Wacom Intuos to a Cintiq?
I’m a creature of habit and have been the proud owner of an Intuos 3 for the past ten years. My tablet and I are pretty close, and have been through a lot together! I’ve tried Cintiqs, and they are very fluid and approachable. But my Intuos just feels like an extension of myself. I’ll probably ‘upgrade’ at some point, but for now I’m quite content.
Many of your paintings incorporate elements of nature; what would you say is your personal relationship with nature?
When I can, I love finding escape outdoors. Especially if I’ve been cooped up on the computer all day with work. I love the beauty and unpredictability of nature, and often draw inspiration from the environment by painting abstracted natural elements. It’s a perfect complement to the human figure. In large part, I was drawn to Scotland for the beauty and proximity of its local wildlife.
What would you say is the perfect medium for experiencing your work? A museum exhibit, on a laptop from the comfort of my home, or some other way?
I work on a laptop from the comfort of home, so that’s my all-too-familiar experience of my art. I have exhibited in a handful of galleries, and found prints a refreshingly tangible medium to view the artwork.
What is a hobby or skill you have always wanted to pursue, but have never found the time to do so?
I’m a huge foodie, but a terrible cook. I tried teaching myself, but somehow ended up becoming a baking hobbyist instead. My sweet tooth often gets in the way of my plans! I will have to remedy my cooking skills in the near future. I would also love to try my hand at diving, and perhaps get a license. I imagine the amount of inspiration underwater would be visual overload, in the best of ways.
How significant a role has social media played in your success as an artist?
Social media has had an enormous impact on my artist endeavors. My early teens were spent churning out heaps of Harry Potter fanart on Deviantart. My style changed dramatically over the years as a following slowly grew. To be honest, if I hadn’t been so encouraged by the online art community, I may have produced much less work. I was fueled by the sheer positivity of considerate strangers, and I owe most of my growth to their kindness. There have been moments and comments so overwhelming that I’ve been brought to tears! Anyways, before I get too sentimental, it’s been invaluable to shape a career as well. Almost all clients find me via social media sites such as facebook, deviantart, tumblr etc.
If you were guaranteed 100 percent funding to follow your wildest artistic dreams, what would you want to do?
AD: Travel the world and paint my explorations! I would love to see more of what our planet has to offer. Every time I’m somewhere new, I’m bombarded by inspiration. I’d love for the two passions to go hand in hand.
Do you see any science fiction elements in your own work?
While my work tends to veer more towards fantasy, science fiction elements do crop up. I’ve been told that my portraits give the impression of otherworldliness. Perhaps they are beings belonging to some other universe with laws bent from our own. My interest in mechanical parts has recently reawakened. I used to have a collection of circuit boards and machinery parts, just because I thought they were beautiful. I’ve been incorporating more steampunk imagery into some of my recent works.
I know you work primarily in Photoshop CS6. Is there a reason (other than avoiding a subscription fee) that you haven’t upgraded to a more recent version?
As mentioned previously, I’m a creature of habit and have used Photoshop CS6 for a few years. It does the trick, and there’s no messing bout with subscription fees.
Nature plays a pretty prominent part in your work. Do you have a favorite animal and/or plant?
I have too many favorites! However, my soft spot are insects. They are extremely successful, and fascinating to study and observe. Iridescent beetles are such eye candy. My dad collects bugs, so I always saw them around the house growing up. Had the whole illustration thing not happened, I probably would have focused on biology. I also find carnivorous plants eerily beautiful, and used to cultivate a small collection. My personal favorites were the sundews. I couldn’t peel my eyes from their spindly, dewy arms curling so gracefully in a deadly embrace.
If you could describe your personality in a single painting, by you or any other artist, what would that painting be?
I dislike painting myself, and have hidden away most self-portraits deep in the attic. However, this watercolor below turned out slightly better than most. I am a day dreamer, who once had hopes of exploring the stars. While these childhood ambitions never did span out, I still look upwards and often get lost in the distraction of my imagination.
For me, color has always been the most fascinating aspect of painting. Would you say color, line, form or a combination of two fascinate you most?
Color is by far my favorite aspect as well. Even though I tend to start in black and white and prefer limited palettes, adding hue is my favorite part of the painting process. That’s when the piece comes alive. Colors are inspired by florals, creatures, art, and just everyday objects. After seeing an inspiring color scheme, there’s nothing I want to do more than paint.
What’s your favorite band?
It changes all the time! Right now I’ve had Bon Iver and Radiohead’s latest albums on repeat. But I’m a big fan of all sorts of music from classical to rock to jazz to musicals.
What would you like to be doing in 10 years?
While I enjoy freelancing, my ultimate goal is to make a living off personal art. If that’s attainable and where that would lead I have no idea! I’d also love to travel lots and keep myself occupied with art and good food.
You attended and received a degree from SCAD; what was your official major?
I received a BFA in Illustration from SCAD. It was wonderful being surrounded by creative people with a similar passion for art who pushed me, taught me, and inspired me on a daily basis.
You’ve made a lot of fan art, in addition to covers for magazines, comics and books. Does doing concept art hold any allure for you?
I’ve thought about concept art before, and wouldn’t be opposed to the idea if a project came along. And working professionally for a fandom of mine would definitely be a dream come true!
Who in your life has had the greatest influence on who you’ve become today, both as an artist and as a person?
I owe so much to my dad. He is one of the most optimistic, upbeat people I have ever met (despite having five kids). As a professional sign and instrumental mallet maker, he loves machinery and design and encouraged my hobby by constantly refueling sketchbooks and pens. He was my first critic – more contrast! – and my personal small business advisor. More than anyone he’s inspired me to stay motivated in art and live as positively as possible.
What does the word beauty mean to you? What is beautiful to you?
Beauty is selflessness and altruism. Beauty is anything that gives me pause in wonder.
Do you create all of your Photoshop brushes yourself?
I have a very small selection of brushes and most of my go-to brushes are custom made. My favorite is a chalky brush that came in Photoshop, with a few tweaked setting. It provides a lovely traditional effect, and I use it for 90% of my work.
Working digitally, what steps do you take to make sure those “happy accidents” can still occur?
I rely so much on happy accidents, and they are indeed a vital step – particularly for personal pieces that are crafted in a much looser fashion. I purposefully create accidents by using quick brushstrokes at the onset of a painting. I also tend to mess around with the colors, by using ‘curves’ or even the ‘auto color settings’ to dramatically change the mood of a piece.
What part of the painting process is the most satisfying to you?
Everything! I love art, I love creating it, I love getting excited over a project, I love getting any sort of response. I love the rush when something’s going well, and the frustration when I’ve been working for hours and have nothing to show for it. I love the thrill when I find an artwork that’s beautiful and overwhelming and turns that frustration into inspiration. I consider myself so absolutely, extremely lucky that people have given me opportunities to create art both personally and professionally. I can’t imagine life without painting!