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I sometimes think of myself as an accidental artist. With news assigments,a photographer must quickly assess a situation and capture the images to tell a story. With illustrations the only immediacy is a deadline often within the next day. The challenge is a blank canvas or computer screen, which causes that familiar panic we all get when we walk into a less than visual assignment. But the possibilities are infinite.

Usually I begin with research on the Internet or at the library for inspiration to get a better understanding of what I'm illustrating. Found objects and a growing file of stock photography, often gathered when on assignment, help save time by providing me with a ready set of props to play with. Friends find my doll parts, bug and bone collections -- not to mention the dead mockingbird in the freezer -- a little odd, but they find their way into illustrations.

"Buried at Sea" is a layering of photographs from four states.


Other times I start with a brush and a tube of acrylic paint. Later I combine the photographs and paintings on the computer using Adobe Photoshop to blur the line between the two. I prefer painting because brushstrokes create a more complex and less artificial texture.

My illustrations tend to be greatly influenced by a conversation or experience I've had the week before. That's the accidental part. The same assignment a month later likely would turn out entirely different. Somehow, my experiences and the assignment at hand come together to create an image that I hope provides another way of telling the story. But there's usually a private story within the story.

These days I no longer wait for an editor to hand me an assignment. I keep a sketch book of ideas and drawings hoping for time to develop them. My personal work is usually motivated by something I find beautiful or maddening.

By Carol Cleere, 1999.