Section:

Zuzana Čupová: Freelance illustrator interview

Zuzana Čupová

Freelance illustrator

Zuzana Čupová tells us about her influences, how she has developed her style and her life as a freelancer...

3dtotal

Tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you, what do you do, and where are you located?

Zuzana

My name is Zuzana Čupová. I'm from a tiny little, unknown village in the Czech Republic and I'm currently studying for a master‘s degree in animation at Tomas Bata University in Zlin. Besides animation, I do pretty much anything connected to drawing - from illustrations and comics to fashion design and painted furniture.

3dtotal

How do you get into the “creative zone?” Do you prefer a particular place or time of day?

Zuzana

Hm, I never really thought about that but I think my creative zone is pretty diverse. I used to draw a lot on trains when I had to go by train to school and I guess I'm not very much the sitting-down-at-the-table type of person so my art space tends to spread through our whole house (which drives my mum crazy as there are pencils, inks, and papers everywhere.) Mostly you'll find me with a paper supported by a book sitting in an armchair, on a bed, on a floor, on a couch or on a chair in our kitchen. As for the time of day, I would like to get to work in the morning as soon as possible, but I found out I concentrate best late in the night when everyone around me is asleep.

two lovers
School work, illustration for a booklet based on Czech folk poem about hens

my art space tends to spread through our whole house (which drives my mum crazy as there are pencils, inks, and papers everywhere)

3dtotal

Some of your recent creations focus on British literary characters like Jeeves and Wooster, Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter, what is it about those characters that inspire you?

Zuzana

I never realized that but I guess I really do focus on British literature quite a bit. Apart from the characters from the books named above, there is a lot of other British authors whose books I love dearly (Tolkien, Pratchett, Austen, Brönte sisters, Cressida Cowell…) And I guess the reason I draw so many illustrations for these books is because of the usage of language, it’s so captivating and imaginative with the most wonderful descriptions (of both characters and surroundings) which always make me want to capture it on paper.

cave-woman with many children
Character design of a cave-woman

3dtotal

How did you develop your style? Who were your major influences?

Zuzana

Well, I didn’t really do any intentional development, it just formed itself over time but I had and have lots of influences. The first, of course, is my family. Mostly my older sister who is an animator and illustrator as well. Then my dear high school and university teachers and classmates, probably the whole of art history (because there is something inspirational about every epoch, though I may be a bit less fond of rococo) and lots of illustrators, animators, mangakas and comic artists. But I always thought it’s for the best to base my style on Czech culture, so my greatest inspirations are Czech folk art and old Czech animators and illustrators (Jiří Trnka, Adolf Born, Josef Lada, Cyril Bouda, Zdeněk Miler, Miroslav Šašek…)

Baron, dachshunds, lots of dogs
Baron with his dachshunds, illustration for a dog themed 2019 calendar

3dtotal

What software, tool or techniques do you use, either for work or personal projects?

Zuzana

For animations (which are mainly school projects) I mostly use TVPaint Animation and Cintiq because I usually do digital hand-drawn animation. I greatly enjoy doing stop motion too but can never find time for it. So, because animation makes me stare at the computer screen for hours in my personal projects I prefer traditional media. Colored pencils for sketching, ink for linework or black and white illustrations and watercolors for full-color paintings. I also prefer traditional media to digital because I have limited options. When I do a digital drawing I can never decide which color, line or effect should I use because there are so many options; it can makes me feel so anxious!

3dtotal

If you were to give one piece of advice about character design, what would that be?

Zuzana

Look at (and draw) people around you wherever you are - on public transportation, on the street, in shops or in a theatre; and try to find out what makes each of them distinctive. Every person is special and because there are so many of them it's a pretty much unlimited source of inspiration. Look at their faces and the shapes of their bodies - someone might have thin legs with a big belly, or long legs with a short torso, or maybe wide hips, narrow shoulders, one chin too many or no neck at all. Don’t base your design on one specific person it’s better to combine interesting features from various people and, of course, exaggerate!

two film characters
Two main characters from our master film

3dtotal

How important is the recognition of your peers?

Zuzana

I think that popularity is not something one should get too fixated on, because it quite often isn’t very objective. But recognition is always great motivation for me and I’m very thankful to all the people who enjoy my work. I often feel depressed about my art or tired from problematic commissions and their support really keeps me going.

3dtotal

What can we expect to see from you next?

Zuzana

Well, at the moment I’m working with my classmates on our final master’s film which should be finished sometime next year. It’s a combination of grotesque, horror and musical inspired in a way by old animated films from Fleischer brothers and 1920s music. So, for now, you’ll mostly see WIP from the film. But meanwhile my sister and I will be working on a 2020 calendar and I would very much like to try designing and completely illustrating a short book or a story.

Bertie Wooster
Bertie Wooster, illustration for “Ring for Jeeves“