This past weekend, Staple, the premiere Independent Media Expo in the Southwest, celebrated their 14th year.

This year, Staple hosted over 200 exhibiting artists specializing in all forms of independent media – comics, zines, games and illustrations to name a few. Along with artist vendors, Staple also offered workshops and panels ranging from topics of “Storytelling in Video Games” to learning the “Secret History of Marvel’s Underground Comix.”

As a newcomer to Staple, I immediately responded to the welcoming atmosphere. I admit that I am unfamiliar with this sect of the creative scene, but regardless there was no shortage of work that resonated with me.

For me, the best part of attending events like Staple is the personal experience of connecting with the creators themselves. Instead of simply viewing the art, I could ask the artist directly how and why they made it.

To delve a little deeper, I expanded on my conversations by interviewing three Austin artists showcasing their work in this year’s Staple event.

Gaby Epstein

@_pichikui |

How do you start creating your art?

For official comic projects, I tend to work very linearly since the story beats are already laid out for me in the script. I do very quick thumbnails so I can spend more time on details in the inking stage, which is where I feel I have the most room to add to the narrative.

Making personal comics is kind of a mess. Ideas for scripts usually sprout erratically as diary entries or dreams. Those ideas are much harder to draw because they aren’t pretty stories with denouncements, and the urge to smooth them down runs deep. I’ll just keep sketching and re-arranging until it feels less pretty and more ‘right.’

I see that you share a lot of sketches and storyboards on your site. Do you think it’s important for artists to share their work in progress as well as finished pieces?

Absolutely! Sketching is a reflection of how you think and solve problems, so having that on display is helpful for potential employers to see.

Some of the themes of your comics seem personal. Are you typically inspired by real life when creating your work?

Always. Putting my lived experiences on paper is cathartic because it helps me re-frame the narrative of my own life in a positive way. It also helps me connect with others and find comfort in that solidarity.

Do you prefer creating work that touches on deeper subject matter?

Yes, though I like to do so in a fun and uplifting way. I try to make the art and stories I wish I’d had available to me as a kid and awkward teenager. Hopefully my work can be a means of entertainment and comfort to kids who feel ‘othered’ for whatever reason.

What is the best part about participating in STAPLE?

Meeting new people! There’s so much talent under one roof— it’s great inspiration to try new things artistically and to read stories from different perspectives.

Is there any other information you would like our readers to know?

I’ve got some cool comics coming out in the next month for College Humor and ONI Press, so keep a look out!

Jamie Kaye

@missjamiekaye |

Regarding your process, when you begin new work do you already have an idea in mind or do you just go and see what happens?

I usually start with a fairly specific image in mind. I’ll make sure the concept works with a thumbnail or two before diving in, but I don’t prepare much. Capturing specific emotions, moods, and energy is what’s most important to me, and over-preparing can stiffen that so I go with the flow a lot of the time.

I saw that you include physical media to your designs like watercolor. How does it add to your work and style?

Watercolor is my favorite medium to color with. It’s so free and does magical things on its own. It bleeds across the paper with beautiful textures and life that can’t be emulated. I find a lot of coloring methods overpower and fight against line work in a way I don’t care for, but with watercolor it’s a perfect balance.

You share sketches on your site and give insight to your process through Patreon. How do you think this level of transparency benefits you as an artist?

I love to share. If there’s even the smallest silly sketch or doodle that someone will enjoy, I want them to see it. I’ve always loved seeing sketches and rough progress stuff from my favorite artists and found so much inspiration in them, sometimes even more so than finished work. I want people that have the same passion for my art to feel that too. I’m enthusiastic about everything, and being able to express that in what I do and feeling other people’s excitement only feeds that thrill. Nothing makes me happier than being able to inspire others.

What is the best part about participating in STAPLE?

Staple has such a special place in the hearts of many artists and creators in the Texas community. While many conventions have celebrity guests and big merchandise vendors, Staple puts us front and center. It’s an event that is truly celebrating us, and in turn we get to gather to celebrate each other together.

Do you have any upcoming events or shows?

I am regularly at shows whether they’re nerd conventions, small press, or anime. My next one is a fun anime show in Galveston, Oni-con!

Dan Grissom of Biscuit Press

@dangrissom |

Have you noticed any changes in your process since transitioning to a full time freelance artist?

It’s a mixture of freelance design and illustration as well as selling my own art prints. Adjusting my process and my perspective of my work is what got me to the point of realizing that quitting my day job might be a possibility. I realized that as much as art and business don’t always seem to mix, it’s important to take a step back and realize the relationship that your audience has with your work.

I’m still making work I want to make, but I’ve focused things a bit more so that I can actually pay my bills with that work.

When you begin new work do you already have an idea in mind?

It depends on the medium I’m working in. With my screen prints, a lot of that stems from my freelance illustration work, so in those cases I’m working on particular projects with some parameters.

For the work that’s not necessarily for specific projects, I have a few ongoing series that sort of give me vague starting points. Since most of that work is pretty realistic pen and ink style illustration, I usually need to have the idea fairly developed before I start. I do some preliminary sketches and then mull it over while walking my dog. At that point, I can usually have it pretty mapped out in my head and start on the final.

When I’m painting, it’s often the opposite. I use it more like a form of meditation. I just keep adding colors and sanding those colors down and adding more colors and not trying to force it to be anything in particular, just responding to what’s developing.

If I feel stuck, I put that panel down and pick up another and start developing color on that one. Then at a certain point it kind of starts to become something, kind of like when you try to see shapes in the clouds.

Once it starts to feel developed enough, I can think it through a bit more and push it in a certain direction. I like narratives in my work, no matter how subtle or vague.

One of the main issues affecting the art community in Austin is the lack of affordable studio space. Did this play into your decision to run your studio in your garage?

Yeah, pretty much. I do like certain elements of having my studio right here at my home, but there’s a real benefit to having studio space around other artists. I miss being able to have a group of people you trust to hash out ideas and critique each others work. I do share my garage with my friend Lindsey Verrill, so that helps. We bounce ideas off each other. It’s good to get a second set of eyes on something.

Do you have any upcoming events or shows?

I’m about to go to the Southwest Print Fiesta in Silver City, New Mexico in early October. I love New Mexico and Silver City is a lovely town. A friend of mine runs a letterpress shop there and she helped start this print festival a few years ago and this will be my first time going.

Most of my big shows are around the holidays. I’m showing at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar and at the Blue Genie Art Bazaar. Both of these shows, one in south/central Austin and one in north Austin, are really well put together and are run by people who really care about the artists. We’re pretty lucky to have events like those as well as Staple, East Austin Studio Tour, West Austin Studio Tour, and many others that help make it possible to be a working artist in Austin.

What is the best part about participating in STAPLE?

I really like the inclusive community atmosphere around Staple. It’s not a snobby show at all. It’s very welcoming. “Uncle Staple” (as he is known) does a great job promoting the show and clearly really cares a lot about it. I see him at pretty much every related art, comic, or print event in town handing out flyers and talking to artists. The vendors are mostly comic artists and zine publishers, but there are also fiction writers, painters, people selling enamel pins, and printmakers like me. It’s also a show that’s not terribly expensive to be a part of and you can share a table with another artists if you want. So the barrier isn’t that high for people that are just getting started, but have good work and are ready to show it to people.

Is there any other information you would like our readers to know?

I try to be pretty active on Instagram, so you can follow me @dangrissom to see progress shots, finished pieces, and occasionally a picture of my dog/BFF, Buck.

And check out my work at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar and the Blue Genie Art Bazaar over the holidays. I’ll have a lot of new prints and pins and a few other surprises.

Written by: Natalie Earhart


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