Sketch Smith is a native of New Jersey and a self-taught artist, though she spent way more years than strictly necessary collecting grant money at City College of San Francisco. Sketch joined the San Francisco Arts Commission in 2005 and became a full-time airbrush artist after the birth of her son. Since the launch of her career, she has sold over 3000 original works.
Most recently, Sketch discussed her experiences as a comic book artist during the Creator Connection All-Stars panel at the San Diego Comic-Con this past June. Her works have been featured throughout Northern California, where she resides and runs her comic book shop, Hella Novella Comics.
Black Girls Create: What do you create?
For the past 14 years, I’ve created airbrush art. Yet, I have been a creator my entire life working on my own screenplays, podcasts, comics, and sketches and drawings.
BGC: Why do you create?
It’s something I have to do. I like to create worlds and make things that weren’t there before. It’s like making a new life. For me, I have to create in order to be a whole person. I make things for myself, for other people, and to express who we are as humans and what universes lie inside us.
When I create, it’s easier than simply telling something to people. And when you create things, people can understand things deeper than a spoken explanation.
BGC: Who is your audience?
My audience members are the people who don’t have a proper place in society — the weirdos, the outcasts. We have to stick together. I create for people who don’t have a voice and don’t have the opportunity for things to be made about them.
It’s nice to see yourself represented, even in another reality where things are completely different. Sometimes, your current reality is too much to bear and I create for people bearing this weight.
BGC: Who or what inspired you and continues to inspire you to do what you do?
Matt Groening. I remember reading Life in Hell, his comic strip, while I lived in Hartford, Connecticut and first started learning to draw and create. Everything in it was funny to me when I was a kid. I also really liked Will Eisner. The Spirit was amazing. But the Sunday comics in general really inspired me to start drawing. I wanted to be a cartoonist and make comic strips.
Now, I’m inspired by other creators and the fact that it’s hard to create work yet other artists still continue to create. Specifically, I’m inspired by artists like Junji Ito.
BGC: What inspired you to become involved in comics?
Reading a Conan the Barbarian comic book, which was drawn by Ernie Chan. My mom tore up that comic book when I was reading it back when I was a kid. And that just sparked something in me.
BGC: You’re also a small business owner, how do you balance being creative and turning your art into a business?
I don’t balance them. I think balancing these two things is a myth. Some days you’re more of an artist and then some weeks you’re more of a business person. I don’t think it’s practical to think you can balance the two. Sometimes, things take precedence over the other and you have to deal with it.
BGC: How do you balance creating with the rest of your life?
I don’t think it’s possible. Creating just becomes a part of you and permeates every part of your day. There isn’t a border in between these things. You’re stuck doing everything as well as you can, depending on what takes precedence.
BGC: Why is it important, as a Black woman, to create?
It sounds silly but Black women who create, create Black women who create. It begets itself. The reason to create is to replicate yourself. Creativity perpetuates yourself in many different ways. If you don’t see people like you in a space, it’s really hard to see yourself in that very space. Creating, as a Black woman, is a very easy way to open up space for people who look like you.
BGC: Any advice for new creators or ones just starting to get more serious?
Carve out a time every single day to create. No matter what. That will take you a lot farther than waiting for inspiration. Just do it.
BGC: Any future projects?
I just opened a San Francisco based comic book shop, Hella Novella, which features women and people of color. I’m also creating a podcast network, which aims to highlight diverse stories in the genre of noir, pulp action/horror specifically, in the style of the 1950s radio shows. Lastly, I’m currently producing my own podcast series, starting with Dust Dead, a pulp horror Western about a female African-American gunslinger fighting supernatural forces during the post-Civil War period.
Be sure to stop by Hella Novella Comics if you’re in the area, and follow Sketch on Twitter.