Becoming a Professional Artist: An Interview With Zybrena Crawford Porter

By Milan Art Institute on November 24, 2020
Becoming a Professional Artist: An Interview With Zybrena Crawford Porter

Photo caption: Superheroes, like Wonder Woman, often end up in Zybrena Crawford Porter’s work. She’s inspired by their heroic origin stories. Photo courtesy of Zybrena Crawford Porter.

Sometimes, the best way to learn how to become a professional artist is by studying artists who are already working professionally. Learning from these artists’ wisdom can save you time and effort. More importantly, their life and works offer you a source of inspiration when you’re just getting started.

It’s with that in mind that we interviewed Zybrena Crawford Porter, one of our art coaches and mentors, as well as a graduate of our Mastery Program. She has some insightful and inspiring things to say about her sources of inspiration. She also offers some practical work and marketing tips that artists of all levels will likely find helpful.

What is your earliest art memory? When did you decide that you wanted to be a professional artist and why do you love art?

I remember when I was very young, I would just draw items that I saw around the house. We had a lot of sculptures in our home from my mom’s travels, and those were among my favorite things to draw. 

The earliest memory I have though is drawing my dad reclining on the couch, watching TV when I was about four years old. I was particularly proud of this piece because when I showed it to my mom, she couldn’t stop talking about how detailed the drawing was - mainly because I had not only drawn my dad and the couch, but also the pieces of trash that had been kicked under the couch. She was both embarrassed and impressed.

By the age of nine, I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I honed my drawing skills throughout the rest of my schooling, never realizing that what I loved about creating was how the truest version of me came through in those moments.

Photo caption: Some of Zybrena’s new work. Photo courtesy of Zybrena Crawford Porter.

What role did the Milan Art Institute play in your art career?

I stumbled across the Milan Art Institute about five years into my career in graphic design. I attended their Prophetic Art seminar in 2011 and began to fully grasp the different forces at work within my creativity and why it was I felt so alive in those moments when I was creating. 

Five years later I was finally positioned, occupationally and financially, to join the Mastery Program and learn the skills I needed to make a living doing what I loved the most.

Photo courtesy of Zybrena Crawford Porter

You very often paint superheroes? Why is that? What is it that draws you to them? What message do you hope to communicate to people by painting them?

My love for superheroes is actually not because of the superpowers, epic battles, costumes or team ups (although all of those things are cool). Superheroes made their way into my heart and into my art because of their origin stories. After evaluating some of the more painful moments of my life and how they have shaped my career as an artist, I couldn’t help but notice parallels in my own origin story and the origin stories of some of my favorite graphic novel characters. 

What I’ve hoped to communicate through graphic novel imagery is that each of us has a specific purpose to live out and an important legacy to leave behind. Even though we have experienced difficult moments in our lives and probably made mistakes that we wish we could undo, we are who we are today because of those hardships and mishaps. 

It is in and through our healing, that we find our purpose and ultimately inspire others to do the same. This is the moment that is most often portrayed in my art - the “AHA!” moment when one realizes, “This is it! This is my reason for being.”

Photo courtesy of Zybrena Crawford Porter

What is your typical day like as an artist?

As a coach and mentor for the Milan Art Institute, I often begin my day by encouraging other students who are currently in the program. When I begin my workday witnessing the amazing work these students are doing and their excitement at what they have accomplished, it really helps set a productive tone for my day. 

I like to work on multiple pieces at a time, so my studio time generally begins with a new piece or two that I treat with inks, fluid acrylics and spray paint. I then set those aside to dry. This not only serves to get me into what we call my right brain, but it also ensures that I have new in-progress pieces ready to go the next day, while I am finishing up the details on an in-progress piece from the previous day.

My workday suffers some interruptions because I have a two-year-old whose primary interest in art supplies is to eat them. However, his nap times and after he goes to bed are prime painting hours for me. I usually stop painting when I can no longer keep my eyes open.

What are some of the ways you like to promote your art and how many hours a week do you devote to art promotion vs. art making? 

This is a very exciting topic for me because one of my Christmas gifts to myself this year is a full revamp of Zybrena Fine Art marketing materials, equipment and software. In the immortal words of John Hammond, “I’m sparing no expense.” 

I left the field of graphic design to pursue art full time, but my background in graphic design and marketing has really set me up well for this chapter of my business. These new resources will put more focus on my email list and Instagram page. Currently, Mondays mornings are set aside for marketing endeavors. All other days of the week are painting days.

Photo courtesy of Zybrena Crawford Porter

In addition to creating fine art pieces, you also create book covers. How did that come about? Do you plan to do more of it? How was that experience different from creating a piece for an event like an art show?

So I love to read with a passion! When I was in graphic design school, one of my favorite assignments was when our class was tasked with designing a series of book covers. Reading and creating are my two biggest hobbies, so I was in heaven! 

My first book cover client was a science fiction author I met through my husband, and I had the opportunity to design five book covers for her over the course of two years. My most recent book cover was actually a tribute painting to another client’s late father, and currently I am illustrating and typesetting a children’s book for yet another client. 

With these kinds of jobs, the biggest differences are digitally preparing the paintings for print and ensuring details will not be lost once the illustrations are scaled down.

Photo courtesy of Zybrena Crawford Porter

Is there anything that we haven’t asked you about that you would like MAI blog readers to know about your work or you?

I am a major art supply junkie. For me, the best part about being a creative is the discovery! I love discovering new art supplies, new techniques and each new journey from a blank canvas to my soul laid bare in the form of visual art. Being a full-time artist has given me the gift of truly getting to know myself. I recently posted “Learning how to paint out loud gave me the freedom to finally live out loud.”

Catch up with Zybrena on social media!

Twitter: @zybrena

Facebook: ZybrenArt

Instagram: @zybrena

Read More About Some of Our Favorites Artists 

Norman Rockwell: The Freedom From Want

From Apprentice Artist to Master: Art Lessons From Da Vinci

Art Fun Facts: 3 Times When Artists Knew More Than Scientists

Milan Art Institute
Milan Art Institute

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