Karla Or­tiz

“Iain Mccaig showed me how to draw , Brom showed me how to paint”

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - Front Page - Beren Neale

Karla is talk­ing about her child­hood mem­o­ries of Puerto Rico, and the day that she be­came an artist. When­ever her fa­ther was “feel­ing lazy”, he’d take his daugh­ter down to the lo­cal bak­ery on the Caribbean is­land and treat her. On one idle af­ter­noon’s walk, Karla no­ticed a new store filled with the won­ders of witches and war­riors, an­nounc­ing it­self to the neigh­bour­hood with a large paint­ing that stopped her in her tracks.

“They had this gi­ant Magic: The Gath­er­ing poster of Brom’s Des­o­la­tion An­gel in the win­dow – this badass chick with crazy wings. It just looked so amaz­ing,” says Karla, “and I re­mem­ber my dad walk­ing ahead, and I walked into the store. My dad didn’t worry about it. He was like, ‘Of course she’s in there, of course!’” The 13 year old got her first taste of illustration and was hooked.

To­day, Karla’s as in-de­mand as Brom. It’s hard to pin her down for an in­ter­view, not be­cause she’s cagey about her craft – Karla’s gen­er­ous to a fault. It’s just there are only so many hours in the day. Sched­uled chats at art events are post­poned by a flurry of fans ask­ing for ad­vice, or her work­ing on what­ever epic piece she’s

got go­ing. Skype in­ter­views are de­layed last minute with short, fran­tic notes: “Would it be pos­si­ble to do this on Fri­day!? It’s 5am here and I’m pulling an all nighter on a Marvel film. I’ll be dead in an hour!!”

Art marvel

When I fi­nally speak to Karla in her San Francisco stu­dio, which she shares with Mas­sive Black lu­mi­nar­ies Wes­ley Burt and Kemp Remil­lard, she’s ex­hausted, run­down and feel­ing like crap. Hav­ing just re­turned from talk­ing at Bobby Chiu’s Schoolism in Den­ver, Colorado, the artist is burnt out. Still re­cov­er­ing from a fever, it’s back to bal­anc­ing film art at Marvel with her fine art paint­ing and ev­er­in­creas­ing work­shops. The think­ing be­hind this in­sane sched­ule is sim­ple: “I work well with dead­lines. If I don’t have a dead­line I don’t do any­thing. So I reckon if I say yes to all th­ese things, at least I’m get­ting stuff done.”

There’s or­der to this chaos. “Marvel’s my main job, work­ing on ti­tles like Doc­tor Strange, then on the side I do my own gallery work, and some­where in the mid­dle I work for Magic, or book cov­ers. Now with all the work­shops I’m do­ing, and all the trav­el­ling, it’s like, holy shit man! It’s non­stop.” As I write, Karla has a work­shop planned in Bali, then she’s go­ing to LA in Fe­bru­ary, fol­lowed by a talk in Seat­tle, then off to Lon­don and Berlin in April and March. “Oh, I might be in Shang­hai next year at some point too.”

The pace was al­ready pick­ing up four years ago, work­ing at Kabam Stu­dios. She bagged her first Magic gig and the re­sult­ing paint­ing Teysa: En­voy of Ghosts (see right) be­came her own Des­o­la­tion An­gel. Yet her fans only know a slither of her work: per­sonal, book and card art. “My Marvel work and ev­ery­thing I did for ILM be­fore that won’t be seen by the pub­lic un­til next year, or the year af­ter. So I’m be­ing con­tacted for th­ese work­shops for stuff I’ve done al­ready, not for the films. When the films hit, then it’ll be really crazy!”

Gods and mon­sters

Cre­ativ­ity meant many things for Karla grow­ing up. Her dad was a mu­si­cian, her mum was a fash­ion de­signer, and her grand­mother was a writer and painter with an en­vi­ous col­lec­tion of clas­si­cally il­lus­trated books. “I’d draw partly be­cause my mum was draw­ing all the time. My dad was al­ways play­ing mu­sic, so it was really nor­mal for the fam­ily to have their own quiet time to do their own cre­ative thing.”

Lo­cal Span­ish and African folk­lore, and Puerto Ri­can myths and leg­ends filled the artist’s mind. “I was taken to this crazy rain­for­est, El Yunque, and my par­ents would tell me th­ese awesome sto­ries from the In­dian tribes and how their gods would be hid­den in the moun­tain and all that really cool stuff. I guess it was also be­cause I was kind of a soli­tary kid. My par­ents would move to places where there were lots of neigh­bour­hood chil­dren, but they would fail mis­er­ably! I was al­ways more com­fort­able draw­ing and paint­ing, so they al­ways had sup­plies for me.”

I was taken to this crazy rain­for­est and told awesome sto­ries about gods hid­den in moun­tains

Then there were games. To this day, break­ing open a video game in­struc­tion book brings back floods of fond mem­o­ries to Karla. “It’s like one of my favourite smells in the world. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the glue or some­thing,” she laughs.

Zelda and Su­per Mario were al­ways on, and when Fi­nal Fan­tasy VII came out, Karla started draw­ing hu­man fig­ures. “When I was a kid I was so in love with Sonic the Hedge­hog that I made a 120-page comic book about Sonic go­ing to Africa, be­cause I was also into The Lion King. My mother has the comic and she threat­ens me (I don’t think she means it as a threat, I think she means it as a com­pli­ment) to release it on­line. And I’m like, ‘Mum, no! This isn’t some­thing that would please me. This would suck.’”

Just do it – all!

In Septem­ber this year, when French film­maker and artist Loïc Zim­mer­mann screened A Soli­tary Mann, his doc­u­men­tary on painter Jeremy Mann, the crowd saw a Karla cameo at a paint­ing party. Be­decked in their finest threads, it was just an­other day for the San Fran art con­tin­gent. “I’ve al­ways kept my­self ac­tive in the San Francisco gallery scene, and Jeremy is one of my dear­est friends. I also host The Monthly Fuck It All, where ev­ery­one just drinks. There’s no paint­ing at that one.”

Karla stresses that she’s pushed by, and loves, her con­cept art, but her per­sonal art is where she’s seen re­cent growth. “Early 2015 I did a draw­ing of this guy I’m dat­ing, Joshua (see left), and dur­ing the cre­ation some­thing clicked. I felt really, really in­spired and ex­cited, be­cause I could see my skill push­ing some­where new. It felt like this is a new place for me to ex­plore, and it changed where I want to go in the next five to 10 years. I want to spend 50 per cent of my time on con­cept art, and the other 50 per cent on my fine art work that al­lows me to ex­plore my thoughts, my skills and gives me a per­sonal space.”

Karla has a talk called Do It All, where she iden­ti­fies her­self not as a con­cept artist or an il­lus­tra­tor, but as an artist, pe­riod. “I think there’s value in all kinds of things, it all goes hand in hand, it’s all to do with bal­ance. God, I sound like such a hippy!”

Per­haps, but she’s echo­ing the big­ger pic­ture phi­los­o­phy of an­other art hero of hers, and now a good friend, Iain McCaig. Dis­cov­er­ing his Star Wars con­cepts at 16 was a thun­der­bolt for Karla. “I’d never seen draw­ing like that be­fore, and it changed my per­cep­tion of where I needed to go. Brom taught me about illustration and paint­ing, while it was Iain who taught me about draw­ing.”

Skip for­ward a few years of work­ing fever­ishly at her craft, and Karla’s making good with those early in­flu­ences. But as the end­less work­shops at­test, it’s her time to make her own im­pres­sion on a new gen­er­a­tion of artists.

I was so in love with Sonic the Hedge­hog that I made a 120-page Sonic comic book

Bali Work­shop “This was painted live at a demo in Bali. It was sur­real to paint live for so many peo­ple. It really made me feel love for this vis­ual lan­guage of ours. It’s truly univer­sal and at­tracts so many won­der­ful peo­ple from all parts of the world.”

En­ten­der “I was run­ning out of time and needed to be ef­fi­cient with my marks. With more time, I might have ren­dered out the fresh­ness of it.”

Lil­iana, Hereti­cal Healer “A sis­ter piece to Lil­iana, De­fi­ant Ne­cro­mancer. It’s Lil­iana be­fore her jump into darker worlds. She’s sur­rounded by omens and pre­mo­ni­tions of her notso-in­no­cent fu­ture.”

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