To Infinity with Penny Lanese

Posted by Jane Sim in uncategorized | 13 Comments

Penny Lanese and I both work at Cal State San Marcos, and actually live just down the street from each other, but it wasn’t until our involvement in the local Restaurant Row ArtWalk’s that I became familiar with her and her digital art. A generous person, her friends often inspire “just because” sketches, and she’s kindly broken down her art process dummy style for us below. In talking with Penny about this process, what really stands out to me is the contrast between the limitless nature of her digital medium, the limitations she imposes on her production, and the limitations that spinal muscular atrophy has imposed her.

Last time we talked you mentioned selling your art through a couple different venues. You collaborate with your friend Colin McDonell for the Etsy shop Next Door Decals and you sell your work at the first Sunday of the month ArtWalk at Old California Restaurant Row. Anywhere else might someone go to purchase your work?

Not where I have them up for sale or anything like that. My blog has my sketches, information on what I’m working on, and screenshots of work in progress. Sometimes I think about taking screen shots as I’m working on something, but then I’ll expect it not to turn out well and won’t – but then sometimes it turns out great and I wish I had.

This time she did! Check out this step by step guide of her portrait of moi by clicking on the first image:


You’re primarily a digital artist, although you’ve also worked with water colors and other mediums? How much of a role does having type two Spinal Muscular Atrophy play in your choice of medium?

Almost entirely, almost entirely. I usually do sketches in pencils, Micron pens, sharpies, Copic markers, if I’m going to be doing analog. I’ve done water colors and Japanese calligraphy, but it requires a lot of movement and a lot of real estate to be able to pick up your arm and actually paint something, and I just don’t have that dexterity anymore.

but it requires a lot of movement and a lot of real estate to be able to pick up your arm and actually paint something, and I just don’t have that dexterity anymore.

There’s some distinct advantages to doing things digitally. You don’t have to be a slave to the medium itself. If you mix colors with paint, you’re kind of married to those colors that you’ve mixed. You also have to deal with the consistency of the fluidity – if it’s watery, you have to adapt to that. With digital, you just go yeah I like it or I don’t – or I can put it on a palette and use it somewhere else. There’s also infinite resources, which is extremely pleasant.

You use a stylus?

Yes, onto a Wacom tablet. My Wacom tablet is about a 4X6 area and I have it set to mouse mode. When I push down on it, it’s like a left click on a mouse and on the stylus which acts like a right click.

There’s a certain muscle memory to when you’re painting something and drawing something. Actually holding the paintbrush in your hand and making the strokes – your body remembers that. The first time I got on a Wacom tab, it looked like I was drawing with my wrong hand. Because you’re so used to the friction that’s created while drawing on a sketchbook tab, your body will overcompensate for that. Then you have almost frictionless movement. You’re like weeeeeeeeeeeeeee I’m drawing everywhere, and then you kinda have to retrain your brain to use a Wacom tablet or any tablet.

And you’re drawing with your stylus on the Wacom tablet while looking up at a computer monitor?

That was a part of the training. You’re so used to seeing where you’re going while you’re drawing or painting something and now – 1.  You’re not even on the same plane, because you’re writing down and looking forward, and 2. It doesn’t anything like what you’re actually doing. Because you’re holding a “pencil” but you’re making paint or you’re manipulating lines.

I putzed around for a good year just messing with it and making myself use it. It’s like riding a bike. You’re just not used to propelling your body forward by pushing medal. Your brain just can’t wrap around it, but it’s just you’re so young when you do it, that your brain’s elastic enough to kind of get used to it.

For someone who’s never played with the digital medium before, how would you explain your process?

I’m more comfortable using Illustrator than Photoshop, because deep in my heart I’m more of an illustrator, comic-y-type person. I’m more of a heavy line sort of individual. I’m not so much into painting photo-realistically. So if I have an idea for something, I’ll block it out in Illustrator first.

With your stylus on your Wacom tablet?

Mm hmm. My process is kind of similar to how an animator would do a movie. I would kind of draw out my sketches then go to a paint, like I do a blue pigment, then do a more honed version of the sketch – make it a little bit cleaner. Then, I would make another layer on top with the super-refined version my sketch. Then, depending on what that is, I’ll either stay in Illustrator if I want to have that comic-y look and really thick lines. Or if I want it to be more painterly, I’ll open it up in Photoshop and color it in Photoshop.

And your image is a vector?

Once I open it in Photoshop, it turns into a raster. With a vector it’s a calculation of where the line is in relation to itself. And if it’s a raster, a pixel is a pixel.

Penny’s Latest Avatar

Are the edges on this image (left) the effect of Illustrator’s “paintbrush?”


Is this a vector?

The lines are vector, but the color is all painted. I don’t do any fill in. I try to do it as if I’m actually painting something. Everything is filled in by hand. So it has that uneven but by-hand look. It’s still done by hand.

The bad thing about Photoshop is because it’s a raster, what it is, is what it is. You can never size it up. You can size it down. So it’s in your benefit to always work on something huge, because you can always shrink it. And when you shrink it, some of the imperfections kind of disappear. Whereas if it’s a vector you can work in whatever size field is comfortable to you, because you can always blow it way up.

One thing that really impressed me last time I talked, was how conservative you are about duplication and its effect on the integrity of a work of art. What are some factors that you consider when you’re making that call of how many runs of an image to print?

I don’t want to make it sound corporate, and I don’t know how to word it right, but it’s not like I want to flood the market with certain things. I don’t want to be known as someone who does animal prints, or someone who makes flower pictures, or someone that does strictly this. I don’t want to be type-casted as a certain kind of artist. So, it’s also exciting for me to be able to create different types of work, and kind of give myself more practice anyway. I’m not going to print out something a million times as a gigantic canvas just because people go, I really really want to have that. I’d rather have them be interested in it and then come back for something different.

So, it’s also exciting for me to be able to create different types of work, and kind of give myself more practice anyway. I’m not going to print out something a million times as a gigantic canvas just because people go, I really really want to have that. I’d rather have them be interested in it and then come back for something different.

I did a limited run of postcards for the last art walk, but it’s a limited run. It’s a set of three, and its only 100 of them, and I have no intention of making more. So the next time I make postcards, if I do end up making postcards again, it will be three different ones and it will be in a batch of 100. When it’s, done it’s done. It’s just the way that it cycles.

What advice do you have for a visual artist wanting to experiment with the digital medium for the first time? What advantages might they find with this medium?

I would start with Photoshop. Go from familiar to familiar. If you’re starting out for the first time and not already painting – even then, I’m a little hesitant to say start with Illustrator. But if you can get a handle on Illustrator, than Photoshop will be a cinch. The learning curve on Illustrator is a nightmare, if you’re just picking it up.

If you don’t have access to programs and/or want the freedom to work off the internet, Sumo Paint is a good free program to work with. I use it for sketches. There’s InspirARTion too.

My reason [to go digital] was more out of practicality. It sucks to say, it was kind of getting like I had no choice it.  It was either give up art – not happening – or adapt. And I’ve been adapting my whole life, so that wasn’t such a big deal. But someone else might want to try it because, at least in my personal experience, I love not buying paint.

13 Responses to To Infinity with Penny Lanese

  1. Pingback: To Infinity with Penny Lanese – Interview by Jane Sim is up! »

  2. Rejeena says:

    Great blog entry! I loved the screen shots! I was always curious with the process but never really understood when people would try to explain it to me. The visual aides were a great touch (o:

    • Jane Sim says:

      Yes, Penny put together a great guide. It was hard for me to understand too, and you should have heard me blundering through the interview. Penny was super patient with me.

  3. Paula Lanese says:

    It always amazes me how she does what she does. We couldn’t be any prouder of her.

  4. Always inspired by Penny…great article Jane!

  5. Debbie Andrews says:

    I have always thought Penny is an amazing woman. Intelligent and so generous with her knowledge, she’s a great co-worker. Her artwork is just one example of her talent. Way to go Penny !
    Jane, thank you for the article, it’s great.

  6. This is an amazing article Jane, about an amazing person. Thanks so much for writing it. You write so beautifully.
    Penny-thank you for being so open and sharing your story with us. I learn more and more from you each day and look forward to seeing more of your artwork! You are a true inspiration so happy we’ve become friends. :-) See you Sunday! ‘mar

  7. Virginia says:

    Jane, I loved going through her step-by-step process. I’ll share with Angela (who does a bit of tablet drawing.) Loved how she did your hair, getting all the beautiful shades that my hairdresser loved in your sister’s hair too. I promise not to miss the next ArtWalk!