Do sisters share talents? The success of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, writers Charlotte and Emily Bronte, painters Georgia and Ida O’Keeffe – and twin illustrators and Montclair State alumnae Claire and Paige Connelly – suggest that they do.
Dubbed the “Wonder Twins” by Creator Talks, which interviews comic book creators, Claire and Paige have been refining their unique styles since earning their BFAs in Animation/Illustration from Montclair State in 2014.
Today, Claire enjoys a growing reputation as an illustrator for comics, books, video games and storyboards. While she has independently written, drawn and published Black Eyes and Down with the Ship, she has also collaborated with writer Eric Grissom on his Animals series and with Erica Shultz on Cheese: A Love Story and The Unauthorized Biography of Winston Churchill.
Paige specializes in graphite drawings, digital illustration and character design. Her work has been published in RPG game magazine Wayfinder and in the gallery of Dungeon and Dragon’s Against the Slave Lord book reprint. She has published an edition of her sketchbook, Songs of Fablewood, every year since 2015.
Developing a Personal Style
While the Connellys began drawing as children, they credit Montclair State with giving them the tools for commercial success. “Montclair State prepared me to get started as an illustrator,” says Paige. “I didn’t have all the answers but knew what goals I needed to hit – like continuing with a strong foundation in drawing and exploring digital as a method for coloring my work. “
Claire recalls that her teachers and mentors encouraged her to explore her voice as a storyteller with class projects. “There was a strong focus on developing a personal style or voice to make it easier to market ourselves – which is very important for a new illustrator.”
For the twins, it was normal to go to college together and major in the same field. “I’ve always had my sister around,” says Claire. “The hardest part was that most people didn’t realize we were twins. I constantly had people I didn’t know waving and talking to me.”
Paige puts it another way, saying, “I’m only used to being a twin, so I’m a twin with or without my sister in the room.”
Today, the Connellys live together. While their work schedules aren’t always in sync, they play Dungeons and Dragons together every week along with fellow Montclair State illustrators Faye Rogers, Jimmy Ellerth and Ginette Montoya.
Capturing a Mood
While Claire’s current “day job” is in the culinary field, she intends to be a full-time illustrator within the next three to five years.
She works primarily in ink and watercolor in a bold graphic style rooted in German Expressionism. “I use lots of heavy black ink and loose, expressive line work,” she says. “I’m more interested in capturing a mood or emotion than drawing a face or building correctly. I want to communicate the concept first and foremost, so I try not to let the technical aspects of drawing tie me down.”
Claire is currently building her portfolio with several projects. She is again collaborating with Erica Shultz on EVE: The Immortal Lobster, a sci-fi epic about lobsters and butter fighting in space. Her sixth graphic novel, Captain Lost, features whimsical vignettes about a lost sea captain’s encounters with strange creatures. Claire is also finishing production on her first art book, Cryptids of North America, which is filled with more than 50 drawings of fabled cryptids such as Bigfoot.
A Melting Pot of Personal Interests
Paige views her work as a mixture of old and new. “I don’t think it’s trendy,” she says. “It’s mostly inspired by my love of old folklore, mythology and fantasy stories and the art in those books. It’s definitely a melting pot of my personal interests.”
Her preferred medium is “right out-of-the-box pencils that you give an elementary student.” She says, “Fancy pencils don’t make a drawing fancy. You don’t need to use the most expensive art supplies to make great illustrations.”
Paige works a day job in the printing and publishing industry, but, like Claire, hopes to freelance fulltime at some point the future.
She gets assignments through self-promotion. “I throw my hat in the ring when people are looking for artists and directly submit my work to clients I want to work with,” she explains. For a current project, Paige is illustrating every monster in the original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual. “I’m also in the concept phase for my new Fablewood sketchbook. It’s a lot of hastily drawn ideas and lists of creatures or places I’m interested in exploring.”
Both women believe that success comes from practice and commitment. Claire stresses the importance of drawing every day. “Nothing can beat strong and fast drawing skills,” she insists.
Paige similarly advises would-be illustrators to build a strong foundation in the fundamentals. “Style comes with time and not having a distinct look off the bat isn’t going to set you back. You’re growing with each good –and bad – piece of art. You have to enjoy the process of creating to be successful – not just the end result.”