In the delightfully colorful world of Tamara Comstock, there is a fine line between professional and play. After all, she’s an artist by trade, earning money by painting and illustrating everything from personal portraits to shop windows to coffee cups.
But the graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design also has a side of her that loves to craft costumes and wear them and show them off at conventions and other gatherings with other “cosplayers,” which is a blend of performance using costumes and accessories. She has two colorful steampunk-style costumes perfect for any occasion.
Then there’s the “maker” element of the woman who was born in Portland, Maine, but has lived in Georgia much of her life. “Maker” is derived from “makerspace,” which is a place in which people can explore their creative urges using anything from craft and hardware supplies to electronics, software and 3D printers.
For Comstock, 32, the makerspace she calls home locally is the ColumbusMakesIT! creativity and entrepreneur center on Front Avenue in downtown Columbus. The center’s essence is to provide educational inspiration, tools, technology and mentoring that support and encourage people to “Learn IT, Make IT, Live IT and Love IT,” according to its website.
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The Ledger-Enquirer visited recently with Comstock at ColumbusMakesIT! to talk with her about her trio of passions that fulfill her creative needs. Her business entity is called TamaraPaints. This interview is edited for length and clarity.
Q. Tell us more about the makerspace.
A. In Atlanta (where she lived for 10 years), I was a member of makerspace, so it’s probably something I’ll always look for. Makerspaces exist all over, and some cities have more than one. Altanta has several because of the (sprawling) traffic and neighborhoods. But it’s just like a central place where makers can meet and organize, and you have that sense of community. You host classes and things like that.
Q. You said Columbus has changed since you lived here as a military kid?
It is nothing like I remember. When I was a kid, you didn’t go downtown. That was a big one. But it’s grown a lot. And there’s so much art down here. I don’t remember there being a lot of art and activity. We were just here for the base back then. And the Riverwalk, it was just starting. It was in the ’90s when I left.
Q. Columbus today is big, yet small?
A. It has a very small feel. And that’s similar to Atlanta a little bit. You get into the little pockets there, but there’s always a sense of identity that you’re part of Atlanta. Even as far out as Lawrenceville or Buford, you’re still considered part of Atlanta. So I like the kind of coziness here. But I’m not a small-town person, so I like that it has that feel with the restaurants and shopping, but you still get the coziness and community.
Q. Do you consider yourself an artist foremost?
A. What I consider myself is an artist, cosplayer and maker. Artist can be pretty encompassing. But when you say artist a lot of times people’s minds might think of music or something else. So artist kind of covers all three of those.
Q. Cosplay is dressing up in costumes?
A. It’s like costuming, but it’s really serious. You put a lot of work into it. Everybody’s got their different definitions, and some people will get pretty elitist about the difference between cosplay and costuming. But, to me, the difference is that with costumes, you go to Party City and buy a packaged costume and put it on and do your Halloween stuff.
With cosplay you put a lot of heart and soul and work and artistry and design into it. Some people will take it to the next level of when you’re doing cosplay, you embody the character, which generally I do. But I’m trying to experiment more with evil characters and I have a really hard time with that, being mean when I’m the Queen of Hearts (from Alice in Wonderland: “Off with their heads”) … So I’ve got to work on the acting part a little bit.
Q. What about being a maker?
A. For example, my Ghostbusters car ... I’m a member of the Atlanta Ghostbusters, so I’ll go up there and do an event with them and that’s part of my costume. I built that out of wood. The maker side of it lets me explore more building and creating and learning how to use different tools. Painting is part of making, but making is a little bit more. So I’ve learned how to work in thermoplastics, and I have experimented with soldering, things that I normally would not have access to.
Q. Do you sell those maker-type things?
A. I don’t really. My maker stuff is more personal. The stuff that I sell is the art. That’s what I feel like I’m at a high enough level that I can sell it to people.
Q. What’s the most unusual thing you’ve made?
A. I was on a team (in Atlanta) and we did a 48-hour build-off at a makerspace, and I helped make a DJ robot that hangs on the wall. We had only 48 hours and we had a $50 price limit. We didn’t sleep much. … I ended up being the art director and choosing all the colors, and I painted the robot so that it looked more interesting because it was made out of wood. It was really cool. It has a thing where you put the phone in its mouth and with technology magic it automatically puts the music on the speakers. I can’t remember what it was called. It plays music and has hands (that move).
Q. Ultimately, it’s the artist in you that pays the bills?
A. I consider art to be my job, and the maker and cosplay more like a hobby. I don’t make money off of cosplay, but I think eventually I would be willing to do commissions for (making) props and stuff. ... The art money allows me to do the fun stuff. I feel like you need to have a fun job and a hobby that you really love.
Q. What type of art do you create?
A. I do paintings and illustrations. I’ve done a lot of creative things. Recently, I did the storefront windows for Midtown (on 13th Street). I also repainted the Greyhound logo on the bus at Country’s Barbecue (downtown). I just did a series of illustrations for a company that wants to try something new, and instead of having a purely graphic design approach to their sales deck, they wanted an artistic approach. They wanted to stand out from their major competition.
I also do a lot of gifts. I just finished a landscape portrait for someone that was an anniversary gift. I’ve done Mother’s Day presents and (pieces for) family reunions. The big thing that I’m about to start on — which is going to keep me tied up for the next month — was that I was one of the artists selected by Zoo Atlanta for their “Art Gone Wild” event. They had a call for artists and I sent them some of my illustrations. I will go to the zoo every day the first full week of June and paint “en plein air” (live) while the zoo is open. It’s part of the attraction and people can come see the artist at work. Then, at the end of the week, there’s a gala fundraiser and the donors will come and bid on the art.
Q. Where do you get inspiration for the art that you paint?
A. The illustrations I do every day, generally I have to see something and go: Oh, I want to paint that. Sometimes when I’m not feeling very inspired I’ll pick something and think: I have to paint this. I try to paint in person. But if the weather is crappy or something, I’ll go through old vacation photo albums on Facebook. So I’ve done a painting from the Biltmore Estate. A friend posted a picture and I was really in love with it and she let me paint it for her for my personal painting-a-day challenge.
And sometimes, when I’m really tired and want to do something, I’ll draw anything. One of my most popular ones is a Waffle House coffee cup. When I posted it online, everybody went nuts.
Q. Tell us about that.
A. It was like 10:30 at night and I went to Waffle House because nothing else was open and I was really tired. I was like, I have not done my painting of the day, I’ve got to draw something. I just looked around and thought: I’m just going to draw the coffee cup. And everybody loved it. So it was pretty crazy.
Q. The bottom line is you worked in a bank once, which reaffirmed your love for painting and art in general?
A. Yes, and I want to do something new all the time and try new things and keep it challenging. The thing with a desk job is you go in every day and just do your job and maybe you move up, or maybe you do it for five years and then do something else. So the idea that I could actually use my art degree (was great) ... People make jokes about people with art degrees.
I had a plan when I graduated that I was going to be an art teacher. But I graduated right around the time that everything was going south (U.S. recession) and they were getting rid of art in schools. So I waited tables for a couple of years. I did get certified to teach pre-k through 5th grade because I couldn’t get a job as an art teacher. Then, during that time, I accidentally stumbled into the banking job and thought, whatever, I’ll try it. It was a steady paycheck.
Q. But not truly fulfilling for you?
A. The thing that I’ve found is that when you have a fulltime (non-art) job, you don’t tend to pursue art because you’re so busy, especially when you have a job and a family. And in Atlanta it was a job plus sitting in traffic two hours a day. It was a lot of time. So when you go out and get — I call it a “real job” — you have so much time commitment, and not all of the time is just involved in working.
It’s definitely more awesome to get to do your own thing (in art). It’s inconsistent. You might have a slow month, but it does give me the freedom to work on the costumes.
Q. Plus you can make an impact on people with your art?
A. Even the simple things, like live paintings I’ve done at conventions, some of the people who bought them are like: “I can’t believe you did this while we were talking, but I’m going to take this and put this in my office.” They were really excited. It was like that moment in their life was captured.
Q. You went to a great school. Do you recommend that people try the Savannah College of Art and Design?
A. I loved it … It’s expensive and student loans are not fun. But I wouldn’t be the painter that I am if I hadn’t gone. And I had really great teachers, and I also learned a lot about perseverance and finishing projects. It’s hard. I think art school was harder than regular school. It was a challenge. I lost a lot of sleep. I really had to learn time management.
Q. Do you teach classes here at ColumbusMakesIT!?
A. Uh-huh. Wine glass painting has been the most popular class. But I’ve done different crafty classes like making coasters. I did a crocheting basics class. Pretty much anything that I know how to do I can teach people. So it’s kind of a fun way to spread the talents. The wine glass painting has been the most popular because people can have fun and not have to invest in supplies.
Q. Do they drink wine while doing it?
A. They can, and they do.
Q. It loosens them up?
A. They get better at art when they relax a little. The pressure is gone and they’re not trying to be perfect.
But I do teach classes and I do events. I did Fanfest (at the public library) because the makerspace was kind of involved in that. I did two (painting) panels and a demo on cosplay and some techniques and were part of a contest. That was my contribution.
Hometown: Born in Portland, Maine, but moved as a military child, and also lived in the Atlanta area for 10 years, the longest in one city
Education: 2003 graduate of Fitzgerald High School; earned a bachelor degree in fine arts with a major in painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2007
Previous jobs: Worked in banking for a few years, and worked at a sip-and-paint art studio
Family: Husband, Bruce, and daughter, Annabelle, 4
Leisure time: Enjoys traveling to places where she can be out hiking; and she definitely makes time to watch the classic science-fiction TV series “Doctor Who”