Schenectady illustrators creating comics and careers

Schenectady illustrators Ulises Farinas and Melody Often at their home. (Peter R. Barber/Staff Photographer)

Schenectady illustrators Ulises Farinas and Melody Often at their home. (Peter R. Barber/Staff Photographer)

SCHENECTADY — The intricate worlds of “seek and finds” have enchanted people for years, with readers spending hours poring over scenes packed with people, creatures and characters.

Readers have Schenectady illustrator Ulises Farinas to thank for some of these seek and finds, as well as his partner and fellow illustrator Melody Often. Over the last few years, Farinas and Often have worked on the “Star Wars” series “Where’s the Wookiee?” and the comic “Judge Dredd” among many other projects, from their home on Elm Street.

Often, who is a painter as well as an illustrator, grew up in Niskayuna and partly credits her experiences with the Niskayuna High School art department that compelled her to pursue art professionally. Farinas, who is originally from New Jersey, said he grew up drawing and has been a professional illustrator since 2008.

They’ve both worked on comic series throughout their careers, however, more recently they’ve focused on freelance work for publications like Entertainment Weekly and Men’s Health, and on the seek and finds.

For many, “Where’s Waldo?” may be the most familiar seek and find (or wimmelbilderbuch as they’re also known), yet the history of the illustration style goes far back.

“It started from a tradition of European people making these menagerie rooms,” Farinas said.

People would pack them full of interesting items and invite friends and family over to admire them; the more densely packed the room, the more impressive they were, according to Farinas. Then, a painting style developed out of that idea, which later became an illustration style.

“These drawings are like museum pieces. As a kid, I started drawing this way because I tried to draw video games,” Farinas said, “I would fill them with illustrations of characters of monsters; I was always making up monsters as I go and 30 years later that’s my work.”

Each illustration takes hours and hours to create and they’re created using the traditional perspective rules of Renaissance paintings.

“You’re making little 3-D dioramas on the page. It almost looks like a pop-up book,” Farinas said.

He works in sprints and marathons, sometimes working from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. and other times it’s for a handful of hours, depending on what illustrations he’s working on.

While Farinas and Often have worked together on a few projects over the years, like on the science fiction anthology “Amazing Forest #1,” they also collaborate when it comes to creative challenges.

Last year, Farinas had to draw upward of 50 celebrity likenesses for an Entertainment Weekly feature. With so many celebrities, and not all of them familiar to Farinas, the task was daunting.

“Sometimes I’ll get to a character and I’m like I cannot figure out why his face isn’t working and I’ll ask Melody ‘Draw this person.’ She will on the page itself draw the person’s face how she’s seeing it and that will snap it,” Farinas said.

Often, who is the creator of the comic book series “Trinadot,” said that she and Farinas would like to create a comic book together someday. However, it’s sometimes tough to find time between raising their 18-month-old child Corazon and balancing everything that freelance work entails.

“I think that’s one of the things about freelancing that they don’t tell you is there’s so much in freelancing that has nothing to do with your business sense or your talent,” Farinas said. “Nothing to do with it. It just has to do with ‘Can you handle this problem right now for this person, regardless of whether they’re the lowest person on the branch [or] the highest? Can you do it and can that message be brought to another employer?’”

Farinas doesn’t have an agent and while Often uses GigSalad to find jobs, both tend to find jobs through word of mouth and referrals. Though they’ve been freelancing for more than a decade, even with experience, it comes with challenges.

“You’re always kind of at the edge of what the economy is doing, you’re always at the edge of your demands . . . I never know if next year, I’ll end up going to a regular job. It’s never happened but . . . there’s always that nervousness and I think that’s part of feeling you’re established as a freelancer is accepting that nervousness and not letting it be so overwhelming,” Farinas said.

It can be rewarding too, especially when they get to meet young readers and artists. It’s part of the reason they love having a table at comic con events and local farmer’s markets.

“It’s pretty cool. You get to meet people who’re like, ‘Oh I have this book. You’re the one who did the drawings?’ ” Farinas said. “It’s really exciting for me to sign it for you, just as exciting as it is for you to get it signed. I’m finally getting to meet someone who sees it.”

Sometimes, kids will approach them with questions and a sketchbook in hand.

“They’re like ‘Could this be a real book one day?’ And it’s like ‘Absolutely.’ This is how you make the book, not by asking for the book to be made, not by complaining that you don’t see that book out there, but straight up getting a sketchbook and filling it and being like this has to exist. This is the story I need to read and I’ve got to tell it myself,” Farinas said.

Young creatives (and older ones too) will have a chance to meet Often and Farinas on Saturday at The Schenectady Trading Company for a Halloween Mini “Comic-Con” Pop-up, which runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Throughout this week, The Trading Company (609 Union St., Schenectady) is also hosting a pop-up shop featuring the artists’ work.

For more information about the event visit The Schenectady Trading Company on Facebook. For more on Farinas’ work visit and more on Often’s work visit

Categories: Art, Life and Arts


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