Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category
Name: Karen Barbour
Location: Inverness, California
Primary Medium: gouache, ink and pencil
1. Tell us about yourself / Bio?
I got my MFA in film from the San Francisco art Institute and have shown at Jack Hanley and Anthony Meier Fine Arts and at The Shiseido Gallery in Tokyo etc. I’ve done illustrations for The New York Times, Ralph Lauren Polo, Mitsukoshi department stores, etc.
2. How did you get started as an illustrator?
I had a show in San Francisco and an older artist came and told me that I should be an illustrator. He gave me a list of names at magazines in New York and I took my portfolio to every one. It was actually a bunch of slides and not very well organized. New York Magazine gave me a job to illustrate five nightclubs and then I was working a lot after the pictures came out.
3. How did you find your style? Has it changed since you started?
I just stayed in my apartment and didn’t do anything but make these figurative pictures all day every day. I was trying to paint the figure in a graphic way and I outlined the people in pencil and then filled in the space with gouache and ink. I didn’t know what I was doing but somehow they all were similar. After awhile I had a bunch of work that was really consistent and held together — but it happened by chance. When I started to get a lot of work I was constantly rushing and doing every project that came my way and I think the stuff I was doing was not very good and I was always just trying to make money. After several years I started turning down work and then I pretty much stopped altogether. I was just drawing the people around me and stuff that I was thinking about and making paintings of dreams etc. and I didn’t like the old work anymore. So my work now is different.
4. Can you briefly explain your creative process, mediums, etc?
I mostly use gouache and ink and pencil but I also work in oil and acrylic and collage. I do a lot of different paintings at the same time and it’s always sort of evolving and changing. If I’m reading about something or want to remember something or if I get something in my head— I try to put it in my notebooks or sketchbooks—-somewhere so I don’t lose it. I keep trying to figure out where a picture is going and I don’t know how it will turn out. I go over different parts and then sometimes I try something out and it’s almost a surprise.
5. How do you come up with new ideas? Do you have a process?
I have a lot of ideas that I’m working on and many times when I do an illustration I like to work with those same ideas and sometimes it feels like it adds another dimension because of the old layers underneath. When I get a job I like to look through different paintings that I have piled everywhere and I try several different directions and then see what the art director might be interested in.
6. Do you ever have creative slumps? What do you do then?
I just keep drawing and working—–I mostly feel like it’s all an experiment and it’s not that I feel great about everything I’m doing—I just feel like it’s all a work in progress and unfinished and so I can keep changing and adding and erasing. When I go to my studio I just start looking at stuff or painting on something and then one thing leads to the next.
7. Best / most fun part of your job:
I’m really interested in it.
8. Worst / most difficult part of your job:
It’s difficult sometimes to come up with solutions on tight deadlines. Self promotion is challenging and awkward.
9. Do you have side projects you work on?
I’ve been working on an illustrated YA novel.
10. What’s on your horizon? Any current/future projects and plans/dreams you can share with us?
I recently illustrated a poetry collection for children and I’m working on a picture book for Scholastic. Also doing some paintings for a group show in the fall.
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5 things inspiring you/your work right now:
3. Old books and magazines
4. My kids
3 constants in your day:
Your #1 art tip or words of wisdom:
Try not to worry too much.
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Thank you, Karen!!
Interview conducted by Yuko Shimizu.
1. Well, of course I have to start from this question, although you must have said it many times in past and sick of it… Can you tell the readers about how you came about using name Shout?
Yes of course.
Between 2002 and 2005 I was represented by a Canadian illustration agent. They were nice but they didn’t allow me to try different ways of expression. I wanted to change my visual language but they didn’t let me do that. I signed an exclusive contract with them so I had no choice.
They started representing me in 2002, and I think they were scared of loosing some clients by showing different styles from me, although I didn’t work so often with them at that time. Maybe only about 2 assignments a month, almost always with clients you have never heard of who didn’t have good budgets…
Anyway, during that time, I never stopped creating work for myself, looking for my own voice. I worked very hard, trying and trying again. It finally ‘clicked’ in October 2005. That month, I found a way. My way.
It was an assignment that gave me a spark; I tried to think more on the concept and put less attention on the “make up”. I was enthusiastic of the outcome but the client rejected my sketches. At that point I decided I have to do this all by myself.
For one of my first illustrations, I made a new brand name: Shout, a man shouting from a bottom of a hole in the ground. I chose the name to hide myself from the agent. I started looking for clients on my own. In 6 months I collected more than 2000 art director’s email addresses. That worked immediately. This was how Shout was born and I left the agency.
Now I have some problem going back with my real name, but I eventually will.
2. You live and work in Milan, Italy. Represented by Bologna book fair, most of the Italian illustrators are focused on old school children’s book aesthetics. Your work fits in the rest of Europe, and of course US really well, but probably not in Italy, at least when you started in this current style. You have focused on marketing to the US from the start, if I remember this correctly. When and how did you decide you wanted to work for a foreign market? Was it hard making the decision when you are in another country far away and have language barrier too? What did you do to market to foreign land far away?
You are right, Yuko. When you are in Italy and you say “I’m an illustrator” they think you make children’s books. I have never worked on one in my life (although I just got my first project a few weeks ago), therefore you can’t count on the Italian market if you want to do commercial illustrations.
It was 2000, internet was still not so popular but was growing very quickly. I thought that I could make my drawings in digital form and use internet so I would be able to reach any clients anywhere in the world. Digital step was important because it made my life easier by allowing flexibility to make changes and to be able to meet tight deadlines. Internet can break all the borders and make the whole world your market. With this potential world market I was sure that I would be able to find a way to work regularly.
That was what happened. (Thank god.)
About the language barrier, I didn’t take any English classes during school. Art high schools in Italy don’t teach foreign languages, at least at my time. Therefore I just took a short 2 weeks course in the UK. The rest of my English knowledge, I’ve just been learning through reading articles and writing e-mails for work. It was hard but necessary.
When I started working as Shout, I started looking for clients on my own. Looking for US clients was not so hard. It was easy actually. You can find any art director’s email through Googling. So I did. I posted 10 of my new work on Altpick, a portfolio online, and sent short emails to art directors with only one or two of my images, paying attention on the “type” of illustrations I was sending to whom. For example: feminine images to women’s magazines, sports related images to sports magazine etc. That worked.
In US people are very open-minded. They don’t care if you call yourself Shout or whatever funny name you have. They only look at your work. That’s what matters.
3. I remember first time I met you years ago when you are just starting out as Shout. You didn’t speak English so well. Recently you had an occasion to live in San Francisco for a year to experience the culture and language. Has this experience of actually living in the country where you mostly work with change the way you create your work, or give better understanding on creating illustrations for US market, clients etc?
It helped me build more self confidence, especially when I have conference calls with clients. I still don’t speak English so well now, but I can understand much better. SF experience was surely helpful.
SF was an incredible experience for many reasons. I met Robert Hunt and his students, I had lunch with Mark Ulriksen, and a couple of dinners with Adam McCauley… I felt that I was being part of a community there. You can’t feel the same here in Italy.
Overall I had a super high quality of life. Every day was special. Because of the sun, because of the people smiling around me, because of the bay, of the food (surprisingly delicious), and of the green area everywhere. For those reasons and many more.
4. Can you briefly explain your creative process, mediums, etc?
I always start with pencil sketches on paper. But the very first step is the article/brief. I highlight the key words, I work a lot on some small but important phrases, titles, headlines, synopsis, try to find the core of the project. I write them down on the paper, near the sketches, to remember the path. I look for the alternative words which explain the same words in a different ways, synonymous etc..
Third step is the composition. I basically work with 2 standard perspectives: 1) high view or bird eye for the narrative/suggestive images (frequently used in book covers, posters, some ad campaigns), and 2) close up one for the iconic image, where the idea/concept is the main thing, straight to the point, those images works very well generally with business magazine, politic, some ad campaigns too. Those are not my only two ways, but works that way in a broad sense.
Visual metaphor is the forth step. I look for the “thing” can explain the concept visually.
Fifth and the last step is the color table that depends on my feeling at that moment. I love medium tones anyway, not saturated colors. Often monochromatic background with a red details where I need your eye go for first.
5. Now with all the experiences and numerous awards abroad, your home country is finally seems to embrace “Shout the Italian illustrator”. You seem to have more Italian clients now than ever, and a book coming out. At the same time, now there are more and more Italians and European young illustrators who want to be like you, or…. You yourself. How do you feel like getting recognition and more work back in your country, and with the side effect of getting some imitators? Honor? Annoyed? I am curious to know.
Yes, now the business here is better. Italy is a small old country where they need to know that you have won something important abroad. Then they would believe that you must be good at what you do. They need to read your name in the newspaper. That is quite ridiculous but you know, that is our reality.
Young illustrators make me happy. I receive a lot of emails from everywhere and I always try to find time to write back some suggestions. I feel like this is my duty. I think you (Yuko) know this better then I do. You are an extraordinary teacher, one of the best worldwide illustrator, I think you won more awards then everyone, so you are very imitated too. But this is a normal consequence of your success.
When I was younger, during the very beginning of my career, I was super influenced by Italian illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti. That helped me, he was a reference point for me.
When I started to work more on the concept the work of Guido Scarabottolo was very important to me as well.
If you need a starting point, it is better that you chose the best one, right?
There are, anyway, illustrators with weak personality, they are just copying you, using you, to reach their own goals. They are using you like a wooden staircase. That is not fair. I hate that.
If young illustrators are just taking you as a reference point to start, it is ok, I’m sure that with time they will find their own way. It is different from the illustrators who take short cuts, stealing your hard work and tell everyone: “that’s mine”. You know what I mean?
6. Any advise to those who (not just in Italy but also around the world) want to aim to work in US and international market, but live outside of the country?
First rule: believe in yourself, don’t be afraid, and always be positive, especially when you don’t get any feedback.
US market is very open. Be sure to learn at least a few words in English enough to work on the projects. Don’t worry too much if your English is imperfect. Clients will understand you.
Take a look at thousands of different illustrators’ works; learn the visual language as if it was a spoken language. Find the differences between one from another. Study the works by the best pros in world, looking for them in annuals, online, wherever you can find them.
Prepare a portfolio always thinking of the magazines you want to work for, read their articles. Sports, politics, business… think of what kind of jobs you want, then try to translate that into images. When you are sending low-res image to a potential client, make sure they match the content of the magazine.
Visual language is universal; anyone in the world can understand you.
7. What’s on your horizon? What’s next for Shout?
I want to go back to my real name. It is not time yet, but soon.
I’m going to start my first children book soon.
After the publication of Mono Shout, I started to receive request from galleries. I had received proposals to do the book launches in Italy and abroad in several cities. We’ll see where this will take me. I’m excited and nervous at the same time.
One day I want to go back to paint on canvas again.
I’d also like to do some design projects. I love design, especially 1960s Danish and Northern Italian designs. Let’s see, at this moment it is just a dream.
Shout bio: Born in Pordenone, Italian artist Alessandro Gottardo studied at a specialized art high school in Venice and Illustration at the Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan and went on to work as an illustrator under the name Sashimi. In 2005 his second pseudonym, SHOUT, emerged marking a new and purposeful beginning for the artist. The success that followed led to worldwide recognition and the celebration of his work in important publications. He has won gold and silvers medals from the Society of Illustrators NY, 3X3 Magazine and the gold medal from the Society of Publication Designers Spot competition.
Choosing a name that represented his idea to speak with his own true voice Shout’s conscious goal was to work on projects where he could express his personal beliefs about a subject rather then always being forced to present the safe, commercial option. Describing sensitive issues with delicacy and elegance he lends his hand to many NGO projects, charitable causes and political articles.
“the idea always triumphs over style”
American Express, United Airlines, Barclays, ENI, Volkswagen, Lloyds TSB, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, TIME, Esquire, Newsweek, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Fortune, Asset International, Le Monde, The Economist, Financial Times, Guardian, Random House, Penguin Books, Simon & Schusters
New Visual Artist for 2007 – PRINT Magazine
Illustration: “Style And Substance A Visual History” by S. Heller & S. Chwast
“The future of the illustration” By Steven Heller & Marshall Arisman
“All the Art That’s Fit to Print (And Some That Wasn’t): Inside The NewYork Times Op-Ed Page” by Jerelle Kraus
Design Week Magazine (UK) 2011
Page Magazine (Germany) 2011
3×3 Magazine 2011
‘Fifty Years of Illustration’ (chapter 5: a new wave) by Lawrence Zeegen – Laurence King Publishing Ltd
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Interview conducted by Yuko Shimizu.
1. You had a interesting start. You were an AD at Miami New Times and (kind of) forced to create your own illustration because of the budget cut and could not hire illustrators? Can you tell us a bit about that?
You know, I’ve told people about that and I do think it was true to some extent, but I think it really had more to do with my own desire to create layouts that were more conceptual than decorative. I really resisted relying on industry default solutions like perfectly aligned text columns and grids. As soon as I stopped assuming that page templates were unbreakable, my layout approach became very illustrative. Headlines and text blocks were treated as objects along with scanned found objects.
I also was doing these layouts in very tight time constraints. I often didn’t have a headline until an hour or two before the pages were due, which makes wanting to create these conceptual spreads even more tricky. I think it was through this process that my work just slowly morphed until one day it felt much more like illustration than layout design.
2. How has your experience as an AD helped and shaped your career as a freelance illustrator?
I worked with an amazing managing editor named Tom Finkel, now the Editor of the River Front Times, who instilled a deep respect for the craft of writing and the responsibility artists have in representing those words in images. As an editorial illustrator its too easy to sit alone in your studio and forget that an entire journalistic process has taken place before you were involved and will continue after your image is finished. When handled sensitively, an image can bring an entire new depth to the connection between the writer and reader. When not, our images have the potential to derail or undermine that relationship. I think that would have been hard to learn and really appreciate had I not been an AD first.
It also has some practical advantages. I’ve heard all those crazy and sometimes irrational comments that AD’s have to field from Editors. When I send in sketches I usually offer a simple one or two line pitch that I think will address issues that I think they may be facing. I also like to suggest headlines if there hasn’t been one written yet. It helps me distill the text down to a concise idea and it lets the eds know where my head is at on the story.
3. I have been looking at your illustrations… They are very simple, graphic, and you know right away what they are about, and yet, solutions are very unexpected and surprising. We want to peek into your brain. How do those smart ideas come to you, and how easy or hard it is to come up with a perfect solution for a topic?
People are probably tired of hearing me say this, but it all starts with empathy. Or maybe it’s just that to me an image that shows empathy looks smart, i don’t know. It basically comes down to two things. A desire to try and find a different way to say something visually, and a respect for the text you are illustrating. I don’t know anyone who nails it every time. I sure as hell don’t. But I try every time. I guess I just really do hold a high value of my limited time in the world. I really want my work to be significant.
I can tell you, though, that I’m not an idea factory, that’s for sure. I’m not great at coming-up with a huge number of sketches. I typically hand in just a couple, or even just one, but I feel very good about the ones I do send. I’ve never been good at sending in every idea that comes to mind regardless of the quality. If I want an AD to pick a more original approach, the last thing I’m going to do is show them the lame cliche ideas that come to mind during the process of find a great idea.
I also think that my images are simple because my training as an AD made it a necessity. I just didn’t have time to create big elaborate scenes when layouts had to be done very quickly. It forced me to distill down images to the bare necessities. Or maybe it’s that I’m just too lazy. I have great admiration for people who really excel at those types of complex images, but I’m horrible at it.
4. A lot of your illustration deals with heavy social topics. I am curious to know if these projects come to you randomly or because you are a socially aware person in general. I’ve read that your mother was always into volunteering, and used to take you with her to drug rehabs when you were small?
One thing that I think illustrators really need to remember and act on is the reality that you usually get the style and subject matter in your work that others have seen from previous work. If folks see me doing a strong image about child abuse then there’s a good chance that I’ll make their short list when they assign a topic that they see as similar, so you tend to get put into a box if you are not careful. I also think that AD’s are under a lot of pressure when assigning issues that are tricky and delicate. They want to know that the artist isn’t going to trivialize or sensationalize the topic, so again, if they’ve seen that you have that ability you are going to get more of that work. I do plenty of other types of assignments, but I have to admit that social topics really bring me a lot of satisfaction.
I was raised by parents who didn’t have a lot of money to give so they gave their time instead. They would take us along when they did volunteer work at drug rehab centers and inner-city preschools. It felt special to me. I felt like they trusted us enough to take something good from the experience. As I mentioned before, I think it really instilled this notion that ones’ life should be significant.
5. Can you also share a bit about your creative process? It seems like they are done on the computer, and bit of photo collage…? but otherwise, it is a huge mystery!
My process is all over the place. It’s an anything-goes type of collage that ends-up digital. I always start with a drawing on tracing paper. I scan it into Photoshop and work directly over it. Sometimes the sketch line makes it into the final, sometimes not. I have a large archive of scanned textures and painted swatches that often are worked into the backgrounds. But mostly I’m scanning little bits of textures right out of old magazines. I make human faces out of the smooth gradations that I’ve scanned from a 1930′s tin can advertisement. It’s not collage as you would usually think of it. I make human noses out of scanned chicken drumstick, human eyes from old nasa photos from space. I generally take a small piece of a scanned object and repurpose it to become an entirely different object. What this does is give me all the great and unexpected artifacts from scanning printed materials, but without it appearing as a photo collage. It’s an unusual hybrid – it’s not paint, drawn, photocollaged or vector. It’s kind of all of them. I’m sure you’re totally scratching your head now but I promise that it’s still a mystery to me too. I almost never know HOW I’m going to execute an image until I start.
I’m also a sucker for lush color.
6. What’s on your horizon?
For years I’ve been doing the occasional animation project. I did a TV spot for Teva shoes and a spot for the TRUTH anit-smoking campaign. I want to do more with animation. The real problem for me is that animation isn’t just about learning After Effects and making stuff move. Animation is the polar opposite to what I do in print. In print I take this complex thing and distill it down into one iconic moment. Animation feels like a more gradual revealing of an idea, combining many scenes, compositions, as well as sound, to create a complete dramatic arc. It’s daunting, but exciting.
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Interview conducted by Yuko Shimizu.
1. I think the readers are very curious about your medium and process. Can we start from there? You use mostly watercolor, but your work is never finished without the magical last touch of Photoshop, correct?
That’s true, almost everything I do is somehow refined or added upon digitally. Most of my work starts as an acrylic and watercolour painting. It takes time to achieve darker values in watercolour, so I’ll often start a painting in acrylic, establishing dark areas and textures first. Depending on how complex the image is, I’ll paint for usually a week or two and then scan the artwork and move into photoshop. The computer is a wonderful tool, especially for refining and detailing areas. It lacks some of the spontaneity and surface that comes with work made by hand with chemicals, pigment and brushes, but solves other problems like global lighting and smooth mechanical blending very well. I’d like to think I try and let the computer help solve the problems it’s best suited to addressing. The photoshop component of a project can take anywhere from a few days to another week, depending on how finished the work is when I scan it.
2. I’ve known you for a long time, even before you started professionally illustrating. During grad school, you were a realistic painter, then you shifted to mainly drawing with ftal-ish digital color when you started illustrating, then now back to realism… Can you talk a bit about this progress? (I remember you once said “My website is sampaints.com when I don’t paint anymore”, but the website title is totally appropriate again!)
Ha, yes, I remember that well. I was painting a lot during my first year of graduate studies at The School of Visual Arts. I think part of the problem was that painting in oil, at the time at least, wasn’t allowing me to tell the stories I wanted to tell. The medium, scale, and process was something I loved but the end results where somehow failing. At some point I just became very frustrated with the whole process. I wasn’t receiving a very good response from art directors and I felt like I was just making the same type of pictures over and over again. I decided to abandon painting for a while and just draw in ink, using the computer to add colour to my work. I remember feeling very liberated. I was making pictures more quickly, and was able to draw things that I had struggled to paint in an interesting way. Most importantly of all, drawing gave me the ability to explore new stories and ideas in my work, which I think lead to clients and art directors taking interest in what I was doing. For me, a change in medium also represented an important change in subject matter. Over the past five years I’ve slowly been adding paint and texture by hand to the drawings. I suppose at some point a few years ago they kind of became paintings again, but there was never a conscious choice to stop drawing and start painting. It has been a very organic evolution since then. I’m much more conscious of ideas and the content of a picture these days, and although my work has a fairly consistent feel to it, I’m looking forward to the work continuing to change.
3. Also, recently you have added “experiments” section on your website. I assume most of the works are done for yourself for fun? I think that is fantastic. Although you are extremely busy, can you still find time to make paintings/drawings for fun? Also, only if you don’t mind… Can we ask what is it like to be married to equally successful illustrator and comic artist Jillian Tamaki?
Yes, the experiments are little things I do around the studio for fun. I’m unfortunately pretty bad about scanning and documenting them. I try and fit time in for personal work, but it feels like there is less and less every year. I’m very lucky in that the work I do for clients is fulfilling creatively. With that said, I think it’s important to set time aside for personal work, I always learn a tremendous amount when I’m able to explore my own ideas and techniques freely. My client work is always improved by personal projects.
Jillian is a really inspiring person. We were always competitive in school, and I think some of that has stayed with us. Being an illustrator can be very consuming, it feels pretty natural to come home and talk more about illustration. Vacations are important, otherwise I think neither of us would ever get away from work. There’s something about traveling that lets us relax and not think about our creative practice.
4. You are one of the founding members of Pencil Factory, now a well known illustration/design powerhouse and illustration newcomers’ dream. What does it mean for you to have a studio full of young and talented illustrators and designers around you?
Being around the other artists in the Pencil Factory is really inspiring. I’ve learned as much from my studio mates and friends as I ever did in school. To be honest, it’s actually a little funny to think that it’s become something people think about. It evolved really organically without a lot of thought or planning. While I was a student I always preferred to work at school around my classmates and in many ways my professional studio is a representation of what I liked best about the group studio environment I was lucky enough to experience at ACAD and SVA. I listen to better music, get to see more art books, and have better conversations because of the pencil factory.
5. You do very diverse types of work: political illustration for the New York Times to all sorts of magazine illustrations to sci-fi/ fantasy book covers and young adults books…. Do you have any that are your favorites to work on?
One of the things I like best about illustration is the variety of things I’m able to work on. Fantasy and science fiction books allow me the opportunity to try things that wouldn’t work in a magazine and vice versa. In the end I don’t actually work much differently from one type of project to another, and although the end result can vary greatly, the actual process is similar for most of what I do.
6. What’s on your horizon? Any current/future projects and plans/dreams you can share with us?
I’m working on another book project with The Folio Society that I’m pretty excited about, and am hoping to take a little time off this summer to work on some personal projects. My friends and I in The Pencil Factory are planning some more self promotional projects, although we haven’t decided on anything for certain yet. Beyond that, I hope my work keeps evolving and that interesting opportunities continue to present themselves. Although I love making pictures for print and web, I think it would be exciting to explore some new venues for my work: Creating something for an opera or play, boutique or public space would be thrilling.
7. You are one of very few illustrators in the young generation who has absolutely solid drawing/painting skill. I feel that it is getting lost, or importance of it is diminishing. How do you feel about this?
To be honest I’m not entirely sure. Craft can manifest itself in all sorts of different ways. I think sometimes it’s easier to see the craft and training in something representational, but that sort of thinking can be misleading. And doesn’t mean one way executing something is any better than the other. Charlie Harper’s work is as well made and sophisticated as Norman Rockwell’s. It’s the quality that’s important to me, and I think there are a lot of young students and illustrators committed to making good work, whatever form or shape it may take. Whether they create images that are based on classical drawing and painting isn’t really important at all. I sometimes wonder if academic drawing and painting skills are maybe a little over rated. They’re essential for certain types of work, and for me the pursuit is an exciting challenge, but in the end it can feel like surface if someone has nothing interesting to say or do with those skills. Students seem like they want to learn how to draw and paint these days, which is great. I’m not really worried about the importance of traditional drawing or painting diminishing. If people want to learn they will, the information is readily available for anyone who’s interested. What does worry me is the prospect of people making beautifully painted pictures that have no content or substance, because they’ve never read a book or been to an art museum.
8. Can you provide us with a one or two paragraph bio?
I was born in Alaska, and grew up in Deep River Ontario, Canada. After attending the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, I moved to New York to pursue illustration and attend graduate school at The School of Visual Arts. My studio is in Brooklyn. I’m married to Jillian Tamaki.
Clients include: Universal Films, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Tor Books, Little, Brown and Co., Scholastic, Sony/BMG, Soulpepper Theatre, Playboy, Time Magazine, DC/Vertigo Comics, Random House, ESPN, Wired, Penguin, SPIN, Flaunt, Herman Miller, The Atlantic, Business Week, Plan Sponsor, The Walrus
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Interview conducted by Yuko Shimizu.
1. You are known in the industry as a really really nice guy whom everyone wants to have as a friend. Now knowing a bit of your personal history, it start to make sense because you seemed to have been surrounded by family members who were really supportive of your work; early on, your grandfather, and later your classmate and now wife and creative director of Asset International SooJin Buzelli. Would you mind sharing a bit of story behind how they have helped you become the artist who you are now?
Thanks so much! I’m not so sure that everyone would agree that I’m a really nice guy, but I’m glad that you think so. This question also sort of feeds into my paranoia about how others think of me. I think I need to see a shrink. Anyway, I did have some wonderful influences while I was growing up. My parents divorced when I was very young and my sister and I ended up living with our Grandparents on the weekend. My Grandfather Armando owned a television repair shop in a rough part of South Chicago Heights, Illinois. I remember coming to the shop on Saturday mornings and turning all the televisions to my favorite cartoons. I’d sit there for hours watching my Grandfather fix the old solid state televisions and, of course, I thought I was helping by holding his tools or testing the glowing tubes. On Sundays we started watching “Bill Alexander and the Magic Paint Brush” which was an instructional show on how to paint landscapes with oils. I remember being so relaxed during the show that I usually would fall asleep on my Grandfather’s shoulder during the program. Then I think when I was around 7 years old, I walked into the t.v. repair shop and my Grandfather had bought The Bill Alexander Magic Oil Paint Kit and set up two easels in the shop. This began my love for oil paints and we painted side by side almost every weekend. Later when I went to college, my Grandfather retired and turned the shop into Chris Buzelli museum. He had saved all those early oil paintings and lovingly wrapped them in Saran Wrap and Scotch tape. He filled the shop with these and artwork that I had created throughout the years. He even had some passerbys coming in for viewings. I remember getting calls from him when I was at college. He would ask if I created any new artwork and if I could send it home for the collection. I look back on those days and I realize that my Grandfather gave me the most special gift that one could give to another—time.
During my years at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), I met my future wife SooJin. We were both illustration students and we started dating during my last year in school. I think we were just too young for a serious relationship so we broke up when we graduated. I hadn’t heard from her for a few years and then one day I received a call from her about an illustration job. She had become the art director of a small financial trade magazine which was just starting to include illustrations in their publication. Of course I accepted, I took her out for dinner and the rest is history. We got married a few years later and her company, Asset Intl, has flourished with 3 new magazines that have become a playground for illustrators.
2. Can you share with the readers a bit about your creative process and media?
It is very difficult for me to talk about my creative process because it constantly changes for each individual project. However, I try to include images in my paintings that interest me on a personal level. I find that my work is much stronger when I’m personally involved in the painting. This is sometimes difficult when working for another client. But trying to find a personal connection becomes a part of the conceptual puzzle of the entire project—how to solve the visual concept for the audience and to make it personal for myself. I almost always find a way to include a favorite animal/beast, family member, friend or a childhood memory in my illustrations. I think this challenge has made the process more difficult but in the end the result is worth it. My media is very simple. I use oil paints on gesso board. I usually start with a detailed graphite drawing directly on the board and then I paint with oils on top of the drawing.
3. Since 1998 you have been taking 3.5 hour bus ride each way up to RISD to teach. Now you are such high-demand illustrator, do you feel like this gets in your way of your work, or it fuels your work? If you have figured out how to utilize 7 hours of sitting on a bus, I am very curious to know. 7 hours is a long time!
Yes, I’ve been teaching up at RISD for the past 10 years and I take the bus once a week from NYC to Providence. I actually look forward to the bus ride. I’m a workaholic and I live in my studio. So the bus ride has become a sort of a break from the normal schedule of painting all day. I think my mind needs a vacation to do other things. The bus ride is filled with catching up on emails, reading books, watching movies or just daydreaming. The class is 5 hours long and it just flies by. I think it’s because I really enjoy teaching what I love to others. And the student’s enthusiasm and their passion for illustration makes the experience even more fulfilling. Of course, that one-day away from the studio really cuts into my work time, especially with tight deadlines. And sometimes I do lose money by missing assignments or turning down projects. It is getting more difficult because my workload has increased and/or I’m just getting slower, but I still think it’s worth it. I believe the whole experience fuels my work.
4. There are so many animals, both real and mythical/fantastical, appearing in your paintings. Is this because you like animals, or are they secret symbols of something viewers don’t know about?
When I first started illustrating I had many financial and business based assignments and I used many of the typical symbols like business people with briefcases, on rocket ships, on tightropes, etc… I think I was just burnt out on painting people and I decided to paint and utilize other forms that I loved when illustrating a concept. So I started using animals and fantastical beasts in my paintings. This transformation made the images stronger for me and seemed to do the same for the viewer in terms of concept and execution. During this change, I also started getting inquiries from readers and galleries about buying my original paintings, which was a really nice turn of events. I think I always connected strongly to animals and they are just so much fun to investigate and paint.
5. Ok, so I see your work, and think of “children’s book”!! As far as I know, you haven’t done one before? And I am sure everyone agrees that we cannot wait to see Chris Buzelli children’s book coming out. Is this on your horizon? And, what else on your horizon?
Thanks! I’ve actually been thinking about doing a children’s book recently. I’ve gotten a few offers but nothing has clicked just yet. Recently I’ve been working on a few larger ad projects and I really enjoyed the collaboration. Recently, I finished up 12 paintings for Entega (a green energy company in Germany) for a calendar project based on green energy fairy tales—sort of a children’s book for adults. I’m right now working on a piece for a book by the infamous Monte Beauchamp of BLAB magazine. My main focus is still on painting and finding ways to improve and grow.
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Interview conducted by Yuko Shimizu.
1) You make illustrations. Also, you design, art direct, create fine art and large scale murals… Do you consider yourself an illustrator who does a lot of other things, a designer who also illustrates, or maybe just simply a “renaissance man”? And how does one discipline influence another?
I try to avoid a label for myself – I find it limits the work and how others may perceive my work, but if I had to put myself into a category, nowadays I’d say image-maker or story teller. By doing a lot of different types of work and being exposed to many different people (art directors, clients, assistants, other artists), I found more humility and confidence in my direction and discovered clearer ways to discuss my work. I also found by doing lots of different types of work, the studio becomes a continual place of excitement and discovery rather than “an office.”
2) Your work feels very effortless, spontaneous, and almost naïve in a way. But then again, the viewers can tell that they are not all elusive, but based on strong concept and strong skill in drawing. Can you let us know how you arrived to the style you work now? Also, a bit about your process and medium?
My early work was much busier and not as restrained. I was layering found materials, collage, mixed mediums, drawing… what a mess – the ideas were constantly obscured by the technique. I wasn’t happy doing the work, it always felt like a battle however, working in my sketchbooks on writing and drawing always gave me relief from that – a few art directors and other artists who I respected saw this and asked ‘how come you’re not just doing that?’ Eventually I had one project where I had my ‘fuck it, I’m going to just do this type of work moment’ – from there on, drawing won out over everything. Nowadays everything from the studio is done by hand, and always starts with writing or drawing words whether pencil pen or ink. Sometimes the words turn into images, sometimes the words stay as words. I strip away all excess marks and decoration and always make sure my voice is the most important thing in all the pieces. Most of the work is done by hand, but I use the computer to address the finish things like color adjustment, etc.
3) You have a serious SERIOUS passion of surfing. Even when you were on the crazy busy schedule as full time New York Times AD (how many years? Can you remind me?), you often woke up really early to surf in Long Island on the weekend. Right? How does your passion outside of art affect your art, and how important it is, you believe, to have a passion outside of art?
I think a passion outside of your work is the most important thing for any artist, especially a story teller. Travel, music, hike… whatever it is, find balance – I did not have that in NYC. I loved my time there, my friends the energy, but I was really living in one dimension while there – and trying to find outlets. I worked at the NY Times as an art director for the Opinion page for about 4 years. A great experience, but creatively it was limiting. I recall looking at people’s portfolios each day and I saw that those people who had great passion for other things were the most interesting to speak with and had the strongest work – it really lifted them personally and probably inspired more creative work. For me, traveling and surfing lift me the most because they clear my head and bring energy back into my work. I also shoot a lot of photos – people, places, odd things, simple moments – I understand more and more what I’m drawn to, my patterns of interests. Now that I’m out here in L.A. I try and make as much time for my surfing rather than squeezing it in before or after work – I have a few boards here at the studio and can be on the water in about a half hour. Fridays everyone is out by 3.
4) And speaking of something outside of art influencing your art – how is it living out in LA, moving from the East Cost (New York and Baltimore mainly) where you were for a long time? Has it affected how you think and work? (please go ahead and mention about Sweden if you like!)
I grew up on the east coast and studied and worked on the east coast, but I would travel out to California during the summers and just fall in love with it each time. L.A. has such a different vibe than back east – bigger space to work, great light, and a real special spirit – if you connect to it, you can’t help but feel good. I got out here and just started producing – it was as if I let go of everything before and I could devote a lot of time/ space to the things I wanted and should be making. Everything was new somehow and the work felt that way too. I love it out here. I spent about 10 months in Stockholm – I had a studio there preparing for a show in Barcelona. I got to see and experience a lot of Europe while there – I made life long friends who now influence and inspire what I do. It humbles you when you travel – you feel free, but you feel smaller than before – closer to the ground. More open, and you see more – this always helps your stories.
5) We want to know a bit about your monumental murals you occasionally create. You were collecting information on people’s fears? Do you have a lot of fears? Are you going to be doing any murals anytime soon?
We all have fears – some are big everyday ones, some small in the back of our minds. I tend to keep a lot of lists and one of my lists was a list of fears during my last year in New York. I was pretty anxious at the time so I would jot down concerns I had or things that made me worried. As I wrote more and more down, I realized I was worried about quite a bit and they were dictating choices in my life. After a few months I began to organize them into categories – things like physical and natural fears, political fears, random fears, etc. When I was invited to participate in the mural show at the Joan Miro Foundation in Barcelona – the context of a large scale wall of fears seemed like the perfect context and scale. Since then I’ve done a few other installations.
6) What are you up to, Brian? Any interesting projects, personal work, new passion… Etc? And can you share with the readers what’s on your horizon?
I continue to do my weekly illustrated column for the NY Times Modern Love series and other freelance book and editorial work – it’s been a joy to work on these, but the studio has begun to shift more toward gallery based work - I’m completing a few paintings for an exhibition in Mexico City at the moment, working on a book and continuing the series of word or ‘list’ based paintings for a show here in Los Angeles. I like the balance between the commercial and the personal work at the moment – not interested in picking just one – I just like where things are headed.
Los Angeles based artist Brian Rea is the former art director for the Op-Ed page of the New York Times and a guest art director for GOOD Magazine. He has exhibited and produced work for books, posters, murals, magazines and music videos and his work has been recognized by the Art Directors Club, Communication Arts, American Illustration and Print Magazine. Clients include The New York Times, Men’s Journal, Kate Spade, Time Magazine, Honda, Billabong and MTV. He has exhibited work in Barcelona, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo. Currently Brian teaches at Art Center in Pasadena, California.
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I’m honored to be producing and moderating the lecture “Illustration as Fine Arts” at the Society of Illustrators of New York.
Gallery owners Heidi Leigh and Nick Leone from Animazing Gallery in Soho, and Alix Sloan from Sloan Fine Arts in the Lower East Side will discuss the crossover from illustration to fine arts, the criteria they use for their exhibitions, the role of illustrative artwork in New York’s gallery scene, and how illustrators should go about exhibiting their personal work.
Society of Illustrators of New York
128 East 63rd Street (F train)
Wednesday, March 9th, 2011 | 6.30-8.30 PM.
TICKETS: $15 non-members, $10 members, $7 students
Really hope you can make it!
I’m very proud to produce a lecture for Edel Rodriguez at the Society of Illustrators of New York next week.
Edel will be talking about his experience as both an illustrator working in a range of different markets, as well as a former art director at TIME.
PLEASE JOIN US!
Society of Illustrators of New York
“An Evening with Edel Rodriguez”
Wednesday, January 19th, 2011.
128 East 63rd Street @ Lex.
See you then…
I’ll be moderating Sue Coe’s lecture at the SI this Wednesday. As I’m sure EVERYONE knows here, she’s a brilliant mind in our field and I can’t wait to meet her in person and hear what she has to say.
Hope you can make it!
Interview conducted by Yuko Shimizu.
1) You have a degree in Biology from college in Korea, and went onto work at a lab. Then you moved to UK to study illustration. Can you talk about your big life-change?
I was always a doodler and even in the lab I was drawing on flasks, cell medium bottles. I am still amazed with mysteries in the human body and in animal behavior but I wasn’t a creative researcher. I quit my job (I secretly wanted to study art in Paris) and initially went to the UK to study Art therapy because I didn’t have the guts to throw away the studies I did (my minor is in psychology) altogether. It doesn’t make sense if I think about it now since lot of art therapists are either long practicing artists or social workers for a long time before becoming an art therapist.
I did my first art education year which is called foundation in UK and I felt that was a big happy opening. I continued my art study at Kingston University afterward. I was anxious, feeling I am starting late but I am happy now thinking I will be drawing till I’m a grandma.
2) So, you were born in the US, grew up in Korea, went college in the UK, and moved to US, and you live here in New York now. I’ve also heard that you speak a bit of Japanese and French as well? What a world citizen! Do you feel like your multi-cultural background affects your art, creative process and concepts? Does your background affect the religion series you have been working on?
It probably does. Growing up in Korea I think I was intrigued with African masks, 60′s objects, a Mexican candle holder that my mom brought when she moved back from US and whenever my dad traveled to a foreign country for his job he drew a small map and told me about the country and brought back small souvenirs. But I think I really became aware of people from different races, cultures, and religious backgrounds when I moved to UK. It was fascinating to see people with different eye colors, body shapes etc ! I realized the usual customs I knew and followed in Korea weren’t the only way or right necessarily. I think I constantly compare various cultures and see from them different angles whenever possible.
3) You live and work in Brooklyn, NY, and actually do a lot of work for Korean clients. This is very interesting. How did this come about and how is it working out for you?
Probably my work is more in demand in Korea at the moment. Sometimes it is my style or me being in New York. I did many location drawings in New York. Often they want a European look and I have to find the most European looking street in New York. (ha ha)
I would like to continue working with Korean clients but more broadly in the world. I also found some Korean illustrators who do not have proper contracts and rights when they are working at the moment in Korea, so I try to tell Korean illustrators about the Ethical Hand book. I think it would be great if I can help to translate it into Korean.
4) Can you explain to the readers your creative process and medium?
I usually draw with pen and ink, pencil, brush and colour with actual paint or digitally. I also use bits of printed paper and fabric to collage. I try to do something new each time I get a job however small a thing it is. That way it is more exciting for me — but it doesn’t always work well when I have a tight deadline! I like thinking of ideas walking around or going to my favorite cafes.
5) How did your papier-mache installation come about? Do you create them for jobs, or for showing at galleries, etc?
I think I am always drawn to a 3-dimensional sculptures or installations and have been trying different mediums. My friend in the UK was making papier-mache figures and I like the feeling of gluey newspaper strips, making wire structure inside, and how accessible it is with the light weight of it afterward. I have made them for installations at galleries or outdoors.
I am currently working on a picture-book which can be for kids and for adults. I am learning lithography at the moment, hoping I can experiment with other printing techniques I learned. I am working on images which would have a continuing theme of multi-cultures, animals and something new that I don’t know yet! I am interested in creating a huge papier-mache installation by a cliff in Azerbaijan. or in a city where people can interact within.
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