Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category
About a month ago I got an email from Steve Brodner inviting me to a lecture he was organizing at SVA, where we both teach. He was asking me to participate by sending him images of alternative illustration jobs I’d done. I must confess I was a bit confused, although very flattered, because there was no mention of my actually being a speaker. Soon I found out, indeed I wasn’t a speaker, Steve had emailed me among many other established illustrators to put together a slide show that represented a strong reality of where illustration is going today. Moreover, this lecture, he explained, wasn’t going to be only about the speakers (painter and filmmaker James Blagen; comic artist and designer Mickey Duzyj; and illustrator Alex Juhasz), but also about having an active audience of both strong and new voices in the field.
A couple of days later I get an email from Heidi Younger at FIT inviting me to be a speaker on a panel with Yuko Shimizu, Marcos Chin, Zina Saunders and Fred Harper… the next day after Steve’s panel. Damn! I couldn’t turn down sharing a stage with Yuko and Marcos- I don’t know Zina and Fred- so I accepted. Our lecture is titled How I Got My First Job and focuses pretty much on exactly the same concept as Steve’s.
As excited as I was about going to Steve’s lecture, I’m not sure I can shorten my work hours at this huge restaurant project I just started in Long Island and make both lectures, though I certainly have to make mine, or course. What’s also slightly odd about it, for me at least, is that I have SVA written all over me ( I moved to NY to go to SVA, graduated from SVA, teach at SVA), so I almost feel obligated to be there. Oh well… I’m sure it will be packed anyway.
Steve Brodner’s Lecture: SVA, 209 East 23rd Street, 3rd FL, Amphitheater. Tuesday 3/23, 6.30-8 PM
FIT: How I got My First Job, FIT, 27th St & 7th Ave, C Building, Robert Lagary Board Room, 9th FL.Wednesday 3/24, 6.30-8 PM. FLYER: http://www.fernandacohen.com/content/images/editorial_384.htm
Interview conducted by Yuko Shimizu.
1) When we hear your name, we immediately think of your prolific and multiple award winning children’s book career. But you first broke into the world of illustration from nightclub scene, then to whole bunch of jazz album covers. I am curious to know if you ‘fell’ into children’s books rather than having that as a goal when you started? Also, can you let us know briefly how this progress happened?
Being an artist was a path in life I chose very early on, but children’s books as a career came as a surprise to me and started shortly after getting the attention of Lee and Low Books, then winning the Coretta Scott King Award Honor on our first project, The Palm of my Heart; Poetry by African American Children. These events all came about during my development as a person new to being social and new to New York City. I chose to pursue a career in illustration as an after thought to applying to an art school, before then the education in art was my time spent alone with my paints as a teenager, no prom, no class ring or social life just many weekends learning about what the various mediums could do in my hands. That being the case, my first years as a young adult in NY were about P-A-R-T-I-E-S! I was a terrible art student, not in terms of my draftsmanship but in the aspects of my discipline.
I came from a small town in NJ and decided at that point it was more important to develop my social skills and to learn how to be comfortable around people. So I went from being shy and antisocial to a social network in night clubs. After some time I saw that although it was fun I couldn’t turn from my nature, the art had to be there with me, so I decided to put my time to better use and approached the manager of my favorite nightspot, asking him how he felt about bringing some culture in to the place. Surprisingly he said “sure”, and a one time experiment turned in to a steady gig for me. Before I knew it, these slide shows became a bi weekly event where I asked friends to show work, gave them a guest-list, payment and drink tickets. Other promoters wanted this idea and soon after it escalated in to live paintings along with the presentation and this opened up opportunities to paint in Malaysia, London, Amsterdam and Sweden and kept those years very interesting.
During one event I stopped one of the members from a group called Justice System as they left the stage from a live performance and went in to their dressing room with color copies of my artwork. The manager loved the idea of original art on their debut album and when he signed his group to MCA records, he signed me as well. It was my earliest and most publicized job and some editors at Lee and Low Books put me in the running for my first award winning children’s book.
I love the freedom and purpose that comes from illustrating but as a child I never intended to become an illustrator, so I am really shocked to see my work in books, to have awards on my wall and to set down cultural seeds for a generation that isn’t even born yet.
2) Your work as a whole has consistent feel and vibe that are nothing other than “Greg Christie’s vocabulary”. At the same time, you seem to intentionally change the way you paint according to the audience; some are more painterly, some are more realistic, others graphic, flat, distorted, etc. Can you let us know how you make those decisions according to the project, and also, can you explain a bit about your creative process like your choice of medium?
It’s similar to what I think a character actor would go through. Adjust the emotions and viewpoint of your own art to fit the demeanor of the writing. I’m drawn to projects that will challenge me and give me a little bit of fear because I have no idea how I will approach it. I’m not the type of illustrator to stick to one aesthetic or keep a visual consistency from one project to the next. I want to explain what I feel with a new set of visuals and gain excitement as I use my artistic range… I also choose my projects to right the wrongs I see in the American educational system if not in American society. There are so many enriching stories about brown people’s history and America has often neglected these amazing tales. I never learned about the heroes that I’ve found today through reading and I want the society to have a balance when it comes to learning about every culture’s historical achievements.
Anyone curious about America’s past should learn about George Washington Carver whenever he learns about Thomas Edison. Phillis Wheatley or Matsuo Basho whenever studying William Blake. A Multi cultural lesson plan, builds self-esteem, cross cultural understanding, empathy and I think creates a well rounded society. I truly believe this, but unfortunately our world history is brutal and in such cases I only choose to do a historical book when it’s honest and gives a sense of dignity to the people it’s about.
It takes a type of sophistication to leave your own current day problems in order to have empathy for other ethnic cultures’ past injustices and it takes a open heart to be inspired by their survival. I use my work to parallel these sentiments for my historical paintings. I try to create art that will be a challenge to a viewer and hopefully it will stop them from just taking a quick glance.
However after some time as a means of survival, I have chosen much lighter subject matters to illustrate. Jazz Baby, The Deaf Musicians, Yesterday I Had the Blues, these are my whimsical light stories and I adjusted my style accordingly. As I suspected many people love entertainment over education so these top sellers have eclipsed my heavier historical books that often are a real challenge to educators and parents to put in the hands of a child. Certain history will raise certain questions but a lot of thought is given to the preparation of these books.
We the manufacturer’s of these tools know they are for children so, it’s treated that way, often these stories are meant as a doorway to things that they can learn in detail as they get older. For me, the aim of the work is to tell a story without having to read the words but hopefully the viewers will feel the emotional direction I’m trying to bring forth. I want a bridge between abstraction and realism and tend to alter the proportions of the figures. But I always direct you to the faces, the excitement, anger, fear or happiness in my characters’ expressions. At the end of the day I’m influenced by the feel of the story through the author’s words.
3) You seem to be always traveling around the world! (I think you told me that you travel about 6 months of the year, if I remember correctly…) How do you divide time and work schedule between when you are in New York and when you are somewhere else? What do you get most out of traveling?
I’ll start with the later part, because It’s the most clear answer in my head, I get peace of mind out of traveling. At the end of the day, as social as I am I’m still shy in many ways and I have a strong need to understand people. Often a need to comprehend people’s actions rather than their words. Simply stated, I understand the actions of the cultures I come in to contact with overseas.
I like how societies are still living with a collective sense of what’s morally important and the places I’ve seen where corporations still have a fear of the public. It’s refreshing to visit societies where paying taxes actually help you in terms of health care and education. I’ve found that when those two things are taken care of you can often walk down what’s considered that societies “worst” street without too much of a worry. People get outside, know their neighbors, have a love of geography, history, culture and down time.
It’s very inspiring and stimulating to me and the way technology has made the world smaller as governments and businesses get larger, I feel that I want to see as much as I can while it’s still my idea of…”clean”.
I often hear people talking about living life to the fullest and being unique in ideas and actions but I think if you don’t get out of your circle and see the world a bit you are missing out on a clear perspective of who you are and what you need to do during your short time here.
Go to Senegal and see children with hand me downs and bare feet, fighting over a free book given to them and compare that to cursing NY teens spitting on a subway car, fighting over which celebrity has the most money. Watch a grandmother ride her bike in a small town in Holland or China and compare it to unhealthy people in the American south on golf carts riding in public to get their next fried Twinkie.
None of these scenarios are the norm but they all exist and go on whether or not you are there to see it. As for myself I embrace it all, reflect on it and know that I am very fortunate for my opportunities and for being born in the United States. So I do work hard, but have a job rather than it having me; I take breaks in order to be humbled and to use my opportunity to really live and reexamine my life’s purpose.
We are just visiting the surface of this planet until we go back inside of it, but what we can see during our short time here?!
I made a conscious decision in my childhood to get as much as I could from the world. Not in a monetary sense but to develop my talents and myself as I leave something behind. I have balance these days and embrace my lazy do nothing days the same way I embrace the all night-ers and painting marathons. It works for me, works for my personality and lifestyle fit for a freelancer, so I make the best of my time and use technology to free myself from one set environment. I keep in contact mainly through email, internet phone calls when needed, often will buy a pawnshop scanner then give it away as I leave a place. I take sublets, rent rooms and live in extended stay hotels all based upon the energy of the room. I’d turn down a castle and estate if I felt it was wrong for my paintings, it tends to be all about the feeling and energy of a spot.
The trips inside the US and abroad are gifts to myself but they come with the price of time spent inside. Sure when I walk out there’s a mountain, metropolis, cafe or beach with beautiful women running around but the key words are when I walk outside (not beautiful women.. at least not today).
Unfortunately I don’t get outside too much these days. Illustration for me is spent with a duo lamp, (dented from baggage handling) the British Broadcasting Channel, painting set up and an internet connection. Cat naps, late night painting sessions to get the work completed and the aroma of a soup or stew cooking in the background is the norm. No more parties in nightclubs like I did during my first years in New York. These days the price is a lot higher than a twenty something’s morning hangover, if I like this lifestyle then I have to earn it. I do this by consuming all I can about art, painting in mediums I am not familiar with, taking classes, observing techniques then putting them to use and finding the discipline to sit in front of that canvas.
4) American illustration world is still dominantly white. (As a minority myself, I constantly feel this.) I am curious to know if you are conscious of this fact when you are creating new projects. As one of a very few African American illustrators on the top of the career, do you feel that you have messages that you can send to the young readers and artists of the next generation?
Absolutely, and its a simple one — Your hair, skin, features and culture are all beautiful and with the new technology, guard the tangible things as a keepsake for the future. I challenge anyone to find a blond blue eyed child in my body of illustration work. There’s enough of that out there, that and colonization has damaged people’s perception of what’s attractive.
Also I think that specifically as an illustrator of color it’s important to get in the door the best way you can… then show them what you can do. One must be very calculating as an artist in such a competitive industry. First and foremost find a niche, this goes for any type of career if you plan to make your mark. I think that one must be true and honest about the art, to take a chance and find something that separates you from the thousands of other artists out there. Also be sure you really want to do this, does it wake you up in the morning? Do you think about what you have to do in your day in order to clear the night for your art. I can honestly say yes those questions. For me it’s not about money on the largest scale, it’s about having enough to survive and keeping my art pure.
5) what’s on your horizon? Upcoming projects? Next travel destination?
Mainly kids’ books and this year will see somewhere new. I am tempted to go see Rio, but I think if I go to Brazil I’m going to catch “Brazilian fever” become Gregorio and throw my passport in to the ocean, so NOT there but I would like to go visit friends either in Europe Africa and Asia again as I see a new place near by them.
I really miss my friends overseas, every trip brings new experiences and new friendships. On the other hand, we shall see because although children’s books in a way seem economy proof, these are rough times and the world is changing. I’m back in NY again and have put a clamp down on gallivanting across the planet.
I used to joke with a friend that I’m Clark Kent in America but Superman once I leave the shores. Amazing things always happen due to my perception of the circumstances and openness to them.
These days I will find that excitement with my American story. So I am at the daily planet for a little while and will focus on completing the portrait commissions, books on contract, jogging, learning a language, paying bills and other respectable stuff like that. Professionally I have a book about the history of Blues and the southern experience called Roots and Blues coming out. A book of poetry for children about the word black named Black Magic another in the sketch stage called Pettina and the Windrope about a sailor girl and her talking dog, a biographical book on Bill Traylor and a couple more ideas that I think will be good for society.
6) If you have any thing you want to add, want to say… please do!
Just that it’s an honor to be interviewed and that I thank everyone for taking the time to look at my art. Also want to encourage anyone reading this to take planned chances in life and with your talent. Please do these things while you are young, do them now, responsibly, in a balanced way and without guilt.
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Find more of Greg’s amazing work here.
Interview conducted by Yuko Shimizu.
1) I read that when you were in art school, you were initially thinking of becoming a concept artist for film. It is hard to imagine that past from your current work. Can you talk a bit about your artistic transition?
In school, one of my first drawing teachers was this artist, Ruben Hickman who was a background painter at Dreamworks. He was a huge influence on me and showed me how I didn’t necessarily have to be a starving artist and could still etch out a living for myself doing commercial work. I’ve always really been into video game art and animation design so going into concept work for film didn’t seem like a big stretch. Around my junior year at Art Center I had an independent study with a teacher who was an art director in the entertainment industry. Midway through the semester and many, many graphite film composition studies later, I realized that I didn’t have the interest to work as a concept artist. During this time I was also taking a printmaking class which opened my mind to a whole new way of making pictures. I figured that I should really pursue what I was passionate about and not worry too much with the financial side of things. Luckily things worked out OK after graduation. I’m really happy with my traditional background and feel like all those graphite studies and landscape compositions play an important part in how I create images now.
2) You have a background in print-making. But I assume you do most of your works digitally now. Can you explain a bit about your work process? (you can leave out the secret!)
I usually draw everything in pencil (sometimes brush and ink) on paper which I scan into the computer. I separate out my linework and color in Photoshop using a Wacom tablet. My colors are pretty simple, like a silkscreen, so I tend to use a limited palette. My photoshop files are very stripped down, only a handful of layers. No secrets! A high school student could probably work this way. I try to rely more heavily on my drawing and compositions.
3) You have moved around a lot when you were growing up, lived in multiple countries with completely different cultures and languages. How do you think this experience has affected you as an artist and your work?
Having a bit more exposure to different cultures can really only help your vocabulary as an artist. I’m sure some of the mix of asian and western influences work their way into my work somehow. I grew up with an American Dad and a Chinese Mom, both with strong personalities which gave me a very even mix of the two cultures. For example, growing up as a kid in Taiwan, our meals at home would be a mix of Chinese and American dishes. Like Hamburger Helper with bok choi. Hopefully my work reflects a little bit of that split personality.
4) And, you recently made a big trans-continent move from LA area to Brooklyn, NY. What was behind this big decision, and how is the life in New York working out for you?
I’ve always wanted to live here in New York. I’ve met some really nice friends out here that helped get me settled and it seemed like a natural progression for me. I think one of the great things about being an illustrator is that you can live anywhere you want. So I didn’t feel especially tied down in one place. My wife was also looking for a career change and wanted to get into publishing. New York has been really an extreme change from the laid back lifestyle California has. Living in Brooklyn has been a nice in between for me. It’s not quite as crazy as Manhattan but still just a few subway stops away. Plus I was able to get rid of my car!
5) In a rather short period of time since you started working and became successful, you seem to have become one of the most copied illustrators. I am curious to hear what you have been feeling about this phenomenon? Do you have anything you want to say to all the copycats out there?
I try not to get too bogged down with people that emulate my colors, or linework. It’s really more of an indicator that I need to keep moving and pushing my own skills. Hopefully, my work isn’t just defined by my aesthetic but also by the way I think and solve problems. I think if you focus too much on people copying you or get too protective of your “style” it could really start to hold you back creatively.
6) You are still young, yet already accomplished so much. You have worked with every magazine and book publisher I can think of, some cool advertising clients, also designed tote bags, created animation, had solo shows internationally…. Now, what’s on your horizon?
I’m really interested in larger scale projects. I just completed a wallpaper project for the Ace Hotel in Manhattan that was extremely satisfying because it was such a departure from how I normally work. Also, I will be exhibiting a new silkscreen at Art Basel in Miami curated by Neon Monster and FENDI.
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See more of Josh’s work here.
Thanks Josh and Yuko!
Hola friends. I recently did a podcast interview with Thomas from Escape from Illustrator Island. It’s a part of Illustration Mundo that deals with resources and fun stuff for illustrators and artists. Thomas and I covered the topics of how Illustration Friday got it start and where it’s headed… how I got started as an illustrator… how I got a rep… and so on.
Interview conducted by Yuko Shimizu.
1) It has been a long time since people started talking about “photography replacing illustration” but you seem to be busier than ever! We are all fascinated by your work that they are more real than what photos can capture; George W. Bush tearing up in regret, Beethoven as a contemporary young man, Obama as Superman, and numerous TIME covers you have created… How do you define yourself in the contemporary editorial market? Do you sometimes feel that your competitors are photographers rather than other illustrators?
Realism was certainly the only game in town for most of the age of print so far. Thankfully that changed over the past 30 years and now you can see all kinds of amazing and thoughtful illustration everywhere. I am a rarity among editorial illustrators, a realist. There are a few reasons why an art director might choose me to do an illustration or a cover. First, realism has the power to connect to the masses in a way that a more unique style might not. If I do a cover for a magazine it fits into the flow that the viewer is used to. Many photos are used, this is true, so my work is not a jarring surprise. Another reason an AD might choose me is I can take imperfect reference and create a perfect portrait. I understand textures, color, anatomy and color enough to improve upon a bad photo. Still another reason I’m used might be that the paintings have a power and a beauty or can convey a concept which might not be available in photography. Finally, I’m pretty fast.
2) Your work deals a lot with political figures and what is happening in the world of politics. Were you always interested in politics or did you become more interested over the years as you kept working?
Good question. During my high school years when Ronald Reagan cut social security payments for surviving children (I lost a parent as a child) I saw that a president can do things that affect our lives. I am a pretty liberal democrat but can illustrate from both sides of the political spectrum in the US. As I continued as an illustrator, I learned more and more about the world. The great thing about this job is the passive education we all can soak in after some time.
3) Also, you recently painted a beautiful portrait of Neda, the young woman killed during Iranian protest. It ended up crashed your blog because of the huge traffic from Iran by those people who were moved so much by the support of an American artist. Can you explain briefly about this? What motivated you to paint her? How did you feel about the whole (probably unexpected) experiences?
The “rigged” election happened while I was away on vacation. Of course I’m totally wired all the time and using my iPhone I was reading the news and watching my fellow illustrators offer their take on what was going on. I also saw the video of Neda online. It captured the death of this woman in a shocking way. It’s a slow death with no pain in her face, just life leaving her. Her eyes looking up struck me as powerful, almost that of Joan of Arc. When I returned from my vacation I did a drawing of her face and eyes. It was very quick and muddy and I applied a digital dot pattern to the background. I wanted it to read small as well.
I put this drawing on Drawger and in a few hours it traveled across the world to Iran. I hear upwards of 100,000 visitors came to Drawger and posted links everywhere back to Drawger. I still get comments every week. The shocking thing to me was the nature of the comments. Most thanked me for getting the word out and recognizing Iranian pain. Finally, I was sent a link to YouTube video of Neda’s mother at her grave. In it she wails in sorrow for her murdered daughter. Next to her are two framed images. One is a photo of her daughter, the other is my drawing. I am humbled by the whole thing. Art can build bridges.
4) I have seen your original paintings many times and still cannot figure out how you made all the perfect marks! Can you quickly walk us through your painting process? Of course, you don’t have to reveal any of your secrets.
I do a detailed drawing on gessoed panel. I work on sepia or grey half tone and draw with pencil, charcoal pencil, colored pencil, gouache. When that is done I use an airbrush to even tones and set the key of the artwork and add light and dark to areas. I then apply an acrylic coat to the drawing and paint over it in thin layers of oil paint. There, all the details and no secrets.
5) You also devote time and effort to The Society of Illustrators. Everyone remembers you running education committee for 10 years and helped so many young illustrators with s cholarship competition. I feel that almost all the illustrators started working in last 10~15 years got help from you some way or the other (Including myself, of course! ) I am curious to ask what drives to you to help young talent, while you are so busy illustrating and teaching?
I got my start in this business pretending to be an illustrator. I had talent but no career, not that much work and I used the Society to enter competitions and get my work seen. It created the impression that I was an illustrator. When I was in college, getting in the student competition helped me get noticed and got me representation. I have the same agent today.
I enjoyed my time as education chairman and yes, I got to hand awards to James Jean, Tomar Hanuka, Kadir Nelson and so many others. It was an honor but it’s good to move on to other challenges. I’m now chairman of the museum committee and I help decide which exhibitions we will show.
6) You are also very athletic, coaching boxing and running marathons. I read in an interview that you thought of becoming a boxer before choosing the path to become an illustrator. I am curious to know, does sports help your art, or vice versa, in any ways?
I loved boxing when I was growing up. It is a solitary sport and in some ways not unlike that of an artist. Our success or failure is only on our shoulders. I still love boxing but at a certain point I decided to avoid the punches to the head and try another one. Running is a good fit for me now. I like being out of the studio running. I think of ideas when I run, I make plans, write letters and other things that fill that time.
Being an artist is a pretty sedentary lifestyle. I walk up one flight of stairs to my studio and sit down. If I’m busy I might not move for hours.
Without a sport I would be a whale.
7) What’s on your horizon?
I have been very busy for years doing my illustration work. That is a blessing and a curse. The curse is I don’t get enough time to do work for myself. I have been building a backlog of sketches for work I hope to do over the next few years. One series is perfect for a small one man show, others are similar to my elephants sailing across the ocean. Truthfully, I love my career and I hope my horizon stays clear and beautiful for years to come.
Interview conducted by Yuko Shimizu.
1) You had studied fine art and graphic design at Pratt Institute and Hunter College. What made you decide to go into the field of illustration and how did you start?
I majored in painting at Pratt Institute and Hunter College. I learned most of my graphic design skills at a job I had at the Pratt school newspaper for three years. When I left Pratt, I approached galleries as well as magazines and newspapers. I got a much warmer reception from the editorial art directors I met with. The response was also much more immediate and I began to do work for them right away. Gallery relationships take a long time to develop and I can be a bit impatient about that. I just wanted to get to work. Once I had a few images printed in The New York Times I was hooked with the idea of illustration and the number of people that were being reached. I really got a kick out of seeing my work in print. Galleries are fairly cloistered and don’t reach as many people. It was also great to feel that I could make a living from my work, I didn’t get the same feeling from my experience with galleries at that time. I decided to focus on illustration work and see if that led to interest from galleries. Some gallery shows have come over time so the thinking has worked out to some extent.
2) I always think of you as like Superman. You became one of the busiest illustrators, and yet you have kept your job as AD at TIME for 13 years until last year. I just wonder how did you manage to do this? Now you are a full time illustrator, how does the extra time off from the office work helping you develop your work and/or projects? Also, how does your experience as an AD help you as an illustrator?
I was an art director at TIME magazine from 1994-2008, all while having a busy illustration career. Both were wonderful opportunities and it was hard to choose one over the other, so I did both until I started to burn out. My wife helped out enormously over the years by taking care of our home and daughter while I worked, I think it helped to have a great partner. I did most of my illustration work at night or on weekends. I worked on sketches on my commute and even wrote and illustrated much of my first children’s book on the way to work. I come from a family of very hard working peasants and farmers, so I don’t think office work or drawing is hard labor. I laugh at it sometimes. There really isn’t much physical exertion when you think of it, one mostly needs to deal with the stress of deadlines or lack of sleep. But it’s nothing compared to what my parents or grandparents have done, so this keeps it all in perspective.
Being a full time illustrator is great. I now have time to develop projects that I didn’t have time for before. I used to be running from one deadline to the next, but now I have time to do some personal work and write and develop children’s books, illustrated novels, and so on. All of this takes time and free “mind space”, which I have a bit more of now.
I learned a lot about illustration by being an art director at TIME magazine, especially in the beginning. It was great to work with the best artists and see how they solved problems every week.
3) When I look at a body of your work, they are very consistent, yet each one is very different at the same time. Some look like they are drawings, some prints, some painting, some pastel… Can you explain to us about the process and medium you work in? If you change medium according to each image, how does the subject matter affect your choice of medium?
I get information about a project or assignment and try to figure out what is the best way to communicate what it is about. I develop a lot of these ideas in my sketches—should I be subtle or blunt, direct or coy? These words translate into graphic marks, so I might have some work that is very linear, soft and subtle, and other work that is bolder, graphic, with thicker lines and blocks or shapes. When I first started, I wanted to be able to do different things within illustration. Fortunately, the people I work for understand where I come from and hire me to do that. They call me for my ideas and not necessarily a specific style.
I do work in a number of media as you mentioned—paint, printmaking, pastel, drawing and digital. What I do is combine these mediums in my own way. I may do a part in paint and then lay a monoprint on top, or do a pastel and overprint oil ink through stencils that I cut out. Sometimes I scan the original art and separate the lines and colors and create a separate and new digital piece, which becomes the final art that I submit to the client. I’ve always mixed media in my paintings and I do the same with illustration. It’s very intuitive and I’ve found unique ways of working as I experiment. It sounds complicated but makes perfect sense to me!
4) Your family immigrated from Cuba when you were 9. Do you think your childhood in two completely different cultures affected your work as an artist? If so how?
Yes, I think it has. I grew up around Communist revolutionary images and posters, images of tanks, guns, Ché, etc. There were two channels on t.v. in Cuba in the 70s and a lot of the time they showed military parades and revolutionary, nationalist, anti-American propaganda. When I was a kid I drew a lot of tanks, missiles, and portraits of revolutionary heros. I then arrived in America when I was 9 years old. I was immediately taken with all of the new imagery I saw around me—Coke and Pepsi logos, advertising billboards on highways, graphics and illustrations on food packaging, characters on cereal boxes, etc. I was always interested in visuals and these two cultures, communist and capitalist, clashed when I was a child. I think the combinations of the two cultures still show up in my work to this day.
5) You had worked on children’s books before, and your first children’s book series as an author, Sergio series, just came out. The images feel new to us who are used to your work. Are they intentionally targeted toward a lot younger audience? I was wondering if your experience as relatively new father of two young daughters inspired you to come up with the series. Can you please explain a bit about it?
I got involved in children’s books about 10 years ago, before I had kids. I did three books that were stories about historical figures. Several years ago I wanted to illustrate something more fun for a younger audience and started writing and developing the story which became my first Sergio book. We then had our first child and I wrote the second book, and it was a lot of fun to show her what I was doing while I worked. The biggest highlight of my career so far came one day when I heard our four year old daughter reading my book aloud to herself as she sat in a corner of my studio.
Writing and illustrating children’s books was a new challenge for me. I’m always looking to experiment in new areas and develop as an illustrator. I know what I can do and after a while things get too comfortable. I’m more interested in trying to figure out things I haven’t done before, I like to surprise myself. Regarding the look of the Sergio book, the first thing that came was the idea, and the look and feel of the book followed after that. Form follows function, I suppose. I like to follow through on ideas and see where they lead and don’t get caught up in the trappings of ‘style’ and what I’m expected to do. One of the things I don’t like about both art and illustration is the lack of freedom to explore. Visual arts are supposed to be about experimenting and trying new things but many times artists get caught up in doing similar work their entire lives because they feel the marketplace requires it. I got into art to experiment and discover and I plan on continuing on that path. Half the fun is not knowing what’s next.
6) What’s on the horizon? New exciting work or personal projects?
I’m really excited about doing an illustrated memoir about my family’s life in Cuba and America. There are a lot of good stories there. I want to develop something different from a standard graphic novel approach, maybe essays with full page drawings, some panels, photographs, and documents. I’ve written some of it and a lot of it is in my head. I’m just looking forward to figuring it out and showing it to publishers. I have some ideas for limited edition packaging and so on, we’ll see how it goes.
I also have a number of preliminary story ideas and sketches for a few children’s books, which I’m developing with one of my publishers. I’ve recently started a book for Simon and Schuster that I have to finish by August. A very tight deadline for a children’s book but they want it out by the Fall.
I keep working on my own drawings and paintings and might have a show coming up next year, trying to figure it out with a gallery right now.
Beyond that, I plan on enjoying the free time I have with my family, it’s the best part of being a freelancer now.
Thank you thank you thank you.
If you are an indie music fan like myself, no doubt you already own Red Hot‘s latest compilation, “Dark Was The Night.” As a visual artist it is highly likely that you also fell in love with this brilliant double CD’s packaging as I did. Not only is it gorgeously-designed, but it features classic illustrations from 19th century french engraver Gustave DorÃ©‘s “Paradise Lost.”
Upon scanning the liner notes I found the cover packaging was designed by NYC illustrator/designer Ryan Feerer, and the inner booklet by John Giordani. The common thread between Ryan, John, Red Hot and “Dark Was The Night” is interactive agency Funny Garbage, which was started by Red Hot’s founder John Carlin, and designer Peter Girardi. In following this chain of hot creative links I landed on Ryan’s website and poked around his portfolio. Inspired, I contacted Ryan and picked his brain, and was rewarded with bits of news and interesting facts about his solo and agency work.
First off, Ryan shared that he is currently churning out a series of illustrations that will grace the walls of NYC’s Ace Hotel. This musician-friendly location not only features original illustration in all its rooms, but it also provides guests with unusual sonic bonuses such as turntables, guitars and amps. How cool is that?
Ryan’s design work is very illustrative, and his illustration work well-composed and designedâ??something I admire and have been trying to achieve in my own work. I asked for his thoughts on the marriage of the two:
“I often have difficulty separating illustration from design. They work together in most of my work so combining them becomes second nature to me. For example, while creating the design for Red Hot’s Dark Was The Night compilation I was given Gustave DorÃ©’s image of the fallen angel from Milton’s Paradise Lost. This was the one image the packaging had to revolve around. If you’re familiar with this image you know how beautiful and powerful it is. The mysterious winged figure floating down past stars and clouds through space towards what seems to be earth. When you have to design around such a magnificent piece of art, you have to take precautions. You can’t just slap some type onto the illustration because the original piece of art is so much more beautiful than anything you could possibly do, most likely. Keeping this in mind, I created the cover image and typography using DorÃ©’s illustration as texture and detail. This was an introduction to the rest of the packaging. As you open the packaging the (almost) full DorÃ© illustration is revealed. I think that is where the whole wow factor comes in. You’re able to make the visual connection with the cover without compromising the powerful and original artwork from the interior. Taking details from the existing artwork and using them as accents throughout the design created a strong consistency throughout the packaging. I think its a good example of how to create designs and illustrations using existing illustrations.”
On his illustration background:
“I’ve been drawing as far back as I can remember. My father is a preacher so I grew up going to church several times a week. I was stuck on a church pew for hours at a time with nothing but blank membership cards and pencils attached to the back of the pew in front of me. So, I did what most children do, I picked up the pencil and cards and started doodling. I would draw Biblical characters or other religious imagery pertaining to my father’s sermons. There are only so many Biblical figures a kid can draw, so when I was tired of drawing religious imagery I would start to pull things from my own imagination and draw, and draw, and draw. Although my passion for illustration started long ago, still to this day, when I sit down at church on Sunday morning I have to have my sketchbook and pen in hand. “
On his work space:
“I’m sure there are a thousand people that have a more interesting or quirky work-style, but I guess everyone is unique in their own way. In an ideal world I’d do all my work in a small wooden shack of a studio floating in the middle of a foggy lake surrounded by a thick forest. Unfortunately I don’t have that option. Most of my work is done in a small office space in my New York City apartment with a tiny window behind me facing a brick wall which voids my desk of any natural light. It’s definitely not an ideal situation, but its nothing a little Will Oldham and a cold beverage can’t fix.
On his process:
Although my designs and illustrations work together in most of my work, the process of starting a design is quite different than starting an illustration. Design is a lot more structured for me. There are a lot more restrictions and particular problems to solve. I love everything design encompasses but its nice to be able to escape and do what makes me happy. When it comes to illustration, I like to let my mood and music guide my hands. I tend to draw places where wish I could be, a situation I wish I could be in, or a person or thing I wish I could be. Iâ??m obsessed with some of the things that linger in my mind. The stories within it and the things I see have always kept me entertained.
When I was a kid I used to imagine this fantasy world that I could only get to through a small door hidden in my bathroom closet. The world inside was dark and strange. Humid and cold. It resembled what seemed to be a rainforest and inside that forest was a village where strange creatures lurked. That little world that lay within the depths of my bathroom closet has become an ongoing project I started back in grad school called Thy Old Murkville Forest. Murkville encompasses pictures, stories, music, as well as it’s own language. It is my dream world. Throughout the process of creating that imaginary world [I have been able to] view things from a different perspective. It’s like seeing my work from the inside which helps me create something thats more appropriate for what I’m doing. There is so much freedom in illustration. I can delve into my own world and live there as I create my work. It’s a wonderful place to be.”
I just completed two new interviews that I thought I’d share. One is with Spraygraphic (super cool site!) and is about illustration work in general, the other is over at Stephanie Levy’s site and it’s more about blogging. (Check out Stephanie’s other “artists who blog” series.)
On the day I was born, I came out looking both ways
- My Travelinâ?? Eye
I think my travelinâ?? eye (aka, my lazy, wandering eye) inspired me to be an artist from the start. I grew up in St. Louis, MO and spent a lot of time in a cardboard box drawing monsters. After studying illustration at the Kansas City Art Institute, I wrote and illustrated greeting cards at Hallmark for 6 1/2 years. A desire for adventure and change led me to the mountains of rural New Mexico where I live and work in just a slightly bigger box and still love drawing monsters. Fueled by chai and fresh, organic veggies, I am living out my dream as a freelance illustrator and childrenâ??s book author. My other passion is traveling, which I do as often as possible, with my husband and best friend, Patrick.
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Marcos Chin graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design, in Toronto, Canada. Since then, his work has appeared on book covers, advertisements, fashion catalogues, magazines, and CD covers. He has received a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators Los Angeles, and has had his work published in numerous award annuals such as Communication Arts and American Illustration.
Perhaps the most recognizable work amidst his portfolio are the illustrations he has done for Lavalife’s international advertising campaign; appearing on subways, billboards, print and online.
Marcos has given lectures throughout the US and Canada and currently lives in New York City, where he teaches Fashion Illustration at the School of Visual Arts.