Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category
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.
Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Yuko Shimizu is a freelance illustrator lives and works in New York City. She works in a studio with two other illustrators whom she considers a her New York family.
How did you get started in the illustration field?
I did not have a typical path…
I was drawing ever since I can remember, but my typical Japanese businessman family environment did not allow me to choose a path to go to art school. I studied advertising and marketing because it was the most creative of the practical majors and landed a position doing PR in a general trading company in Tokyo. I actually worked there for 11 years. When I was about 30 years old, it hit me hard that if I didn’t change my life then I would probably stuck in the corporate world till I retire, probably get married raise a kid or two. It sounded like a nightmare to me, although that may be a happy path for a lot of my coworkers. My indecisive self finally made up my mind to work on a biggest gamble of my life; try out in art.
By not becoming a ‘fine artist.’ Here’s what happened: it was 1965, I was 22 years-old, and judges had awarded me first place in a competition in my native state of Nebraska. I needed the money to pay the tuition for my last semester at college. But others (including the governor) decided my painting was pornographic. I finished school, bought a car, and got out of the Midwest as fast as I could. I moved to San Francisco, got an apartment a half-block off Haight, and became a paper salesman. I wasn’t going to mess with art anymore — way too dangerous. Instead I lit a lot of reefers and tried to block out the inane rock-and-roll coming from up the corner. (I hated hippie music; I was more into classical and serious electronic stuff like Stockhausen.)
But 8 years later I’d had a son and I didn’t want him to grow up with an unhappy, stoned salesman for a father; so I quit my job, quit smoking grass, and snuck back into something related to art: graphic design. Then, when I hit 35, I went into illustration.
Since graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in l983, James Yang has won over 200 awards for excellence in illustration. His work has appeared in some of the most prestigious trade publications in the United States including Communication Arts Design Annual, Communications Arts Illustration Annual, Print Magazine, Graphis, and the Society of Publication Designers Annual. One of his many posters were featured at the Hiroshima Museum of Art. He has also designed a sculpture titled â??Clockmanâ? which is part of a permanent exhibit at the Smithsonianâ??s National Museum of American History. Yang has also lectured at the Maryland Art Institute, Corcoran School of Design, and The School of Visual Arts and Design. In 2004, his first authored/ illustrated childrenâ??s book, â??Joey and Jetâ? was released to critical acclaim. His second book, â??Joey and Jet in Spaceâ? was released in June 2006. He and his wife currently live and work in New York City.