Did you always want to pursue a career in the Illustration industry?
Shortly after my childhood desires to become a full-time ninja and cowboy, my father allowed me to believe that I could draw pictures as a job. However, I didn’t really know what illustration was until I attended SCAD Savannah’s Rising Star program. As I signed up for my major course of study, all I knew was that I wanted to draw pictures. My love for the industry as it exists today flourished during and after my time as a SCAD student.
What is your process for Editorial illustration?
When it comes to use of media, I always start off with a basic small round brush directly into Photoshop. When I began working this way in 2011, I decided on a thin line application as I’m a huge fan of Joe Ciardiello’s pen and ink work. Even today I still love emulating his line work in the digital format as if I’m using a Rapidograph. The color application is also very basic; flat color next to flat color for the sake of optical mixing.
My ideation process is essentially a variety of processes that I’ve picked up over the years. It’s somewhat sporadic where thoughts become doodles and doodles become thoughts and vice versa. When it comes to Editorial, I’ve cultivated a recipe on the look of the finished art. However, there’s no solid recipe for the ideation stages. In my experience, the process of ideation must remain amoebic as no creative brief is really the same. I usually begin by realizing that I’ve been tasked to emulate a person. There may or may not be a story or concept attached to this likeness. Nonetheless, the likeness is usually my primary concern. I try to let my mind wander on this as I obtain the feeling of any given individual(s). I then build the story and or concept around the portrait.
How did you decide upon and refine your style?
Before I settled on a specific look, I did research on the clients I wanted to work with. I wanted Editorial from the get-go. I wanted Rolling Stone and The New Yorker. So, I looked at the histories of their art purchases as far back as I could go within the timeline of their existence. From there I took on the Wacom tablet as it was the only medium I never really sat down with. I tried to cultivate a style that combined the look of Patrick Morgan, and Joe Ciardiello as they were a couple of my favorites at the time. I also chose to realize my weaknesses. I had always had an issue with copying a photograph too directly without any kind of stylization. To remedy this, I did a variety of studies without lifting my pen off of the canvas; partly blind contour. Once I felt comfortable with obtaining a likeness in that manner, I went with a simple color application of flat color next to flat color for the sake of optical mixing. I didn’t want to blend colors in Photoshop as I wasn’t nearly as experienced with the software. I eventually learned a variety of color application methods over the years but have stayed relatively simple with my illustration work in order to maintain a consistent look.
As for consistency, I brought several personal images to fruition as if they were to appear in a magazine around 2011. I figured, if it felt like an Editorial illustration, then there’d be a possibility that an Art Director would buy it. The refinement of my style evolved naturally within the time constraints that Editorial work currently provides. I knew I had to be able to bring an image to completion within a short 2-3 day time period. To work this out, I’d set a timer to monitor the amount of time it would take me to bring one illustration to fruition.
Have you any advice for illustrators at the start of their career?
First and most importantly, an illustrator should know what they like to draw about. This is a job that you can cultivate from the ground up based on the imagery you enjoy doing! A career as an illustrator can put you in situations where you’d get paid to draw what you love to draw. If you like to draw dragons, DO IT! There’s always a market for what you love to draw about. If not, there will be one tomorrow. Second, it is very important to research and become familiar with the market(s) you want to work within. For example, if you’re yearning for Editorial, your research is sitting at a Barnes and Noble, CVS, and Publix. Make it a habit to flip through the publications on their shelves and you will notice a pattern of what these magazines consistently purchase when it comes to illustration. Third, take advantage of social media. And no, I don’t mean an Instagram account that showcases some artwork and primarily hosts images of your cat and or your night at a bar.
Today, serious Illustrators are devoting their social media presence specifically and exclusively to the work they want Art Directors to see. Fourth, think Globally. It’s very easy to limit oneself to U.S. markets. However, the Gulf and East Asia are huge emerging markets. Stay ahead of the curve and research them. Lastly, at some point, this becomes more than just drawing pictures. You must think and act like a business. Professionalism is key for obtaining repeat clients and procuring new ones. Be organized, consistent, and learn to balance your portfolio with both the narrative and conceptual. Also, Art Directors find it very useful to see your process via the internet. If you showcase your process from start to finish, they’ll have a better idea of what to expect.
Overall, Anyone who professes to be interested in illustration as a career MUST work as much as possible in order to obtain success. As you’re starting out, make work for yourself and imagine whether or not it’s good enough for the clients you’re wanting to work with. Research what your dream client has purchased in the past and imagine how you can fixate yourself to that particular market of illustration.
What artists inspire you and your work?
Sterling Hundley, Rich Kelly, Gary Kelley, Joe Ciardiello, Mark English, John English, George Pratt, Ed Kinsella, Steve Casino, Scott M. Fischer, Bill Mayer, Alan Feldmesser, Das Tamura, Jon Foster, C.F. Payne, Patrick Morgan, Ryan Adams, Air, Fleet Foxes, Radiohead, RJD2, Cuyler Smith, Conor Langton, David Moscati, Craig Welsh, Chris B. Murray, Amy Sol, Nicolas V. Sanchez, Ian Fennelly, Thomas Fluharty, Jason Seiler, Andre Carrillo, Miles Johnston, Stavros Damos, Cool 3D World, Will Picaro, Wylie Beckert, James Jean, Britt Spencer, Ken Taylor, Rodney Ibarra, David Hughes, Bill Carman, Erik Jones, Jonathan Twingley, Alexander Jackson, Jeremy Sorrell, J.A.W Cooper, Jacob Jeffries, Benjamin Bjorklund, Olivia Kemp, Sam Kossler, Rob Benigno, Sofanisba Anguisola, Judy Chicago, Rosa Bonheur, Seymour Chwast, Amos Lee, Ray Lamontagne, Andrew Bird, Animal Collective, Bon Iver, Daft Punk, Michael Jackson, Primus, The Strokes, Wilco, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The list goes on but I’ll stop at Arnold for now.
You’re a Graduate and now Professor of Illustration and Foundations Studies at Savannah College of Art and Design. How is this experience for you?
Working at SCAD is an honor and an immense privilege. I’ve never been treated better within a work environment. After being separated from the Illustration community for nearly 7 years, I finally feel that I’m back within a group of people who enjoy the arts. In regards to the environment, our department in Atlanta is small and I enjoy it this way as there’s a special, tight-nit, and ongoing sense of comradery among the faculty. I’ll continue to march humbly alongside our Chairs, Rick Lovell and Lisa Hart for as long as they’ll have me. In just my first year teaching at SCAD, they have become good friends and mentors.
What all went into drawing Bill Murray for the Washington Post? Did you think it was going to win so many awards?
Art Director, Michael Johnson of the Washington Post sent me an email asking if I’d be willing to take on a quick two day turn-around. He mentioned Bill Murray, and I was immediately on board as I’m a huge fan of his work.
Johnson went on to say that this work would kick off the Arts & Style section covering the Author’s experience in attempting to contact Bill Murray to notify him of his most recent accolade; The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. The project was assigned on a Monday evening with an in-progress piece underway by Tuesday afternoon and final by Wednesday. As per usual in the Editorial world, time was limited. The overall goal was to have Bill appearing regal along with a simple and nonintrusive backdrop.
As there wasn’t much conceptualization to pursue, I instead perused the internet for images and video of Bill while dipping into my stash of National Geographic magazines for high brow gentlemen from the 1900’s. I figured it’d be important to have him appearing current as he looked in 2016. With that said, Murray’s likeness from films like Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, and Space Jam were kicked to the curb as I pursued the ideation stages. I began leaning more toward Life Aquatic, St. Vincent, grey hair, “no beard Bill”. Early on I settled on him appearing in this piece donning a custom bow tie. It just seemed right.
I didn’t think that my portrait of Bill would win anything. I thought it was good and I was proud of the turnout but I never imagined it would win an award. All of the recognition came as a big surprise to me. Prior to this project, I’d never really won anything for illustration aside from a couple of 3x3 Honorable mentions, and then all of sudden, this image was appreciated by so many. The love and feedback I received was truly humbling.
Did you always want to pursue a career in the Illustration industry?