Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Chinese Fantasy Art Interview

A while ago I was lucky enough to be interviewed by a Fantasy Magazine in China who was familiar with my work. I was just sent a copy. They were very nice and had some interesting questions. The design turned out great now if I could only read the article.

Here is a copy of what I sent in but what the article actually says you tell me, plus some pics of the mag.

What are the factors made you become an artist?

“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
Pablo Picasso

I always loved to draw as a child and I was lucky enough to have two wonderful parents who not only acknowledged my talent but also nurtured it.

I drew early inspiration from the work that Rankin/Bass produced in the late 70’s to the late 80’s, which had the first memorable impact in my life. The animation has an organic quality in the line work, which contrasts beautifully set against the vivid watercolor backgrounds. The Hobbit, in particular, shaped the way I draw and its influences can be seen in my work today.

As I matured, the subject matter of the animation I preferred did as well. I fell in love with Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards and American Pop. Mike Ploog’s still images from Wizards in particular have stayed with me over the years. The single greatest American animation that is near to my heart is HeavyMetal. Other early influences worth mentioning are: Mad magazine, Cracked, HeavyMetal magazine, Garbage Pail Kids, Fangoria, Spawn, and the short lived Monsters Attack. These films and books are the great loves in my life, which started me down a path toward art.

Can you tell us about your first assignment?

It was 1998 and I had just come back to Cincinnati with a BFA but no job and no ideas. I saw a local paper with an illustration for the cover so I called and set up a portfolio review with the art director. I nervously showed the art director my college portfolio. He thumbed through it quickly and said “Thank you, we don’t have anything right now but maybe in a few months.” I left depressed but somewhat hopeful. It turned out when I got home there was a call waiting for me from the Art Director. During college Norman Rockwell became a huge influence for me and it showed in my work. The A.D. said that he had a cover for me if I could pull off a Rockwell looking style. I was hesitant because I didn’t want my first professional work to be in someone else’s style and I didn’t feel right stealing from one of my idols. The cover was to depict Metallica who had cleaned up their act and cut their hair to be more appealing with general audiences. The Art Director wanted them to have a clean cut wholesome look and in a Norman Rockwell setting. I remembered from my studies Rockwell had done a barber quartet Post Cover. I told the A.D. that as long as I was referencing or spoofing that direct image and not trying to steal Rockwell style I would do the job. I got the job on Thursday night, started it on Friday and turned it in Monday morning. The piece All American Band ended up winning the paper a 1st Place Award for Cover Illustration in the Society of Professional Journalism. I have been working with that same paper and art director for 9 years now and hope to for many more.

We can see you get a lot of impaction from golden age of illustration, is that true?

While I am well versed in and draw strength from all of the great Golden Age artists, these 4 have the greatest impact on my work:

Edmund Dulac creates vivid colors that ooze with emotion. He can make you feel happy, sad, or fearful merely by his palette. In my mind he is the most versatile artist on my list. His illustrations mirror the cultures and artistic sensibilities of his ethnically diverse narratives. His influence can be seen in my color and watercolor textures.

Arthur Rackham, I believe, is the easiest to see in my work. What Dulac did with color, Rackham did with line. I relate to the world Rackham drew and have inhabited that world since I was a child. His influence can be seen in my pencil and ink work.

J.C. Leyendecker is one of the most innovative designers and draftsmen of any century. I think it is a crime that he is not more well known and studied. Though he is there you can see little of his influence because my skills as a designer are not yet what they should be. He then can be found in the intent and aspiration I strive for.

Norman Rockwell is the greatest of all the American illustrators. His impact on my work and on the industry can easily been seen without any effort. Like Rackham, Rockwell is clearly present in my process, subject matter, down to the application of paint.

I highly recommend anyone who enjoys my work to immerse themselves in the worlds of these artists listed above.

And since that, what are the differences between you and these artists of golden age?

In our century the computer has reinvented our industry from the printing to the creation of the artwork, for better or worse. The industry that I went to school to learn about and the industry I graduated to find myself in were two different worlds. In the past, students would study at a formal academy, then go to work in a studio to work under a professional, and then move on to their careers. By the 90’s this practice was almost completely eradicated. In America throughout the 1950’s to the 1980’s art schools began springing up all over. They produced more and more artists fighting for the same jobs. With the advances in photography many illustrators found themselves out of work. Then stock art came in and crippled the once thriving industry driving prices down. As computers became a standard many older artists refusing to embrace change found themselves replaced yet again. These new advances in technology drive the price down while the demand for shorter deadlines increases. There is an excellence in craft and draftsmanship that has been lost and perhaps that is why I am nostalgic and inspired by the artist of the Golden Age. I think the world is growing tired of the mass marketed mediocre art consumed by the masses. I believe that something has been lost in this new rapid world of technology, something as an artist that I long for. However, not all of the effects of the computer have been negative for artists, quite the contrary. It would not be possible for me to create the images I now create without this amazing and wondrous tool. Like with any new media there is a period of change and exploration of that form. I think we are past that time and at the dawn of a new great revival in the traditions of these old masters. It will be led by artist like Dave McKean, Andrew Bawidamann, and Justin Sweet who use the basic principle of art and design that have never changed regardless of the decade. As at the birth of the Golden age each of these artists use this new technology to create work not possible before but with a skill and dedication beyond the average draftsman. They use the computer as a tool and not a crutch. The difference between the Golden Age artists and myself is that I am a traveler on the path to becoming and they are the destination.

What do you think the help from the traditional training of art to illustration?

When building anything that will stand the test of time a strong foundation is essential.
While at CCAD I was given a great balance in my education between the fine art world and the world of commercial art. The fine art training focused on drawing, anatomy, light and form, color concepts, and design. The illustration courses focused on history, technique, and running a business and selling art. Though often at odds with each other both drew upon principles essential to the other and by having multiple views on my education I learned more from both of them.

Can you describe the style of your art?

Organic is the best word that comes to mind. I think you will be hard pressed to find a straight line in any of my work. I want my lines to breathe and squirm. I want my color to sing and sometimes scream. I want my textures to make your eyes itch and I want my people to be known to you for who and what they are at a glance. I want you to get lost in my narrative as your eyeballs swim through my compositions and find something new each time. I want to give you one ounce of the awe and joy I feel when I am standing before a Maxfield Parish. Am I there yet? No. But I’ll keep trying until I get there.

What tools do you usually use to paint a picture and how many steps do you paint it, can you give us a detail of it?

Step 1 Preparation and Concept

The most important step in the process is the idea. Illustration is understanding the idea you want to convey and finding the best possible visual way to communicate that idea. I start with several sketches looking for the best idea. After I find the best way to communicate my idea (literal or conceptual) I need to think about design. I now know the elements of my piece, but now in thumbnails I need to figure the best way to organize the information. I keep in mind: shape, dominance, value, and color with special attention to the format of the piece. Finally I settle on a single rough draft thumbnail, which I feel best, conveys my intent.

Step 2 The Rough, Research, and Photo Layout

With the thumbnail complete I will do research followed by photo reference. I prefer to shoot most of my reference in my studio with my lights, props, and models. Now that I have shot my reference using my thumbnail as a guide I quickly cut and paste the photos in a layout in Photoshop. This layout is still subject to change but it helps me address problems I may have not yet encountered in my thumbnail.

Step 3 The Line Drawing and Reference

After I have figured out the design and my digital layout is complete, I print out photos of each aspect of the illustration separately on a white background. I draw each of the many elements as if they were spot illustrations. I use several layers of tissue or tracing paper to do my drawings; that way if there are parts I’m satisfied with I can transfer them to a fresh sheet where I will work out my problem areas. I am mindful to use the reference as exactly that and nothing more. If I have to alter or completely disregard reality for the sake of good design I will do so without hesitation. Once I have a solid line drawing for each part of my compositions I may scan them to create a line drawing to show the client.

Step 4 Transfer

The next step once the line drawing is approved is to transfer the multiple line drawings to boards using graphite paper. I use Strathmore Illustration board with a tooth or rough surface.

Step 5 Value

This is where the majority of the time consuming work begins. I create a black and white illustration with whatever medium seems to suit my needs best. Each medium has its pros and cons. Over the years I have learned these and I take advantage of all of them. I try to work one medium at a time on the each of the multiple illustrations on the boards in an assembly line fashion.

After I transfer my drawing to the boards I go over my lines with graphite or a rapidograph pen depending on my needs and the line quality I desire. Graphite, lead, combined with blending stomps are often used for bright clothing and skin tones. The key is to only apply very thin layers of pencil. Ink is used as a time saver but also as a way to get rich darks in my piece. Ink works great on black hair or jackets and even on backgrounds. I often seal this ink with a lacquer then go over it with white and grey colored pencil. A wonderful texture can be found this way for textiles and clothing. I use watercolor and acrylic interchangeable. My decision is based solely on the thought of will I later want to go back in with water to bring out highlights. If so I use watercolor, if not acrylic. I use gesso and not white paint for highlights for the thick texture it provides. I mix gesso with ink, watercolor, or acrylic to get a full range of value.

Step 6 Color and the Computer

The reason I draw my images on separate boards with white background is simply a matter of speed and versatility. I do this so after I scan the images into Photoshop I can select the white backgrounds with one click then invert the selection and delete the white. Once I have all the elements cut out and on their own layers I color them. I know this will sound insane but I use the mouse to do everything. I have never managed to master the pen tool or Wacom tablet. This limits me a great deal as I am told by many of my colleagues but I prefer the limitation it offers as a preference. This forces me to only use Photoshop to color and layout my images. People often ask how did you get this texture or technique with the computer? This background looks like watercolor how did you accomplish that? The answer is it looks like watercolor because it is. The works look like it was done by hand because it was. As I said earlier my style is the way I draw and Photoshop allows me to transparently add color to my drawing without changing the integrity of them. The coloring process is a simple matter of making selection then filling those selections while choosing the proper combination of multiply, overlay, and color settings in the layers options. Once my images have been colored I compose the illustration based on my design choices made earlier in my rough layout. In finishing the illustration it may be necessary for me to make the edge relationship work together in the frame of reference. This is a matter of sharpening, blurring, or erasing an edge. With that my image is complete and ready for press.

Generally, how do you get the material you need for the picture? Will you make some pencil sketch when your inspiration comes?

I always have paper handy. I am constantly doodling images that only I can decipher that will later be used for illustrations. If I wake up in the middle of the night I have a sketchbook waiting at my bedside for when inspiration strikes. I get a lot of inspiration from dreams, which have a direct impact on my work. The creative process is a three-part cycle: thought, word, and deed.

When you painting those famous people, how do you sketch their character of faces?

When I have to draw famous people or caricatures I start the same way as I would any illustration, with thumbnails searching to find the best visual design to tell my story. The difference comes in the extensive searching to find the right headshot or photo reference that suits my needs. I usually shoot the bodies myself and match my models to the angle of the photos.

As far as drawing the likenesses, some come easy and some come hard. People are my favorite subject matter. I could draw them all day. I sit with a photo by my desk. I start a rough drawing in pencil then define the shapes with a marker. Then I overlay multiple sheet of tracing paper on my drawing and revise it till it looks like my celebrity with the desire expression. In a worse case scenario I will end up looking at multiple heads and doing my best to combine them. When doing celebrities I find the better the reference the better the artwork.

What’s your everyday work schedule?

My schedule changes from week to week especially when I have a tight deadline. As a general rule I follow the routines and work habits I developed at school. I usually wake around 10 am. The mornings are spent reading and answering emails and quoting jobs and any other necessary paperwork. I usually have lunch for an hour sometime between 1 to 4 pm and later I have dinner with my wife around 6 pm. I find it terribly difficult to do anything creative while the sun is shining so I often read or do my research during this time. I watch my shows or movies while I eat. My work begins as the sun goes down and it ends when the sun comes up. This being the case I am far more productive during autumn and the winter. I usually work till 6 am when I see my wife off to work then go to bed. On the last two days of a big deadline I will often work 48 hours back to back breaking only to eat. I try not to do this too often, as there is always a price to be paid after.

Are there some special things in your studio, and can you tell us?

I have a modest studio, but it is filled with things that I love that inspire me. One half of my room is designated to my Mac and computer equipment while the other half is filled with my library of favorite books. Near the bookshelves rests a drafting table my father gave me where I do most of my work. The artists that I love cover my walls. Three of my best works hang beside the idols. Each of the three represents a stepping-stone in my evolution as an artist. These are the images, which elevated me to a new understanding in my art. Two twin Kukhris from Nepal rest on a stand nearby and will be featured in a graphic novel I am working on. Several masks and a samurai helmet hang from the hooks on the back of my door. The two shelves nearest my desk hold my Monster Bobble Head collection, followed by my Berserk, and Guyver Figurines. My studio is also where I house my audio book and comic book collections as well as my rather extensive DVD collection. And finally a framed picture of my two favorite people sits upon my desk, my wife Lisa and my dog Rockwell.

What’s your state you have been when you painted? Do you listening to the music?

If I am creating layouts for sequential work I need utter silence and often go to the public library to force distraction from me. This work is very difficult for me and I need greater levels of concentration to get anything accomplished.

When I create my layouts for a single illustration I often listen to classical or meditative music.

Once the hard work is complete and a long night of technique and the routine of execution in terms of rendering begin, I let my body do the job without me and my mind travels to other worlds with a little help from audio books. Stephen King has got me through many a long project with no rest.

When coloring an image I often listen the music that best conveys the mood I am trying to achieve in the piece.

What do you do recently? Compare with the work you have done before, what kind of progress you have made?

As far as the specific projects I am currently involved in, I have cut back on the some of my freelance commissions so that I may focus on writing and illustrating two stories of my own. Eternity is a complex mini-series set in the biblically bleak future. It is a historical fantasy dealing with many serious struggles I have dealt with in my life, especially those that deal with a man searching for his purpose and what role does the existence of God play in that search. The other title is a lighthearted pinup comic called 36DD full of nostalgia and sarcasm.

In terms of the differences between my older to newer work, the older work was technically adequate but without soul. In my early work I also had some serious problems with color and value that I have rectified. All these problems stemmed from me searching for my voice or style. It has only been in these last few years that I have come to know my purpose as an artist.

What is your favorite movie? Do you plant to transform the scene of the movie into picture?

To give one movie that special honor among all the movies that I love would be impossible. In regards to a movie that I have found a deep personal meaning in I can say The Razor's Edge (1984) has been my favorite. If we are talking about cinemaphotography and story then Kurosawa’s RAN (1985) is at the top of my list. I wish this interview was just a list of my favorite movies but I’m afraid there wouldn’t be enough room in the magazine so I will end that topic by just naming these two.

Besides painting, what’s your hobby in your normal life?

I am obsessed with all forms of media: comics, manga, novels, audio books, animation, and movies. I love technology and apple computers. I am a history buff. I love playing chess. I have been playing soccer as long as I have been making art and continue to this day in several men’s leagues and a co-ed with my wife.

Please say something to Chinese readers.

I would like to thank the Chinese readers for giving me a venue to showcase and speak about my work. Your ancient culture is full of beauty and mystery, which continues to be a fountain of inspiration and wonder. I hope you have enjoyed my art as much as I have enjoyed sharing it with you. Communication is at the root of all art. It transcends language, economical, and cultural difference. This experience serves to remind me of who I am and what it is to be an artist and for that I am grateful.

Thank you so much for this interview!

Thank you for your time. I have included a few links, which you make publish in the article about my art if you see fit.


Anonymous said...

I'm so proud og you, congrats!

susan said...

I'm so proud og you too, little Woody. You're a big boy now.

Justin said...

WJH3 has gone global!!! Congrats Woody that is awesome keep it up.