illo. Issue NUMBER 2
$15.00 US / $15.00 CAN
illo. CONTENTS: 2 A Letter from the Editor
4 Michael Cho by Daniel Zimmer 32
The Imaginative Realism of James Gurney
by Daniel Zimmer
by Daniel Zimmer
74 Art Talks—Barry Blitt by Zina Saunders
76 Zina Saunders by Daniel Zimmer
94 New and Notable 96 Exhibitions and Events
(Send us your events for next time!)
ON THE COVER: “Self Portrait as Astro-Cho” by Michael Cho © 2009
illo. Try, try again… …or as a little green man told me once, “Do, or do not. There is no try.” In the case of ILLO I’ve decided to JUST DO IT. You hold the results in your hands. This issue has been a long time coming, and I won’t waste your time making half-assed apologies. It’s been a struggle, and I think we all know how tough it is out there right now. What I will say is that I hope you like this latest edition. The artists featured in this issue are terrific, and I think their work is incredibly inspiring. This is some of the greatest work being done today, and each of these illustrators embody the values I am trying to present in this magazine. That is, fundamental draftsmanship combined with a unique vision, and the flexibility to reinvent to meet the challenges of today. Times are tough, but they are perservering, and their work remains beautiful and full of life. If you would like to be considered for inclusion in a future issue of ILLO, please send me your postcards, links, or other promotional materials. I am always looking for great new talent. Get in touch and let me know about you! Advertisers…I need your support! I am preparing ILLO #3, and I would love to feature your advertising in my next issue! Please visit my website for rates and specifications.
Daniel Zimmer, Publisher
ILLO Issue Two, Fall 2009. © 2009 by ILLO (ISSN 1555-9866) All text and artwork is © the respective artists or writers. None of the material in this publication may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of ILLO, or the respective copyright holders. All of the images utilized herein are reproduced for historical and scholarly purposes only. Every effort has been made to provide factually accurate information. ILLO is published four times per year. Single copies may be purchased for $15.00 postage paid in the U.S. Four-issue subscriptions are available for $60.00 postage paid in the U.S. Make checks or money orders payable to ILLO MAGAZINE. For advertising information and rates please contact Daniel Zimmer at 314-577-6768, or email Dan@illo.us. Our address is: ILLO MAGAZINE, 3640 Russell Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63110. We prefer not to accept orders over the telephone.
INTERVIEW BY DANIEL ZIMMER
Michael Cho’s work combines impeccible draftsmanship with a complete mastery of deep shadows and the evocative use of limited color. ILLO spoke with Michael recently to discuss his comics-inspired illustration style…
ILLO: Tell me a little bit about your background. MC: I was born in Seoul, South Korea and lived there until I was about 6 years old. Then my parents moved to Canada, and we settled in Hamilton, Ontario which is about an hour away from Toronto. I spent my formative years there, and only left to move to Toronto when I got into art college. I’ve been living here ever since and loving it. As for art, I’ve drawn since I was little, and some of my earliest memories are of doodling. For instance, back in South Korea my mom would go to the store and buy me 10 sheets of large paper for a penny, and I’d spend afternoons drawing giant robots or Astro-Boy or things like that. When I came to Canada, I kept on drawing as a refuge or as an escape and later as an outlet and a means of self-expression. Art has always been a source of comfort for me. I’ve always felt that artists are blessed and very lucky that way. I mean, I often feel that all I need to be entertained and happy is a pencil, you know? And it’s a blessing that you’ll have for your whole lifetime. Like if I was stuck on a desert island, I’d still be ok as long as I could find food, and I had a stick to draw with in the sand. ILLO: Did you go to art school, and how important was this experience to your career today? MC: Well, I attended both art schools and art college. When I was around 12, my mom signed me up for a Saturday art class, which was really helpful to me. Before that, I had learned to draw copying comic books and pictures from the newspaper, and I hadn’t really been exposed to anything beyond that. Then in this art class I had some really inspiring teachers who taught me about the world of fine art, and I got to do things like oil painting—which I just fell in love with. I remember that right after that first class, I went and bought a package of charcoal and started drawing still lifes of vases and things like LEFT: Self Portrait as Astro-Cho, 2005
that—which my parents appreciated more than me doodling superheroes on the walls or floors. One interesting moment from that period for me was when I went for lunch with the instructors of the classes, and they were all in their late 20s or thereabouts. I remember sitting with them as they discussed how busy their lives were, and how they had so little time to draw anymore, and I was just shocked. I mean, it was baffling to my 12 year old mind that these instructors didn’t draw every day! To me at the time, I thought everyone who did art sat around and doodled as much as I did. Of course years later I found myself having EXACTLY the same conversation with a bunch of friends about being too busy to draw. And after that, of course, I resolved to get back to doodling… As for art college, I attended the Ontario College of Art and Design, back before they added the “and Design” part to their name. I went through a program called Experimental Arts where I mostly studied painting, but in a more nonrepresentational or contemporary vein than traditional fine arts. We didn’t do any paintings of busts or models, it was mostly conceptual or installation-like stuff. During that time, I picked up a lot of art-theory and was exposed to some really exciting contemporary artists. I definitely feel that it was beneficial to my growth, because it helped me think through concepts and expand my view of art rather than just focus on technique. I know that a lot young artists go to art college thinking that they’ll learn cool techniques or some kind of secret tips, and I certainly thought that would be the case when I was accepted, but I found out pretty fast that many art colleges just don’t focus as much on that anymore. In some ways that’s bad, as some of us come out of school still lacking the fundamentals, but in other ways the schools
Be An Artist, 2009
Keep on Working, 2006
Bad Inking Day, 2006
compensate by teaching you a broader vision of art. I took zero illustration courses in art college, but I still feel it was tremendously helpful to my current work as an illustrator because I learned how to think through my work, question the purpose of what I’m doing, and approach problemsolving in a non-traditional manner. The other thing about art college is the environment and being surrounded by other creative people. I think that’s certainly the biggest benefit I got out of it. I often feel I learned more from my friends at school than my instructors. There’s a kind of friendly competition and an inspirational push you get from working in close proximity to other artists that definitely helps accelerate your growth, more than working diligently in a vacuum ever could. I kinda miss that today, since I work in my own studio at home, but I make up for it by meeting up for weekly lunches with other illustrators and artists in Toronto. ILLO: I’ve seen on your blog that you are a big fan of Jack Kirby. Who are some of your other artistic heroes? Who has influenced your work the most? MC: Haha! I LOVE Kirby! He’s a giant of 20th century art in my opinion. My influences are kind of scattered and diverse, and don’t necessarily show up in my work. I like fine art painters and I also love cartoonists.
Portrait of Jack Kirby, 2009
Portrait of Noel Sickles, 2007
When I was a teen, my artistic heroes were mostly painters like Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Egon Schiele—anyone whose passion and intensity could be seen in their work. As I hit my 20s I really began to appreciate contemporary artists like Gerhard Richter, James Rosenquist and Alex Katz—artists with a slightly cooler or restrained sensibility. Then in my 30s I went on a trip to Italy and France on my honeymoon and there I really regained a love and respect for the older classical and renaissance artists, which I had kind of snobbishly rejected during my art-college years as being ancient and out of date. For example, I completely fell in love with Michelangelo, especially his pen and ink sketches. As far as working as an illustrator and cartoonist, I’m influenced by a lot of the classic comic book and strip artists. I’ve never been very aware of the history of illustration, which is a real weakness on my part, and have taken my illustration approach more from my childhood love of comic art and cartooning. I love Noel Sickles, Frank Robbins and Milt Caniff and the others who share that chiaroscuro style. Sickles in particular is a real favorite of mine and was really helpful in my development as an illustrator with the way he approached lighting and atmosphere in tonal work. That man could draw anything beautifully—and in such a bold and spontaneous manner. Roy Crane is another favorite, because of the grace, simplicity and charm in his work. I loved how he worked with craft-tint board, and that inspired my own two-tone stuff. Wally Wood is another influence, and I love his stuff to bits. Other classic comic artists I admire are Joe Kubert, Leonard Starr, Al Williamson, and Harvey Kurtzman. Kurtzman is just fantastic in his layouts. I’m not as much into contemporary comic art, but the ones I admire are usually “complete package” guys—the ones
Portrait of Roy Crane, 2007
who can write/draw/ink/color their own stuff. I love Charles Burns’ work. Dan Clowes is another favorite, and I sometimes get comparisons to his stuff which is much too flattering to me and my poor efforts. Jaime Hernandez is a cartoonist I’ve loved since I was a teen and I definitely drew some of my own approach to comics from him. Same with David Mazzucchelli, who is a terrific model of a contemporary cartoonist/illustrator. Darwyn Cooke has also been influential to me and my work—he’s so professional, and he used to live in town and many of us Toronto cartoonists would get together with him for lunch. I learned some very useful and practical tips from him, and he’s actually responsible for my appreciation for guys like Frank Robbins. Overall though, I would perhaps say that I gained my approach from fine artists, while I learned much of my technique from studying cartoonists. I really like the merger of those two fields. ILLO: Tell me about how you broke into “the biz”…what were some of your earliest assignments. MC: When I got out of school, I was trying to make it as a painter…and that didn’t last very long at all! I was having shows, but exhibiting things like 10’ x 10’ paintings, which I just could NOT sell (some of them are still in my parents’ basement taking up way too much space). I tried mural art for a while, decorative painting, post-production special effects work, storyboarding for film, and even worked as a director at a photographic gallery—and none of it was very interesting or artistically rewarding. Finally I got a gig doing some illustrations for a theatre production, and that was my first real illustration assignment. I remember being so clueless doing those illustrations that I didn’t even know how to put crop marks on a drawing properly. I was basically faking it.
At the Bus Terminal, 2006
ABOVE: Claudia and Me (Summertime), with preliminary drawing, 2007
Media Madness #1, 2004
Media Madness: Recording Studio (detail), 2004
Media Madness: Video Game design studio (detail), 2004
Max Finder Mystery Promotional Poster, 2006
Max Finder Mystery: Collected Casebook #1, 2006
The only thing I had going for me at the time was that I knew how to paint in gouache. The cool part was when I saw the paintings I had done blown up and converted into huge sets. I was thrilled. I mean, I used to be the guy who had to paint those sets from someone else’s drawings—sweating it out on ladders and scaffolds— and now I was on the other side. After that, I decided illustration was the path for me to take! After that, John L’Ecuyer, a Canadian film director and writer who’s a good friend of mine, asked me to illustrate a novel he was working on, It was kind of autobiographical, about his history as an ex-junkie, and for that I drew up about 50 two-tone paintings in gouache. I just loved the experience. I did, like, three or four a night over the course of a month. The subject matter was great for me to work on, and the book was really meaningful, which inspired me. He also gave me carte blanche to draw whatever I felt was appropriate. It was probably the most ideal situation I could ask for. After the book came out, I started getting some calls from art directors wanting me to do some work for them, and it kind of went from there. The thing I remember about those early experiences was that I was still treating illustration as a way to pay the rent while I was working on making it as a painter. After a little while I realized that I was approaching it like a ‘day job,’ and if I continued to work that way I’d eventually tire of it as well. I knew friends who could work at Media Madness, 2004
Karnhuset: Portrait of Jonas, 2006
Karnhuset: Portrait of Marcus, 2007
an office in the day and then still paint in the evenings, but for me, I just couldn’t devote half my day to something that I didn’t give 100% to. It was too draining to try and split my time like that. So after some thought I decided that if I was going to do illustration, I’d have to treat it as my ‘art’ and outlet, and give it everything I had. I mean, if I wanted to work as an illustrator, I wanted to be the very best illustrator I could be. I made that choice, started learning my craft, and haven’t looked back since.
Karnhuset: Portrait of Thomas, 2007
ILLO: Tell me about your illustration work, and work on various children’s books. From what I’ve seen, you began as a traditional illustrator working in a comic style and migrated over to doing full-blown comics. Did you always want to be a comic book artist? What inspired your love for this medium? MC: I’ve always loved comics. I read them in South Korea, and when I came to Canada as a new immigrant with little understanding of the culture here, comics were a real comfort to me—like a piece of home. I’ve always responded to visual things, so comics were something I was naturally drawn to as a kid. And it helped me pick up English and improve my reading. For a guy like me, comics are a perfect medium for artistic expression and storytelling. I like them even more than movies. I’ve often said that I’d prefer to read an OK comic than see a good movie. And it’s because comics are a more intimate form of communication. Film is a group effort with a large amount of people contributing to a collective vision, but in comics it’s a much smaller group of creators that work on a book. And the comics I REALLY enjoy are the ones where one person has done everything—writing/art/lettering/etc. Then it becomes a truly intimate form, where every word and every line is communicating that creator’s intent. There’s just something magical about that to me. Its such a direct form of expression from creator to reader, and it appeals to that visual side of me completely. As a kid, like a lot of other kids, I drew my own comics for fun and I contemplated the idea of being a comic artist when I grew up. When I got out of art college I thought about it some more, but at the time my sequential skills were really weak, and the stories I wanted to write and draw required more technical ability than I had at the time. I mean, in illustration
Karnhuset: Office Building, 2006
you can sort of pick your own angles and compositions, sometimes to mask a deficiency you have in certain areas of draftsmanship, but in comics you really have to be able to draw what fits the story. If you have a shot that you need in the story, and you don’t know how to draw that, you can’t hide from it or the story suffers. So I decided to put comics on the back-burner while I taught myself how to draw the kinds of things I wanted to include in my comics—things like lighting, atmosphere, and subtle emotions. Gradually, through doing illustration work and studying on my own time, I was able to get to a level where I thought that I could finally start drawing the stories I had in mind, and be able to present them the way I saw it in my head. So, slowly I’ve started getting back into comics and putting more of my focus on that. When I first took up illustration though, I worked in a comics-based style because that was a language I knew and was comfortable with. And it seemed to get me Karnhuset: Portrait of Jakob, 2006
Kellogg School of Management #1, 2007
Kellogg School of Management #2, 2007
noticed with art directors, because its a graphic and friendly style. It also fit the kind of illustration I was doing at the time, like children’s books. I love both fields though, comics and illustration, and see a lot of overlap between the two. ILLO: Tell me a little bit about your mini-comics. Have you done many of them, and do you still make new mini-comics? Will webcomics spell the end of the mini-comics? MC: I’ve made mini-comics and zines since I was a 10 year old. Like I mentioned before, comics are an intimate medium, and I feel like mini-comics are the most intimate kind of comic. You make them quickly, go photocopy them at the copy shop, and distribute them yourself. It’s a really immediate process. It’s kinda like putting out a punk 45-single or something—for a teen, it has that kind of cool factor. I used to make them fairly regularly through my 20s, in small runs of like 50 or 100 copies, but as I got busier and busier I started making them less frequently. Nowadays, I might put out a new mini or zine once a year or so, usually for conventions or trade shows. Making webcomics seems like the natural evolution of that, really. I draw a monthly webcomic now, and it has that same immediacy—maybe even more so, as you get feedback from readers right away, rather than a postcard 6 months later from someone who found your mini. I don’t know if webcomics will ever replace making minis, since a lot of people, myself included, still really enjoy reading comics on paper and taking them with you, rolled up in a back pocket or something. I think there’s room for both. I mean, they make CDs and MP3s now, but still put out limited edition vinyl records, right? ILLO: Tell me about some of the projects you’ve been working on recently—the web comics, ongoing series, etc. Does your Papercut series of comics on the Transmission-X website work
as self-promotion for your other comics and your work as an illustrator? MC: Kind of. I have a blog where I post new illustration work (www.michaelcho.com), so I use that more for self-promotion. I’ve been meaning to set up a proper web portfolio for myself for years now, but I’ve never liked how static those things usually are. I enjoy having the blog, as it allows me to update it easily and regularly, and I enjoy the discussions and connections with other artists and fans it fosters. Papercut (www.transmission-x.com/_papercut), which is the monthly webcomic I draw, came about because a bunch of excellent Toronto comic artists I know wanted to start a webcomics collective called Transmission-X (www.transmissionx.com). When they asked me to join, I was thrilled. We’re all friends and colleagues, professionals who can hit deadlines, and I respect their talent and opinions about comics. So again, it was an ideal situation. We all do very different strips, with a diverse range of styles and focus, but we can also all appreciate what the others are doing and can offer valuable and insightful critiques of the work. I enjoy that aspect immensely—having open-minded and professional colleagues to bounce ideas off of. It would be very different if we were all only into superhero comics, or humor or whatever. It’s great to have friends who appreciate the whole spectrum of comic art, even if their own focus is on a particular genre. Papercut is my outlet for writing and drawing the kind of comics I’ve been wanting to create for years. It’s kind of genrefree, and the best description I’ve heard of it is that it’s just “contemporary fiction.” It doesn’t have dinosaurs or spacemen or superheroes, but rather focuses on slice-of-life stories (although I do run a humor feature from time to time). That’s not to say that I don’t like genre material—I’ve often joked
Kellogg School of Management #3, 2007
Kellogg School of Management #4, 2008
Abraham Lincoln 1, 2009
Abraham Lincoln 2, 2009
Fear Agent #2, 2006
that I love superhero comics but, like, only two days out of the week. The other five days I’m more in the “indie” camp. Papercut allows me to write a variety of self-contained short stories, from four to 30 pages in length, and share them with readers on a monthly basis. Some of the stories I’ve posted feature themes like overcoming addiction, dealing with the loss of a loved one, and suburban alienation. I’ve also tried to write historical non-fiction pieces, like a story I did on J. Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the first atomic bomb. The freedom to write and draw whatever interests me is just such a liberating feeling, and I really can’t express how happy it makes me feel. I feel completely spoiled being able to work on Papercut. I’ve also worked on some other comics recently, collaborating with other creators who I really admire. I’ve inked stories for Eric Wight at Tokyopop, and for David Bullock and Darwyn Cooke on a book for DC comics, as well as contributing other short stories for anthologies like Project Romantic from Adhouse books. ILLO: Will you be releasing the web stories in printed form sometime in the future? (Forgive my ignorance if this has already happened, or in the works. You may have mentioned this somewhere I have not seen.) MC: Yup. That’s the end goal, really. Once I’ve got enough stories finished for Papercut, I’m hoping to collect them together and publish them. I’ll probably edit them down a bit, as I have a narrative theme in mind for the collection, which some of the stories don’t really fit. I’ve recently found an agent to represent me and the book, which is exciting and opens up some great possibilities for distribution. Trinity, page 14, 2008
Waiting, page 1, 2008
Smoking, page 1, 2007
The Killing Girl, 2007
ILLO: You seem to be incredibly prolific…what is an average “day in the life” like for Michael Cho? Do you spend 14 hours a day at the drawing board? MC: Hahaha! Actually, I’m NOT that prolific. Just ask some of my friends at Transmission-X. In reality, I think I’m a bit slow at my work, as the methods and mediums I use tend to take a bit of time. I used to think I was fast, but then I saw how fast some of my friends were and I realized I was on the bottom half of that scale. And while I do spend 10 to 14 hours a day at the studio, if I’m really honest, some of that time is wasted surfing the web or goofing around. A typical day for me usually begins around 11am or noon, when I wake up. It’s terrible, I know, but I’ve always been a night person so I tend to wake up late. After breakfast and some coffee, I usually answer emails and do paperwork for an hour or two while I wait for the coffee to kick in. Then I either run errands or hit the drawing table. I have a studio in my apartment which has my Mac, my drawing table, my lightbox, and a TV and stereo. I usually draw until about 7pm, when I break for dinner with my wife. After that, I usually get back to work until about midnight or 2am, when I give it up and chill out to watch movies or read. I used to get to bed around 5am or so, but these days, I’m trying to get to sleep earlier. If it’s an off-night or, god forbid, I’ve finished everything early, I’ll usually stop after dinner and just enjoy the evening with my wife, Claudia Davila. She’s an illustrator and designer as well, and has her own separate studio in the apartment. We’ve always joked that it’s best we don’t work in the same studio, and have ours at opposite ends of the apartment, or else we’d suffer from serious cabin fever around each other since we’re both such workaholics.
Although that sounds like I usually have a really long workday, I don’t mind, as I’m doing something I love and would probably do anyway if I had more free time. I mean, after I draw for work, I often just draw as a break from work! ILLO: On your blog you mention your wife Claudia helping you a number of times with computer work. Do you dislike working on the computer, or is it just a case where your time is better spent on drawing than on “production” sorts of tasks? MC: Sort of. First off, I can’t tell you how amazing it is to be married to another artist, especially one as talented as Claudia. She’s worked as an art-director, designer, and illustrator as long as me, and the understanding that she has for what I do is invaluable. There’ve been so many times where I’ve been stuck for a concept for an illustration, or have worked myself into a fit wrestling with a bad layout, and I’ll talk it over with her and she’ll just casually come up with the perfect solution, seemingly effortlessly. Her art-director skills allow her to see things in a “big picture” way, which I sometimes lose sight of as I get bogged down in details. The nice part is that as she’s started to work more in comics, I get to return the favour occasionally when she comes to me looking for panel or sequential solutions. We really complement each other quite well, in a way I’d never dreamed of. As for production work and computers, I don’t dislike computers. Not at all. They’re just a tool, and I’ve been pretty comfortable using them since I was a kid. But I do tend to be more of an old-school kinda guy, and I enjoy doing things on paper more. I could probably do more of the production stuff myself, but Claudia is just so much faster on that as she spends most of her day with the software. Things that take me an hour to do, she can do in a few minutes, so it cuts the time down a lot, and for that she has my eternal gratitude.
Color thumbnail for The Black Coat, 2006
ILLO: Your blog is the first place I saw and discovered your work. Has your blog brought you a lot of other new fans/ clients, etc.? MC: Yeah, it definitely has. I used to have a proper website years ago, where I had my portfolio online. But the problem with that was that it was so static and didn’t promote any kind of interaction beyond just email. Plus, it was a hassle to update it, so I kind of kept the same samples on it all the time, and there wasn’t much reason for people to keep coming back to visit. With the blog, I can update it very quickly and easily, so there’s a constant stream of new art being posted. That makes it interesting and rewarding for people to keep coming back, and also for a particular post to be flagged and promoted by others. That’s a real promotional benefit and helps keep my work in the public eye. And I try to make it worthwhile by updating as regularly as time permits. I don’t only post finished assignments done for clients, but also personal work, sketches, and examples and instructional posts on my work process or technique. I’ve also run the occasional contest on the site as well, just for fun. It’s also very gratifying and helpful to get comments and interact with the visitors. I’ve met some wonderful people
Preliminary drawing for The Black Coat, 2006
through my blog, whether they’re fans of the work, fellow artists, or art directors and clients. The fact that there’s an ongoing communication that’s promoted through the backand-forth comments on posts helps build a kind of rapport with the visitors. Some visitors have been wonderful in pointing out other artists whose work I might want to check out. I’m always delighted to meet people who tell me they found out about my work through the blog, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how often that happens. ILLO: I know you have done a lot of in-store signings, and have also drawn sketches for fans at these events. Do you produce private commissions for fans? Do you sell your original artwork through a gallery, eBay, or directly to fans? MC: I do accept the occasional private commission, but the problem is that sometimes I get so busy that I can’t get to it until months later. So these days, my arrangement with people who want commissions is to not take any money until I’ve actually drawn up a sketch or something first—that way they’re not disappointed by the wait. As for selling art, I haven’t had a gallery show in years I’m afraid. I’d love to do it, but I always seem to be much better at actually creating the work than planning or organizing a show. I usually sell pieces at conventions, signings, or directly to
The Black Coat, 2006
Taddle Creek, 2009
Fear Agent #1, 2006
buyers via my blog. Lately I’ve taken to producing prints of most of the stuff on my website, because there’s often an image that a lot of people want, and sometimes I just don’t want to part with the original. Plus the prints sometimes look better than the original, as they’ve all been color corrected and cleaned up. ILLO: I’ve noticed that many of your drawings are made with markers and dyes. Do you worry about their longevity as original art, or are the materials you are using generally archival? MC: They’re mostly archival, but I do worry about longevity and lightfastness. When I say I work with markers, they’re usually brush pens using an archival ink, or something like that. I find I do a lot of work with the Pitt brush pen made by Faber Castell, and the reason for that is that the ink is a high quality india ink that doesn’t fade. I hate seeing old drawings I did with older tech pens or whatever beginning to turn brown and fade. Plus, I’m much more a brush guy than a marker or pen guy. The other medium I use regularly is gouache, and luckily I don’t have to worry as much about that aging badly. ILLO: In your Trinity web comic, there is a sequence rendered in painted color. You have mentioned that if you were to do it over again, you might paint this section with oil paints. Do you foresee doing more paintings or painted comics in the future? MC: Probably not, at least not in oils. I’ve always loved oil painting, since my very first exposure to it when I was 12, and I worked almost exclusively in oils through my 20s, but I had to stop doing that when I started in illustration. I haven’t painted much in oils in years. I still love the medium, and the smell of The Uncanny X-men, 2007
turpentine is something that still makes me smile, but it’s not very useful for the kind of art I want to produce these days. I mean, it used to take me weeks to do a proper oil painting. I just can’t imagine working that slowly nowadays. Lately, if I do full-color painted work, it’s usually in gouache. Gouache allows that kind of flatness and vibrancy of color I just love. I’ve toyed with the idea of doing a full-color painted comic that way, but again, its a time factor thing. Maybe one day I’ll do a small painted comic project in gouache. Not painted, as in rounded and modelled forms, but something a bit more graphic and with an emotional use of color. The one thing I don’t really enjoy doing is making painted color work through software. Other people are really great at that, and I admire them tremendously, but I dislike painting with a tablet or stylus. I much prefer the tactile experience of mixing and applying paint. Usually if I’m doing full color work on the computer, I’m basically adding color to my lineart which I’ve drawn in ink. ILLO: You recently experimented with the fumetti style of comics. Do you plan on producing more work in this style? Have you considered producing the monkey character as a “designer toy” product? (It would be a natural!) MC: That’s actually quite funny. I don’t have any plans to do any big projects in fumetti. I know what you’re referring to— the introduction fumetti I did for one of my “Lonely Monkey” comics on Papercut. I only did that for fun and as a gimmick. Again, my talented wife Claudia made the Lonely Monkey doll for me as a gift, and I thought it’d be fun and quick to pose him and make a fumetti comic. The thing I learned though was that it takes almost as long to storyboard, pose and photograph the panels as it does to draw the damn comic by hand!
As far as making a designer toy of the Lonely Monkey—that sounds great! I’d love to see a bunch of Seymore L. Monkey plush toys on shelves. ILLO: Tell me about the development of your “duo-tone” style. You are a complete master of this unique look! MC: Thank you. That’s a big compliment, considering there are so many other wonderful artists working in two-tone. As for the development of it, oh man…that’s a long story. I think it started when I was really getting into retro illustration, way back at the start of my career. I’d find these wonderful books from the 40s and 50s where the illustrations were done in just black and blue (or red or green) and the paper-color.
Lonely Monkey, 2008
Iron Man, 2006
You’re no doubt familiar with some of that stuff. I loved the look of the limited palette and how it immediately evoked an era, so I started toying around with it and collecting as much of it as I could find, like children’s annuals and such. Then I began to check out contemporary artists, especially comic artists like Dan Clowes or Seth who applied some of that same sensibility to comic work. As I got more and more interested in two-tone work, I also discovered how the old comic-strip artists would do work in zip-a-tone or on craft-tint board, which had a similar approach—black, white and one half-tone. I’ve already mentioned how much I learned looking at people like Noel Sickles and Roy Crane: artists who used that halftone brilliantly. The thing about it was, the more I worked in that limited palette, the more I realized how versatile it really was. You’d think working in only two colors plus the paper would actually be very confining, but in a way, it actually allowed for more options than full color. For me, its often much easier to evoke mood and atmosphere through two-tone because I don’t have to worry about juggling a lot of color contrasts or expectations created by full color work. The big breakthrough for my two-tone work came when I started to lose my interest in line art, and began thinking of the work in terms of light and shadow. By that I mean, I don’t try to draw lines anymore, I try to draw the shadow cast by the light. It’s sometimes difficult to manage how the tone and black can work side by side without needing line art, but it’s a rewarding challenge. At the start of my career, I used to aim for a super clean and tight line, but nowadays I don’t care about a line that’s clean, I care about a line that’s precise. I do a lot of what’s called “line dropout” and try to imply forms and contours by shape. I often leave out contour lines completely, and that’s usually because I’m trying to imply how light bounces off a surface. There’s a quote I read once from the late Alex Toth where he said something like “eliminate the redundant line” and that pretty much sums it up. I find the work breathes better that way, and also requires the viewer to fill in a bit of the drawing in their minds, which makes for a better piece for me. Two-tone work can sometimes look consciously retro, but the way my work is now, I’m really hoping that it evokes some of the Mary Marvel, 2007
Toronto Back Alleys #13, 2007
familiarity and feeling of those wonderful illustrations from the past, but is also different enough to be contemporary and fresh. ILLO: I’ve admired many of your alley drawings. What inspired you to begin making these drawings, and are you planning on bringing them all together into a book someday, or are they mostly for your own pleasure/practice? MC: The alleyway drawings began because I love the look of the forgotten and hidden places in my city, and how a neighbourhood evolves and changes over time. It’s like watching how an old ruined church in a field is slowly overrun by vegetation over the years. I love looking at the back of old houses, and seeing how they gradually added a mismatched addition to the back, then a second floor deck, then a new basement door for a renovated basement apartment, then a new roof over half the house over the course of several decades. It’s an organic process unlike, say, putting up uptown skyscrapers or a new giant box-mall or something like that. The houses grow an aerial antenna, then a satellite dish and another phone cable, and the backyard grows a thrown-out clawfoot bathtub, a crooked laundry-line pole and a new shed—kinda like sprouts or a fungus. I love that look, and the emotions those kinds of scenes evoke for me. There’s a nostalgia as well as a certain kind of strange, Toronto Back Alleys #7, 2007
Toronto Back Alleys #6, 2007
lonely beauty or sense of loss in those places that I was trying to capture in those drawings. I started off drawing them as a personal project, and also because I wanted to practice drawing that kind of thing. I used to be so focused on just figure art, and didn’t really have much interest in architecture and such. But as I started doing those drawings, I developed a real love for drawing buildings and laneways and all the little hidden details and stories that were in them. These days, I find drawing them just as interesting if not more so than drawing figures. I am eventually planning to collect them into a book when the whole project is complete. The plan is to draw scenes of those back alleys in all four seasons. I’ve got the winter, spring and fall ones pretty much complete, but the summer ones are still left. I’m working on trying to draw the summer ones set at night, with the orange street lamp glow, and that’s a bit trickier to collect sketches for. After that project is complete, I’m planning another batch of drawings of old corner stores and Chinese restaurants. ILLO: Do you ever do any figurative life drawing or painting from the nude model?
MC: Not as much as I’d like, I’m afraid. Of course I did a lot of that at art college, and even after I graduated I tried to get out to life drawing as much as I could, but these days I just don’t have the time. If I really want to draw from a model, my wife usually poses for me, and I also have a shaving mirror mounted on a extending arm near my drafting table for drawing facial expressions (an idea I stole from seeing a photo of Hal Foster’s studio). I’d love to be able to get out to do figure drawing more often—I definitely notice the difference in my work when I do. ILLO: You’ve begun offering some t-shirt designs through glarkware.com. What other products do you foresee offering to your fans in the future? MC: Well, glarkware is really supportive of me, and I’m hoping I’ll continue to do more shirt designs with them. I’m currently producing limited edition prints of a lot of my artwork, which I started selling at conventions. They seem to be pretty popular, and I’ve been very enthused by the response. Other than that, I don’t really have any other plans for merchandise. ILLO: Tell me about the long form graphic novel you’ve been working on.
Concept art for A Cool Million, 2007
MC: Well, its my ‘dream project’ in many ways. When I started writing my own comics, I conceived of eventually drawing a book that was about 120-150 pages in length. But since I’m fairly new to comics, doing something like that was a bit daunting, so I split it off into 5 interrelated short stories. The focus of the stories are similar to the stories I write for Papercut, and in fact, I’ve decided to serialize some of them on the website. That was mainly because I couldn’t juggle writing and drawing stories for both the graphic novel and the website at the same time. It always seemed like there weren’t enough days in the month to work on both plus the illustration work, and I didn’t want to end up hacking something out just to meet the webcomic deadline. So I decided I’d merge them, and feature some of the stories online. A part of the graphic novel is autobiographical, dealing with how Asian immigrants assimilate into Western culture and the challenges that they face. Not just the kids who came here like me, but their parents too, and the different opinions and attitudes about western life they have. But it’s not strictly about Asian life or anything, several stories don’t feature that at all, and I’m hoping the appeal of the book is universal since it deals with universal themes like alienation, identity, love, loss, and hope. Again, like Papercut, its genre-free, and just meant to be slice-of-life fiction. I have a story in it about how family members cope with the mysterious disappearance of a teenage daughter, another about kids who go to a bible camp and what that’s like, and one about how a 9-year-old girl is first exposed to art and its possibilities. All the stories are drawn in my two-tone style, which has become my regular way of drawing comics. ILLO: Your work in comics is both as an artist and as a writer… obviously you are in love with drawing pictures, but
your writing is also very strong. Have you considered writing stories for other illustrators to draw, as say artist Mark Schultz has done in the past? MC: Thanks again for another compliment. I’m always worried about my writing and wonder if I communicate effectively that way. I’d love to write something for other artists someday, as there are some things that other artists are able to capture much better than I can. But for the time being, since most of my writing is very personal, I prefer drawing the stories myself. Still, if I write some fun genre stuff in the future, like a big superhero story or something like that, I’d be thrilled to have some other artists draw it. ILLO: I understand that you are working with R.O. Blechman on an animation project. Can you tell us anything about this film? MC: Well, since it’s already been officially announced by Bob Blechman (sorry, I find it hard to call him R.O. or Mr. Blechman), I can probably mention a bit more about it. The project is an animated feature film version of Nathaniel West’s novel A Cool Million, which is a sort of satirical political comedy set in the depression. It’s really funny, in a black comedy way, and the themes of the story have a lot of relevance and parallels to the world today. I was contacted out of the blue by Bob, who is writing and directing it, and he’s been a joy to work with. Basically, my role is to be the visual designer and lead artist for the film, meaning I get to create the look of the project. It’s still in the early stages of production, but I’ve done some character design work for it, as well as some concept art, and Bob has been very supportive of me. I have zero experience in animation, having only done a bit of live-action storyboarding for films in the past, but Bob is aiming for a graphic novel feel for the film and he’s given me a lot of freedom to do things the way I see them and that’s very generous of him. And of course, the film is planned with a two-tone look in mind. I’m excited about it, and a bit daunted as well—but that’s probably good as I love new artistic challenges. ILLO: Do you aspire to write/design/direct a film of your own in the future? MC: No, I really don’t think I could do something like that on my own. I have little experience in film, after all, and the A Cool Million project is really just such a unique opportunity to work with Bob. As I mentioned earlier, film seems like such a slow process and such a group effort, I doubt I’d be well suited for it. I prefer fulfilling my story-telling ambitions though comics, which is a little faster and allows me a lot more creative control. It also allows me to just get lost in my own head and follow my muse alone in a studio without any distractions. But who knows? If in a starry future, I get lucky enough that someone decides to adapt something I wrote and drew for film…maybe then. But for now, my heart and my passion is in drawing illustrations and creating comics. ■ —by Daniel Zimmer, 2009 For more information about Michael Cho, visit his blog and portfolio at http://chodrawings.blogspot.com and http://www.illoz.com/ michaelcho, and his webcomic at: www.transmission-x.com/_papercut
Toronto Back Alleys #14, 2007
James Gurney is the best-selling author and illustrator of the wildly successful Dinotopia book series, which has been published in eighteen languages and in over thirty countries. ILLO caught up with James recently to discuss his latest books, Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, and Imaginative Realism, an art instruction book for budding illustrators of the fantasticâ€Ś 34
The Imaginative Realism of
James Gurney Interview by Daniel Zimmer
Market Square, 2006. Oil on board, 14" x 28"
ILLO: Letâ€™s start by talking about your early days, before Dinotopia came into your life. Tell me about art school. JG: I had already gotten a degree in archaeology from UC Berkeley, but I was determined to be an illustrator. So I packed up all my stuff in a tiny car and headed down to southern California to enroll in Art Center College of Design. Up until this time art had been a solitary pursuit for me, so it was amazing to actually watch other people drawing, and to see
how many different ways people could solve a problem. ILLO: Did some teachers or classes stand out? JG: Yes, I was lucky to study with the legendary perspective teacher Ted Youngkin, who not only explained the mystery of vanishing points, but insisted that we go outdoors to find our reference material, rather than just looking at photos. I met my future wife Jeanette while on a sketching trip with her to the LA freight yards.
Albino Bullfrog, 1981. Pencil and white gouache on gray mat board, 8" x 9.5"
Jeanette, 1981. Charcoal on tracing paper, 9" x 9"
Park Bench, 1981. Brush pen on drawing paper, 9" x 12"
Crossing Sign, 1980. Pencil, pen, and marker on smooth paper, 6" x 9"
ILLO: But you didn’t stay all the way through to graduation. Why not? JG: I couldn’t afford the tuition. And I realized that the things I really wanted to learn, like animal anatomy and historical painting, weren’t being taught at any school as far as I could tell. So I made up my own curriculum based on a 1954 edition of the Famous Artist’s Course and a second-hand copy of Creative Illustration by Andrew Loomis. I also found a book called The Academy and French Painting in the Nineteenth Century by Albert Boime that laid out the whole academic method, and I followed it as closely as I could. Once a week I went to the LA Museum of Natural History to make charcoal studies from their incredible collection of animal skeletons. On another day of the week I went with Jeanette to the zoo to draw live animals. ILLO: But live animals don’t pose. JG: They sure don’t, especially the really shy ungulates like the bongos. I got talking to one of the zookeepers, who told me that if you whistle to a bongo, they’ll get hypnotized. I had a feeling he was pulling my leg, but one quiet morning I whistled like a madman and sure enough, a bongo settled right near me and sat like a statue for an hour while I did a little painting of him. ILLO: I know that you had a period of free-spirited travel, where you rode the rails with Thomas Kinkade and crisscrossed the country making sketches. JG: I wanted to see America. Tom Kinkade was by then an old friend of mine. He and I had been assigned as freshman roommates in the dorms at UC Berkeley four years earlier. We lived next door to each other at the Golden Palms, a two-story stucco apartment in Highland Park, with alcoholics on the bottom floor and art students on the top. We said good-bye to all our friends, loaded our backpacks with peanuts, corncob pipes, and sketchbooks, and jumped onto an open boxcar eastbound from the LA freight yards. ILLO: How long did spend doing this? JG: All that summer. We slept in graveyards and on rooftops and sketched portraits of gravestone cutters and lumberjacks. To make money we drew two-dollar portraits in bars by the light of cigarette
James Gurney and Thomas Kinkade near Truckee, California, 1981
machines. By the time we got to Manhattan, we had a crazy idea to write a how-to book on sketching. We hammered out the basic plan for the book on Burger King placemats. By night we slept on abandoned piers, and by day we made the rounds of the publishers. We eventually got a contract from Watson Guptill, who published The Artist’s Guide to Sketching. It is as much about the adventure of sketching on the road as it is about technique. ILLO: How did the experience of travel sketching affect your life, and your art? JG: I got used to working outdoors under any conditions. One time in Buffalo I was sketching an ore freighter from a vantage point in the middle of a drawbridge. All of a sudden a siren went off and lights started flashing and the bridge started lifting up. The guy in the tower didn’t see me, I guess, but it was too late. I managed to hang on and did another quick sketch from the higher vantage point. I also got a healthy respect for how different people look at drawings. We set ourselves up at the Missouri state coon-hunting championships with the goal of doing portraits of everybody’s favorite dogs. The owners were very particular with the dogs’ proportions and markings, and they weren’t going to pay us two bucks unless we got the details right. It was a tougher critique than I ever got in art school.
The Artist’s Guide to Sketching, 1982
James Gurney and Thomas Kinkade painting backgrounds for Ralph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta’s animated film Fire and Ice, 1981
the book. You can read more about the book ILLO: Have you considered producing another at www.andrewsmcmeel.com, and also on my such book today, revisiting that territory with blog: email@example.com. Thomas Kinkade? ILLO: How did you get a job on the film Fire JG: I’m still friendly with Tom, but not in very and Ice? close touch. Although we’re both still devoted JG: Tom and I got back from our hoboing more sketchers, our artwork diverged along different broke than ever, because the advance from the lines. As for me, I’ve actually been working on book was tiny, and wasn’t going to come for another art instruction book, based upon some of my blog posts. The book is called Imaginative months anyway. So we made the rounds of the Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist. It’s a studios: Disney, Bluth, Hanna Barbera. None of big book: 224 pages, 400 illustrations. Andrews them were hiring, and my portfolio wasn’t up McMeel will be publishing the book in October Imaginative Realism, October 2009 to snuff anyway. I had drawn a lot, but I hadn’t really had much success with painting. I thought I was washed 2009, and they are keeping the price down to $24.99. This is the main project I’ve been working on during the up at age 21. Then we stumbled into Ralph Bakshi. He was last year. The material comes from my art school lectures and just setting up for an animated sword-and-sorcery film based also from my blog. The reason I wrote the book is that there’s on Frank Frazetta’s artwork. We talked Ralph into hiring us a lot of information that I think is crucial to imaginative as the background painters, not knowing a thing about the picturemaking that I’ve never been able to find in how-to art business. We had no idea that we had to produce about 1200 paintings between us in a little over a year, at a rate of about 11 books. Adapting material from a blog into a book turned out to be per week—and that was on top of all the writing and sketching a much, much bigger job than I first imagined, though I tried for Artist’s Guide to Sketching. to keep some of the blog’s informal and practical tone. A lot of ILLO: Bakshi hired you even without seeing any paintings in the material in the book has never been published before. The your portfolio? spark for doing the book grew out of a discussion on my blog JG: It was a big leap of faith for him, because for the first a year ago last February, when the readers shared profound month or so my work was terrible. You can see the learning insights about what they liked to see in an art instruction book. curve if you watch the movie. But all that painting mileage was I learned a lot from those posts, and you’ll see that reflected in an education in itself.
Fire and Ice background, 1982. Cel vinyl acrylic on board, 10" x 16". Image courtesy Ralph Bakshi Productions
ILLO: What was it like working with Frank Frazetta? JG: Frank was brilliant, and brought a lot of energy to the whole production. He would lug in stacks of his famous canvases, and prop them up around the break room every once in a while. But we could never get him to talk about his techniques or demonstrate figure drawing. He’d rather shoot the breeze about girls or baseball. Art was an intuitive thing for him, something you didn’t analyze unless there was something the matter with you. ILLO: Your styles are very different, to my eye, and unlike most of the artists working in the fantasy genre, your work seems to have escaped being affected by his influence. JG: All of Frazetta’s principles were sound, but I was looking for those principles in a lot of other places—Dean Cornwell, N.C. Wyeth, and The Hudson River School Painters. That would irritate Frank sometimes. I’d say: “Look, Frank, what do you think of this spot of light in the forest? It’s just like Wyeth would do!” “Wyeth?” he’d shout, “Forget about Wyeth! This is a Frazetta movie!” ILLO: Did any of his work rub off on you, or did you learn anything from him? JG: For one thing, I started to think about paperback covers as a career option, which had never occurred to me in art school. And I admired the simplicity and understatement of his work, and the confidence he brought to creating an image totally out of his head.
ILLO: Was working in an animation studio a positive experience for you? JG: I enjoyed the camaraderie of the movie studio. Every two weeks I got out a three-foot high stack of art books from the library and spread them out on the counters in the background room. One by one all the animators and layout people would come by during the breaks and we’d fire up about art and look through each other’s sketchbooks. When things got slow we would jam paint lids into the oxygen airbrush tanks and shoot the lids across the room like a cannon, right through a foamcore target of Mickey Mouse. The best thing about the film work was the feeling of living inside my paintings. When I saw my pictures projected on the screen with action and music, it really felt like I was inside the world I was painting, not just looking at little flat rectangles. Howard Pyle always talked about jumping through the picture frame and breathing the air you just painted, and that was the first time I completely experienced that feeling. ILLO: My very first exposure to your work was the cover for Alan Dean Foster’s Glory Lane, which I bought strictly for the cover art. JG: That was a wraparound cover where I tried to cram in as much detail and as many colors as possible, just to explore the limits of bad taste. I think I went way past the limits! But a lot of people responded to it. The scene shows a couple of teenagers from Albuquerque who are dropped onto an alien planet. I had done a lot of wraparound covers before, and was
Glory Lane, 1986. Oil on board. Wraparound paperback cover for novel by Alan Dean Foster
always annoyed by the UPC barcode on the back cover, so I just worked in the code box as a signboard that two fish-like creatures are carrying. ILLO: This cover and others you did back then were meticulous and incredibly detailed. I would imagine that the budget for some of the paperback work was somewhat small compared to the enormous amount of work required to create your pictures. How did you reconcile that in approaching your freelance assignments? JG: I didn’t have an agent, my expenses were low, my wife was patient, and I didn’t have much other work at the time. My friend James Warhola was in the same predicament; he got known for painting elaborate alien bar room scenes. Both of us had a reputation with the the art directors for painting ten times the number of aliens for one low price. One time I remember we discussed it and resolved to either raise our rates or kill off a few hundred aliens. ILLO: What did you like most about doing paperback covers? JG: I enjoyed the freedom. Paperbacks were the last vestige of the Golden Age of American illustration. You were given a manuscript and asked to work up a few sketches that you
thought would best convey the story. Most of the time the art directors trusted you to follow your instincts. If you wanted to try something out they would usually let you. In one book called Quozl, I not only did a wraparound cover with a bunch of rabbit-eared aliens, but also a complete flip-book animation sequence on the inside pages, in a bold new art form that I dubbed “Flip-a-Mation.” The art form didn’t catch on with me or anyone else. It was just too much work. ILLO: Of all the genre illustrators, science fiction and fantasy artists had to be be the most versatile. JG: Yes, we had to paint everything—space ships, aliens, dragons, castles, and dinosaurs. You couldn’t get in a rut. ILLO: Were there aspects of cover illustration that you got fed up with? JG: You did have to contend with the fact that all of your compositions had a blank space at the top, and wraparound compositions always looked unbalanced when you saw them as paintings. And I was getting tired of battle scenes. By the late 1980s, my first child was born and I wanted to paint children and flowers and foliage, not just monsters in battle armor. These feelings
RIGHT: Shiver Me Timbers, 1987. Oil on board, 15" x 9". Cover for On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers
A Ride to Atlantis, 1989. Oil on canvas mounted to panel, 24" x 20"
hard time really believing it. I wanted to really came into focus when I got assigned believe it, but I couldn’t help wondering a book called Total War. The picture was who grew the food for the orcs, or what supposed to be a portrait of a monster the Stormtroopers did when they got off with an ape-skull face. I tried my best to work. make him as horrible as I could, grinning ILLO: So where did you look for demoniacally, with blood dripping down inspiration? his jaw. But I didn’t have my heart in it. I JG: I knew there must be other ways to looked over at my sleeping baby, and I was set up a fantasy world, so I started reading really hungry to paint something majestic Irish and Italian folktales, which are full of and joyful. In my spare time I started whimsy and tricksters. And I reread other sketching ideas for a city on a waterfall, fantasies that I had loved as a child, like and a springtime parade with kids and The Fleet: Total War. Ace Books, 1990 Gulliver’s Travels and Alice in Wonderland. dinosaurs. ILLO: Did Dinotopia always exist in your mind as a utopia? Those stories are not about the grim contest between good There weren’t many stories like it in the fantasy genre. Did you and evil; they’re just full of wonderful invention, and the plot is much more episodic. entertain thoughts of developing a dark side, or bad guys? JG: When I was a teenager in the 1970s I was a fan of Lord of ILLO: During this time you were also working for National the Rings, Narnia, and Star Wars. What I loved about all those Geographic. Were most of your assignments created through stories was the completeness of the imagined worlds, and the field work, actually visiting the sites and constructing your ability to transport you inside them. But all of those stories pictures from there, or would you work from imagination, or start off with the basic premise of good guys on one side and some combination of methods? bad guys on the other, with a big fight in the end. The center JG: When I started there, National Geographic still sent its of every plot is the temptation of the hero by the dark forces. artists and art directors to meet the archaeologists on location. Even though those original works were brilliant, and still are, On some of my first assignments I had a chance to see Rome, the good-versus-evil formula became pretty tiresome in the Athens, and Jerusalem, and to explore some newly discovered hands of a lot of the imitators. I got bored with it, and had a tombs.
Attic Scene, National Geographic, February 1989. Oil on canvas, 36" x 24"
I had grown up poring over old copies of the magazine going back to the 1920s, and was especially impressed with the work of Tom Lovell, who I later met and corresponded with. My method was modeled after his. I would start by reading as much as I could about the history, then draw up dozens of small thumbnail sketches. After the basic direction was worked out, we would travel to the location and go over all the details. The archaeologists and paleontologists were always incredibly helpful, as was the Geographic staff, which includes full-time art researchers. ILLO: What was the approval process like on the editorial side? Did the changes drive you crazy, or were they just part of the territory? JG: I had to get used to the fact that most of the work would never be seen. National Geographic is a photo magazine, not an art or illustration magazine, so the art never had a secure place, unless there was no other way to solve the problem. That meant working up full comps for editorial meetings to try to steal layout space away from the hundreds of dazzling photographs that had already been taken. It was routine for entire stories to be cut after a lot of work was done. I did dozens of comprehensive studies for a story on the Roman empire in the Holy Land, but the whole story was canceled because the editor questioned the scholarship of the author. But I didnâ€™t mind too much. It was like taking a college course and getting paid for it. ILLO: Do you still produce commercial illustration work for clients? Would you consider doing a piece on the Mayans for National Geographic if they called you next week? LEFT: Uses of Soybeans, 1986. Oil on canvas, 24.5" x 27"
JG: I still do an occasional commissioned piece for a science magazine, or a stamp for the Postal Service, and I love the chance to explore a new topic, but lately with the demands of Dinotopia I haven’t had time for much else. ILLO: In 2007 you completed a massive project, your latest Dinotopia book, Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara. How closely do you work with scientists and dinosaur experts when developing your illustrations? Do you send sketches over for the leading scientists to approve before you go to press? JG: I work a lot with Michael Brett-Surman of the Smithsonian, who is the go-to guy for dinosaurs. I showed him the project in at least four stages: storyboard, comprehensive layouts, finished art, and the whole book with final text. He has kept me current with the constantly changing field of paleontology— thanks to him, I kept up with the latest changes in the names of the giant rhinos. First I called them the obsolete name Baluchitherium, then Indricotherium, and finally the most recently accepted name Paraceratherium. ILLO: Have you ever made any major mistakes in your renderings thus far, or does it scare you to think you may slip up and leave out an important detail? JG: Mistakes are inevitable, and you just try to catch as many of them as you can. It means a lot to me to please the experts who spend their life studying these creatures, especially the guys who discover them and guide our scientific understanding. Dr. Mark Norell of the American Museum of Natural History is one of the world experts on feathered dinosaurs. I showed him the artwork when it was mostly finished and in the layouts, and he found about four mistakes in one piece of art—things like the position of the claws, or the number of feathers in the neck, or the relative sizes of the creatures. I had to get the painting back from the printer, repaint it, reshoot it, and rush it back into the layouts. ILLO: What has the response been like from the community of dinosaur researchers? Are they enthusiastic and positive about your work? JG: Dinosaur scientists are incredibly kind to artists, and they’ve been unceasingly generous to me with their time and knowledge. No one should ever be shy or intimidated to approach them for help. Many scientists are artists themselves, and they know what kind of research help you need. Most of them started The Sinking of the Cumberland, 2005. Oil on canvas, 30" x 40" On loan to the Mariner’s Museum, Newport News, Virginia
Giganotosaurus, 1997. Oil, 21" x 14.5"
out with a love of movies and toys, and they understand that in fantasy or science fiction you have to take some liberties to tell a story. We’ve had a number of Dinotopia art exhibitions in natural history museums, sometimes curated by scientists. ILLO: When creating your major illustrations, do you work directly from life, or mostly from photographs? JG: I work from all sorts of references. Sometimes I dress up in costume and pose in front of a mirror for quick charcoal studies. Other times, I work directly from a lay figure or a costumed model. Most often I set up a costumed model in artificial light, or better yet in real sunlight outdoors, and take digital photos myself, which I then print out in the studio and arrange on the drawing board around the painting. I never project or trace photos in any way, because photos are never right. I also pull images from a photo reference file made up of magazine clippings kept in a filing cabinet (remember those?) These “scrap” photos are arranged in categories like “Edge Lighting,” “Warm Monochromatic Colors,” or “Motion Blur.” I use these photos laterally, not literally—in other words, I might take the muddy road texture from one, and a weird sunset glow from another. I don’t often use the internet for picture research unless I’m looking for a specific form, like a cuckoo clock or an astrolabe. ILLO: Could you explain in detail about your materials and methods? JG: Sure. I work seated at an adjustable drawing table with a parallel bar. The technique for almost all of the art from the Dinotopia books is oil on 100% rag heavyweight illustration board. I usually begin with regular graphite pencil directly on the board—no tracings or separate drawings, but lots of erasing and redrawing. This drawing is sealed with a spray of workable fixative, then with a thin layer of acrylic matte medium, brushed on, and then scraped off to leave a thin film. The layer of matte medium keeps the oil from dissolving the pencil lines and soaking into the board. I then lay on thin washes of oil color, diluted with an odorless turpentine, until a light effect of the overal picture starts to emerge. Next I apply the final oil colors more opaquely, using Winsor and Newton Liquin as a medium, starting usually with the center of interest. I then mix colors on a freezer-paper palette in three or four specially chosen color strings to suit the particular color scheme. It’s similar to the Reilly method, but each hue is gradated into only about four tones from light to dark. The brushes include bristle filberts and white nylon flats and watercolor Kolinsky sables. I try to use a brush that’s a little too big rather than too small. Originals are typically only about 20% larger than printed size, about 14 by 18 inches, though a few are done much larger, about 24 by 48 inches. The whole painting from start to finish takes anywhere from a day to a month, but typically takes about three to five days for an average picture. ILLO: You mix real and fantastical elements, often to make an impossible scene look believable. What is your thought process in this kind of work? JG: I got a letter recently from a kid who said, “I like the way you pulled real facts and unreal facts and zipped them together.” That’s it in a nutshell!
Chandara (detail), 2002. Oil on canvas, 24" x 52"
Some people have called this kind of work “imaginative realism” or “reality-based fantasy,” but I think it’s the same thing artists have always done through history in portraying scenes from myth and literature. Basically what I’m trying to do is to create a realistic image of a scene that could never be photographed. I have an old Latin saying burned into my mahl stick: Ars est celare artem, which means that true art conceals the artifice of its making. It’s easy to make a painting look like paint. For me, creating depth and illusion is one of the most exciting goals of painting, but it’s just a first step, because the higher goal is to select, accentuate, and subordinate all the elements of the picture to communicate a particular mood or feeling, and that goes beyond mere illusionism. ILLO: You work a lot outdoors and paint things like laundromats and alleyways. What connection does this kind of plein air painting have to your fantasy work? JG: I took nearly the whole year off in 2004 just to work outdoors and learn from nature. I felt my imaginative paintings were getting stale and cramped by studio mannerisms. Almost every day for a year I headed outside, painting in driving rainstorms and fast-changing sunsets, trying to capture neon light at twilight on a crowded sidewalk. It was the best thing I could have done, because it made me much more conscious of light and color, and it sped up my painting process. Even though I’m a fantasy painter, at heart I’m a realist. What I’m after is
the ordinariness of extraordinary scenes. The artists who inspire me most are guys like Menzel and Shishkin and Repin, who were in love with the commonplace. I think it was Robert Louis Stevenson who said, “Romance, if it is to be art, must be made gritty and pedestrian.” ILLO: Did you sell your plein air paintings in galleries? JG: Yes, I sold some of them, and I did a lot of “paint-out” events, where the work was auctioned at the end of a day’s painting. But I’m hanging onto most of my plein air studies because they’re the seeds for future studio paintings. ILLO: The photos I’ve seen of your studio contain many models of dinosaurs, and life casts hanging on the wall. Do you sculpt any of these models yourself to create your own reference, or where do you acquire these amazing pieces?
James Gurney in his studio, 1996
Alpine Tribesman (detail), 2005, from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara. Oil on board, 12" x 18"
Skeleton Dune (detail), 2006. Oil on board, 9" x 28"
JG: I’m a packrat, and all my countertops and shelves are crowded with animal skulls, half-built plastic models, dinosaur resin sculpts, and plaster ecorches based on what they used in the nineteenth century academies. Some I buy from my friends who are sculptors; others I make myself. I’ll routinely use a hot-glue gun to make quick architectural maquettes out of scrap wood, cardboard, dowels, and foam core board. These are no beauties, and they get tossed out after they are photographed. Recently I wanted to paint a dinosaur skeleton in a sand dune, so I warmed up a big lump of tan modeling clay in the toaster oven (much to the surprise of my wife, who was about to toast a bagel.) I then quickly molded the clay into the forms of sand dunes, complete with pieces from a plastic model dinosaur skeleton stuck into the soft clay. It was the work of only two hours, but once I lit and photographed it, I had a clear idea of exactly how the light and shadow would play over the scene. When you light up a real maquette, there are nuances and cast shadow effects that you could never dream up, and that carries the conviction of realism more than any other single thing. ILLO: Have you ever created any limited edition sculptures, such as bronzes, or any resin models for sale to collectors? Are you planning any more video games or movies? Are you going to have more Dinotopian novels written by other authors? What about theme parks? Do you have plans for any such projects in the future? JG: I’m giving all that a rest for now. It’s tempting to share the sandbox with lots of other creative people, but life is complicated enough. I’ve always worked at home by myself without any employees. If I get too involved with all that, I won’t have time to paint and write. ILLO: You’ve mentioned your love of creating a complete world, down to the hinges on the doors and the details of costumes
on the characters. With the success of fully-immersive virtual worlds such as Second Life, have you entertained the notion of translating your world of Dinotopia into a fully-immersive virtual experience? JG: I’ve never seen Second Life. But again, even supervising other people to undertake such a project would be a career in itself, and I’d rather spend my time painting. ILLO: How have you been influenced by the revolution in digital art? JG: The good stuff is very inspiring to me, and I admire it greatly. I think it’s amazing what artists are doing now with computer tools. Whole new visual worlds have been opened up with things like fractal geometry, flocking programs, and ray tracing technology. I’m especially impressed with the pioneering work of CG animation. Both the artists and the technical people are figuring out things like subsurface scattering, which painters have known about since the Renaissance. But they’re also discovering principles that painters have so far only been dimly aware of. Seeing digital art has influenced the way I perceive the world as much as seeing photography has done. We’re at a point now where the smart digital artists are learning everything they can from traditional painters, and painters are trying to absorb lessons from the digital revolution. ILLO: Have you tried working with 3D programs yourself, or do you have any interest in creating artwork digitally vs. “the old fashioned way?” JG: For me personally, I’m happy to be a dinosaur. I’m totally committed to working in traditional oil paints. For me it’s still the fastest and most efficient way to get my ideas in visible form. And I admit, I need to see an original painting as a physical object in front of me. When a painting doesn’t work out, I don’t press “delete,” I literally shove the canvas in the wood stove—what I affectionately call the “Gallery Flambeau.”
Scholar’s Stairway, from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, 2006. Oil on board, 12" x 18"
I could never say good-bye to the sensuous qualities of paint and brushes. I get a thrill out of lettering with dip pens. In fact, in Chandara, even though we’ve developed a custom digital font to mimic my roundhand script, I did all the lettering by hand to make it more authentic. And I can’t go too long without bringing my paints outside and working from nature. ILLO: The Dinotopia books have a precedent with Faeries, by Froud and Lee, and all the books by Rien Poortvliet, like Gnomes and Dutch Treat. What are the unique challenges of this kind of novel-length illustrated book? JG: I call it the “long-form picture book,” for want of a better term. This is a different art form from anything else. First off, 160 pages gives you lots of scope to tell a story or to explore a world. It’s five times the length of a typical 32-page children’s picture book, and it takes about 150 paintings. It’s not like a graphic novel, because there are only one or two paintings per page, and you don’t have to rely on dialog and word balloons to tell the story. The running text can be a mix of narration, description, or dialog. The text doesn’t have to marry exactly with the pictures. In fact, I like to have some of the pictures stand on their own outside of the narrative. I do the writing last, because so much storytelling and worldbuilding happens in the picture-making stage. Hopefully with the right balance of elements, this kind of book can be a springboard for daydreaming.
ILLO: Is the approach to the structure or pacing of your picture books inspired by movies? JG: I thought that way for a long time, and that approach influenced the way I designed World Beneath and First Flight. I read everything I could find on the three-act structure of screenplays, and I wanted my books to be like a “movie for your hands.” But I’ve come to realize that the long-form picture book is not a movie in book form. It’s a picture book! Which means the reader completely controls the experience. This freedom takes the experience outside the prison of time that governs all filmmaking. ILLO: What do you learn from your readers? JG: I’m constantly reminded of the impact that pictures can have over us. I got a letter last week from a young woman who is an art student in Germany. She said she found her old copy of Dinotopia after it had been misplaced for many years, and she remembered something her father said about it. He told her that it was a magical book, and that every time she opened it up, there would be a new picture hidden somewhere in its pages that she had never seen before. That letter brought tears to my eyes, because I was the same type of kid, and I had the same reverence for illustration, especially the classic images by people like Maxfield Parrish, or Howard Pyle, or Jessie Willcox Smith. I discovered those artists at an early age from old copies of the Scribner’s classics
Desert Crossing (detail), 2005. Oil on board, 14" x 28"
Outsider Artist, 2008. Oil on canvas mounted to panel, 14.5" x 12"
Will Arrives in Waterfall City, 2005. Oil on board, 12" x 18"
that my parents owned. I would ride my bike four miles to the library just to check out Walt Reed’s book The Illustrator in America. All those pictures were like food and drink to my imagination. ILLO: What are your feelings about the future of illustration? JG: Professionals in the business may complain about the headaches of stock art, photo-illustration, lousy contracts, and disappearing clients. There’s no doubt—it’s a tough time right now to make a living as an illustrator. But that can change. We have to win back the public by coming up with new ways to tell stories with pictures. We have more resources at our fingertips—tools, references, printing technology—than any of our artistic ancestors ever dreamed of. Illustration is a proud calling. We should never forget how lucky we are to be able to conjure dreams out of thin air. ■ —by Daniel Zimmer, 2009
Denison’s Antique Map, “Song in the Garden,” and “Chandara.” For more information, visit http://www.life.org.uk/articles/119 From October 29 to November 2 the “Return to Dinotopia” exhibition will travel to the Utopiales Festival in Nantes, France. Dinotopia: The Fantastical Art of James Gurney Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE, from February through May 2010 A large exhibition of Dinotopia artwork curated by the Norman Rockwell Museum. For more information, visit: http://www.delart.org/exhibitions/dinotopia.html
For more information about James Gurney’s work, or to order signed books, be sure to visit http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com, and his website at http://www.dinotopia.com Two exhibits of artwork from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, will take place this year, one in Europe and the other in America: Return to Dinotopia Centre for Life, Newcastle, UK, through October 2009 The exhibition consists of approximately 55 works, including Arthur James Gurney, 2008
The Lone Ranger, Pentagram, Sappi Paper, 2003
Nancy Nancy Stahl stahl inin the the studio, studio,2007 2007
Whether Whether she’s she’s illustrating illustrating an an editorial editorial piece piece for for aa news news magazine, magazine, designing designing aa postage postage stamp, stamp, or or creating creating aa corporate corporate identity identity piece piece for for an an international international restaurant restaurant chain, chain, Nancy Nancy Stahl’s Stahl’s work work is is distinguished distinguished by by aa specific specific clarity clarity of of line, line, and and an an uncanny uncanny ability ability to to distill distill an an image image down down to to its its essentials. essentials. ILLO ILLO spoke spoke with with Nancy Nancy recently recently to to find find out out what what makes makes her her tick… tick… INTERVIEW INTERVIEW BY BY DANIEL DANIEL ZIMMER ZIMMER ILLO: ILLO: Please Please tell tell me me aa little little bit bit about about your your art art school school days. days. About About what what time time period period were were you you at at Art Art Center, Center, and and was was art art school school aa valuable valuable experience experience for for you? you? NS: NS: II don’t don’t know know where where I’d I’d be be ifif itit hadn’t hadn’t been been for for Art Art Center. Center. II was was there there when when itit was was still still in in L.A., L.A., when when they they were were building building the theschool schoolin inPasadena. Pasadena.Since SinceIIhad hadalready alreadybeen beento toaaUniversity University for for two two years, years, II only only stayed stayed for for two two more more at at Art Art Center. Center. II often often wonder wonder what what itit would would have have meant meant to to have have completed completed the the four four years years there. there. Not Not only only was was the the instruction instruction invaluable, invaluable, but but also also the the connection connection to to design design students students who who became became art art directors directors and and designers, designers, and and who who guided guided me me when when II began began my my career. career. ILLO: ILLO: IfIf you you were were looking looking at at art art schools schools today today would would you you still still go go to to one? one? What What would would you you look look to to get get out out of of the the experience experience that that perhaps perhaps wasn’t wasn’t there there when when you you were were aa student? student? NS: NS: II don’t don’t know know ifif II would would have have gotten gotten what what II needed needed by by staying staying longer, longer, but but II didn’t didn’t have have aa clue clue about about the the fact fact that that illustration illustrationwas wasaabusiness. business.My Myaunt auntwho whoworked workedin inthe thepatents patents department department of of AMF AMF was was the the one one who who told told me me I’d I’d have have to to keep keep records records and and pay pay taxes. taxes. II was was that that naive. naive. II also also wish wish that that II had had been been given given courses courses in in conceptualizing. conceptualizing. Working Working on on op-ed op-ed pieces pieces with with an an over-night over-night deadline deadline isis so so
terrifying terrifying to to me…of me…of course course II grab grab those those jobs jobs whenever whenever II can can because because II like like the the mental mental challenge, challenge, but but they they are are torture. torture. II do do believe believe that that anything anything can can be be learned, learned, and and wish wish II had had the the opportunity opportunity to to work work itit out out in in aa classroom. classroom. ILLO: ILLO: What What words words of of advice advice could could you you offer offer to to aa student student looking looking at at art art schools schools today? today? NS: NS: Find Find one one where where you you will will be be able able to to interact interact with with the the students students who who will will be be hiring hiring you you in in the the future. future. ILLO: ILLO: Who Whowere weresome someof of your yourfirst firstclients, clients,and andwhat whatwas wasititlike like breaking breaking into into the the industry industry when when you you first first started started out? out? NS: NS: My My very very first first client client was was Russell Russell & & Hinrichs Hinrichs (Tony (Tony Russell, Russell, and and Kit Kit and and Linda Linda Hinrichs). Hinrichs). My My classmate classmate and and friend friend Paul Paul Hardy Hardy was was working working for for them, them, and and he he recommended recommended me me for for aa textbook textbookseries seriesthey theywere weredoing. doing.ItItwas wasalmost almostlike likean anextension extension of of school, school, and and they they made made itit aa very very easy easy transition. transition. They They also also helped helped me me tremendously tremendously by by giving giving me me names names of of art art directors directors all all over over NYC. NYC.When When II started, started, itit was was all all face-to-face. face-to-face. I’d I’d lug lug my my portfolio portfolio around around during during my my lunch lunch hour hour from from the the full-time full-time job job II took took for for aa textile textile company. company. And And I’d I’d do do the the work work at at night. night. ItIt was was aa very very busy busy time. time. ILLO: ILLO: As As an an established established illustrator, illustrator, how how important important isis your your “self “self promotion” promotion” campaign campaign these these days? days? Do Do you you still still produce produce
Saxophone, The Oxford American, 2003
regular postcards or flyer mailings, or what are some of your most valuable promotion techniques you use to get noticed by new art directors? NS: Yikes. I’m dreadful at promoting myself. I’ve printed up a few postcards over the last fifteen years, and most of them are still in boxes under my desk. A call I got from a new art director this week came from Workbook and he referred to my pages on illoz.com. Along with being dreadful at sending out promotion, I rarely ask a client what brought them to me…I just assume it’s because of all the years of work I’ve produced. ILLO: Do you have a rep? How important is a rep to your career, and do most of the other illustrators you know have one? NS: I had a rep, Vicki Morgan (now her business is MorganGaynin), for sixteen years. I think I chose just the right time to have a rep. She took me on after I’d been working for five years on my own. I had established myself pretty well, but I was shy about asking for proper fees, and wasn’t promoting myself at all. She definitely got me better assignments and a wider range of clients. It was also about the same time that I switched to painting with gouache (I had been doing pencil drawings before that). So she promoted that style for me and I made the switch. When I moved to computer, I was at first needing to be more in touch with the client again, so it was good that at that time I went back to repping myself. LEFT: Braid, uncommissioned, 1993
Painterly Woman, Pentagram, Sappi Paper, 2002
I think a rep is great for getting an illustrator out in a larger arena. Some people can handle that on their own, I just wasn’t one of them. ILLO: Do you advertise in the illustration annuals, and are they a valuable showcase for your work? Do you find yourself getting more work from your online portfolios rather than the annuals, or is it about equal? NS: Yes, I’ve done Workbook since the early ’90s, when I went on my own. It’s hard to say if that is where people start, because they usually refer to things online, but they often go there as a result of seeing the sourcebook ad and/or Workbook’s website first. I know it pays for itself during the year, and people refer to older volumes, so I’ll keep advertising in the Workbook until that no longer holds true. ILLO: You were one of the first high profile illustrators to make a very public switch to working digitally (that I can remember from the various graphic design magazines I was reading at the time.... I know your switch influenced and intrigued ME.) As the years have gone by, I wanted to ask… How many of your digital illustrations have vanished into the ether, as hard drives have crashed or Syquest cartridges have become obsolete. Do you find yourself missing any illustrations that have gotten away from you as technology has changed and drives have failed? What steps do you take to protect your digital archives?
Housepower, original gouache illustration for Working Woman magazine, 1985
Duke Ellington, Warner Records, 1988
Benny Goodman, RCA/Bluebird, 1987
Louis Armstrong, RCA/Bluebird, 1988
Johnny Hodges, RCA/Bluebird, 1987
NS: I’m not aware of any finished art completely disappearing. Of course, the CDs and DVDs they are all backed up onto are probably disintegrating at this very moment. I have lost an hour of work here and there, but nothing major. Nothing more devastating than squirting ink from my Rapidograph onto a line drawing in the old days. My first back-ups were to floppies, then those were saved onto Syquests. I had a CD written at a service bureau before I bought a CD burner. It cost $200 for one CD and I think it held 500mb(?) and one of the files didn’t transfer…! Then everything went onto Zip drives and then CDs, and now the
stuff I care most about is on DVDs. I backup at night onto a second internal hard drive, and when I’m feeling jinxed I backup onto a memory stick, too. I’ve lost more painted artwork than digital. ILLO: Much of your work is grounded in reality…do you work from life, or from imagination? (I assume you shoot or use reference photography.) Do you regularly go to life drawing sessions, or maintain a daily sketchbook? How important is working directly from life to the growth of your art? NS: I need my reference, much as I try to get away from it. Most often I will pose myself after initial roughs. Google or my
Thumbnail sketches for Mardi Gras
Refined sketch for Mardi Gras
scrap file will provide me with props that I don’t have handy. If I can hire models, that will give the best results, but there isn’t time or budget for that very often now. I’ve started to draw for myself out of my imagination, but I don’t have much confidence in it. My favorite is to draw from life, but the opportunity for that is pretty rare. I miss it most of all. Everyone I know who draws well keeps a sketchbook. I wish I could get that to be a habit again, like it was in school. ILLO: Do you ever paint outdoors, or paint for “fun” just to experiment with ideas? NS: No. More likely, I will take time to learn a new program or experiment with my computerized knitting machine. ILLO: Have “gallery sales” of your original artworks ever been an important part of your career? Have you had any shows of your original work, or have you sold any of your original gouache illustrations? NS: I had a show of my gouache paintings back in 1991. A few sold, and a couple were stolen, and the insurance company paid me for those…does that count? Sales of art happened from time to time without any effort from me (someone would call and ask to buy a book cover, or a client would purchase the art) but no, it has never been an important part of my career. ILLO: Do you sell prints or giclees of your digital work? NS: I’m about to do that through illogator.com. I haven’t turned my site on just yet. I hope to sell knits, mostly, and some prints and maybe old originals. Stay tuned. ILLO: This may be a stupid question, but do you ever have
the urge to break out the gouache and create an illustration the “old fashioned” way? Have any clients specifically asked for this, and would you comply? Are there times while working digitally that you miss some aspect of the “feel” of working with real paint on paper? NS: No, not gouache. I still have tubes of the stuff laying around, all dried up. I can’t seem to toss them. It would make this place look too much like an office without art supplies. I wouldn’t want to do a job in gouache, but I might incorporate more drawing, and I would like to do something with oils, but not with a deadline. Clients asked for gouache after I first made the switch, but I wouldn’t do it. Same thing happened when I went from pencil to gouache. I made one exception that time because it was for Louise Fili, whose work I admire greatly, but once I make the step through a door I don’t like to move backward. I loved the feel of gouache, but I don’t miss it at all. I know some people don’t like the plastic feel of a tablet, but it feels very natural to me. ILLO: Have you ever made any suggestions to the programmers who created Painter, or any of the software packages you use. Your input would probably be very valuable. Have any of those companies ever approached you, particularly in the early days, to be a spokesperson for their applications. NS: Before I owned a personal computer, Adobe invited a bunch of us (Paul Davis, Barbara Nessim, Vivian Flescher, Philippe Weisbecker, Steven Guarnaccia, Steve Heller…about
RIGHT: Mardi Gras, illustration for Security Management magazine, 1995
Pink Sheets, unpublished gouache illustration for Esquire magazine, 1990
Flying Hats, illustration for Travel and Leisure magazine, 1992
Turned Man, self-promotion piece, 2004 (this image is a digital recreation of an original gouache illustration for German Esquire magazine, 1989)
Co-Ed, illustration for Security Management magazine, 1994
30 people) to come try Photoshop before it was released to the public. It was different from the mainframe Quantel Paintboxes that were my only previous experience, and so it was mostly a learning experience for me and the others. I don’t know that anything I said influenced the program, but it was a lot of fun. Mark Zimmer and John Derry stopped by to talk with me a year or so after I had been using Painter. I told them some things about how I used the program. I think they may have come up with the tear off palettes after I told them how hard it was to go back into a painting and find the tools I needed to work on it again, to match what I was doing in an earlier session. I did some beta testing of Adobe products, but I got the impression my comments weren’t coming fast enough. Everything I suggested seemed to have been brought up before by someone else. Still, it was fun to be in on things before they became public. ILLO: What applications do you use on a daily basis? Painter and Photoshop, or do you use anything else? NS: For work, I mainly use Illustrator and Photoshop and some Painter. I’ll play around in any program I can afford to buy. I really enjoyed learning FileMaker Pro (although once things were set up for my record keeping, I didn’t keep up with it). It’s a very creative program. I’m about to download the learning edition of Maya. I hope there is a hard copy of the manual. There’s nothing better than learning a program by reading a good manual! Juggler, illustration for Mitch Shostak Studios, Convene magazine, 2003
Ocean Liner, illustration for Turner + Associates, Yahoo! annual report, 2000
Bighorn Sheep, United States postage stamp, 2007
NYPL Lion, United States postage stamp, 2000
ILLO: Can you tell me a little bit about your actual working method. Do you still sketch your ideas on paper, or do you go straight to the computer to start your work? NS: Every time I get a new assignment I scratch my head and wonder, “How do I do this again?” Honestly…after all these years. So it does vary, but generally I do rough thumbnails on the backs of used paper, then scan those in. I might show the client at this point, or research things to make the drawings clearer. I’ll put my photos or research in place in a kind of collage. Print that out, then make a more detailed sketch. That gets scanned, and after the approval process I’ll begin my final using that sketch as a template in Illustrator or Painter. Illustrator jobs usually end up in Photoshop for some softening of edges. Everything ends up in Photoshop. ILLO: Tell me a little bit about your work with the postal service designing stamps. How many stamps have you been involved with, and do you know if you might be working on any more in the near future? What is it like working with the postal service, and how did it come about in the first place, did they call you from out of the blue? NS: Postage stamps are fun, especially when you start receiving mail using your stamps. I’ve had about 12 stamps make it through the process. And something like another 12 that didn’t get accepted. Working with the postal service takes a bit of getting used to. I remember how tough it was for me when my first stamp was accepted and it took two years for it to come out. Being used to working for editorial clients, I had Florida Panther, United States postage stamp, 2007
Egret, United States postage stamp, 2003
Faux Fargo Stamp, self-promotion piece, 2002
never experienced that kind of delay. And I had to keep my lips sealed, per the contract, until it was announced. There are a lot of rules about working for them, keeping track of where you get your source material is extremely important, and keeping silent about upcoming issues. Terry McCaffery at the US Postal Service saw a drawing I did for the Wall Street Journal and called me about doing stamps. So, yes, it was sort of “out of the blue.” ILLO: Aside from the stamps, one of your most high profile campaigns was your work for KFC, which I originally read about in a graphic design magazine somewhere. Was it exciting to see your work splashed everywhere around the country? Tell me a little bit about working on that job, if you can. I have always wondered about the process involved in working on something that is so massive, not to mention iconic. Were there endless revisions and rounds of approval, or was it surprisingly straightforward? NS: I have mixed feelings about the Colonel. And it isn’t just because I’m a vegetarian. At first it was a great charge to see it on the bucket in TV commercials, and then on the franchises. Friends started sending me photos of places they had been where my Colonel was big on the landscape not only in America, but worldwide. Because the growth of the company took place when my drawing was the logo, it is still
Corproate identity illustration of Walt Disney for Pentagram, The Walt Disney Family Museum, 2007
most prominent, but you’ll notice, they have a new, “more modern” logo now. A friend in China told me that mine is everywhere throughout that country. The thought that my folksy icon had invaded every culture was disturbing to me. I was in Prague recently and I had to look away when I saw it because it became a blight to me in these beautiful old town squares. Of course, it’s right along side McDonald’s arches and other franchises, but it felt like I had personally offended this culture. I’ll be happy once the newer version replaces mine. I’ve done a number of corporate identities since, and they have been very tough. By comparison, the KFC logo went through quite smoothly. Icons are hard to do, but often a client wants contradictory things, like a recent request for a black man’s face done in white on a black ground. Most want too much in a design that should be very spare. And then there is the market testing, which just confuses the goal. Whenever I start on one of these jobs, the client will say, “It’s very simple,” and I get to have a good laugh inside my head. ILLO: Tell me about your latest experiments with computerized knitting, and applying your graphic sensibilities to this new medium. You have you done some commercial work in this area…Have you thought about developing a clothing line? NS: This year’s “contemporary Christmas” stamps are my knitted images. I was disappointed in how hard it is to see the
Self-portrait (as a child) for The Society of Illustrators show You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby, 2006
Dollar Sweater (back), knitting design , 2005
Where to Draw the Line, throw-pillow knitting design, 2005
individual stitches on them, but it has been great fun receiving Christmas cards with my own stamp. Other stamps of mine would appear in my mail once in a while, but the Christmas ones are coming in every day at this moment. I’ve also done some computerized embroidery (phony merit badges) that was used editorially. I had great fun with it when I wasn’t biting my nails over the fact that I had to learn the upgraded program at the same time.
Dollar Sweater (front), knitting design, 2005
I produced some pieces for a show at the New York Times (their hallway into the art department in the old building). They had asked to see things I do in my “spare” time, not real assignments. I warned them that that meant knits. It was great to have a purpose for my knitting and got me to do up some ideas I had been mulling over. I would want to do a clothing line, but I plan to see if I can sell one-of-a-kind items on illogator.com. I have a site there now, but I haven’t turned it on yet. I’m wrestling with selling things that I really enjoyed making but that are tucked away in my closets since the NYT show…two or more years now. ILLO: Your art, while being very “graphic”, is also sculptural to me. Have you ever worked in sculpture? NS: Not much, the sculptural aspect of my work is because I am in love with light on a form. I am looking forward to learning Maya. It may become a part of the two classes I teach, so I’d better get a jump on the students. ILLO: What is your take on the “state of the illustration field” today? Have changes in the market affected your career dramatically, or have you been able to adapt easily to the changes? NS: The amount of work has lessened since the mid ’80s, but I was killing myself back then so I don’t mind. What I do mind is that we are getting paid the same or less when we are supplying more. The client no longer has to take original art and deal with getting separations, etc., we’re giving art that goes right into their layouts. Their salaries have increased with the cost of living, ours have at best held steady. And in many cases the companies are getting more rights without any more
illo. illo. Issue NuMBeR 2
Life is a Cab Beret, knitted hat design
compensation. These are the things that bother me. As far as the changes in assignments…it used to be editorial, record album covers, and movie posters (not that I did many of those). Now it’s the web, postage stamps, and corporate identity. I learn something at every turn and am glad for the experiences. ILLO: Have you ever worked on illustrating a children’s book? Does that interest you? Have you ever worked on creating a line of products based upon your illustration work? NS: No, I haven’t. I used to hate long-term assignments, but I handle them better now. Everything interests me, but even though I have a business side I don’t really like to do business for myself. I find that the desire to achieve something in a business way can lead me to having to do work I’m not all that excited about. At the one ICON that I attended, all the talk of merchandising and entrepreneurial stuff tired me out. I love that people have the energy to do both, but not me. And I don’t want to have employees or outsource. ILLO: Has anyone published a book on your work? I would love to see a hard-cover collecting all of your illustrations. NS: No. I wouldn’t be able to take seeing battered copies on the remainder table at Barnes & Noble. ILLO: Are there any words of advice you could give to a young illustrator starting out today? NS: Roll with the punches. ■ —by Daniel Zimmer, 2009 To learn more about Nancy Stahl, see her websites at: http://illoz.com/ stahl and http://www.drawger.com/stahl
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ARTTalks INTERVIEW BY ZINA SAUNDERS I drew a lot as a kid, and I got a ton of reactions to it from the family…I was a big sports fan. What I used to do is draw professional hockey players’ and baseball players’ pictures. I’d do caricatures of them at home and then I’d find out where they were staying, the Sheraton Hotel or the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, and I’d go down and wait in the lobby…And some guys were very into it and other guys would just tell you to fuck off. The players would tell the team, and the team and I did a couple of programs in yearbooks for teams. That was my first published work. One team, the Philadelphia Flyers, I illustrated their 1974 Stanley Cup year book and they paid me $5 a drawing. They were terrible. The heads were real realistic, in pencil, and then I would outline the head in pen and then draw a body in pen. They were bad. Once the big head, small body hockey player thing was out of my system, I think I wanted to do something like serious and I thought that my funny impulses didn’t belong in my work. I was stupid enough to think I could do high realism or something that I can’t do, that I’m not capable of. But the work that looked tossed off got the biggest reaction. I got a scholarship from Leo Burnett ad agency while I was at Ontario College of Art, between my third and fourth year. I didn’t even know what it was for, I just entered it and—and I got it and I worked at Leo Burnett as a visualizer for my fourth year at college. I hated advertising; it was demeaning. I mean, they’d ask me to draw lettuce and then ask me to make the lettuce look crispier. That wasn’t for me. After school ended I went to England. There was so much great work coming out of London at the time, and I thought I would go there and get inspired by that and maybe I’d find my style. But when I went there I brought my portfolio around and I stupidly went to Leo Burnett there, too. And they offered me a job doing the same thing I had done in Canada, and I took it because I didn’t know anyone there. So I was drawing crispy lettuce and stuff like that, and I hated it. I worked there for about a year and then came back to Canada and somehow started bringing my work around and just did my bit. I had one style that was sort of black and white charcoal that was serious and then there was the crazy stuff in pen and ink. More and more the pen and ink seemed to be favored and I could put some humor in that, but at first it was all little spots and Canadian Business Magazine and stuff that. Some of it was just so bad… I don’t think I necessarily choose my assignments well. Sometimes it’s hard to say no…But it’s really important to choose the right things for yourself. I remember I was doing these crazy biographies of my heroes, just one page each, anyone from George Washington, Gustav Mahler, to Stravinsky. I did a whole series of those and they were fun and I didn’t care. I think part of the not caring thing is I have to sort of fool myself into not caring about a
drawing. I do my best work when I’m not thinking about it, when I’m not worried about it. So any New Yorker cover I do, it’s just a crazy emotional morass. I’ll draw it seven or eight times, and I’ll start painting each one, and this one’s better than the other one, and I’ll go back to the first one—the first one is always the best one. I still haven’t learned to let myself make mistakes, and that’s where the best stuff comes in. My first New Yorker cover I sent François was an idea about smokers, when smokers were being told to smoke outside. I put them standing on window ledges, so there was a cityscape and there were all these people on window ledges. And I was calling her about something else and she said, oh yeah, by the way, do the smoker’s cover, it got approved. And so I did it a million times, really badly, out of my head. When I brought it in, she said, “this is terrible.” I sent her something again and she called me and said, it’s not working, obviously. And I said, I know. She said, “Why don’t you call Ed Sorrel, go talk to him.” I said, “I’m not talking to Ed Sorel, I’m afraid of Ed Sorel.” I thought, why would he want to talk to me? And then the phone rang like two minutes later and he said come over, I’d love to help you, we’ll have lunch and talk. So I brought my drawing over, my bad, bad, bad finals that I had done for this cover. And I showed them to him and he said, “No, these are terrible. You are approaching it all wrong.” I was happy to hear it—I’m still dying for this kind of information. He said, “This is how you do it.” And he went and got some books off the shelf. He said, “You can’t make buildings up out of your head. Some people can do that, you can’t, and I don’t either, so let’s find a cityscape,” and he chose one and he said, “Maybe we’ll put a guy with a pipe here, and this is how I would do it.” And it was just invaluable. And then I went and did it a bunch more times and then it got published and I was delighted. I mean, I wasn’t happy with it, but I was happy that it happened. And then I saw him maybe half a year later and he said, “I saw your cover.” And he said, “We can’t all do our best work all the time, but you know, good try.’ At this point, I’m just doing one thing after another; it’s sort of soul destroying in a lot of ways. And I’ve sort of pared my style down a little bit. Sometimes I look at old pieces and say, Oh shit, I wish I was still working like that. I don’t take any time off. I don’t really want to, I’m not a leisure type person. I play music a lot, that takes up a lot of my time. In Riverside, there was a local jazz trio and quartet I used to play with regularly. But it became like illustration. I mean, it’s really fun to sit down at a piano and it should be that much fun to sit down and draw, and it probably was at one point, maybe 20 years ago. But it’s been a lot of deadlines, and a lot of the fun’s gone out of it. I’d like to stop, but not for too long. I think I’d miss it a lot if I had to stop. It’s nice to be part of the culture and contribute in some minute way. It’s fun to open a newspaper and read stuff and say, that pisses me off, and come up with an idea
Portrait of Barry Blitt by Zina Saunders, 2007
about it and submit it and it’s published. And it’s nice to work with great writers. I mean, it’s very gratifying to illustrate a great piece of journalism or fiction or something; that side of it’s nice, to come up with an idea and it’s magic. That you turn it in and it’s printed a million times, is very cool. ■
To see various samples of Barry’s work, please visit www.barryblitt.com, and www.drawger.com/barryblitt. The above article is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Art Talks, written and illustrated by Zina Saunders. Zina Saunders’ work may been seen online at www.zinasaunders.com.
Zina Saunders with her billboard illustration for Blithe Spirit, 2009
zina SAUNDERS Zina Saunders’ award-winning work has been seen in national magazines such as The Wall Street Journal, Time, The Progressive, The Nation, Foreign Policy, and many more. She has been honored in the American Illustration and Communication Arts annuals, as well as in the 3x3 ProShow and Society of Illustators annuals. In addition to producing illustration, she also teaches it to a senior thesis class at the University of the Arts, and sits on the board of the Society of Illustrators. ILLO caught up with Zina to discuss her career, and her life as an illustrator. INTERVIEW BY DANIEL ZIMMER ILLO: Your father was Norman Saunders, the noted pulp magazine and comic book cover artist, painter of the Mars Attacks and Wacky Packages bubblegum card series…What did you learn from him? What was it like growing up surrounded by aliens and comics and wacky packages? ZINA: My father had a tremendous effect on me. As a kid I was always in his studio drawing alongside him, me doing pictures of horses and him doing men’s magazine covers, or bubblegum cards. When he’d leave the room, I’d “perfect” his paintings, putting extra-glamorous eyelashes on the women he painted. Years later, when I asked him if he knew I did that, he said of course he did and that he’d just go back in and paint my handiwork out. My father taught me how to see. We’d be walking on the street or sitting in the backyard, and he’d point out how the light was falling on a building, or the color of a shadow being cast by a tree. From an early age he was helping to train my eye to pay attention to details, and what things looked like around me. And helping to develop an appreciation for the way things looked. Because I admired him and looked up to him so much, I very much wanted to be an illustrator, just like him. ILLO: Did you go to art school? If you had it to do over again what might you do differently? ZINA: I went to the High School of Music and Art, a specialized public school here in New York. I went to college at Cooper Union for just a couple of months, dropping out to go live on a commune. I don’t know if that was the best career choice for me, but it was fun. I’d been going to Cooper Union for just a few weeks, living on the Bowery when it really was the Bowery, when I met a guy at a party who had a motorcycle and was 24
years old. He asked me to come live with him in Upstate New York. A motorcycle, a commune, a guy with a beard…what more could a 17 year old girl want? So, I hopped on the back of his bike with only a token in my pocket (which didn’t do me any good in Pine Hill, New York) and by default dropped out of Cooper Union. And so ended my art education. Right now I’m teaching illustration at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and when I was first asked to come on board there, I asked some friends what I’d be expected to be teaching, and they said it’s standard stuff—you give crits and all; standard art school stuff. But I had never seen a crit and knew nothing about it, so it’s been a real learning experience for me. I’ve also learned that I really love it. It’s terribly gratifying and satisfies something in me that I didn’t even know was a yearning: to help young people to realize and develop their personal vision. ILLO: Tell me about your early work. As a fan of Mars Attacks and comics in general, I was aware of your work with Topps and on the bubblegum card series. This work seems worlds away from what you’re doing now. Tell us a little about the evolution of your style, and about some of the clients you have worked for since beginning your career. ZINA: After hearing from my dad how his career in pulp magazines collapsed after the advent of TV in the ’50s, I took that lesson with me when I started being an illustrator myself. I tried very hard to find clients in as many different markets as I could, so that I wouldn’t have all my eggs in one basket. This was a really good thing for me, not only financially, but because it forced me to to explore different styles and learn to use different tools. RIGHT: William Shatner, 2007
Godzilla vs. Cosmic Monster VHS box illustration, 1988
Mars Attacks card #92, 1994
My very first “professional” art job was when I was living on that commune in Upstate New York. I would do oil paintings for a local “artiste” named Rao. He sold lots of paintings of rabbis and American Indians out of his shop in Fleishmanns, NY. So he hired me to do these oil paintings, maybe 12 inches by 15 inches, of a rabbi blowing a shofar—which is a horn— and imaginary Indian chiefs in full regalia. I got $7 a piece for them, and I would bring him a few at a time and he would sign his name to them. Through him, I got an even MORE important client, a guy named Budabin. He gave me a copy of this painting of an old man praying over a bowl of soup, with a bible on the table in front of him. On the bible were his spectacles and there were god rays coming down from above and splashing through the spectacle lenses onto the cover of the bible. So I had to paint this really hokey painting over and over again on big canvases, and deliver them to Budabin for $12 a piece. But, unlike Rao, he didn’t sign his name to my paintings—I did. He gave me a copy of his signature, and I would forge a “Budabin” signature on them all. After those first big breaks in the art biz, I abandoned my budding career to turn my attention to the full-time job of partying, and that lasted ’til my late 30s, when I finally grew
up and started trying to be an illustrator. Again, I started out at the top, doing gouache paintings for grade B and C and D video covers for Godzilla flicks and the like. These were for movies that were so bad that there wasn’t even a decent screen grab that they could run on the cover, so they hired me to do splashy, exciting paintings to sell the movies. Which I really loved, by the way. It reminded me of the stuff my dad had done for the pulps: very over the top, extravagant, action-packed paintings. And it was also similar to what my dad described to me as a kid, because he used to say that he often painted pulp magazine covers illustrating stories that weren’t even in the magazines, he’d just make up an exciting picture. And I don’t think I EVER saw any of the movies that I illustrated video covers for. I just made them up. Also at this same time, I’d heard that the art director at the NY Times Sunday Book Review, Steven Heller, would make personal appointments to look at portfolios. Now, I used to drop off my portfolio at places all the time, but I rarely got in to actually meet art directors when they’d look through my book; you’d just drop off your book with the receptionist and then go back the next day to pick it up. So I made an appointment to see Steve Heller on a Thursday or something, but I didn’t have a portfolio of work that would RIGHT: Original illustration for TSR Games
Barack Obama, 2007
Elvis Presley, 2006
make any sense for the Book Review. I mean, Godzilla video covers were unlikely to ring his bell. So my boyfriend, Barry, suggested I illustrate all the reviews from that week’s Book Review. But I knew that if I saw the illustrations that actually ran with the articles, they’d totally color my own interpretation, so Barry went through The Review and cut out all the illustrations, leaving only the text running around these blank rectangles. I illustrated each article with black and white ink drawings that fit into the blanks, and I mocked the pages up that way and xeroxed them, and that was my portfolio for my appointment with Heller. So, he went through it and he hired me to do a piece that week. I was really excited, and for a while after that every week I’d do the illustrations in a section called New & Noteworthy or New & Praiseworthy or something like that. I used to call in every week and find out what the new assignments were, and
one week I called in when I was out on the street on a rainy, dismal day, and he said, “Oh, sorry to tell you, they killed that section. Keep in touch.” And that was it. And I hung up and never called him back. Which is crazy! Today, I would have been sending him samples periodically and checking to see if there was anything he might like to use me for, but at that time I thought, “Well, they killed my section, I guess I won’t be doing any more work for them.” So I just dribbled off. Over the years, I’d learn new tools and try new things. Like I was working for one art director and he needed some children’s book-type stuff, and he asked me if I knew how to airbrush. I’d never even seen an airbrush, but I said sure, and I went out and got one and started to teach myself how to use it. And the first things I did for him were terrible, but after a while I got pretty good at it, and it taught me probably one of the best lessons of my career, which is always lie about what you can do. Always
Charles Prince, CEO of Citigroup, 2007
say “Yes, I can do that, no problem.” Time and again I’ve said that. I like learning new things, and I REALLY like learning new things if I’m being PAID to learn them. Another time that really worked out for me was in the late ’90s, when I was approached by a guy I’d done a few little kids book jobs for. He had just gotten a big contract with a very large publisher to provide them with tons of fun and pseudoeducational children’s books. He asked me whether I could do like 20 or 30 books a year for him, soup to nuts: all the illustration and design and layout and following up with the printers in China. I said, “Oh yeah, no problem, I’ve done that a million times!” Well, I had never done anything like that. I had never worked on a computer, I’d always painted traditionally, and I knew nothing about layout. I didn’t even know the difference between RGB and CMYK. So I knew I was going to have to learn how to use a computer, and how to do artwork that was digital so it would go into a layout program and all that stuff. So I learned how to do it, and I wound up doing like 30 or more books a year for that guy, plus I had to keep up on assignments for all my other clients. I was doing a lot of Magic the Gathering and Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons type of stuff, and also postage stamp art for other countries, and fully painted comicbook covers, and trading cards. It was a really crazy few years. I was scared all the time for the first year. I mean, there were like 50,000 books being printed for any given book, and if I goofed up, that would be an expensive mistake. But I started to become comfortable working on the com-
Illustrator Steven Guarnaccia, 2007
puter, and it began to inform all my illustration work. I began to appreciate the flexibility it gave me, that I could take chances when I was working on computer that I normally wouldn’t take when I was working traditionally. Working traditionally on deadline, if I decided to try putting an orange shirt on somebody and it didn’t work out, it would be very time consuming to go in and wipe out that color and then repaint it. But on the computer, I found I could take those kinds of chances and play around with my vision of what something could look like, and I always had an escape with the magical “Undo” command. I eventually stopped working for that guy with the books, but in those few years I not only made an awful lot of money, I also learned an awful lot. It stepped up my ability to work with different kinds of clients and do different kinds of work. I very, very rarely paint in gouache anymore. I can’t even remember the last time I did it. I don’t miss it, either. I love working digitally. It’s freed me in a way that I never could have imagined. It freed my imagination. When I was working traditionally, I don’t think I even imagined trying the kinds of things that I now do regularly when I paint portraits. It’s helped me to better visually describe what I feel about my subjects. ILLO: Tell me a little bit about your process… Do you sketch on paper and then scan drawings into the computer, or do you do everything digitally? What software do you use? ZINA: My process is very similar to what I did when I worked traditionally. I draw sketches with pencil on paper, and scan them in and begin painting the same way I would if I were RIGHT: Music Producer Phil Spector, 2007
James the Super, 2007
Kurowycky Meat Market, 2007
painting on Arches Watercolor paper: I put in a wash and then build up the painting the same way. But working digitally, I experiment much more than I used to. And I love to try new things and let my imagination take me where it will. Working digitally means I have a way to realize anything that comes into my mind’s eye. ILLO: As so much of your work is portraiture or caricature— have any subjects inquired as to commissioning a “real” portrait from you. Do you do any traditional painting? ZINA: I do occasionally get people who want to commission a private portrait from me, but to be honest with you, I’m not very interested in doing that. The most difficult clients are the
ones who don’t really know how to buy art. They’re not art directors, they’re not professionals, and they just don’t know how to describe what they want. And they ask for millions of changes and they don’t really know what to expect. So, unless the money is really great, I don’t have a real interest in it. Also, I don’t feature being on somebody’s living room wall. I’d much rather have thousands or millions of people see my work. I’m strictly an illustrator. But something that did tickle me is when I painted a portrait of William Shatner for a show and book called The Shatner Show, put together by Janine Vangool of Uppercase Design. Shatner was given first pick of all the portraits in the show—
Illustrator Mark Fisher, 2007
Subway musician Key Appleseeds, 2007
I think there were 75 of them—and he picked mine. It’s kind of neat for me to think of my portrait of Shatner being up on a wall in the pool room of his Hollywood mansion. ILLO: I’ve been asking other digital artists this same question... do you worry about maintaining a digital archive of your work in the decades to come? How do you make sure that files won’t be lost forever as technology evolves and disc formats become obsolete, etc. Are printed copies good enough, or do you have other plans to maintain your “originals” into the future? ZINA: I have hundreds of CDs and DVDs of my work, and I’m hopeful they’ll still be around, at least for as long as I’m alive. I don’t really sit here imagining the generations to come being particularly interested in Zina Saunders. It would be nice if they were, but I won’t be around to know it, so it’s not a big part of my thinking. ILLO: Tell me about Overlooked New York, and the development of the “reportage” portion of your work. ZINA: Overlooked NY started because of my lifelong curiosity about these older Puerto Rican guys who ride around on old bicycles decorated with raccoon tails and chrome and mirrors and flags. I used to see them when I was a kid, and I could never figure out what they were about. I live just north of the East Village, and a few years ago I saw one of these guys on the street, and I rushed out and stopped him and asked him if I could talk to him. I had a little digital camera with me and I took some photographs of him and I came home and painted him and the next weekend I went looking for him where he said they all hung out by the East River, drinking beer and
Ramon, a Puerto Rican Bike Man, 2005
showing off their bikes, and I gave him the painting. He was really excited, and the other guys wanted their portraits done, so every week I’d paint a new portrait and bring it to the guy and then paint the next guy. And that was the beginning of my Overlooked New York website, which is a collection of groups of New Yorkers who have found fascinating ways to have fun here. I began trying to get the Puerto Rican bike men portraits and interviews published, and I sent it to Time Out New York magazine, and they said they wanted to run it. But since no one had ever had an article about these guys, they didn’t feel they could run paintings of them; that they wanted me to write it but would need photos shot of them to illustrate the article. I said I thought they were making a mistake and refused. But then the managing editor called me and said they really wanted to run it, and that they’d have me do another feature for them with my paintings and interviews, so I said OK and the feature ran. The photos looked very bland, which made me feel good, because it was so clear how much better it is to have a painted interpretation of these guys; my portraits were so much more vivid and juicy. I did wind up doing an illustrated feature for them a couple months later, a series of my portraits and interviews with the artists who draw tourists’ portraits in Central Park. Overlooked New York has gotten quite a bit of attention over the last couple of years, and gets about 40,000 hits a month. It has grown to about 100 portraits and interviews, with all types of impassioned New Yorkers: guys who raise pigeons on their
Art Director Joe Newton, 2007
Grocery store worker Stacy, 2007
rooftops, bike messengers, subway musicians, people who swim in the rivers and fish in the parks, street performers, and amateur astronomers…and it continues to grow. I put oversized heads on the portraits because I’m most interested in drawing people’s faces, but they’re definitely not caricatures. There’s no irony or satire in any of them and I have a very affectionate attachment to the people I’ve profiled. But since the paintings were created to be seen on lo-res computer monitors, I thought making the heads big would make the portrait details much clearer. I’m no longer doing the big head thing because people too often mistake it for being caricature and I don’t want to confuse the issue. What I’m trying to convey in all my portraits is my feeling about the people I paint. The whole time that I’m painting my
subjects, I’m thinking about what they said to me. If I’ve had the good fortune to have interviewed the person I’m painting, I know how they feel because I’ve asked them questions about it. If I’m painting a portrait of a famous person, then I’m imagining how they feel inside, or I’m conveying what I feel about the person. My paintings are all about feeling. ILLO: Tell me about your Art Talks project. We’ve reproduced a few columns from your series in this magazine, but I know you have plans to gather these together into a book eventually. How far along is this project in development? ZINA: Art Talks is an outgrowth of all of this reportage stuff I’ve been doing. After I started Overlooked New York, I started another interview/portait project profiling working people like a waitress at a diner, or a guy who drives a truck, or the
Palin Bags a Big One, from Zinaâ€™s campaign series and book The Partyâ€™s Over, 2008
Campfire Ghost Stories, from Zinaâ€™s campaign series and book The Partyâ€™s Over, 2008
Guru Newt, illustration for Mother Jones, 2009
Illustrator R.O. Blechman, 2007
Remembering Goodbyes, 2007
Hope’s Mother Dies, 2007
girl who checks you out at the supermarket. It seems that, with Overlooked New York, a part of me shifted into being really interested in finding out how people feel inside, and wanting to convey that, not only through my portraits but also through their interviews, letting them have a voice in the piece. It’s almost like a collaboration. After I was invited to join the illustrator blogsite, Drawger, I began to make friends with other illustrators. Before that, I wasn’t part of any illustration community and had never even known any other illustrators besides my dad. So it was very exciting getting to know these people, and once I started interviewing them I felt even more connected. Most of the people on Drawger are editorial illustrators, so I started hearing about that world, and I began trying to get paying work doing portraits. After a while I was doing stuff for the Wall Street Journal and The Progressive and The Utne Reader and business magazines and all that. Another self-initiated project of mine is Hope in Africa, which is about a young woman who is an AIDS orphan in Zimbabwe. She was part of an all-girls bike messenger company made up of AIDS orphans that I heard about from a bike messenger I was interviewing for Overlooked New York. I contacted one of the girls who worked in the messenger company office in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and I began emailing with her. That, like Overlooked New York, and the working people series and Art Talks, has really changed my view of the world. I’ve
been working on a graphic novel about what her life is like, and how she grew up, and how she copes with living in a world where 30% of the people around her will die of AIDS. It’s been a rich and wrenching experience. ILLO: How do you handle your self-promotion? ZINA: I occasionally send out postcards, and I’m on the illoz. com portfolio site, plus my own website gets me a lot of calls. Also, the Overlooked New York website has piqued the interest of a variety of art buyers, from ad agencies to magazines. So I guess you could say it’s just doing my thing that seems to work best for me. A couple of years ago I started entering various competitions and after having gotten into them, I’m not convinced it really makes a difference in this day and age, aside from the ego stroke. ILLO: What are some of your plans for the near future, or how do you see your career evolving in the next 10 years? ZINA: I just want to keep discovering what I can learn about the world around me and trying to make my work more and more personal; more and more an expression of the way I feel about things. ■ —by Daniel Zimmer, 2009 To see more samples of Zina’s work, please visit www.zinasaunders.com, www.drawger.com/zinasaunders and www.overlookednewyork.com. For more about Hope in Africa, visit www.africacloseup.com. To see Zina’s book of political illuustrations The Party’s Over please visit: http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/407054
NEW & NOTABLE an illustrated life: Drawing inspiration from the private sketchbooks of artists, illustrators, and designers by danny gregory 272 pages, fc $19.99 SOFTCOVER how, 2009
An Illustrated Life offers a sneak peek into the wildly creative imaginations of top illustrators, designers, and artists from around the world through the pages of their personal visual journals. Popular visual journalist and author Danny Gregory reveals how and why keeping a consistent, visual journal leads to a more fulfilling creative life. Designers and artists working in all mediums will find creative inspiration from these insightful interviews and stunning examples. Notable artists include: Robert Crumb, James Kochalka, Hal Mayforth, Everett Peck, Stefan Sagmeister, Christian Slade, Elwood Smith, Chris Ware, Melanie Ford Wilson, Cindy Woods, and more.
SEYMOUR: The obsessive images of seymour chwast by seymour chwast, and steven heller edited by paula scher 272 pages, FC $40.00 hardcover chronicle books, 2009
Seymour Chwast’s award-winning work has influenced two generations of designers and illustrators. When he founded Push Pin Studios with Milton Glaser and Edward Sorel in 1954, their studio rapidly gained an international reputation for innovative design and illustration. Push Pin’s visual language arose from its passion for historical design movements, and helped revolutionize the way people look at design. Today Seymour is one of the most influential illustrators of the last half century. He is recipient of the AIGA Medal, is in the Art Directors Hall of Fame, and has an honorary Ph.D in Fine Art from Parsons School of Design. His work is in the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other major museums around the world. Filled with hundreds of his distinctive illustrations, Seymour is a career-spanning volume sure to be an indispensable addition to the libraries of illustration buffs, pop-culture aficionados, and Chwast’s die-hard fans. Throughout his long and distinguished career, Chwast has produced a body of illustrations that are humorous, ironic, political, and utterly unique. They are as inspirational to designers and illustrators today as they were when they first came on the scene over sixty years ago. Seymour is a spectacular and extensive tribute to a monumental figure in American illustration.
imaginative realism: How to paint what doesn’t exist BY james gurney 224 pages, fc $24.99 SOFTcover Andrews mcmeel, 2009
Renowned for his uncanny ability to incorporate amazing detail and imagination into stunningly realistic fantasy settings, award-winning illustrator James Gurney teaches budding artists and fans of fantasy art step-by-step the techniques that won him worldwide critical acclaim. This groundbreaking work examines the practical methods for creating believable pictures of imaginary subjects, such as dinosaurs, ancient Romans, alien creatures, and distant worlds. Beginning with a survey of imaginative paintings from the Renaissance to the Golden Age of American illustration, the book then goes on to explain not just techniques like sketching and composition, but also the fundamentals of believable world building including archaeology, architecture, anatomy for creatures and aliens, and fantastic engineering. It concludes with details and valuable advice on careers in fantasy illustration, including video game and film concept art and toy design.
The art model’s handbook by andrew cahner 148 pages $16.95 softcover createspace, 2009
The nude figure has been the subject of art for centuries, and continues to inspire contemporary artists. Figure drawing is part of the core curriculum at art schools and college art departments. Art models young and old play an important role in this creative process. So how does one learn how to become an art model? The Art Model’s Handbook explains what you need to know to model for art classes and professional artists. You’ll learn about the structure of a figure drawing session, how to come up with interesting poses, costume modeling, fine art photography, professional conduct, finding work, and security concerns. Awkward but important questions about nudity and body issues are addressed. Guidelines for faculty and sample policies are also included. Based on the experience of the author, plus interviews with male and female models, artists, fine art photographers, and art school management. ■
Books for review should be sent to: ILLO MAGAZINE BOOK REVIEWS 3640 RUSSELL BLVD. ST. LOUIS, MO 63110
Available Now! Reynold BRown
A Life in Pic
by Daniel Zimmer and Da
Reynold Brown A Life in Pictures by Daniel Zimmer and David J. Hornung
William Reynold Brown ( prolific American artist who virtually every facet of the illust his life he produced work comics (Tailspin Tommy), inv of the “cutaway” drawing fo Aviation, painted covers for paperback books ever publishe of magazines and magazine notably produced over 300 m motion picture industry. After commercial illustration, Reyno a fine artist, producing hundr and drawings for the Western
This book presents a rich o Brown’s entire career, and sho original paintings, drawings, printed illustrations, often in reproductions. Many of his posters are featured, such as A Woman, Cat on a Hot Tin Roo Black Lagoon, Spartacus, The D a Teenage Werewolf, and many
COVER: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman o
BACK COVER: Konga six-sheet (detail),
by Daniel Zimmer and David J. Hornung
The Illustrated P
© 2009 The Illustrated Pr
Standard Edition (224-page hardcover with dust jacket) — $44.95 (Postage Paid) Send check for $44.95 made payable to The Illustrated Press, to:
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ILLO #2, the magazine for contemporary illustrators. This issue features Mike Cho, James Gurney, Nancy Stahl, Zina Saunders, and more!