BEST OF 2018 INTERVIEWS: Volume 1
the journal LevinLandâ€™s
SANTIAGO COHEN A Real Character
DESIGNED GENIUS: AND LEGENDARY ARTIST John Van Hamersveld
"THE MASTER CLASS"
A VERY FINE ARTIST
COVER ART BY ANDREA AQUINO
Andrea Aquino The Cutting Edge Gail Armstrong Paper Sculptor Extraordinaire Peter Sis The Master
Front Cover Art : Andrea Aquino
Co-Publisher/Editor Gregg Masters
The Illustrators Journal/Winter
Editor/Writer Lori Hammond Publisher/Creative Director Lon Levin Contributing Writer Leslie Cober-Gentry "Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are." â€” John Wooden
All the work depicted in this magazine are the property of the artists who created the work and cannot be used in any way without the expressed written permission of the publisher and artists.
AN ANIMATED LIFE Aglaia Mortcheva's art and animation is a visual delight, as is she. Teacher, Artist and Innovator. JOHN VAN HAMERSVELD From endless summers to infinite possibilities. Laurence Cohen covers one of the true greats of illustration and design SANTIAGO COHEN STRAIGHT UP Cultures come together to create wildly brilliant art from a brilliant and thoughtful artist. CRISTA CLOUTIER Teacher, Artist and creator of The Artist's Master Class talks with Lon Levin LAURIE RASKIN: A VERY FINE ARTIST We catch up with this energetic, always moving, incredibly talented artist whose work is seen and bought all over the world. PAPER SCUPTURE MASTER Gail Armstrong shows up why she is one of the finest paper sculpture artists in the world. UNIQUE ARTWORK FROM A UNIQUE PERSON Andrea Aquino delves into the process of how she creates her stunning imagery.
my opinion by Lon Levin
Styles change and with it your viability as a commercial artist if you don't evolve. Stay on top of things. While I’m on that subject, I’ve run into some artists who swear by all that is old school; hand drawn and painted only. Digital is too confusing or not really art. Nonsense.
Want an easy road in life? That may be as real as a 5 year old princess riding a violet elephant wearing a crown. However, if you weather the bumps and bruises along the way, it will be worth it. Everyone has an opinion. Some valid, some... well some just don’t hold water. However, it’s important to be heard. In that spirit I’m going to wade into the water and give you some of mine.
My opinion... the good old days are gone and we artists and designers need to embrace all of the methods out there including the old school ways. The possibilities of creating unique art in a timely manner is greatly enhanced by working digitally. And time is money so don't ignore reality. After all we're in a business that is highly competitive so any advantage you can employ is vital to your survival and future. Be yourself. Sounds simple but a lot of us are trying to be someone else, someone we believe our reps and our clients prefer. Someone we think fits the part. But it’s not true. We are all just fine as we are.
Don’t spend too much of your time working at the expense of your family and loved ones. If you’re not enjoying yourself and your work then stop and figure out why. Bring balance to your life: work, play, family.
The more authentic you become the more you will attract the kind of people you want to do business with. It took me quite a few years to realize this on a gut level. It was liberating. I could concentrate on what I do best, learn what I need to and not be worried if I’m pleasing anyone else. In the end it's your vision and your individual way of looking at things that will separate you from the pack.
Be patient with your clients and explain the process as clearly as you can. Remember it’s about them not you.
Last thing is "say what you do...and do what you say." Consistent and timely work will serve you best.
Animated Personality WITH STYLE "My biggest influence was my dad’s amazing library of art books and literature. Nothing was off limits, no age restriction and no censorship."
When did you first think about art as something you wanted to do? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers, mentors? I always loved drawing, but remember deciding to become an artist at age seven. I had just started school and hated it. Mostly hated getting up so early! I was under the impression that artists don’t have to wake up early or go to school. I was sorely mistaken! My family always supported me. My parents are artists and very bohemian. They hardly noticed what I was doing, but were supportive to a fault. Still are.
What kind of kid were you? What were your influences? I was very independent kid and quite wild. I grew up in Sofia, Bulgaria. It was a communist country back then, very closed off and repressed. But as kids none of it affected us too much. My parents made sure to shield us from a lot. My biggest influence was my dad’s amazing library of art books and literature. Nothing was off limits, there were no age restrictions and no censorship. Also, my grandmother Daphna’s crazy stories, very picturesque and saucy. She would embellish them daily, depending on her mood,
Your style is very unique. Did you work on developing a style or is that what naturally came out of you? It came naturally, but I lost it along the way, especially during my years in art school. I went to art school in Bulgaria. It was very rigid - Socialist Realism all the way, as you can imagine. My weird creatures and playful color pallet were not appreciated. It took me awhile to get the confidence to bring my natural style back. Illustrating childrenâ€™s books and working in animation as a character designer helped a to free me and get back to what I love.
I’m fascinated by the short animation projects you’ve done. Have you ever thought of creating a long form film? Thank you and yes, of course. But the amount of work doing even a short animation by yourself is staggering. It will be a lifetime project, basically a human sacrifice! So I would like to just pitch an idea to a big studio… they love it, they do all the work and I get rich and famous, retire and paint for the rest of my life. That’s the plan! I just need a great idea and a miracle, and voilà! Can you explain the revelations you had growing up and how they affected you and your work?
You work in a few different areas like children’s books, animation, magazine illustration, etc. How did that happen? Mostly it all happens by accident and also very naturally… I am a very curious person and I can’t say no to work. I say yes to all kinds of projects. Often I will take any little job that comes my way, at least half of the time it leads me somewhere interesting and brings more opportunities, and more contacts with great people. I just think of artistic challenges as adventures. Some people jump off cliffs and swim with sharks, I face a blank canvas and it thrills me. How has the advent of the computer affected your work? Do you work traditionally and digitally? I work both ways. I love the new technology. More fun tools to play with and it keeps me learning new stuff. Also, I have become a bit of a clean freak and minimalist in my old age, so when I work digitally I like how clean my studio is! Also it keeps my toddlers from eating the paints and drinking the solvents...which is very useful!
At age 3, you believed aliens would come to Earth very soon. At age 4, you wanted to be a garbage collector. At age 5, you were convinced that you were adopted. At age 6, you became a child actress and started sleeping with your feet on the pillow. At age 7, you learned to draw to avoid studying math. All true! I still believe aliens could come to earth during my lifetime, but prefer if they don’t.
And yes, I was terrible at math, beyond bad! And drawing really saved me, especially after I went to arts magnet school at age of 14. So yes, it’s all true, no alternative facts or fake news here! At one point I read you enjoyed painting gloomy children, yet your book shows some very pleasant monsters. I still do both, but I think it’s because everything I draw is really me. The gloomy children were me; I think I was a sadder, lonelier, and gloomier person in my 30’s. I am way happier person now in my 40’s. I guess I am more of a pleasant and slightly startled monster these days. But it’s also exploring a theme and sticking with the same character for a while …I also get obsessed with certain imagery, and I go through phases. Right now I love umbrellas and huge water drops. (conrtinued next page)
I no longer want to be a garbage collector, but it looks like my son is following the tradition. I guess I need to explain that one! Back in my childhood, we had those shiny round trash cans, so the garbage collector would roll them to the truck and whistle for the driver to lift them, then jump on the back of the truck a whistle again and the truck would move… It was like a choreographed performance and fascinated me… Sorry this interview is taking a turn! I still like to torture my parents that I am adopted, it drive’s them nuts!
It all started because my brother who is the first born has tons of baby pictures,
and I have one! It’s a baby in a blanket, I though it could be anyone! It’s my little revenge for them not being more exited over my baby phase! About being a child actress, it’s also true. I started modeling at age 4, then at 7 I did a movie… In addition I did 5 more movies until I was in my late teens. About the feet on the pillow stuff, it’s also true…I slept with my feet on my pillow for a couple of years, after I read Pippi Longstocking. I really, really wanted her lifestyle! ...
and, of course, the online presence and social media stuff. I think maybe a good website and Instagram is enough for me. Too much social media is a bit stressful for me. I like to keep things simple but I need to update my online presence soon!
What does your process entail? Start to finish. Can you give us a short step-by-step? Yes, process is very important to me! I have couple of sketchbooks that I keep at all times. They are very messy and not pretty at all. Sometimes, if I draw on a post-it or a napkin I will just glue the drawing in my sketchbook later. I record all my ideas there and look for inspiration there when I need it. So when it’s time to get a drawing done, no mater if its for work or pleasure, I start with the very rough idea, often grabbing something from my sketchbooks. Then I do more thumbnails, then rough sketches, then thigh sketches, then choose the medium and color pallet and go on till I am done. I skip the color comp test part, because it bores me. I like to improvise with colors and follow my intuition. I am also very organized with my files. I keep a “to do list” for every piece. This way if I get distracted or interrupted while I am working, I don’t forget what I wanted to accomplish next. Also, if some days I have only have one hour to draw, I can look at my list and remember exactly what I need to do. I need to be organized - I teach full time, I am a full time artist, mom and dog walker twice a day and I read a lot. Life gets busy. What do you do to promote yourself and get more work? I used to be a bit more proactive, but I have been slacking off recently. Keeping in touch with people professionally is number one and not just when I need something. I am genuinely interested in other artist's work and I am very supportive. I guess it’s about having a community. I also like participating in gallery shows, it gives me great pleasure and purpose. I think group shows are a great way to promote yourself and get noticed; being member of a professional organizations;
What’s the future hold for you? My future studio is in my beach house and I drink mojitos! But my first priority is to set it up in my cricket-infested garage, in my new home in the Valley. Then I need to start painting like crazy. I have a lot of penned up creativity that needs to come out, with no particular goal in mind. I am in a very lucky spot that I don’t need to chase work for the next few months. I have worked very hard the last year and I need to recharge. My sketchbooks are exploding, but my paints are starting to dry in the tubes. I am very excited to paint. This is my only goal for the next two months! Thank you for asking this question and making me realize that this is all I really want right now!
JOHN V AN HAMERSVELD From Endless Summer to Infinite Possibilities by Laurence Cohen
The “Endless Summer”is a seminal 1966 surf movie. Filmmaker/narrator Bruce Brown follows two surfers, Mike Hynson and Robert August, on a surfing trip around the world. They’re travels to surf spots around the globe blew my teenage mind. As a local LA surfer, it was inspiring and energizing. The artwork for the film’s poster was designed by a young artist, John Van Hamersveld. For many of my friends it was the icon of what it meant to be a serious surfer. We always carried our boards just like Mike and Robert after that! Now 52 years later that same artwork has become a powerful and ageless symbol of what it truly means to be one with the ocean. I want to thank my friend Laurence Cohen for bringing you, the reader this story about one of the most famous artist of his generation. - editor John Van Hamersveld is an American artist, designer, photographer, professor and author. Growing up in the So Cal surf scene, hippie counterculture and the rock n’ roll world, his impressive body of work reflects all those influences. Now six decades into his career, John Van Hamersveld was asked how he will best be remembered. His two-word response: “Endless Summer.” Created when John was barely in his 20’s, the iconic image of silhouetted surfers walking into a day glow sunset transcends time. Though he was originally paid only $150
for the art, he has negotiated rights in recent years to license the image to more than 300 entities worldwide. It is also featured in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. California Governor Jerry Brown recently declared surfing as the state’s official sport and the Endless Summer image as now available as a license plate. In these and so many more ways, 2018 is the year of John Van Hamersveld. To characterize him as a quintessential California artist is equal parts accurate and dismissive. Given his extensive arts education at Chouinard Art Institute, Art Center College of Design and California Institute of the Arts, he cites Bauhaus, Beaux Arts and Japanese Edo Woodblock works as influences. The time he spent surfing in his formative years also proved to be a formidable influence. At age 21, he landed a job as art director for Surfer magazine. He divided his time between the ocean, the magazine and an art studio in Dana Point. With the “Endless Summer” success, his design sensibilities soon presented him with attractive opportunities with Quicksilver and OP, “the” name brands in surf wear.
downtown Las Vegas entertainment district. He marks the ark of his career in decades. With the creation of large scale murals starting in 2010, he is enjoying the most prolific period of his career. Among the 18 murals he has created are commissions for a downtown L.A. shopping center, a surf museum and the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro designed by the legendary Frank Gehry. An exhibition of his recent forays into murals took place at Keller Art Gallery in San Diego. In 2017/2018, he took on the challenge to create a massive mural transforming a defunct water storage tank into a colorful work of art and an overview of his career. Commissioned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to create a work of art that is 510 feet in circumference! JVH toured the site in a DWP helicopter to get a sense of the job at hand. To tackle the scale of the formidable challenge, he broke it down into 51 visually
Easily moving from art to fashion, he became the creative director of “L.A. Style,” to oversee the revamping of the popular magazine. Early on, he recognized the power of being an entrepreneur and embracing the business side of being an artist. To that end, he went on to book concerts and create posters for Pinnacle events at the Shrine in Los Angeles. His work captured the attention of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles and he went to design the covers for “Exile on Main Street” and “Magical Mystery Tour.” Though he never did meet with the Beatles regarding the cover design, he did connect with Mick Jagger on several occasions to garner his input. With characteristic candor, he said he prefers meeting with the business interests on any given project. “They are the ultimate decision makers.” He is one of the rare artists who is equally adept at business. As a result, he has enjoyed a successful career in multiple venues that reflect his ability to adapt and adjust while staying authentic as an artist. A case in point, he was commissioned in 2009 by the Fremont Street Experience to create a four-minute animation of his images set to music displayed on a three block-long canopy spanning the popular
striking panels ten feet wide and 32 feet tall. Central to the theme of the mural are 15 bright, bold waves and symbols and images reflecting his life experiences and pop culture. Included in the work are personal touches as the VW bug he drove along the coast to El Segundo High and aviation imagery paying homage to his father’s 50-year career in aerospace.
John Van Hamersveld was asked how he will best be remembered. His twoword response: “Endless Summer.”
John is well-aware of the ephemeral nature of outdoor murals. His mural for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles is long gone. With his latest murals, he creates the artwork which is then fabricated and installed by Spin Imaging using colors guaranteed by 3-M for ten years. It is this marriage of art and technology that is at the heart of his creative pursuits His design sensibilities continue to be on full view in a limited-edition shoe and t-shirt for Vans, skateboard planks and a Malibu tour boat. He also designs surfboards that command five figure bids at charity auctions for a variety of good causes including skin cancer research, Operation Surf Memorial Care Rotary Club Charity Foundation and Moores Cancer Center. He works seven days a week. His studio overflows with works in progress. On the surface, it looks like a mess which in many ways reflects the chaos inherent
in the creative process. In contrast, his work itself is exacting and precise. He draws with his left hand and refines the images with a mouse in his right hand on computer. When asked if he creates from inspiration or discipline, his one-word answer is telling: “Irony,” which the dictionary defines as “happening in the opposite way of what is expected.” It is this element of surprise that has fostered his career and has presented him with unimaginable options. In looking forward, his relaxed “we’ll see” attitude leaves him open to a world of possibility. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see airplanes and flying cars featuring John’s colorful designs in the near future.
Born in Mexico, Santiago has a BA in Communications Design from Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, and MS from Pratt Institute also in Communication Design. He has worked as an Illustrator for major newspapers and magazines in the U.S. and he designed 24 animated episodes of "Troubles the Cat" for The Cartoon Network and CTN (Children's Television Network). He designed and animated short films for children which aired on HBO (two of the programs won an Emmy and a Peabody award), and designed openers for the French TF! Over the last 10 years he's created close to 20 children's books for editorial companies like Marshall Cavendish, Viking, GP Putnam, Zanner-Bloser, Houghton Mifflin, Warner, Golden Books, Zondervon, Chronicle, Blue Apple books and Skypony. Santiago also designed the first logo for Comedy Central and a film for the Poison Control
As a fine artist Santiago has individual and collective art shows in galleries in New York and Mexico. He received a grant from the Xeric Foundation to self publish his graphic novel "The Fifth Name". When did you first think about art as something you wanted to do? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers, mentors? My father was a good artist and I tried to copy some of his cartoons when I was a kid, and couldn’t draw as well as he did; that frustrated me and I wanted to learn how to draw as well as he did, so I practiced a lot. Later on I became a photographer, but eventually I switched to art for good. My family was very supportive but they worried that I couldn’t make a living as an artist, that’s why I became a graphic designer and illustrator. I have a really good mentor who has supported me all my adult life, R. O. Blechman, who is a first rate cartoonist and animator. When I lost my father I took him as a father
N "One influence was living near a wooded area where
my friends and I could play “Army” and swing on vines." "
figure and he has given me confidence in my approach to everything creative that I do. What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up? What were your influences? I was always a very curious kid opening old radios to see how they worked and learning how to fix them back together, not always successfully. I loved music and found all sorts of ways to create simple sound systems to hear them better. Music elevated my thoughts and ideas to higher levels. I always wrote diaries, or expressed my feelings with cassette recorders. I was born in Mexico and this country is highly visual. The handcrafts, churches, markets are all filled with weird, surreal images. The first artists that l loved were Van Gogh and Vermeer. But I was an avid comic reader, because in Mexico there was almost no children’s literature in that time that I knew about. So to me stories always were attached to visuals. We would spend a long time in Cuernavaca, where my grandmother had a house. In Cuernavaca my mother would take us to the
movies to see triple features in the afternoon, which was easier for everybody not to get bored. We saw Mexican movies from their golden age, old American action movies, comedies, and romance, everything except horror movies, my mother didn’t like them. I had a period when I loved them. My other influence was of course the Mexican muralists and the Posada woodcuts. Your style is very unique. Did you work on developing a style or is that what naturally came out of you? I began in my twenties to publish a comic strip in one of the Mexican Newspapers trying to be unique and very bold with a group of cartoonists that were incredibly talented. I just wanted to be more talented than them, but the same with my father, they were better writers and illustrators, but the difference made me unique in comparison, and that gave me an “edge”. I understood that in order to get the attention I had to be daring, and not always trying to please the viewer...at the end I had to please myself. You work in a few different areas like children’s books, animation, magazine illustration. How did that happen?
When I came to New York in the eighties I showed Pratt a portfolio of 50 comic strips that I published in Mexico, and the person who interviewed me for acceptance to the master’s program, Ethan Manasse, showed my work to his agent Michelle who was an illustrators rep. She asked if I wanted to be represented in New York? "What's illustration?" I was a cartoonist, and in Mexico illustration was only a word but nobody was doing it. She became my rep and I did Christmas cards for the MOMA, illustrations for different magazines, and I learned what illustration was. Later on I worked with Art Spiegelman and Francois Moully assisting them for Raw magazine and moved to work at the Ink Tank Studio under R.O. Blechman where I helped with the animation. I aso did animations for HBO and had a series of animation with my design, "Troubles the Cat". When that finished I started doing children’s books with Harriet Zeifert. I did five books with her company Blue Apple Books, including the cow book. I also created a graphic novel, "The Fifth Name", based on a story by Stephan Zweig, and won a grant from the Xeric Foundation. I just spent 5 years working on "Angelitos" with writer Ilan Stavans. Most of my work lately are ideas I have. I work on them until I find a way of publishing. I am working on a book of my life called "ExVida" that features 1150 paintings. How has the advent of the computer affected your work? Do you work traditionally and digitally? I am old enough that I lived the transition between handmade everything to digital. When I started I did all my illustrations with acrylic paint on watercolor paper, and it was very difficult when the art directors had a change of mind or the editors changed the ideas, to correct the concepts. Most of the times I had to re-do the illustrations. I have hundreds of illustrations that I made in that period for all sorts of magazines and newspapers. Most of those got damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, because my studio was in the basement of my house in Hoboken, and they all got wet. All my friends came to the rescue and helped my wife Ethel and me to dry them in the backyard and the house with lasagna layers of bed sheets, towels and paper towels. I still have them, but they're not in great shape. When the computers started in the nineties I was one of the first illustrators to embrace it. I would do the line by hand and color in Photoshop. The results were similar and they were faster to finish, and correct. I worked with Nicolas Blechman doing op-ed pieces for the NYT, and sometimes the computer allowed me to turn in illustrations in matter of hours. I still do a combo of both, with my books and animations. I love working on both media, by hand and digital.
I’m fascinated by the animated work and how you got into working with Cartoon Network and HBO? It was when I worked at the Ink Tank studio with R.O. Blechman. I worked there until they closed sometime in the
early 2000s, it was a great opportunity for me to work in the best animation studio in New York with an incredible group of talented artists.
Does living on the East coast give you a certain edge to your work? I think when I started New York City was a very rough place and everything was “punkish”, everybody wanted to be edgy and unique. When the computer started it was more homogenized because there is only one Photoshop, and everybody ended up doing similar work. I don’t think the East coast has an edge now...it is more universal. Illustrators from Mexico can do as good work as in India, or Kansas. What’s does your process entail? Start to finish. Can you give us a short step-by-step? If I do illustrations I concentrate on the story and then with an open mind like an actor who has to portray a character. I have to show the essence of what I have to tell with images and then I sketch a lot until I find the optimal solution. For books if I write a children’s book I try first titles with the ideas I have and with that I write the story. Sometimes with images first, design of the characters, and improvise on the narrative. For my paintings I try to create a series to connect one to the other in a direct or indirect way. But never one painting at the time, always series of images connected one to the other. What do you do to promote yourself and get more work? I use social media, send direct postcards to art directors or galleries, enter all the contests I can, I am starting to use mail chimp with a targeted list of art directors, but not over do it because people hate spam. But my best promotion is your work shown out there in published media, or my website.
What’s the future hold for Santiago? My future is to show more in galleries, keep painting, writing graphic novels, work abroad and in my studio and the sky is the limit. I've been doing work in Jersey City for the "day of the dead" parade. I love creating giant puppets and working with my community.
the artist 's
master class WITH STYLE
I first notice Crista online. I found her intriquing. Here was this attractive woman selling her knowledge about the art world for what I consider a bargain. I was curious to make contact and see what she's all about. Whether she would be someone that you the reader would want to know. Surely if I was interested you would be too. We connected by email several times before I could set up a phone conversation. Crista was in France and London, teaching, writing and photographing. We talked for about 40 minutes and I found her to be open, refreshing and serious about helping artists find their way towards being a success in whatever way they wanted to be. I was hooked and I am currently takingher Master Class. This interview is the first of a two-part series with her.
An Interview with Lon Levin Arists are typically not very good at promoting themselves and getting work. Now, you're offering them a way to do that. Yes. Over the years that I've been selling, a lot of artists asked me if I'd represent them, and took it personally when I couldn't. They didn't understand everyone who sells art has their own mission and their own set of clients. I was specializing in politicalart. It was hard for me because I had to say no and would try to expain why. But when artists hear "no" they hear "not enough", "not good enough", "not enough experience". They never really understand it's not
It made me feel bad because there were a lot of artists I wanted to support, but I absolutely couldn't help everyone. I was helping hundreds of artists already. So what did you do? I started the Working Artist, and I really did it with an open heart. It gave me such joy because I wanted to support the creative impulse. I don't care if an artist is just starting out and painting kittens or an artist is museum quality and at the top of their game, I give them both the same amount of myself. It's up to the market to decide who's in and who's out. I don't want to be in that position. What I'm doing is offering the artist tools of what they can do.
How effective is that for the artists you work with? Well, the Master Class is an 8-week course, so that has a beginning and an end. I offer coaching calls and I continue to support my alumni with calls after they take the course. If an artist wants to work one on one with me we can take it further. We really get into their work and strategize their own way forward. I get a lot of stories from artists who work with me. I got one story from a girl in Thailand...I swear to God she said she was working in a rice paddy and she was an artist, but there were no venues to sell her art. She thought she wanted to sell online...should she take the class? She wasn't sure
the class could help someone like her, so I encouraged her to take it. Now she recently wote to me from a five star hotel and said "I'm writing from a five star hotel because I'm not working in the rice paddy anymore. I'm an artist. That must be very gratifying to know you've helped someone realize a dream? Yeah, it is. A homeless artist I met when I was living in England and gifted the class to him writes to me now every few months. He's not homeless anymore. He's become the leader of his arts community. He's doing so well, I'm really proud of him. The next time I ran the course he enrolled without telling me and paid for it. I didn't expect that. It was great...really rewarding.
I've always heard, since my school days at Art Center, you have to have a style to succeed as an illustrator. Do you think that's true? Is it a problem or an asset to work in various styles? I think it's important to choose one, maybe it's one idea, a branding idea so that an artist is focused to build something. So you're not going in circles, doing a little bit here and a little bit there. If you do that nobody knows who you are and what you do. It should be something that you're learning, growing and going deep on. It gives people a way to get into your work, you know..."Oh that's the artist who...". People like that. Are you doing artwork yourself or are you writing? I'm a visual storyteller as an artist, so I take pictures and I write stories about my life, my travels, art and other artists. I usually use my personal Facebook page to show those things. Also I consider my blog creative. In addition, I'm working on a book right now which features my writing and photographs about being an artist. What would your stories be about? This book is called,...or the working title is "First To Jump: Building a Working Artist's Practice". It deals with different steps in a practice like; Inventory of your work, your ssets, your skills. It means taking
stock of your experiences and creating a CV. I write in short "blog-size" essays that are on different topics of interest and inspiration. It's about owning your own experiences and leveraging your assets and who you are. I tell success stories of other artists as well as tales of caution. It's kind of a mĂŠlange of that.
living in England, I couldn't get a job to save my life! I didn't have a work permit and I was really at the bottom. It was during that horrible recession and I was going to lose my house in the United States. So I was talking to a friend of mine and he said why don't you teach artists how to sell art. I said everyone knows how to sell art. He said they don't. I then said I don't have anything to say. He replied I bet you do. What was so funny was I sold everything I owned and came to Europe a few years before. However, I still had my computer so I started to look at files I might have kept from my life as an art dealer and I found a twenty-five page proposal for a book that was basically The Working Artist. I had already tried to write and publish a book on the subject! I also had a letter from my agent who said there are not enough artists in the world who would be interested in a book like this, so give it up. Determined, I put together a nine week syllabus for a course that I took to the local university and they were really interested in it. Unfortunately what I was doing as an art dealer was a fulltime job. I was working fifity to sixty hours a week and I had this desire to teach
Were you always a positive person or was that a transformation for you? I grew up in a very negative household. Pretty heavy darkness in my life. But, I was recently talking to a former boyfriend of mine when I was in my twenties, which I considered the epitome of my darkness., where all my childhood stuff played itself out. He remembered me as being very positive, inspirational and very encouraging. He said I haven't changed which completly surprised me. The negative people around us hold up a mirror to us and we tend to buy that. But it's not true.
Did you let your life follow it's own path or did you set goals and steer towards them? I think it's a little of both. Once I had the idea of the working artist in my head, I ran with it. It was a huge endeavor that took all of my willpower to pull it together... and other times you just have to trust and go for it and follow. How long ago do you start putting the Working Artist together? I think about eight years ago when I started to teach a workshop called The Working Artist.I had no money, I was
A guy wrote me one of those fuck you emails, where I wanted to say fuck you back. I responded instead "Hey it sounds like you're having a really crappy day, and since I got your email I'm having a crappy day too. So, why don't you tell me what's going on and let's see if I can help you and me turn both of our days around."
this stuff, but I couldn't make it work. I ended up putting it into the bowels of my computer hard drive and completely forgot about it until someone said why don't you teach a workshop. So, there it was already done for me. I put it together into a format I thought I could teach in a day. I started networking, knocking on gallery doors asking if I could host an artist's workshop in their space. Then I started to get invited to universities, traveling around England, France, America, Italy and South Africa. It just kinda took off, it was rewarding and I had incredible feedback from my students. But, it was really hard for me to make a living because I didn't want to charge too much money and to travel around and handout workbooks...it was too difficult. I then started to think about bringing the course online. I could move at a slower pace and build on it, charge less money and win. Do you find that people respond to you based on what you've done for the artist community? Oh yes, absolutely! I get emails that take my breath away from strangers all over the world. I meet people on the streets...it's bizarre how the internet has made the world so small, and how the kind of work I do just makes people feel like they know me. I also get the negative. I get a lot of people who don't feel hesistant to tell me they don't like me...they think I'm ripping artists off making money off their backs. I've been told I should give the class away for free and sometimes they just get crude...I get emails that just say fuck you. It used to really really bring me down...it almost destroyed me to be honest because it's my art out there. What I'm doing is my art, my creativity. I had a hard time with it for a really long time. And then recently I found the perfect response...which was to turn it around.
What advice would you give artists, either working artists or student just starting their careers? Take the business part seriously. Don't wait. Because you'll have to go back and backtrack to create an inventory system and start trying to catch up on your CV because you didn't put things down from the beginning and plan to succeed. That's my advice. Final questions. You're living in France in Provence in a tiny unamed village. How did that come about? You know about twenty years ago I came to this tiny village, and there's a small art school here for American students. I came here and I had the idea that I wanted to see the world. But from the moment I came here I didn't want to go anywhere else. So whenever I had any money or vacation time I would try to come here for a week or sometimes a few days at a time. So slowly over the years I put down roots. Editor Notes: Recently I took Crista's course and I found it to be organized, inspiring and instructive. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to be a professional artist whether they are starting out or like me transitioning from commercial art to fine art.
Peter Sis the master had a father who was a filmaker, traveller and a storyteller...and my mother who was a gifted, patient artist. There was no television or internet so I just drew stories of my parents. I was a quiet kid and grew up in the city of Prague. It all started to change with the news of the Beatles and the pop culture...oh, and there were other influences: a collection of the Sunday Comics from the Chicago newspapers in the '30's. My grandfather brought them from America where he was a railway architect. He designed railways in Cleveland and Chicago. There were also books from America, magazines, records my father brought from his travels. I do remember seeing the art of Saul Steinberg from an early age. I still love it. Your style is very unique. Did you work on a style or is that what naturally came out of you? I never worked on my style. In the High School for The Arts I did not compare well with the students drawing in the "classic realistic" style. The teachers wedre putting me down, which together with adolescence was "deadly". Luckily after that in Art College I had a professor, a great freeform illustrator who took me under his wing.
When did you first think about art as something you wanted to do? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers, mentors? I drew and doodled ever since I was a young boy. I was surprised when my father said "You probably want to go to art school" or something like that. I was always encouraged by my parents â€“ they were artists and had artist friends who became mentors of mine. The teachers at school were without imagination...I was in a communist country after all. What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up? What were your influences? I grew up in a dull and grey communist country. But, I
That continued with Quentin Blake in London and after coming to America just observing and trying to fit in. How did you get started? And how did you progress? I came to America to make animated films. When that didn't work out I started to illustrate out of necessity....newspapers, magazines and books. The first projects were black and white then color. It just grew and grew - I guess it was the time and I was a novelty. Then the doors got bigger and I was paid more. There was almost no editorial - but, it would've been fun to try. Galleries and big agents seem to come after major recognition. They come and go...it all seems to happen in some organic way. I remember asking art director, Steve Heller after 17 years of drawing for N.Y.T.B.R. almost every week, if I'm not taking the place of some young illustrators. He said you'll know when it's time to go...and it did happen just like that. How has the advent of the computer affected your work? Do you work traditionally or digitally or both? I am using tools I'm used to. Pens and brushes fit for my hand. The big problem seems to be with the
the availibilty of old fashion materials â€“ ink, water color paper, paints and pastels. Everybody has gone digital! I am doing most of my art the old-fashioned way. I love to see paint dry. It's therapuetic for me. Your childrenâ€™s books are marvelous. Simple yet elegant. How did the way you approach your books come about come about? Thank you for the kind words about my books. There were quite a few in 35 plus years. I grew up in Czechslovakia which always had (despite the politics) beautiful children's books. I was helped by wonderful people who made my books possible â€“
(cont.) publishers, editors, art directors. So many things have changed during my "life in books". First black and white, color separation, slowly more and more colors, large size, digital art. So I am really curious about what's to come... Can you explain a little about the origin and inspiration of Tibet Through The Red Box? "Tibet Through The Red Box" (I did that years ago!) - and when I look at it today - I think - this is pretty amazing, how did this ever happen? One thing is the story and I was in a hurry to complete the book because my father was diagnosed with cancer. Also when I started books in America I was talking everything out with my dad. He suggested I do a giant cook book and an explorer who went to Tibet and not only collected recipes but also stories ... (My father, who was a film director published a very popular book,"Counting of the Noodles in the Spring Soup" in Prague), so he knew it would work. I did not dare mention it to any publisher,
it just might be an interesting idea. So there I was creating a book – my stories about him and Tibet with lots of artwork and quite amazing layers – and was able to present it to him and the Dalai Lama when it was finished. I think he was happy and his Holiness blessed it. It was possibly my most important book. What’s does your process entail? Start to finish. Can you give us a short step-by-step? Process – Story – Write the story or more often draw the story. Get the interest of an editor (who knows me and doesn't think I'm crazy) same with an agent. This process can be swift but also, drag on a long, long time. Once you agree on the size of the book and create a few pieces of art it all starts to fall into place. There are moments when it feels like it's going to be easy, but then comes the time when you are in the middle of the tunnel and cannot see the light on either side. You fix things that come up –- draw, paint, proofs – and then the magical moment when the finished book is ready.
You won more awards since we last talked years ago. You achieved so much what remains on your bucket list? Any ultimate goal? The awards certainly were not and are not the goal. However, American Publishers use Award-Winning! Best-Selling! or Internationally Acclaimed! But what really matters is the person who really made a neat book. My ultimate goal would be to really, really let go and do something in simple line so beautiful and so smart just like Sol Steinberg used to do!
What do you do to promote yourself and get more work? I do not promote myself. I always thought I do not need to but I was wrong, especially since I have received two Lifetime Achievement Awards. Art Directors won't even consider getting in touch. I do not need more work, but I like new challenges.
You can find out more about Peter at http://petersis.com - Editor
RASKIN . .A very fine artist Laurie and I are friends. I'm not sure when that started but it goes back a ways to high school. This has given me a great perspective on her achievements. Her progression to master artist has been steady and carefully nurtured. The result is spectacular. She has elevated a cut n' paste methodology to Matisse-like level and has had great success. Yet still she is the same smiling, exuberant woman I met years ago. When did you first think about art as something you wanted to do? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers, mentors? I always wanted to make art. I cannot remember a time that I did not think of myself as an artist. As a child, my parents sent me to take art classes for children at LACMA and at UCLA extension. I also took drawing classes for kids at Art Center College of Design, and I had a little art studio set up at my house. My mother was very encouraging and she actively took me to Museums. When I got into high school I had fabulous art teachers and I also had a darkroom in the basement of our home. I identified myself as an artist and never thought not being in the arts when I grew up.
What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up? What were your influences? I loved and appreciated art and design growing up. I was always aware of the visual world around me. I grew up in West Los Angeles and ended up at Beverly Hills High School where they had an excellent art department. When I was in High School, there was a large Bauhaus Show at LACMA and in Pasadena. That show changed my life. I wished I could go back in time and have been a student there. When California Institute of the Arts was just opening in the early 70's, they came to my High School to give a presentation. I was enchanted and also recruited by them in my senior year. I thought Cal Arts was going to be the closest thing to the Bauhaus. They had a school of Art, Design, Theater, Music, Film and Writing. I was in heaven. When I graduated from Cal Arts, I went to work as a Graphic Designer. I worked for years creating album covers, books, murals, and packaging designs. In 1984, when the Olympics came to Los Angeles, I was one of the 12 artists chosen to do one of the official Signature Series Posters for the games. At the same time, someone saw the house I was living in and asked if I would design their offices.
She took four of my existing art works and turned them into luxury area rugs. Viola! It was a dream come true. They premiered the carpets at The Cube Art Fair last October in Brussels and there was also a two-page feature story at that time in Paris Match magazine about our collaboration. In answer to the question of how it started to come about. I just worked for several years at my art and then posted it on Saatchi Art- an online gallery. In 2012, Saatchi did a feature story on me and other things followed. I think you just have to go for it and not be afraid to put yourself out there.
I figured that I was visual and I could translate my design sensibility into 3D design. I did that office and other jobs followed. I inadvertently began a career as an interior designer that spanned 25 years. It was 10 years ago that I realized how much I missed doing art. I decided to go for it and do my personal art work again. I feel very blessed to be having a late term career creating my own art and doing what I love. What markets does your work appear in? Newspapers, magazines, galleries? How did that come about? My work appears in galleries, magazines, murals, clothing design, carpets, hotels, public places, art fairs and private collections around the world. I am represented in galleries in Los Angeles, Brussels, Paris, Miami, and Las Vegas. One of the most exciting things that happened to me this past year is my collaboration with Didden and Co in Belgium. That came about because the owner of my Brussels gallery was in LA a year ago and we had dinner. He asked me what I would really like to see happen with my art. I told him that I always wanted to have my art be on carpet design. I think much of my more abstract work applies itself really well to that application. He said he knew someone in that business and before I knew it, I got a call from Nathalie Didden telling me that she wanted to collaborate with me.
"I always wanted to make art. I cannot remember a time that I did not think of myself as an artist." How has the advent of the computer affected your work? You work traditionally and digitally, which do you prefer? Actually, I never work digitally. I am a dinosaur when it comes to the computer. I hand cut all of my images, I hand print them and paint. The computer has only aided me in getting myself out there. I have a web page, Iâ€™m on Instagram and Iâ€™m on Facebook as Laurie Raskin Fine Art. Actually, my Las Vegas gallery found me on Instagram. I don't have that many followers, but it shows you the power of social media.
Your work appears all over. What is your favorite venue to work in? I like to work in all venues. I would love to do more fashion. My art works very well on fabrics and it would be really fun to see my work on the outside of an airplane. Literally, the sky is the limit. It appears as if gallery shows are on your agenda right now. Is that where your focus is? My focus is on making the work and where it ends up is a surprise to me. Galleries of course are always a focus. My work is currently showing in 3 different galleries around the world. I just got back from Paris where I had my first solo show at Galerie 55 Bellechasse. It was an amazing experience. My work is very well received
in Europe. They connect to my influences and I think I am more exotic there as a California Girl. What does your process entail? Start to Finish. Can you give us a short step-by-step? I am a collector of images â€“ postcards, books, brochures, newspapers, photos, etc. I am a total visual junky. My collection spurs ideas. I also frequent libraries and used book stores. I like to Xerox images from my sources, blow them up, reduce them down, cut them up and create new images. I use the cut images, I move them around paper and then create new works. I use a Xerox machine that uses toner ink that transfers to paper. I transfer images backwards onto a paper and then I really go to work with paint and inks and sometimes collage again. I am very process oriented. I start with an idea, but I work in the moment and allow the works to come through me. What do you do to promote yourself? I am actually not very good at promoting myself. I have been very lucky that the works themselves have taken me to wonderful places. I mentioned that I first put my work up on Saatchi Art. I think that is a good idea for most artists. They have a wonderful online presence and they've also started producing art fairs around the world for emerging and established artists. They had their first LA fair this last March in Downtown called The Other Fair. I participated in that one. Through that fair, I met a wonderful man who has a company called Visual Contrast that supplies art to designers and hotels. He is making limited editions of my work in his new collection. I am also on social media, but besides being in galleries and being online, I have a hard time making cold calls or promoting myself. What's the future hold for Laurie? Any ultimate goal? Mine is to have a barn studio in a rural area where I can paint on large canvases, have no idea what I am going to paint and drink white wine all day. You? I want to live right where I live. I love my house and I love LA! I want to travel, travel, travel and make art. I am actually living my dream life right now. That is why I am grateful everyday. Right now is the best time in my life. I could not have imagined that starting making art again at an older age would be this satisfying and fun. I do dream of collaborating with a fabulous fashion designer and seeing my work on a runway. And I mentioned the airplane. Who knows where my work will end up? See more of Laurie's work at www.laurieraskin.com
age. Then as a teenager, I loved the Beatles to an obsessive point, and I drew them over and over, and people loved it! That was enough for me to keep it going, and then when it was time for college, there was no question that I’d go to art school. I opted to major in graphic design. I come from very working class roots, so – fine art was not even a consideration, and that came only from my own instincts. I studied the history of graphic design from the Bauhaus to Russian Constructivists to Pushpin Studios and Herb Lubalin, to Massimo Vignelli and Michael Beirut and Pentagram to the 80s new wave like April Grieman, etc . It was just pre-digital age by hair, so – I feel lucky to understand that design is not about knowing how to use software, yet – I also became very comfortable with it as soon as that became the norm in ad agencies that I worked in. Long story short – I became an art director and worked at some of the very best and most creative agencies in the 90s, with some of the very best people possible. Creativity still reigned in those places, and it was a good time.
When did you first think about art as something you wanted to do? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers, mentors? I started drawing at about 10 years old, I recall drawing the gymnasts from the Olympics, and it seemed to come very naturally to me. Everyone said “wow”, so, that was enough encouragement for me to continue. I suppose I was fortunate, I never had anyone give overly practical advice, or discourage me. That may be because I am female, I suppose. There is less expectation to have professional success, at least in the 70s when I was that
What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up? What were your influences? I grew up specifically in Mt. Vernon, NY, which is just minutes beyond the Bronx border, so I had benefit of suburban life, with immediate proximity to New York City of the 70s and 80s, which was a very rich time, and almost bears no resemblance to what exists today. I was very fortunate. Therefore, my influences were literally everything and anything from high art in the best museums and fanciest stores which I recall as very glamorous and cutting edge, to the street which was still pretty grimy and rough…and much in between. Your style is very unique. Did you work on developing a style or is that what naturally came out of you? I think everyone’s style is what “naturally comes out of them”, but that is also the result of much work. I think there is a lot to be said for a simple work ethic that is not unlike any other, there is nothing special about art – you still have to just put the time and effort and countless hours in. That is usually pleasurable, but I think you need to have an almost irrational drive to keep coming back to it, even after many failures. You have to be the kind of person that just comes back to it the next day and
"I recall drawing the gymnasts from the Olympics, and it seemed to come very naturally to me. Everyone said “wow”, so, that was enough encouragement for me to continue." the next, who knows why. That’s just how it is. You look at a lot of art, but eventually – you just have to do what you do. I might have gravitated toward using collage – even if I’m just drawing and painting, I still work in a collage manner, as an outgrowth of the cut and paste, moving around methods of traditional analog graphic design. I read that even Dekooning worked that way for similar reasons, so – it must make sense!
What markets does your work appear in? Newspapers, magazines, galleries? How did that come about? All of those, though I think my work is most naturally for picture books (or animation). I like the problem solving aspect of editorial assignments as well. Galleries, its on a modest scale, or more accessible ones, group shows. That said, this is something I see pursuing more of in the future, perhaps, less commercial work – as a future goal. I am always getting tired of one “world” and wanting to crack another. How did it come about? I feel essentially that the right audience and clients will find you eventually if you are true to your own point of view. You can’t please everyone, so – stay the course with your own instincts, even if they may be pretty quirky. That’s all you’ve got to be unique and it’s important to remember that What tools do you use when you’re painting digitally? And why? I actually almost never paint digitally. I use photoshop more like print making – as simple layers
of analog elements. I always use a Wacom tablet, though actual drawing on it is kept to a minimum. I use photoshop and InDesign to plan out rough ideas or general assembling. I may do some color shifts, etc. I like to be able to move elements around easily, or extend a backround, etc. I also have a huge library of my own art elements organized on file. There are excellent digital brushes around now, but I rarely use them, I like the analog, organic feel more than faux effects. It can start to look artificial very fast, even with great tools and filters. The end result is not the same. I want to experiment more with an iPad pro though, it can be efficient, and certainly for animation, which I enjoy. For editorial assignments, I tend to work more digitally as time and flexibility is of the essence. Your Alice in Wonderland book is marvelous. How did the idea of mixed media, collaging mixed with watercolor come about?? Can’t say it was an “idea”, it just is what comes naturally to me. Those are the mediums I typically use. (Though I’m much less into watercolor these days). I like to play around with every art supply I can, in
an almost childlike way. I may learn the proper way to use these things, but…then that is boring and too careful and correct, so – I just mix gesso with ink or just experiment the “wrong” way, and chemically, interesting things happen! That is much more interesting to me than doing things properly, whatever that means. But, it’s interesting to learn the classical techniques, also. I just tend to get tired of that and want to see what happens if I spray hairspray or soap on to wax paper and then……? Whatever! It’s like cooking without a recipe. I’m not a precise or by-the-book personality. If you want to do something unique, you have to break the rules. That comes with both success and big failure, so, I think it takes more guts to leap into the void. But, it’s worth the risk. What’s does your process entail? Start to finish. Can you give us a short step-by-step? Think. Extremely loose sketches probably only I understand. Think more. Take a break (things are still happening in this stage, its important!). Sketch more ideas. Brutally narrow to the few best, in my own estimation and then bring to a next level of finish. For me, this may mean jumping right in and doing a “finish”, particularly with with my more personal, analog style. I can draw something very carefully, but it often gets discarded in favor of the more spontaneous and “honest” interesting chance mark that lands on the paper…. careless, more or scrap of paper that is in right place at the right time. You can’t overplan for these things. Even with editorial, where I may be playing around with elements digitally, it’s still in same playful way that leaves room for a haphazard, non-sequitur chance thing – which inevitably makes it all come together. You can’t plan for these odd connections. But they do always happen. What do you do to promote yourself and get more work? I used to do a lot of email blasts, but found that for every thousand people you hit, maybe 10
even see it, and 3 vaguely interested… and that’s with a focused list. I guess I did get some excellent assignments from it sometimes, but the odds are not in its favor. Now, I try to see who is most specifically doing work I admire, or may be inclined to respond to me, personally. I post work on both facebook and Instagram, some Pinterest…some decent assignments come from that, but, it’s a mixed bag. If you stick with what you do long enough, the correct people do find you, but you have to keep working and updating all the time. I wish I had a more failsafe method! What’s the future hold for Andrea? Any ultimate goal? Mine is to drink white wine and paint. I know you mean this tongue in cheek, but – I think it’s important to have visions that are 100% based in actual possibility. And reality can be quite amazing, and jaw dropping - but I suspect you don’t really expect to drink white wine all day! : ) So, rather than make it into a kind of “impossible” dream, what do you truly visualize as what you wish to do? For me, its actually somewhat similar – I wish to have a big space that is free to be messy and work on larger scale, and yes – be closer to nature. I will drink wine in moderation. However, I actually think that after decades of working my butt off in ad world, making decent financial decisions like buying an apartment that I will eventually sell….I can actually take steps to make this something how my future will look. Whatever way it goes, I can guarantee I’ll always be “working” in some way, as long as I’m physically able, as that has always been a constant in my life, even since childhood – so it’s clear to me that aspect won’t change. We who find pleasure in work and the process of making things are about the most fortunate people on earth, far as I can tell. I can’t figure out what other people actually do with their time, to be very honest!
gail armstrong paper sculpture master
I was trolling through the internet one day (as I regularly do) looking for interesting artists and stories. I somehow landed on artwork, specifically paper sculpture that knocked me out. The craftsmanship was so superior it was hard to believe. I thought to myself I must contact this person, whose name was Gail Armstrong, and convince her to be interviewed. Our readers needed to aware of the magic an artist can do with bits and pieces of paper. I found out how to contact her and to my delight she agreed. Gail Armstrong has been creating paper sculptures for over 20 years and her enthusiasm for the medium hasnâ€™t waned one snip. She still wants every image she creates to be better than the last, and this approach has led to plenty of awards, including a Cannes Gold Lion for her Kleenex campaign. She finds inspiration in contemporary art and, not surprisingly, the huge Paperchase outlet on Tottenham Court Road in London. Gail did her foundation course at Sheffield Polytechnic before gaining both a BA and Post Graduate Diploma in Graphic Design and Illustration at Glasgow School of Art. Paper may seem flat to most of us, but Gail sees in it the
potential to create new worlds with their own look and feel. Simple sheets are manipulated and transformed into 3D sculptures, imbued with beauty using a gamut of stocks, textures and colours. When did you first think about art as something you wanted to do? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers, mentors? I knew from age 5 that I wanted to go to art school. We drove past our local art school in Sheffield on our way to primary school, and the people going through the carpark just looked so interesting and were always carrying weird and wonderful objects. I knew I wanted to be a part of that. My grandmother in particular was so pleased when I finally went, as she had wanted to study art but been forbidden by her parents. My family are generally more science-based and I was quite academic (I think my father would have loved me to be a doctor like him), but no-one ever blocked me like they did my Granny. Then when I was accepted at Glasgow School of Art, my parents were so pleased, not only because it such an internationally acclaimed art school, but also because I was reconnecting with my Scottish roots,
myself. I always loved any form of crafts. Your style is very unique. Did you work on developing a style or is that what naturally came out of you? The first time we had a paper workshop at Glasgow School of Art, I knew I had found my medium! I just seemed to know how to get paper to do what I wanted (I think a lot of that comes from the years of making clothes). Someone once described my style as “drawing with a scalpel” rather than making and constructing and I think that’s a pretty good description. The paper sculptures are very like my drawings. I’ve always been attracted to images with a dramatic perspective, or that have a flow to them and that’s what I try to achieve in paper. Before I discovered paper, I tried all sorts of drawing and painting styles, but this is the style and way of working that just naturally worked for me.
I also have to mention my amazing art teacher at Brantwood School, Mrs Carpenter - an absolutely incredible art teacher, who never let you rest on your laurels! She really did nurture and inspire me from a very young age. Being at Glasgow School of Art when I was, has had a long-lasting affect on me. There was a spirit and creative energy in the place that kept building - there are several successful artists who were there at the same times me. Looking back it seems like I was there during a golden age, but at the time it felt more like having to work really hard just to keep pace with everyone!
What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up? What were your influences?
What markets does your work appear in? Newspapers, magazines, galleries? How did that come about?
I grew up in Sheffield, England with an older sister and a younger brother. Sadly my sister died when I was 17, just a few months before I left home to study in Glasgow. I’d say she was one of my biggest inspirations growing up, along with my mother. The pair of them had amazing imaginations (my sister was a writer and my Mum made up inspired games when we were little), and had a “joie de vivre” and “I can” attitude that still influence me today. My sister never let her ill health compromise her ambitions or used it as an excuse. As a child I spent a lot of time drawing and making things, especially clothes for my dolls, then later clothes from
All of them! Probably galleries least of all, but I’m working on rectifying that :) I don’t really like it when people describe illustrations as being “publishing” or “editorial”. To me, illustrations are more than just being about a style or a category. A good illustration conveys something more, whether it’s a complete narrative or a lifestyle moment…a good illustration actually says something and is more than just a pretty image. On that score, an illustration has to work much harder than a gallery piece. I’ve also know of illustrators who will only work for advertising or “blue chip” clients and frown upon editorial. For me every job I do has it’s own merits and appeal.
Personally, I know editorial is the lowest paid and fastest turnaround so doesn’t appeal to everyone, but for me, some of the best images I’ve done have been for magazines. I think when the next issue is pending and each issue has to make it’s mark, I’ve found the art directors are a little more willing to take risks and let my try new things that help advance my work.
How has the advent of the computer affected your work? Hugely!! It’s speeded up the drawing stage of my work and allows me to make changes and edits at that stage more easily. And previously, I was entirely reliant on a photographer’s input to get the paper sculpture looking at it’s best. Now I only work with photographers when the image requires something extra special with atmosphere or lighting. Otherwise, I’m now photographing the individual elements of the overall image and then putting the final illustration together in Photoshop, supplying the final artwork as digital files. Which also means I now work with clients all around the world, rather than shipping off paper sculptures as I did previously. Which all means the process of getting to the final image is far less time consuming and completely under my control. I also use the computer for scanning textures or creating patterns that I can then print onto papers to use in my sculptures, so I have much more paper to play with now :) When I first started there were only 5 of us in the UK working commercially, creating images in paper and each of us had our own distinct styles. Now I have to compete internationally with a multitude of paper artists (also digital artists that mimic a paper style). I’m glad I started when I did, as my work practice has been able to develop organically over the years along with the developments in computing, so I’ve built up a wealth of experience and a substantial portfolio of work over that time. What tools do you use? Do you ever worry that an injury or arthritis might curtail your ability to work with paper? Would you or could you work in another medium if necessary? Ha! When I first started one of my first pieces was 9ft long. Now if I made the same piece it would be about 2ft long, but with the same amount of detail.
The biggest hazard is paper cuts or when I accidentally knock the scalpel off my desk (I’ve had several near misses of my foot). But the worst thing for me is neck strain and muscle spasm, which unfortunately does incapacitate me or trigger migraine. I’ve discovered pilates and that’s a huge help, and I adjust my work position throughout the day to try and prevent getting set in one pose. The worst thing recently though is that I now sometimes have to wear glasses for some of the smaller fiddly bits. There’s nothing like your eyes going and your back aching to make you feel old!! I guess the biggest adjustment for me to prevent injury is learning how to say “no” and not get overloaded with work. I get so excited by the ideas that are sparked by new briefs, that I sometimes to take on more than I should. My main tool is a scalpel with a 10a blade - the callous on my finger only appears when I take a holiday. I think it’s constantly being worn away for the rest of the time! I also work with a self-healing cutting mat, small rulers from Muji, a ball-end, burnisher and a hat-pin! I find the best weight of papers to use are between 170-240gsm. I also have a Silver Bullet cutting machine, which I use if I’m doing lots of repeat cuts and want them to be consistent (and not get neck strain!). I think it’s every artist’s nightmare to go blind or get arthritis in their hand. Personally I’m very biased to my right hand and couldn’t possibly do what I do with my left. But then Monet produced his best work when his eyes were failing, so perhaps there’s hope for all us artists if parts of our bodies fail!! Your work appears all over. How did that come about? What is your favorite venue to work in? I’ve been around for a very long time!! I signed with my wonderful agents, Illustration Ltd, about 25 years ago and in that time they have expanded and grown all over the world. So I get clients from just about everywhere! With the efficiency of working with the internet though, there’s never an excuse for me to go and meet the clients in person, so I don’t get to go beyond London. What would be lovely would be to get work from Japan and have to go out and install it - it’s one place I’d love to visit and somewhere that had definitely had an influence on my work. I did get much more noticed after winning awards for the Kleenex campaign and then again when my United Nations stamp won a Philatelic award. International awards have really got me noticed.
Do you do Gallery shows or is your focus mainly commercial? It’s largely commercial with an occasional gallery piece, although sometimes the client purchases the
What’s does your process entail? Start to finish. Can you give us a short step-by-step? I start with rough doodles of concepts and compositions, which I then work up into drawings for the client to approve. I use those drawings like templates to make the actual paper sculptures, cutting and scoring through copies of the drawing onto the actual final papers. If there’s a tricky bit I’ll work it out in white paper and masking tape, but usually I work straight onto the final paper I want to use. If the finished piece is to be a complete paper sculpture, then I make supports for the individual paper elements and stick them all to a base board. If it’s to be supplied as an illustration, I take photos of the sculptures against a white background and import the photos into Photoshop for minimal retouching. I digitally cut out the paper sculpture image from the white background and layer up the final image, adding extra shadows if required. Voila! What do you do to promote yourself? Most of my promotion is done through my agent, with them suggesting competitions to enter and books to advertise in. I also have clients who enter my work in competitions. Most notably JWT, London entered the Kleenex “Feelings” campaign into so many competitions and it did so well that it ended up The Big Won awarded it 1st place in the Top 10 Press Campaign in the World, having previously scooped one Gold Lion and 2 Bronze Lions at the Cannes International Advertising Festival (the advertising equivalent of the Oscars). That’s the kind of promotion you really can’t buy and it got my work noticed internationally and I haven’t looked back since. On a day-to-day basis I try to post reasonably regularly on Instagram, Facebook and Tumblr as well as project samples on Behance. Since I don’t have a personal website (my online portfolio is exclusively with my agents at www.illustrationweb.com/gailarmstrong ), it’s my way of having a more personal presence on the internet, with my agents handling the professional one. Instagram : www.instagram.com/gailarmstronglanksbury/ Facebook : www.facebook.com/gail.armstrong.paperart/ Tumblr : www.gailarmstrongpapercraft.tumblr.com Behance : www.behance.net/gailarmstrong
What’s the future hold for Gail? Any ultimate goal? I already have my dream studio. It’s the front room of our gorgeous early Victorian London house with.
a bay window overlooking the busy road outside. No peace but lots of activity! It’s a large, light room with enough space for my enormous 18-drawer plans chest that houses my multitude of paper, 2 large desks (one for drawing and cutting and one for computer work) and lots of bookshelves crammed with more papers and reference books. I would like to squeeze in some more time for life drawing for pleasure and have a bit more time enjoying gardening, but my ultimate goal would be to have published a children’s book project that I’ve been tinkering with for about 10 years. I would really love to get that finished and out in bookshops…maybe with some accompanying animations and merchandise?!!! And I would also love to see my large scale sculpture made and installed….in fact, why stop at one! I’d love to see more of my work in galleries and on show to the public :)
Illustration by Lon Levin for SINY Gallery Show "Save the Planet" Postcards