FALL/WINTER ISSUE 2020
the journal LevinLand’s
THE FINEST ILLUSTRATOR OF AMERICAN LIFE
ARTIST WITH A MAJOR "PATRIOTIC VOICE"
ILLUSTRATOR WITH ALL THE DATA
FANTASY ARTIST WITH A TWIST
Cover art by Victor Juhasz
Front Cover Art : Victor Juhasz
Illustrators Journal/Fall 2020
Contributing Writer Heather Leary Contributing Writer Jade Dressler Publisher Lon Levin
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
JUST MY OPINION Publisher/Editor Lon Levin discusses the value of time and your work VICTOR JUHASZ POLITICS, PATRIOTISM AND AWESOME TALENT, A former Marine with the "magic touch" CRAIG MAHER "Imaginative Realism" in other words artwork that pops off the page and grabs you CF PAYNE One of the most impressive illustrators of our time talks with our contributing writer and SINY board member Leslie Cober-Gentry SARAH SUPLINA "SARAH SNIPPETS" shares her story and her extraordinary paper cutting artwork DARREN DE LIETO A truly dedicated illustrator who knows more about the stats of the illustration business than one person should TYLER PAGE "Raised on Ritalin" artist and writer turns his own history into brilliant books and art and let's us in on his thinking HEATHER LEARY Contributing Writer/Animator Heather talks about keeping busy during the pandemic.
Plus Contributing writer and artist Jade Dressler writes a love letter to her Bic round pens and Publisher Lon Levin weighs in on a new "Just My Opinion"
All artwork depicted in TIJ is owned by the creators of that art and the work cannot be used or copied in anyway without the written expressed agreement of the creators ©2020 Levinlandstudio
don't be precious about your work. - Dan Santat
Award-winning Children's Book Writer/Illustrator
my opinion time
by Lon Levin
a point of time as measured in hours and minutes. Ever thought that there’s just not enough time in the day to get everything done? Wouldn’t it be great to have 5-10 more hours of time? Let me walk you through some ways you can save time in your week. Say "no" more often! If you’re a people pleaser like me it may be really hard to say no or to end a phone call conversation that has gone on far too long.. Years ago I never gave a lot of thought to how much time I was wasting talking to people well beyond the amount of time I should have. Especially when I was talking to someone about a job or a project. I wanted them to like me as well as my work. And most of the time they did…like me. The art….well not as much. It’s hard to excuse yourself from a conversation but it is necessary and the person you’re talking to will most of the time have more respect for you and your time. So yes, say no more often and free up some time for yourself. Batch your work. This requires thoughtful organization and a plan to stick to. You might think that this will stifle your creativity. But in fact it’ll help you to become totally professional and save you hours of time. I learned this lesson the hard way as a creative director in the entertainment industry. Frequently I had to work on and oversee 10-20 projects at a time. By moving forward forcefully and batching types of activities together we were able to discover solutions that were not apparent when we started Use your waiting time well. Use your waiting time well. Instead of cruising the internet and following inane stories down a rabbit hole of wasted time, you can watch a webinar, read a chapter in a book or organize your supplies. Important discoveries for solving creative problems are frequently found in useful down time.
Lay off TV and social media. I don’t mean to never watch them but endless watching of either is counterproductive and it eats up time you can use for other more significant endeavors. The discipline this brings will resonate throughout your work. And finally, schedule your priorities. First tackle the projects that are due first, even if others seem more interesting or excite you more. If you have the choice work on the most intense projects first. That way you will be able to control the pressure of deadlines better. As my dad used to say, “Your reputation is everything” and earning a reputation as a talented, trustworthy and easy to deal with illustrator is truly a great achievement. The bottom line is everyone has 24 hours in a day. How you use them is up to you entirely.
Illustration by Lon Levin
Y M E V O L I WHY C I T S D N U O BIC R . . . S N E P . s n e p y m o t r e t t e A love l
Written by Jade Dressler
Dear, dear my Bic Pens, You are so precise. You are clean. You are lightweight and easy going. You are my go-to pen. You are my friend. With an over-active imagination it helps with life’s balance to keep my tools very simple and consistent. Your matte casing feels cool on my skin, I love your transparency, I can see when you are low on ink and ready to be recycled. I have stashes of clone pens that anxiously await like soldiers in a drawer, waiting for their time to be caressing the paper next. Most of all, I can always rely on you for a consistent line and flow. I really loved working with you for my coloring book, Immortal Beloved, the World’s First Goddess Perfume + Coloring Book featuring the world’s most mysterious and ancient myths, fairy tales, and legends of 12 sacred and modern goddess traditions from around the globe. (The goddess in the picture is Kwan Yin of The Far East.) Other Photo Fun Facts: The wood coffee table formally belonged to Dustin Hoffman.
The vintage, 8-sided Daher multi-floral tin holding my color pencils was made in England and reps the material culture of the New York metropolitan area. The 8-sides are also in the book illustration behind the goddess, called the Chinese Bagua (Eight Gates) The red book is Ritual and Seduction, a funky 70’s look at how cultures of the world seduce. Handy. Beloved Bic Pen, I adore you! Love, Jade Jade Dressler
A Creative Agency 917.991.8140
www.jadedressler.com Do Visit Our Little Design Shop for Art, our Coloring Book + T-Shirts. www.thejadedressshop.com Twitter: @plantme
Art. Design. Style. + Life Lived Well.
r o t c i VJUHASZ INTERVIEW WITH LON LEVIN
sense it influenced me. In high school I did a lot of the artwork for the school paper and other activities but never really seriously considered it as a career. In senior year my art teacher asked me what my plans were after graduation. I had some offbeat fantasy of being a cross country truck driver and told him. He did the modern equivalent of an eye roll and took me down to the office to fill out applications to art schools. I was eventually accepted by the Parsons School of Design. He saw something I didn’t and pushed me to take advantage of my talent. A perfect case of how important an influence a teacher can be in a young person’s life. . What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up? What were your influences?
When did you first think about art/illustration as something you wanted to do? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers, mentors? I had been drawing ever since a kid; in the course of my psychotherapy many years ago we explored the connection between my earliest drawings being of war scenes and my parents’ very unhappy, quarrelsome relationship. There was near constant war at home and there was war in my drawings. My father, who worked in a factory, was also a frustrated artist, who started a correspondence illustration course. He worked on his lessons through the night. It eventually affected his health and he stopped. He packed his materials up in a suitcase and put it upstairs in the attic. As a kid I would often go up to the attic and look through his assignments. I think in some very subtle
I grew up in New Jersey, first generation American born to immigrants. My influences growing up were the marvelous Max Fleischer Popeye, Betty Boop, KoKo the Clown cartoons , the fantastic Looney Tunes of Robert Clampett, Robert McKimson, Tex Avery, Carl Stalling, Chuck Jones, Disney animations, early MAD Magazine, Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, great visual, slapstick style comedy that was frequently aired on TV at the time. I loved the American Heritage history publications and was mesmerized by so many of the illustrations printed in those issues, especially the battle scenes. I would find myself trying to replicate those great paintings of battles. My folks were traumatized survivors of World War II, my mother a survivor of Soviet concentration camps. As I mentioned before they were not a compatible couple. I was a very fearful, fear driven kid, awkward, not great at baseball or other sports, very insecure. Once in art school I redirected my anxieties into working hard and being the best I could. The anxieties didn’t go away but for a few years they were suppressed. What’s your background and how does it relate to what you’re doing now?
I graduated Parsons in ’75 wanting to do both caricature and satirical illustration. Illustrators like David Levine, Ed Sorel, Rick Meyerowitz were serious influences. But I was also captivated by the work of Howard Brodie who was CBS-TV’s
premiere court room artist and wanted to explore that
line of work. So it was a little schizophrenic, two very different disciplines both holding great appeal to me. The one connective factor between them was the importance of drawing and it’s relationship to telling a story. I’ve been bouncing back and forth between these genres since my career began. You’ve worked in a couple different styles and genres. Some teachers and agents discourage that. How did that work for you? And do you recommend doing that? I’m not sure. I think I can say that in the beginning of my career, trying to support a family, it served a beneficial function being able to jump around styles taking on many different types of assignments working almost constantly. But illustration 4 decades ago was also much different than now and those salad days are not around anymore. At least not for me. With that qualification stated I also cannot imagine myself, my personality, being that finely focused to treat every assignment with one approach, one look. I was talking about this recently with a colleague.
it bends to their vision of visual representation. You immediately know who the artist is when you see the artwork. It’s a gift to have that ability to digest the world around you and bend it to your method of visual expression. I on the other hand see myself as a reactive illustrator, responding to the subject matter and telling the story from the subject’s point of view. It’s not about me. It’s about them. It’s getting into the subject’s head. Whether it’s satire or dead serious material, political or personal, I’m responding to the information in front of me and thinking how best to represent it visually. Sometimes pen and ink. Sometimes pencil and or wash. Sometimes black and white, sometimes color. Sometimes realism, sometimes cartooning and caricature, or whimsical. There’s no set solution. You might say that I bend to the material rather than the material to me. But in doing so I seek the human connection, to have the viewer connect to the humanity of the subject. It has its advantages, it has its drawbacks. My best advice to someone who is torn over styles is play and see how it works out both personally and financially. I do have to say that, regarding styles, so much contemporary work and what is coming out of the schools feels generic, not even a matter of students
emulating instructors but each other which creates a cookie cutter feel. other artists Some of it is quite strong technically but where’s the point of view? How do you stay fresh? How do you decide what would be of interest to others? Some of that was already getting touched on in the last answer. By treating every new assignment as another challenge to create a narrative every new assignment feels like I’m starting from scratch. I just don’t know what’s going to happen. If time permits I try to do as much research as possible. Often time research about the subject provides great clues to the subject, that along with Googling visual reference
looking for the tell that reveals something about the subject or material. If there is advance copy for me to read it also often helps to set into motion a theme (business mags are a different story as the writing is often terribly dry and technical with a lot of corporate language that means little to me.) Let’s say it’s a satirical piece. Even if I don’t like the person I try to gather as much information as possible to say something about them as part of this great mess of a circus called life. When it comes to the work I do for the military I don’t look to do another picture of a soldier or Marine pointing a gun. I do look to portray interactions between the players in the scene and even if there’s only one in the image how does that person relate to the scene around him or her. There are so many illustrators who can render me under the table when it comes to weapons and machinery. I don’t seek to compete in that realm. I do seek to tell stories. It’s why artists like Howard Brodie or Kerr Eby have influenced me so much when it comes to my work in witness art, war art. I’ve been getting more into creating panorama style images that help me unfold the visual narrative to the viewer. Like a long shot in a movie. What is your favorite area to work in? Wherever the technical solution directs me to create the best visual.
You do a lot of military art? How did that start? How does it feel to depict our troops in action? Is there a sense of pride in that for you? It took off in earnest in the mid 2000’s after several decades on the sideline. Courtroom art, reportorial art, was one of the styles of my early career (the Brodie inspiration). After my first wife died I put it on the sidelines and concentrated on staying at home and working in my studio there to raise a family. By the mid 2000’s I was remarried and the boys were leaving home. The opportunities to return to reportorial work unfolded first with my involvement in the USAF Art Program via the Society of Illustrators Government Services Committee. I was sent on missions to visually document boots on the ground activities- combat training, special ops training, that kind of mission. I begged off any assignments involving drawing jets or missiles for the previously stated reasons. I wanted to draw human beings interacting and responding to challenges. During this time I had also been illustrating monthly humorous writings of David Feherty for GOLF Magazine. In 2008 David invited me to tag along with golf celebrities to Iraq during the Thanksgiving holiday week with his Troops First Foundation and draw soldiers and Marines. That actually put me into war zones. It was something I did for a number of years with him during Thanksgiving week. Both the USAF and the troop support missions were fantastic experiences but involved a lot of moving around with little chance to settle in and absorb the scene or its personnel more fully. By the time you felt like you were warming up you were gone. It did plant the seed of wanting to eventually embed with troops. Do some real visual journalism. That happened in 2010 when I was in Helmand Province, Afghanistan with Feherty’s group and met with (then) Major Patrick Zenk at a base. We were just
ready to leave and he asked me to do a “quick” sketch of his dustoff crew (dustoff teams are the helicopter teams that fly into combat zones to pick up the wounded) and their helicopter. I replied that there are no quick sketches of a four man team standing in front of their Black Hawk. I offered to take some photos and send him a drawing. We took the pictures and back home the drawing started getting bigger and more involved and eventually became a watercolor which I scanned and sent to Zenk and team. I also made prints for the families back home. Major Zenk was terribly happy and invited me to hang with his team if I had the chance. Life interrupted and it wasn’t until around February of 2011 that someone forwarded me an AL Jazeera mini doc on dustoff units. Zenk’s team was featured. A switch was flipped and I emailed him to confirm that this civilian was still welcome. A cot and a warm cup of coffee was waiting was the reply. That set into motion the process of getting the necessary press credentials for the embed to happen. By the time that happened, Zenk’s team was heading home but he recommended me to another unit, the 1-52nd Arctic Thunder from Alaska. And that’s how I wound up, embedded in Kandahar, in August of 2011, spending two weeks with the 1-52nd and three weeks in total in Afghanistan. I kept lots of notes and did lots of drawings which eventually was culled into a feature for GQ online in July of 2012. While all this was going on I was invited into a group, The Joe Bonham Project, started by a former Marine combat artist, Michael Fay, to visually document the seriously wounded returning from the front lines during that time. We would go to Bethesda, later Walter Reed Hospital and sit, draw and listen to the soldiers and Marines who survived death but were badly wounded. The Joe Bonham Project currently has a staggering exhibition at the National Museum of the Marine Corps that I believe closes at the end of March. Since around 2015 I’ve been doing some extremely satisfactory visual documentation and painting for the Marine Corps. I really enjoy working with and for them. What’s going on in your head when you work on a piece of art? Your fears, anticipation, confidence , etc. How do you know something is finished or is it ever finished?
First thought is how do I not repeat myself. How do I add something different or better to this new challenge? I can think of very few jobs where fear was not an initial response. Not paralyzing fear, though that sometimes even happens, but just the fear of not doing a hack piece. There’s always some sort of mental hurdle, sometimes an actual technical hurdle that once I finally confront allows for the chance of getting into that zone where it’s all just flowing. I know in the political satirical work I do if I am laughing every so often at the image I am working on, it’s on its way. I’ve still got much to learn and practice about when to call an assignment
done, and lately when a painting is finished. The thing I most watch out for, especially in painting, is crossing into that rendering stage which in what I’m trying to shoot for is certain death to the sense of immediacy and action I am hoping to portray. It’s a very difficult challenge to manage. It’s so easy to start over thinking and reworking something that was just fine where you left it. It’s called not trusting your intuition. I’m not a full time painter and I suspect it would be less of an issue if painting was just second nature. Often what is going on in my head are admonitions from teacher mentor friends of mine from Parsons that mostly involve simple observations like “paint how you draw”, “your marks are you language”, “once you start becoming a slave to a photo your image is ruined”. Who if anyone influences your work? So many ghosts influence me as well as some living ones. I’ve been blessed with great mentors in this profession. If I start mentioning them I’m sure I’ll forget a few and be sad. Do you get satisfaction from your work in the political arena? Is there any particular political figure(s) that motivates you? Satisfaction would only really come if, like Thomas Nast, my work helped to change minds and make the subjects of the satire nervous. But this is not the 1800’s and I don’t think I change any minds. The great caricaturist and editorial illustrator Ed Sorel has been quoted as saying that he realized after Nixon he wasn’t changing minds, just heads. I confess to a greater pessimism than some of my colleagues. The current situation defies satire because it has taken idiocy and corruption to new absurdist heights. How did your association with David Feherty come to pass? Was that fun for you? Are you a golfer? I’ve been very lucky to having been paired with some outstanding, and funny, writers in some very long term relationships. David is one of them. In the mid 90’s Ina Saltz who was art director at GOLF Magazine tapped me to be part of a small rotating group of illustrators who would create images for a new column that David was writing. I did the first and the next thing I knew the rotation never happened and I was point man. Then he started writing very funny books and I did the cover for a novel of his which had some seriously side splitting, catch your breath, passages. It was only when I did that cover that I reached out to pick his brain about the imagery. He felt that we were ruining a beautiful team by actually communicating with each other. He’s a bend over backwards generous human being, as crazy as his columns indicated and a dear friend even though we don’t cross paths much in real life. Illustrating his columns for those 15 years before he wrapped it up was an outstanding gig.
The great challenge was matching his wit with a visual. I can’t judge my batting average on that but I do have some favorites. It was such an honor to be part of his Troops First Foundation and partaken in those missions overseas. I would do portraits of the service members, bring them home, scan them for my records and send the originals by Christmas to whomever the soldiers and Marines requested. The responses from family members made it all worthwhile. I don’t play golf and that’s one reason David likes me. What’s the future hold for you? Any ultimate goal? I have no idea what the future holds. Ultimate goal? Leaving behind at least some work that can hold its own with those artists whom I hold in great regard. If you could meet anyone in the field you’re in who would it be and why? I think I already did that when I met and shared lunch and conversation on a couple occasions with Tomi Ungerer. I realized then what it must have felt like to a musician and be in Beethoven’s company.
An Interview with Lon Levin
ARTWORK WITH VISION You’ve worked in a couple different genres with your clients. How did that evolve and was that an asset for you or a problem getting those clients? When did you first think about art as something you wanted to do? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers and mentors? I thought of art as something I wanted to do every time I flipped through a comic book as a kid. Being in a very creative family with my father making furniture and carvings and my mother painting meant I was always encouraged. What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up? What were your influences?
I grew up in the forest covered hills of the Hudson Valley in New York. I was a kid who was either out exploring the woods and climbing trees or inside reading comics books, just trying to see everything I could see. As I kept reading and added fantasy novels to the mix I was absolutely floored by Michael Whelan's covers to the Elric books by Michael Moorcock. Fantastic realism at its best! How has the background you got at Joe Kubert School played a part in your career?
The Joe Kubert School's biggest influence was exposing me to artists. Fellow students who loved what I loved too, teachers showing their personal work and talent and everyone sharing their favorite artists present and past. It was the trunk that helped me branch out to the whole world of illustration beyond comics.
Working figuratively allows me to tackle any genre whether it involves fantasy elements or not. So it's a pleasure for me to experiment and try something new. There is always a worry that your portfolio could be more focused, art directors like to know what they are getting. The solution is striving always to sharpen your skills and show consistency that way.
How do you stay up to date on styles and process outside of your projects? What do you recommend to younger artists who are just developing their portfolios? I think it's best to follow what you like always. It's artificial to try and identify what's popular or current and your attempts at it won't rival the pioneers. Fuse what you love into your own mix and pour your effort into that. That said, it can be a great idea to look at parallel arts and see what you can take, put some fashion into fantasy art, or some design into your illustration. You do so many different types of art and design. What is your favorite area to work in?
Using all the realism I can and bringing those skills into fantastic, mythic, iconic subjects will always be the most fun for me. Can you explain what the experience of working on gaming projects is all about?
Gaming projects are most often set in a "world". A
style sheet may set the tone or you may just be expected to know the settings and styles from previous products. Your assignment will be to bring to life a personality, a creature/monster or a distinctive setting in that world. But from there it is up to you to bring all the power, beauty and "cool" you can to your subject. You are still working with an art director and need to follow their input closely on essential things to include, weapons, armor, even color schemes often important to represent their faction in the game. But you are often hired because your art fits their game's style and in the best cases you use that to help bring their world to life. Your fantasy artwork is great. Love the “Tread” piece. How did that end up as something you do a lot of ? My portfolio is created with that goal, fantasy art. But I think there is room for personal pieces, like "Tread" when they push in the same direction and use the same techniques. Again, art directors like focused portfolios and like to be confident in what sort of art they will receive from you but all that focus will run stale if you don't sometimes push your personal vision where it leads you.
"I was a kid who was either out exploring the woods and climbing trees or inside reading comics books, just trying to see everything I could see."
What’s going on in your head when you work on a piece. How do you know something is finished? It's amazing how every assignment starts with the same fears. "I've never tackled something quite like this before!" "How can I possibly make this work?" You have to fall back on your step by step methods, even when that includes doing all the bad sketches first just to get them out of the way. Finishing always involves just looking. Some part of your mind always tells you what's not right yet. Who if anyone influences your work?
There is so much art to see and we are so lucky to be able to find it so easily these days. With all that rush of imagery I try to follow what moves me for all those mysterious, subconscious reasons we never quite understand whether it be art by friends or heroes.
I’m curious about how you choose what to work on. Is there a certain type of project or client you gravitate towards?
Fantasy art and fiction is the secret gate to all the mythological, subconscious, visionary weirdness I want to explore. What do you do to promote yourself and get work?
Submitting art to annuals and attending shows, especially the very illustrator specific Spectrum Fantastic Art Live and IX Arts: Contemporary Imaginative Realism What’s the future hold for you? Any ultimate goal?
There are more and more possibilities for creators to craft their own job and income. My personal project "Chromata" will be my start in those channels.
C.F. PAYNE LESLIE COBER-GENTRY with
Chris Fox Payne, most commonly known as C.F. Payne, is an American caricaturist and illustrator. He graduated with BFA from Miami University in Ohio in 1976 and began a freelance career in 1980. His illustrations may be found on covers of Time, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, Mad, Esquire, National Geographic, Spy; his series Our America exclusively at back covers of Reader's Digest, and many others. He also provided the original illustrations for the first three "Molly" books in the American Girl series. Payne did a series of postage stamps of famous singers for the United States Postal Service. He is a recipient of numerous awards for his works, including the National Cartoonist Society Magazine Illustration Award for 2002 and their Book Illustration Award for 2003. He is among the founders of The Illustrators' Partnership of America. He is currently an instructor at Columbus College of Art and Design, as well as a visiting instructor at the Illustration Academy.
PLEASE ELABORATE ON HOW YOU DEVELOPED YOUR RECOGNIZABLE STYLE?
WHO WERE YOUR GREATEST INFLUENCES IN ARRIVING TO YOUR CREATIVE GENIUS?
I think the illustrators who have influenced me most are Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Norman Rockwell, Mark English, Alan Cober and Jack Unruh. Others who had a huge influence on me are my parents. They taught me, my brother and two sisters a work ethic that has carried us through life. They also allowed me to pursue art. I am not sure I always gave them confidence in me with my grades in school, but still, they always supported me. I also had some very good teachers along the way. Not all teachers are good, but when you get a good one, you take advantage as best you can.
I think my style was a product of my liking to draw from an early age and never stopping or having that joy of drawing interrupted by some other interest. I do have many other interests, but they have never interfered with my love of drawing and studying art. So in part, I think it is just the way I draw and I have learned to have confidence in that. YOUR PAINTINGS CAPTURE CHARACTER, HUMOR, AND PERSONALITY. YOU HAVE PAINTED COUNTLESS POLITICIANS, AUTHORS, AND ENTERTAINERS. WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTERS YOU CREATE IN YOUR ART?
I would say it’s the people with the most interesting faces or unique stories to tell with their lives. I do love drawing baseball too. I guess growing up in Cincinnati is to blame for that.
illustration because people want you to do art based on what they have seen, in other words, the past. I do have a few projects I hope to get published, but for the immediate future I have my schoolwork that has me pretty busy. Did you ever dream about having another career when you were creating your path, or was an artist/illustrator your constant goal? I have never really considered anything else. I am not sure what I would have done. I do like to drive. So, about all I can think of with that interest is drive a truck. Even from a very young age making art is about all I have ever considered. Your drawings of wll known people have Your drawings of well-known people have an incredible likeness to the subject, totally capturing their personality. Can you speak about the reference you use when you are painting a well-known person's likeness? I just try to get as much as possible so I can be as familiar with them as I can. I try to find the best images with the best lighting for likeness and shadows that show me their form. It usually takes a number of initial sketches to start to get things right. Some people are tough to get, so it takes a while. Others come easier.
You've creatd covers for TIME, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, MADD MAGAZINE (among hundreds of others) and have illustrated several children's books. Do you have a favorite assignment that stands out in your mind as being special to you?
Doing the portrait for Barack Obama for Time stands out because of the historical significance. My MAD covers are special too because they connect me with the art that inspired me when I was young. The Time Magazine baseball strike cover also stands out because it had to be created from start to finish in less that 24 hours. That includes delivering the original art to Time in NYC. Are there and paintings/projects that you haven't completed yet, but are weighing on your mind to create?
Not really. I just want to continue to make good pictures for assignments that allow me to grow. It can be hard in
What do you most like to do in your free time when you are not creating art?
Travel with my wife. Even then I try to sketch the locations. But they are just quick pen and ink drawings for keepsakes. As the director of the Hartford Art School, University of Hartford MFA Programand a former chairperson at the Cleveland Institute of Arts, How do you balance your teaching, studio time and personal projects. I am the director of the Hartford MFA Program and I used to teach at Columbus College of Art and Design. Now as Director, and particularly now that we are in the midst of this pandemic, all I am doing is school. I have had to turn down work because we need to prepare everything for online teaching. That means having all my lectures recorded. That is taking time. When I do have time, I do some sketching. Right now, it’s 7:30 AM and I am writing this, I will start recording shortly after and will go all day and well into the evening. In 2018 you were inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame. Can you speak about receiving this honor? It is still hard to see myself really being worthy. I feel I still have so much more art to create that needs to be better. I understand
that some of the art that people know me for was unique at the time. I also know others followed. Many of them are still doing it and many are doing it better. I am very honored and amazed. I still have a hard time feeling I should be there with the likes of Maxfield Parrish, N.C. Wyeth, Norman Rockwell and the list goes on.
"The illustrators who have influenced me most are Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Norman Rockwell, Mark English, Alan Cober and Jack Unruh. Others who had a huge influence on me are my parents. They taught me, my brother and two sisters a work ethic that has carried us through life."
SARAH SUPLINA "SARAH SNIPPETS"
"I am the fourth daughter out of five, so I grew up learning how to find myself in a pack!"
When did you first think about art as something you wanted to do? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers, mentors? I can remember vividly the moment I knew I wanted to be an artist…I was in my first grade class (six years old) and we were all asked to draw a bee. After we completed our drawings, all the students gathered around mine and claimed “Sarah is going to be an artist”. I knew at that moment I had a calling. Along the way, I have had full support of teachers, families and friends.
What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up? What were your influences? I am the fourth daughter out of five, so I grew up learning how to find myself in a pack! I grew up in Massachusetts and enjoyed hours of unstructured time with my sisters and close neighbors. We would explore the woods around our neighborhood and enjoy creative play for hours. How has the background you got at Pace University played a part in your career?
Pace was my second graduate degree I received. I went to Pace to earn my Teaching Degree when I decided to change careers to be an Art Teacher. People told me it wouldn’t be easy, but I love teaching and I am so glad I pursued that degree. I also have my Masters in Fine Arts from Pratt Institute, which I earned much earlier in my career. That degree has been equally significant in my career for its influence, connections and education.
Your work is so intricate and delicate. How did that evolve and was that a skill you already had or was it hard to learn how to do it?
My current paper work is very similar to my earlier traditional watercolor work with the details. I loved to paint images of flowers, birds and dishes with incredible detail. However, when I first started playing around with paper art, my work was much more abstract and simple. As my skill and exploration with paper as increased, so has the detail in my work. The layers and the details do take time, but the visual result is very satisfying.this. Now I increasingly combine drawing with computer graphics, it helps to achieve original effects and textures.
Can you explain what the experience difference of working on a landscape vs. a bird other animals? The biggest, most obvious difference is the subject matter. My animals tend to be the most detailed of all my subjects. When I work on landscapes, I tend to create a simpler scene. Most of my landscapes lately have been backgrounds to different subjects (birds, shells). Your “dog portrait” that you’re holding in the photo on your website is amazingly detailed. How long did it take you to do that? How much does a typical sculpture take to execute?
“For the Love of Dogs” took quite a bit of time! Each dog snippet took about 5 hours to make. With thirteen dogs, it was about 65 hours of work. In addition, there was the original sketching, concept and final layout. It was a true labor of love!
Do you stay up to date on styles/process outside of your projects? Do you follow other paper sculptors like Gail Armstrong (who we interviewed) who does paper sculpture for the commercial world.
Each snippet varies in the time it takes to complete. The more intricate snippets require more time. My collages with more detailed backgrounds and elements will take longer than those with simple, plain backgrounds.
I do follow quite a few other paper artists on social media and appreciate all the variety of the work. I find it very inspiring and motivating to see what other artists are doing.
"Undoubtedly, my style was influenced by 6 years of study at the Moscow State University of Press"
What do you recommend to younger paper artists or your students who are just developing their portfolios? I tell my students and encourage any artist to experiment, to work hard, and most importantly, stay true to their style. Be unique! Be authentic! Every artist has his or her own unique style, and it is important to find that style and to stay true to it.Still important to me is the composition of the image. This is primarily an analytical work. I love the combination of emotionality and analytics in illustration and I try to work actively in these two areas. Do you only work in paper sculptures? My work these days is primarily cut paper, although I have been a graphic designer, traditional watercolorist, and muralist. In my classroom, however, I use and teach many different forms of art. I believe it is very important for young artists to be exposed to many different materials.
My clients gravitate towards my work and me. When I am a
asked to create a custom piece, it is because they have seen my work. But, they wish to have something more personal to them or of a particular subject. What do you do to promote yourself and get work?
I promote my work primarily through social media, in particular Instagram and FaceBook. I also like to participate in art shows, which help promote my work. What’s the future hold for you? Any ultimate goals? I honestly have no idea what the future holds for me…2020 has taught me that life can change at any moment. My ultimate goal is to continue my art journey and enjoy the ride along the way! If you could meet anyone in the field you’re in, who would it be and why? What’s going on in your head when you work on a piece/ campaign? Your fears, anticipation, confidence, etc. How do you know something is finished? I always start a new piece with excitement for something new. When I do my own work, I always choose something which will lend itself to my paper art style and that excites me. Part of my process, is taking pictures of my work in progress. These pictures allow me to take a step back, to see my work through a different lens (literally and figuratively) and to see any needed work. When my work looks good photographed, I know it is complete! For one crow, I may draw 5 or 6 versions! Who if anyone influences your work? Nature and my surroundings influence my work the most. The anticipation and experience of different seasons affects me greatly. I can’t help but want to capture the changing beauty around me. I’m curious about how you choose what to work on. Is there a certain type of project or client you gravitate towards? My choice of subject is always an ever-evolving process… one idea will lead into another. Right now I am working on Seashells, which was influenced by my previous work on Coastal Birds. The Coastal Birds were influenced by a trip to Florida where I saw so many beautiful birds on the beach. And so the organic creative ideas flow on and on…
I love the work of Raya Sader Bujna. She's a fellow Paper Artist Collective member. Her floral and food paper work is incredible.
Questions by Lon Levin / Portrait by Chris Teague When I say Darren Di Lieto is dedicated to illustration I mean that not only as an illustrator myself, but as an artist who is concerned about helping other illustrators get work and know the business they’ve chosen a little better. The statistical information he’s gathered through the State of Illustration, illustrator’s survey is priceless and in line with what we at the Illustrators Journal feel is our mission. We’re honored that he’s taken the time to have a chat with us. When did you first think about Illustration as something you wanted to do? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers, mentors? I’ve always wanted to be an illustrator or an artist as far back as I can remember. I think everyone kinda assumed that’s what I would do, with no questions asked. I had a natural talent for it, so was always given lots of encouragement. Winning a number of art competitions in school also helped boost my confidence when it came to following a creative path. It’s just a bit strange now that I’m running a community and service for illustrators rather than being one of the illustrators myself, as it was all I ever wanted to be. What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up?
What were your influences?
I grew up in Torquay in Devon and I was a shy, quiet kid with big ears who loved comics and narrative artwork. Playing with action figures like He-Man,
Ghostbusters, Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles while watching all the related cartoons pretty much sums up my childhood. My friends and I would play games like Monopoly and D&D when we were younger, and as we got older we became obsessed with Atari, the Spectrum ZX, then the Sega Master System. Although Atmosfear (a VHS game) became our go-to game at the weekends. How does your background relate to what you’re doing now?
Growing up in the period I did means illustration and artwork has always been an integral part of my life. When you think about the aesthetics of the media and merchandise from the ‘80s and ‘90s, it was all
trippy, hot rod monster artwork or more well crafted illustrations from the likes of Drew Struzan - even graphic design was being influenced by the surfer art and artists of the time. We had an evolving punk scene, we had a series of what are now considered iconic movies, all made with practical special effects no less. It was really an era where you could appreciate what was being created by hand and by real people. I think like most of my peers, you’re stuck with what you grow up with and it heavily influences how you see the world and how you think it should be. I actually used to believe by 2020 we’d be seeing the formation of an organization like the Federation, from Star Trek. I don’t think we’re there yet and may not be for a while, but I’m still hopeful.
their similar shape, a script simply wouldn’t work rather than make me feel stupid. I really do like code. It also didn’t really help my freelance illustration career when I kept suggesting alternative illustrators to clients who’d contacted me, who I thought were better suited to the job. I’m just lucky that I kept making the right calls and it grew into what I do now.
When and how did you decide to change from an active illustrator to what you’re doing now?
How do you stay up to date on what’s happening in the market?
Out of necessity, during my stint as a freelance illustrator, I became a coder and it came to me as naturally as putting a pencil to paper did. I also found I had an affinity for managing and organizing massive amounts of data. In a way, I think it helped that I’d always struggled with the written language due to being dyslexic, and coding languages were so logical and unforgiving, that they made perfect sense and there was no ambiguity. Commands are kept simple without variations and if I was to mix up a D and B because of
I try not to get wrapped up in trends as they come and go so quickly. Quality is always timeless, so that and integrity is what I focus on. Other than that, I keep an eye on all of my social feeds for upcoming events and the current topics of conversation in the industry. I do miss the days where I followed a hundred and one blogs of people who actually wrote longform posts, but because of the astronomical rise of social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn is where it’s at these days. You just need to find a way to work around their algorithms or you end up missing a helluva lot by being fed only the posts you’re most likely to react to. It’s an echo chamber of bliss or nightmares depending on your disposition.
"I became a coder and it came to me as naturally as putting a pencil to paper did."
Do you have a favorite part of the Illustration biz that you like best?
I simply love being able to check out new and wonderful illustrations created by the talented people I work with on a daily basis, it’s fantastic. There’s also the pride I feel when I know I’ve helped bring a commission to fruition. Sometimes it’s easy to connect
a client with an illustrator, other times there’s a lot of work involved. The client might need help working out their budget or figuring out a style that fits their brief. Illustrators may need help dissecting a contract or coming up with a quote and appropriate license for a job. Doing my job is my favorite part of the illustration business. Can you explain why what you’re doing now is so important to other illustrators? For some members, 100% of their clients come directly through us and they have been members since they began their careers over a decade ago. We do what we can, when we can, going above and beyond for those who use our services or are part of the Hire an Illustrator community. As a result, most of our members join us through word of mouth or referrals from other illustrators and even those who leave us for one reason or another tend to return at some point. We’ve created a professional and constructive environment for freelancers and commissioning
editors, designers and art directors alike. We’re always on stand-by to help. It’s not an understatement to say there’s a lot of pressure and people rely on us for their livelihoods, so what we do is done with the passion it deserves. What’s going on in your head when you’re working? Your fears, anticipation, confidence , etc. There’s a constant fear that what we’re doing isn’t good enough. It keeps me up at night, but all I can do is try and ignore it and do the best I can and keep pushing forward. My mind races at a hundred miles an hour and I have more ideas than I can note down on a jumble of post-itnotes, let alone ever pursue. I’m always telling people how they can improve what they’re doing or explaining to them how to redirect their business down a path they may not have considered. I want the freelancers I work with to have long and prosperous careers and when you’ve been doing this as long as I have you can see all the pitfalls and weak spots people wander into blissfully unaware. The problem is there aren’t any rules, I have to be confident with what I’m saying as I know it works, but my underlying impostor syndrome is always on the verge of breaching my defences. Who if anyone influences your work? Anyone with a decent dose of creativity and good work ethic has always influenced the direction I’ve taken my work. I don’t want to go naming names as I’ve seen so many talented folks come and go, but it’s the ones who are still around that I really admire and appreciate, they know who they are.
What’s the future hold for you? Any ultimate goal? I’m working on rebranding Hire an Illustrator as Hireillo, and I’ve partially built a new website and system for the community which should be good to go by the end of 2020. I have a pricing, contract and licensing workshop I’m slowly putting together for 2021. There’s a new exhibition in the works, plus a million other projects I should probably keep under my hat for now. While that’s all going on, I’m going to carry on doing what I do. I will continue to advise and offer impartial advice to our members, help clients connect with the freelancers they need for their projects and continue to advocate for a better working environment and equality for everyone I represent. If you could meet anyone in the field you’re in, who would it be and why?
That’s a really tough question as I’ve actually met most of the people I’d like to meet and are part of the industry I work in. With all the conventions and conferences going on all the time, it’s really not too difficult to do. I do somehow always manage to miss British comic book artist Jock and I think artist Paul Kidby would be a really nice guy to meet one of these days. I’ve also always been a fan of New York based art director Charles Hively, so it’d be nice to grab a meal or coffee with him, if I ever get the opportunity.
What do you do to promote yourself and your business? I actually try not to promote myself on a personal level too much, as when I have done it ends up adding too much to my already heavy workload. I don’t hide in the shadows, but I do tend to take a backseat when I can, plus there are already a few too many people about with egos big enough for all of us. As far as HAI as a business is concerned, we promote it and our illustrators any way we can, whether that be straight up advertising in periodicals, sponsoring events and workshops, doing talks, or various other initiatives like the State of Illustration. Obviously we run several social network accounts and we take full advantage of these with regular updates, promotions and crafted campaigns like the mini portfolio reviews I do via Twitter two or three times a year. In addition to all the things mentioned, we’ve run several
Showcse 100, published by Darren Di Lieto as part of a 2015 group show
hireanillustrator.com stateofillustration.com/19 facebook.com/hireillo twitter.com/hireillo linkedin.com/company/hireillo instagram.com/hirello
Heather Leary Staying Productive During Quarantine
This pandemic has brought much tragedy, fear, and frustration. It is hard to look on your phone or computer without being remined of what is happening and feeling a sense of dread. I too have days where my irritations come to a boiling point and I just want everything to go back to normal. Hope is not lost though; the day will come when the quarantine is lifted. Until that day comes look at this as an opportunity to work on tasks you usually would not have time to do. With so many artists staying home this could be a great time to get some much-needed work done. I myself have already created a list of goals I want to accomplish while under quarantine. Having a list has really helped me to keep myself busy and achieve many tasks I only had a limited time for before the lockdown in Los Angeles. I have my list, what is next? Figure out a time management schedule. It is so important
for any artist to have a time management schedule. It helps to see how productive you are along with figuring out how long certain tasks or projects take. The biggest goal I have on my list is to refresh my portfolio. Portfolios require much time and effort and with this lockdown limiting my normal routine this gives me a chance to really focus on my portfolio and not get distracted. If your happy with your portfolio perhaps you could try learning a new skill. Illustration has never been my strong suit. Now with so much time I can sit down and take the time to practice, learn techniques, and get back to the basics of color study. Taking the time to learn a new art skill could not just enhance your portfolio, but it could add some flair to your social media. Working with little interruptions or distractions is great, but you must remember the importance of staying healthy
and taking necessary breaks. When inspiration strikes you do not want to be so over worked that the thought of drawing exhausts you. Create a schedule to balance out your work and get the rest you need. Not being able to go to work, run errands, or go outside causes a sense of restlessness and can disrupt your sleep. A good night sleep in imperative to your healthy and keep your drawing mojo going. Make sure to do
activities that keep you active. Indoor exercise, new hobbies, chores, or rearranging furniture to spruce up your living space are great ways to stay active. Quarantine can be a frightening thing, but during this time it is important to stay positive, take care of yourself, and stay productive. Our sense of normal may be gone, but we can take control and create a new normal. One that benefits us and inspires us to work hard and spread a hopeful message. Stay healthy and stay safe.
TYLERPAGE "I simply find animals funnier than humans to draw."
When did you first think about art as something you wanted to do? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers, mentors? I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid, for as long as I can remember. As a kid it was mostly something I did for fun. My parents encouraged my talents as they both had creative hobbies. I didn’t think about it much as a job or career when I was little, but I did realize that other people considered me talented or ‘good’ at drawing so when asked if I wanted to be an artist when I grew up I sometimes said yes. I got more interested in science when I got older so I thought I would end up doing something more along those lines. But I was always making art and felt like it was something I wanted to continue doing but I also understood how hard it was to make a living as an artist. What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up? What were your influences? I grew up in Minneapolis, where I still live. I was active. I played with toys (Legos, He-Man, GIJoe, Transformers, etc.) and my little brother quite a lot. We played
outside a lot too, biking to the parks and creek by our house a lot. I didn’t read many comics as a kid beside newspaper strips. I loved Garfield early on. My parents bought me those book collections. My parents were both big readers and my mom took us to the library frequently. We always did those summer reading challenges, to see how many books we could read. So I credit my mom with fostering a love of reading. I liked the Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes - both strips aligned with my sense of humor. I would buy random license comics at our corner store - Transformers, the Smurfs, GIJoe as a kid, but knew comic characters like Superman or Spider-Man better from cartoons
(Continued from previous page) How has the background you got at Minneapolis College of Art & Design played a part in your career? This is always a little confusing to explain. I started working at MCAD before I did my MFA there (and I still work there). I started working at MCAD as they were developing some new areas, namely their digital print center (called the MCAD Service Bureau.) I had previously worked at a commercial printer doing pre-press, design, and occasional illustration work. At MCAD I built up the Service Bureau to offer all kinds of digital output that is now a core component of the curriculum. So I’ve learned a lot on the technical side of the print world, and that obviously informs how I approach my own art. I’d been working at MCAD for about a year when I was accepted into their MFA program. I’d been thinking about grad school previously but once I was at MCAD I saw that I could continue to work there and also do my MFA. MCAD is also one of the few art colleges that has a comics art program. Even though they had a good undergrad comics program, I was the first person to do comics for an MFA. So a lot of what I ended up learning during that program was how to communicate and talk about comics and my work with non-comics people. I had to experiment with what were the best ways of presenting work for critique and so forth. Aside from any technical concerns, grad school helped me see where my work fit in with the larger world of comics and get comfortable talking about what I was doing. The MFA program also helped put me in touch with many people in the comics community, and push my work forward in ways I might not have done on my own. Your work is kinetic and energetic. How did that evolve and was that an asset for you or was it hard to learn how to do it? I think this is because I approach drawings with a feeling in mind, almost like I’m acting, but putting my performance down on paper. When I started to take art a little more seriously in junior high and high school I had a habit of overworking my drawings, of getting frustrated, drawing things over and over. At some point I learned to just push past that, because I knew I wouldn’t ever finish anything if I kept re-drawing things. Then in college I had a drawing teacher who taught me about knowing when to stop a drawing. For a few weeks she would walk over and tell me a drawing was ‘done’ until I figured it out for myself. Focusing more on comics and cartooning then, I’ve always felt the art should have a loose or energetic quality, because it’s made fast and consumed fast. I’m more in line with the disposable
nature of comics and cartoons than those who approach it more like illustration. You seem to work in various styles. Do you stay up to date on styles/process outside of your projects? Does that influence you? This goes back to my previous answer about approaching things with a feeling in mind. In school I never liked the idea of developing a ‘style’ because it felt limiting. I’ve always liked looking at and learning from all types of artists and taking the things I like and incorporating them into my own. So when I start working on a new project, a big part of that is figuring out the feeling I want to be inherent in the drawing and that plays into the style I move toward. For instance, with Raised on Ritalin, I wanted something simple and approachable that wouldn’t get in the way of the information being presented. What do you recommend to younger cartoonist who are just developing their portfolios? The main thing is to just draw a lot. I started making comics just to give myself something to draw. As a kid I drew all the time but started finding myself getting bored so I came up with stories as a way of always having something to draw. People are always asking, “How do I break into comics?” or something like that. The most important thing is to just draw, develop comfort with your abilities and also look at lots of other art and be critical of what you like or don’t like about that art and try and incorporate those things into your own work, full of clumsy, cute animals, and having enough time to enhance it as much as it’s necessary.
Do you write and do all the artwork for your projects? Do you collaborate with anyone else? Perhaps with your extremely talented wife? The biggest chunk of my work I’ve done all on my own. I started with self-publishing and kind of spread out from there. I like having control of everything. Once my name was out there, once I had these books as portfolio pieces, then I started getting approached for freelance gigs and would take those on occasionally as I needed for extra money. The Chicagoland Detective Agency I did with Trina Robbins for Graphic Universe was fun because it was the first time I drew someone else’s story. It was refreshing to sit down and have something to draw without having to come up with the story. And then after that my wife and I cooked up the Cici - A Fairy’s Tale series for GU. That was the first, and so far only time, we’ve collaborated directly. We definitely had a lot to learn there. My wife did the writing and character design, and I penciled the pages before handing
them back to her for coloring. We quickly learned the best approach was to just let each other do what we do best on our own. By the third book we were having a really good time with that process. Your “Raised on Ritalin” is a very personal piece that I can relate to having undiagnosed ADD as a younger person and now dealing with ADHD. It’s brilliant. How long did it take you to do that. Was it hard to be humorous about such a difficult condition? The whole process for that book was about 5 years. As I recount in the book I’d found copies of my old medical records after I’d graduated from college. At the time I knew they were important but I wasn’t sure for what. Over the years I’d make little joke drawings in my sketchbook about ADD, thinking it would be timely to make a comic on the subject. Things finally clicked when my daughter was maybe 2 years old and I found myself doing casual research online late into the night.
(Continued from previos page) Once I got serious about the concept I spent about a year just doing research - reading books and magazine and research articles. The odd thing about the humor is that I don’t like when people joke about the ADD itself. So a lot of what you see in the book was just me entertaining myself as the creator - little dumb jokes or stupid drawings that made me laugh while working on something so serious, but I see that it has carried over to the readers as well. And more importantly, even when you are dealing with something serious, I think you always have to be willing to laugh at yourself and not be too serious. Laughter is also a great way at helping people learn new things too! What’s going on in your head when you work on a book or cartoon? Your fears, anticipation, confidence , etc. How do you know something is finished? Once I get to the drawing part, I’m not thinking about much. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a little bit like acting. I’m usually going through the scenarios in my head and “seeing” how it all plays out as I put it on paper. The writing part is where most of the thinking and organization takes place, the more deliberative thought. For the bigger projects of my own I’ve worked on, by the time I get to drawing them I’m pretty confident in what I’m doing. At that point I’ve done enough ideation to see there’s an interesting future to the projects. As far as finishing a project, from an art perspective, it’s when I feel like I’ve accomplished what I wanted to communicate. As I’ve gotten older I feel like I’ve become more utilitarian in my art - does it convey the mood, emotions, and story beats? That’s all it needs. If it does those things I move on and don’t worry about. Comics are read so fast there’s no point in dwelling on the art for too long. Who if anyone influences your work? As a kid, Jim Davis and Bill Watterson were big influences. I was super into Transformers, He-Man, and other sci-fi type stuff as well. Once I got really into comics in high school it was Neil Adams and other classic superhero artists. In college I discovered Crumb and Harvey Pekar, Dave Sim, Alex Robinson, Terry Moore, and Garth Ennis. I’ve always been one of those people who will read or watch things for research. My college had a pretty impressive collection of comics for a liberal arts college. That’s where I found American Splendor and Corto Maltese and Stuck Rubber.
Baby. I basically read everything I could get my hands on. Sometimes it was the story that engaged me, sometimes it was the art. Lately I’ve found myself reading a lot of biographies or autobiographies as I often find individuals’ true stories more interesting than a traditionally structured novel. I’m curious about how you choose what to work on. Is there a certain type of project or client you gravitate towards? Since I mostly only do my own work, it’s what holds my attention. I got a reasonable day job not long after college so I wasn’t scrounging for freelance work like a lot of my peers. It just wasn’t a game I was interested in playing. I’ve had a great ability to work on whatever I find interesting. Right out of school it was a series of graphic novels called Stylish Vittles that was auto-biographical. When I found autobiography too confining I started a new series called Nothing Better which I mostly did online, releasing four print collections over about a 10 year period. Doing and promoting that work got my name out there so most of the freelance work I’ve taken on over the years was from people seeking me out. And I’ll be honest that most of the reason I’d decide to take on a project was for the extra money. But it did also have to be something I was at least a little interested in or I wouldn’t care. For example, when Lerner/ Graphic Universe approached me about doing the art for Chicagoland, I said ‘yes’ because I knew it would be fun to work with Trina Robbins (and I was right!). What do you do to promote yourself and get work? When I was first self-publishing 20 years ago I went to every convention I could and figured out which were the good ones. Then I’d do like 4 or 5 a year, send out mailers to retailers, engage with people on forums, etc. Now it’s mostly social media - having a basic website and social media accounts I post work frequently. What’s the future hold for you? Any ultimate goal? I’m in the midst of wrapping up Button Pusher, which will be out from First Second in 2021. Getting an agent and publishing with one of the ‘big guys’ was one of my main goals for a long time. So I’m just at the beginning of that journey and am hoping it continues.
"I first paint or make the parts I sense most vividly, and then listen to what I just made and figure out how to proceed and where it can take me."
"Figuring out for what I find significant in art, and changing my mind about prior convictions got me a lot closer to sensing what I truly want from my work."
When did you first think about art as something you wanted to do? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers, mentors? I first discovered drawing after a single class in 10th grade. The teacher gave each of us a black and white photograph, told us to flip it upside down and draw what we see. As I began drawing, time vanished, I entirely forgot what the photograph was of, it disintegrated into abstract shapes and the most beautiful transitions of lights and darks. Something clicked in my mind. It was a way of seeing that I was oddly familiar with. At that point I never met an artist and honestly thought that they were all dead, since the museums I’ve been to always listed a birth and death year by each painting. I found myself drawing more and more, however it wasn’t until my freshman year in college that I met my painting Professor, and later dear friend George Dugan. I never meant to be an artist. I was a molecular biology major and imagined I’ll be a scientist, but as I kept painting, I realized there was no turning back. I was a molecular biology
major and imagined I’ll be a scientist, but as I kept painting, I realized there was no turning back. George spoke and thought differently than anyone I’ve known, he worked, saw and consequently spoke as an artist. He made me realize that the way we see is significant, and that spending time on my work is serious matter, not a guilty indulgence. As I spent more time in the studio, my biology grades dwindled, although I did manage to get the degree for some reason. George was the one person who I am fully obliged to for not only discovering art but being able
"I think that staying the summers with my grandparents has had the most influence on what I do now, they shared with me their natural curiosity and the value of making things." (Continued) to hold on to it. Initially my parents were understandably concerned about my decisions, but are absolutely supportive now. What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up? What were your influences? I was born in Odessa, Ukraine, and grew up in Israel, Ukraine and Moldova, relocating to the US to complete my last two years of high school. I found the frequent moves more stimulating than stressful. My parents loved spending a lot of time at work, and since I was the only child I got plenty of alone time, which I absolutely did not mind, in fact, I feel it was crucial for me (and still is). I’ve never been bored. I am forever grateful to my grandparents. Both of my grandfathers are makers, they build things around the house, and would talk to me about science, show me how to make electrical circuits, carve things, and burn stuff with magnifying glasses. One of my grandmothers was the kind of person who managed to hold on to her childhood, so she was able to partake in my imaginings fully. I think that staying the summers with my grandparents has had the most influence on what I do now, they shared with me their natural curiosity and the value of making things.
How has the background you got at New York Academy of Art played a part in your career? The Academy was an incredibly valuable turning point in my career. I met some amazing artists who were fellow students, got to know a couple of great professors, loved hearing the visiting speakers, went to China on a residency, and gained quite a bit of technical proficiency which I am very thankful for. The school triggered a major transition in my work. At some point I found myself disagreeing with some of the priorities of the school, which have attracted me there in the first place. Figuring out for what I find significant in art, and changing my mind about prior convictions got me a lot closer to sensing what I truly want from my work, and sticking with it. Throughout my last semester at the academy my work began undergoing a major transition, which really made itself felt throughout the following year when I was able to work in peace and privacy for a while after receiving the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant. In the end however, most of the learning takes place after school, when there are no opinions, and you are forced to figure out what is good and worthwhile on your own. Your work seems to have evolved from detailed and realistic drapery and objects to more flattened visceral imagery with hints of Romaire Bearden in the collaged nature of the pieces. How did that evolve and was that an asset for you or a problem that affected your salability as a fine artist? Thanks for bringing up Bearden! I love his play of spaces, textures and the way his shapes line up and fit with each other in almost humor like, is simply because building
the piece in fragments allows me to discover it, rather than to plan it. The major reason I enjoy painting fabrics is the fascinating abstraction that they create with their ever changing folds and shadows. At some point I tried to legitimize my excitement with this abstraction, and made whimsical still lifes, overloaded with folding fabrics. The fabrics turned out to be an opportunity for me to show off my painting skills, and I tried making them interesting by using them as stand ins for figures, trees, waves etc. However, I acutely felt the hollowness of the work I was making, and at some point reached a breaking point with it. I decided to try to make something that feels truly meaningful to me, so I abandoned any kind of planning, and dived in armed mainly with intuition. I wanted to abandon the objective of making a “good painting”, and just do what felt important in the moment. This process was most liberating. Currently, I first paint or make the parts I sense most vividly, and then listen to what I just made and figure out how to proceed and where it can take me, so I am not working towards a goal, but rather figuring out the direction as I move forward. I am intrigued by all the dimensionalities inherent in painting and sculpture and love to explore their different juxtapositions, so flatness, illusion and bulging sculptural elements are incredibly exciting to play with. I don’t think that the collaged feeling of the works has affected my salability, but I am aware that the flip flopping of space, and the ambiguity of my subject and content can make for a confusing experience for the viewer. I suppose I ask the viewer to do
some work when looking at the piece, which probably shrinks my audience, but I certainly don’t mind that. How do you stay up to date on styles/process outside of your projects? What do you recommend to younger artists who are just developing their portfolios? I usually go to see a lot of exhibitions at galleries and museums and try to see what I think I’ll like, what I think I’ll hate, and stuff I don’t know anything about. I think it is quite important to see what is being made, exhibited and discussed, and most importantly try to figure out my own opinion about it. Seeing art is wonderful - outside. HOWEVER when I come in the studio I feel the need to tightly shut the door to all of that, and just do the work. Of course it is not possible to fully get rid of the influences, things I see affect me, so I do have to be careful, but apart from when I’m intentionally stealing, I strongly prefer to try to shut everything away, especially my favorite artists. Otherwise my work will be no fun. I never keep images of anyone’s work, or any art books in my studio, it would drive me crazy. Can you explain what the experience of working on large scale projects vs smaller pieces is all about? That’s a great question. I love making large work, it absolutely comes most easily to me, and constitutes the bulk of what I do. I wish it wasn’t such a hassle to lug around, but it is what it is. There is all this space in which to play, to think and feel your way through. Nothing is too much of a mistake, nothing is too important, since there is still so much space to
breath. Also, I feel a strong need to paint things life sized, so whenever I have an anthropomorphic type of character, or a few of them, the painting has to be human sized. The smaller paintings are usually very hard for me, and take forever to click. Every decision feels too important and hard to make. They’re usually fragments, a part of a body. I usually have a few small paintings sitting in very unsatisfactory states, waiting to be figured out. Sometimes something snaps a year later, I change it and it works out, sometimes it gets chopped up into a larger painting, and sometimes it sits there indefinitely waiting for either of these two fates. Your mixed media look of artwork is great. Love the “The Courage To Hold Three Small Perishables” piece. How did that style end up as something you do a lot of ? Over the past five years or so, I first got very interested in incorporating various languages of painting and textures within one work. I felt that every part of the piece has to have its own kind of language and/ or material, which is intertwined with the content itself. One day, a very old tube of, I think, Alizarin paint I found somewhere fell apart as I tried to open it, the paint solidified and came out of the tube like a whole tube shaped chunk. I stuck the paint chunk to one painting and made it into a tongue, and removed the metal tip of the tube and made it into a nipple in another painting. That simple experience was something of a revelation to me. Gradually I began to glue pieces of failed paintings into the work, experiment with thick sculptural paint, and with sticking other objects into it. I love sneaking in unexpected materials that you wouldn’t notice unless you really look, and also include some
(Continued from previous page) objects that carry personal significance in such a way that you are unlikely to find it unless you know to look for it. It’s a bit like an inside joke or a whisper between me and my painting. I love making materials do things they’re not used to doing, and explore where I can push them. Also, since I’ve been painting for a while, I get thrilled with using new mediums which provide an exciting sense of resistance, allowing me to make something that is not like what I imagined, more like what the material itself wants to do - a kind of cooperation What’s going on in your head when you work on a piece/campaign? Your fears, anticipation, confidence, etc. How do you know something is finished? Way too many things run through my head. I alternate between overthinking and not thinking at all. My best work happens when I am not thinking much. My biggest fear happens when I see my own finished work - each piece is done intuitively and seems to be a result of its own internal logic and accidents that I found meaning or beauty in as I worked. I’m always thinking - how can I ever make something like this again? There is just no path or system to fall back on, each time a completely new venture and I’m afraid I won’t be able to make something as good. But then I just work on the new piece and keep hitting at the thing until it finds itself. Almost everything eventually does, it just needs enough time. My other biggest fear is dishonest work. It is hard to make something honest, and can be hard to catch yourself when you're dishonest
A dishonest decision in the work is what I would consider a “mistake”. I suppose my only confidence in the process is that I will have a blast with it - discovering, playing, inventing, stealing, absorbing, transmitting, no matter what, no matter how frustrating, complicated, melancholy, or mistake laden. I it will always be fun. How do I know I’m finished? I wish I had a clear answer. I suppose I’m finished when nothing is bothering me about the work, when it feels pulled together. Once I decide I’m finished I feel a sense of detachment from the work, it becomes a separate creature, as though I’m not even sure I actually made the thing, even though I clearly remember making it. Who if anyone influences your work? It is hard to filter out the major influences, but here are some that have stayed with me over time, and some that have added recently in no particular order: Dostoyevsky, Edwin Dickinson (I try not to look at him), Comte de Lautreamont (!), Simone de Beauvoir, Nietzsche (can’t get away), lately Marisol Escobar, and always Rothko. It’s hard to select visual artists, there is just too many influences, including drawings by kids, and ads on billboards. Everything is food. I’m curious about how you choose what to work on. Is there a certain type of project or client you gravitate towards? It is simple. I choose to work on whatever is on my mind consistently. Whether it is a theological crisis
a celebration, or a struggle with the facts of existence, there are plenty of things on my mind, so I’m never out of subject matter. Every now and then it spontaneously distills into some kind of a very loose vision or sense, and then I have something to grab onto when starting a painting. What do you do to promote yourself and get work? I suppose the major thing I do is meet people and make friends with the people I like. What’s the future hold for you? Any ultimate goal? I am naturally skeptical about any form of certainty. I see the future in general as a form of hope. If I were to take the liberty to imagine a future, I would imagine that I manage to make work that is truly mine, where I can play out my life. I’m learning to do that. Also, again, despite my skepticism, I have some very ambitious hopes for humanity. I wish art, would be a bigger part of our culture, and I wish we took more time to figure out what is important in life, and nurture it, rather than let time slip away in absorbing someone else’s meaningless pursuits, in a distracted existence. Although it may sound naïve, I am confident that every single one of us is capable of it. If you could meet anyone in the field you’re in who would it be and why? Slava Polunin. This winter I went to see his show in New York, and he brought me to tears (of joy). I came down to the stage and we had the most wonderful hug. His clown makeup was smearing and he smelled of sweat. I would love to be his friend.