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Hi, thank you for taking the time to read my interview. I was born and raised in Rapid City, SD (if you have ever been to Mount Rushmore your were in the area). I moved to Minneapolis to attend classes at the University of Minnesota. I graduated in 1996 and wondered around for about a year before deciding that Minneapolis was were I would settle. The past six years I have been working at the Arts Instruction School. I have recently decided to spend more time developing my freelance career, and I’m in the first year of my five year plan to survive totally on my artistic abilities. Wish me luck!

When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?

I have always been drawing so it’s more of a career that choose me. I decided to spend more time and energy on my illustration career more recently after wasting a lot of effort explaining to management my value as an artist. Today’s meeting was especially motivating. HAHA! For the most part I love my job, I get to help people who are interested in art develop their skills. At times it is very fulfilling, and I have improved as an artist immensely because I am forced to draw and comment on the basics of illustration everyday, whether I’m in the mood or not. Yet, it’s a business and I don’t vision myself giving them my peak years of creativity. I’m taking it slow to minimize my fright. If anyone has a suggestions, opinions, or a good story I’m all ears and eyes so feel free to contact me through my blog or flickr account.

Who or what inspires you?

I’m lucky that I have a great family. My wife, Kristen, loves to experiment with crafts. It’s great to see her struggle with something and become so happy when a problem is solved. She has a great sense of humor and keeps me honest. Both of my brothers and their families live here, and it’s nice to have them near so I can visit my nephews. All my nieces and nephews are awe inspiring. As far as art goes I work with a couple of great artists. Almost everyday I get a post-it note that almost makes me wet myself. Mitch Hein, Roger Luteyn, Dana Mongoven, Sasha Streeter, Melissa Proulx, Dawn Turner, Duc Nguyen and Matt Eng have helped me learn and grow as an artist. The internet is great. I love the fact that I get exposed to such great art. Right now I love looking at Alina Chau blog because her work is so playful. Tommy Kane’s journal pieces are great. I like Michael Cho’s use of blacks and monotone colors. I am amazed at Ward Jenkins’ passion and dedication to the “Retro Kid” flickr site. Willie Baronet's blog is alot of fun. This is great time in many ways to be an art lover because so much great work it out there for viewing. I love how the art community has taken to blog’s and flickr. I could go on and on, between my flickr site and my blog it is impossible not to be inspired.
In college I had a great friend, Jeff, who was extremely thoughtful and challenge me to have higher expectations for myself and my art. Even though I lost contact with him, our time spent together is still inspiring ten years later.

Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?

I graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in studio arts, with an emphasis in painting. It was great experience, and I learned so much from other students.
The term “self-taught” bugs me. I know when artists use it they are showing that they picked up a skill through hard work and their own interest, but I think it helps devalue our profession in society. If lawyers and doctors referred to themselves as “self taught” they would be considered flacky as a group also. The term undercuts the work you put into learning how to be a better artist, and gives other people the ability to not value your skills. I think the term also disrespects the people you learned from, whether it’s the person who wrote the manual to the program you learned, your friends that spent time with drawing, or the artists whose work you copied to mimic techniques. For me the nature/nurture debate is almost 50/50 for most creative skills. That being said, I know why most artists feel they are self taught. The secondary education available isn’t great. It seems like for every good professor I had in college, two weren’t helpful. It seems to if a school graduates three different students, three different years, and they all draw the same style of eye for every illustration they draw (both human and animal) that instructor wouldn’t be working.

I love a good art rant!

How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?

Taking a puff of Albuterol from my inhaler, HAHA! Keeping an open mind and seeing what other people are doing. Almost everyday I see something, whether it’s students, a post-it note, or something off the internet that makes me glad I’m an artist. It really is a lot of fun! My co-workers have a passion for their work that is nice to see. We are always bring in new magazines to look at. Right now I like reading “How” magazine. Danny Gregory’s article is worth reading. I also like participating in group blogs, like this, SugarFrostedGoodness, ThreeThumbsUp, and Illustration Friday (what a profoundly great concept that site is). I will be having sinus surgery to help me with some fresher breathing.

What are some of your current projects?

I’m working on some pages for a children’s book. I have some mini-comics that if people want they can shoot me an e-mail. Most of my free time is spent developing ideas and illustrations for my portfolio, because I’ll be sending postcards to art directors by the end of the year. That and full-time job with an 1½ bus trip both ways, in Minneapolis where everyday is winter and we have 18’ of snow, leaves me with a full plate.

Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?

The children’s book is a lot of fun, it’s top secret so I can’t talk too much about. I recently did some artwork for people to use on their myspace accounts which was an unexpected blast. I have been doing a regular sketch of people I see downtown on my ride to and from work which I am really proud of, only because I have been able to keep at it for a decent amount of time and still enjoy it. Recently I started using my bus transfers and like the results. I love people watching. I can’t believe how varied people are, and I am embarrassed that I used to try so hard to stand out and look like and individual.

Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?
Almost everything HAHA! I would like to do a comic book cover for one of the major companies someday. I need to get better at some of the digital programs, because I like some of the results I am getting when I goof around with photoshop elements 3.0 (don’t worry, I plan on graduating to CS2 soon). As far as more traditional techniques I want to get better at water colors. I have always been experimental and like working in a zone of discomfort. The challenge of mark making with different materials really gives me boost of energy.

Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?

Take the time and draw everyday. It’s your craft, so spend the time developing yourself. I can’t stress how important being willing to experiment is. You need to stay playful and curious, because artists who have the attitude that they everything will only regress. If you aren’t willing to learn, don’t bother.

The field is highly competitive and do your best not be jealous if people you know get work you wanted, don’t let the competition get in the way a developing friendships. Realize that people who offer you constructive criticism , believe in you and want to help you get better.

Be patient. It’s not the worse thing in the world if you don’t get a lot of work out of school. I worked as a delivery driver for a bookstore for three years and value the experience because I was exposed to a world that I would have never had seen otherwise. The gap between my education and professional career has giving me a fuller life that I can draw upon today for ideas and inspiration. Oh, and most artists are prima donnas who need to get over themselves after school.

Use the internet. Use it to sell yourself, Use it to seek out new artwork. Use it to have a dialogue with other artists. Beware! Sarcasm doesn’t travel via e-mail!

It’s okay to stop working a project if you aren’t getting along with a client. It’s not good for either of you if you aren’t getting along. I have had to stop work in the past, and handled it professionally enough that I was able to work with that client again at a later date.

It’s ok to start a piece over, some mistakes aren’t fixable. Be honest with yourself. You aren’t as great as think and you aren’t as bad you feel. Do your best to enjoy your work.

Don’t pay attention to how your instructor’s told you how to draw eyes!

What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?

All the creative fields are subjective. Concept, how the concept is carried out, and composition seem like fair elements for design and illustration. I know, for myself, I like looking at images that seem like they were a lot of fun to work on. I know that pieces I find boring will cause me to skip articles in magazines.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?

I’m pretty disciplined and stay motivated to work on my own stuff for longer stretches now that I’m getting older and hitting a creative peak. It seems like am more comfortable in my own skin and have an easier time working with clients. I am more reciprocal to theirs ideas and needs and do a better job of explaining my ideas. If I could avoid meetings that would help me stay more motivated at work. Having friends and an interest in what they are doing helps a lot.

And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?

Well it’s summer so nothing is new. I like “Spaced” which recently started showing on BBC America. “Venture Brothers” is good. I am currently in a stage where I like Pro Wrestling, but that comes and goes. I can’t wait for new episodes of “Lost”….but apparently you already know about that show.

I would like to thank Jeff for this opportunity, it meant a lot to me!

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xyloman said...

Blake -

I really like your whimsical style. You would be a perfect fit for something like DC's Plastic Man.

Keep the creative nerve on fire.

Be Seeing You

Steven Streeter

Anonymous said...

Hi Blake. I could kill you but I wouldn't. I know of you and you are a good guy - even though we have never met? But you take care of your own (ie: friends). That is worth a life.


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