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My name is Tommy Kane and I have been an advertising art director for
the past 25 years, cranking out print ads and commercials for people
like IBM, Life magazine, SONY, Liz Claiborne, and blah, blah blah.
During this time, I was secretly drawing and painting relentlessly on
my own. Recently, I put a website together to showcase what I have
been doing. The response has been overwhelming. It has rekindled in
me those feelings I had when I first started out all those years ago
to become an illustrator. I am now taking the first steps to making
it a reality.

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

In my mind, I decided to be an illustrator at three years old. I had
no interest in design. After graduating from art school in Buffalo, I
was hired to be an illustrator for The Buffalo Evening News. But my
dream was to work and live in Manhattan. Soon after I moved to New
York City, I realized it would be very difficult living here because
you need lots of dough just to survive. The pivotal moment in my life
was getting hired my first day in New York by an advertising agency.
My job was to do magic marker drawings all day so the art directors
could show their ideas to the clients. I realized there was more
money in the art directing thing than illustrating so I gradually
abandoned my dream of being a full time illustrator. After 25 years
as a creative director, I am finally going to try to pursue being a
full time illustrator. I'm giving myself the gift of a second pivotal
moment in my life.

Who or what inspires you?

This may be an odd answer but I would definitely have to say, the
internet. I have discovered and met more great artists there than I
ever could have in a lifetime of scouring bookstores, magazine stands
and museums. There are such brilliant websites like Art Dorks, Drawn,
Juxtapoz, Illustration Mundo, 3 Thumbs Up, and the Wooster
Collective. I've become friends with great artists such as Sauerkids,
Danny Gregory, Mattias Adolfsson, John Casey, Vonster, Butch Belair,
Brendan Danielsson, James Jean, Lori Early, Tomer Hanuka, and on and
on. So I'm very inspired knowing I can wake up in the morning, stroll
to the computer in my underwear and with one click discover new
artists, musicians and filmmakers whose work will blow my mind.

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

My training comes from Mad magazine. I was very self-driven to draw
even from as young as three. No one made me, I just wanted to do it
all the time. I had no formal training in art until I entered
college. That left an awful lot of years for me to develop as much as
I possibly could all on my own. It wasn't just the illustrations in
Mad magazine, it was also the sense of humor and the rule breaking
that I also loved so much. No one would be in art school unless you
have somewhere along the way taught yourself how to be a decent
enough artist to get into an art school in the first place. That was
a weird sentence. Once in art school, though, I progressed in leaps
and bounds because I was so hungry for the training I never had. I
took it quite seriously.

How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?

I keep myself fresh by applying a liberal amount of Old Spice
deodorant to the old underarms each morning. Wait, maybe that's not
what you're asking. Advertising is mostly filled with uncreative
people who think having ten clients tell them how to make an ad is
creative. It has always been easy for me to keep fresh because I am
an anomaly of an art director who is actually a real artist. You
know, I can actually draw and paint. I have a thirst for discovering
interesting talented people. Ad people tend to use the same ten
photographers and directors over and over.

What are some of your current projects?

Finding an illustrator rep. I plan to move from the lowly but
extremely high-paying field of advertising to the highly regarded low-
paying field of illustration.

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

Unfortunately having been in advertising for 25 years my answer isn't
about my personal work but a stupid ad campaign instead. My ads for
Steve Madden shoes reached a cult-like status. It was a very famous
campaign on the east coast for ten years. It spawned a slew of
copycats. Even the hugely successful Bratz dolls were based on my
ads. I have to give Butch Belair, the photographer a huge amount of
credit for creating them with me. He's a genius of sorts. You can see
some of them on my website under print ads. Hopefully in the coming
years my answer won't be about advertising anymore.

Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?

No. That is the one thing about being an art director for 25 years.
I've done everything. I've art directed music videos for MTV, I've
shot commercials in France, New Zealand, Africa, Australia, New York,
Los Angeles and Amsterdam, I've done all types of animation, I have
two commercials in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern
Art in New York, I've worked with huge print and still life
photographers and countless great illustrators. I've done all that,
and I still say advertising sucks. It's the money that keeps you going.

Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?

Don't get discouraged. It can be very daunting starting out. You can
easily get derailed by so many factors, and money is the big one for
many people. I remember a friend who graduated from my art school. He
didn't instantly find a job in art. He got hired at a bank instead.
He got married and had a little kid. Slowly he was succeeding in the
bank. He was not happy but he felt he needed the money he was making
to support his family. He would have had to make a lot less to start
over as an art director, designer or illustrator. So he never made a
move. I know now he regrets it. I on the other hand had only one
mission. Get a job in art. So again, try not to get derailed early.
You will probably hate the job you get in art anyway but at least
you'll be paid to do art everyday.

What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?

There are several ways to look at this. In advertising, there are
meaningless awards handed out. Certain ads I've done have hit a
certain cult-like status, like the Steve Madden and Yellowtail ads.
When I served on a jury once, everyone went around and told a little
bit about themselves to the others. After I told them I created
those ads, no one looked at me the same again. They even made me the
foreman. That's success.

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

I journal. I have a moleskine book I keep with me at all times. So I
can draw anywhere, anytime. And I do. I draw until my fingers fall
off. Plus I just got married.

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

It would have to be Access Hollywood. It's the only way I can find
out if Brittany Spears has dropped her baby on its head again. Where
else can I hear about the trials and tribulations of Tom Cruise or
how Jennifer Anniston is coping with her bad hair days? I need to
know instantly if Paris Hilton's dog has gotten new breast implants.

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1 comment:

Vern Mercado said...

congrats on your interview. it's been a long time coming, but finally through the magic of the internet we can have a voice that we can share. your work has inspired my artwork. great interview by the way.


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