I am a freelance humorous illustrator/cartoonist who specializes in custom mascot character creation for logos. Wait—can you call it freelance when you do it full-time? I'm not really a "cartoonist" in that I don't create cartoons per se, rather cartoon-style illustration. But now I am starting to sound over-analytical…
When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?
I can't recall a time in my life when I didn't want to be an illustrator. As a very young kid, I was always drawing and getting "how-to" books out from the library so I could draw skeletons and monsters. As I got a bit older, I was blown away by all the artists in MAD Magazine—Mort Drucker, Sergio Aragones, Don Martin, Jack Davis. Just about all the MAD artists inspired me in some way.
I used to love to draw the "Asia" album cover by Roger Dean (the ocean dragon chasing the pearl). I would tape together two pieces of notebook paper so I had enough room to work! I continued to draw monsters and creatures as well as plain fun cartoon characters. At one point in time I thought there was an actual "job" of "heavy metal album cover artist" and that was what I wanted to do—draw monsters and get paid!
Who or what inspires you?
Although inspired by many different forms of art—commercial, illustration, fine art, film—my true inspiration has always been anything with clean line art. There is just something about the language of line art/graphic art that has always and continues to fascinate me.
As mentioned above, I was hugely inspired by the artists in MAD Magazine as I was growing up. And as a monster/creature and monster/horror movie fan (duly subscribed to Fangoria of course!) I recall the special effects in John Carpenter's "The Thing" as a big "wow" moment for me in regards to creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. That film just blew my mind and continues to top my list of fave films of all time. There's always been a latent urge in me to become a special effects makeup artist.
As far as artists, Robert Williams has always been a big fave. I'm also a big fan of visionary artist Alex Grey. Stephen Blickenstaff's art as well. And B.K. Taylor's "Odd Rods". Sebastian Kruger, Coop. I'm probably forgetting a bunch of others right now.
Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
I would say I was primarily self-taught, although I did take art classes in high school and graduated college with a fine arts degree. I started out in the graphic design program as it was the avenue to pursue an illustration degree, but as I went through the program I realized they were grooming students to become graphic designers, not illustrators. And on top of that, the university did not see the coming boom of computers transforming the industry, which I saw coming miles away. Not wanting to switch schools, I became a fine arts major and finished my degree focusing on painting and drawing. And bought my first Mac with student loan money right before graduating.
While I had many great professors and learned a great deal about traditional arts, my art at the time started to focus on what I thought was the expected route at the school—contemporary abstract painting. I kind of lost my childhood focus of illustration for some years. I never really wanted to be a "fine art" artist, although things were starting to head in that direction.
Just after graduation I was fortunate enough to connect with a local entrepreneur who was re-starting his cartoon character licensing company. He needed and artist/cartoonist/designer. This was a very laid-back "job" and as my Dad put it, kind of like a graduate school for me. I had the freedom to rekindle my love of drawing cartoon characters, hone design skills and most importantly, self-teach myself Illustrator and Photoshop, which proved to open a whole new door of creativity for me.
With Adobe Illustrator, I was finally able to create artwork I had envisioned for years in my mind's eye. I was limited in the past due to the lack of training in traditional media illustration: ink and brush techniques and all the years of practice it takes to master that art. I really lacked on the technical side of art—which ironically is exactly what I wanted to be taught in my art classes. Unfortunately I chose poorly at the time and picked a school that had a dichotomy
between graphic design and contemporary fine art. Nowhere could one learn techniques and practices for the kind of illustration work I wanted to learn, both on the skill side as well as the technical/production side.
That probably explains why I devoured Adobe Illustrator and continue to do so. I think I was so starved for this kind of infomation growing up that when I finally had an avenue to pursue it, it just took over!
Some people express a disdain for digital art creation tools, but I see them as just that—tools. No different than a pencil or a brush. Graphic art software will not create the art for you; it's just a really fancy pencil. I apply the same level of self-discipline when creating artwork with vectors and pixels as I would with any other medium.
How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?
Personally, I only stay "fresh" in regards to my software tools. I do try to keep a pulse on admired artits via RSS feeds of artist and art portal blogs, and keeping in contact with other illustrators via Twitter and Flickr.
As far as the work I create, I have always been on a certain path that is kind of a "I'll know it when I see it" kind of thing for my own artwork. In recent years I feel I have finally found that wave, and I stay fresh by constantly finessing the style of work I create.
What are some of your current projects?
At the moment I am working on a series of illustrated avatar portraits for the Cleveland, OH visitor and travelers bureau, as well as illustrations for their current destination guide magazine including the cover. I also have a typical slew of mascot/logo projects for businesses around the globe. Some of these include dog mascot cartoon characters for an upcoming dog toy retail chain, alien characters for an alternative coffeeshop/bar in Texas, and cartoon-style shoe designs for toddlers, a monkey in a fez, and a sexy business woman.
Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?
To be honest, I am proud of almost all my work. One of my "techniques" for creating client art is to take on the mindset that I am creating something that I would love as if I were creating it for myself. I make a point to want to show off all the work I do, and to be proud of it all.
If I did have to pick some, I'd say my "Girl in the Moon" pinup is a personal fave right now.
Jeep Creep" and some other hot rod monsters I have created were also some illustrations I really enjoyed when they were finalized. My cartoon U.S. coin series also are some illustrations I think came out well.
Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?
As mentioned above, there's always been an itch to work as a special effects makeup artist for Hollywood films. And who knows, maybe even as a concept artist for one of the FX studios developing monsters and creatures? More immediately, I want to start developing more personal artwork—created digitally and then transferred and finalized as physical, unique works of art where I can have a gallery show.
I feel as if I am finally at a point technically, skill-wise and experience-wise where I can combine the talents I have cultivated in the commercial world and extend them into a more non-commercial setting. I'm looking forward to expanding everything I have learned and combining all of the experience from the different fields I have worked in throughout my life.
Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?
Draw, draw, draw, draw, draw. And take some business/marketing classes.
What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?
It's all about balance. Whether the line art, the color, the overall design, everything needs to work together as a whole. Pay attention to all the details, those are where the illustration transcends into "wow".
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
I guess I am lucky in that I don't need to keep myself motivated. I am stoked on a daily basis that I get to realize my lifelong dream of creating artwork for a living, and that in itself motivates me more than anything.
Burn-out I avoid by reminding myself that I am doing what I love for a living. Sometimes one can get caught up and see it all as "work", but by reminding myself what kind of work it is, I usually recharge the batteries. Of course, a trip to the Florida Keys or a round of disc golf doesn't hurt either. And if that doesn't work, I pick up my guitar and write some songs. Sometimes another form of creativity can be a very helpful release.
Finish this sentence. "If I weren't a designer/illustrator I would have been a..."
And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?
Prime-time TV only? Have to say I am a 'Lost' junkie.
Copyright © All text and images are copyright their respective owners