Born curious and raised on a steady diet of comic books and Saturday afternoon double features sealed John's fate at an early age and the world was spared another lawyer. Star Wars flipped the switch and come hell or high water he was going to do that for a living. Many years and countless drawings later, John started at Bioware in 1995. Time flew by and millions of games sold later it was time for new challenges. he relocated to Vancouver in 2008 to work in film and television. Currently illustrating The Flash season one for CW he keeps busy as an entertainment illustrator for film, television, games and comics and cross-media convergences. During rare downtime, John sips from Russell's Teapot and contemplates Schrodinger's Equation and quantum decoherence, all while visiting with a delightful legion of imaginary friends. As a series production artist each day can be and usually is different but the primary marching order is to be providing solutions to the project's creative requirements within the standard driving parameters of time, resources and budget. In the case of The Flash, those needs are multitude, from keyframe story beat illustrations to matte concepts to prop, costume and vehicle design and all points in between. Each art department member has a broad variety of top-flight skill sets and front line experience and artists often job share, overlap and collaborate directly to achieve the optimum results for what the script is requiring. But for John's main area of main expertise, it's simply working with the needs of the show and helping translate those needs with all members of the team into tangible, affordable and appropriate solutions.
Galleries and contact media
Sales and commissions
CCA agency: http://comiconart.com/portfolio/John-Gallagher
When did you first decide to become an illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?
Like most it occurred over a childhood continuum, endless days spent exploring the deep dark Northern Ontario woods, alert to mystery, day trips on bike to hidden kingdoms, building snow castles no storm giant could ever knock asunder...and drawing. All the time. Constantly. And knowing no fear when it came to making marks on paper. My friends and I would omnivorously draw, colour, paint, build plastic models, anything to engage aptitude, dexterity and imagination, individually and collectively. Dog-eared comic books, Famous Monster magazines, morning cartoons, creature feature double bills on Saturday afternoon television...this was our agency of change and steady diet of raw material and self-definition as we were sculpting our identities and place in the world.
Then Star Wars happened. May 25, 1977
I was ten years old sitting in the ratty downmarket Algoma Theatre in Sault Ste Marie when it happened. It was a thermonuclear blast in the centre of my formative experience. As I sat there, amidst the throng in the dark, utterly captivated by what was happening on screen I said to myself somehow some way I was going to do THAT. Now, what exactly THAT was, or even is now, I didn't have the slightest inkling, other than movies weren't made in the Soo and movies like that might as well be made a galaxy far, far away. But without a doubt my predestination was galvanized that day when I walked out on to Queen Street and looked up into the cerulean blue sky and swore, for a moment, I saw a Rebel Blockade Runner in low earth orbit having its shields pulverized by an Imperial Star Destroyer. A burn point glint in the cloudless sky was the pivotal signal... if I had to say there ever was a definitive one. Speaking of circles completing themselves many years later I was able to contribute original content to the Star Wars universe in our bestselling XBox game Knights of the Old Republic, visit Skywalker Ranch and meet and spend time with Ralph McQuarrie. Truly extraordinary.
Who do you look up to? Who are your heroes in the industry?
People all over the place over all walks of life. Heroes are everywhere it's just a matter of recognizing the traits. Any number of my contemporaries qualify, men and women who are just killing it every day from illustration to comics to animation to games to film and TV artists. But to go back to the foundations of my creative bedrock, the indelible fingerprints were there early: Frank Frazetta, Jack Kirby, Berni Wrightson, Joe Kubert, Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, Moebius... They all transported me to astonishing places full of awe and wonder. Ridley Scott, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, amongst others, took me on cinematic adventures that were unparalleled at the threshold of the era of the blockbuster. I drank the same movie kool-aid as every other kid of a certain vintage. It's a profound disservice to trying naming them all as I'll certainly neglect them inadvertently but they all had formative influence. Later I discovered the work of modern era illustrators from Beardsley to Leyendecker to Pyle to Parrish to Egon Schiele and the work of lesser-known to obscure creators of every stripe. It was an ongoing series of revelations and blindsides, as it still is. Now my heroes are a glossary of the modern creative form language across every field of endeavour from James Cameron, Guillermo Del Toro and Roger Deakins to Stephen Hawking to Christopher Hitchens: The full spectrum from driven visionaries to singular lunatics are free from my critical scorn if they elevate our species' endeavours with a point of view and steadfastly pursue their passions with fearless abandon and fierce individuality.
Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
Self-taught and harsh self-critique as if there's any really any other way. I attended the Alberta College of Art for a year and dropped out in frustration and dismay. At the time my loosely defined goal was to be a comic artist and sequential art was treated with callous disregard by all the instructors, without exception. It was a conspiracy against comics in an almost maudlin display of hivemind thinking. Meanwhile non-representational concept work was the undisputed darling of the faculty. I just wanted to draw Spiderman and make money doing it and they wanted me to radically deconstruct the modern zeitgeist. I did go back to a different college a few years later with a different perspective, resolve and focus and graduated in Broadcasting, specializing in writing and producing television commercials. Following that stint and getting hitched, it was while I was freelancing in Edmonton that I fortuitously interviewed the owners of Bioware, at that time a half-dozen workers in a sketchy ramshackle office with a broken bathroom door working on what would become Shattered Steel their first commercial release. Nine years and fourteen games later it was time for a change. But during that nine year marathon of sprints I learned how to be a professional artist top to bottom, front to back. Bioware was, in effect and practice, my first real art school. Anything prior was punchdrunk pantomime and shadow boxing the real thing.
Tell us a little about your process. What tools do you use?
My process for the very most part is entirely digital. I've achieved singularity! Like almost anyone reading this I started analog with live materials, pencil and paper, pen and bristol, india ink and prismacolors. I transitioned during my first TV series Masters of Horror: Fear Itself in 2008 that for the sake of revision, expediency and portability the industry happens in virtual space. So it was volitional evolution. My actual pipeline process is smashmouth graffiti: grab reference and inspiration for whatever interests me related to the particular project and cluge it together: copy combine and transform. Digital illustration for me is pointless slavishly emulating traditional painting techniques. I prefer to embrace its possibility for glorious failures and happy accidents. I tend to initially think in shapes, forms and hue and the narrow my field of view quickly and start squaring the corners with as much precision as I can. Plenty of digital art is either rendered flawlessly and lacking beautiful imperfections or hijacking traditional processes and getting lost in fine art pretence. My conceit is try and combine an energetic blend and finesse the bridge between overworked polished digiart where every surface feels the same and carved from foam and wannabe oil painting. It's not always successful or worthwhile as an exercise, but I like to stake that real estate as I can. My suite is the customary array of packages from Maya to ZBrush to Painter, Sketchup and Photoshop. My prime assembly tool is Photoshop for heavy lifting ease of use and technical skew all put together on my 27" iMac. The only obstacle to utilizing any one package to its optimal capacity is time, the great enemy of all undertakings that require deliverables. For the turnaround and speed with which we usually produce content suitable for discussion work, most high-end 3D packages, while incredibly valuable to the process, often are too time and labour intensive to facilitate working solutions in illustration. But if you have the time, ironically, there's fewer better time savers for great results.
How do you keep it "fresh"?
Living. Eating. Fucking. Sleeping. Reading. Laughing loudly. Singing badly. By enjoying other people's art and ordinary madness. By engaging in roaring debate, begging to differ, stumbling towards enlightenment, by going crazy now and then. By knowing that this is all there is and it's enough and should there be more, a bonus round in a transcendent energetic state will be nothing short of extraordinary. Never asking permission and choosing to occasionally beg forgiveness. By not playing myopic grabass and bias confirmation with the five guys who all draw like me. Letting that which does not matter truly slide. Remixing the process, shaking up the technique, avoiding cesspools in thinking or acting. Driving a well designed machine fuelled by passion and love. Advocacy and support for other artists and creators, especially the young and becoming. Becoming a role model for the next generation of artisans as we will eventually pass the torch with failing hands at the end of things.
What are you currently working on?
The Flash is common knowledge but there's a number of projects in various stages that I'm involved in that my NDA comes in very handy for. The nature of the business is property protection and while forbidden from discussing specifics let's just say there are a wide range of comic covers, novel covers, posters, visual development, concept design and worldbuilding on its way. It's certainly on an interesting evolutionary tract. Some very exciting developments in the creator-owned space and collaborations with friends and colleagues that will offer very exciting content.
Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?
The pleasure and satisfaction of a job well done are largely transient and certainly not a normalized state. Resting on laurels is lethal. I'd sooner cultivate reputation. That said, I've created one masterpiece in my life and that's my daughter Rynn. She's next-level talent, a gifted polymath who effortlessly glides across media and has sensei mastery of several. She's starting at Vancouver Film School next spring in Makeup for Film and television specializing in Makeup Effects and the world is her proverbial oyster.
Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?
The projects are endless. My greatest lament is I will never experience all the great art in this all too brief lifetime but knowing it's there and I get to experience a very modest portion of it sustains me in the meantime. I've worked in most live media and find them all remarkable but each one, as I have a tendency to be single-minded and obsessive, has to wait its turn. I find myself gravitating back to that which brought me great joy when I was a young boy, so scale models and sculpture, both of which I have a modestly skilled level of expertise at. I won't be winning any prizes but I'd certainly like to improve at both. I have an impressive collection of Sideshow and Hot Toys statues and collectible figures, so I've been surrounding myself with the artifacts and arcanum. I'll likely dive back in the deep end with both of those, especially considering my daughter will be sculpting and fabricating so much in school next year by osmosis alone I'll get a contact high and that will be the end of any and all free time. I'm putting together an Art Of book I'm excited about due later this year and I'd be open to a graphic novel and online comic should time allow. I'm also humble enough to appreciate my limits for creative efforts and leave other artforms to their gifted practitioners: Singing to singers, musicians to music. I love all of it of course for its beauty and majesty but I'm driven to create a narrow brainwave of the broader bandwidth.
Any advice to the novice illustrator?
Sure, in no particular order of importance or value:
*Know yourself, first and foremost. Not everyone who draws with passion is meant to be a professional, in the same way not every person who plays tennis will play Wimbledon centre court. There is no shame in being a skilled hobbyist or enlightened fan. The full spectrum of fandom and amateurs is absolutely essential, as that is the wholesale incubator for all pros. And know what the Dunning Kruger Effect is.
*Do the work, constantly, and take it seriously. Don't wait for inspiration or a bolt of lightning form the heavens. You'll produce nothing waiting for divine providence. Even when you feel like it's futile or you're crashing in the same car over and over, push through and carry on. Happy accidents happen with startling frequency if you're willing to free yourself to experiment and crash in the failboat time and again.
*Support and educate one another. The job is an isolated solitary endeavour as it stands. Feedback loops are critical for improvement, considering other points of view, valued features as opposed to temporary fashion, art history and new and emerging work not just easy bias confirmation on work that looks like yours. And network yourself as a viable brand alternative.
*Envy is a boring counter-productive waste of effort. Art is a gift to share and celebrate. A little jealousy is fun to play with and kid each other about but seriously, in the end, awesome work is an extraordinary privilege and it is neither a threat to you or your creative "integrity" to legitimately adore other artists work.
*Appreciate the state and nature of rejection and learn to distance yourself emotionally from the work for the sake of objectivity. It may seem odd at first but will give you the clarity necessary to make moves forward to new levels of improvement. Getting too low or too high will do what it always does which is keep you off balance. It's not always a job for the faint of heart.
*The higher up the food chain you go the less 'artistic' validation you should seek or expect. You being re-hired means you're working out well for whoever is signing the cheque.
*This is the only profession where you can do it for twenty years before you get paid one thin dime. No other profession is so specifically passion driven tradecraft like being an artist however defined: writer, painter, sculptor, illustrator, graphic designer, makeup artist, costume designer, cosplayer the list goes on - hence there not being many nine year old dentists or seven year old lawyers. So treat your work with the same respect as those professions and conduct yourself with the same regard and esteem as any highly skilled rare vocation.
*Appreciate the responsibility and your magnitude ability to influence people's lives. Knowing full well that very few get to do it as a career and many more wish they did, be the role model to help mold the future. Support young artists, provide guidance and leadership, advocacy, inspiration, help manufacture and cultivate your replacements. Be the artist other creators want to be, and if not at least emulate and set a damn good example. Give back and always have time for children, fans, other pros and anyone with a question.
*And above all, be the author of a remarkable creative life however that may fall into or outside of the usual definitions.
What makes an illustration successful?
Realizing that critical standards are a moving target and false construct for most, as a production artist answering the question with authority and categorically is the standard measure of success. The primary difference is with finer art illustration the artwork is the final goal, whereas my work for the most part is the weigh station in the collaborative pipeline. The page everyone needs to be on is the style free page I create, as opposed to a purely decorative aesthetic. I cultivate a generically accessible 'montage' smashmouth style meant to deliberately confuse the eye as to what it is - 3D, 2D, painted, photomanipulation, never quite sure so keep them guessing - and enjoy exploring that space. But for a general sense of success I measure it simply - positive feedback from fans and constantly being hired by both perennial legacy clients and new ones as a working artist.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
Discipline. Motivation is ephemeral, like enthusiasm. It's smoke and mirrors and relies on esoteric sorcery. I just do the job and get it done. Show up, knock it out. The ten thousand hour outlier rule of deliberate practice to build speed and endurance for the variety of tasks required to complete the demands of the vocation. And the world doesn't give a damn if I'm inspired or not feeling it, it needs the work done on time and on budget so I'm pleased to oblige that insatiable need. There are no romantic precepts in a working artist's life, no eureka moments or awaiting a fickle muse's elusive touch. Do, The. Work. And good things inevitably happen.
Finish this sentence. "If I weren't an illustrator I would have been a..."
Motorcycle daredevil, mortician, astronaut, professional hockey player, neurosurgeon, theoretical astrophysicist or Buckaroo Banzai, which is pretty much the same thing.
And finally, what is the best thing on TV right now?
There's never a better time to be fan of long form narrative. We're in a golden age of television. The last remarkable series I basked in the glory of was True Detective, resonant and lasting its ambitions and scripting without peer. My genuine taste goes to darker work so for me Hannibal is marvellous, Banshee is a blast, Sons of Anarchy is loopy and jagged fun, but truth be told, as bias as it clearly is, I'm loving the Flash. I keep reading the scripts to a minimum, not out of disregard, but because I want to experience it as a fan. And as a lifelong comics fan this is the kind of show I've always wanted to see week in week out. That it's a privilege to work on is a wonderful bonus.