Sunday, January 23, 2011


There's been a lot of chatter amongst my peers lately about young creatives influencing a little to hard on their contemporaries. Instead of jumping on the finger waging band wagon, I figured it was time to talk about my growth and influences through the last couple years. I don't think I have the authority to give advice but figured that it might be meaningful to some student/professional to hear. I bulleted my main points.

Understand why you started making art in the first place, and who you looked up to then.

It was the summer before my senior year of high school, and at the time I wanted to go to college to be a psychologist. I remember trying to figure out why I wanted to do it. I think it was mostly because I liked to solve problems. In the end, I come to the conclusion of equanimity or the fact that there will be times that I wouldn't be able to help someone. That bothered me. So I looked at my interests and knew my punk rock band I was in wasn't going anywhere so I looked to art. For me it was a way for me to speak my mind and solve some kind of problem somewhere. I really didn't know what I was doing.

At the time I was making these 30"x40" acrylic paintings on canvas. I lost my sight in how a big canvas=being an artist, when really clear ideas+your personal view point+getting it out there=being an artist. It would take several years of art school to come to that conclusion. Pre-Art school, I didn't know much about contemporary art. The only people I knew about were Warhol, Lichtenstein, MC Escher, and Da Vinci. Outside of that, I loved the artwork on all the Black Flag records by Raymond Pettibon, and Zines by Cristy Road.

While in art school: Set Goals, Try Everything, Learn about the Business.

When I went to the University of the Arts, I gave myself a set of goals.

1. Learn how to draw like a renaissance artist
2. Learn how to make things on the computer
3. Know more art history, and contemporary work
4. Understand design.

I was able to pretty much achieve all of these goals except the first one. I learned a hard lesion that you can only make things as well as you honestly can. I've struggled to try and draw and paint without using line. I can't do it. I kinda envy some artist who can do it well. I don't think it discounts what I create, it just means I have to use what I can do and continue to make that better.

I've painted for years in acrylic, and now mix traditional media with digital media thats almost seemless. Well I guess to me it is. For me, the drive to really learn the computer came from having class with Tom Leonard. He is a teacher I feel everyone should have. I was hesitant of going the digital route because of the whole "Is it art if its on a computer?" thing. He told me that it's worth exploring if I was interested in it. So for projects that he asked people to bring in pieces that were traditional, he let me have digital print outs of pieces. If it weren't for Tom, I would probably be more limited in terms of how to use a computer. After a lot of work, about three years ago, I was able to start to approach clients for work with confidence. A lot of that time before then though was spent making things I knew didn't work or led to dead ends. Be ok to fail, as long as you try again/something else.

While in school I tried everything I was interested in. I met Paul Romano, while in school and he talked about making cyanotype prints and vandyke brown prints in school. I thought that was cool so I went head first and spent two semesters doing that stuff. The thing I loved about the prints the most was how the outer edge of the print is so expressive in mark making, and the in your face cyan blue that just pops. I became friends with Mike Wohlberg, who ended up inspiring me to learn how to silkscreen, and learn design. He also gave me my "first illustration job" screen printing show posters for a venue north of philly, which led to doing artwork for a lot of bands which I am truly grateful for. I ended up meeting Yuko while in school and she gave a lecture on how she had to be real with herself on how she made artwork which came from directly living in Japan. Meeting these different people and trying all these things led to some direction to how I make art work today.

Also a lot of business knowledge I got came from reading books on the business of illustration and not so much in the class room, though it is briefly touched upon. So keep that in mind.

Always work hard to evolve your work and have a thick skin/Be mindful but not cautious when making art.

When I was in undergrad and even shortly after graduating, I worked hard at evolving my work into something more and more that was my own, while constantly being viciously scrutinized by my peers. I think the "tough love" that I got from my peers was hurtfully honest, and sometimes off base, but it added the pressure needed to try new things. It never feels good for someone to tell you that your work looks like someone else's work. It feels awful when more that 5 people tell you that your work looks like someone else's work! That's when you have to make the decision. Go left field and work entirely differently (fuck that), or they are full of it (wrong), or you stop for a second and examine your art, side by side with there's.

Understand that your work is within a specific family tree of artist. For me, Mines the "Conceptual/screen printy/somewhat painterly" group, and I know that certain comparisons are going to be made. To minimize and/or extinguish comparisons, you have to draw from your own personal experience, and your past growing up to bring that something else to the table. There will be moments from time to time, when you solve a problem honestly that it by coincidence is similar to someone elses work, just brush it off and move forward making new stuff. (ie: )

Also, look back to what you loved when you were started to make art. Album art, Zines, Skateboards, and punk rock were the fuel for me, but I then added new context using art history to the mix. Rene Magritte, Marcel Broodthaers, Man Ray, Cy Twombly, Paul Gauguin, Dan Clowes, Lorraine Fox, Edward Hopper and Norman Rockwell are a few people I've been looking up these past 3 or 4 years over and over. Be grounded in the past just as much as knowing who your peers are.

Lastly, stay honest, humble/nice and hungry.

I always try to stay honest with myself, my friends, clients, anyone. Its 2011, and people will call your bluff using google. Humble is hard especially when each illustration job you get in like Christmas in July. I think other people can do a better job at what I have to offer, but I continue to make honest hard work none the less. I love what I do, and honestly believe that there's nothing better than this.

Art is work. So work hard, focus, and be true to yourself. If you really want this, have faith and keep working until it happens....and continue working to keep it happening.

1 comment:

Jonathan V Duncan said...

Excellent post! I love hearing the layout from someone else.

I also feel very convicted to get back into older artists. Last summer I completely forgot dead artists existed!