03 June 2009

Highlights "What's Wrong?" and an Interview.

This is a back cover I had the privilege of doing for Highlights for Children (click to get a subscription!). I've never illustrated a "What's Wrong" for them so this was very exciting for me. I was asked by the Art Director to deliberately pull back so we could see more people and things going on, that way the viewer has more things to search for. I have to say this was much easier than making hidden pictures since I felt that I could kind of let loose and show my humor a bit more.

The only difficult part about this one was the odd layout of the back cover that you can see below. It's just a matter of making sure everything fit comfortably but it really wasn't too hard to deal with.

Gratefully I am currently working on another "What's Wrong?" I think this one will be published on the October 2009 back cover but I am not entirely sure. Meanwhile, here's something completely different...

My sister-in-law, Kelsey, interviewed me a few years ago for a school paper about art in elementary school:

1. What do you do?(what is your "art")
I consider myself a cartoonist and an illustrator. I mainly work in ink and color most of my work with watercolors or Photoshop. I am also an instructor at my alma mater the Hussian School of Art in Philadelphia. I teach the computer programs Photoshop and Quark as well as the more traditional classes like Figure Construction and Introduction to Fantasy Art as well as Experimental Workshop.

2. What is your educational background?
The answer you're probably looking for is that I have an Associates Degree in "Specialized Technology" but that sounds about as boring as Al Gore. I attended 4 years of intensive commercial art training at the Hussian School of Art. I studied mainly illustration but cartooning and design were always entwined in my work. In this field it doesn't matter what degree you have so long as you can do the work. One of my favorite Children's book illustrators, Stephen Gammel, never had an art lesson in his entire life and he produces some of the most wonderful illustrations I have ever seen.

3. Why do you do your art, i.e. what kind of enjoyment or fulfillment do you get out of it. First, why do I do it?
Honestly, because I have to, I want to, and I need to. I can't imagine living my life doing something other than drawing. I know beyond a question of a doubt that I was born to draw, as to what specific genre can change but I know that I will always be drawing. Even when there isn't a pencil in my hand I am almost always mentally drawing. It can be distracting at times. As for enjoyment, it really depends on what I'm working on or who I'm creating it for. All artists are affirmation junkies. We live on it. Not that we need a, "job well done" all the time, we just need to know someone sees it and more importantly understands it. The enjoyment I find is when someone sees a specific detail that I went out of my way to include. The only real fulfillment I get in creating my work is when I'm doing it solely for God. I firmly believe God is the creator, and I feel closest to him when I'm trying to reflect what he has already created. There are times, and I mean this in the most humble way, when I can honestly say it feels like an act of worship. I wish everything I did put me into this state of heart, but like any job there are also days when it just feels like a job that just has to get done.

4. Define creativity?
Each of us has seen or experienced something for which we have no words, creativity is our response. I think creativity is also a problem solving process.

5. What were your creative outlets as a child?
My Mother would occasionally bring home a small ream of copier paper for us to draw on. My brothers and I would draw for hours.

6. Who encouraged you most in your early years?
I think the best part about my upbringing was that I was neither encouraged nor discouraged. After my parents separation, my Mother had to go right to work so there wasn't much time for her to spend with us each day. She just kept supplying the paper and we kept drawing. My brothers were always drawing so I figured that's just what you do when Mom is working. It wasn't really until 8th grade that my family started to take my interest in art seriously.

7. How were they encouraging to you? (e.g.words, exposing you to art, taking you places?)
Everyone had their way of encouraging me but I don't know if it was intentional all of the time. My neighbors were always the ones who insisted I'd be an artist when I grew up. Occasionally my brothers brought home comic books and we always had the newspaper lying around were I would get my daily dose of comic strips. Whenever I was out with my Dad he would often make me draw on cocktail napkins that he would show off to his friends. That always made me feel special. Aside from that the most encouraging thing my parents did was buy me an art table for my 12th birthday which gave me a place to focus my energies. I still use that table to this day.

8. How important was it for you to have support?
As a kid, I never realized that I needed any kind of support so much as more paper to draw on. I just drew and that was what I did. I had a great group of friends that shared my love of drawing which challenged me to strive harder. As an adult I now realize just how important support and community are as an artist. Being an illustrator is an extremely lonely job. You spend the majority of your time alone with a scary intimidating blank piece of paper and your thoughts. To have someone to bounce ideas off of or just talk to about what you're trying to accomplish is extremely comforting.

9. What is your inspiration?
My inspiration is nothing in-particular as much as it is a combination of things. It can depend upon where I am, who I'm with or what mood I'm in. As a young artist inspiration was something that I depended on. After years of training inspiration is something that I have learned to control. Simply put if I've got a tight deadline I don't have the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike, I've just to to get drawing. Still, there are those times when I see something so lovely that demands to be drawn. Other artists work is also an inspiration, which is one of the benefits of teaching aspiring artists.

10. Who discouraged you the most?
I can't recall anyone in particular being overly negative toward me on a consistent basis. I've always been very hard on myself because I always wanted to be better than I was, which is probably why I am where I am. Van Gogh once said that he could only get better if he surpassed himself. Even as a professional I still strive to be better than I was a year ago. One of the hardest things to deal with in the art field is rejection. You try not to take it personally, but since your art is so much a part of you it's hard to make that separation. Fortunately at Hussian I had honest and straight forward teachers who taught me to take that rejected art and improve on it. If you think it can only get better, than there's hope.

11. When did you discover you were an "artist"?
One day at nursery school we had a project in which we had to glue a leaf to a piece of construction paper and draw on a face, arms, and legs. Later, when my Mother arrived to pick me up, the teacher excitedly showed her what I had done. Apparently I had drawn more than the face, arms and legs. I drew the private parts. All of them. The teacher thought it was amazing because I was noticing things that the others were not. She insisted that I was going to grow up to be an artist. For the rest of the year that perverted leaf man hung on her locker for all to see. I wish I could see that again.

12. Did you ever want to do anything else?
I've always wanted to be an astronaut and I still do.

13. What was the influence of elementary schooling on you as an artist?
Being a small Catholic school in Philadelphia we didn't have much in the areas of an art program. Because of this our art classes were never consistent, but when I got word that we were having one I looked forward to it more than Christmas. I loved and did the best I possibly could with each project. Most of the time the projects would challenge me enough to go home and try it again and again. It's a funny thing with art, just when you think you've got something nailed down, along comes someone who shows you something that alters your thinking and it opens up another avenue you never imagine existed. Suddenly you look at something as routine as pencils and paints like you never have before.

14. Did you encounter problems (e.g. how you were received/treated by teachers)?
For the most part I was appreciated for my talent and even at a young age my teachers often times asked me to create art for the school or the teacher's classrooms. There's only one teacher I can think of that discouraged me and I wasn't even in his class. I was waiting in the Deans of students office because my Mother and the Principal were having a meeting in another office. The Dean was having a meeting with another parent and the student's teacher, Mr. Franchino. I was minding my own business sitting in the corner drawing away as usual. For no reason what so ever, Mr. Franchino walked up to me and inquired about what I was doing. I told him I was just drawing. He scoffed and proceeded to yell that I should, "do something useful with my life, like homework." Everyone in the room got a good laugh and I felt humiliated.

15. What is your opinion about the teaching of art in elementary school?
I think art is the most important subject in school today. With all of the distractions that kids have (TV, video games, internet,etc.) it's a wonder that they have time at all to do their homework let alone discover the joys of being creative. A structured art class can allow children to try and imagine things they never have before. Part of the problem with adults is that most of them have lost that kind of imagination at about the age of 12 and easily forget how important art is. The more I teach the more I observe how art is literally everywhere. Our society depends on it. When most people think of art they automatically think of paintings or illustrations but a creative person is responsible for nearly everything we use everyday. From lightbulbs to buildings to clothes to our own written language, a creative person first had to imagine it before it became reality for us all.

16. What suggestions do you you have for...
a) a budding artist
(The following has some quotes from Michael Card's Scribbling in the Sand of which I agree wholeheartedly)
First, fill your day and your mind with curiosity. Always remain teachable; ask questions of everyone and don't hide your ignorance. Second, your art skills will only improve with practice. Your talent is not a license to be lazy. I know it is difficult at first, but in time you will see results. Draw as much as you possibly can. Draw everything you see and experience. Search for the beauty in the ordinary and interpret it for those who cannot. Third, on a spiritual level, please remember that only God can imagine and make something out of nothing. He is the only one who deserves the title of creator. We are merely creative. Be simple and straightforward about your art. Don't mysticize your relation to it. Love it, yes, just as God loves a zebra. But don't outstep him by saying that you are your art when he can't say that he is a zebra. Remember that the greatest work of art is infinitely less worth in God's eyes than the person who made it. Your growth as an artist is not in being able to impress others, but rather it comes by understand how limited you are. Humble yourself before God and the talents he has blessed you with and use them to respond to his beauty and the love he has for you.
b) a future elementary school teacher
I firmly believe that the best way to teach is visually. Whenever possible do everything in your power to teach visually. If you need to take the extra time to make models or props to teach a lesson please do so. Visual aids transcend any language and provide images for a child to remember which will last longer than any words spoken. A child's mind is immeasurably imaginative and as teachers I believe it is your responsibility to respond to it's beauty and not quiet it with mere words.
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