You're quite well-known in the art world, but for our readers who may be new to your work, would you mind going into a little detail regarding what you do?
I am a fine artist and illustrator. Basically that means I both make original works that show and sell in galleries and I also make work that illustrates things – books, home décor, stationery, magazines, products, etc. In addition, I also teach both online business and art classes, do lots of public speaking, run an online Etsy shop and wholesale business, and write and illustrate my own books. I just published my seventh book and am working on eight and nine.
The use of color is part of your signature - have you ever dabbled in black-and-white work specifically? Do you think your work would differ, or not feel right, if you were to cut out color? Why is color so important to you?
Color is enormously important to me, and I’ve been using basically the same palette (which a few variations) for the past 10 years. But I do also draw in black and white and in pencil (back in 2011-2012 I drew hundreds of drawings exclusively in graphite). I am also known for my black and white ink drawings. In 2016 I did a project where I drew and painted almost exclusively in blue for an entire year. So I do enjoy experimenting with leaving color (or at least a range of color aside). I think the act of leaving color out is just as important as using color. Color evokes a mood, and my work is usually described as “happy” – which I think is often because of my color palette. But sometimes I want to make work that is more stark or moody, and that is when I limit my palette more. I go through phases where I use much less color, and that probably has a lot to do with my mood.
What is the best part of creating for you? Why?
The best days for me are days when I get to draw and paint. It doesn’t matter if I am making client work or personal work, the days I get to paint or draw are the days I wake up the most excited. I love the challenge of creating something that is in my imagination, or the challenge of creating something for a client. The illustrator’s job involves a lot of concepting and problem solving – representing something visually, and often in a way that is not literal. I really enjoy that work. I also love heading into my painting studio and working on one big painting over the course of the day. It’s really satisfying to see something evolve over time. Painting on wood (which is the substrate I use) is really forgiving, so if something doesn’t look right, you can just paint over it. It makes the process much more relaxing.
You've talked before about how hard it can be to ignore the insecurities/self doubt that come along with being a creative. Do you ever feel like those can be harnessed in a positive way?
Absolutely. Here’s the thing: self doubt never completely goes away. So as much as you can get to the place where you can understand that and not feel like a failure because you feel it – that is really important. It’s a normal and natural part of being human, and of the creative process, which forces us to be very vulnerable. If we never doubted ourselves, we’d have no conscience. Of course, you don’t want to allow it to hold you back from making things or from sharing them with the world. You don’t want your doubt to be debilitating. But self doubt keeps us humble, and I think, to a certain degree, you have to remain humble to be a good artist. If you think of yourself as a beginner always, you will always be in that place where you are exploring and open to new ideas and ways of working.
Can you describe a time when you faced a significant creative obstacle? What was the obstacle, and how did you overcome it? What did you learn from that experience?
For much of my early career, my technical skills weren’t as developed as my ideas of what I wanted to draw and paint, and that was a huge obstacle I had to overcome, and really that every artist has to overcome. I am self-taught, so I was learning to draw and paint just by doing it, on my own, without a teacher. Now I can sit down and draw just about anything, but there was a time years ago when it took me hours and hours just to render something that would now take me 10 minutes. That’s why practicing is so important. It’s the only way to get good at something. So even now when I am struggling to make something in the way I want, I remember to be patient and not to give up and to just keep trying. Because mostly it is just a matter of practice and continually attempting until you get it. I learned that early on, and it’s served me well.
Do you have a project/piece of art that you're the most proud of? If so, why that particular project/piece? If not, what would it take for a project/piece to snag that top spot?
It’s so hard after 11 years of working as an artist and author to isolate one project as something I’m the most proud of. But I think if I had to choose, it’s my book Art Inc: The Essential Guide to Building Your Career as an Artist. It’s a book that I think has helped thousands of artists find their way into their careers, and into making a financially sustainable business as an artist. I am really keen on demystifying the world of art and illustration, just like folks did for me back when I was first starting out. Traditionally, the art world has been this place that has felt very baffling and cryptic to people, even people who have gone the traditional channels through art school. We don’t know how to break in, how to get known, how to market ourselves, all the ways we can monetize our work, And my book helps break those things down in really simple language. And I’m really proud of that.
When do you feel the most creatively energized? When creative inspiration strikes, what's the first thing you do to harness it?
I am definitely someone who warms up over the course of the day! I am usually hitting my creative stride around 3 in the afternoon, which is kind of a bummer because I have to stop a couple hours later when my wife gets home from work to make dinner and spend the evening with her. I mean, I love spending time with her (and I love relaxing in the evening), but sometimes I wish I had more creative joo-joo earlier in the day! For that reason, sometimes I work at night, or at least I draw in the evening. I do try to take advantage of those times when I am really feeling it, which isn’t always possible. I also find that I have the most creative energy when I am not feeling a ton of pressure. So weekends are often the time when I make the best work, when I am casually in my studio painting for fun. If inspiration strikes and I can’t go make anything immediately (which is often the case!), I always write down my ideas. I keep a bullet journal with lists and lists of ideas. And then I go back to them later when I have time.
Main photo credit: Chris Dibble
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