As part of a class during my senior year as an Illustration student at RIT, we were told to interview successful illustrators whose styles we liked. I had seen Graham Smith's work a good year prior to this and knew right away I wanted to ask him some questions on the business of Illustration. It was a fun experience and I learned a lot. A year later finds me a happy graduate with a job doing art every single day, no doubt in part thanks to good advice and anecdotes from one dedicated artist. - Joanna Eberts
1. When you get a commission for a new piece, what is your process from start to finish? Brainstorming, Thumbnails, Comps, etc.
I wrote a blog post about that, check this link out...
Rat's Life: How to Draw a Cover for the SF Weekly
2. About how many hours do you put into one illustration?
As many as it takes. Schedules often dictate how long you can spend on each phase of illo development. When the Art Director calls and wants to see something in the am, or next week or in 3 months, you know what you have to do. Every great illustrator I know works until it's perfect, however long that takes.
3. What medium do you prefer?
I love them all. Colored pencils. Anything you can draw with, really. I like washy, liquidy kinds of paint, like watercolor, ink and guache. And collage. Love glueing and taping things. Also, I am never without my fountain pen.
4. How would you describe your style?
I have a drawing based style. It's representational and realistic. Subjects tend to treated heroically or demonically, combining drama with draftsmanship. It is stream of consciousness style, layered over logical structure. Beauty within imperfection. Wabi Sabi.
From my website ..."I draw traditionally with pen and ink to create energetically hand-rendered, emotionally charged portraits of musicians, celebrities and things of interest, using rich, organic textures and deep, earthy colors. I finish illustrations digitally, to client specifications."
From a review..."This guy’s stuff is great. It has a noir-like quality that could’ve come right out of the pulp fiction haydays of the 30’s and 40’s, but it still feels utterly modern. And unlike many graphic novel illustrators today he knows not to overdo it. He let’s us into the eyes or his subjects, shows us their wrinkles, and crooked smiles. He builds the character not through pyrotechnics of color and form, but through human emotion."
5. How did you cultivate your style?
My drawing style is an extension of my personality. Yin and Yang. Balance. An energetic, emotional line over a solid underdrawing. Traditional materials with digital finish. Opposites. I think a lot of illustrators personalities match their drawing styles.
6. Do you have any influences, if so who or what?
Parson's life drawing teacher, illustrator and master draftsman David Passalaqua inspired myself and a generation of artists, in a guru like manner back in the day. He's gone now. Is missed.
Egon Scheile, Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso, David Hockey.
7. What do you do when you encounter artist's block?
Ideas can come from the act of drawing. You don't have to have an idea before you start drawing. Just start drawing and something will come. You have to trust that it will. Your subconscience will bubble to the surface with ideas you didn't know you had.
Here is one way to do it. Draw many little rectangles on a page, draw something in each one. Anything. Nothing is thrown out. Everything is fair game. Even things seemingly unrelated. You are idea farming. The little rectangles that make you smile are the good ones. Here's another: Underline important words in the article to be illustrated. Illustrate each word all together on one page, allowing the pieces to interact with each other. Consider the relationships between your images.
If you are really toast. Contact your Art Director and ask for guidance. Send the AD your little rectangles. Say you got lost in the woods and need someone to shine a flashlight. They will help you. You are a team.
8. Where did your passion for drawing come from?
There are many artists in my family. Maybe it came from them?
9. What is you educational background?
Parson's School of Design. New York. BFA Illustration.
10. Outside of school what has been your biggest learning experience in relation to illustration?
Working as screenprint/textile designer in the fashion district of New York when I got out of art school taught me everything about trends, color stories, ideas, and working hard. We made at least 1-2 completely finished designs everyday. 16 x 22" By hand. No computer. Every 90 days there would be a new season and new colors and new trends, and we'd crank out 1-2 pieces a day based on that, and so on, until I'd completed over 2000 original works.
11. When you first entered the illustration business did you have any idea of what it would be like?
None at all. Still figuring it out, actually.
12. What is your favorite genre of illustration to work for, editorial, advertising, children’s books or other?
Editorial for the ideas and drawings. Advertising for the collaboration and better budgets.
13. What clients have you worked with?
Have a look in the sidebar of my blog. ----->
14. Who are some of your most recent clients?
Worth Magazine, Seattle Weekly, Brookstone
15. What did you do to establish the contacts you have now in the field of illustration?
Clients become aware to my work through advertisements in source books, online portfolios, my blog, website and by seeing published work and through my self initiated projects. I e-mail blast and I mail promotional postcards and sample sheets. I contact good matches directly. I network and get recommendations from other illustrators. Art Directors change jobs a lot. Create personal relationships. People hire their friends, and people they trust. So.... be friendly and trustworthy. Always deliver more than expected.
16. Is there a past job that stands out in your mind, if so why?
I got the assignment to illustrate first international cover of Paste magazine while in New York for my sisters wedding. When opportunity knocks, it's rarely under the conditions you imagined.
Paste: Chinese Punk Rocker
17. What was your least favorite or favorite Illustration job?
I drew 42 pen and ink portraits in 10 days. I thought it was going to be easy. By the end, I literally cried and Photoshopped tear stains off the inkings. I can't tell if that was the best or the worst.
18. What‘s the best part about being an illustrator? And are there things you don’t like about your job?
The best thing is controlling your own destiny. Another good thing is collaborating with talented people, and learning about each new subject.
19. What is your opinion on the current illustration market?
It's changing. And within change, there is always opportunity.
20. What is the most useful advice you can give to a young illustrator?
Never let them see you cry! (kidding) (actually, not kidding)
Illustration doesn't have to look a certain way, it doesn't have to look like your favorite artist. Does happiness, artistic fulfillment or the respect of your peers comes from an illustration style calculated solely for profit? The only way to be truly original in illustration is to completely be yourself. Everything else has been done.