Exploring the mind and habits of an artist in twenty-five questions
by Stephanie Cassidy | May 18, 2020
At what age did you decide to become an artist?
I was eleven-years-old when I decided that I wanted to be a professional illustrator. I was in a business class where we were looking at some career books. It said that a commercial artist could make upwards of $100,000 dollars a year. This was when commercial illustration, hand drawings, were still the industry standard. I thought, “Well, I’d get to draw, and I don’t think I’ll have to worry about money.” Then computers happened and hand-drawn commercial illustration went away. I got into art anyway, and I’ve been around long enough to see commercial illustration begin to make a comeback.
How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to be an artist?
At first, they thought that it was just a kid following his fancy. Drawing was an outlet, a hobby. My father worked construction, and my mom was in sales. They thought it would be something I did for fun for a while and then move onto the real thing. They both thought from early on that I would become a teacher and would say that often because teaching has some security to it. Art by itself is a bit of a tightrope. When I started to make an actual living at drawing they both were very encouraging. I think when they saw that what I did was a physical thing that was carried in stores and had publishers behind it, they relaxed. I also started to teach, which made both of them very happy.
Who are your favorite artists?
There are too many to name! I love artists from every genre of art and find something from everywhere to put into my own stuff. Right now I’m really digging on people Like Bill Sienkiewicz, Stuart Immonen, Sergio Toppi, Bill Watterson, J.C. Leyendecker, N.C. Wyeth, Alex Toth, M.C. Escher, Walt Simonson, Ian McQue, Doug Chiang, Chris Foss, Moebius, John Buscema, and Ethel Hays.
Who is your favorite artist whose work is unlike your own?
That is a tough one. Probably Emil Melmoth who does these beautiful sculptures based around cadavers and mythology. His ability to capture the look and feel of certain textures is exquisite.
Art book you cannot live without?
I was going to say that the list was too long, but then I thought about it for a second and I realized it’s How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema. I got it when I was fifteen and that book has been in constant use ever since. It lives on the shelf next to my art table, in easy reach. The knowledge within that book is unimpeachable. On top of that its accessible in a way that a lot of other art books that try to break down how to make comics aren’t.
What is the quality you most admire in an artist?
Perseverance. It’s easy to come up with the idea. The work comes in the actual execution of the idea and then doing it all over again, while at the same time striving to improve skills, so that every successive image is better than the last.
Do you keep a sketchbook?
I keep several. I have a main sketchbook that I work in and that is my laboratory. That one is almost always in my kit bag. I then have a few smaller ones that I keep in quick grabbing distance of wherever I am, in case I need to jot down an idea. This comes in really handy when I’m about to turn in for the evening.
What’s your favorite museum in all the world?
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is my church. I can go there and no matter what my mood is I feel calm. That said, some honorable mentions are The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, The Brandywine River Museum in Pennsylvania, and the collection at the Society of Illustrators is one of my favorites.
What’s the best exhibition you have ever attended?
The Gregory Manchess show a few years ago at the Society of Illustrators was a memorable one.
If you were not an artist, what would you be?
I really like working with my hands, and as I said my dad was in construction. I like working with wood when I have the free time, so maybe a carpenter.
How did your early artistic cohort influence your development?
He still does to this day: my buddy Ryan Roman. We met during orientation at SVA and have known each other more than half my life at this point. Ryan has more talent in his entire body than I could ever hope to have, but he’s one of those special people who you just gel with artistically. We get each other and when we collaborate it’s always a good time.
What is one thing you didn’t learn in art school that you wish you had?
Well, I wish I had been a bit more serious when I was in art school. I wasn’t always the best student because I was in my late teens and early twenties, and my priorities were a little turned around. I eventually figured it out, but it took a little while. That said, I wish I had really picked my teachers brains more. I didn’t realize at the time what kind of incredible access I had at my fingertips. I was a student to guys like Joe Orlando and Carmine Infantino. If I had paid just a little more attention and put my priorities on getting the most out of my education, I would have been better off earlier in my career. I eventually pulled my head out of the dark and bore down on the resources I had at my disposal, so it worked out.
What work of art have you looked at most and why?
Rembrandt’s Aristotle with a Bust of Homer. It’s incredible how much of the details that you think are crystal clear information at first are things that are just hinted at. The gold ring that defines the entire left hand blows my mind each and every time I look at it.
What is your secret visual pleasure outside of art?
I really enjoy looking at how things are built. Figuring out how to fit a couple of pieces of wood together to make a box joint, or looking inside a car at how an engine is laid out.
Do you listen to music in your studio?
All the time. It’ll vary from job to job and runs a wide gamut of genres. If I’m doing something with a science fiction flavor, I put on big orchestral stuff or a film soundtrack. If I need to get the work done on a deadline, nothing beats Lamb of God for driving you to the finish line. If I need to just sit back and relax while I’m painting or something, I’ll put on some Soul or proto-metal like Black Sabbath or Zeppelin. If I’m inking, there’re some great Punk albums that get a listen, The Ramones or The Misfits, or The Adolescents.
What is the last gallery you visited?
I was at the Society of Illustrators gallery for their Batman show, and there was one on the Lower East Side, the name of which escapes me at the moment.
Who is an underrated artist people should be looking at?
J.C. Leyendecker is a name that, a few years ago, when I would mention him people would stare at me with a blank expression. The guy was Rockwell before Rockwell. He was in fact, Rockwell’s mentor. I can think of a dozen comic book people that people should take a closer look at, some of which I’ve mentioned already.
What art materials can you not live without?
Paper and pencil are the usual suspects for me. Ink is a mainstay as well, and paints. The urge to paint again is beginning to let itself be known.
Do you paint/sculpt/create art every day?
I make an effort to. Some days I don’t because I’m teaching, or I need to take care of something around the house. It’s difficult to create in the current climate, and I don’t always succeed.
What is the longest time you went without creating art?
I dried up for about a year when I was nineteen. Couldn’t even sketch. That was the longest I’ve ever gone without drawing.
What do you do when you are feeling uninspired?
I start drawing whatever is in front of me. That will usually kick-start my brain and get the creative juices flowing a bit. If that doesn’t work, I go for a walk or put on a movie or show that I find energizing to the creative process. I am lucky that the feeling of being uninspired for me occurs in rare instances. Because I work in commercial art and am usually answering to a client, I don’t have the luxury of feeling uninspired. I have to draw in order to eat.
What are the questions that drive your work?
How do I tell this story? is one that is almost always at the forefront of my mind. Another is, How can I improve my storytelling? I always want to push myself to do something new with my chosen medium.
What is the most important quality in an artist?
Persistence and perseverance are the things which tend to drive me as an artist. This is not an easy life to choose. It can be a very satisfying one as long as you stick to it, and no matter what the setback or how many times it tries to push you down, get back up.
What is something you haven’t yet achieved in art?
My career in comics has been one of collaboration, a process that I enjoy quite a bit. I’ve never published anything that has been wholly my own. I’m in the process of changing that.
What is the best thing about art in the era of social media?
I’d say the unique reach you can get is probably the best thing about it. I can dig on good art with people all over the world and do thanks to social media.