Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sage Advice

Another major influence in my youth was (still is actually) the legendary Jack Davis. As with Frazetta with the painting and drawing, if I was drawing a cartoon and it wasn't done in a Davis style I simply wasn't doing a cartoon.
Later Mort Drucker snuck in and the cartoon style I was doing was a cross between the two. With no formal instruction or direction this was my education, the school of Frazetta/Gogos/Rockwell/Davis and Drucker...kinda like a law firm doesn't it?
I started doing editorial cartoons for the local city and country papers when I was 14 years old. Nothing earth shattering, I wasn't making any youthful political statements it was mostly caricatures of local people who were retiring such as Webb Baber a local postman known for the dogs that would follow him around.

Or Duke Shackleford, the assistant football coach who was moving away to teach at another school.

About as political as I got was a comment on the newly formed animal control legislation with the caption. "What do you think of the leash law now?"

The nice thing about this was that I was being paid for my efforts so technically I could say my professional art career started at age 14. Although I'm unsure if $3 a cartoon would qualify as  professional wages.

While idolizing my hero's as I did and studying their every brush stroke you could not get better examples of individual styles. Therein lies the problem, I was learning from "styles" not real life. I was not  developing my own interpretation of the world around me rather I was  creating through the eyes of the men I aspired to be like. Of course I was a kid and just didn't know any better or had any seasoned guidance around me. When I taught illustration on the collegiate level I did not allow students to do anime or Manga for the exact same reasons, they would be drawing a "style". Many didn't understand and quite a few hated me for it. But what they didn't realize is that I was giving them what I never had, the voice of experience. I told them after they learned anatomy, design and color they then could go back to their favorite art form and bring something new to the table.
It was not until I went back to college and I was in my first oil painting class working on the still life set up by the instructor that I knew I was in trouble. Here I was painting a warty gourd and a small perfume bottle then a classmate walks up behind me and said. "You must be a Frazetta fan!" From that point on I sought my own voice with Frank's famous quote ringing in my ears, 'Why be a second rate Frazetta, be a first rate you".
I was fortunate enough to tell Frank that story when I was able to spend time with him in 95 and he got a kick out of it. "WHAT, from a warty gourd and a bottle? You must have something that I don't have!", followed by a hearty laugh.
When young illustrators ask me how they can develop their own style I just tell them keep drawing, and draw everything you see... from life! Your own style will eventually emerge as you strive to perfect your craft. We all still will show signs of those who influenced us but a little bit of Frazetta, a little bit of Gogos, Rockwell or Davis will eventually emerge as a whole lot of you!
A couple of years ago I was a guest artist at the Atlanta Comics Expo, a first for me because I had never done a convention before. The main draw for me was the show was also a tribute to Jack Davis.  To meet another hero, possibly shake his hand and thank him for the education... I jumped at the opportunity!  Sadly Jack was not able to attend.  However there was a panel set up with the artists in attendance as we paid tribute to the man. One by one we  told of his influence and spoke volumes of our admiration. Then we all were given a great gift. The organizers set up a conference call with Jack and  we were able to tell him personally what he meant to us. It was another day I will never forget.
As an added bonus we each were given a signed print of the illustration that Jack did specially for the show, icing on an already glorious cake.

In parting, the moderator asked Jack if he wanted to send any advice to us. He simply said, "Work! I never turned down a job because of money. I just like to work".
Thanks for the sage advice Mr. Davis!
That statement really hit home for me. In a creative field where what we do is a part of us it's hard to keep egos in check sometimes, our work is a part of us (if we've done it correctly!)  It can become a slippery slope if you ever think a job is below you.
You have to find as much joy in illustrating a perfume bottle and a warty gourd as much as you do a movie poster that would have a budget in the thousands.
It's not about what you are illustrating,  it's the fact that you ARE illustrating!

1 comment:

ThinkBaker said...

I'm really loving these post Jeff. (although, I have heard most of them already :D )

It's awesome to see these Illustrations you did at 14.
and then makes me think of MY work when I was 14
and made me realize... I've still got my work cut out for me! lol

great read! keep it up!