Intro by Shanon Weltman / Interview by Ray Jones
It’s becoming increasingly popular for illustrations to go the way of animated GIFs. Although this week’s artist, Texas native Clay Rodery, fits the bill, his art is more cinematic than animated. He would have probably been really successful in the golden age of painted movie posters. The stark contrast of light and shadows, hand in hand with his narrative compositions feel more like an actual movie still than illustration. His illustration series of zombie-fied GOP 2012 candidates was featured on Juxtapoz.com. Keep reading to see what life lessons Clay shares with Ray Jones.
RAY JONES: How would you describe your process?
CLAY RODERY: I pace around for about an hour. Just thinking about all these different, weird directions things can go. I’ve been illustrating this acting advice column, which is funny because tips for actors can also apply to illustrators. As I think about those, I’m applying its own virtues to it. Thinking is a lot of work [laughs] let’s say, so then after that I do a sketch and I will eventually do something with action figures, set up poses if it’s really complicated. Every picture kind of comes together its own way. I don’t exactly have one process that always [snaps].
RJ: Do you paint much? I remember you used to oil paint a lot.
CR: I actually haven’t oil painted in a while, ever since last February I have steadily been going more and more digital to where I’ll do an ink sketch and will scan that and everything else is completely digital.
RJ: That kind of eases into the next question. Have you worked on any projects that were out of your comfort zone that required you to learn a new technique?
CR: I try to always have a little bit of know how with a lot of different means of working. The things I do have a problem with… not a problem, but it gets tricky if I have to do something in Illustrator. Which again goes to the weird thing of, why did they name that program Illustrator? [Laughs] If I use things like vectors, that’s always tricky.
RJ: You achieve this really 3D, polished look in a lot of your pieces lately, what program… what are you doing? [Laughs] What are you doing Clay?
CR: That’s the thing! It *is* 3D sometimes. I have this program… Before I ever started to go to school to study illustration, I was going to do computer animation. Throughout high school I had been toying with this program called “TrueSpace”. Now, the company that made it is no more, the program is free if you can even find it online. It’s just this ancient, really buggy thing, but it makes these really interesting simple forms. You can just build on that, like in a drawing. I basically use it to take care of anything I want to do with perspective and use that to build the rest of the world on.
RJ: Ahh okay.
CR: So it’s cheating.
RJ: [Laughs] It’s just using the right tool at the right time.
RJ: What would you say is the most challenging medium you’ve worked in?
CR: I tried engraving once, that was tough. I tried some encaustic wax stuff, that was really challenging. Then you have to deal with heat, it’s like a whole different ball game. It’s not so much whether it’s challenging, it’s more a, did I find a good reason to use that medium? That’s a better way to think about it.
RJ: When you first start a piece then, how do you decide on what medium you want to use? Since you can literally start in a vast array of tools/mediums/programs?
CR: It depends on what the general feel of the piece is going to be. If it’s something that is very light, I’ll start thinking about something like watercolor or something where lighter colors are somehow utilized very well. And then of course if you think about something really heavy and dark and there’s this kind of conflicting drama, or something about it, I just immediately go to ink. You can then think about how that can be bumped up. Eventually it ends up becoming all different kinds of mediums and then picking and choosing what ends up being on top of one another. It could start as watercolor and end up with a bunch of melted wax on top who knows. Now my problem is, how does that look if I try and make that digital? How can I fake that enough?
RJ: Clay, what can you tell us about your space Otherworldly Grounds Project? Whatever you feel comfortable sharing.
CR: It’s set in a future, which I guess is my utmost idealized future. It takes place 95 years from now, if we don’t blow ourselves up, don’t let the environment go to shit, don’t get buried in snow, y’know… melt ourselves to death in the summer, then I think we’ll be okay. If that’s the case then we can do some good space travel and go see Mars, things like that. It’s really a kind of optimistic look at the future but then, it will deal with some heavier questions. Just in regards to our own complacency as to whether or not we should continue exploring nowadays. How are those same questions met, 100 years from now? It’ll be packed with things like that. I make it sound really heavy and it really isn’t.
RJ: Well, the imagery is incredibly moving, it’s easy to feel like ‘whoa, this is a very dramatic film I’m about to get into…’
CR: [Laughs] The thing is, it’s like one character looking at a bunch of stuff for now. I hope it’s moving! If it’s not, then… oh man. I’ve set like a November deadline for myself. I want to get it done by September? I hope to have it done by then, but realistically it’ll be late in the fall this year.
RJ: Since you left art school, what lessons have you learned that were not taught in any of our classes?
CR: I don’t know if it’s necessarily that this wasn’t taught, I don’t think… realistically, kids are ready for just how much of a struggle it can be. I mean, I always heard, it’s like the first 3 years out of school that are really tough. That’s something that was said to me 2006-2007. There were still a couple of staff illustration jobs back then, now it’s just… that kind of stuff, just doesn’t exist. I think what should be taught is… getting kids ready, it’s going to be much harder than even we can prepare you for. There just needs to be a real honesty about it. It’s a tough life, a tough job. You have to make a ton of sacrifices, but if you’re willing to do it, it’s very worth while. When people come to you for what you do and how your brain works, there’s nothing better than that.
RJ: I guess there’s just a certain amount of lessons that are just the school of hard knocks. [Laughs]
CR: Yeah, there’s too much romanticizing going on sometimes in school, I think. That might need to be pulled back a bit.
RJ: I don’t know if you saw Mike’s interview, but he mentioned something about that. We all only pay attention to the stream of good news coming down the pipe pretty much, we never see the bad days.
CR: Or, say, you find an illustrator you really liked a couple years before and then you get to where you’re like, ‘whatever happened to them?’ You try and look them up and maybe they had a kid or something, I don’t know… but you’re like ‘aw man, they were really great.’ Life just gets in the way sometimes. Times will be tough. People also need to be encouraged to attempt really hard to persevere.
RJ: This is the last question, though possibly one of the most difficult questions. What is your favorite Batman story?
CR: Oh man… There’s a story that’s by Otomo Katsuhiro (Akira), he did this story called The 3rd Mask which is absolutely brilliant. It just gives you the willies, it’s just awesome. It turns Batman completely on its head. Oh god, if you don’t know it, just find it. It’s in the first volume of Batman: Black and White, the art is amazing! The way he draws in that is so cool. It’s brilliant.
RJ: I stare at all of those Akira pages from time to time in awe. This is one guy! [Laughs]
CR: What a way to make you feel like a lazy hobo [laughs], oh god I need to get to work.
RJ: It’s good motivation!
CR: Definitely, it can also just be so depressing. This is what I have to feel. In addition to yourself being inspired by it, so is everyone and there *are* people like ‘I’m going to draw everything!’ I am just not one of those people. [Laughs] I look for the way of getting around having to draw, try to distill it down to just these base parts. Otomo doesn’t do that!