Artist Interview: LOU PATROU

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LOU PATROU

Intro & Interview by Shanon Weltman

Looking at the artwork of Artist Lou Patrou, you almost wouldn’t believe his larger than life images are actually paintings, not Adobe Creative Suite digital masterpieces. He’s also designed an entire Patrou line of products that is not currently on the market, but hopefully will be soon. His kitsch-inspired art is equally sophisticated and bizarre, with killer craftsmanship. Seriously, I can’t believe some of these aren’t done in Illustrator – see for yourself.


SHANON WELTMAN: First question, what and who are your artistic inspirations?

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Priest

LOU PATROU: I like vintage toys, I like vintage ceramics. I collect a lot of old ceramics like old cookie jars, those kind of things that have a lot of anamorphic shapes to them. I also like old vintage glassware, things that have images printed on them or something. Not just simple glasses. Kitschy, bizarre things I’ve found over the years. I have a whole cabinet filled with that kind of stuff. [Laughs] I guess that has kind of rubbed off on me. If you look at the drawings, Hank and Sylvie, that’s where they kind of sprung from I guess.

SW: Ah yes, that was one of my questions. Who are they?

LP: A lot of the artwork on those old ceramics, the finishes are very, very smooth tones. Very pretty, smooth, rounded out tones. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was kind of [Laughs] really obsessed with a really slow, graduated tone. The black and white tones, which could be in any color. I did those with pencil, black and white. I’m actually doing a lot with Hank and Sylvie. I’m doing something right now, but most of the stuff I’ve done with them now for product applications and other things are all in color, even though the original is in black and white.

SW: How big are the originals?

LP: They’re 50 inches high.

SW: Oh wow.

LP: [Laughs] When I moved here [NY] from LA, I had more space. I lived in a really cramped garage apartment in LA for 20 years. I did a lot of good artwork there, but I couldn’t… the largest sheet artwork I did there on paper, was probably 24” x 30”. That was the biggest table space I could get in my kitchen there. I have a really large space here, I have two long tables put together. I like to draw on that, paint on that, lean over my work. I don’t know why, maybe it’s getting my face close to it. I never work with it straight up. I have a painting that I finished this weekend and I still haven’t seen it in any way but a flat, down position. I guess that would be weird to some artists. [Laughs]

 

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Hank and Sylvie

 

SW: Do you ever find when you do stand it up that it’s warped, or are you so used to working flat that it comes out the right perspective?

LP: I really figure that out well before I do it, I do a lot of practice drawings. I work from modeled parts and a lot of stenciled pieces for all the parts of the drawings and the paintings. I will take those and hang them on the wall and look at them.

SW: Ahh, that was my next question, to walk us through your process. What’s the next thing you do?

LP: Well, it takes a while to get to that. The whole beginning of it for me is just scribbling on a table. Doing spontaneous drawing and painting. That, for me, is when you just let everything go. You kind of act like your dowsing for water. [Laughs] You know, like those guys with the sticks, who thought they could find water. Just kind of empty their mind and walk around like they’re looking for something. I think most creative people that I’ve known do that same thing. Just kind of let your mind and your drawing follow whatever free flow, just to see what happens. You sort of pick up on that, analyze it and see if you like it or don’t like it, but you follow what your hand is doing and try to take after it. After I get a couple good ideas, I’ll try to see if it would work as a good idea for a finished piece of art. Each piece that I do, there’s probably about a 100 small drawings and then one of them you can see is the derivative. The whole thing came from that one idea. I think it’s the same for most people. See what you’re doing, find a way to scale that whole thing up and then polish it, see if you can make it into a finished beautiful piece.

 

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Delegates

 

SW: How long does it usually take you once you get to the part where you’ve enlarged it? How long does it take to knock out the piece?

LP: That is really slow. One of the reasons is I like to live with it a little bit. I have to watch out that I don’t live with it too long that I get bored with it as a concept and then get on to the next one or something. This painting I just finished, I started the idea about 6 months ago. It takes a long time, I don’t produce in high quantity.

SW: Do you work in oil?

LP: No, all the painting that I do is either watercolor or acrylic.

SW: Oh wow, it’s so smooth!

LP: Yeah, I like it because it dries fast. I can lean over it and I can lay in some color. It takes around, sometimes up to ten coats, opaque.

SW: Have you ever done any of your images as screenprints or any other kind of printing? It looks like it would translate perfectly for printmaking.

LP: I know! Interesting you picked that out, that’s exactly what I want to do with a lot of this stuff. Did you see the series called the “Raves”? That’s a complete step by step explanation of what I’m trying to say.

 

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Raves

 

SW: Ah, very cool! Did you do any of these faces in Illustrator? Is it really just that clean?

LP: No, they’re all [by hand]. If you scroll down, the third picture down is the final concept sketch, where you see the little green face on the left, and then the big stencil on the right. That’s the scaled up stencil for that. Does that make sense?

SW: Yeah!

LP: That little thing on the left, I messed around with that probably around 40-50 ideas like that. Then I came up with the idea of the side faces, those laughing half faces on the cheeks. That’s when a lightbulb went off in my head and I thought, ‘This is what I’m going to do.’

SW: Wow, I am so floored that these are all done in watercolor and acrylic. It’s beyond flat, so amazing!

LP: These are acrylic, the little thing on the left is watercolor. There’s four of them and my whole idea here was… I didn’t know, I was going to do a series when I came up with the first one, but then I said ‘Whoa, there’s too much I want to fool around with’. I wanted to keep the same exact face, but fill it in differently, you know? Like a cool set of barware or something. If you scroll all the way to the bottom you see the four. I can scan those and then punch out the background and then turn these into what you said before. I can turn these into another color process for t-shirts, for huge screen prints or something. Even on glassware, or plates.

SW: Mmhmm

LP: My ideas have kind of merged into like secondary applications to the art, after. My first parameter is to make something that will ultimately be in a gallery somewhere, on a wall. That’s why I don’t make Photoshop drawings or something, I make a real painting on paper.

SW: When did you start working like this? So graphically, with patterns, in this style.

LP: It started happening I guess a few years ago, but I’ve always made either tattoos or patterns on faces, I’ve always done it. For like 35 years or something.

SW: Where are you originally from?

LP: I was born in Rochester, NY. A long time ago.

SW: Cool! You just mentioned galleries and I see you’ve been in a few, what kind of advice would you give to other artists breaking into the gallery scene?

LP: I’m still breaking. For the first 30 years, I was never interested in promoting my stuff. I just kept it kind of secret. You know those stories you read about some guy who has done photography for 25 years and then he died, and they open up his apartment and they find 500 boxes of pictures and negatives? That’s me with my artwork. For the first 30 years, I never thought about being in a gallery, I didn’t want to promote myself, I thought I’d end up being a jackass if I tried to say hey look at me, or look at my stuff. [Laughs] I was too passionate about the whole thing.

 

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SW: What was the turning point?

LP: When I moved from LA I just started. I have a lot of age on my face at this point, I don’t know how many decades left I would have, I just want to start. I want to make it as a full-time career and I want as many people to see my stuff as I can. That thing, whatever that bug is where you want to self-promote, it just takes over. You see it on Facebook and Linkedin, people constantly posting their stuff — that’s what I do now. I didn’t even get anything into a show until 2006, so I am way behind these other artists that have been out there for decades. Selling and doing everything just to be able to build their resume. You know these long long resumes, thousands of shows. I don’t have that. I have the work! But I don’t have the shows on the resume.

SW: But it sounds like as soon as you did make the effort you started seeing results. Like you’re saying, it was just what you were putting in, in terms of your output. Because if you’re still making the work…

LP: I’m still doing it. And the weird thing is, or the good thing is, I have all the artwork. All those other artists, they don’t have any of their artwork. They pretty much just sold it off for nothing, in exchange for putting another gallery name on the resume. That’s what a lot of them do. There’s a catch 22 in this business of getting to where you’re an established artist, getting a lot of money. I only know a few living artists that really make enough money to make a living like that. Ron English, people like that, Kenny Sharp, who get $125,000 for a painting. You know, before the gallery takes their cut. Those are the guys that have made it like movie stars make it. I see these other artists out there, I see it everyday. They’re really incredible talents and they’re selling off these things, it just depresses me how low they have to sell them. These galleries, they don’t care, all they want to do is get a big name in there. Get foot traffic in the gallery and then try to make something, which is totally understandable. They have to make something. If the guy comes in there who has work it’s so awful it can’t sell, they don’t want to use that guy. If another guy at the other end of the spectrum, another guy comes in and says I want ‘X’ amount of money for these paintings, the gallery says, ‘We’ll never be able to sell it for that’. You can’t use that guy. That lower ground is where all the artists end up going. It’s really depressing to me. I don’t see a future in it. These galleries, I get calls from them. They want me to work up an incredible piece, but I can’t just whip out quantity like an abstract artist, or spray artist. I can’t just make fast crap and just ship it out. ‘Just give me $500 or $1500.’ I can’t do that. I live with these pieces like this is my family, these are my weekends, these are my best times. I spend months and months on one piece.

SW: That makes sense, that you would want your stuff to also be on products. It seems like the last thing you just said, seems more important to you. Like, things being around, in your home.

LP: Getting the image out there.

SW: Exactly.

LP: What I’ve figured out, in this game of publicity and press is, the artist who makes the most press can win. He can still win, because his name is out there. It’s getting your name out there. I could get my name out there if I had a lot of money, I would just buy a publicist and I would just buy a gallery in every city in every month and just have my own shows. I would just pay people to put my name on stuff. Sooner or later it just sticks, it’s like Angeline out in California. If you put enough billboards of yourself out there, sooner or later you’re famous for that. You’re something.

SW: Right. Your stuff, it makes me think you could be another Marimekko kind of brand.

 

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Watch Samples

 

LP: Everybody tells me those kinds of things. Here’s another idea, here’s some other stuff. Did you ever look at my product ideas?

SW: Yeah! The watches are amazing. I’d love one.

LP: I know, there are a lot of people who want to buy them. They email me, they want to order one.

SW: Do you have access to get those made?

LP: For me, it just comes down to money. Do I want to be a watch company or a t-shirt company? Do I want to have boxes of palates of t-shirts in different sizes in my room?

SW: Right.

LP: That’s what it comes down to, when you decide you want to be a manufacturer, then you’ve got to deal with returns, you’re a store. You’ve also got to market and distribute and fulfill that, that’s a whole business too.

SW: Oh I know. [Laughs] We also sell stuff, it sometimes takes a lot away from the artwork itself.

LP: And then you can make yourself look like a small timer too! Like you’re just a guy running an Etsy store too. I don’t want to do that. Plus, I don’t like selling. I like giving stuff away, I don’t like selling. I just don’t like it.

SW: I’ve got two more questions for you, they’re kind of unrelated to everything else. One, I was just wondering, what is your birthday?

LP: I’ll tell you the year, how about that? And month. It’s July, 1954. I keep the date just for identity theft…

SW: Are you a Cancer or a Leo?

LP: Leo!

SW: You seem like a Leo, from your art. Very fun, loud and colorful. Here’s the last question, on a super random note, also about a fellow Leo artist. What is your favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie?

LP: That’s a difficult question.

SW: [Laughs]

LP: The first one that popped in my head was “The Birds”. I don’t know how much it’s a favorite, I’d have to sit there and analyze myself over it. Know what I mean? [Laughs]

SW: I saw that when I was eight and it terrified me.

LP: Those movies! I don’t know how old you are, but when I was growing up and there were only three channels on TV, that stuff was big. Same with the “Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits”. You probably don’t remember those shows, right?

SW: I do! I do.

LP: Ah! [Laughs]

SW: I don’t remember them because I wasn’t alive when they were originally on the air, but I know them. I’ve watched them.

LP: “The Outer Limits” and Alfred Hitchcock, they were just pure quality. The whole family would just sit around and say nothing, just watch that stuff. It was good.

SW: Do you think you enjoyed his movies more or his tv show more? Hitchcock.

LP: Well, I think of his films… well they’re history makers. I worked in the film business for 20 years, I worked out in Hollywood. This guy is a history maker.

CINEMA-FILES-BIO-HITCHCOCK-BIRDS

Artist Interview: 1st YEAR

CLAW CLAW Artist Interviews: Year 1 (8/13 – 8/14)

A short list of a few things we learned from the artists we interviewed this past year:

1. Fake it til you make it by being your authentic self and make work you really want to make.

2. Have a day job so you can turn down bad freelance clients and still make the rent.

3. Nothing can really prepare you for the real world like living in it.

4. Being around other actively creative people creates a magical synergy.

5. Making promotional artwork is worth the effort.

 

1147518_10151543397721556_1021490862_oALEX FINE

 

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ANDREA KALFAS

 

Joan 1BILLY NORRBY

 

10455849_888067657877025_3821713467327834009_nBRIAN SPARROW

 

Ice-Cubism-byrockwell_72dpiBYRON McCRAY

 

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CHI BIRMINGHAM

 

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CHRISTI JOHNSON

 

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CIOU

 

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CLARA LIEU

 

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CLAY RODERY

 

yoga
CORIANNA BROWN

 

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DADU SHIN

 

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DANA VERALDI

 

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DEB CHANEY

 

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ELLEN T. CRENSHAW

 

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GINA SCHIAPPACASSE

 

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GRACE LANG

 

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HADAR PITCHON

 

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HEATHER BENJAMIN

 

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HEATHER CLEMENTS

 

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JOE WIERENGA

 

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JOHN MacCONNELL

 

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JONNY NEGRON

 

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JORDAN JEFFRIES

 

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JUAN LEGUIZAMON

 

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JUSTIN SANZ

 

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KALI CIESEMIER

 

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KELLY LASSERRE

 

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KEVIN SHERRY

 

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KIM HERBST

 

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LISK FENG

 

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MALOJO

 

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MATT ROTA

 

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MAURICE BLANCO

 

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MICHAEL HOEWELER

 

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MICHAEL MANOMIVIBUL

 

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MICHAEL MARSICANO

 

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NATALIE FRAGOLA

 

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NATE BEAR

 

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OJAY MORGAN (A.K.A. ZEBRA KATZ)

 

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PATRICK SMYCZEK

 

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REBECCA BRADLEY

 

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RICH TU

 

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SEAN MAHAN

 

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YAO XIAO

 

Dalliances
ZACH OSIF

Artist Interview: CHRISTI JOHNSON

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CHRISTI  JAY

Intro & Interview by Shanon Weltman

This week’s Artist, Christi Johnson, is the personification of where the beauty of life’s chaos and structure meet. She has a tamed wildness (more like a knight’s horse or uncut gem, than say, a child on a leash) to her that she channels into her art and designs. In it’s simplest explanation, her artwork is aesthetic mathematics — sacred geometry. Along with a metaphysical message, the basic shapes, materials, vintage color palettes and rawness to her designs are just really hip looking. Read my interview with one of my favorite L.A. Designers.

 

SHANON WELTMAN: What would you call yourself? You’re doing so much right now.

CHRISTI JOHNSON: I would call myself a Textile Artist and Jewelry Designer, a “Creator of Adornments” [laughs].

SW: What is your best seller?

CJ: My best sellers are actually my brass rings, which I thought about not making them a couple times and then I get such a demand I always end up getting back into it. It’s something that I kind of slowed down doing in the summer because it’s physically exhausting and I don’t have AC. [Laughs] So it’s like, sawing brass pieces out can be really painful, you sweat a lot when you do it.

SW: Do you work in your backyard or do you have a studio?

CJ: I just work in my living room. I have a big table and my living room is pretty much half studio, half living room and then I have a saw in the backyard, a table saw that I work on the wood pieces with. My kitchen table has recently been turned into part of my studio, it’s kind of been infecting [laughs].

SW: It happens… you know.

CJ: Yeah! [Laughs]

 

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SW: What type of design is your favorite to create?

CJ: I would say 3-Dimensional. Doing sculpture is my favorite because having so much experience in drawing and also having experience with fashion, as far a making clothes goes. Going from 2D to 3D, I realized comes pretty naturally for me. More so than I thought, so there’s an ease in sculpture and surprise, a kind of mystery to it. I shock myself when I do it and that’s always fun, it’s so much more of a presence. You’re actually creating something, almost like you’re creating another being or something. There’s something really special about that.

SW: What would your next favorite be?

CJ: After that, I’d say jewelry. Just because I think, the scale has to remain somewhat small just because it has to be worn. Although, I like to play with that sometimes and do pieces that are non-functional. Most of the time jewelry has to be contained to a certain size, it has these parameters and limitations that I think are kind of fun to work within and push the limits of.

SW: What are your absolute favorite materials and tools to work with?

CJ: Definitely yarn. Fibers, yarn, leather is one of my favorites, it manipulates really easily. Then wood is also good. Fiber, wood and metal I would say are my favorite materials. I think that as far as tools go, my favorite tool is my drill press. Because I’m able to use it on so many different types of materials. I can use it to drill metal, I can put another attachment on it and use it to file the metal, and then I can use it on pieces of wood and create embroideries with it. So I feel like my drill press is definitely my most multipurpose tool.

SW: Do you keep that on your table?

CJ: Yeah it’s pretty small. It’s a miniature drill press, it’s made for jewelry making. Doing little tiny holes so you can do internal cuts. It’s made for a smaller studio. I use it for bigger pieces of wood.

SW: So that’s how you’re churning all those out!

 

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CJ: The problem is is the size, I can only do up to 6, then the rest of it I have to switch to the hand drill. So sometimes I’ll come up with this great idea and then realize I can only do so much of it on the drill press, but because I already started I have to finish it. It makes it so much easier to do each hole one after the other after the other.

SW: Oh okay, I was like… ‘Oh my god, she’s a machine.’ I had no clue what was going on.

CJ: [Laughs] Yeah I tried to doing it with a regular drill and it is painful to me. It turns into a meditation because it’s like, ‘I have to get this done. Or else.’ So… [laughs]

SW: Who and what are your biggest inspirations? Life in general and then your art.

CJ: Life in general… that’s a good question. I feel like people of indigenous cultures are inspiring to me because there’s a certain amount of making do with what you have, and being able to create art. Not out of a necessity, not because you’re bored or anything, it’s just because that’s what you feel the need to do. You just feel compelled to make these things. It is, usually, to show some kind of status or something, but it comes from a different place. It’s not about how much money it costs to make, it’s more about the amount of time and effort that people put in to it. I also think the large wedding quilts from Uzbekistan, those are all hand embroidered, the amount of time that goes into those…. and also headdresses and ceremonial adornments from people. Native American people, South American, Central American… also, jewelry. African jewelry, the way that tribal African people make their metal work, they use a lot of lost wax kind of metal casting, which is a really old technique that people don’t use as much. It’s just really interesting to see the amount that people are able to do with such a minimal amount of tools and such a minimal amount of money to invest in it. It kind of makes it impossible for you to say, ‘I can’t do that because I don’t have this.’ If people in Africa can figure out how to melt brass down and cast these amazing, elaborate pieces of jewelry with all these beads on it and meanwhile they also have to figure out where their food is going to come from, figure out how they’re going to live their life essentially… why shouldn’t we able to figure out how to do that too?

SW: That’s really interesting!

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Mom

after a day in court

Dad & Christi

CJ: Yeah! I guess that’s kind of art, as well as life in general. Obviously my parents too, just coming from a point of view of not really doing what society expected of them. My mother became an engineer, there are photos of my mom with all these men in all of her classes. All of the jobs she’s ever had, all men. People never expected a woman to be able to do these jobs and early in the ‘70s, she got a little bit of push back from it. She just didn’t make it a part of her. People had a problem with it and she didn’t care. She was like, ‘Okay you have a problem with it and I don’t, so that’s fine’. I think that understanding of your own capabilities and understanding that what society thinks you’re supposed to be doing doesn’t necessarily apply to everybody. You can always push back against that. My dad became a lawyer at a time when black people were not supposed to be going to school. I think that doing things in the face of adversity, not because you’re trying to make a point, but because that’s what you’re driven to do, that’s what needs to happen. Despite what anybody else thinks.

SW: I like that answer a lot! A lot of people list artists, which is cool too. That was different though, I like that.

CJ: [Laughs]

 

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beautiful sacred geometry sculpture

 

SW: So when did you start making work about sacred geometry?

CJ: I think when I started doing yoga. I would take meditation and I would see lots of different colors and shapes, y’know. You have your eyes closed and you’re holding some strange position, not to discredit the actual practice, and your mind just kind of goes somewhere else. The places my mind would go were so far away from my studio, so far away from the work that I was doing and yet I still saw such a strong connection between it. I think that’s why I started researching more about sacred geometry and seeing that there are consistencies between whatever I saw and whatever ancient greeks saw or modern scientist see in the molecules and cells of things. I think that the fact that all those things are so much the same and also that if you look at how each planet and each star kind of relates to other ones, they also create these geometric shapes. Then there’s this whole way the orbits work and everything… just the consistency throughout every area of life is really interesting.

SW: Well, that makes a lot of sense.

CJ: [Laughs]

SW: So wait, when was that? When that happened in your life, what year was that?

CJ: That was maybe… 1 1/2 – 2 years ago.

SW: Okay.

 

SW: If you had to choose, would you leave a legacy like Betsey Johnson or Andy Goldsworthy? So, would you like to be known as more of a Designer or an Artist? If you had to choose one.

CJ:: I would say like Andy Goldsworthy. It might not be a name that is as well known world-wide, but I think that there’s a more of an immediate draw to that sort of thing. I mean, I love Betsey Johnson, I still do, she was one of my favorite designers growing up, but I think that mostly because I’m not as good at commercializing myself. I think it’s because I’m an Aquarius? So I’m just like ‘No! Things have to be this way!’, I demand things to be kind of irrationally done and ‘I don’t care if it doesn’t make any money!’ [Laughs]

SW: [Laughs]

CJ: So, I would definitely say Andy Goldsworthy, just because of the Aquarian in me.

 

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embroidered wood

 

SW: Do you feel like L.A. is perfect for you or do you want to be somewhere else? Is there somewhere else calling you?

CJ: Yeah there is, I love L.A. I do think it’s really ideal, but just by its nature of being, so spread out. You have a lot of space, there’s a lot of little natural areas. I live next door to a park, that’s great. I love nature and it’s so amazing, but I think there’s also an element of ease that can be good and can be bad. For me personally as an artist, I would like to be pushed a little bit more. I strive for the hustle and I feel like a lot of people [in L.A.] don’t understand when I’m like, ‘Oh no I can’t go out tonight, I’m going to stay home and make stuff’, it’s kind of like, ‘Well, why don’t you just have fun? Why’re you spending all of your time just working?’ For me it’s not just work, it’s trying to get to a point and to express something that I never feel is quite there. That’s what I feel is a big part of being an artist, never quite feeling like you’re there yet. Once you feel like you’re there, you’ve kind of just lost it. [Laughs] So, I do look at larger cities like NY… or San Francisco, though that still has that California kind of ease mentality. I definitely look at NY and consider, it just seems like there’s a lot more of an energy there. And I don’t mean to discredit L.A., but people work a lot harder there. And it’s okay for you to be working hard, that’s an okay thing to do. I think that the severity of the weather as well, there’s this kind of… unrest I really enjoy.

SW: Last question. If you could be any other sign other than Aquarius, what would it be and why?

CJ: I would probably be a Libra, because A)… I love Libras. I’m always drawn to Librans for some reason. I also think that there’s a detachment that Libra’s have, where they’re able to look at things in a way that’s not emotionally or physically attached very easily. And if they are, they’re able to separate their mind from their emotions and kind of step back and look at things. I kind of envy that, I think that’s why I admire Libras so much, because they are able to look at things from a different standpoint.

 

Age-of-Aquarius

Artist Interview: JOE WIERENGA

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JOE WIERENGA

Intro & Interview by Shanon Weltman

Despite his hard to pronounce last name, Joe Wierenga will probably one day be a staple in the animation world. His gift of storytelling and drawing are also his life force, like in a videogame, but real life. When Joe creates a new illustration or animation, he does not simply walk into Mordor draw from his head. He’s almost like a method actor in that he gets into his stories and characters so deeply he starts to think like them. For example, when researching to create female gaming avatars he learned so much about women’s fashion that he could get a part time job as a stylist. I’ve been a fan of Joe’s artwork from the first drawing I ever saw by him back in freshman year of undergrad at MICA. Not only has he gotten steadily better as the years pass, but he also has barely lost any momentum since college, which is a challenge most artists face.

 

SHANON WELTMAN: Do you prefer when you’re animating, to animate for games or for just animation?

JOE WIERENGA: Hm, I don’t know. Games you tend to animate the same thing over and over. Games require the character walking, the character jumping, the character getting hurt… so with games you get really good at doing those things, but you don’t really get the chance to animate fire or waterfalls or birds flying as often. It’s nice to switch things up a bit.

SW: Are your freelance jobs mostly animated or illustrated?

JW: Mostly animation at this point. I tend to like animation jobs because they last longer. Freelance gigs, y’know… you work for a couple of days, and then it’s over and then you gotta hustle and find a new client again. Animation tends to last a couple of weeks to a couple of months. Promoting myself is the thing I’m least comfortable doing. It cuts down on the amount of that, that I have to do.

SW: Does it pay way better to do animation?

JW: My hourly rate is the same, it’s just each job tends to pay more because it lasts longer.

 

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SW: Who is your dream client and why? or someone you’d like to work for if not as freelance?

JW: Whoever wants to pay me to make my own cartoon show is my dream client.

SW: Are you interested in any kind of style, like a kids style like Nickelodeon or a more adult style like Augenblick [Studios]? Or do you just want to start your own thing?

JW: I’m more interested in stories than in style, I find myself more attracted to the more sophisticated stories with character depth and plot. More so than simple episodic things. A lot of people have these interesting narratives. Nickelodeon’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is one of my most favorite things ever made.

SW: What other shows do you relate to?

JW: Sure, “Doctor Who” is incredible! I just got tickets to go see the 50th Anniversary in 3D at IMAX at Union Square! It’s going to be amazing.

SW: How would you connect that to your career? Would “Avatar” be the show most like that in that realm?

JW: [Laughs] That’s part of the million dollar question. As soon as I find out the answer to that I’ll get back to you…

 

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SW: You always seem to have a few active storylines you’re working on. How many are in the works now?

JW: Three in an active way…

SW: Do you want to elaborate?

JW: [Pause]…No. [Laughs]

SW: [Laughs] Okay…

JW: That’s the thing, it’s always changing! The way I tend to work is, I will write until I hit a wall on a project, then immediately jump to another project. I’ll keep working on that until I hit the wall. By that time, the [problem] I was having with the first project, the answer will just sort of come to me. That’s how it works. When you’re not thinking about something, that’s when you find it. So, I find it’s easier to just move between things instead of just beating my head against the wall on one. That is a good way to paralyze yourself. Then you don’t do anything. I guess I did elaborate.

 

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SW: When did you start working on the nude series?

JW: The life drawing, I was really fortunate to have a teacher in high school who really got me interested in life drawing. Up until that point I was mostly drawing superheroes and things out of my head. Demanding a more academic observational portfolio, turned out to be the healthiest thing for me. I started picking it up again a few years ago. I had a job that was really monotonous and I just kind of needed a more creative escape. So I started going to life drawing sessions. There are a million of them around NY, so it’s a really great place to do that. It was just the greatest, it was like going to the gym; I just felt better afterwards. Even when I have periods where I’m not feeling like I’m being so productive or so creative in other aspects of my life, having this weekly habit of going to a drawing session at least once a week, just always makes me feel like I’m doing something. It’s just a really healthy habit. I started putting them online a couple of years ago.

SW: What’s a couple of years ago?

JW: In 2011, at the end of the year I started feeling like I was at least reaching a high level of consistency with them and so I started a Tumblr for them and the Tumblr has also been really good, because it forced me to keep at it. I don’t want the Tumblr to go silent for more then a couple of days, so I always have to have new updates. It keeps me active.

SW: How many of the drawings do you think you’ve done so far?

JW: [Laughs] Ah..

SW: Just since you started the Tumblr. Ballpark.

JW: I don’t know… 800?

SW: So if you’ve gone once a week, you’ve gone 800 weeks? What?

JW: [Laughs] I go to the short pose sessions. And I never actually finish the drawing at the drawing session. I’ll do the line drawing or just put down some ink and some basic notes on where the shading goes. Then come home and work it up with color, or gouache and if a drawing session has ten minute and twenty minute poses, on a good week I can come home with 4 or 5 drawings worth finishing. It’s sort of become my morning routine. In order to warm up for my daily activities, I’ll work on a watercolor for awhile. I’ll get it to a good point, scan it and put it in the queue for the Tumblr.

 

SW: Do you have any advice for someone trying to do freelance full-time? Maybe just now stepping in to that.

JW: Whatever industry you want to go to, try to make friends with as many people as you can and try to make friends with people who aren’t also artists. If you want to go into comics, make friends with writers. If you want to go into games, make friends with programmers and game designers. Because those people are not going to be competing with you for the same jobs. I’d say 90% of every freelance gig I’ve ever gotten has been through a friend, like a programmer who I met on a previous job. Who then switched companies or had a project where they needed to hire a new artist and thought of me. So… make as many friends as you can and as wide and diverse a group as you can.

SW: Have you been able to maintain paying your bills? Do you have any advice towards saving? What you said is really good, but someone who is say an illustrator and doesn’t have freelance projects going for weeks. How would you maintain getting the work if not through how you described? Have you experienced that or have you been lucky enough to go job to job?

JW: [Laughs] I’ve been experiencing that more and more lately, I don’t know. Saving… some years I’m able to put a lot away, some years I’m not. I always use a professional accountant to do my taxes, because there are a lot of details and things about being a freelancer that are just way over my head and I have no head for numbers. So, usually my accountant will come and tell me, “If you put this much into an IRA, it will actually reduce the amount you have to pay by this much.” I tend to follow her lead on how much I put away.

 

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SW: Here’s your last question and by far the most important. Who is your favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle?

JW: Y’know, I gotta say, as a kid I was really boring and my favorite was Leonardo. But now I’m totally a Donatello fan. Especially in the new Ninja Turtles, they gave him a gap in his teeth–

SW: You saw the new Ninja Turtles!? [Laughs]

JW: Yeah! He’s really the only one with a distinguishing characteristic other then the color of his mask in the new series. He gets a gap in his teeth because he’s a nerd I guess? It’s supposed to make him look a little buck-tooth.

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Artist Interview: ELLEN T. CRENSHAW

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ELLEN T. CRENSHAW

Intro & Interview by Shanon Weltman

I’m excited to start off our Artist Interview Series with an inspirational Boston-based Illustrator, Ellen T. Crenshaw. Ellen and her husband, Matt Boehm, who’s an Animator at Irrational Games (creators of BioShock), co-founded Tumblr super-blog FANARTICA with an impressive current 200,000+ followers. I have known Ellen since we were 8-years-old, but I’m a huge fan of hers regardless. Each of her illustrations look like they could just spring to life. She’s a watercolor master, a rare gem in this digital age. Her anatomical drawings skills and way of capturing mannerisms are impeccable, even when the figure has jellybones. She’s one of the 25 amazing artists you can check out at CLAW CLAW’s Launch Party at The Living Gallery on October 12.

 

SHANON WELTMAN: What are your favorite materials?

ELLEN T. CRENSHAW: Brush and ink, number one. Watercolor paints, and I work digitally too. So, Photoshop, I’ll say Photoshop.

 

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SW: How have your environments influenced your work throughout your life?

ETC: Omg that’s a hard one! Um… I’m not sure if this counts, but an upbringing on tv, movies, cartoons, and newspaper strips certainly influenced the direction of my work—story-based compositions with a cartoony style. It wasn’t until I came to Boston that I noticed a shift in my interests. Colonial architecture. New England trees. City skylines. And winter clothes!

 

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SW: This question I added specifically for you – what do you listen to while you work?

ETC: I listen to movies. I usually use a movie that I’ve seen a million times so that I know what’s happening. I listen to music too, but I dunno, I get bored with music. A movie activates my brain enough to keep me interested somewhat. It provides enough of a distraction, but not enough to make it so I can’t work.

SW: Do you want to give a shout out to that website you use [to listen to movies], or do you put on actual movies?

ETC: I do both. Listentoamovie.com is where it just has the audio and I’ll do that sometimes. Other times I’ll be working on my laptop or in my sketchbook or on paper, or what have you, and I’ll have a movie playing, like a DVD, but I’ll turn the screen away from me at a weird angle so I can’t get too distracted.

SW: Do you have any advice for anyone just starting out? Literally fresh out of school.

ETC: Sure, I would say if you haven’t already, have an online presence, start a blog. Find reasons to work, find reasons to give yourself a deadline. If there’s a contest or an event coming up that you want to have a piece done by or something like that, continue to give yourself deadlines. Be nice to everyone and keep in touch with your peers. It got really lonely after school because you’re so used to having constant support and stimulation by people all around all the time. Then after college people go home or move away for whatever reason, and it’s not even gradual, it instantly goes away and it can be very isolating. So, keeping in touch with people and maintaining a network of support is super important. It keeps your work from getting stale, you can be influenced by other people. Oh, and be nice to people because it’s a really small world. The Art world is smaller than you might think, and that’s how you get jobs. Be genuine, but be nice to people.

 

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SW: Question number six, fun question. Favorite artists, inspirations and ideas?

ETC: Fashion is a big inspiration for me right now because of texture, color combinations and patterns. I draw characters so much, how they’re clothed shows who they are. I feel like there’s a lot to be said in fashion and there’s a lot of fun [in fashion] as it relates to illustration.

As far as artists are concerned, Dupuy & Berberian, Bill Watterson, and Peter de Seve serve as my standard go-tos whenever I’m feeling lost, have a problem to solve or need particular inspiration. I’m otherwise inspired by a lot of my peers, people whose work rotates in and out of my radar depending on what I’m currently working on—right now it’s Craig Thompson, Jen Wang, Emily Carroll, Graham Annable, Ryan Andrews, Kali Ciesemier, Carolyn C. Nowak (still a student!), and Sam Bosma’s latest piece is rocking my socks. Then, of course, there’s Claw Claw Studio!

 

SW: Nightmare moment with a positive solution [within your career]?

ETC: I had this one client, we didn’t work well together. It turned out to be a nightmare because I didn’t want to offend anyone, but I had to get out of it. Then there was an issue with getting paid once I left. It was a really good lesson in the end, it was kind of a low stakes opportunity to be able to stand up for myself, and be able to seek money that I’m owed. To learn how to bow out of something respectfully. It was a really important experience to have to learn how to handle that type of situation. So, I think it was a positive thing in the end. Like how important it is to have a contract to refer to once something like that happens. To have interpersonal skills, to be able to talk to somebody and be firm without being rude.

 

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SW: Demo or walk through a technique.

ETC: I know a handful of my peers sketch on paper first then bring those drawings into Photoshop and proceed digitally. I sort of do it backwards, sketching digitally, then printing those sketches and lightboxing them to ink on paper. It’s been especially helpful to me since I bought Frenden’s brush set, as the penciling tools are excellent. First, I sketch a rough thumbnail with the blue pencil tool. Next, I tighten it up with the red pencil tool. Once I’m happy, I change the line to black and print it. I tape the printouts on the back of Arches 140lb hot press watercolor paper, pop on the lightbox, and ink. What’s great about this method is if I screw up the final, I can start again without losing the sketch—which means I can be much looser and spontaneous with my inking.

 

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SW: How do you generate ideas?

ETC: Oof, I struggle with that actually, but usually my best ideas come to me in the shower. If I need to work on something, like an illustration for an article or something more direct and concrete, I’ll just read the article and then kind of ruminate over it for a while. Go outside and walk around and just let it toss around in my head, and usually given some time my brain will put something together. If it’s something kind of abstract, like making my own work or trying to find inspiration to do anything, to do something self driven, I’ll take a shower or go for a walk. Basically, something where I have no distractions. No TV or computer or anything like that, I have to be quiet with myself and just let my mind wander over things—that’s usually where ideas come from for me. And of course certain stimuli like being outside and actually experiencing things. If I’m working from home several days in a row I find inspiration to be really difficult after a while, because I have no stimulus. Going out with friends, going to a museum or the movies, just being out and experiencing something. Reading.

 

SW: Name a few people living or dead you’d like to have dinner with.

ETC: Mark Twain would be number one, he’d probably be the coolest person to hang out with for a day or have coffee with. He just seems cranky and sarcastic and hilarious. If Katharine Hepburn wanted to walk in, that’d be cool.

 

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