An Interview with Ilustrator/Publisher Lon Levin

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I’m quite aware that sticking an interview with myself on this website  is a little self-serving but I believe it’s also constructive. I started the Illustrators Journal because I was interested in how other illustrators work, live and go about their lives. I wanted to connect with them, know them and do right by them. We artists work alone most of the time, and in some cases don’t sleep much or when necessary do “all-nighters”. So reading about each other’s lives is a good way to connect and to know that you’re not alone. So here goes…

How does your work take form?

I start with an idea then thumbnails sketches. The sketches are very crude but they serve as a guide.
Once I have an idea I either collect scrap, use stock or take pictures to support the poses and the look and feel I’m after. I build a rough look in photoshop then switch to Illustrator. I usually sketch over the rough art in Illustrator with a stylus. Then I started rendering using tools in Illustrator. The ability to use layers to separate elements makes it easier to resize or rebuild individual areas without disturbing the entire image.

You were an art director, so you ve worked with many illustrators. It seems like you might have a leg up on other illustrators knowing how they think. How does that affect your work as an illustrator? 

It doesn’t. My time as an art director is over by choice. I love creating imagery that enhances whatever project I’m working on. I want the art director to guide me and give me feedback. Besides things have changed so rapidly in our industry my knowledge of what an art director does these days is very different than it was back 5-10 years ago. 

 

Do you do experimental work completely different from your published work?

Always. In fact I think in many ways that confuses potential clients and/or reps. I know they like to see consistency in an illustrators work. If you show one piece that’s different from 12 others it places doubt in their minds, which I find odd. To me versatility is a gift. It’s what made me such an effective art director and kept me on a roll when I worked as a freelancer.

 

How long do you see yourself doing kid lit art? Do you have any ideas for books you intend to write and illustrate?

I do kidlit art all the time. If I don’t have a paid project I create my own. It gives me a chance to explore new techniques and styles. I have ideas for books and I’ve written a few but I’m not pushing that part of my creativity right now. I’m leaning towards creating large paintings that are more intuitive and not planned. When I start out I don’t want to have a plan of what I want to do. I want to see what forms then shape it as a sculptor would.

Anything new you’ve wanted to do for a while that you are excited about?

The Illustrator’s Journey and Podcast!

My publication partner, Gregg Masters and I have stepped up our efforts to make the Journal a destination publication. I am always searching for great stories, ideas and illustrators to interview. I’ve been very lucky and I’m very thankful that artists worldwide have taken time to speak with me and reveal a little about their life and artwork.

I have some other longer term projects like my semi-biographical graphic comic novel “The Kid From Beverly Hills”  and a series of gallery paintings as yet untitled.

I also created a new publication called REAL CREATIVE. The format is essentially the same as The Illustrators Journal but it encompasses all creatives whether there’re Actors, Musicians or kitchen designers! I still go behind “the curtains” to get to know people.

Digital Illustration by Lon Levin

Do you do your work using traditional materials or do you do work digitally or both. How has working on the computer helped or hindered? Do you do any social media marketing?

I do use traditional materials, specifcally pencils and water oils. I sketch out on cold-press boards and paint into the drawings. Mostly, however I work digitally. It’s more liberating because the concerns an artist would have working traditionally are not a problem working digitally, specifically changes, or alterations. I can also experiment a lot quicker and easier. Additionally I can get real close to my art and fix details which traditionally would be very difficult to do.

Working on the computer has helped me quite a bit, especially timewise. I can do things a number of different ways to cut time which would be impossible traditionally. The only hinderance I perceive is there isn’t a physical piece of art. Somehow I think there are still clients that place a special value on art they can touch and feel. It seems more real to them.

I do tons of social media marketing. It allows me to reach out and communicate to many more people than I ever could call or meet in person

How long did it take you to establish yourself in the kid lit area? Was it hard for you or did it happen very easily?

I’m still establishing! This is tough question for me. I’ve illustrated 15 or so children’s books but none that have broken thru. Most of them are done in a style I no longer work in. I do like some of the work in “There’s A Kid Under My Bed” and wish I still had the art but a Canadian art collector bought them all. I’m working towards getting that one great project that’ll be a break through for me, the publisher and the writer.

How has your wife reacted to having an artist as a husband. Do you talk about your work together?

My wife is a saint. She puts up with my ADD behavior and my very active imagination. As long as I do my chores (washing dishes, making the beds and taking out the garbage) she’s happy.
Actually we talk about everything and though she’s not an artist she is very creative and has great ideas. She is also a brutally honest critic. I couldn’t do what I do without her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Animated Personality: Aglaia Mortecheva

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Animated Personality: Aglaia Mortcheva

 

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 8.49.04 AMWhen did you first think about art as something you wanted to do? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers, mentors?

I always loved drawing, but remember deciding to become an artist at age seven. I had just started school andhated it. Mostly hated getting up so early! I was under the impression that artists don’t have to wake up early or go to school.I was sorely mistaken! My family always supported me. My parents are artists and very bohemian. They hardly noticed what I was doing, but were supportive to a fault. Still are.

 

 

What kind of kid were you? What were your influences?

I was very independent kid and quite wild. I grew up in Sofia, Bulgaria. It was a communist country back then, very closed off and repressed. But as kids none of it affected us too much.My parents made sure to shield us from a lot. My biggest influence was my dad’s amazing library of art books and literature. Nothing was off limits, there were no age restrictions and no censorship. Also, my grandmother Daphna’s crazy stories, very picturesque and saucy. She would embellish them daily, depending on her mood.

Your style is very unique. Did you work on developing a style or is that what naturally came out of you?

It came naturally, but I lost it along the way, especially during my years in art school. I went to art school in Bulgaria. It was very rigid – Socialist Realism all the way, as you can imagine. My weird creatures and playful color pallet were not appreciated.

It took me awhile to get the confidence to bring my natural style back. Illustrating children’s books and working in animation as a character designer helped a to free me and get back to what I love.

You work in a few different areas like children’s books,
animation, magazine illustration, etc. How did that happen?

Mostly it all happens by accident and also very naturally… 

I am  a very curious person and I can’t say no to work. I say yes to all kinds of projects. Often I will take any little job that comes my way, at least half of the time it leads me somewhere interesting and brings more opportunities, and more contacts with great people.

I just think of artistic challenges as adventures. Some people jump off cliffs and swim with sharks, I face a blank canvas and it thrills me.

How has the advent of the computer affected your work? Do you work traditionally and digitally?

I work both ways. I love the new technology. More fun tools to play with and it keeps me learning new stuff. Also, I have become a bit of a clean freak and minimalist in my old age, so when I work
digitally I like how clean my studio is! Also it keeps my toddlers from eating the paints and drinking the solvents…which is very useful! 

 

For More of this interview go to https://issuu.com/lonfellow/docs/ij.best_of_2018_v2

What are the challenges artists face today?

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Illustration by Oleksandr Shatokin

BTCA (Before the Computer Age) getting noticed as an artist was difficult at best. Especially if you were an illustrator working on the West Coast. There just weren’t enough venues handing out freelance work. There were only a handful of reps and they only repped known artists. You could do comp work for movie studios and agencies. But getting a finished illustration in a magazine, newspaper or on a movie poster was rare for a young artist. A few broke thru but the majority worked anonymously handing off their brilliant ideas to older more seasoned illustrators to finish of the work. Some who I knew from art school quit and joined (as my father would say) “the real world”.

My experience as a young illustrator was painful and it finally lead me to taking night courses in art production work and marker comps so as to become an art director. While I honed those skills I worked in construction for my parent’s family business. My thinking was most art directors can’t draw and express there ideas as well as I could so maybe my skill level would set me apart from the norm. I was right and my career as an art director was solid starting out as an art director for 20th Century Fox feature films.

As my career in the entertainment business flourished I still held the thought that one day I’d be an illustrator so I keep creating artwork with the goal of one day leaving my directing positions and stepping into the artist arena.

In 2006 I left my position at Warner Bros and started illustrating kid lit books. I haven’t looked back.

The freelance world had changed drastically and the challenges of being an illustrator in the digital age was challenging and exciting. However, I could see how a young artist might find the whole process overwhelming. Aside from having to master social media, an artist today competes worldwide with artists who are very skilled and will work for less than their American counterparts. What to do?

Connect. Connect. Connect.  Call, eMail, DM, Text send videos do anything and everything to promote your work. Do not be shy, because it’s true that no one cares about what you’re doing unless they see it and see it a lot. 

There are inexpensive ways to reach art directors. publishers and creative directors in every field of art. Think Bomb Bomb, MailChimp etc Post your work everywhere (add copyrights!) and…be yourself. Do what you like to do not what you think will get you  work. This almost never works and can be frustrating if it does. I’ve experienced both and I can say this. I’d rather work in another field and keep my artistic integrity. The only way you will truly discover your “real artistic voice” is to do what please you. Finally and most importantly never, never, never, quit. Your success as an artist may be right round the corner.

 

Happy Birthday Johan Faber

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THE PENCIL KING!

What would we do without our pencils? We artists owe a lot of debt to the Godfather of pencil-making Johann Eberhard Faber. So brush up on your pencil history and start sketching out your tribute to Johann!

Johann Eberhard Faber was born on December 6, 1822 in the village of Stein, near the city of Nuremberg, in Bavaria. His father, George Leonard Faber, was a descendant of the famous Faber family, one of ancient lineage in Bavaria engaged in the profession of manufacturing lead pencils.

He did his primary schooling at a Volksschule and then enrolled to study law at the University of Heidelberg. But he left his studies mid-way to pursue a career in commerce in America.

He moved to the United States in 1848 and in 1849, opened a stationery store at No. 133 William Street, NYC. The store was later moved to Nos. 718-720 Broadway in 1877.

In 1852, he started to export red cedar logs to the Faber pencil factories in Stein, having realized that the red cedar available in America was ideal for lead pencils.

In 1861, he opened the first lead pencil factory along the East River, between 41st and 43rd Streets, New York City. The factory was established under the name of Eberhard Faber.

In 1872, a fire destroyed the factory in New York City, hence a new improved factory was built on a site on Kent and West streets in the Greenpoint district of Brooklyn.[1] The new factory was designed for expansion and by the time Faber died his factory was the largest of its kind in United States and the Faber name was known all over the world.

Faber died on March 2, 1879 in New York City.[2] Faber is interred at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

ARe wE craZy enOUgh Yet?

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Getting work as an illustrator is an art in itself. I read this article today “Majority of illustrators don’t earn enough to live from, new survey shows” http://www.digitalartsonline.co.uk/news/creative-business/majority-of-illustrators-dont-earn-enough-live-from-new-survey-shows/

I realized this fact for myself back in the early 80’s when I made the switch to being an art director, all the while creating art for my job and my own pleasure. This went on for 2 decades until I left my job as Senior Creative Director and art department head at Warner Bros Syndicated TV. I banked enough money to pursue my goal of being an illustrator. However it still is not an easy task. I continue to struggle with this daily. Along the way I bought, renovated and sold homes in Los Angeles which ultimately led to becoming a real estate agent…albeit a creative one which now supports my artistic endeavors and frees me up to explore art and illustration deeply.

What I’ve come to terms with is there are very few illustrators who can support themselves on art alone, and there’s nothing bad about that. In fact it may even help them become more rounded as a business person and more social.

 

Fab Illustrator: Charlotte Church

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I came across Caroline’s work while trolling the internet and I’m fascinated by this style. I’ve done scratchboard art in the past and it is not an easy medium to work in. However Carolinehas mastered it.

Caroline Church is a scraperboard artist, and the perfect illustrator to approach if you’re after something with a vintage engraved look to it. Based in Twickenham, she grew up in Uganda, where she had pet chameleons and was encouraged to make greetings cards by her mother.

Training

First, Caroline got a BA in Illustration at the Chelsea School of Art. She then learned wood engraving as a guest student at Royal Academy Schools.

Approach

Scraperboard is card with a layer of white clay covered in black ink. Caroline marks out an initial drawing using transfer paper and then scrapes away the white layer with a craft knife into the black, creating the look of an engraving.

She has used computer software in the past but finds it frustrating and unnatural. The authentic look requires the tr

Caroline Church Illustrator

ue, physical medium, though sometimes she’ll add a colour wash in Photoshop to come up with something a bit different. When complete, her work is scanned and sent to the client digitally. Amendments can be made either by going back to the scraperboard, or using Photoshop.

Style

Caroline’s style is reminiscent of 19th century engraving, so it tends to lend itself well to projects that aim to convey traditional and time-honoured values. Not surprisingly, her main influences include the engravers Thomas Bewick and Gustav Dore.

Artist Renaldo Kuhler: An Imaginative Master

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The land of Rocaterrania imagined by artist Renaldo Kuhler over 60 years revealed for the first time in print

Every now and then trolling about the Internet you come across something truly illuminating. This is one such story and artwork. – Editor

Over the course of 60 years, Renaldo Kuhler (1931-2013) created the imaginary land of Rocaterrania. The artist imagined and drew every facet of a fictional society and country. Aside from Kuhler’s day job as a scientific illustrator at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, he created a world of his own, going so far as to invent a religion, language, alphabet and even an independent movie commission. Brett Ingram created a feature-length documentary in 2009, Rocaterrania, and now, for the first time an extensive book featuring 430 illustrations has been published by Blast books. Here, with kind permission, we show some of Kuhler’s drawings and publish Ingram’s introduction.

One wet autumn day in 1994, my car broke down and I had to take the city bus to get to my studio in downtown Raleigh. Several stops along the way, a flamboyant giant who eventually would alter the course of my life boarded the bus.

He perched on the front seat by the door and with a booming voice commenced an impassioned monologue extolling the virtues, joys, and privileges of public transportation. The automobile had made a pigsty of America’s paradise! Public transportation preserved natural resources and reduced air pollution. Travelling by bus was more sociable than riding alone in a car. He spoke to no one in particular, and that seemed just as well with the driver and fellow passengers who looked away uncomfortably, occasionally stealing a voyeuristic glance.

Six-foot-four and stout, with a bushy white beard and ponytail, he wore a custom-tailored uniform of indeterminate origin: a sleeveless Kelly green suit jacket with wide, black, notched lapels, epaulets, and brass buttons, a matching suit vest, yellow flannel dress shirt, a fleur-de-lis Boy Scout neckerchief, and tight-fitting knee-length shorts (“cotton-blend lederhosen”). His epaulets and neckerchief slide appeared to be hand-carved and bore matching insignia, a singular design integrating arrows, stars of David, and geometric Navajo patterns. White knee socks with Scottish garter flashes, black wingtips, gold wire-rim spectacles, and a plain black baseball cap completed his ensemble.

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Beulis (left) and Eutie, roommates, two of the sexiest neutants who ever lived

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Kahn family and guests relaxing at home. Clockwise from lower left: Ajax Gombardo; Kahn’s sister Mrs Harris; Kahn’s sister-in-law; Kahn’s half brother, Gorghendus Tse-Tsung; Kahn; Janet Lingart; and Kahn’s youngest niece, Lotsen Tse-Tung

His accent was nearly as inscrutable as his outfit. Was he German? British? A New Yorker? His diction was old-worldly, formal, and bursting with boyish enthusiasm for the seemingly mundane. It was as if he had just dropped in from another planet and was enthralled with everything he encountered on Earth. Indeed, he was from another place. But where?

At a stop near the capitol, with a wave and a cheerful “Good to see you fine people,” he disembarked. I felt compelled to follow him, but it was cold and drizzling, and I had work to get to a few stops farther away. Who was that guy? Would I ever see him again?

Two years later, I was hired to develop media for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. On my first day, my supervisor took me and two other new employees on a tour of the place. Coming to a small annex building filled with taxidermy, mammal skeletons, and jars of preserved specimens, he announced, “And here is our scientific illustrator, Renaldo Kuhler,” and he opened the door to a cluttered office the size of a walk-in closet. Turning to look up from the microscope at which he had been studying the skull of a pygmy shrew was the man from the bus!

Renaldo was entirely self-taught in scientific illustration, he said, and he attributed his draftsmanship to his ability to see the world in detail. “Most people look, but they don’t see,” he said. As Renaldo continued, explaining the craft of subtly depicting in ink on paper those defining qualities of a specimen that a photograph cannot capture, my eyes were drawn to a number of illustrations thumbtacked about his office.

Rendered with a clinical precision bordering on the obsessive were drawings of androgynous humanoids in form-fitting uniforms, like Renaldo’s attire, of indeterminate origin. Labeled with the names “Eutie,” “Beulis,” and “Peekle,” notated with anatomical dimensions and dates of revision, combined with handwritten bus schedules, grocery lists, and important phone numbers, these drawings clearly originated outside the purview of Renaldo’s job description.

My co-workers seemed uncomfortable in Renaldo’s presence, much like the bus passengers two years earlier, and they seemed not to notice or care about the peculiar illustrations that had riveted my attention. Renaldo brushed off my question when I asked what they were. “Oh, they’re nothing, really. Just doodles. They’re actually neutants, that’s what they are. They’re neither men nor women. I just wanted to see how well I could draw human anatomy.” Human anatomy? No, I thought, there’s more behind those drawings than that. Much more.

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The language of Rocaterria is a composition of three languages: Spanish, German and Yiddish

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Rocaterria’s nine provinces and major landmarks

Conversing with Renaldo required a great deal of patience. Repetition, digression, non sequiturs, neologisms, and inside jokes shared only with himself pervaded his rapid speech. Direct eye contact was rare, and he had difficulty deciphering figurative speech or reading subtle facial expressions. Sarcasm escaped him entirely. He took people literally at their word, as if he were reading a transcript of their speech. He frequently referred to himself using the royal “we” and “us” because “it’s comforting, like maybe someone else is there,” he explained, and he talked aloud to himself because he “once read in Reader’s Digest that people who do have greater success working out their problems.”

He affectionately nicknamed friends and co-workers with monikers such as “The Churchillian,” “The Frontiersman,” “The Colorado Gold Miner,” “Banana Pie,” “Civil War Girl,” “The Kovacsian,” “Rocket Ship,” “Chuck Wagon Girl,” and “Tough Backyard Boy.” Mine was “Paste” for a couple of years, then “Spike” ever after, for reasons never made clear.

In turn, Renaldo was often characterised as “eccentric,” the catchall descriptor for behaviour deemed outside the norm. The truth is that Renaldo was unabashedly, unapologetically, incorrigibly himself as a moral imperative, an expression of the purest form of honesty. Artifice or guile seemed beyond him, and he was largely incapable of detecting it in others. His was a life in which, at every turn, he had fearlessly chosen to be himself, letting the chips fall where they may—and without hurting anyone else in the process. No small feat.

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Kahn family and guests at Ciudella. Clockwise from lower left: rabbi; Josef Kalienko; Janet Lingart; Kahn; Gombardo; Kahn’s wife, Viola; and children of one of the cooks at the Ciudella. Kahn liked to distil homemade vodka and smoke mullein from a hookah.

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Bird’s-eye view, sewage treatment plant outside of Felsenbad, with railroad access to haul sludge

I left the museum in 1997 to pursue documentary filmmaking. Between other projects, I followed Renaldo around with a camera, not knowing where it would lead but trusting his story would be as compelling to others as it was to me.

His studio apartment reflected a deficiency in housekeeping, to put it kindly. His living/bedroom was a repository for everything he’d accumulated since moving there in 1969, all of it smelling of pipe tobacco; his kitchen was a veritable museum of the history of canned food. His television was always tuned to Turner Classic Movies, the volume so loud it could be heard from the street.

His obsession with neutants was even more apparent at home than at work. Illustrations were taped to his walls, plastered throughout his diaries, and adorned the cover pages of tax preparation booklets addressed to his accountant. A mannequin stood in one corner, remodeled with paint and laminated paper into a life-size rendering of Peekle, Renaldo’s favorite neutant.
When I asked about a small, faded painting on his mantel, he picked it up and said, “We call this Janet Lingart. She’s a famous dancer in Rocaterrania.”

I’m no geographer, but I was pretty sure there was no Rocaterrania on any world map, not even prior to the dissolution of the USSR. The neutants, it turned out, were also from Rocaterrania, and Renaldo’s curious uniform, one of dozens like it hanging in his closet, was the official dress of the Rocaterranian Conservation Corps.

The gate had cracked open. Once inside, I would discover a strange and beautiful garden that had existed in secrecy all along, right under the noses of his family, friends, and co-workers, the roots of which lay in his teenage years in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Trapped on the rustic KZ Ranch in a small valley 9,000 feet above sea level, with bickering parents who’d never understood him in the first place, a young Renaldo sought escape from his isolation by inventing an imaginary country. He named this rocky terrain Rocaterrania, after his boyhood home of Rockland County—and he’d been illustrating its history ever since.

The Secret World of Renaldo Kuhler by Brett Ingram is published by Blast Books. Text and images courtesy of Blast Books.

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Prince Alberto de Leon, the first premier of the Provisional Republic and President Albert Mikolinksi

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