When 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 ama 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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you want to be an illustrator then don’t expect riches. I’ve struggled with this aspect of being an artist my whole career and now I’m finally ok with that. The solution I adapted was to become a real estate agent for money and an artist for the love of it. During my career as a creative director in the entertainment business I bought, renovated and sold real estate. What I made in real estate eclipse my salary. When I left Warner Bros in 2006 I decided to illustrate children’s books. This is not a path to riches I assure you. Along the way I bought some run down homes, fixed them up. (mostly doing the work myself ) and sold them for profits. This allowed me to navigate my artistic endeavors the way I wanted to. It took quite a while to get to the point where I was satisfied with the direction I was headed but I stuck with it. I am still in the process. I can honestly say I love creating imagery and learning new ways of approaching my work every day. The most that I hope for is recognition among my peers and helping others succeed.
I had the pleasure of talking to Shelley Zentner yesterday, a fine artist whose work is clearly steeped into the classic form as embodied by DaVinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and others.
Shelley and other artists living in Northern California’s winter paradise, Lake Tahoe, CA have banded together to show their resistance artistically to the current government’s policies as personified by Donald Trump. The Illustrators Journal’s Gregg Masters was at a recent meeting of the creative group and was inspired and encouraged by this tiny faction of brilliant people who are taking on the powers that be they only way they know how to do it. Through their ART.
Both Gregg and I are looking forward to working with Shelley and the group and look for our up coming coverage of Shelley and the Tahoe Activists Artist Group in the Winter Edition of the Illustrators Journal
Sometimes you come across information that stops you in your tracks. Such it is with this story about Mac Conner. He is one of the pillars of the modern world of illustration and deserves to be recognized. Here’s some video and a story from Newsworks.
McCauley “Mac” Conner worked as an illustrator during Madison Avenue’s 1950’s heyday, drawing pictures for both advertising and book covers from to romance and crime fiction.
If you’re familiar with HBO’s depiction of the world of advertising ‘Mad Men,’ then you know the era and culture Conner worked in. “Mac Conner was an original mad man in the sense that he worked in advertising and also in illustrations for magazine fiction,” said Mary Holahan, curator of illustration for the Delaware Art Museum.
But don’t call Mac Conner a commercial artist though. “I never liked the word commercial art, I was an illustrator.”
He always drew for a commercial, realist point of view. “My point of view was the way I lived, I never went in for crazy hats and stuff.”
Norman Rockwell was a big influence on his work. “Inspired by his sense of humor and plus his painting of course, he was a great painter.”
Like Rockwell, Mac even landed his work on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. But his work goes far and beyond that milestone.
The exhibit on display in Wilmington covers not just his advertising work, but also his fiction work. The work itself has an almost photographic quality to it. My favorite works were the crime noir illustrations. From the colors to the composition of the pieces these works really jumped out at me.
In fact, color was one of Mac’s trademarks. “Colors are probably the things that attract people the most. It’s very dramatic, it was an important part of his design sense,” Holahan said.
Even more than the color for me was some of the things depicted in the illustrations, gunshots, blood trickling out of a wound, smoking. Yes smoking! Remember the days of flipping through a magazine and seeing people smoking? It was everywhere, billboards and television commercials, even TV shows. It was almost jarring to see the smoking in Mac’s work as I hadn’t seen it in that context since I was a boy.
If you are of a certain age you will definitely get that sense of nostalgia from Mac’s work, but they don’t seem dated. “When we look at them now, we recognize they are from another period, but the color and the composition and all the design elements comprise works of art that speak to us today,” Holahan said.
Wilmington, Delaware is of course the home of illustration through the work of Howard Pyle and his school atteneded by famous students like Frank Schoonover and N.C. Wyeth as well as others. That’s a big reason why the museum feels it is important to host an exhibit like this. “There are compelling reasons for people to value this work because its beautiful but also because its part of a historic tradition,” Holahan said.
This exhibit also afforded me the pleasure of getting to talk to Mac about his work and life. “Certainly its the first experience that I’ve had with an artist of this age whose looking back at work that he did such a long time ago,” Mary said.
For Mac, it’s a joy to see his work front and center for a new generation to view, “Its good to know its still around, it’s good for the ego of course.”
“I look around and see what you’ve accomplished over the years. I can’t even draw a line now, I can’t even draw a line and I look at this stuff and I say how the hell did that guy do it.”
I don’t know how Mac made this body of wonderful and beautiful work, I’m just glad he did, and that I got to experience it with him, if only for a little while.
What is going on in our country? This isn’t the America I grew up in or at least it doesn’t seem that way. The present leader (I use the term very loosely) of our country is a tragic and distorted abomination of our country’s obsession with winner take all mentality. Somehow he has normalized behavior that is appalling and amoral. As an artist and a citizen I feel compelled to speak out verbally and visually. Hence,..Arnold Grump, gross pig leader of the “United Farmlands”.
Arnold grew out of my daily conversations with my wife, Havi who used to be Tom Hayden’s right hand woman and knows her politics. Our combined frustration gave birth to a character we could use as our voice. There is no other intent other than to show resistance and let other people vent along with us.
Protest artists come from a long line of political satirists (Daumier, Thomas
Nast, James Gillray, Ronald Searle, Conrad, David Levine and Art Spiegelman) To get how powerful an artist can be in the political universe consider Napoleon’s comment about English caricaturist James Gillray , “He did more than all the armies in Europe to bring me down.”
The importance of your own voice cannot be minimized and it is incumbent for every American to study, listen and research what you’re hearing reading and being told. Do not just accept things at face value. This President has made promises to the American public and his base that are not being met and probably never will. That is my opinion and so I ask anyone who reads this to consider being thoughtful and mindful about what is happening and where you stand.
To not comment or to remain neutral is to agree with what is happening.
You have a voice , use it even if you only share it with family. We are free in America to express ourselves. So I implore you speak your truth.