Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Interview with Tim Bower

[I had to type as he talked so it may be a bit choppy thanks to lack of quicktime]

What parts of your skills were emphasized in school, and which did you learn on your own?
In school I learned form and how to draw from the figure and anatomy. Those things taught me how to draw the human figure; for me to apply that, I just started drawing things more intuitively and started stretching form and just drawing in a way that felt right to me and that is what my illustration style is. 

How did you land your first illustration job?
When I was in school (San Fran) I got B&W drawings together and took them to the San Fran Chronicles. I got a couple freelance jobs and was fortunate enough to sub for a staff artist so I did one month for each one of them when they did their summer breaks. There were three artist and I was fortunate to have come at the right time.

How do you promote yourself? How did you land your clients/jobs?
The great thing about illustration is what I do is kind of an advertisement. I work exclusively for magazines, advertising and publishers. It has been good and bad over the years because I got lazy and just stopped promoting myself due to that, but I picked it back up. Back when I was promoting, I'd still do once a year thing via postcard. Getting into annuals helps as well. Entering those competitions and getting in their books is the best kind of promotion that you can do. Society of illustrators for students is a great way to get out because lots of different types of work gets accepted.
You have to keep in mind when you don't get in it bruises your ego. When I worked professionally a lot of years went by that I didn't get in. Take your best work each year, check your ego at the door. You're subjecting your work to the tastes of a different jury every year and just because they don't like your work doesn't mean it isn't good.

Your work is very concept and narrative oriented. How long do you spend researching and thumb-nailing before you actually start the piece?
I used to spend a lot more than I do now just on the process. You sound exceptionally bright to me so I'll tell you something I've never told my students. [secret info] When I start drawing though, I draw to get a concept. I don't know it till I draw. When I look at the pictures I draw different things that suggest concepts to me as opposed to the beginning when it all took a long time to just get sketches out. I used to be in hell with every job. When you have a manuscript the best thing to do is make a list of words and the content. I draw those things and see how they visually relate. It's a muscle I've exercise for over 20 years. I also have a kind of voice I repeat and my point of view is similar. I used to spend excruciating times with my articles. Sometimes it hits immediately and sometimes it can take hours and hours coming up with an idea.

Can you describe a typical work day?
Sometimes I have a lot of jobs going. I keep my jobs in manilla folders stacked up on my desk. My deadlines are usually from newspaper jobs to 2 or 3 days or weeks. I wake up and work on the one with the closest deadline. If it's a sketch I send it and wait for approval and turn to work on a painting that has been approved with the soonest due date.

How often do you rely on photoshop to edit your pieces? I noticed that with your Media Leaks/Obama piece you had editted the water in photoshop and you mentioned that it seemed to create a more watery effect than just the paint alone.
More and more. I'm always cleaning up b&w photos. Usually desaturate the color more. Sometimes increase contrast. That piece (Media Leaks - Obama) I manipulated with brushes. But i can see that I will use the smear tool to edit things and make water look more realistic.

Who are some of your influences?
There were illustrators like John Collier. Doesn't do much illustration anymore and became sculptor. Brad Holland for concept. Still think he's great. Painters like Matt Speckman and Neo Rauch. And comic books a lot too. I used to always draw from them as a kid and went through period where I hated the way it looked cause it was too influenced by comics. I stopped and embraced it. Now comics are my primary influences.

If you had to give one piece of advice to an illustration student what would it be?
Well I would have to know what you aspire to do. For you the best advice I'd give is to learn and pay attention to intuition. Find ways to draw and make pics you feel is honest to yourself. There's a lot of competition out there and if you try to do something that is more of a traditional look, there's always someone who can do it better. If you find your own voice and make work that looks unique to you no one can do it better. Trust yourself, trust what you're doing is good. Make something all you. 

Do you apply paint in layers? Apply it wet on wet? 
I like washes and can use them transparent or opaque. I can key in color with transparent paint and dry it with a hairdryer. Later I can add opaque paint over top and leaving transparent. Don't usually put it on thick enough though. Pretty much with gouache, painting wet into wet, it dries before you can even do that.I  rely on it drying fast and even speed up with hair dryer if I need to. I do layer it up, but never more than 3 layers.

Are there any specific steps you take before driving into a piece?
One thing I do a lot is reactivate it with a wet brush. Just flow it over top and dab it back off to feather edges and take areas back up that get muddy. It's a good way to go back a few steps and start over for freshness. I don't manipulate it though. And I don't paint with anything other than a brush. Sometimes fingertips work too. I prefer to use synthetic brushes. I like when they get beat up. The have a less than conventional look to the stroke and the strokes aren't uniform; more organic stroke. I have favorite brushes and use them til worn down to nothing.

Is there a specific brand of paint or specific color you use?
Buy everything because a color in one brand is different from a oclor in another brand. Take burnt sienna for example. Every brand has a different variety. No exceptions. Every brand definition of a certain color is different. I just buy them and frequently have multiple tubes of the same color by different manufacturers.

Free question - Is there anything you feel I haven't touched base on that you feel is a pertinent part of your process?
What's really funny about it, I used to work in a very labor intensive technique. The technique I had years ago was involved. Mixed medium, lots of sealing surfaces, multiple paints, and I'd have to be putting magnesium over them. I used to paint oils then seal them and paint acrylics over top of them. I got sp tired of this process. It was too labor intense and got in the way of deadlines. Where I'm at now is an evolved technique. It's simple and straight forward. I went with water-based medium and went with one that could be transparent and opaque and could dry fast. Thats' what I was after and what I arrived at is simple and direct technique.

Thanks Tim!!!

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