Artist Adam Schmidt Talks Illustration, Tools and Technique

By Jason Thibault

Adam Schmidt is an accomplished illustrator based out of Brooklyn, NY and has quite a unique style that shines through on any project or assignment that he tackles. For this third series of Masters of Ink interviews I wanted to make sure to include a healthy dose of illustrators and Adam was at the top of the list.

What inspired you to first start drawing? Did you struggle in your formative years or did it come easy to you?

I really can’t remember when or why I started drawing, it is just something that I have been doing my whole life, but I am sure my dad played a part. He was actually my art teacher for my first three years of elementary school, and as result there were always encouragement from my parents. As for my formative years, I feel like I am still in the middle of them.

First professional work (piece / year) and maybe a quick story behind it.

I was taking an editorial illustration class my final year at RISD taught by Chris Buzzelli, and he had somehow convinced a very game art director to basically have our entire class audition for an illustration about new journalism for a collegiate magazine . My piece ended up being the one selected. Looking back, it was a total disaster. The drawing was pretty janky and I had never colored anything digitally before, so it wound up looking like neon vomit. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun, and it got me thinking that maybe this was something that I could actually succeed at.

Were you self-taught or formally educated? (or mixture of both, mentors etc…)

A mix of both, I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design‘s Illustration program and I have taken classes at various other institutions, but in the end, if you want to improve and absorb the lessons of your instructors you need the ability to teach yourself. The best teachers preach self reliance and provide you with a framework that allows you to instruct yourself . Fortunately, I had many great professors at RISD, and I shudder to think what my work would be like without the help of Jon Foster, Nick Palermo, and Chris Buzzelli in particular.

Tools of the trade: Taking a quick glance over at your pens, brushes etc…what tools have you mainly been using over the last few years?

Mostly all different kinds of brushes, from series 7s to cheap brushes that come in packs of five, if it keeps a nice point I’ll use it. But my favorites are definitely my beloved Kamei and Pentel brush pens, which I am constantly abusing.

How has your toolbox evolved compared to when you first started out?

Things haven’t really changed very much for my toolbox when it comes to ink, I went through the vast majority of my schooling aspiring to be a painter, and I had never really worked with any ink until a few years ago. I only went into the illustration department because they happened to have the best painting instructors. Eventually, I realized that illustration was where my real aspirations laid, and ink drawing was something that had a lot in common with my painting. The only real difference from when I started and today would be my computer and Wacom tablet. Previously, all of my inking was done over gouache or silk screened colors.

Favorite brand of ink:

Yasutomo Sumi is my favorite, but I’ll use almost anything that isn’t too watery.

Type of paper:

Bristol, hot press water color, or stone henge printmaking paper depending on what’s needed.

Which artists or creators do you return to for a quick boost of inspiration? Who are the masters of ink?

Mazzucchelli, Mignolla, Powell, Kurtzman, Caniff, Kirby, Bernet, and Loomis.

Once a client has handed off an illustration job to you, how do you first tackle the job. Could you give us a quick overview of your process?

Every job is a little different, but it always involves carefully reading the brief and trying to conceptualize a visual solution. Something that will serve the editorial needs of client while at the same time creating a nifty image. Often I start with words, trying to wrap my head around the all of the possibilities and move on to loose sketches. Eventually the bad ideas get weeded out and the sketches get more refined. The best ideas get sent back to the AD and they let me know which I should take to final. From there a brush and ink drawing is made with some acrylic painting for texture. All that gets scanned into Photoshop where I color it.

What’s currently sitting in your mp3 / CD player / turntable?

I listen to a ton of different stuff but recently I have been favoring: A.C. Newman, Beck, Band of Horses, Belle & Sebastian, Blitzen Trapper, Built to Spill, Constantines, David Bowie, Deertick, Eagles of Death Metal, Explosions in the Sky, Dirty Projectors, Elliott Smith, Elvis Perkins, JAMC, James Brown, Johnny Cash, Kaki King, Low, Mew, Mastodon, MGMT, New Order, Phoenix, Sun Kil Moon, Tallahassee, Wolf Parade, Yo La Tengo

What’s hanging on your walls and what is your favorite piece of art that you own (not created by you)?

I’ve got a lot of junk hanging all over the place, but my favorite stuff is some pages from my friend Jason Hoffman’s comic MINE and some ridiculous inks by Wesley Allsbrook.

What’s the last novel you read and last movie that you saw that you’d recommend? Which movies and books do you always return to?

Last novel read was the always satisfying Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson, and the last movies that I really loved would be Let the Right One In and Pixar’s Up. But for repeated viewings/readings I always go back to The Royal Tenenbaums, Blade Runner, Sandman, and The Name of Rose.

Current and upcoming projects?

Presently I am working on a bunch of personal projects, a few random illustrations here and there, a little piece appearing in this month’s Complex Magazine and Plan Sponsor Magazine, plus an ongoing poster project involving a Spike Lee anniversary festival. Basically, things are pretty busy, but I am really striving to improve my craft and express more with every drawing.

What would you tell an aspiring artist who is working his ass off but still needs and wants to break through to the next level?

Well, working constantly is definitely the most important thing, but as someone who is also trying to break through to that next level myself, I can definitely say that all of the not so much fun stuff is just as crucial. Promoting yourself, setting up meetings, blogging, updating the website, making cold calls, going to interviews, submitting portfolios, building a rolodex, networking, and everything else besides making the actual work takes constant hustle but pays serious dividends.

For more information on Adam Schmidt visit him at and read his blog


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