Over the next few months we’re going to be talking to an incredible line-up of comic creators, poster artists and illustrators. Here’s the first interview.
Believe it or not I first discovered Kody Chamberlain on Myspace. I guess I was hiding under a rock. His art caught me off guard and I’ve been playing catch up and paying attention ever since. He was kind enough to take time out from his busy schedule and talk to us about his tools and inspiration. For more info you can check out his website and add him on myspace. Let’s get to it.
First professional work (piece / year) and maybe a quick story behind it.
I had drawn some college newspaper illustrations and two anthology stories at Digital Webbing, but “30 Days of Night: Bloodsucker Tales” was my first professional paid work. I was a regular on the Steve Niles message board and he had contributed a story to Digital Webbing called Sherman Danger. While drawing that story for the anthology, Ted Adams at IDW contacted me about drawing Bloodsucker Tales. So I did two quick test pages and got hired for the 8 issue series. I had a blast doing that book and really learned a lot about the craft. One thing that Steve Niles does that often goes unnoticed in the industry is taking chances on new artists. If you look at the bulk of his work at IDW, you’ll see that many of the artists he’s working with are newcomers to the industry. I’m still very grateful for the chance to work on that book.
Self-taught or formally educated? (or mixture of both, mentors etc…)
I’d say I’m both self taught and formally trained. I have a B.F.A. in Graphic Design and Advertising and I packed in as many drawing classes as possible throughout my years in college. Many of the skills required for comic book work are impossible to pick up in a traditional university art school setting, so that requires a whole lot of independent learning. I got off to a late start in that I really didn’t start drawing until I was about 17 or 18, and it took me another 4 or 5 years to start trying my hand at sequential work. So I jumped in with both feet and put every free minute into learning the craft. I’m also a little obsessive about buying and reading books on the subject of drawing and making comics, and I’ve read just about every book I’ve ever seen on both subjects. I’ve also attended a massive quantity of live figure drawing sessions and we also started a local sketch group where a group of artists get together once a week and draw, laugh, share tricks and inspirations. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of writing as well, so I’ve completely submerged myself into reading comic book scripts, screenplays and how-to books on creative writing.
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?
I’ve always drawn with a .5mm lead pencil and HB lead. I have tried using the 1.mm lead holders and various wooden pencils and lead weights, but I always come back to the .5mm lead pencil. I like the line, and I like being able to pick one up anywhere. I tend to buy the lead pencils with the thin white eraser for fine line erasing, and I keep a kneaded eraser for large areas. When I’m inking I use all sorts of things, whatever works for the job. But the bulk of my blacks are done with a modified Pentel Colorbrush. Michael Lark turned me on to these a couple of years ago and it really felt natural from the very first line. They’re not refillable, but I’ve sliced off the back of mine to make it refillable. It’s incredibly ugly, but works great. I use the Pentel Stylo (Model JM20) for most of my thin line work. It’s a porous point tip, and I usually shave it to a sharper point with an X-Acto blade. I’ll often throw some Windsor Newton masking fluid on the page before I ink, that allows me to create thin white lines and white splatter. You can ink right over it, and when the page dries, you simply remove the masking fluid to reveal the white paper under the ink. Fantastic inking tool. I mostly use a crow quill to apply it, but you can also use a plastic paint brush or any other inking tool, it has the same consistency as India ink. I also use a big variety of microns, quills, brushes, wooden sticks, fingernails, etc.
Favorite brand of ink:
I don’t really have a favorite brand, but I do tend to stick with Higgens Black Magic Waterproof or Speedball Superblack for dipping and brush work. Lately I’ve been putting the Rapidograph Waterproof into my refillable Colorbrush because it seems to clog less than the Higgens or Speedball.
Type of paper:
Being a graphic designer by trade I’ve got access to a massive quantity of paper swatch books. So I recently went through the 200 or so books and tested various pencils, inks, washes and watercolors. I narrowed it down to my 3 favorite papers and got print quotes on those to custom print my blueline guides. I eventually went with the cheapest of the three, it happens to be the Mohawk Navajo Cover, 130lb. It’s a great paper and handles everything I throw at it. I ordered 1,000 sheets, so I’ll be sticking with these pages for a while. As for “off the shelf” brands, I love the EON Productions art boards. [www.eonprod.com] I’ve printed custom boards with EON in the past and I’ve picked up emergency packs now and then.
Which artists or creators do you return to for a quick boost of inspiration? Who are the masters of ink?
When it comes to the all-time greats, you’ll probably get many mentions of the same names. So I’ll stick with my favorites that are currently on the shelf. Michael Lark inks his own work brilliantly, as do Ashley Wood, Jason Alexander, Kent Williams, Tomm Coker, Jock, Mike Huddleston and Sean Phillips. Duncan Fegredo just finished a brilliant art run on Hellboy, but I’ve always loved his inks in particular. His run on Enigma is one of my all time favorites. Bill Sienkiewicz is in his own category as an artist, but I also love the organized chaos he brings to other people’s work when he inks over them. The Wolverine run with John Buscema and Bill Sienkiewicz is monumental. I’d say that Richard Friend is probably the most versatile inker I’ve ever known. The guy is a chameleon and is somehow able to adapt perfectly to every artist he’s ever inked.
Once a client has handed off an illustration job to you, how do you first tackle the job? A quick overview of your process.
Since I tend to pencil, ink and color most of my work, I start with old fashioned thumbnails. I sketch each page about 2 x 3 inches or so, breaking down the main shapes and location of each figure and major background details like walls, doors, cars, etc. From there, I shoot reference if I’m working in a realistic style. I then jump directly to the board dropping everything in with pencil, going to the reference as often as needed to pull in those random details. If I’m working without reference, like on Beowulf, then I just go at the page full size and push thing around until they feel right. I rarely pencil more than the core shapes since I usually ink my own work. Going very tight with the pencils is a bit of a waste of time for me knowing that I’ll have to do it again with the inks, so I just tighten up the artwork with the inks instead. If there’s a problem area like a facial expression or unusual detail, I will sometimes work on it a little longer with pencil first.
What’s currently sitting in your mp3 / CD player / turntable?
I’ve got very eclectic music tastes, but when I’m drawing I tend to prefer music that doesn’t relax me too much. I like to be alert and a little bit on the edge. I’m a big fan of New Orleans funk, guys like Dr. John, The Meters, Galactic, etc. But I always have a lot of James Brown in the mix. But on any given playlist, you might find Frank Sinatra, NIN, Otis Redding, Tool, Atmosphere, The Shins, U2, Dr. Dre and Led Zeppelin.
What’s hanging on your walls and what is your favorite piece of art that you own (not created by you)?
I keep a lot of art on the walls, but none of it is mine. I’m not inspired by my own work, so I’ve got to reach outside for inspiration. I’ve got originals from Michael Lark, Jock, Bill Sienkiewicz and a dozen or so more. But my all time favorite is a personalized Will Eisner sketch of the Spirit on Will Eisner Studios letterhead. It hangs over my drawing table.
Last novel you read and last movie that you saw (that you’d recommend).
I just finished A Jack Reacher novel called “One Shot” written by Lee Child. I’ve read most of the series and really dig the character. Currently reading “The Ambler Warning” by Robert Ludlum. So far so good, but it does seem quite similar to the Bourne character. Saw Indiana Jones IV this past week and it was pretty good overall, I’d give it a “C+”. Iron Man was probably the last GREAT movie I saw.
Current and upcoming projects.
Currently working on “Pretty, Baby, Machine” for Shadowline written by Clark Westerman, and “Wight and Associates” for Spacedog written by Rob Levin. I’m also writing a few projects I’ll be drawing later this year and into 2009, and I’ve got a few projects I’m not able to announce just yet. I’m having a blast lately, and hopefully people dig what I’m burying.
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?
Everyone is different and everyone learns in a different way. So I think it’s important to do a lot of experimenting with tools, techniques and styles as often as possible. You’ve really got to work hard not to fall into an artistic routine and become satisfied with your own work.
Here’s a common problem I see in the industry. Many artists get stuck because they’ve found a person they believe to be the perfect artist. Then they try and mold themselves into that artists by mirroring what they do and use the tools they use. I see it all the time at conventions when I’m doing portfolio reviews, people really do find a million different ways to get stuck, and they can’t move on because they’ve built creative walls around themselves. You’ve got to do everything you can to keep learning, and it’s a lot harder than it sounds because when you’re stuck, you don’t know that you’re stuck. That’s when your friends become important. You’ve got to make friends in the industry, friends that are also on the path to becoming a professional artist. Learn from each other and don’t let the other artists become complacent. You’ll find that you run a lot faster and a lot longer if someone else is running beside you. Organize a meeting once a week or once a month and turn it into something important in your life. If you can’t find any artists in your area, find some online. Join a message board like DigitalWebbing.com or PencilJack.com, and if you or your group is able to find a mentor(s) in the industry that’s willing to share their craft, you’ll have a wealth of information that’s damn near impossible to get otherwise.
One of the easiest ways to learn is to force yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you’re great with a pencil, pick up a pen. Once you’re great with the pen, pick up a quill, then pick up a brush, then a toothbrush, then a sponge, etc. Then start finding ways to combine different tools and styles, start working with color, acrylic, watercolor, oil, oil pastels, Photoshop, Painter, etc. Along the way, start adding all the things you’ve learned to your creative arsenal.
And be sure to apply that same experimentation technique to everything else you do. Storytelling, layout, cover design, etc. Keep what works and continue to grow. And then start going backwards. Simplify, clarify and really try to find the essentials. Figure out what works, then figure out why it works. Once you’ve got the “why” figured out, strip it down to the core and see if it still works. Learning really is something you have to embrace, but really, learning is the best part of any job you’ll ever do. Once you fall in love with learning, there’s no stopping you.