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Masters of Ink with Artist Tim Doyle on Quitting Your Dayjob

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By Jason Thibault

Poster artist Tim Doyle is a creator who steadily grew on me over a period of months. I believe it was his Deniro or Bill Murray series that first made me take notice. Then I started to piece together all of the work that he had done over the past 18 months. He set the net on fire with his Obama / Optimus Prime Change Into a Truck poster. He now runs his own shop and is clearly an ambitious and talented designer and artist who is not stopping anytime soon.

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

Well, a lot of that credit goes to my parents, my Mother in particular…she would sit me down and we’d draw for hours…this is about the same time I started learning how to read, like around 4 or 5, so communicating visually is probably all tied in with my language skills as well. I pretty much learned to read through comics. There are several issues of Iron Man I have from the mid 80’s where the covers are indented to hell from me tracing them multiple times. Those were all drawn by Bob Layton originally, who was one of my favorite artists when I was a kid. His work appealed to me at the time as being so bold and clean, I strived for that. (Funny story, my dad took me to a convention when I was around 12 or so, and I met Bob Layton…funny thing was that my ‘portfolio’ was filled w/ tracings of his work! He was very, very diplomatic.)

I don’t know if I’d say drawing came easy to me, as I spent years learning and struggling, but at no point was it not fun. Part of the problem later on, like in High School, was figuring out what I wanted to draw. A bunch of my peers in art class in HS and College seemed to be able to BS their way into imbuing their art w/ ‘meaning’ while I just wanted to draw Batman. I’m probably still at that level, but I’ve managed to fool everyone into thinking there’s meaning behind some of my stuff. But deep down, I just really, really want to draw Batman. That’s the only real struggle I can think of. Figuring how to monetize my talent was tough for a while, but I think I finally got that worked out.

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

I used to do gallery shows here in Austin until I got tired of that scene. I sold quite a few paintings, starting back in ’99, so I GUESS that qualifies as professional work, but it felt a little ‘dirty’ compared to the purity of something like doing a T-shirt design…I didn’t have to blow any smoke about ‘intent’ or an artist statement for those gigs. My favorite commission I ever did was a portrait for a family that owned a Chinese restaurant by one of the comic book stores I used to manage. He wanted a painting of his daughter and I agreed in exchange for a few hundred meals. I don’t know if they were really happy w/ the result, but I was totally happy w/ the sesame chicken.

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

Both? I didn’t do anything cool or fun for most of my childhood, instead I spent my summers drawing and reading comics. I was in the ‘advanced’ art program in my High School, but dropped out my senior year to take life drawing at the Community College. I followed through with that until I got an associate of the arts degree, and realized I still had no idea on how get art jobs, or really anything useful. (I took studio art instead of the practical stuff). The only thing I learned regarding art at school was that there was (for me, at least) no point in going to school for art. The only thing it can give you is time to do more art…the ‘education’ was secondary. I learned TONS about the poster trade from the omnipotent Rob Jones, as he mentored me through running the wildly successful (at least while I was there, wink wink) Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Poster series. Rob is like a chain smoking, balding, mumbling, fairy-godmother for the gig poster scene. He’s the guy behind just about every graphic you’ve seen for the White Stripes and Raconteurs, and has done amazing work all around. He’s the closest thing I’ve had to a mentor in the poster trade…now if I just listened to what he told me to do, I’d have a better ‘win ratio.’ Kevin Tong is a real up and comer (actually, I think he JUST can now be called ‘arrived.’) and he’s been an invaluable resource on Photoshop techniques…he came from the world of product design, so he’s got all the tricks in his tool shed. It took him like an hour to totally change how I handle dot screens. The man’s a genius. And Nick Derington is a buddy of mine from way back, and he’s always got pointers and advice.

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 finally gave up on using normal pencils, and am all mechanical pencils now- the Alvin Draft/Matic .05. I’ll use a 2B lead, and a non-repro blue for the structural work. I’ve actually been skipping the penciling stage and have been going straight from the blue-line to the finished ink art recently. For ink on my comics work I’m using mostly Pitt Pens by Faber-Castell. I used to be REALLY against using pens until I heard an interview w/ Darwyn Cooke and he said he used the Pitt Brush Pens. I have a couple of sables I use, but I save those mostly for the larger pieces and outlining. I did just pick up a Kaimei cartridge brush pen that has really great ink flow- but it can’t keep up w/ fast or fat lines like I wish it would.

And god-bless the Wacom Intuos. I use the 9×12, but have my eyes on larger. I rarely totally create art w/ the Wacom, but I sure use it for the seps and clean-up work.

Oh- and how was art for production work done before Photoshop?

How has your toolbox evolved compared to when you first started out?
I did mini-comics and zines for years w/ just a sketchbook and a stolen Kinko’s card. I used to be rabidly anti-technology in art. That was just really me being self-limiting, as I couldn’t afford a computer and didn’t know how to steal Photoshop properly even if I had one. It took me totally bombing an animation try-out for ‘A Scanner Darkly’ that used a Wacom and a Photoshop like program to make me angry enough at myself to hurdle that, and get w/ the rest of the industry. My father had given me a copy of ‘How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way when I was young, and I held to the tools Stan suggested using like a nun to a rosary for years…but fuck man…who uses a dip pen anymore? That took a little bit to overcome. I do still use Dad’s old High School drafting supplies he gave me- rulers and oval templates and stuff. Those supplies are older than me by at least a decade. That’s crazy, now that I think about it.

I did just build a silkscreen shop in my garage- there’s some photos on the blog for the web-store I now run- NakatomiInc.com. That was a crazy-fun project. Modern screen-printing is a great blend of old-world and new technology. You design and tweak and sep the images using your computer, and then go to the garage to print with a method that’s pretty much remained the same for decades. That’s a big, big toolbox I’ve got now. That shop was co-designed by my buddy Clint Wilson, a gig poster artist here in town. He worked for years at a shop that was ‘doing it wrong’ and took that knowledge and helped me build a shop to do it ‘right.’ It’s pretty liberating controlling the means of production, eh?

Favorite brand of ink:

When I do use brushes, it’s always FW Acrylic…it’s black as fuck, but it does have a tendency to get ‘gummy’ if you let it sit for too long. And if you lay it on too thick, it’ll pool up in a glossy spot on your art, and will take forever to dry. Never mind, I hate that ink now. Dammit! Whatever toxic evilness that is in Sharpies is really amazing. Just not for detail work. They do fill a black spot like no-one’s business, though.

Type of paper:

Strathmore Bristol Vellum finish 400 series. Has been my choice for years. Although- I must say I happened into Asel Art Supply on MLK here in Austin, and saw that Canson started making pre-printed 11×17 comic book art boards, w/ all the borders measured out perfectly, and on decent paper as well. I’m doing the comic I’m working on now on those, and am loving it. See, if you’re working for a major company, they’ll send you art boards that are pre-printed w/ the guidelines and whatnot on ‘em, but if you’re an indie dude, you gotta cut and rule out all that stuff for yourself…which is a giant bitch. But now, all those would be comic artists can just dive right in, the little jerks! I’d be twice as far in my career now if I hadn’t had to do all that ruling and cutting myself all those years! The really strange thing is that the paper comes packed in the ‘Fanboy’ line w/ a truly offensive drawing of a typical ‘dork’ in the logo and the tagline, ‘Get out of the Basement.’ Thanks Canson…way to elevate the art form. But I really would have killed for something like this back when I was 10.

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

Geoff Darrow. No matter how much detail I put in a panel, he’s done more. Bryan Hitch a lot recently. I don’t care what anyone says, I like his work on FF more than his Ultimates stuff. Frank Quitely. His figure work is so beautiful…it kills me. Paul Pope- that guy packs in the energy. There’s guys who can do so much w/ so little line- the aforementioned Nick Derington has just a beautiful line quality, and uses it sparingly. Darwin Cooke is another. When I’m doing posters, I look more to Tyler Stout (perhaps a little too much…sorry Tyler!) In many ways I feel a little more like a tourist in the poster industry, despite working in it in one capacity or another for four years plus now…my heart is always in comics…so I might not be as influenced by my peers there as others might be.

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?

Well, it’s totally a crapshoot. It’s a matter of taking what the client wants, and then convincing them to do something that’s ACTUALLY good. And that’s really the key to a lot of art gigs- if the client had a lick of art skill, they wouldn’t be coming to you, now would they? But it mostly entails doing what you can get away with, while still pleasing the client. I don’t deal w/ a lot of clients, as I mostly just do art prints for my site, which is really, really nice.

Now, for the comic work, it’s totally different. The book I’m working on now, ‘The Intergalactic Nemesis’ is written by a good friend of mine, Jason Neulander, and we’re adapting his radio-serial stage play into comic book form. I’ve done art and back-drops for that play for a good 8(?) years off and on now, so I have a history with the project. Jason will hit me w/ a script, and I’ll go back and forth w/ him for a while on making sure it’s going to read well in the comic form, and then I’ll thumbnail out the whole issue in Photoshop w/ the Wacom. Then we talk that out, and then I start cranking the pages. This project is being colored by Paul Hanley, who has done a little work professionally in the past, and I really hope this catapults him into some high-profile gigs. The guy’s a mad genius on so many levels, but no-one’s noticed him yet. Watch out.

But I wouldn’t really call Jason a ‘client’ as the Nemesis book is really collaborative. I mean, I have to make sure he’s happy w/ the end results, but it’s more of a healthy relationship than a ‘client’ set up.

See, I guess for me, I am more into working WITH people on a project than FOR someone, so I don’t hop on board something unless it’s truly collaborative. I quit my job at the Alamo/ Mondo to pursue this, and I’m not in any rush to get back in an employee/ employer relationship ever again. (Actually, I had to promise my wife that I would never work for anyone ever again…and I’ve stuck to it for a while now. Success!)

I’ve never had any complaints from Clients in the past, so I guess I’ve got something figured out there, whether I’ve consciously realized it or not.

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

Oi- music wise, it’s a lot of TMBG, Girl Talk, Guided by Voices, Stereolab, Climate, Frank Black. But mostly what I listen to while I’m arting are podcasts. The Skeptics Guide to the Universe is like a regular workout for my critical thinking skills, and really should be required listening for anyone who plans to attempt to really exist in the world and function properly. Word Balloon is a real inspiration…hearing these guys talk about their craft in that long-format informal interview style John Suntries has is great. And soooo much better than that screeching pre-pubescent voice that claws at my brain every time I listen to Fanboy Radio. iFanboy is lots of fun, too…but only if you read comics on a weekly basis, as I do. And of course, This American Life rocks my face off like a unicorn riding a rainbow, firing a grenade launcher at the bad guy from Short Circuit 2.

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

My walls are mostly being used as storage for a lot of my unsold paintings from back in my gallery days, but I do have a lot of framed prints that I had done back when I ran the print series at the Alamo. Tyler Stout’s Warriors poster is in my living room, and Klaussen’s Tron print as well…that’s just a beaut. I really, really need to update my wall art, now that you mention it.

My wife did some killer paintings of pigs that are hanging in our bedroom. The problem is, once you have something like that hanging up, people start giving you ‘pig’ themed gifts, which culminated in a former employer giving me a life sized nude painting of Miss Piggy. That’s hanging above my bed. The artist is totally unknown on that one, as he found it at a flea market.

Although, my favorite piece greets me every time I walk out of my bedroom, and it’s a glitter portrait of Pee-Wee Herman done by local artist Sue Zola. I commissioned her to do it for me years ago, and damn, it makes me smile every time I look at it.

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 book I read I think was ‘Missionary Position’ which was a scathing expose on Mother Teresa. That chick was bonkers. It was either that or ‘Parallel Worlds’ by Michio Kaku. String theory might turn out to be total bunk, but it’s a fun mental exercise either way. I try to read Slaughterhouse Five once a year, and have kept up on it. Same with Watchmen (not a novel, but might as well be). I do find myself coming back to Snow Crash quite a bit.

I did just watch the original ‘Taking of Pelham One Two Three’ on Hulu the other day…Walter Matthau is the most unlikely lead ever. It’s freaking great- I’d put it up there with other great 70’s NYC movies like Serpico or Dog Day Afternoon…it’s lighter, almost a comedy in some parts, but you really get into the grit and grime of the characters that populated a NYC that’s now dead. And the villain in ‘Pelham’ goes out in one of the most disturbing ways I’ve seen in a while. (Note- I’m not interested in the remake.)

I don’t re-watch a lot of films, but my desert island movies are Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Raising Arizona, and probably Babe 2: Pig in the City. And I am not joking about that last one- if you don’t cry while watching that movie, you are not a human. Robot! ROBOT!

Current and upcoming projects?

The Intergalactic Nemesis comic is going to also be incorporated into the performance of the play, making it a moving backdrop. Nemesis is truly inches away from exploding all over in several media venues…I’m really honored to be a part of the project. We’ve started getting back some art from promotion companies, and they’ve been incorporating my designs into the ads, and that’s just nuts seeing that happen.

My webstore NakatomiInc.com has been like a wish machine for me for a few months now…I draw something, print it, and people buy it. That’s a project that’s not going to stop anytime soon. And the artists that I’ve lined up for the Invitational series of prints have been staggering, and the things coming up…yikes! We just inked a deal with Famous Monsters of Filmland to produce some art for them…and that looks like it’ll be a relationship that’ll keep rolling.

Back on the personal front, the show poster I did for the Crazy 4 Cult 3 show at Gallery 1988 just went live.

And I’ve started taking outside jobs for my print shop, which is a nice way to pay the bills.

I’m really at the point to where I have to start saying no to some projects, but things keep popping up I can’t say no to. But luckily I have the organizational skills and artist contacts that I can delegate things out to people I can trust to do good work.

And, I have my first baby currently in development. That project should be finally out in December…I’m anxious to see how it turns out. But something tells me that THAT project is something that might require a lot of maintenance once it’s arrived. Hopefully it won’t distract from the other things I’ve got brewing. Stupid babies.

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?

Quit your fucking day job. It’s killing you and you don’t even know it. Save up some money, line up some gigs, and fucking quit. If you can’t do that, you’re never going to be anything other than an employee. I feel so odd giving advice, as I don’t feel like I’ve ‘made it’ in any way shape or form, but I took that plunge this year, and feel so unbelievably free and empowered, I can’t help but advise others to do the same. Oh yeah, and stop playing video games. God-damn that’s a time waster.

For more info on Tim Doyle visit his website, MySpace and Nakatomi Inc.


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About Jason Thibault

Jason Thibault is a writer, artist and founder of the micro ad agency Content Marketing Labs. He can often be found showing other artists and creatives how to market and brand themselves. Follow Jason on Twitter.

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  • chelle

    I have the Change into a Truck artist’s proof–I’d like to see more political themes like this. It’s super funny and cutting edge at the same time. You’ve got such a talent–give people art that they can talk about–that they bought because there’s a reason behind it…

  • chelle

    I have the Change into a Truck artist’s proof–I’d like to see more political themes like this. It’s super funny and cutting edge at the same time. You’ve got such a talent–give people art that they can talk about–that they bought because there’s a reason behind it…

  • http://ab1825.org ab 1825

    Quickly, you begin to understand that if you’re going to be successful turning a vocation out of your avocation, you’re going to have to quit your day job. …

  • http://disqus.com/people/elsanto elsanto

    Ooooo… that art’s really eye-catching.

    This comment was originally posted on COMIXTALK

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