By Richard Serrao and Jason Thibault
In the first part of this 3-part conversation with Tim Bradstreet he talks about the tools he uses to create his highly realistic pen and ink work. In part two he discusses his influences and process. In this third and final part Tim hands off advice and wisdom for aspiring artists and talks about recent and upcoming projects.
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?
Just keep punching away. It’s easy to get discouraged, but no one worth a shit ever got there the easy way. When you want something bad, it burns brightly inside you, drives YOU, that’s a sign that you’re passionate. Very important. If you don’t have the passion . . . that drive and determination, then do yourself a favor and go back to college. Get a degree and then call me, you can help me with my taxes 😉
Seriously, you HAVE to want it. Set a goal, work HARD, work every day, put away the girlfriend/boyfriend, hang out with your friends a little less and put in the time. If you love doing it then it’s not difficult. You can stand in portfolio lines, send jpeg samples to editors, ask artists to look at your shit, start a Facebook page and promote your work, network like a demon (but don’t be pushy), all those things are a part of the process.
A cover image from CRIMINAL MACABRE
But the real way to step up to the next level is to earn it. If you can’t get motivated then go flip burgers. If you work at your craft and remain open to learning (even from mistakes), then you are going to find it a lot easier. The harder you work the more likely that some editor or other artist is going to look at your stuff someday and SEE IT. See the work. Know you’re not a pretender. Look at and study your inspirations, be a student of the game, you gotta keep that fire hot.
A conceptual illustration for THE PUNISHER movie starring Tom Jane.
One of my favorite things to do was go to conventions and meet my favorite artists, show them my work, take the crit, eat it even if it tastes bad. That’s just fuel. Just seeing those guys sketching, looking at their originals, talking to them . . . Man, you walk out with a high that makes a night with Mary J seem like sleeping 😉
A BLADE 2 pre-production illustration
Are there times when you’re working on a personal illustration that you’ve had to stop and walk away from it for a period of time? How do you pysche yourself up to finish it later after some time has passed?
I don’t have this issue very often. For a long time I wasn’t making time for personal illustration and it’s only been in the last 6 months that I recognized a problem with that. Now I’m making time for it but so far it’s been very rewarding. Essentially I’m back to where the real roots of my passion for this craft began, with pure black and white illustration. Right now there is no block, only a massive compulsion to create and illustrate. I’ve never really had issues with having to pysch myself up, it’s my default setting.
Horror Icon Jason from FRIDAY THE 13TH
When you do an illustration, you follow a process rigorously. Over the years have you changed the way you approach and work on an illustration? And if so, how?
Everything changes, but the same basic process is still at the core of my approach. What really changes is the results, according to what I’m absorbing day to day, what inspires me, and my own technical growth and experimentation. I’ve been drawing for a purpose pretty much constantly since 1986, I work at it every day. That forces you to periodically throw a change-up into the mix to keep it all fresh, the idea is to never sit back and settle in completely.
EL BORAK title image
Over the last few years I’ve been trying to get a lot more organic, playing with textures on the terminus of light and shadow. Prior to this the work was getting too technical for my liking and it needed a bump in another direction. Consequently I’ve gotten a lot more into dry brush techniques and using that organic feel to advantage with big slabs of black, but also with white.
The El Borak job got me thinking a lot more about blowing some defining line-work completely out of the illustration, letting the eye follow the course and do the math. This was a very difficult technique to jump into as a guy who’s used to defining everything with line 😉 But I really dug it, the results were simple, bold and powerful. I’ve always had a great love for the ‘invisible’ line but had never before thought about going farther with it. It’s got me in a new direction I’m real excited about.
Image from Robert E. Howards Swords of Shahrazar
Your illustrations for Robert E. Howard’s –El Borak, and other Desert adventures had a bit of a different look to all of your other work. Could you explain what you did differently and what tecniques you employed for the El Borak illustrations?
I guess I kinda just touched on that. For The Desert Adventures it was all about finding a bold style that lived in the desert environment. I wanted the illustrations to feel like the sun was beating down mercilessly in the scenes. The desert is BRIGHT. Subsequently, whatever blocks that brightness would create deep shadow. I needed it to be high contrast, wanted it to feel like it was carved out of rock. I felt it also had to be somewhat strongly tied to classic illustration, it couldn’t all be simplistic, massively bold shapes so texture became a big part of it too.
An EL BORAK illustration
I’d been experimenting with different inking techniques prior to beginning the job, attempting to bring a more organic feel to my work. I went back to basics to a degree. Jim Steranko’s work on El Borak was always in the back of my mind. His work was very bold, but I also had Kaluta, Gianni, Wrightson, and Mark Shultz hanging over my shoulder. Gianni and Schultz ’cause they’d gone down a similar road illustrating Howard books of the same line. Kaluta because he was the only other artist that I really knew of that had defined the Kirby O’Donnell character. Wrightson because when I think of pure illustration I think of Bernie. The work had to be uniquely mine but it also very much needed to be connected to these types of “masters of illustration”.
An illustration from The Fires of Asshurb from EL BORAK
There is a whole subculture of Howard enthusiasts that are into the whole history of the illustrated pulp adventure, and their standards are high. So my goal was three-fold, I wanted to please myself and make the “job as a whole” a sheer joy to work on. I wanted to do these other illustrators some justice, and I didn’t want to disappoint the fans of the writing. I felt that the direction I keyed into was covering all of that.
At first I did some warm-up pieces to get my feet wet, a lot of which were not used for reasons of continuity, those were really fun and challenging. I knew right away that the job was going to be a delight. Then I did the vignette (spot) illustrations, and that really set the tone. I couldn’t just draw inside a box like you tend to do with a cover, etc. It had to have no real defined borders so it could float. That was really liberating. I created a bunch of dry-brush ink swatches and added a little of that to the backgrounds digitally.
An illustration from Robert E Howard’s EL BORAK
Doing those first swatches separately gave me the confidence to employ the effect into the actual pieces as I continued. I also added another digital element, very simple. I took a piece of gessoed illustration board, made it real rough so you could see all the little back and forth chaotic brushstrokes and then scanned it. Then I inverted it so it was mostly black, with all the tiny little bristle lines going to white. Then I screened it over portions of my images (mostly backgrounds). I wanted to add a layer of chaff, like blowing sand, grit, etc . . . I needed something to really help give the environment a feeling of substance. It worked better than I’d hoped. People ask if it’s scratchboard. Now THAT would have been insane, but truthfully I didn’t have the time to go that route. AND, I’m not that brave yet.
I couldn’t see scratching or sandpapering that texture all over my originals. What if I screwed it up? Yikes! Most all of the work you see published is present ‘physically’ there on the board. I wanted the originals to be as complete as possible. All of that really took off when I slid into the larger images. I started to get really bummed out as I neared the finish line. I could sit around and draw that stuff forever. Love the period, love the desert environment, hopefully that passion shows in the artwork. There are lots of bold shapes and lots of brushwork, but 90% of all that work was done with a tiny little crowquill nib. It was a noodler’s dream 😉
Your Red Sky Diary work employs different mediums. I know at this point it’s early but if you had the chance to do just Red Sky all of the time non-stop until it was finished would you make it into a series of volumes or would you stop at one Volume?
The plan is that it will be a series of volumes (Novels), but not necessarily in the way you might think. The first book is like DUNE. It establishes a certain time frame (the mid to late 19th century), a certain story. The MAIN story. It’s basically the final chapter of a 600 year war. After I establish that story and the characters I’m going to go backwards 600 years and start at the beginning with a line of prequel books. The tentative title for the first prequel is, Red Sky Diary: Book one – Progenitor.
An illustration of ‘Polidouris’ from Tim’s Red Sky Diary. Pen, ink and watercolor.
This line of books will trace events that lead up to the aforementioned main story. RSD is a mythic, epic in scale chronicle of a dynastic succession of Clan leaders, warriors known as the “Ulaan Bataar”. The firstborn male of each generation in the succession is tasked with carrying on a desperate guerilla-style war against a clandestine society of nocturnal creatures (known as The Mudir) who’ve prowled the shadow realms between reason and superstition since the dawn of civilization.
Tim Bradstreet’s character ‘Polidouris’ from his upcoming saga Red Sky Diary
The main story features the greatest warrior of them all, Gallows. His fate is of singular significance in the epic war that’s about to come full circle. It’s huge. And the first book (main story) isn’t the end. Once I’ve completed the entire story from 1281 AD to the latter 19th century everything will pick up where we left off with the first book. Where that first story ends is a real gut-punch. Things will really get turned upside down and it will be a great launching point for the next set of volumes.
My hope is that we’ll begin to adapt the novels into sequential form while simultaneously developing the prequels for TV mini-series. Then do the main story as a film. Then it’s anybody’s guess. I really want to do a video game too. But first thing is first, get the story out there as an illustrated novel. I was just speaking of how much I loved working on The Desert Adventures, well, Red Sky is my absolute favorite subject to illustrate. I put everything I have into the work. This project has been hanging around in my consciousness and on my back-burner for nearly 20 years. The time is finally now.
Illustration from Tim Bradstreet’s property Red Sky Diary
As an artist you continue to grow and evolve while some others stagnate and plateau. What do you feel has always been your driving force to push the boundaries of your own personal limits?
I’m just never necessarily satisfied with where I am as an illustrator at any given moment. I’m inspired too easily 😉 There may be work that I am proud of, where everything came together and the work resulted in something that was fortunate enough to gel in all the right ways, but those successes are all too rare. When they happen they propel me forward another step. The challenge is to make that success the norm until you’ve taken another step, and so on. Truthfully I don’t even think about it. No one should. It should be automatic. I look around and I see literally thousands of artists out there who’s work really blows my mind and I think, how could anyone not feel inspired and challenged by that? With me it’s all about chasing a vision, and it’s still ahead of me.
Another cover from CRIMINAL MACABRE
Apart from Red Sky,if there was any other dream project or character you could work on who would it be?
I’ve almost gotten over the need to draw cool and awesome characters I don’t have a stake in. Not that I don’t absolutely love illustrating characters like The Punisher and Hellblazer, nor would I turn my back on the opportunity to do Deathlok, Nick Fury, Jonah Hex, etc . . . BUT the true dream projects are things I’ve had a hand in, like Red Sky, or like this other thing I cooked up called The Devil’s Commandos.
Some people satisfy themselves with achieving the goal of drawing Superman, or writing Green Lantern. I’ve spent almost 25 years working on other people’s characters and it pays the bills, it’s great. But I want to make the myths. That’s the dream. Way back before I became a professional artist I used to look at the drawings in role playing game manuals and think to myself, I can do better than that. Even if I couldn’t really at the time I knew that I could eventually 😉
I set that goal. Once you prove to yourself that you can set a goal and achieve it, then the sky’s the limit. And there are many more goals ahead. Having said all of that, I’ll give you a simple answer too. I’d love to team up with Tom Jane, a director and writer of our choosing, be handed a decent but modest $30M budget, and make the penultimate Punisher film. And yes, I’d want Ray Stevenson to be in it too, not as Frank Castle, maybe as the VILLAIN. That’d be fucking bitch-tastic.
Cheers – Tim