Tim Bradstreet; A Master Class in Pen and Ink Realism

By Richard Serrao and Jason Thibault

*Note* this is part one of an epic 3-part interview. Here is part two and part three.

Tim Bradstreet. What can I say about this awesome artist that hasn’t yet been said by people much more talented than myself? Quite a lot actually. There have been a lot of artists in my lifetime that have influenced me in so many ways BUT overall Mr. Bradstreet has been the single biggest influence on how I work and draw. The first time that I saw his work I was already heading in that same artistic direction. He just helped to take all of the other artists that I loved from my teenage years such as Paul Gulacy, Gene Day and Al Williamson and smack me in the face with the outright bodacity that he was incorporating into his work while still retaining the qualities that I had loved about these other artists but had forgotten.

I have heard from a lot of people that seeing his work for the first time is so powerful that words cannot it describe or do it justice. So, without further babbling on my part I’ll let HIS artwork and words seer into your brain like it did mine. He truly is a MASTER of INK.

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

I’ve drawn as far back as I can remember, even pre-Kindergarten. I’m not exactly sure what inspired it or sparked it. I know that I loved to draw dinosaurs and cars, airplanes, battles, little stick-men wars with explosions – arms, heads, and legs flying every which way. You know, the kind of thing that today would likely result in your teacher calling in your parents to inform them they’re ‘concerned’ about you, heheh.

Concept art from The Punisher movie.

I loved to draw hovercraft and other things fantastic, very likely a result of watching Johnny Quest and Star Trek. I was 10 years old when Star Wars came out so at that point all bets were off. I was always a science fiction and horror fan although the horror stuff purely fascinated me at the time, I wasn’t permitted to watch much ‘serious’ horror. But I did absorb a lot of it through magazines, Famous Monsters Of Filmland, Star Log, and then Fangoria. Comics too, inspired me but it wasn’t just superheroes. I used to pour over issues of Creepy Magazine on the news stands at the grocery store.

A sketch of actor Ron Perlman from the film Blade 2.

Heavy Metal Magazine blew me away, mostly Moebius and the “Incal” stories. I don’t know if drawing always came easy to me, I didn’t think about it too much until I got serious, around the time I was 14 or 15. Then it seemed very difficult because I was trying to emulate the work of all these fantastic illustrators from Jack Kirby to Frank Frazetta. I had no real concept of the tools these artists used. My choice of weapon was the “Tech Pen”. Talk about a brutal initiation. Obviously you can’t make thick to thin ‘feathered’ lines with a fucking tech pen, so I just drew the outline of the shape and filled it in.

A cover from the Criminal Macabre series

I wasn’t aware of an easier way. Bit by bit I figured it out. I believe I was maybe 19-20 years old before I retired my tech pens and picked up the brush. Wow, that was a whole new world. It was daunting at first. I didn’t feel like I could have the control that a tech pen gave me. But all you really need when using a new tool is a little bit of confidence, and that quickly followed because I drew ALL the time. Those muscles developed with some alacrity because I was using them on a daily basis. I wanted to get better, I made it my religion.

Concept art for a motion graphics sequence in The Punisher movie

What was your first professional work and maybe a quick story behind it?

First real professional work was two illustrations for Game Designers Workshop, a Role Playing Game company. The work appeared in Traveller’s Digest, a support supplement for GDW’s Traveller, sci-fi game system. The year was 1986, not long after I’d graduated from high school. The images were very Star Wars – like, vacuum cleaner droids on a starship, nothing spectacular trust me. They were done in a pencil style drawn on vellum, the same style I employed on the game Twilight 2000, which I became regular artist of on the heels of having done the Traveller tryout.

Cover for Hellblazer issue 211

I was basically taking over that job from an artist named Steve Venters, who had taken me under his wing. He was the interior artist on Twilight 2000 as well as the cover painter and he wanted to spend more time focusing on cover work. I did a few tryout pieces for him trying to clone his style. He was impressed enough to push me to GDW and my entire career began there . . . 24 years ago. It still seems like yesterday.

A ‘rejected’ Bad Planet cover

Were you self-taught or formally educated? Did you have a mentor?

Pretty much self-taught with a mixture of a mentor (namely Venters). I wasn’t really ready for college after high school. I partied like insanely and I blew off getting a portfolio put together to get accelerated courses in college. Subsequently I began in basic courses and was just re-doing stuff I’d already covered in high school. I was bored silly. Hanging out with friends, discovering my burgeoning individuality, and partying seemed much more important to me at the time.

Illustration of Lawrence of Arabia

I ended up dropping out of college not long after I’d hooked up with Venters. I was learning more from him in the course of months than I had in years of art classes. This was also my target field. I regret not having focused more on school but the I don’t regret the reason, it’s territory I had to walk. Growing as an individual, expanding my mind, and truly discovering and embracing pop culture for myself was a necessary evil. In a large way it gave me my edge.

Who’s to say I couldn’t have done both? But everyone has to follow their own path, and I had a helluva lot of fun and life experiences following the path that I did.

Punisher Vietnam cover

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?

About two-three years ago I stopped using a brush almost entirely. I NEVER thought I would, but they stopped making my fucking brush! I used a cheap little Loew-Cornell 5-ot liner brush since about 1988. I love that thing. I still have 3 of them and I protect them like they were my children. I break one out every now and then when I HAVE to, to get a required effect where I want it.

What took it’s place is a Hunt #102 – Crowquill nib. A tool I NEVER thought I’d become proficient at. I’d always shied away from pen nibs because I was never very good at controlling them, but again, all I needed was to develop a little confidence. Now I absolutely LOVE using it. I’ve always been a noodler, and you can noodle like a madman with a pen nib. In a way it’s like the tech pen, yet it has this incredible organic quality that technical pens will never posses because of the flexibility of the point, it’s ability to alter line weights with the right pressures applied.

A promotional poster for The Punisher featuring actor Thomas Jane as Frank Castle.

I also use a Raphael #1 from time to time, but it’s mostly the nib. One of my main weapons currently is a Niji Waterbrush. It’s a synthetic brush with a reservoir for ink built into the barrel. I never fill the thing, I dip it. It’s AMAZING as a tool to do dry-brush. You can really batter it and they don’t cost a ton, around $9. They clean easy and they can really last. They have a startlingly decent point on them too, so you can do some really fine work with them if you choose to.

Jim Daly turned me onto them, though they aren’t a whole lot different than the Pentel Color Brush, which was fairly popular in the early to mid 90’s. I remember Mark A. Nelson used to use them exclusively back in the day. I tried them then but it never really took. That’s about it except for a big chisel brush I use for big ink-swash backgrounds. That thing is evil-cool, such a diversity of line, bold as porn star.

Preliminary pencils for a cover

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

It’s basically the same. Different tools but very similar results. My style has evolved a great deal since the early days of professional work, but the vision is essentially the same, just more refined in places and more organic in others. The whole thing is a journey, you have to challenge yourself and not fall into the trap of thinking that you’ve attained some magical power where you no longer need to learn, experiment, or grow as an artist.

The minute you think you have learned it all and you become completely satisfied with your work you’re going to stagnate and become a dinosaur. The process never ends if you have your head in the right place. Resting on laurels of past glory is absolutely the worst thing you can do as an artist, regardless of your area of expertise. The same holds true for musicians, writers, you name it. Times change, people grow and move on, and if your work goes static, technically, compositionally, dynamically, etc . . . Then you’re just old news.

The Punisher

I don’t have to be the best artist, I don’t have to be the most popular artist. I don’t give a shit about that. I draw for myself first, and I love what I get to do for a living. Constant learning, experimenting, even re-inventing is what keeps me refreshed and excited about it. At the end of the day I just strive for my work to have relevance to me, if it does, then I gotta figure it’s finding an audience somewhere among the public. They are my benefactors, bless them every one. I guess that answer qualifies as getting off on a tangent 😉

What’s your favorite brand of ink?

I like about any old brand of waterproof rapidograph ink for paper. I use that with the nibs cause it flows nice and smooth. When I black, I add a couple drops of Japanese Sumi ink to the well. That really charges the black to super black. I like for my originals to stand on their own, I never half-ass it when it comes to blacking.

A pen and ink illustration used as a cover for the French magazine Comic Box

What about papers?

I really love DC’s regular surface 2-ply Bristol (I believe it’s Strathmore). It’s got a touch of tooth and ink dries very quickly so smudging is less of a nuisance. I just flip it over and draw on the back, blue lines really annoy me. I use that when I can get a friendly editor to hook me up. I used to really love a Rising 3-ply Bristol with a regular finish but I can’t find it anywhere in San Diego. Right now I really dig this 3-ply Strathmore Bristol with a vellum finish. I thought ‘vellum’ would be too smooth but it’s more like a regular surface, just enough tooth to give it some guts, and just smooth enough so that my pen nib doesn’t betray me and get snagged. That does truly suck when it happens.

Cover for Marvel’s Luke Cage Noir

I purchase all of my non-comic company supplied paper in large sheet form and have it cut down to 11″ X 17″ boards. You can get 3 boards from a large sheet. I have no idea if it’s cheaper to do it that way, that doesn’t confront me. It’s just that I have never found a paper worth a shit in tablet form. Of course that’s mainly from a lack of searching to any great extent 😉 I don’t really populate message boards or confer with others about the subject too often unless I’m at a convention and talk turns professional with a peer. Regardless, I’m sure it seems obvious that I prefer a heavier paper. I’m not a fan of flimsy originals.

Be sure to read part two & part three of this interview.

For more info you can visit Tim Bradstreet’s website or head on over to his company page for RAW Studios.


  1. says

    This man is a freakinf, super talented artist I admire with extreme adulation as an artist myself!! What a talent equal to the best realist cartoonists. Publish a BOOK ASAP of this man’s breathtaking art, David L. Transue


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