by Jason Thibault
Wesley Allsbrook is a very skilled illustrator who has worked with magazines, newspapers and in the comics medium. She studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and became a freelance artist after graduation.
What inspired you to first start drawing? Did you struggle in your formative years or did it come easy to you?
I always drew. I wasn’t always good with it, but I cannot remember ever not wanting to draw. I used it, at first, to see the things that I imagined, and to make a better world for myself. Later, I drew photo real copies of the models in the Coldwater Creek catalog to impress people in middle school. There was another girl who could really throw down, Molly Carlson. North Chatham wasn’t big enough for the both of us.
First professional work (piece / year) and maybe a quick story behind it.
I got my very first jobs from my professor’s wife while still in school. In Chris Buzelli’s classes, there was always at least one assignment that would be published, though every assignment was a competition with a definite victor and loser (we voted during crit). I got second place for the Bells and Whistles job (a half page that appears consistently in PLANSPONSOR Magazine), and then I got hired. At the time I was still doing everything with screen printing, so the revises were kind of difficult for me…
Were you self-taught or formally educated? (or mixture of both, mentors etc…)
Both. I taught myself how to draw up through high school, but RISD really helped me do something with my aptitude. I had a foundations teacher called Brice Hobbs. Always questing after the most volumetric of blacks and the most visceral mark making, He’d put one of our skeletons through a tire swing, give her a sunbonnet, and address the class: “I want to FEEL this tire RUNNING OVER MY FACE.” If my drawings have any feeling of physicality, it’s because of Brice. Him and Tony Janello. Tony taught me all about the value of pentimenti as drawing tools. We’d use crayola crayons to make a literal neural net of marks around the model before drawing the figure out of the fray. After that I never looked for the outline of a thing straight away. I still draw like this every day. Helps me to see space.
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 love the Windsor and Newton Series 7 brushes (0, 1, 2) and the fountain brush pens (Pentel, Kaimei, etc), cheap sumi brushes for dry effects and toothbrushes, foam paint brushes, sharpened chopsticks… And drop-lead pencils for drawing, usually no softer than a 2B. Vellum Bristol for drawing. My boyfriend and I are deadlocked in the debate on the merits of kneaded vs. white erasers, though neither of us like the gums. For mistakes, I like casein.
How has your toolbox evolved compared to when you first started out?
When I began I wanted to use everything. I made my own oil paints from scratch (way less hazardous to your health than making pastels), and found a way to layer inks between oil varnishes (really awkward). I inked over screen prints. I even tried collage. There was not a material by which I was not at one time seduced. The smells, the textures, the line qualities… But I was always a person who thought more in lines than in volumes, so gradually, as my style became more specific my “toolbox” got smaller. The screen printing did help me to understand how to use Photoshop to my advantage.
Favorite brand of ink:
I don’t discriminate, and I buy cheap. No waterproof.
Type of paper:
Which artists or creators do you return to for a quick boost of inspiration? Who are the masters of ink?
I love Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates, and the later Steve Canyon), Noel Sickles (emphasis on the Scorchy Smith), Alex Raymond ( Flash Gordon ), Will Eisner, Kurtzman, Kirby… But for your modern influences you’ve got Paul Pope, Nathan Fox… There’s more blood and guts (you know, in a good way) in those inks than maybe I’ll ever got to do. All these guys can draw, and that’s what I love.
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?
I sketch, get approval. Then I scale up the print size by a quarter or a half and start penciling. I don’t transfer directly from the sketch because I don’t have the patience for the light box, and often I’ll like the idea of the sketch, but feel that the composition needs some tweaking. Once the pencil is done and a few quick thumbnails for me to figure out the value structure I want to pursue, I ink. Then I scan my ink along with some textures and perhaps some color swatches that I want to select from, and the rest, as they say, is Photoshop.
What’s currently sitting in your mp3 / CD player / turntable?
David Byrne & Brian Eno, Everything that Happens.
What’s hanging on your walls and what is your favorite piece of art that you own (not created by you)?
Has to be my boyfriend’s drawings. He inks like a man. And my friend Ze’s prints.
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?
The last book I read was Peter Carey’s His Illegal Self. Le Deuxieme Souffle–The Second Wind, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville (or Le Samourai directed by the same guy) for my movie recommendation. And I just saw The Third Man! Talk about great compositions and absolute blacks…. Peter Carey is a very pleasant and familiar place to return to for reading materials. I also love Keri Hulme. Whether it’s her short stories or novels, I’ve never felt closer to written characters–and her commitment to descriptive food details really resonates with me. And anything by Calrice Lispector. And comics.
Current and upcoming projects?
My Comic, Mountains and Valleys, about the tragedy of the love between parent and child, and Nkisi Dolls. I’m hoping I can eventually self-publish. We’ll see.
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?
Keep working, but don’t do it in the dark. Let people know that you exist, and don’t lose your commitment to making the work that you love (as opposed to what you believe your clients want you to make). As a student, Jon Foster told me that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Truer and more axiomatic words were never said, especially when it comes to illustration. A good part of this job is exposing yourself. As a shut-in, I get shaky every time I’m in a room with more than a couple of people. Its worth it to promote yourself, though.
Find out more about Wesley at her website and her blog.