Hello Everyone! My name is Daniel Fishel, and I am a new contributor on the non-slick blog. Before I get into the interview, I want to give a big thank you to Pete Ryan for inviting onto the blog. My goal is to do at least one interview a month if not more, so we will see what happens.
1. Where are you from and how long have you been illustrating?
I moved around New England a bit when I was much younger, but I've lived in Philadelphia most of my life and currently reside here. I graduated from the Tyler School of Art in 2001 with a BFA in Graphic Arts and Design, but I was mainly doing graphic design at first. It wasn't until late 2002 I really started working on any illustration only projects when I was a part of Headcase Design. At first illustration made up only about 20% of the work I did, graphic design being the rest. By the time I left Headcase in October of 2007, nearly all the work I did was illustration.
2. What drew you to paint your images with Pixels?
Initially I just wanted to create some nostalgic artwork to hang in my apartment, so I experimented with blowing up "sprites" of characters from old video games I played when I was a little kid, enlarging them until each pixel was a full inch square. It was around this time I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the state of our country (this was right around when we first invade Iraq) and so I began experimenting with using the video game style as an outlet to vent. Instead of Megaman fighting Dr. Wily he was fighting Dick Cheney and Haliburton. It was through these early political-themed pieces that I realized the language of video games and pixels are rich with infographic metaphors, digital mythology and graphic symbolism that could be used to express almost anything I wanted.
3. You have a second style that still feels like the language you draw in, but it is a slicker illustrator version. Do you have problems with clients because you have two styles?
Generally most clients come to me knowing which of my two styles they want. I do prefer the pixel style, so there have be instances where I felt the pixel style would be stronger and I was able to convince them I should use that one instead. It gets a little tricky with self-promotion, deciding which style to focus on promoting. Generally I send out postcards with the pixel style, and that's the one I tend to get into annuals more frequently, but I do get a lot of work in the infographic style still.
4. There are some illustrators that happen to also be designers and include type in their work and there are some designers that just happen to also illustrate, but neither seem to have a balance. I find that in your work has an good balance of using type within pieces that could just be single image for a publication/gallery. Do you think because you work within the language of video games/8bit that allows you to do it, that seems pretty effortless?
I was trained as a graphic designer, but Tyler has a fairly illustration-heavy design program, so I have always tried to illustrate my design projects when possible. I think with the pixel style, pixelated type and pixelated art will naturally fit together, but that doesn't mean they will necessarily be aesthetically pleasing. On the contrary, I think there is a certain ugliness to pixel art and type that some people actually don't like, so I think the type forms need to be carefully constructed and considered.
5. I know that you've done some music packaging stuff for your brother's 8-bit jams, Doctor Octoroc. Do you ever collaborate musically? Also, how did the Keyboard Cat video come about?
While I wouldn't say I collaborate with him musically, he does play me all his tracks as he's working on an album and lets me offer my feedback. The Keyboard Cat video was something we did on a whim. I thought it would be funny to do an 8-bit version that played off a game fail, so we threw it together one afternoon and put it on youtube. I never thought it would blow up the way it did. The main character from the show The IT Crowd even wore the shirt I made from the video on a recent episode.
6. About a year ago, you worked on an installation at the 3rd Pictoplasma Conference, making 8 bit creatures on the walls with thousands of post it notes. How was it that you were able to get involved in such a project?
Jon M. Gibson, who founded the "i am 8-bit" art show, was the guy who really helped me get my foot in the door with a lot of the galleries I've been involved in. He actually found me through Myspace (remember that?) of all things. It's a long story, but after several years of working together on gallery installations he contacted me about the Pictoplasma thing. His good friend and photographer Love Ablan had been asked to put together an exhibition by the founders of Pictoplasma. Exhibitions of art on Post-Its were nothing new, and other people had created Donkey Kong or Pac-Man installations out of Post-Its, so we decided to take it to the next level and create original pixel art out of Post-Its and then have art on Post-Its hidden within that, an exhibition within an exhibition. I actually got a grant from the University of the Arts to do the whole thing.
7. Recently I have been seeing you work more and more doing Gallery stuff. How have you been getting involved with that, being someone who works digitally?
I do occasionally paint my work in acrylic, but given that my fan base is a younger crowd I try to make my work affordable so giclee prints from digital seems to be a better deal for everyone. As long as the work sells, most galleries don't seem to mind the medium.
8. What is your process when concepting sketches for an editorial assignment?
You'd think by now I'd have a process. I really don't. I throw shit against the wall and see what sticks. Swear.
Nate Williams posted a great idea generation process on his blog that I will sometimes use when I'm at a loss.
9. I know that you teach a class or two at The University of the Arts. Could you share alittle bit what you teach there and has teaching there influenced the way you work?
I'm currently taking some time off, but the course I teach at UArts is an Illustration class called "Design Methods". Basically what I do with each project is assign the students the role of illustrator AND designer/art director. So for one project I give them several magazine articles and they not only have to illustrate the article, but design the layout of the spread as well. A project that I introduced to the department has them designing a vinyl toy (like Kidrobot) and then creating packaging for the toy. It's a very demanding project, but they have so much fun with it and the results are usually phenomenal.
10. Outside of illustration and galleries, what is it that you do when you have down time?
Karaoke, bird watching, cooking, barhopping, road trips, fixing vintage Polaroid cameras, and playing with my Boston Terrier
11. I've noticed a lot of well known/successful illustrators, such as yourself, Josh Cochran, Gina+Matt, Katherine Streeter, Pete Ryan, ect, all own Boston Terriers! Is there a skull and bones club for illustrators that requires everyone to own one?
I think there must be something in illustrator DNA that draws us to the Boston Terrier! I swear I got mine before I even met any of those guys, and in fact the only person I knew who had one when I got mine was a friend of mine who is a floral designer. I guess they go through phases of popularity... if you look at dogs used in advertising in the 1950s, they used Bostons quite frequently. I guess they are on an upswing in popularity again.
12. Because you work digitally, specially in adobe illustrator, it makes your work more adaptable for interactivity and animation for tablet devices (ie: ipad, Nook, ect). Are you investing time into interactivity and animation because of a rising interest in tablet devices and/or do you have an opinion on illustrators becoming more involved with animation/interactivity?
After the keynote at the ICON conference in Pasadena, I became very excited about the possibility of creating interactive and motion illustration for devices such as the iPad. I do plan on investing some time in the next six months to learning as much about the subject as I can. I see it as just another industry, so I don't really see what all the fuss was about. Some illustrators will want to add animation to their portfolio. Others will want to add textile design. Or food packaging. Or fine art prints. It's all the same thing, just different avenues to make a living off what you love to do.
13. What are some things that you love about illustration right now?
I love that there are really no limits as to what you can do with your art. It's interesting to watch the many careers of all of the illustrators I admire, or know personally, and see where they started and where they are now, and there's so much variation it really shows you can do anything in this field.
14. Any advice for young illustrators/designers breaking into the field?
Personal work is good, but if prospective clients can't see how it could be used commercially they're not gonna hire you. If you're not getting jobs yet, or jobs that bring out your best work, create your own assignments (a good example would be the Heads of State creating concert posters for the local Philly music scene). Make them amazing and get them into Communication Arts and American Illustration.
Personal work for gallery shows are important too, but it's much harder to make a living at that, and I see way too many kids out of school focusing too much energy on that avenue and it's a long, uphill battle. Don't spread yourself too thin.
15. Any advice for the veterans out there?
Anyone who's been doing this longer than me is obviously doing something right. I could probably use advice from them.
That said, don't fear new things. Twitter and Facebook are amazing tools for advancing and sustaining your career. My biggest break into the gallery world came from MYSPACE. Yeah. And Myspace was a piece of crap compared to what Twitter and Facebook can do. If you think it's just some stupid way to share what you had for breakfast with the world, you really have no idea. Reach out to those in the know.
16. Final word?
All images copyright Jude Buffum - See more of Judes work on his website: http://www.judebuffum.com/