Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Illustration West Interview

Santosh Oomman of the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles published an interview with me today in the SILA news column. Here's the full text.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself or how you got started?

Me in less than 50 words: Graduated UC Berkeley as an archaeology major, left art school for job as an animation background painter, meanwhile writing a book on sketching. Freelanced book covers and Nat Geo until writing Dinotopia, all the while plein air painting. Recently active in art instruction books and videos.

What’s your daily routine look like?

No two days alike. But basically I wake up at 7:00, have oatmeal, catch up on email, take a walk, and get working by around 9:30. A trip to the post office before lunch, more work and a half hour of outside chores. In the evening, books, magazines, or computer (we have no TV, smart phones, or game systems). That’s basically it, unless we’re on tour.

Who are you inspired by?
Let’s see. Lately by the drawing of Adolph Menzel, the writing of E.B. White, the animation of Hayao Miyazaki, and the music of Franz Schubert.

Do you have a mentor or teacher that was influential on you, while you were studying in college?
Yes, Ted Youngkin was the greatest ever perspective teacher. Very demanding and a bit scary while the class was going, but as I followed up with him for all the years until he passed on, he really loved his students and wanted them to succeed.

What has been one of your favorite projects to work on?
The latest one of the Australian dinosaur stamps. Worked with some great people and had the privilege to hold some of the fossils in my hands that I reconstructed as living animals.

Digital download: gumroad.com/l/ausdinos. Trailer: youtube.com/watch?v=i-E2bGzsDS8

What medium do you work with predominately now? And do you use the digital painting medium?
My main media lately are oil, casein, and watercolor, plus an assortment of pens and pencils. I love digital photography and video and non-linear editing, but am only interested in doing handmade artwork.

How important is social media for an illustrator now? And how are you using it?
I don’t know about other illustrators, but I do a lot of blogging and YouTubing. Love the feedback and the shared expertise. I’ve learned as much as I’ve taught. Recently have had a blast with Concert Window Open monetized live stream demos.


How important is a blog? How often do you update your own blog and what can illustrators do to get more traffic to their sites?
The GurneyJourney blog has been the key to everything I’ve done over the last five years. It was the proving ground for all the ideas in my books Color and Light and Imaginative Realism. I update every day. Helps clear my head while the coffee is brewing. Tips for traffic? I don’t know, just be yourself and stay curious.

Where do you think the field of Illustration is headed in 5 years or 10 years?
No one knows. But one thing’s for sure. The ecosystem of art publishing won’t look like it did in 1993 anymore. The changes in publishing, from largely print to largely digital empowers creators to be their own publishers. Now we can keep 95% rather than 10% of the income, and we can communicate directly with those who support us.

This places a burden of responsibility upon content creators to maintain quality in everything we do. But at the same time we must take risks and experiment, not only with subject matter, but with delivery systems and monetization.

This new world is full of paradoxes. Here are a few: Free content builds paid content; You give stuff away so that you can sell it later; Let people set their own price, they will support you; Promote others, and you will be promoted; Share your trade secrets and you will learn from others.

What advice do you have for illustrators beginning and pro?
Unless you’d rather work for someone else, where being a specialist is probably necessary, I’d recommend developing a lot of skills. That includes drawing, painting, writing, video editing, photography, accounting, marketing, lettering, sculpting—it all helps. Also deliver on time and give more than you promise. Be nice to everyone because it will come back to you. And if you can’t say something nice about someone….

Where can we see more of your work? And watch your informative videos? Where can we purchase your books?
Thanks for asking. You’ll find it all on my blog, GurneyJourney, my YouTube channel, and the JamesGurney.com website.

Thanks for your questions, Santosh.
James Gurney’s YouTube Channel
More information about the Society of Illustrators West.


nuum said...

Thanks, Master.
My daily read.

Monika Baum said...

Thanks James, for sharing the interview. I am so glad to read your advice about getting good at many different things, including accounting!
I find myself currently working as an accountant and attending evening classes, and have felt a little off-course when it comes to art... okay, a lot off-course! I decide to view this time as being part of the preparation for when I can transition towards something more art-sy. One day... :-) I know all that accounting will come in handy at some point. It has to.
Until then, I will immensely enjoy reading your blog and books + watching your youtube videos, DVDs and concert window sessions.
Thank you!

Aaron Becker said...

great interview; great advice.

krystal said...

Ahhhh agreed! Work for yourself, or find a way to (even if it is in addition to working for someone else)! I think in the future ownership of work will become more and more possible for the artist, which is a wonderful thing. I agree with the multiple skills, too. More and more I see artists transitioning into other areas (directing, producing, etc) and it's fantastic.

Carole Pivarnik said...

Enjoyable read. You're an inspiration to be generous and genuine, and to have faith that good stuff will be rewarded.

Dawid Michalczyk said...

Great interview. Clear and concise. I enjoyed reading it.

Leif said...

Thanks so much for your blog, and I really enjoyed reading this interview. I'm especially interested in what you said, "Free content builds paid content; You give stuff away so that you can sell it later".

I've been thinking of starting to put my work online for free just to jump-start my ambitions, build an audience, get feedback, and keep myself motivated to keep up the pace of work. (It's hard to stay on track when the day job eats up time & energy). But I also worry about someone taking my ideas (I'm an educational cartoonist)... I wonder how this looks from your perspective as an artist who thrives with an online presence.

James Gurney said...

Leif, it's a good question. I think the theory is that there has to be a free channel that really has value for people. This might be tips and information or other things they can really use. Then they might buy the whole package from you, the higher res version, longer form works, custom jobs, or backstory information. Kevin MacLeod, the composer is a great example of a guy who gives tons of great content away with the important proviso that you give him credit. His music is on thousands of videos. A lot of commissioned work comes his way because of that.