Brad Holland

It was 1988. I was fresh out of Art Center and testing my design wings on a small, non-profit weekly when I first got up the nerve to call Brad Holland to see if he’d do an assignment for me. He was the biggest name in illustration and had been for quite some time so I was hoping a “Holland” in my portfolio would give my career a boost. Unfortunately, he graciously declined the job. Twenty years later he’s still at the top of his field and I finally found an opportunity to ask him again—this time with better success. (see the spread below)

The fact that Brad Holland has remained a dominant figure in illustration for so many years is remarkable in itself. But, after redefining the meaning of “illustration” when he brought his portfolio to New York in 1967, he has continued to stretch boundaries and forge new trails that new generations of artists are still eager to follow.

The New York Society of Illustrators has honored Holland with more awards than any other illustrator in their history and, in 2005, elected him to the Hall of Fame. Mark English has called Holland “the most important illustrator in America today.” As one of our featured artists this month Brad talks candidly about imitators, style, politics, and stock.

Q:  The fact that your work has had such a tremendous influence on the field of illustration means that your “look” has probably been mimicked more than any other contemporary illustrator. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, has all this flattery had any impact on your work and your career?
A:  Well sure, but it’s kind of like being a boiled frog—you get used to it by degrees. I was only 21 or so when I got my first clone and he was seven years older than me, so at that point, yeah, I did feel kind of flattered that older guys were noticing me. But then it got to be like that scene in the Hitchcock movie. You know, one day I looked up and there were a whole lot of them perched on the Jungle Gym.                          

Q:  What about the spread of imitators affected you the most?
A:  It was like being in a Hall of Mirrors. You know, you spend all this time trying to establish your own identity, then suddenly it’s not yours any longer. It’s just a style out there. I began to feel like I was just one more guy who painted like Brad Holland.

Q:  So you set out to reinvent yourself…
A:  Well, I realized that if I wanted to be original again, I’d have to abandon my own style and start over.

Q:  How do you reinvent yourself and still remain true to yourself?
A:  I just imagined I was five and starting over—only making a couple of different decisions here and there. You know, we’re all the product of an accumulation of decisions. Little ones and big ones. Go to a bar one night instead of staying home and your whole life may be different. Same thing with style. Make a few different choices in how you draw or paint something and your style will be different, but you’ll still be you.

Q:  You said you had to work hard to develop your identity. Can you explain that?
A:  Sure, when I started, illustration was illustration, and the kind of work I wanted to do wasn’t. 

Q:  In what way?
A:  Well, illustration then was very literal, and I was drawing pictures of guys with their heads on fire. Art directors weren’t sure what to make of me. The fact that I was still a teenager didn’t help either, because it led a lot of people to think I was just expressing teenage angst. I remember one guy suggested that I should stop showing my portfolio; he said I’d be more likely to get work without it—that was encouraging. Another guy advised me to get help. He said a shrink would do me more good than clients.

Q:  Did you ever worry that there might be some merit to their reactions?
A:  No, not really. I mean I knew I had hang-ups like everybody else, but you can usually tell the difference between art and psychosis. I mean nobody thinks Shakespeare was Jack the Ripper just because he killed off so many people in his plays.

Q:  So how did you go about changing that perception?
A:  I decided I’d only do my own ideas, and not anybody else’s, and I’d keep doing that until people got used to seeing the kind of pictures I wanted to do. I figured even if they rejected the work itself, they’d get used to seeing the kind of work I was doing.

Q:  But if they did reject the work, how did you expect to get any of it published?
A:  Good question. I used to ask myself that. Although—since I didn’t have an answer—I tried not to ask it very often. I know it doesn’t sound logical, but I had faith that it would work and in the end, it did. I took my portfolio up to Playboy magazine in Chicago one day. Dropped it off really—I couldn’t get an appointment to see the art director. So I came back to pick it up the next day, expecting to get the Bum’s Rush. Instead, in 15 minutes, my life changed.

Q:  What do you think they saw in your work that others didn’t?
A:  It wasn’t what they saw, it was who saw it. Playboy was probably the highest paying magazine in the world at that time. They had just moved into the old Palmolive Building on Michigan Avenue, renamed it, remodeled it: exotic interior, great art on the walls, beautiful women everywhere. It was all a bit overwhelming. You’d expect the art director to be like Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Instead I met Art Paul, who turned out to be one of the most gracious people I’ve ever met in my life. 

Art invited me into his big office, praised me as something new  and asked me if I’d like to do work for them every month. When I told him I didn’t want to do literal ideas, he gave me a green light to do stuff that was personal—even though the normal policy at Playboy was to dictate ideas to artists. He said he wanted to get this kind of work in the magazine. And because Playboy was such a high profile publication at the time, once my work started appearing there regularly, art directors began to call me to do the same kind of stuff they had been turning down. Suddenly nobody thought I belonged on a couch any longer. 

Q:  You had created a demand for the kind of work you wanted to do.  Had that been a conscious strategy? 
A:  Not really. I just stumbled up the stairs in the dark and when the lights came on, there I was.


Q:  Did you consciously work at developing a style?
A:  At first, yes. In fact, the work I showed Playboy was very stylized. I was influenced by graphic artists like Ben Shahn and Hokusai. But as I learned how to boil my ideas down, I learned to boil my style down too. To make it transparent. It’s like when I write, I try to get rid of “beautiful” writing.  The same thing with pictures. After that my natural style began to develop.


Q:  How do you define your “natural” style?
A:  I just disappear into the picture and let the style define itself.

Q:  Do you remember when you came to identify your style as your own?
A:  Oh yeah, It was a very precise moment—like one of those clear thoughts that come to you after a long fog. I’d been working on a bunch of ink drawings for a book and I was trying to develop an approach that wasn’t as graphic as the stuff I’d been doing for Playboy. I’d spent the whole afternoon in a very bizarre situation, doodling, almost absent-mindedly, on a big manila envelope with a ball point pen. When I got home that night, I looked at this envelope covered with drawings. They seemed so unself-conscious that I knew I’d found what I’d been looking for.

Q: Your career has taken a strange turn into the political arena lately, most recently leading the fight against current orphan works legislation. Can you explain that briefly?
A: Sure. It’s an anti-copyright law. It would give any member of the public a right to infringe your work whenever he says he had looked real hard to find you but couldn’t. So—that means if ten thousand clients can find you, but one knucklehead can’t, the knucklehead gets to use your work for nothing. 


Q:  That’s a fairly dramatic change to the law.
A:  Well yeah. First, who wants to be so easy to find that any knucklehead can find you? And second, there may be lots of people you don’t want to find you. Think “Danish Political Cartoonists.” I mean we all want to be found by clients we want to work with, but this law says you can forfeit your work if you don’t make yourself available to everybody in the country.

Q:  Who’s behind the law, if you can tell?
A:  It started with a small group of legal scholars who want to make the public a generous gift of other people’s property. They cooked up the legislative scheme. But it’s being backed by big internet companies like Google, whose business model depends on giving the public free access to other people’s work. This bill would do the trick for them. 


Q:  I know this has taken an enormous amount of your own time, energy, and money. What motivated you to take on this role?
A:  Nature abhors a vacuum, I suppose. And, since nobody was doing anything to oppose the bill, it  just seemed like somebody ought to do something. 

Q:  How did you find out about it? 
A:  Cynthia Turner is the one who did—she’s a medical illustrator. She found the Notice of Inquiry on the Copyright Office website in 2005. She called it to my attention. Actually, I wrote the first article about it back in 2002—although I didn’t know then it was going to be called orphaned work. I’d been writing some satirical articles about Postmodernism—and I recognized the movement to undermine copyright as a species of that. When Cynthia and I started, we were pretty much alone in opposing the bill. The last I looked, there are now 81 organizations against it and nearly half a million artists. 

Q:  You mean not just visual artists, but artists, writers, photographers, songwriters, musicians, etc. 
A:  Right, and we’ve been presenting it to Congress as a small business issue. A private property issue. Because the bill would force you to put your work, contractual information, client contact information—all that stuff—into giant, privately-owned commercial databases. If an infringer can’t find your work in the databases, it would be a potential orphan. And that means anything: professional paintings, family snapshots, home videos. Published stuff, unpublished stuff. Anything you’ve ever put on the internet. It’d all be available to use as an “orphaned” work. The law professors have sold Congress on the idea that if we don’t register  every single picture we’ve ever done, it proves we don’t have any commercial interest in it. 

Q:  How would these registries work?
A:  Who knows. It’s all been negotiated in secret with lobbyists. I suspect they’d operate pretty much like stock houses, promoting themselves as one stop shopping centers for art. If you’ve registered your work with them, they’d probably charge you maintenance fees and commissions for clearing your work. If you’re a publisher or art director, they’d probably charge you search fees. If you’re an infringer, they’d charge you a search fee and issue orphan certificates for all the unregistered work you’d like to infringe. 

Q:  What’s the status of the bill now? 
A:  Well, the Senate passed it, but so far we’ve been able to stall it in the House.

Q:  Why should art directors care about the this bill?
A:  Because popular art depends on visionary art directors just as much as it does on artists and designers. I can’t imagine living in a culture where people think that creativity is a matter of ripping off somebody’s work, photoshopping it a little and calling the process a “paradigm shift.”  Collage may be a form of art, but art isn’t a form of collage.

Q:  Are you still able to find time at your drawing table – or easel, whichever?
A:  Oh sure. 

Q: And you’re still taking assignments?
A:  Of course. I just finished 23 paintings for Harrah’s in Las Vegas and 10 for a restaurant in Zurich. I’m finishing a picture for Vanity Fair and starting two posters. 

Q: You’ve been a vocal critic of the stock industry and have kept your existing work out of the secondary rights marketplace until now. 
A:  Well—actually that’s not true. I began selling secondary rights to my work in 1978. That’s when the Copyright law changed. Before that, publishers usually owned the rights to the pictures you did for them and people hardly ever talked about secondary rights. In fact, a lot of people thought it was unethical to license work to one client that you had done for another.

Q:  And you didn’t think it was unethical?
A:  No, not if the pictures were yours—and assuming there was no conflict of interest, of course. I mean I was very careful about how I did it. But see, I had always done my own ideas—if I had been working from an art director’s sketches, that might have been different. But they were my pictures, so I figured I had every right to treat them as a body of work. Of course that was before stock houses entered the picture. When they did, I opposed them.

Q:  Why?
A: Because they were selling pictures like potato chips. A few years ago, the head of one stock house said they were only giving clients what they wanted. He said times have changed and art directors now see illustration as a disposable commodity. Well, if that’s the way they think about the work they’re selling—and the people they’re selling it to, it poisons the whole field. I don’t care if you’re painting a picture or painting a house. 

Q:  So what led you to finally give buyers access to your archives again?
A:  Well as I said, I’ve always done it, but I’ve always treated it as part of the big picture. For example, the paintings I just finished for Harrah’s began as a stock request. They wanted 28 paintings from the archive. But I thought they’d be better served if I did mostly new things. So we worked out a deal: five pictures from the archive, as a kind of template for the project; then I did 23 new paintings to go with them. The archival work gave them a specific idea about how the series would look—something they might not have gotten from pencil sketches—but it allowed me to give the series the right feel, the right mood. The ideas, the colors, the composition were all tailored to fit the architectural space, not cropped or stretched or photoshopped to fit.

But now, having said that, I know that what you’re really asking is why I’ve put some of my work with Profile. 

Look, you know I’m opposed to any kind of art supermarket. But that’s not what you’re doing here. I think artists made a big mistake  giving their work to stock houses. But they did it and it was clear even ten years ago that we’d have to live with the consequences. I wrote then that we’d all have to steer into the skid—find new ways to work with clients.

So two years ago, when you called with this idea of starting an archive that art directors would find useful without—what shall we say—treating the work as a disposable commodity, I thought you sounded like somebody we should try working with. You’ve been very responsive to all our suggestions.

I should add—just for the record—that I don’t have any stake of any kind in your business. I just respect what you’re trying to do and I hope you’re very successful.

Brad Holland’s website:
www.bradholland.net

Brad Holland’s stock archive:
holland.profilestock.com

Brad Holland at illoz: 
www.illoz.com/bradholland

Listen to Steven Heller’s conversation with Brad about copyright and the Orphan Works bill (audio podcast)

Read Varoom Magazine’s interview with Brad Holland

All images copyright © 2008 Brad Holland. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Lisa L. Cyr

Lisa L. Cyr creates evocative illustrations with a unique blend of spontaneity and refined craftsmanship. She utilizes abstract textures, colors, and tactile objects skillfully woven together with tightly rendered images to communicate complex concepts. Lisa’s work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally and is included in the permanent collection of the Museum of American Illustration. She is also an accomplished author with her finger on the pulse of the creative industry.
I caught up with Lisa between speaking engagements to ask her a few questions about her work and get her take on what’s happening in the world of illustration.

Q:  You’re work is often built around a strong conceptual solution. How do you approach a conceptual assignment?
A:  Clients come to me when a story, text or concept is difficult to visualize or the subject matter calls for a more cerebral solution. I often get assignments that call for illuminating abstract ideas such as the passing of time or opposing themes like life and death, good and evil or disappointment and acceptance that need to be portrayed within the same image.

I always begin with research, an integral part of the process. After amassing myself in a topic, I synthesize what I have unearthed, making vital connections and establishing relationships that bring the concept to life. Clever editing is always used as a way to create room for imaginative interpretation, inviting the viewer to personally invest in the overall concept.

In my work, I often use layers of symbolism, metaphors and allegory as a way to stimulate curiosity, provoke thought and encourage the viewer to look deeper to discover anew. There is an element of storytelling present but it’s more poetic rather than narrative in nature. I am interested in emotionally and intellectually engaging the viewer, creating a multi-sensual experience rather than a slice-of-life scene.

Q:  You’re work uses a multitude of media. What does a multimedia aesthetic offer in the communications process?
A:  My work is not only layered in concept but also in media, a rhythmic synthesis of drawing, painting, collage, assemblage and sculpture within the same picture plane. Choices in materials and technique are never random but deliberate and conscious, based upon their ability to most effectively communicate a concept. Through my work and the research that I’ve gained by writing books on innovative production and processes, I’ve learned a lot about how various materials and techniques can evoke innate responses based upon their inherent properties and the cultural and historical connotations that have been attributed to them over time. I use this knowledge to yield a more emotionally-driven image.

My compositions employ disparate and fragmented typographic elements, ideograms and ephemera that have been taken out of their ordinary context and reorganized, overlapped and juxtaposed to impose the power of suggestion. I use a push pull process, where I put things onto the working surface only to later scrape, scratch and peel back into it, arriving at an environment that ignites the imaginative faculties. To push the picture plane into the third dimension, I will often insert boxes, apply imaginary windows and add assemblage accents in a visually dynamic way. Throughout my work, the various pictorial elements I employ take on multiple roles and the visual field becomes a playground for the mind. A profile on my work will be featured in an upcoming issue of The Artist’s Magazine (June 2009). I also have work coming out in SPECTRUM 15: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art.

Q:  Describe your ideal assignment.
A:  I’ve been very fortunate in my career to be able to do assignments that are ideal and perfect for me. Since I am in control of the content of my work, I have built a career around my own interests. My life experiences are what drive my work. Because I write and illustrate, I get to choose the topic and what I want to translate in words as well as pictures.

For me, the artistic process begins with an inspired idea. From there, the idea is flushed out, set into a format (ie. book, article, card series, calendar and other merchandising etc.) and sold to a quality publisher with an international distribution channel. The work is then written, illustrated, designed, produced and put out into the culture. I am also very involved in the marketing of my projects, actively speaking across the country at art organizations, industry conferences and universities. Lectures, events and exhibits allow me to share the content to a targeted audience, garnishing feedback and energizing me for the next project.

Q:  Can you talk about your most recent book called Art Revolution?
A:  Art Revolution (June 2009, North Light Books) is at the forefront in exploring alternative, innovative ways of conceptualizing and creating art that is on the cutting-edge. Throughout the highly visual book, insightful and thought-provoking profiles of leading artists and illustrators accompany stellar, multi-media work. The book also provides insight into the historical influences behind contemporary thinking and approaches, investigating the origins of alternative, unconventional picture making throughout the decades. In addition, exciting splash spreads, featuring demonstrations and behind-the-scene looks at groundbreaking artists at work, help shed light on signature processes and techniques.

There is a rich amalgam of media available to creatives today, offering a wide range of possibilities for exploration and experimentation. Art Revolution is on the cutting-edge, revealing how alternative, mixed media aesthetics is uniting the disciplines of two-dimensional, three-dimensional, digital and new media art in inventive combinations. For those wanting to venture outside the norm, a complete directory of the manufacturers and suppliers used by the artists featured is listed in the back of the book so that sourcing materials, gaining access to health and safety procedures and obtaining additional information on unconventional techniques and approaches are easily accessible.

The demands, distractions and challenges present in today’s fast-paced, chaotic world make it ever more difficult to break through the sea of mediocrity to make a memorable, lasting connection with an audience. For artists that are looking for an edge, wanting to push their work further, this book is a valuable asset and ongoing source for inspiration.

The artists featured in the book include Marshall Arisman, Brad Holland, Dave Mckean, Barron Storey, David Mack, Fred Otnes, Kazuhiko Sano, Lisa L. Cyr, Cynthia von Buhler, Rudy Gutierrez, Michael Mew, Lynne Foster, Kathleen Conover, Robert Maloney, Susan Leopold, A.E. Ryan, Stephanie Dalton Cowan, Matt Manley, Richard Tuschman, Dorothy Simpson Krause and Camille Utterback.

In addition, Reinterpret, Reinvent and Redefine is an insightful lecture and highly visual presentation that will be available upon the launch of the book. Interested organizations, universities and the media can visit www.cyrstudio.com/cuttingedge.html for more details.

Q:  You write and lecture extensively about the business of illustration and the creative industry in general. What is your perception of the health of the illustration business?
A:  The economic climate has crippled budgets and left buyers to seek alternatives, opening up the competitive landscape to corporate stock houses and royalty free imagery. Although the markets for print have become fragmented, we are seeing tremendous growth in the areas of new media. For illustrators, the entertainment-based markets of gaming and animated films yield exciting and prosperous avenues—offering not only onsite and offsite freelance work but also fulltime employment with benefits, stock options and bonuses in a very upwardly mobile industry. For information on these markets, check out my article, Interactive Storytelling, in the Communication Arts Illustration Annual (July 2008). To remain viable, illustrators, more than ever, need to become more entrepreneurial in their approach, developing their own content and not simply relying on the market for guidance.

Q:  You’re married to Christopher Short, a successful illustrator with a very different approach and technique from your own. Does that create any special challenges for a marriage?
A:  Prior to working as a prolific 3D illustrator and animator, Chris was an amazing oil painter of beautiful figurative subjects for mass market book publishers. He switched to the digital realm as a way to dramatically increase not only the number of jobs that he could handle in a week but also the variety of work. Chris has always had a passion for music and film. By working 3D, he now has the ability to animate and add sound to the work he creates. His work can also be seen on Profilestock and at www.chrisshort.com.

The biggest challenge that we face is security for the long-term. Because we both work exclusively as freelancers, it’s important that jobs continually flow in. It takes a lot of effort and work to make that happen every week. But, when you have a mortgage and are supporting a family, you get up each day hitting the pavement hard, developing intellectual property and sending out proposals in search of new opportunities for the work to move and grow. Between the two of us, there isn’t a market that we haven’t tapped.

Many of our illustrator friends have a spouse with a fulltime gig to supplement slow times and for health insurance and benefits. We have to supply those things ourselves. When I had my daughter, there was no maternity leave. I worked right up to the delivery and then continued to work right after she was born. It’s challenging to juggle everything, but I’ve been doing it for over 25 years. The last ten years have been with my husband Chris and I have enjoyed the collaboration ever since.

 

Lisa L. Cyr’s website:
www.cyrstudio.com

Lisa L. Cyr’s stock archive:
lisalcyr.profilestock.com

 

All images copyright © 2008 Lisa L Cyr. All rights reserved.

Darrel Tank

For more than 45 years Darrel has honed his unique technique, rendering highly-detailed images to a level that few have the ability or patience to master. To call Darrel’s work “realism” would be somewhat inaccurate. He creates images that often idealize or romanticize reality, infusing the ordinary with an unreal quality. Yet, despite being tightly rendered, Darrel’s work never looks overworked and—because he works in traditional mediums—his images reflect a human touch that’s often missing from digital mediums.

Darrel’s stunning graphite portraits are one of his specialties. He is also internationally renowned for his Biblical images which have earned him recongnition within the relatively small Christian publishing market. However, he is largely undiscovered by the general publishing and advertising industry.

If you’re not familiar with Darrel’s work, read on and get to know one of the few masters of an increasingly rare form of illustration.

 

Q: When your work is so well known within a specific genre, is it difficult to get art directors to recognize the potential for your work in a wider context?
A:  It is easy to become stereotyped I guess. People usually ask me to do the same type of work they’ve seen me do. Since many of my clients have been religious publishers that’s the exposure I’ve been getting. I have enjoyed the many opportunities I’ve had to illustrate for advertising and product representation, but my name is not visible to the viewer as it is when my work appears in magazines or books. Name recognition is invaluable and so it’s obviously a great advantage to have the credit line. 

Q:  Your style of highly detailed realism seems to be almost a lost art. Have you noticed any trends over the years in the demand for realistic illustration?
A:  Not as far as the general public goes. I have found that there are a great many people (maybe most) who want to understand what they are looking at, so that they can identify with it. I think Norman Rockwell illustrated it very well with his illustration of the man gazing at a piece of modern art, scratching his head as he tried to make sense of it. So, whether it’s recognized or not, I think there will always be that great appreciation for traditional realism.

 


Q:  Many illustrators seem to be modifying their techniques so they can work quicker in order to compensate for tightening art budgets. Your work looks very time consuming. Have you felt pressure to find a faster way of working?
A:  Yes, to a degree. Although, I realize that I can only take that so far. I have a very detailed style and it just takes time to create that affect. But, it is an illusion and there are some things that I can emphasize and then back off of the things of lesser importance. However, when a client chooses my work, it’s usually because of the detailed approach so I most often have to maintain that look. Many art directors call me because of my realism but may not realize it often takes much more time to accomplish it. Often publishers have a set budget for things like the cover, half page, spot, etc. so I’m kind of caught between a rock and a hard place.

 

Q:  What mediums do you work with?

A:  Graphite Pencil, Colored Pencil, Gouache, Pen and Ink. Often I’ll use a combinations such as oil washes with colored pencil.

Q: Your website says you teach private drawing classes and shows some remarkable examples of work your students have done. Tell me about your graphite portrait techniques classes.
A:  Of all the things that I’ve done in the arts, I think teaching and sharing what I’ve learned with others has been the most enjoyable. It’s an incredible experience to bring out an artistic ability in someone who never thought that they had any. When even an eighty-five year old can, after all those years, finally unleash something inside them that they needed to express and then realize that someone else has actually been moved by their art, that’s worth everything.

Even though my technique is unique, it does have a clear method that my students can understand. With practice and guidance they gain confidence, skill, and an unleashed passion for drawing to the point that they can hardly put their pencils down.

 

Darrel’s website:
www.darreltank.com

Darrel’s stock archive:
tank.profilestock.com

 

All images copyright © 2008 Darrel Tank. All rights reserved.