For this months, slightly late double feature, I was able to get an interview with Canadian illustrator Jason Edmiston. There is also a nice gallery featuring 20 images of his work, so make sure you check that out after reading the interview.
CM: Can you tell us a bit how you got started in art, did you go to any art school for your training?
Jason: Not sure how far you want me to go back, but I actually knew I was going to be an artist for a living since I was a child. I never thought I would do anything else, and luckily it worked out. I had regular public school and high school art classes, but after that I went to the Ontario College of Art (now called OCAD because of an increased design department). It was a four year program, where the first year focused on foundations of art, and you specialized in an area over the next three years. I went into Communication and Design with a focus on illustration. Although school was a good way to get exposed to and prepared for the life of a working artist, I felt that I still needed to tighten my portfolio to get regular paying gigs. After college, I continued to teach myself through trial and error practice, and by pouring over my large library of art books.
CM: What got you hooked on using acrylic paints? I imagine for editorial work it is faster drying, but is there anything else about the medium you enjoy?
Jason: In art school we tried everything. Our teachers encouraged us to find our “voice”. I can remember bringing crayons to drawing class one day. I tried oils a few times, but found it to be too difficult to work with, and stayed “wet” too long for my taste. I also like to lean on the surface when I paint, and acrylic seemed to fit my temperament. It is definitely beneficial for a commercial painter with often tight deadlines to be able to scan a piece within minutes of finishing it, as acrylic dries very fast. Also, if I wanted a slower drying time, there are retarders that can be added to the paint, as well as being able to thin the paint with water for a watercolor look. I believe aside from digital, acrylic is the most versatile painting medium ever created, and because it’s essentially plastic, it is very durable.
CM: What are some of your influences, and what initially got you interested in making art?
Jason: I have a huge list of artists that I am inspired by. To list a few: Frank Frazetta, Norman Rockwell, Ron English, Todd Schorr, the Hildebrandt Brothers, Drew Struzan, Anita Kunz, Basil Gogos…the list goes on. Some are evident in my work, and others inspire me just with their themes or compositions. I also grew up with comic books, toy packaging, movie posters, pulp novels, and heavy metal album art. All of these things made me want to be an artist as a child. I can vividly remember the experience of seeing an amazing piece of art, and being stopped in my tracks, literally feeling a tingle in my neck, like when you see a beautiful woman on the street. I am embarrassed to say though , that the eureka moment happened in public school when I was probably about 6 years old, and the other kids would ask me to draw Garfield from memory. I knew from that time that I wanted to be a professional artist.
CM: You stated that pop culture makes it way into your art. What it is about pop culture that influences you?
Jason: I think pop culture has replaced a universal knowledge of religious mythology. Within the melting pot of western culture, there are so many different opinions on religion and their various figures, but we all seem to share a common knowledge of popular cultural icons, mascots, actors, characters, etc. These are visual touchstones that we can all relate to. Everyone in the world knows Elvis Presley, or Darth Vader or Frankenstein’s monster. I really enjoy using some of these characters in a new way that we haven’t seen before, and viewers feel comfortable at first, because they think they know what they are looking at. That’s when I like to take a left turn in a piece, and mess with the character in an unexpected way. I like to explore the secret lives of corporate mascots.
CM: What are some of the movies or music that has influenced your work.
Jason: 80’s horror movies like Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc. Any movie where Drew Struzan painted the poster (Star Wars. Indiana Jones, Back to the Future). Basically movies that have a wealth of eye candy and great character design and/or poster art. I would go to video stores as a kid and rent movies based on box art..and before shitty Photoshop collages, there was a wealth of great illustrated box covers..even on the awful movies (maybe especially on the awful Movies). As far as music goes, nothing gets my juices flowing like old school heavy metal (Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Ozzy). It’s not surprising that these groups often had great painted album art. They were pulling from the same influences as me…horror movies, comic books, pulp novels. The music is exciting, violent, sexy and poetic, and filled with imagination (read Iron Maiden’s lyrics..especially “Run to the Hills” and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” ). Great inspiration for the types of paintings that I love.
CM: Are there any artists that you would like to collaborate with, or show alongside in a gallery?
Jason: I’ve talked to Alex Pardee recently about doing a collaborative piece, and he’s very interested. I think it could be epic. My anal retentive rendering, and his balls out expressiveness and off the wall humor could be a great contrast, but at the same time, we share many of the same visual influences. In a perfect world, I would love to be in a group show with Alex, Ron English or Todd Schorr. I respect a lot of the artists that appear in High Fructose, and Juxtapose magazine (although the later seems to be shifting direction a little lately away from my type of art).
CM: You recently participated in Rue Morgues 100th Anniversary Issue. Can you tell us about how you got selected, and what your connection with the horror art world is like?
Jason: My relationship with the gang from Rue Morgue began a year ago at Fan Expo the giant annual comic convention here in Toronto. They run the Festival of Fear section of the con. I went over to their booth to show my love of their mag, and I met the EIC Dave Alexander, AD Gary Pullin, and GD Justin Erickson. They liked my work as well. It was like a mutual admiration society. We became fast friends, and are planning a group art show which is going to kick nards. Stay tuned.
My connection with the horror world has just begun actually. Although I’ve been in the business for almost 15 years, I’m starting to focus more of my attention on monster themes, and it’s really been paying off in the last couple of years. I’m working on movie posters, toy packaging, heavy metal album covers, horror comic covers, prints through my Etsy store, and original paintings.
CM: You have done a lot of editorial and advertising work, is there any other area of art you would like to start working in?
Jason: I’m starting to work in new areas that I’ve always wanted to work in. I’ll be doing an album cover for a local rock band that will be reminiscent of Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, and I’m designing a monster toy line with a toy dealer friend of mine. I can’t talk too much about it right now. We’re still trying to work out licensing.
CM: Can you tell us a bit about your working process, how you get each painting started and then finished?
Jason: Here is a link to my process so you can follow along with pictures:
After thinking up a concept, I start with a rough pencil drawing to work out the composition. This is usually the part that I struggle over the most. If it works at this stage, the rest I find, is just polishing. After a rough comp is approved by me or the client, I compile photo reference (from the internet or my picture file), or shoot my own models.
Next I tighten the drawing up with an indication of light and shadow at full size. This is the size I will be painting at, which is usually 50% bigger than it will be reproduced (this is unless it is a large painting, and then I just work at a comfortable size for the amount of detail in a piece, then blow up the pencils later to paint it). This drawing is scanned and sent to the art director for approval. Unless changes are required, I move on to paint.
The drawing is printed out on bond paper, and if large, it is printed on multiple pieces of paper and tiled together. I then trace the main outlines of the drawing by using a piece of graphite paper in between the line art and my painting surface (sometimes a gessoed wood panel if I’m painting a hanging piece, and sometimes gessoed watercolor paper if it’s for print).
The first step in adding paint is to work up a full value painting in raw umber, to get a medium tone on the board so it’s easier to balance contrast and pull the colors together. From here on I start from the background and move forward, usually painting each area to about 90% of full values (not the brightest or darkest values until the end). Then I move on to the next section of the piece that is “closer” to the viewer. As a rule, the first values that I paint in an area, be it background, mid-ground, foreground..are the mid-dark values which imply shadows. Then I add mid-light values, then move darker, then go lighter, back and forth until i’ve pushed the range from very dark in some shadow areas to very light on the highlights. This way you can control the piece and always take it a little more in either direction if it’s desired. I tend to gravitate towards art that is color saturated and has lots of value range.
As a final adjustment, I might take a painting into Photoshop and tweak the color balance or levels a little to make it pop a little more..or tone it down a little if I’ve gone a little astray.
CM: Finally, if any of the pop culture characters you have painted could come to life, which one would you choose?
Jason: Probably Yoda, because he is so wise. I would ask him a question, then shake him like a magic eight ball until he gives me a cryptic answer. Paint or paint not..there is no try.