Interview: Joe Scarano

For the month of June, we have another single artist feature with interview, this time from Joe Scarano. Joe Scarano was born in Warwick, NY in 1975. He was raised alongside a litter of sisters in Miami, FL and later in Bethpage, NY.

During the day Joe works as an online art director for a non-profit consumer advocacy group. He spends his nights painting characters and environments that recall the odd early days of animation and the dingy despair of the 1930′s. With their popsicle stick bucktoothed grins, hollow heads and dead eyes his characters often straddle the lines between funny, tragic, grotesque, and sad.

He currently lives in Orange County, NY with his wife Marci, son Mason, and several furry creatures.


Cm: You grew up in Florida and New York, were you active in creating art during your childhood?

Joe: Yes! I was always drawing and doodling for as long as I can remember.
As a youngster I was always drawing really elaborate space battles and hot rods. I was also obsessed with Mad magazine and trying to re-create the covers.
Eventually I graduated to painting heavy metal album covers on my friends denim jackets. I once painted Cannibal Corpse’s Butchered at Birth album cover on a friends jacket, I had to hide if from my family for fear of being put into a mental ward!

Cm: Are you mainly a self taught artist, or did you have any formal training in the arts, such as a university or private school?

Joe: Kind of half and half… I took art classes all throughout school and then studied graphic design in college. I never focused on illustration or painting during school, I picked up most of that after I was already working as a designer.

Cm: It says you were inspired by the golden age of animation. What are some of your favorite cartoons, and some of the artists that inspired your work?

Joe: As a kid I loved Popeye, Woody woodpecker, Tom & jerry… all the classics. Just about anything by Tex Avery! I grew up expecting cars to come equipped with miniature 1940’s pin-up gals in the glove box. Max Fleischer, I remember seeing Steamboat Willie at a young age and being fascinated by it… it all looked so strange. A lot of the early animation from the 20’s and 30’s definitely inspires my work now. It’s all very surreal and psychotically happy.

Cm: I know that you use cel vinyl acrylic and standard acrylics in your works. Can you tell us a bit about cel vinyl, how it compares to standard acrylics, and the benefits of using it?

Joe: Cel vinyl dries super fast and really flat. Most of the colors are super opaque too. I find it works really great for dry brush techniques, I’m able to achieve a lot of looks that are generally done using gauche but cel vinyl is much easier to use… for me anyway.


Cm: Looking through your work, a few of the characters seem to pop up in more than one painting. Do you have any of these characters named, and what inspired them?

Joe: I have a few of my characters named… choxy, ol’ Gyp, Stitch Wilson. A lot of them are inspired by some of the crazy stories my father tells from back when he hung around with some real misfits. Other characters are inspired by various sources, music, movies, endless hours of nonsensical conversations with friends, crazy shit I have stumbled on in old stores, hobos, the belief that woodland creatures really can speak and are plotting our destruction, the insane fears you had as a child, any tragically funny situation really.

Cm: Can any of your characters be considered a self-portrait?

Joe: I think the closest I have come to doing a self portrait is probably young Mortimer Minworth from my school portrait series.
As a wee lad I hated school pictures, most of my school pictures feature a very forced and barely visible smile.
I think those pictures really inspired that piece.

Cm: Who are some of the current working artists that inspire you, and any artists that you would love to collaborate with?

Joe: Ah… there are so many great artists out there today. Dave Cooper, Colin Johnson, Dan May, Heiko Muller, Ryan Heshke, Brandi Milne, Greg “Craola” Simkins to name a few.

Cm: I see that you don’t have any drawings or sketches added to your site or other profiles. Do you do a lot of sketching before working on a painting?

Joe: I tend to sketch very randomly, usually in the margins of some work document or all over my notebook during meetings. In the past my sketches have mostly consisted of a central character or the characters head and I would build around that once I started painting. With my more recent pieces like The Corner Boys I will do a very detailed sketch on the surface that I’m going to paint. Once I am happy with the sketch I coat it in clear gesso and paint right over it. So most of my detailed sketches get covered over with the final piece.

Cm: What are some of the things you do while painting; any music, movies or other inspiration to get the creativity started?

Joe: While I’m painting I always listen to music, I find TV way too distracting! If I had a TV in my art room I would wind up watching all sorts of crappy movies in stead of actually painting. Recently I have started flipping through old art history and illustration books as reference while I am working things out. It helps get ideas going as well as how to execute certain techniques. I am working on a piece that is set on the sea and getting the ocean water right has been difficult… it’s good to have that reference material around.


Cm: Being originally inspired by animation, and clearly skilled in character design and the materials needed for animation. Have you ever though about creating a animated movie or series based on the world you have created?

Joe: I have thought about it from time to time, I even started a flash based animated comic with a friend but it died in the early stages. I would love to create some sort of animated short based on my characters and their sad little world. There is so much that goes into animating that I would not even know where to begin.

Cm: Finally, are they any types of inspirations, hobbies or music/art that your art would not give the indication you enjoy?

Joe: I love riding my motorcycle, but I seem to do that less and less now that I have a youngster of my own. I do a lot of playing with matchbox cars and Tonka trucks nowadays which is actually a lot of fun.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Jun 25, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    I like riding my motorcycle and playing with matchbox cars too Joe!

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