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If you have a degree in what field is it? I last saw my Bachelor of Arts degree in visual communications design, from Alberta College of Art & Design, in one of my sketchbooks. My sketchbooks are my ultimate precious treasures so it made complete sense to put the paper in one of them.

Have you always been able to draw or was it a skill you learned in college? Contrary to popular belief, I feel like I’m still learning how to draw, more of a work in progress. Besides, everyone draws, only some do it way, way, way longer and much better. However, as an art college illustration instructor may I add: A rigorous illustration program can teach discipline, direction and determination with imagery. Looking at it another way, it gets artists out of their basements and their parents off their backs!

What was your first paid assignment? Not so much a paid assignment as a payback. I decided, in my reckless younger days, to draw a complete set of racy caricatures of my high school teachers, even posting them on the notice board across from the teachers lounge so all the school could marvel at them. Overnight I became famous—popular with all, received gifts from new friends—a pillar of youthful angst that defied the establishment. I'd learnt the incredible intoxicating power of the mighty pen… then, later, the supreme power of the principal’s detention pen.

Which illustrator (or fine artist) do you most admire? I can’t choose any one name as there are many illustrators and artists that I highly admire. There were those at MAD and CRACKED. I grew up with these brain bashing, brain-washing or possible brain-wasting encyclopedias of life and loved their imaginative and sarcastic natures. Caricature and editorializing was their main focus—beyond the pure entertainment value. This style of work has its roots in Narrative art and Political and Social Realism and all deal with these same issues and humanist concepts. They propelled me to explore and develop images with an aggressive, distorted, manic and sarcastic approach. See the work, see the man; or as an homage to MAD, monkey do as monkey see! Beyond admiring the greats such as Picasso, Matisse, and Beckmann, I find myself constantly drawn (excuse the pun) to the masters of line: artists George Grosz, Ben Shahn and Honore Daumier; and illustrators Alan E. Cober, Henrik Drescher, Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman.

What would you be doing if you weren’t an illustrator? I grew up on a farming ranch in the back forty, out in the boonies. We had no electricity, running water or even a radio so I spent a lot of my time using my imagination and drawing. I loved the freedom, the boundless creative fun we had and the art we made. I knew I wanted to pursue this as an adult. I guess becoming an illustrator was the only real choice I had. When I first went to art college I didn’t fit the fine artist mold so I considered being a designer...which I quickly found out was way too much work and effort (i.e., talking to obnoxious clients, press checks at ungodly hours or counting spaces between type) so I became an illustrator, who could have creative and meaningful discussions with supremely intelligent, gifted and sensitive art directors and designers, draw in an art studio and never have to put pants on all day. Now I draw all the time, teach others to draw all the time, and even draw more with our young daughter. God, I love being an illustrator!

From where do your best ideas originate? Fear, loathing, and then more fear. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, a glimmer of a visual starts to rattle and roll around in the ol’ noggin. After the cold sweats have subsided, it’s then that I find my inner happy place. Once out of the fetal position I instinctively take up a pen and start to draw. No set visual direction at first, just drawing to enjoy drawing (not being in the fetal position helps tremendously). Or it could be from my hippocampus? Can a sense of humor work?

How do you overcome a creative block? With a really really tall ladder? Super springy shoes? Or I don’t have blocks, just snakes and ladders? Actually it’s more the opposite, it’s trying to slow the overflow of too many visuals every time I get an illustration gig. Whether it’s working on a real gig or personal images, I’m constantly pushing to create new versions, adaptations and approaches for my work. So when a mad deadline or wild assignment comes down the pipes I usually have an image to fit it.

In one word describe how you feel when beginning a new assignment? Medicated!

Do you have a personal philosophy? Work hard. Read lots. Draw lots. Drink hard. Then draw more, but don’t spill your drink! Never give up. Never surrender. Never say never. Well, maybe sometimes if it’s a lame idea to illustrate or a jerky to work with.

Do you have creative pursuits other than illustration? The pursuit of happiness? The pursuit of our three-year-old? She’s a runner, a running fool actually, a deer-in-the-headlights maniac. Head strong and like the wind. By the time I catch her I have no time, or energy, left to pursue anything else. It’s great!

What music are you listening to right now? The best of Broadway! Broadway! Broadway!

What’s your favorite quote? “Don’t let the door hit you where the good lord split you.” (recently quoted by Stephen Colbert). It’s an oldie but a goodie. Well, not always a goodie, I used to hear it a lot from ADs after viewing my portfolio. Thank god they never noticed the embroidered cowboy boots I was wearing!

Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? This is the advice I give out when I’m presenting a lecture to illustration students preparing to enter our profession:

A) Get some Hawaiian shirts! The brighter the better! Your closet becomes a walk in palette of color and style to choose from when creating an illustration. It’s sort of the moth to the light syndrome but there are worse things to be influenced by! Oh yeah, and coffee and Coca-Cola help too, well most sugars can do the trick—and there’s sugar in alcohol, which can be a huge influence on the images you make... well, try to make! So wearing Hawaiian shirts in places that serve alcohol can be a life-affirming influence, just be careful not to make it a life destroying influence… Bad taste in Hawaiian shirts can be the kiss of death!
B) Illustration is a super duper fab-dabulous fantastic lifestyle but it’s not for everyone. It’s like being the rock star of the design world, now please hand me my towel! (Usually a roar of laughter follows.) Now have everyone in your class stand up and count off. Have every seventh person put his or her hand up and continue until everyone has counted off. Those who have their hands up may just make it to becoming illustrators. The rest of you may want to reflect on your hamburger-flipping skills, or sales calls chatter or, if you’re a people-person, then maybe dental hygienist training?
C) Don’t be boring and safe; it’s for sissies! Either will kill your career and death lasts a long, long time.
D) And last, over the last 25 years I’ve had the fortune to meet and become friends with many incredibly creative people in the illustration profession. As an illustration instructor for fifteen years, I’ve taught many talented individuals who have become amazing illustrators. Real illustrators. They too have realized that this is not a career or job but a lifestyle and a life-long one at that. Those individuals who have a dedicated work ethic, a determined drawing discipline, and the endless imagination to explore will always succeed. As you begin every illustration always ask, “What if?”

What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? I wish I’d known to invest in Apple Inc.

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