Interview: Justin Gerard

Today, we present Justin Gerard. Justin is an illustrator with a love for the Renaissance masters. His work has been featured in Spectrum Fantastic Arts, the Society of Illustrators and the Illustrators Annual. His painting, Lovecraft in Innsmouth, was recently featured at an art show dedicated to Lovecraft’s work.

IFP: Please introduce yourself briefly to our readers in haiku form. Kidding. Just introduce yourself.

JG: I lift my brush
Kitties of the world rejoice
Rome is on fire

Ok, so I was never very good at haiku.

I live in Greenville, South Carolina. America. I paint and run a small visual arts agency for a living. I love it. I enjoy world traveling, camping, chocolate chip cookies, and tank strategy.

IFP: Have you always been interested in illustration?

JG: Yes. Or, in the act of creating my own worlds, whatever form that has taken on.
I feel very lucky to be able to do it. In fact, I feel like I must have fooled the system at some point for me to have been able to do this for so long. But. as I don’t know how I fooled the system, I believe that I will inevitably be found out at some point, and will then be fined and/or imprisoned and then ordered to go work a real job again. Until that day comes, though, I will continue to Illustrate.

IFP: Can you talk a bit about your technique and the materials you use?

JG: I use a number of different materials, but generally speaking, I start with some traditional media such as watercolour, pencil or oil and then end painting digitally in Photoshop. Photoshop saves tremendous amounts of time, but nothing beats the look and feel of traditional art. Traditional art tends to stand up to repeat viewings more than digital at this stage of the game. (And I believe it will continue to do so until Wacom invents a digital canvas with fiber optic brushes.)

But I tend to rely heavily on digital art, both for conceptual work and for client work that must be executed under a tight deadline.

But whichever medium I work in, whether it’s oil or watercolour or digital or a mix of them all, I tend to execute the piece in a Dutch Flemish method, working step by step and achieving each aspect of a painting sequentially. Drawing then underpainting, colour then colour adjustment and then final detail.

IFP: What is Portraits of Monsters? How did it start?

JG: First of all, monsters are fun to paint. That in itself is enough reason to go for the series.

But the series, which is a personal project, also came about because I have begun to prefer characters that look like monsters on the outside, but who are good on the inside. Rather than portraits of people who are beautiful on the outside, but monsters on the inside.

And that feeling probably came about after having seen too much television and then deciding that television was a collective effort to make my brain die and to take what little money I had from me. It achieved this through a disingenuous use of beauty (and art) to convince me that my life was less than it should be, as I lacked whatever product was being sold. This slowly turns beauty into a tool by which we may manipulate our fellow man, which I find revolting. This manipulation began to characterize all of commercialism for me and I began to mistrust beauty. Finding beauty thus perverted, I quit watching television in all its forms and avoided anything that had commercials. To this day, I have no idea what series is popular and could care less. If it’s a good series, maybe I’ll get the DVD, but I’d sooner eat my hands than watch through the commercials.

At the same time, commercialism had provided many good things, many of which make my life easier. I just find it offensive to be manipulated, especially with beauty. As I tried to reconcile all of this, I found that a monster, who can’t help but look like a monster no matter what clothes he puts on, then became more interesting to me as a subject for a portrait.

I had considered making more references to my misgivings about commercialism in the series, but it seemed too heavy-handed and a bit pedantic. Moreover, I am still thinking my way through it and just wanted to raise the question for discussion, rather than tell everyone that I had it all figured out.
Plus, having obvious references would have taken away from the fun of just painting monsters in fancy clothes.

IFP: What is Portland Studios?

JG: A company that some friends and I started after we graduated from college. We had hair-brained ideas about taking over the world, but not being very given to big marketing campaigns, we ended up settling for a visual arts agency specializing in illustration and animation. (Check out the website to see some of our work at www.portlandstudios.com) We work everything from illustrated books to animations to video games to fine art prints.

IFP: What illustration are you most proud of?

JG: An illustration that I painted in crayon when I was 4 or 5 years old (exact date is unknown).
It was an image of such startling genius that I despair of ever having another of its wonder in my lifetime. I blew everything I had on that one image and the rest of my life will be hollow effort to recapture the sheer, earth-shattering genius of it.

I will try to describe it, but words cannot do it justice:

On the back (It is a 2-sided piece) we see the clear black lines of a page from a children’s coloring book. Across the elegant, precise ink lines of a domestic scene involving a bear and duck, is scrawled in bright green crayon a furious pattern of concentric circles, striking out the benign expression of the teddy bear and obscuring the genteel expression of the duck.

On the front, where the artist turned to after completing this breathtaking work on the back, we find a curious scene of natural splendour. A great ocean, stretching away and away to the far sides of the page, and in this ocean there swims a small fish. He is swimming away from a gigantic whale, a whale so large that he takes up almost half of the ocean. This whale is leaping out of the water to devour the small fish. But! Also leaping from the waves is a bright green crocodile who lunges to save the small fish from the whale. The crocodile is small and faces certain death in the jaws of the whale. But through the crocodile’s sacrifice, the small fish will escape to swim the bright seas. The sun, seeing this scene from his lofty corner of the sky, beams down hearts upon the doomed crocodile. An expression of benevolence and a statement that this act has not gone unnoticed in the great tragedy of nature.

I am more proud of this painting than anything else I have done, even though I cannot remember ever doing it. Everything else I have done has only been a vague, limp-wristed failure of an attempt at the genius of this childhood scribble.

IFP: What are you working on right now?

JG: A few secret projects which I am not allowed to talk about (Or Sony will burn my farm to the ground) and then several personal projects, the next being a return to Tolkien’s material with, hopefully, enough time to produce the images in oil. I really enjoyed working on the Hobbit pieces, more than any other personal project in recent memory. So, I have been looking forward for a while now to this chance to go back and work through more of Tolkien’s writing.

IFP: What is your dream project?

JG: To illustrate The Hobbit would be a great one and really, working on any of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings-related material is extremely appealling. I’d like to make my way through the second two parts of Beowulf at some point, as well. There are several others out there, mostly related to my own writing. I have a number of stories roughly written out, but have never had a chance to fully finish them or work on the art for them. To get the chance to really devote some time to those stories would definitely be awesome.

IFP: If you could travel to any time and place, where would you go?

JG: #1 – The far future: to see if we do make it to deep space and to see what life might be like out there.
#2 – 1634 Amsterdam: to attempt to study under Rembrandt.
#3 – The ancient past: to see if there was any time when the lives of dinosaurs and men overlapped dramatically.
#4 – 1805 Trafalgar: to see what naval battles during the Napoleonic Era would be like. (And to meet Nelson)
#5 – 421 BC Syracuse: to see what a naval battle during the Peloponnesian War would be like. (And to meet Alcibiades)

IFP: If you could be a Lovecraftian character or creature, who would you be and why?

JG: I am not certain. Most of Lovecraft’s characters end up in a descent, either mentally into madness or physically into beasts of various sorts. So, as I have a mild aversion to either case, I find that I have a hard time answering this question. I would, at some point, like to go deep-sea diving and examine life at that depth, and so, to be an aquatic creature, such as the Innsmouth folk, might be cool. But I can’t see myself being thrilled about it as a permanent change.

Learn more about this artist at http://justingerard.com/.

IFP

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IFPInterview: Justin Gerard