Russell Jackson, self portrait
Some of you have asked, how do we select our featured artists? There really isn’t much rhyme or reason to it. Most of the time one of us is casually ambling through the internet when suddenly, WHAM, we find that talent that moves us. We look for a response within ourselves–a connection.
This reaction was exactly what happened when we found artist Russell Jackson. To be honest, we have been casting long side glances at Russell’s work for while, mostly out of mere curiosity to see who he is looking at and how he is looking at them. I am glad we took our time, because he’s kind of a big deal.
His talent has global pop-culture potential. His graphic play of lines and color echoes the movement, not just the posture, of people. One thing that is absolutely fantastic about Russell’s work is that it is founded on traditional methods. He straddles pen-and-paper and digital exposure in order to present an ordinary passerby as a captivating work of art.
GTH: Tell us a little bit about your routine. What tools do you use to create your artwork? Is there a particular method you favor?
RJ: The raw materials are gathered on location, I draw directly from life: coffee shops, tattoo parlors, on the street, in the court house, and nursing homes are some of my haunts. I use sketchbooks that open flat so I can draw across the page, and draw with a water based pen that has a brush at one end and nib on the other. Sometimes I’ll use markers or a wash to add colour.
Back in the studio the drawings are scanned and cleaned using Photoshop to make them ready for print and web. A process which takes longer than the drawing part.
GTH: Your work portrays people in public. Are people ever aware that you are drawing them?
RJ: Sometimes, though the majority of people are too absorbed in their lap-tops and iPhones to notice. I find honesty is the best policy and if they catch your gaze it’s best to smile. People rarely react badly, I can only remember one incident over the years while drawing a business man on a subway train in Stockholm, Sweden. He was devouring a huge block of chocolate and briefly looked up to notice me drawing him. He subsequently stormed off the subway train and I can still remember his angry red face scowling at me from the escalator. For this reason I still don’t draw people when they’re eating in public.
GTH: What kinds of people are you attracted to for artistic, muse-like purposes?
RJ: This is what drives me to draw people and lies at the heart of what I do, namely the sheer diversity of people. Old people are of special interest because their weathered faces tell a story, mustaches and beards are fun to draw, as are bushy eyebrows. The clothes people wear: spectacles, hats, boots catch my eye and patterns for some reason. I will sometimes abandon a sketch if I see someone wearing an interesting pattern and start drawing them instead. And of course, the achilles heal of many an artist, beautiful women.
GTH: Do you have a favorite perch from which you observe people? A coffee shop, public bench, or stalker’s corner… perhaps?
RJ: In all the cities where I’ve drawn I usually find a good spot. It’s mostly dependent on the lighting. Drawing towards the light source is difficult because it’s so hard to see. My favorite perch in Nova Scotia is a particular corner seat in downtown Halifax. It has big windows on either side of where I sit–a view of the entire café and the busy streets outside. Another factor in choosing a place to draw is the flow of clientele; it has to be a place where people aren’t in a hurry. The tattoo parlor was good for that reason, another favorite haunt.
GTH: Tell us about your efforts beyond digital art. What pen-and-paper work do you dabble in?
RJ: Interesting you should ask this, as I primarily dabble in pen-and-paper work I never thought of digital art being the end product but I suppose it is. I guess I must be getting good at cleaning up my drawings for the web. Having said that I recently invested in some gadgetry called a Wacom inkling, it’s a pen that uses traditional ink and paper but also tracks what you draw digitally, so you can file your drawings without scanning. Apart from drawing I like making animated GIFs, painting, and enjoy printmaking.
GTH: When you work on a portrait, what is the most difficult body part to replicate?
RJ: The separate parts aren’t so difficult, it’s making them sing together that’s the crux.
GTH: Do you have any advice for artists who are wanting to take the leap into digital format?
RJ: Do it! If you don’t you’ll wallow in obscurity, you can still work in traditional media of course but you should know how to scan/photograph and file your work for publishing on the web. I took evening classes. Don’t, however, abandon your traditional drawing skills. They are the foundation to everything else.
GTH: How do you price a work? What do you think is important to take into consideration when pricing an art piece?
RJ: This can be frustrating at times. I produce illustrations for various publications–some of which have a fixed rate and I usually end up putting in more time than intended. You have to stick up for yourself to survive but you don’t want to scare potential clients off. It’s tricky. The time it takes you to produce the illustration and it’s intended use are the main factors. Then of course there’s the client’s budget which is often a deciding factor. It’s good to have a bare minimum that you never go under and don’t be afraid to reject offers if they are too low. Hope that helps.
GTH: What are your long-term goals?
RJ: I’d like to get into more interactive stuff–not sure if I could manage writing code. But I’d like to produce learning material for the web, something to do with languages.
Follow Russell Jackson’s work at Draw the Public.
Russell’s work is available for print purchase and custom orders. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Interview conducted by Reagan K Reynolds.