Thursday, April 5, 2018

Bi-Weekly Interview #10 - Sal "TheDarkCloak" Vador

As an artist, it seems like the landscape is ever-changing from simply the tools, to the aesthetic. I intend to be an artist that never wants to stop learning, and as such, I find more and more interesting artists every day. Each artist has a unique insight and point of view, no matter the experience level. New views help open my mind and teach me there are many ways to utilize my skills and I hope that sharing our stories will help others in the same way. I believe there are many paths on an artistic journey, and each interview will help to show the stories of the artists that tread them. 

Today we'll be interviewing Sal "TheDarkcloak" Vador.


Kaminski: My first question is pretty much always the same: Firstly, tell me a little about yourself. What got you into art? What makes you continue perusing it? Is it something that you always saw yourself falling into?

TheDarkcloak: Well, most call me Sal or simply 'Cloak’. I'm a full time freelance artist going on three years now working across, as I like to say, "page, stage, speaker, screen, skin, sculpts and now polygons!", meaning I work in a variety of mediums, analog and digital, as well as visual and aural.

I'm not sure what first got me into art at a young age. I know I've been drawing and doodling since I was about three years old. From then on, via magazines like Mad and Cracked I discovered caricature, but what really drew me to those magazines was how well drawn everything was. I remember being about somewhere around seven or eight, and I'd run to the corner store to pick up the latest issues. After that I started getting into comics more seriously too.

I'd say initially comic books and animation are what drew me in the most, though later on, when I started getting into artists like Boris Vallejo & Julie Bell, Frazetta etc, that my view of art and illustration started broadening and I found it all very exciting and imaginative. When I started playing Mutant Chronicles later on when I was about thirteen or fourteen, that's when I discovered Paul Bonner's work and it all seemed very much like what I saw in my head. I would say that's what got me to get seriously into painting and pushing my work the hardest; more so than comics or cartoons did previously. I mean the Frazetta / Vallejo stuff was great, but I never really made the connection for myself as that being something I would do. Something about Bonner's work really clicked and I became obsessed with the challenge.

From what I remember and from what the family says, it seems I've always been enraptured with storytelling. I think that's what has kept me pursuing creative work in general all these years. Whether it's through the art I make, or music, or even the character voice stuff I do.

In general, though, I would say I have always been drawn (no pun intended, maybe) to making art and creative work as a whole "what I would want to do with my life" from a very young age. Which likely solidified in my person around third grade or so.

Kaminski: Sounds like Mutant Chronicles had the same effect on you that ShadowRun did on me.

TheDarkcloak: Oh yeah, man, Shadowrun is in there as well. The whole... cyber-techno-barbarism has always been an appeal to me. Same with monsters, demons, swords and sorcery.

One of my favorite cartoons growing up was Thundercats and I think they nailed that whole mix of mutants, technology, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. The implications that it's actually a post-post-apocalyptic earth? That's my jam. Both the intro and the end credits sequences from Thundercats have always had a BIG impression on me and my art psyche, in ways that I've only recently started to realize. I mean... when you look at my work you can start seeing it. It's now becoming deliberate and whole for me. Before that, I didn't even know I was doing it.

Kaminski: Finding your voice is probably the most self-satisfying thing we can do for artists (for a time at least). I'd only just recently discovered my own with Ashley kind of guiding me along the path. She has insights that I don't even know how to tap into yet.

TheDarkcloak: Yeah, there's a lot of frustration out there for that, it seems.

Most artist interviews I hear or other artists I've talked to, it seems to always come about naturally or accidentally. Like a realization of getting to know yourself for the first time. I think it's great and an integral part of self-development.

I feel like finding your voice is much like finding a relationship - it usually comes out when you're not looking.

Kaminski: Speaking of finding voice, was it hard to narrow focus after you'd discovered all your different outlets to art or do you prefer to be very multi-faceted? Does this help or hurt your creativity?

TheDarkcloak: Not really. Animation, comics, story-boarding, voice acting, making music, sculpting, make up, special effects, storytelling - and then of course the visual artwork stuff - to me this is all part of the same wheel. To the outside world it may look like I am multi-faceted and have a 'jack of all trades' thing going on. It's not. It's all the same house.

I have a bone to pick with this mentality of 'jack-of-all-trades-equals-master-of-none' mentality. My gut feeling is that it is a way of limiting the self. A way of imposing barriers to expression, or to strive for less. We highly revere musicians that are multi-instrumentalists, and painters as well to boot! I don't see why the other way around can't be true as well? We hold the renaissance masters in high regard, and yet so many of those guys and gals had more going on than "just being painters", you know?

Leonardo Da Vinci - need I say more?

I don't think it hurts my creativity. Perhaps at first it may have a bit? But I've come to realize over the years this was mainly due to poor time management and prioritization.

Animation, comics, story-boarding, voice acting, making music, sculpting, make up, special effects, storytelling - and then of course the visual artwork stuff - to me this is all part of the same wheel. 

In my teens, especially after discovering what goes into movie productions for example, and learning more about James Cameron, Stan Winston, and all the amazing folks who worked with them, it really became clear to me that all these disciplines not only work together, but can be harnessed as part of one whole wheel. We can call it creativity, or storytelling, or design. One of my favorite books of all time, when it comes to what really cemented this approach and way of thinking for me was the 'Making of Terminator 2' book. It is CHOCK full of everything that went into the film. From miniature work, digital effects, set design, costume design, concept art, storyboards, cinematography, practical and make up FX, pyrotechnics, props, you name it. Seeing all those components working together to tell a story and to create some memorable sequences as they did with T2, really brought it all home for me.

Another aspect of all this, something that is pretty personal to me, but inevitably comes up every time I examine all this. My sister. I'm the oldest of three, older brother to two younger sisters, and the middle sister unfortunately got Meningitis when she was about six months old... and it wasn't caught in time. It fried her. She's essentially been a toddler all her life, which meant I had to grow up very quickly at a young age, helping with the responsibilities of having a sibling with mental disabilities such as hers.

Funny story, when I was a little kid, I have a very vivid memory of watching her for a few minutes and then turning to my mom and going "You know... what if she's just faking it? She gets everything she wants. We're all always fussing over her. She doesn't have to do homework or go to a normal school... What if?" This made my mom crack up a lot, while tinged with heartbreak at the same time. We still laugh about it to this day.

Case in point: from a very young age, I learned to be grateful for having a body that works. A mind that works. Being ABLE. Being appreciative and cognizant that not everyone can DO many of the things that so many of us take for granted. In a way, me pushing myself to be the best me that I can be, not just in the things that I DO, like the art stuff, etc., but also in who I am as a person, is a way to honor and I guess make up for what she's never going to be able to do. From a place of gratitude and appreciation that I can. A big part of me hopes, that I can make everything I push be a success, so I can contribute to the family in a meaningful way to look after her in future. My parents are getting older... and it'll likely come down to my youngest sister and whatever I can do as well. Hard not to think about that.

Kaminski: That's beautiful, Sal! It shows with all of your work and communal push, that you are striving for something greater at all times. It seems like your back story and growing up really had a long-lasting effect on your person as a whole, which is a direct reflection on your creativity.

Besides your personal life, what creative endeavors would you sparked your 'AH-HA' moment? What made you want to dive into this career path full-speed?

TheDarkcloak: I kind of touched on this a bit earlier, when Paul Bonner's work on Mutant Chronicles / Doom Troopers / War Zone clicked for me, coupled with the realization of what all goes into producing a film such as Terminator 2. Further than that, though, I think it really comes down to telling stories and exploring unconventional ideas.

For example, one of the first books I ever did was in the second grade, and it was a story about a slime monster that was brought to earth in some 'space rocks'. Through the course of the story, gruesome as it was, even at second grade, you basically find out that the monster really is not in the environment it needs to be. It was completely unstoppable. The army fights it, the world unites against it, and it only seems to make it stronger and bigger. No surprise that giant monster movies always have had a strong place in my heart. Anyway, finally a scientist figures out that our atmosphere and gravity are part of what was contributing to it's mutations, and the course of action from there was to capture it and launch it to the moon. That sorted everything out!

I think my disappointment with humanity set in at a very young age and I sympathized with monsters - something which makes me very keen on one day working with Guillermo Del Toro. A lot of what he talks about regarding monsters, love, humanity, innocence etc speaks right to how I view those things as well.

No surprise that giant monster movies always have had a strong place in my heart. 

Kaminski: Your love for Del Toro makes a ton of sense though. He has that aesthetic as well for your kind of work.

TheDarkcloak: Yeah, when I went to his museum exhibit it was like visiting an old friend.

Kaminski: As a side question, have you been going to cons for a long while? What are some of the ones you've done?

TheDarkcloak: Mostly local ones here. Been doing conventions for eleven years now as a vendor. Too many to count as an attendant.

Crypticon, Days of the Dead, Mars Con, CONvergence, GlitchCon, Minneapolis Comic Con, FallCon, to name a few

Kaminski: How's con life treating you? Have you ever found any ups-or-downs with doing cons for you in particular?

TheDarkcloak: Con life has been pretty good. I think I started out pretty strong, thanks to listening to hours and hours of artist podcasts and working in event planning.

The biggest up is seeing all the familiar faces and friends that end up becoming your convention family so to speak, in a way it can be a bit of a mini-vacation! Aside from that, it's obviously a great way to meet with your audience and get a grasp on what they like or don't like about your work.

The downside that stands out the most is not ever having enough time. No matter how long you prepare for, there's always something that needs doing and it seems to always be crunchtime for long hours leading up to the convention itself. Whether it's needing to restock on prints, or working on your display, even simple things like making sure you have food and drink and other necessities in your survival kit to get through the weekend.

All in all, I enjoy it though. I don't think I could be one of those folks who do nothing but conventions full time, doing sixty plus shows a year though! We talked about that briefly on one of the streams.

Kaminski: Con-vacation. That's what I consider every one of them.
I'm not there to look like an ass with my assy face on the whole time if I don't make money.
If I make table plus food, WIN!
If not, well... it did get me among "the people".

TheDarkcloak: Yes! All of the above. The assy face? Seriously, that seems to be such an epidemic.
Treat everybody who walks by as if they're your first customer of the day, even if they don't buy anything. You never know what kind of great conversation you may strike up, friendship you may spark, or what you may learn. Same goes for other vendors around you. Be friendly, be respectful, be approachable, be the kind of neighbor you want to have.

I can't tell you how many times I've sat across from other vendors who sit there buried behind stacks of merchandise, glued to their phones or books, who end up glaring over at our table when we're bantering with people and making sales, as if it's your fault they aren't selling or being approached.

Kaminski: I've also found that being a panelist and doing art shows helps to pull people to your table.

Since your very active in the art community, how do you manage to keep track of everything? Do you have scheduling software or something or do you just have specific days / times for things?
Basically... what is a day-to-day like for a Sal?

TheDarkcloak: That's a really good question! Through a combination of the sticky notes on my desktop and private note channels on my Discord to keep reminders open, cloud synced calendar apps across my desktop tablet, and phone, and some other apps to help keep things organized and scheduled, even my social media posting. Otherwise, my day to day is generally structured and balanced for work, working out and studying; promotions, answering emails and other communication, and organizing the aforementioned notes and apps. Once you have a routine down for that stuff it becomes second nature.

Usually I have Monday for studies and workshop time, not just limited to art but self-care stuff too. Wednesday is my streaming and hangouts night. Sunday morning is worship day at the Dungeons and Dragons altar.

Kaminski: Yeah, a majority of the time my desks (at home and work) are filled with notes and doodles on sticky notes to help keep things at least pseudo-organized.

Switching gears: When you get bored of your work, whats a way that you find yourself getting back on track? What coping mechanisms can you dole out to help deal with a lull in creativity?

TheDarkcloak: This is a tough one. I rarely get bored with my work, unless it's in the stage where you're basically just rendering and rendering, sometimes that can get a bit dragging. In those cases I'll switch over to something else I've got on the burner to refresh my approach. Since I get into quite a few different things, sometimes that will help break the monotony up too. For example I might tackle a sculpt, or some music. I sometimes find that I can come back to the piece with some new observations and thoughts as well. Same goes for any of the other creative work.

As far as creative lulls? Well, what I find usually helps is doing some art ABOUT the creative lull or block. Maybe representing it through a creature, or personification of it. Or get completely silly and do something really random, either based on something or some combination you find funny, or a random suggestion by someone else.

For example, I once ended up drawing Wolverine juggling chickens because I joked about it when someone asked me to draw something. Same with a pole-dancing Hulk.

Otherwise, there's also the squiggle challenge things I've been doing on my streams. I ask people to submit random squiggles or scribbles which I then turn into stuff. I also keep a sketchbook full of squiggles that I have my friends do with a wide light blue Copic marker, which I then turn into things with black ink. It's kind of become a bit of a ritual when I go out with friends or to play Dungeons and Dragons, where I have folks make those squiggles in my sketchbook and then I problem solve and noodle the shapes and blobs into things.

Kaminski: Sweet! So many creative solutions to common-place problems!
Speaking of many different projects that you're juggling: do you have any specific one that you'd like to talk about or promote?

TheDarkcloak: Well, there's a few that I'm working on right now, some personal, and some in collaboration with others or as part of a studio effort. More updates on those as they develop!

The most public one I'd like to talk about is a video game by Lonely Egg Studios, founded by Jessica Fong and Mark Biundo, called 'In the Keeper's Shadow'. We recently dropped the trailer for it and they'll be talking it up at this years' GDC and other events.

The other major ongoing thing that's been going on, as you well know, is The Anvil - Art Forge. Which is a group co-founded, co-admined and run by me and a few others focused not only on development of craft and technique via critique and resources, but also of mind and self, geared very much from everyone to the beginning artist to the established professional or long time veteran.

It's a small but very focused group and it's been around for just over a year and a half, only more recently going public as a 'closed' group.

Kaminski: Yeah, that's actually how we were initially introduced, via Jen Waldon (she was part of the interview series, #6).

The last two questions are typical final questions for the interviews:
What goals do you have set for yourself for the immediate? And the long term?


TheDarkcloak: Immediate goals: Finish ripping through this stack of deadlines! Otherwise, finishing up rebuilding the downstairs to set up shop there, both for art and for making music - really any creative production in general. I'm also developing my 'Conversations w Cloak' real talk videos addressing various artist issues and questions as well as a mentoring package (focused on working with creatives in general beyond just the 'how to' aspects of art), which I'll be talking about more in the coming weeks. Working with the team on where the Anvil is going next, including a dedicated Twitch channel with various people contributing streams to it. The plan is to have folks doing live critiques, demos, walkthroughs and more for the group, with the stream also being bounced to the group directly.


As for long term: The personal projects I mentioned like the card game, video game and IPs I have been developing some of which take place within a shared universe. I would love to continue working on big projects (in film, games, collaborations, etc). Really, I'm open to where all this has been heading. It's been one of the best adventures I've ever been on, and I am really looking forward to where my work, travels, and friendships go next!

Kaminski: Final question: what's the best piece of advice you've received OR what's some advice you could give fellow artists?

TheDarkcloak: There's just so many great moments and conversations and pieces of advice that I've gotten from people across the various arenas I've had the honor of stepping into, and even through the stories I've read, watched, or heard over the years. Artistically speaking, I think it usually all throws back to the spirit of what the great Frazetta said: Don't be a second rate Frank Frazetta, be a first rate You.

A lot of the advice I give and have gotten that I have found to be the most helpful really boils down to simply that.

We put a lot of pressure on meeting or exceeding assumed or imagined expectations, or expectations we created for ourselves that become overbearing to the point that we forget what gets us started on this road to begin with... We forget that we did that in the first place, created the rules of the game so to speak. The irony of it all is that getting out of your head and out of your own way seems to be the most authentic path to being a First Rate You. By my observation it seems like most artists hit their stride the strongest when they hit on this idea or path, and my impression is that it paves the way to the most satisfaction overall.

Other than that? Little things and phrases like:

Play. Work. Balance.
Plan your work, work your plan.
Say what you mean, mean what you say.
Own your sh*t.

Kaminski: Hell yeah! Espeically that last piece of advice.
Well, Sal, it's been an absolute pleasure! You are definitely an incredibly busy guy, and this interview, the longest to date, should attest to that.


Thank you all for reading, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Sal "TheDarkCloak" Vador.
If you did, please give it a SHARE via Facebook or Twitter, below.
You can view this interview, and many more, HERE.

You can find view more of Sal's work at his WEBSITE:
You can learn more about the Art Anvil Artgroup here:

If you would like to be a part of my interview series, simply fill out the contact form HERE and I'll get back with you as soon as possible!



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