Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Bi-Weekly Interview #15 - Eric Summers

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 Eric Summers.

Kaminski: Firstly, what got you into art? What keeps you pursuing it?

Summers: Art is the one thing I’ve always done, and couldn’t imagine ever not doing. Some of my earliest memories are of drawing characters from movies and cartoons I used to love in the early ‘80s (WHEN DINOSAURS ROAMED THE LANDS), such as Star Wars, The Neverending Story, etc. I need to see if my mom or grandmother still have some of those old pics, hahaha! I remember drawing a LOT of Atreyu, the Luck Dragon, and Luke Skywalker.

As far as what keeps me going, I’ve never even considered quitting. Art is in my very bones, so even when I have those inevitable “OMG I suck everyone is better than me why am I even bothering” moments—like all of us do—giving up isn’t even an option. I guess I’m what you’d call a professional hobbyist, since I make money from my art, but it’s not my primary income. I’ve been a graphic designer since late high school, so that helps pay the bills while I draw my widdle butt off every night after work. I consider myself lucky in that I work in a field that allows a lot of creativity during the day, but also exercises a different set of “brain muscles” than illustration. I find that both disciplines feed into each other really well and reinforce each other against burnout.

Kaminski: It seems like you and I are kindred spirits in that way - that we both pretty much make every waking (non-working) hour about art and also maintain a day job as a graphic designer. It's interesting that we both seem to want out, but life has a funny way of dividing our time. Ahh such is life, amirite?
You talk a bit about your influences, but I have to ask, what got you your start into this creative insanity? In that vein, were you formally educated or did you simply dive off the deep end?

Summers: When I was around 8 or 9, I saw a panel in a comic book that I just thought was really cool. It was a small panel of G-Force, an obscure DC character. I don’t even remember who the artist was, but I liked it so much that I copied it on to an 11x14 sheet and hung it in my room. Everyone thought it was so cool (it wasn’t) and I was such a great artist (I wasn’t) for my age. But I had the bug after that. Shortly after, I picked up an issue of ElfQuest, by Wendy and Richard Pini, and was absolutely blown away by Wendy’s art. I spent years copying her pictures and making my own characters within her universe. To this day, I still carry influences from her work, when I’m not using photo ref. So yeah, comics really planted the idea in my head that people could actually make a career out of drawing elves and superheroes and such. In my teens I discovered the awesome art of the Dragonlance/Forgotten Realms crew, and fell in love with artists like Larry Elmore, Clyde Caldwell, Keith Parkinson, etc. That’s the beauty of this industry, you never stop finding stuff to inspire you.

Some of my earliest memories are of drawing characters from movies and cartoons I used to love in the early ‘80s (WHEN DINOSAURS ROAMED THE LANDS)...

I had exactly one art lesson during my school years. I was extremely unlucky in that I was the one kid in our school absolutely dying to take art lessons, but there wasn’t even a class available. Eventually there was one added to my junior high, but I was unable to take it as it was meant to be filled by incoming sixth graders as part of a new state requirement that they have art class. The exact same thing happened in high school when I was a senior. So I only had one formal art lesson before I graduated and decided I was going to Savannah College of Art & Design. I spent two years there, but it was an uphill battle. I’d never had any fundamentals (or honestly even knew I should have had them), so I was way behind my classmates in terms of skill level. I’m colorblind, so several of the life drawing and painting teachers said I should get into another career. Between that and a few personal factors, I eventually decided to leave SCAD and come home. I spent some time trying to start up my own comic (holy crap it was terrible) and finally chose to go back to college and get my design degree. But I never stopped drawing.

Kaminski: Good god, it sounds like you had a hell-of-a-time-of-it initially. I think most people would have jumped ship, so I can only commend you on your tenacity! I think that your desire to make a go of it on your own really shows though. It shows in your work that your choice of media shuffles as you see fit. Do you find that versatility helpful? And, related to that, do you have a favorite? Why?

Summers: I don’t know that I actually have a favorite, but it definitely doesn’t hurt to be disciplined in several media. Like I said earlier, I’ve been a comic geek my whole life, so I’ve always adored pen and ink line drawing. I’ve recently been exploring line art in combination with Copic grays and colored pencil, and I’m really happy with how that’s going so far. My color blindness has always been an impediment as far as traditional media goes, so when I got my first computer and Wacom tablet in my mid-20s it opened up new worlds to me. I no longer had to worry about mixing and matching colors by eye, so I buckled down and memorized the color wheel and, with the help of my then-girlfriend (now wife of 15 years, yay!) I set up my own custom palettes for skin tones, warm/cools, etc. Nowadays I just use standard PS palettes, but without that help early on, I’d still be lost when it comes to painting. Even so, I still tend to paint by value rather than hue.

Kaminski: In my experience the cost is also a huge factor of why I can or can't use a media at regular intervals. I know that might be a silly statement to quite a few people, but there it is. So digital helps quite a bit in that regard as there is a hefty up-front cost, but no recurring.

Switching gears: A majority of your work seems to focus on dark fantasy; do you actively pursue work towards that end? Do you have any suggestions to feed folks toward finding work using that style of art?

Summers: Honestly, I’m the most wishy-washy guy you’ll come across in terms of what I like to paint. I love doing portraits, so a lot of client work comes from that, although I don’t want to make a business model out of it. I tend toward fantasy because that’s what I grew up with, but I also really like doing sci-fi pieces, stuff with dark humor, etc. I’m pretty much up for drawing whatever comes my way. I think the weirdest thing I’ve had to paint in the last few years is a Frankenduck made up of lots of different duck parts hahah. That was for a really fun short story by Walter Blair. I wish I had a bunch of wisdom to impart to readers, but the only thing I can say is to really paint what you love. I try to stay relatively impartial about my art, but if you’re enjoying yourself and drawing the things you love most, that will show through your work to the viewers. Try and find an area/niche/genre where your work might fit, and then start emailing those art directors.

Kaminski: When I was back in art school, we were instructed make a contact list of "ONE-HUNDRED" companies that you'd love to work for - find the ADs name, the companies website, e-mail, etc. This might sound like a daunting task to some people, but it starts to get your foot in the door, even if they don't respond. I'd suggest it as a good exercise in temperance when you're first starting out. That is to say that your advice about searching your niche is pretty damn important. Your voice is ultimately what will sell YOU. I think some artists forget this small tidbit.

It's this small bit of advice that seemed to be the hardest bulb for people to burn. Speaking of lighting: your sense of lighting is impeccable, do you have any suggestions on how fellow artists can improve their own approach to lighting a scene effectively? Also: Do you have any recommendations on artists to study or books to use for reference on that subject? (that was an awesomely bad segue!)

Summers: Thank you!!! That’s kind of amazing to hear, because lighting is one of the things I always struggle with. I can definitely recommend doing color and lighting comps before you start your final painting. You save SO much time and energy when all that gets worked out in the early stages. And you’ll save yourself some huge headaches. Don’t be scared to take a step back and USE REFERENCE. Build a little diorama for your environment. Make a little Sculpey maquette for your character’s face. Use a 3D model. Use photography with similar lighting. Do whatever it takes to get the image out of your head and onto the page. Contrary to what a lot of amateurs (and sadly some professionals) would have you think, there is no cheating in art. A lot of my posing choices are done with a $20 super-articulated Spider-Man toy that I got at Wal-Mart.

As far as instructional material, I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of money on Gumroad tutorials, Art-of books, How-to books and the like. The must-haves, in my opinion, are Framed Ink by Marcos Mateu-Mestre, Color & Light by James Gurney, and How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema. To me, those absolutely nail—in varying degrees—the fundamental and practical applications of setting up lighting for a character or scene.

Kaminski: I LOVE that you make it a point to talk about the fact that there is no cheating in art. While I was in art school people would even try to accuse everyone else of cheating - which I found utterly hilarious.

You'd have this strange competition between the illustrators and the painters / experimental artists, where the point was more the idea and not the reference gathering or accuracy of the piece. I think there's a time and place, of course, for experimental pieces, and this isn't to bash on people doing abstract pieces. As the age-old saying goes, you have to know how to do it right, before you can break it. If you have to use a straight-up trace to get your structure right, in my opinion, who cares as long as you can make it your own in the end.  Whenever this topic comes up, I will always have to reference Howard Lyon's amazing post on using reference effectively.

I always have to ask, but are you currently pursuing any projects that you'd like to promote? 

Summers: I do have a personal project entitled Riders on the Storm that I’ve been working on, but it’s currently on hold while I yet again re-assess how I want to set it up. If anyone wants to see some of the development work on it, they can visit my website www.thatsummersguy.com. I have a page under Other Works dedicated to the concepts and development thus far. The first story for Riders is done, I just keep bouncing back and forth on whether I want to have more prose or go full-blast and do an art book.

Kaminski: Do you do any conventions or art shows? If so: What's your take on being behind a table (or exposed in a gallery setting)? If not, what stops you from doing so (I ask because your work seems rife for conventions)?

Summers: My one foray into exhibiting at a convention was at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live, which in hindsight was a poor choice for me personally. I don’t have much of a name, nor a body of high-profile work to draw an audience, so I was way out of my depth amongst the absolute top-tier fantasy and sci-fi illustrators in the world. BUT! I did have a great time, so it sort of leads into your next question...

Kaminski: What are goals do you have set for yourself in the immediate future? Long term?

Summers: My goal for 2019 is to start hitting the convention circuit, at least in the Southeast where I live. I’m only a couple hours away from shows like Memphis Comicon, DragonCon, and so on, so I REALLY want to start tabling and getting my work out to the public in a more open setting. To that end, I’ve been studying a lot of stuff from One Fantastic Week. They’re a gold mine of information on best practices for setting up for conventions.

Long term goals are pretty general, but I’d really love to get into cover art for some of the big boys. Orbit, Tor, etc. Card art is a big draw as well, but I’m still trying to find a spot where my style would fit. Wizards of the Coast is sort of the end-all-be-all for lots of artists, but I lean toward a slightly more stylized approach than that, so I’d love to get a foot in the door with Smite, or WoW, League of Legends… just gotta keep pushing!

Kaminski: That's so funny that our goals are so in line with each other. Don't worry, in the future we'll be bitter rivals! (hahaha!)

To wind down, what's the best piece of advice you've ever received OR what's the best piece of advice you can give to established or upcoming artists?

Summers: I mentioned it earlier, but the best piece of advice I ever got was this: Draw what you love. Don’t worry about chasing trends or changing your art to fit a certain house style (although there are some exceptions if your work is really close to begin with). Trends change. It’s a huge market, and a huge world out there, so make the best art you can and then hunt down a place for it. Yes, I said hunt. Generally speaking, the work isn’t going to come to you, so get out there and get yourself to the work. Always keep learning. And get those pencils scratching!!!

Kaminski: Thank you so much for your time, Eric! It's always great to hear from fellow artists, especially one so local to me. Keep it up!


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