Monday, December 24, 2012

Michael Rhoda

How is it that you came to be an illustrator/artist? 
I’ve doodled and drawn funny pictures as long as I can remember...mainly to make friends at school laugh or to get the attention of girls. However, because I grew up in a creative community of songwriters and musicians in the suburbs of Nashville, my first efforts creatively were more as a writer than as an artist or cartoonist. In the early 80’s, I cowrote a song that appeared on a T.G. Sheppard album that helped pay for some of my college tuition. 
After I graduated and got married, I accidentally fell into a career as an auto insurance claims adjuster (Nobody goes into insurance on purpose, do they?) and quickly realized that I had to fight my way back from the dark side and do something creative. 
Not long after that, I saw an opportunity to transfer to the insurance company’s branch in Colorado Springs, knowing that it just so happened to be right next door to Current Inc., a greeting card company I had my eye on. I naively devised this scheme wherein, once I was living the same town, I would overwhelm them with my creative abilities and slide right into a job there. Amazingly enough, I did get a position at Current--not because I impressed them, but because the editorial manager took pity on me. And when I finally did get in their doors, it was as a writer and not as a humorous illustrator, as I had expected. 

After leaving Current and spending a few years freelancing, I landed with Leanin’ Tree, another great card company located in Boulder, Colorado. I started off as a verse writer, taking on product management responsibilities as time went along. As Leanin’ Tree’s product director, I had the privilege of working closely with many talented artists and designers over a 10 year period. Getting the exposure to all their wonderful art and being able to participate in the product development of the card and gift product lines was personally very helpful and inspiring to me as I considered what I needed to do to improve my own art.  
Recently, I restructured my job with Leanin’ Tree such that I am now able to work from home all but one day a week as a full-time writer. I had to give up my management role as product director to do that, but I hope it will pay off as I attempt to capitalize on the efficiencies gained from working at home and redirect them to a more focused effort towards building up my art licensing business.  
The funny thing is that, even with all that experience working with artists as a product director for a manufacturer, I still feel very much like a novice when developing and promoting my own art to others. Being on the opposite side of the aisle has been eye opening for me. I’ve had some commercial successes, but I’ve made my share of mistakes, as well. 

Who were your creative influences?  
When just a teenager in Nashville during the 1970’s, I was extremely blessed to have a talented songwriter take me under his wing and serve as my creative mentor. He taught me a lot about creativity in general, writing in particular, and the importance of being able to step back and view your own work with a cold eye so that you could see and fix your flaws before anyone else had to point them out to you. It was my good fortune to tag along with him to recording sessions, songwriter gatherings, and pitch meetings where he had to play his songs to the “suits” at the publishing house before they would give him studio time for demos that would be sent to the country music stars of the day. More than anything else, he convinced me that I had the talent to build a creative career for myself...and I’ll always be in his debt for that. 

Additionally, my best friend who I first met when I was only 10 years old, was the son of a successful songwriter and music publisher. Growing up, I probably spent more time in his house than I did my own, and in the process, I got to meet country music giants like Willie Nelson, Charlie Walker, Tanya Tucker, and Merle Haggard, just to name a few. Being able to listen in on the conversations these creative giants had amongst themselves about their craft was invaluable to me as a young man. Not surprisingly, my friend went on to be just as successful of a songwriter as his father had been. 
The experiences I had in Nashville with these wonderfully creative and generous people probably gave me the courage and initiative to refocus my career when I got off track early on by taking a “safe” job with an insurance company as a newly wed. 
When talking about artists in particular, I would say that my two greatest influences are Charles Schulz and Bill Watterson. “Peanuts” and “Calvin & Hobbs” were, in my estimation, the two best drawn AND written comics of my lifetime. One Christmas, my wife gave me the complete Calvin & Hobbs collection in hardback, which I now keep bedside to look at just before drifting off. (I’m hoping Watterson’s genius will somehow seep into my mind by osmosis.) 

Early on, I thought writing and illustrating a daily strip would be the ideal job for me. However, as I got into my college years, it became painfully apparent that the newspaper industry was in decline, and many papers and strips were folding. As much as I loved that medium, I felt I would have to look elsewhere for my career.  
What inspires you now? 
Children’s books, editorial cartoons, and greeting cards are a big source of inspiration to me--along with the work of the artists that I have come to know over the years in the card and gift industry. Even though my current job responsibilities at Leanin’ Tree no longer require me to officially review all of the art that comes in, I look at it at every chance I get. And speaking of greeting cards, how great is it that while doing your grocery shopping, you can pause for a few minutes and enjoy the work of hundreds of talented artists and writers within a span of twenty feet or so?! 

With the aforementioned demise of the daily newspaper and the shrinking space allotted to comics in the newspapers that do still exist, greeting cards are one of the modern refuges for humorous illustrators like me. 
How do you work? 
My illustrations are done 100% on the computer using a Wacom tablet, Corel Painter and Photoshop. While I have friends who do their sketching and inking on paper before scanning their work in to add color and put on the finishing touches, I decided to force myself to become comfortable doing the whole process digitally, from beginning to end. I will probably take on Illustrator at some point in the near future, but I don’t presently use it. 
My reasons for doing everything on the computer have less to do with artistic concerns and more to do with lifestyle choices. Whether it’s a mid-life crises or a second childhood, now in my 50’s I have belatedly taken up snowboarding and surfing. The former can be done within hours of my home studio. The latter requires some travel. As long as I have a laptop, a small digital drawing tablet, and an internet connection, I’m in business even while in the jungles and coastlines of Central America. 
Are There links where people can find more work or products with your images?

An Honest Day's Work Calendar by TF Publishing 
(4 JPEGs showing front, back and an inside spread provided in this email.) 

An Honest Day's Work gift product by Pavilion Gift (all products)
(Separate email with additional gift product images to come.)

What types of markets do you do art/illustration for?

Since I can illustrate AND write, I like to think I provide an extra service to the card companies that many artists can’t offer. And even where gift products are concerned, most of my contract work has required both skills. 

Not that you asked, but the most bizarre thing that I’ve licensed my art for would have to be the coworker and boss voodoo dolls I was asked to design. (Please do not ask me to divulge my inspirations for this particular product line.) 

What other creative interests do you have? 
I am still interested in songwriting, but do not pursue it commercially. I’ve had political cartoons published in smaller papers that have won national recognition in the past, but I decided a while back not to focus my time there as I found it caused me to become more jaded and cynical than I already am. Chuck Asay, the political cartoonist for the Colorado Springs Gazette until he retired in 2007 told me that I was too nice to be an editorial cartoonist. I think that was one of the nicest rejections I ever got! 
I have some interest in trying stand-up comedy...might be a goal for 2013. For the most part, I like writing funny stuff, but not necessarily performing it, so that would push me out of my comfort zone--the primary reason for doing it, I suppose. 
I’ve considered writing movie transcripts, but writing short greeting card verse for so long has only served to hasten the dwindling of my attention span, so anything beyond a four-line rhyme feels like a major undertaking now. 

What is the thing you love best about what you do?
I love greeting cards. I always have. I think they are incredibly priced treasures of great art and writing. I probably send less than 50% of the cards I buy. Before Twitter taught us to compress our thoughts into 140 characters or less, greeting cards were showing us that much could be communicated with a small number of words. And knowing that a card I wrote or illustrated has made someone smile--even for a small moment--means a great deal to me. Our lives are really just a long thread made up of tiny moments. And if you don’t think that tiny increments of time matter, just ask the athlete who missed a gold medal by 100th of a second. In the new millennium, I think that little is the new big. 

Monday, December 17, 2012


Esther Pérez-Cuadrado and Malena F. Alzu work their illustrations as a team. Esther draws the main line (so she will be one to answer the interview). When Esther finishes her first sketches, she lets them “sleep”, then the team have a look, and roughs usually get some changes; Esther draws again and again, scan the sketches, correct them and when the line is accepted by the team, Malena gives some digital color, which style depends on the project they are embarked on.
How is it that you came to be an illustrator, Esther?
I always loved drawing. I don't remember when I started, but I do recall the day I was paid for an illustration: I am making a toast for it every second of my life!
Did you go to art school?
Yes, I attended Fine Arts School in Complutense University (Design), in Madrid. I met Malena on our first year, we began working together there. That was 1998. After that I never stopped following courses to learn different techiques and keep my creativity on. Right now I am finishing a Master on Illustrated Albums. Malena is more interested in education and writing.
Were there one or more individuals that were an influence in your becoming an illustrator?
I guess I should say a name, but that is not what influenced me but a way to see life. I find it is much more fun to see life through drawings, mine and other's.
What inspires you now?
Everything I see, touch, hear and smell... Well, and everything I can't hear, touch and smell. I don't care much about taste, really, in every sense of the word. 
Is there anything you would like to share regarding your technique or style or work for instance what types of medium do you like to work in?
The most important thing is: never stop learning from others. Watch, watch, watch and listen.
What types of markets do you do illustration for?
We mostly illustrate and design for the Education Market, but, at the same time, we are working on some albums (personal projects).
Are there links to your images you would like to share?
Our gallery: Some sketches: Animated sketches:
Comments about Children's books (Spanish):
You can find us too in these profesional pages: SCBWI and APIM.
Do you do other things regarding art like teaching, or classroom visits?
I enjoy so much going to schools! You can see some or my experiences here:
Are there other creative interests you pursue?
I love music. I have an illustration project on songs written by a friend. I enjoy animation too, but I can't find time to get deeper in this field.
Do you currently have product with your images on the market? Books gift or home products?
I am engaged now in Illustrísima, where you can buy my illustrations and other artist's. This is the facebook site:
What is the thing you love best about what you do?
I love making my living on what I enjoy best. It is true that sometimes it looks like I have to draw something hard or boring, but that is a challenge: you can always find the way to make it interesting and enjoy yourself with a amusing wink. Humour is my best friend at work and in life.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Mindy Hope Sommers - The Color Bakery

How is it that you came to be an artist?
My mother was an artist, an excellent painter in oils and acrylics. She was so good, in fact, I didn't want to compete with her. When I was about seven, she did a homework assignment for me. I had been instructed to paint a sky, and my sky was rather pedestrian so she set about redoing it, painting on top of my sad, uninspired blue. Her sky was redolent with ambers, vermilions and aquas and mine was boring; just flat blue with a couple of obligatory white puffs tossed in. When I turned in my mother's beautiful sky rendered in pastels, the teacher sneered and said, "you didn't do that." I was humiliated. I started to lose interest in art, because I didn't think I had any talent. But I did enjoy it. Using those big colorful magic marker packs, I used to spend hours as a child drawing round-shouldered women with unnaturally splayed fingers wearing crazy dresses. But as I got older, writing was what enchanted me. I was going to write the best-selling American Novel. But then, in the early nineties, a friend of mine gifted me Photoshop. I loved it. I was obsessed with it, spending almost every waking hour learning how to create digital art. And that's how my art career started. I posted my work online and people wanted to buy it. The demand become so great that my husband and I decided to open a custom art and tile business, Color Bakery. Color Bakery was ultimately the launching pad for my art licensing career.
Did you go to art school?
No. I am completely self-taught. I do have some professional artist friends--wildly talented--who have told me that in some ways, my lack of schooling has served me because I was free to create without being tethered to rules and the opinions of teachers and traditional thinking. I don't know if they are right, but I do believe that my lack of a formal art education hasn't hurt my career at all.
Were there any individuals who were an influence in your becoming an artist?
Definitely. Two, and they are a big two. First, my dear friend Tina Lavoie, who started as an online friend in the mid nineties and was the one who gave me Photoshop that fateful day years ago. She is an incredibly talented artist and jewelry designer and a constant inspiration to me, and it is because of her that my life did a 180 from corporate advertising to becoming a successful licensed artist and graphic designer. The second is my husband, who, from day one, believed my art was special. He believed it so strongly he was willing to stake both of our lives on it by quitting his job and opening Color Bakery on a shoestring. I could never have become a full-time artist---spending hours around the clock honing my craft--without my husband supporting me and making sure everything ran smoothly in the background without my attention. Because of Glen, I had the luxury of endless hours to learn and grow and experiment and develop my burgeoning skills--both artistic and technical.
What inspires you now?
Many things inspire me. It could be other artists I admire, or a shape, or an interesting photo; it could be the delicate slope of a wooden furniture leg or an old piece of vintage, tattered wallpaper--anything can catch my eye and grip my imagination. Inspiration comes from the oddest places, and usually unbidden. There is nothing more exciting to me than working with a manufacturer client---such as an upscale dinnerware manufacturer---and designing a full dinnerware line from start to finish. From the very first templates created on my computer to the shelves of retail stores, product development design is always wildly exciting for me. It inspires me to do more and each new line improves and trains my eye for future designs. 
Is there anything you would like to share regarding your technique and what medium do you work in?
I am strictly a digital artist, and my weapon of choice is Photoshop. It's the biggest, baddest weapon in my arsenal. As far as technique, I have many. If someone held a gun to my head and demanded I recreate the same piece I created two days ago, I wouldn't be able come close. When I design, I go into a kind of an altered state. I call it "the zone". It's sort of like a fugue and it's more like a passionate frenzy than it is a calm, orderly process. I don't design neatly--it's visceral. When I come out out of the fog, night is day and day is night and I vaguely remember trying and rejecting a million things, fussing and redoing until I am satisfied. When I create, hours fly by like minutes and I am usually left with 3 gig files stacked with over one hundred layers. I am also a licensed photographer--some of my photography has been recently licensed for art canvas and poster publishing.
What kind of markets do you design for?
Professionally, I design mainly for the home decor market: tabletop/dinnerware is a particular specialty. I also design for wall and floor coverings, fabric, area rugs, home decor accents, art gifts, paper goods, ladies' accessories as well as art canvas and poster publishing.
Are there links to your images that you would like to share?
My Color Bakery website, our custom tile company, includes much of my portfolio spread amongst ten art galleries. The art most geared for art licensing and manufacturing can be found in my Organica Gallery, my Vintage Gallery, my Pattern Gallery and my Stained Glass Gallery. Manufacturers who are interested in seeing how my art translates onto various products are invited to visit my Art Licensing page, where I show product mockups in presentation sheet format.

Do you do other things like teaching or classroom visits?
Yes, I do. I currently am mentoring and assisting a few artists--some have successful licensing careers and some aspire to be licensed and are looking for some direction and advice. Some artists want honest portfolio critiques, and others are looking to learn how to break into licensing or learn how to sell their own products with their own artwork on them. I make it my business to help other artists because I know how difficult it is to get noticed in a sea of artists. Talent, while a big hurdle to scale, isn't always enough. When artists write to me I try my best to make time and answer questions they have. This mentoring is done online, usually through email.
Do you have other creative interests?
All of my most passionate life interests are art-related: art, design, music (from jazz to opera to rock); photography; singing; guitar; literature. I am as right-brain as they come. :) One thing I'd love to do but haven't had the time: I adore faux finishing furniture. I would love to be able to do that again.
Do you currently have products with your images on it on the market?
I have licensed eight brand new, full dinnerware lines in the past year, and I have four more in development and many more scheduled for 2013. I have area rugs, bathmats, clocks, ladies bags, coasters, clocks, fabric, gift items, etc in major big box retailers throughout the US, Canada and Europe. I also have large art canvas programs being developed right now for placement in mass market outlets throughout the world. You can find my art in Bed Bath, Target, Pier I, JC Penney's  and more. This does not include the custom items we manufacture and sell through Color Bakery. In that case, we are the manufacturers--my husband and I, and we sell directly to the consumer.
What is the thing you love best about what you do?
Creating---no matter what you create---is essential for the peace and grounding of the human spirit. We all need to create something--it doesn't have to be art, it can be anything. When we don't have the satisfaction of creation, it leaves a hole in our souls that can be destructive and leave us feeling empty. What I love best about what I do is that it feeds my soul and calms it. There are many exciting things about selling one's art and the enjoyment people derive from what I do, but I have to say the very best part is the satisfaction of being able to take a vague idea and nurture it until it manifests in reality. And then when people tell you it makes them happy to look at your work, well, it doesn't get any better than that.