3DTotal: Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself, your background, interests, and how you came to be a digital artist?
Steve: I grew up in suburban Utah, so from an early age I was desperately trying to escape reality. Comics, cartoons, RPGs and video games - whatever it took to make me forget the colossal drollery of
the Mormon capital. Just kidding. Utah is a great place to live and grow up! There is a lot here to inspire an artist. There’s the famous red rock, ski resorts, and so much in between. But the best part is a very supportive community. I was always encouraged in things that interested me, regardless of the glaring lack of ability I often displayed - especially in sports. To this day, I have a better chance of accidentally swallowing a baseball than hitting one. I don’t know if it’s the LDS church, or if I just got lucky, but I’ve always been surrounded by exceptional people here. So my background is a lot of misspent school days doodling on purple Xerox homework, watching Voltron and Thundercats, and reading X-men. At some point, I had the misguided idea that being able to draw Wolverine might get girls to notice me, and I
began to study art. My dad has always had a sixth sense for how to best approach any endeavour, and he bought me some Andrew Loomis books, along with Human Anatomy for the Artist and a handful of other books that I still believe to be the best resources out there.I won’t leave you in suspense: drawing better did nothing for my mid-pubescent lack of skill with the ladies. Later, at the University of Utah, with the notion of going into the medical field, it dawned on me: I wasn’t nearly smart enough for this. I had been doing odd art jobs for extra cash, and I heard about a local 3D graphics studio that was hiring. I pretty much tricked them into hiring me, and eventually worked from grunt to art lead. That got me familiar with digital media and caffeine. After a few years there, I worked for Sony on Playstation games, and at some point decided to trade the benefits and security there for the mania, starvation and stress-induced insomnia of the freelance world.
3DTotal: Has becoming a freelance artist proved to be a good move then? Can you explain the difficulties in establishing yourself in this arena?
Steve: I’m very happy as a freelancer. I don’t think it’s for everyone though, but it fits me perfectly. I’ve always been more oriented on the quality of my art over the amount of hours spent at work. I like that I can work during my relentless bouts of insomnia. I can take two weeks vacation on little notice without long negotiations with a boss. I can work in my underwear and listen to whatever crappy music I like. The best thing for me is that I have some control over what I work on, and that the work is a variety of subjects, styles and media. There are downsides, of course. During my time on salary at various studios I knew a lot of great artists who tried the freelancing route for a year or whatever and hated it. Your income fluctuates, and your volume of work goes from overwhelmed to famine and back again.
There’s a lot of time lost to book keeping, negotiating, and managing your own business. And you have to rely on your own determination to keep working. It’s not always easy to push through the latest batch of bewildering revisions to a project when there’s no-one looking over your shoulder, stopping you from sneaking out for a day of skiing. It’s my style, or at least while I can deal with the instability of it. Maybe if I find myself suddenly the father of icosatuplets or something then I’ll look for a really good long-term job, preferably with free diapers and staff psychiatrists. Establishing yourself as a freelancer can be tough. Even though there’s plenty of work to be had, finding the art directors can be tricky. The higher profile the projects they handle, the harder it is to get in contact with them. Several of the directors I work with have email filters that will block
anyone who isn’t on their contact list, so even if you had their information, you couldn’t submit a portfolio. Well, you could, but you would never hear back, get discouraged and quit; taking that job repairing sprinkler systems with your cross-eyed cousin and nurturing a hatred for the art you once loved. The Internet is a gift from the gods to aspiring artists: there are hodjillions of forums where artists and directors of all calibres gather and exchange words and images. You might not know who’s who, but some pretty high profile folk are often lurking. Also, gallery sites have become the new “book” for some art directors. And last but certainly not least, online callouts for printed gallery books. You can submit your artwork for publication in Spectrum or Expose, or whatever, no matter who you are, very easily. I believe that many ADs are using these to look for new talent. However you get a gig, the next step is to be professional. Primadonna artists who argue with their clients quickly find themselves wearing a uniform, staring down a spatula at a dozen searing burger patties. There’s a bit of a stereotype that looms around aspiring freelancers. Be sure to be counted as a seasoned artist, even if you’re not, by making sure you’re on time, with no excuses or substitutions, and with your highest quality work.
3DTotal:A good portion of your work refers to traditional Japanese culture. What is it about this that fascinates you? Steve:Geisha, sake, swords... What’s not to like?
I think I’m drawn to the imagery and stories of feudal Japan because it was a highly refined culture, with values and beliefs different from what I’m used to as a western gaijin dog. The intricate detail and care that went into so much of their art, culture, and daily lives is stunning. Honour, discipline, and sacrifice are the principles of the heroic tales of the Samurai. But mostly, the appeal is girls wearing nothing but full-body tattoos...
3DTotal: Would it be fair to label you a character artist or do you regard yourself as an artist who can cover all subject matter?
Steve: Characters are what interest me most. I do like all sorts of subject matter, although I’ll admit to never really honing my skill painting cute little kittens with fairy wings, or people with animal heads. Most of my freelance work so far has been characters, but in previous jobs I’ve done a lot of vehicles, environments and monsters. I sometimes miss having a broader set of artistic challenges.
3DTotal: If you could choose a particular project to work on what would it be, and why?
Steve: Right now, I’m really excited about StarCraft II. I’d love to work on that. In general, I’d like to do more concept work for film and games. I’m a fan of the cyberpunk genre, and I rarely have a chance to work on that sort of thing. It can be a little hard to break out of a “typecast” situation in art. I started out with a lot of Samurai themes in my art, and many clients come to me because they’ve seen that work, so I do more Samurai for them, so then there’s more in my portfolio, and it snowballs... (Don’t get me wrong, I love Asian art. There’s just so much more that I also enjoy.)