Emotion Capture

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The following pages can barely do justice to the wild imaginations of the illustrators we've chosen for this month's Special Report: Chris Bickels of Red Nose Studio, who brings fresh perspective to 3-D illustration; Tim Biskup, the Los Angeles-based fine-artist known for his fun and feisty creature-filled world; and Fernanda Cohen, an Argentinian-born maven whose delicate lines betray her bold statements. Also we present some of the current photographic captivators who were honored at the highly regarded international photography festivals sponsored by London's Association of Photographers and the Photographers Assocation of the Netherlands.

Chris Sickels


C: How did you get into illustration?

CS: I always enjoyed drawing as a kid. I distinctly remember a slide lecture my art teacher gave in fourth grade, in which she talked about Andrew Wyeth's painting "Christina." I attended the Art Academy of Cincinnati from 1992 to '96. I went to art school thinking I would have to draw shampoo bottles for P&G. or do graphic design. My sophomore year, an older student trying to explain illustration to me took me to a newsstand and picked up an issue of Rolling Stone and showed me an illustration. To this day I still remember it was a piece C.F. Payne did of the birth of Gene Simmons. I was hooked.

C: How would you describe your style and approach?

CS: Whimsical but not goofy, clever and hopefully not pretentious. I guess my style is a mixed bag of drawing, painting, sculpting, assemblage, photography, and art of using junk to my advantage.

C: What is your process once you receive the brief from a client?

CS: Jumping right into sketches, pulling references when needed. One of the hardest parts for me is trying to narrow down the sketches, to find those two-three concepts that really get to the heart of the piece. Once I get those, I send them to the client for feedback. Occasionally there are revisions. Once a sketch is approved the building begins. I usually start on the key characters and build the rest of the scene from there. This is where it gets a little ugly, trying to get everything to look "right" in the camera before anything has a finish to it. The lighting of the set is always tricky, trying to keep it simple is a constant battle. But it is also where things start to come together.

C: Do you work with digital tools?

CS: I try not to, mainly because I enjoy working with the camera and trying to take advantage of what it can offer. The computer is just too removed from the physical aspect of what I love to create. I do occasionally use a digital camera but the trusty 4x5 is hard to beat. I might use Photoshop mainly to take out an occasional string or two, and maybe adjust a little color.

C: You're based in Indiana. Do you believe living there, versus a metropolitan area like New York, gives any sort of distinctive flavor to your approach?

CS: It definitely does. What that flavor is I am really not sure;, maybe meat and potatoes, a little backward at times and somewhat secluded from the world.

Tim Biskup


C: How did you get involved in art?

TB: I went to art school at Otis Parson for a couple years. I was inspired by punk rock, cartoons and weird toys and things like that and wasn't into conceptual art at all. My teachers would say, people aren't going to take you seriously. Finally I couldn't take it any more and I just left. Then I was in a couple punk rock bands, Capital Punishment and Big Butter. I loved doing the illustrations for our records, and that got me back into art. I learned by working as an illustrator for skateboard companies and then got into animation.

C: When did you start doing your own thing?

TB: The real start was when I was doing the Burning Brush art auctions around 1998. A bunch of my friends and I would basically send out flyers and go to a bar, hang all our art on the walls and auction it off ourselves. It was really guerrilla style, really fun, a lot of drunk people bidding on each other's art. Some big name artists got involved-Shag, Mark Ryden, Glen Barr and Gary Baseman-really well-known people who brought attention to the whole thing.

C: How would you describe your work-is it fine art, design or illustration?

TB: It's all those things, whatever you can bluff your way into I guess. Gary Baseman calls it "pervasive art." Really whatever you do can be art, the main thing is that it has to be something you do with integrity, at least that's the way I understand it.

C: How would you describe the main themes behind your work and your approach?

TB: I notice these recurring themes of Armageddon and mutation and sickness and sex. They're all basically metaphors for life, very personal things, fears, a lot of times. I tend to work very freeform and to sort of go with an idea no matter how weird it is and figure out what it means later. I find all kinds of meanings in my works after I've finished them.

C: Who are your other influences? I've read one of your biggest has been Disneyland designer Mary Blair.

TB: During a trip to Disneyland I went to the Disney gallery. They had a Mary Blair painting on the wall, I did some research and realized she was the designer of most of the things I loved about Disneyland and Disney movies. Now that I've spent so much time studying her that I know she has a very unusual color sense, her drawing ability was impeccable. She could capture a gesture in just a couple lines, and abstract that into that modern design sense that she had. It just made for these incredible shapes, incredible balance. And her staging was phenomenal.

Fernanda Cohen


C: How did you get into illustration?

FC: I started drawing Mafalda [an Argentinian cartoon character] back when I was a little kid in Buenos Aires and, as I grew up, I never quite fit into the bohemian frame of the fine arts down there. Then I read Warhol and discovered art as a business of communication, a concept that is still not tangible in Argentina. So I came to the U.S. to visit my brother , a brilliant musician who kicked me in the butt when I said I'd study PR instead, and I found the School of Visual Arts.

C: How would you describe your style and approach?

FC: I'd say I live in a perpetual-and sadly inevitable-state of mind in which I can't recall almost anything, and as a result my subconscious weaves some sort of fabric where my imagery resides, and independently decides to pop out on the surface just often enough. My style, consequently, may as well be a blurry compilation of all the visual information I absorb and attempt to steal but can't quite manage to retain.

C: What is your method, once you receive the brief from a client?

FC: I walk. I blank in absolute silence to be able to sketch ideas in my head and develop a round concept. Then I trace it on paper, leave it, come back to it, and watch it from a different angle. I may use a little mirror for facial expressions, or photo reference if dealing with a particular context. Then I ink it up and fill it in with color.

C: How do you know when an illustration is done?

FC: When I come too close to ruining it.

C: Can you describe one of your most interesting or challenging projects? What was so interesting/difficult about it?

FC: The New York Times Magazine cover series [1/16/05], for sure. I was working abroad and they left me a message the day before New Year's Eve. Naturally, I couldn't turn it down, even though it was a big holiday. I was getting on a boat in a couple of days, and the idea of illustrating Bush and the social security issue didn't necessarily thrill me at first. On top of that, the art direction was extremely tight, and there were obviously all too many restrictions to depicting the President: he couldn't look defeated, tired, too old, dumb, overwhelmed, etc. After a lot of back and forth phone calls and internet messaging from this remote town in Uruguay, I happened to find myself in with my grandmother-who, by the way, is 79 and served as my chauffeur in my several rushed trips to the internet caf‚. We successfully got it done on time. Looking back, I do believe now that handling such a serious cover subject was a fabulous challenge and a big compliment from such a great publication.

C: It seems that there's something in your work that's reminiscent of Japanese ukiyoe.

FC: Lots of people have mentioned Hokusai when looking at my work, which is a high compliment. But no, I have no Japanese influence whatsoever. I have a decent book collection, and only one tiny report on the Japanese movement Angura. I guess I refuse to have Hokusai in the house because I avoid direct inspiration.

C: Who or what are your creative influences?

FC: I admire Steinberg's ideas, Glaser's versatility, Warhol's frivolity, Hundertwasser's colors, Shahn's pictorial quality and the talent of all too many people to be mentioned here.

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