Q&A with Joe Phillips April 6, 2015 – Posted in: Artist Interviews, Blog, Featured Columns
Joe Phillips is one of the most talented artists I’ve ever met. His need to create drives him. Whether it’s drawing, painting, sculpting, animating, costuming, jewelry…the list goes on and on. He’s simply amazing. More importantly he’s a genuinely kind soul. He’s recently had some serious health problems and the way he’s handled the experience should be an inspiration for any of us. Always positive, always kind, always creating. Joe Phillips…
Where are you from, where did you grow up?
Atlanta Georgia. I also lived on a farm but I don’t remember much but I did have a pet pig.
What’s the first thing you can remember drawing?
My mom tells a story where I drew a chicken in the dirt was my first “drawing”after that I drew all the time, in books and paper. I don’t think any of that stuff survived over the years. We didn’t keep hold of old stuff in my family. I think the oldest stuff I have is some art I did for my high school yearbook.
Do you have any formal art training?
I have studied with many great artist but the only formal training would be in theater. I was headed to the stage, I enjoyed making sets props and costumes and doing make up. I learned lighting and staging which helps my comics and other works.
Tools of the trade…what are your favorite “go to” tools. Pencils, pens, inks, paper, paint, etc…What are we guaranteed to find at your drawing table?
As much as I can I always have a pencil and a pad of paper with me. But with that being said I have been mainly digital with my art for the last 5 years or so. I use to draw on paper and scan it into the computer now I just use my Cintiq and draw right on the screen. As the industry changed people weren’t buying the originals as much so I just started doing them digitally and never looked back. I still do hand drawing but most of the work I’m known for these days is all digital.
Who are your art heroes? Whose work do you pull the most inspiration from?
That’s a big list, first there is Gustav Klimt, Alphonse Mucha, J.C. Leyendecker and Howard Pile, I love Frank Frazetta and some obscure artist like Harry Bush and Jim French. Of course Jack Kirby and Mike Mignola, I could go on but I think you get the idea.
A similar, but different question, what artists have had the most influence on your own work?
J.C. Leyendecker, Mike Mignola and Alex Toth. In different ways but they solved a question in art that I found my answers to also. Great draftsmanship. Clean ideas and personality. Oh let’s not forget P. Craig Russell. He’s magnificent.
You’re not only a comic book artist – you’ve done it all, you are constantly creating. What is your favorite art form to work in? Do the different forms, drawing, animation, sculpting, costume design/making…do they influence each other? Do you pull ideas and skills from one medium to the other?
For me it’s all the same, it’s creativity, I love to animate and sculpt and make costumes and paint and draw and write, I couldn’t just do one without the others. I’m not good at other things like dating or paying bills but give me a few minutes and I can make something cool out of whatever I have.
What work are you most proud of?
I’m not a proud person I believe pride leads to bad places. I do like the impact my work has had in others lives but I’m not proud of anything.
What project/commission was most challenging or has given you most satisfaction?
In some ways Stonewall and Riot was a big challenge, as my brother Lex and I had to teach ourselves the program and learn to use CGI software as well as editing and sound equipment. It was great when it all went together. Sure it has flaws but it was a lot of good work. Also my novel Spellbreaker. It’s my best work that’s non-visual, I think. It took me two years to write it, but I really think it’s special. But then every parent loves their ugly children.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Could you describe your thought process for us?
Bedlam, sheer bedlam. My mind is full of images and voices and they fight for domination, a few get made and others just haunt me till I break and at least do a sketch or jot the idea down. Everything inspires and taunts me.
The ones that have heart are my favorite. I want my work to mean something and not just be something trivial.
What advice would you give to young people who want to follow your steps?
Don’t do it. Get a good job and lead a happy life. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. But if you must, make sure you dive in head first. Learn as much as you can. Do as much as you can and listen to the feedback without getting personal. It’s a hard path to go but it does have it’s rewards.
Can you picture a day in which you no longer use pen and paper – an all digital work flow?
Today? Lol I’m always going to be open to new ways of working I think that artist that get stuck in doing things one way lose relevance. I’ll always have a pencil and paper, but I’m open to new technology.
Mel Jones asks: How do you get the air brushed look to your artwork? (i.e. without outlines) When you work digitally, do you use Photoshop or another program?
I love Photoshop. I work in layers and create my own brushes in the program to get different effects.
Richard Aries asks: Is it an easy or common transition for a comic book artist to also work on animated films?
No, they are different disciplines. You have to understand film language and stage craft to be good in animation. It’s not hard to learn but not all comic guys can make the transition.
Rob Felber asks: Do you prefer working on licensed properties where there are actual references to what the characters and everything else should like like, or do you prefer making up everything on your own?
I like making up my own things. Licensed stuff is fine and pays better but I’m too old to want to do others stuff. I want to create my own and turn them into something.
Scott Beattie asks: Do you have any tips or tricks for varying line weight in inking?
Study great inkers. I’m not that good at it. Basically think lighting. Where the light hits make the lines lighter – heavier inks in shadows .
submitted via facebook: I have become more enamored of artists who use a brush in their work. I am particularly fascinated with Dave Sim’s recent explorations of the history of photo-realism in comic strips and his attempt to learn to ink like Alex Raymond. I wonder if you use a brush and ink rather than pens in any capacity other than large blacks and if you think the days of the brush master have passed.
I have heard tales of Wrightson dipping and re-dipping his brush, running it down the edge of the page to get the tip and flow just right, inking two or three small strokes and starting the process over, ten or fifteen minutes for each three strokes in those Frankenstein plates. Will we ever see another Bernie Wrightson?
I could sooner see a young artist learn how to replicate the texture of brushwork on a computer before I see one learning how to do it like Mr. Sim is trying to do now, by getting messy through hands on trial and error.
Is there any attention to this art still practiced or is the focus on learning the micron pens and such?
That’s good observation. I’m no inker and I defer to others to answer that question. My inks are passable at best. I’ve used brushes in the past but my work of late is all digital and not really very exciting in brush work.
Dave Johnson is really doing some amazing brushwork. I think he’d give you a better answer.
Mike Pascale asks (Mike submitted several great questions):
1. How much do you use reference for your figures or backgrounds? Do you find that deadline pressures prevent you from using as much as you’d like, or do you prefer to take a more imaginative approach?
It’s all down to what the project requires. I’m the least of the equation in art. The first is the client. What do they want and are willing to pay for. I’m mainly a facilitator. Being work for hire I have no ego in most project I do what they want and as as fast as I can.
2. How much contact/interaction do you have personally with the writers, editors, inkers and colorists on your titles, and how much do you think there is overall in the industry? Should there be more or less?
A complex question. Basically the more connected you are to your partners the better the end product. Communication is key. There are projects where I’ve had great communication and they came out awesome and others not as successful. If you can speak with someone one on your team do it. You’ll get better results.
3. Do you ever feel that your abilities/skill set is/are being commoditized, due to the now global talent pool and the Internet? Do you ever get a feeling you lost a project because an uninformed (or budget-conscious) client decided to hire a guy from an “emerging market” nation or kid out of school for half your page rate rather than pay for your experience?
I like to think of it this way, you can get where you are going on a bus or in a limo. If you want a limo call me, if not there is a bus every twenty minutes.
4. Name one artist each that influenced you as a child, as a teen, and as a pro.
As a pro, Mike Mignola, as a teen John Bryne, as a kid Norman Rockwell.
Arinya asks: How has technology changed the way you work? Tablets, Photoshop, scanners and the internet…has it changed things for better or worse?
If you can’t draw two pages of comic art a day get out of my way.
I guess if you are a master you can get away with a page a day, but anything less and you are fooling yourself. Now this isn’t for people inking and coloring or painting a page – just plain pencils.
Working on the Cintiq has made me faster and I can do way more than I could before, this being said I’ve always been a fast artist.
Thanks so much Joe! Before we finish up, do you have any projects you’re working on know that we should keep an eye out for?
My Novel. Spellbreaker is done and ready for publication. I have a new project with Lion’s Forge called “The Midsummer’s Knight” I created and will be working on with writer friend Ron Marz.
(This looks incredible! Below is a look a a few character sketches Joe has done. Be sure to visit the Midsummer’s Knight website where he has posted many more sketches and peeks at this tremendous project. -Craig)
I have an animated project I’m doing as well as some online game art I’m doing for “Escape from Pleasure Planet”.
I’m sure there is a TV pilot I’m writing and a few other things but I can’t think of them at the moment.
Like I said, Joe is a busy man – always creating!
Another terrific Q&A wrapped up – stay tuned more are coming!
UPDATE! – You can now help support Joe’s Midsummer’s Knight project through Patreon! Patreon is a terrific way to help support the arts! Unlike Kickstarter it’s about ongoing support of your favorite artists not necessarily fundraising for one specific project.