Growing as an Artist –  Steve Huston Interview

Growing as an Artist – Steve Huston Interview


Hey, guys. So welcome to Proko. My name’s
Stan Prokopenko. This is the one and only Steve Huston, one of my biggest idols. Somebody
I really look up to. And I’m a fan of your work, too. Oh, thank you. Wow. You heard that one. Yeah. Steve is a really good artist and even better
teacher, I think. Probably one of the best teachers alive in my opinion. He has a book
that just came out recently, he teaches workshops on New Masters Academy and Art Mentors. Right? Yeah. Yeah. Why don’t you start with the beginning. All
right. When did you start drawing? It was February 1959. That’s when I was born. Well, yeah. I went to Art Center. Moved from Alaska to
California to go to Art Center, the art school in Pasadena and went as an illustration major
which is where all the craft was. The fine art was doing all the New York stuff and illustration
was the place to learn how to draw and how to paint and all that good stuff. So I went
through that. I illustrated for a number of years and… Was that college? Yeah. Art Center is a college. Right. But that was when you…When you’re
in college. So did you start…Were you drawing before that? No. Well, I always drew but I’d draw a comic.
You can see it in my paintings now, I draw comic book characters as a kid but I didn’t
have any training. It was up in Alaska. So you started as a college student. My one and only…Before Art Center my one
and only art class was leather works and I made a…Or I guess it was a copper…I made
a little copper bulldog belt buckle. That was my whole education in art up until Art
Center. Wow. Okay. So that was it. There wasn’t much to be had
up there. People often think that you have to start
as, like, a little kid. No. I always drew. It was the one thing I
could do better than my two big brothers. Okay. So you did… So I got my identity out of drawing. So I
drew all the time but it was just out of my head, copying comic book characters. I used
to send my drawings into Marvel because I was a Marvel guy or a Marvel kid and they’d
send these nice letters back saying, “Work on your anatomy,” or whatever it was. But
no training and but I discovered Art Center so I went there and then illustrated for a
few years and just…It was a burn out profession. You’re doing…I got known as being pretty
quick so I get these overnight or over the weekend deadlines. I’d stay up for two or three days to crank
out something that wasn’t very good and it just took the fun out of it. So I went back
and I always teach…I taught a little bit. I went back and started teaching at Art Center
and then that way not only were they paying me to practice, I could sit in on all my favorite
teachers. A lot of them were the teachers I’d had in school. I’d sit in on their classes.
Dan McCall was a huge favorite of mine, Richard Bunkall who’s no longer with us. Dave
McKarsky was a big influence, Vern Wilson, Harry Carmy [SP] and these… Some of them
are still there, some not. But anyway that way they were basically paying
me to get a masters program is the way I looked at it. I went in, they told me to teach a
class and I would teach it the way I wanted to learn. If I wanted to learn about color
I’d try and get a head painting class, maybe, and teach color theory and head painting.
If I wanted to work on hands I’d give them extra work in class on hands. And then I basically
had a research team working on all the problems I was trying to learn. And, to me, it was… Wow. Nirvana. How old were you when they asked you to be
a teacher? Oh, I was…I started teaching I think a year
out of college doing high school classes on Saturday. They had a Saturday program at that
point. I don’t know if they still do. Okay. And then I became on the…I was one of the
substitute teachers when somebody got sick. And then Burne Hogarth, the old Tarzan comic
strip fame, he became a mentor of mine for a while and he had a heart attack and I took
over his class. And then Dan McCall, another mentor of mine who’s still out there painting
masterpieces, he retired and recommended me for his head painting. So I had a good, solid
figure drawing class, a good solid head painting class, and that’s… Okay. We’re gonna pause the history for a
second because I wanna ask you because you…Right out of college you started teaching at the
college and you took over all these giant, like teachers. How did you get so good? Stan: Two or three. I wasn’t very good. They just needed somebody.
It was two or three years later. You know? Okay. And so by the time I started taking those
classes and I was a B-team teacher. But what I did and how I got as good as I could get
in that time is when I went to college I was really a C-plus student. I was an average
student. I never got one piece in the student gallery, I never got a scholarship, and I
would have loved to get a piece in the student gallery but I didn’t want a scholarship because
I saw…What would happen is the students who got the scholarships, they had to go every
single semester so they couldn’t take a break and they would then kind of try and game the
system. They know that that guy over there really likes this kind of work so they’d give
him that kind of work. Oh, okay. So you figure out how to get a good grade
because if you’re not getting B’s and A’s you’re not gonna keep that scholarship and
what I wanted to do is have the flexibility of failing. Being able to fail. Right. Steve: And, also, targeting. So if I was getting
an abstract expressionist class or, you know, a contour drawing class it wasn’t what I thought
I wanted to be at that time I would blow it off, basically. As long as I got a C I was
good with that. And then I would bust my butt in the figure drawing and in the painting
and stuff. And, actually, I didn’t even really paint. There wasn’t much in terms of painting
as we think of those nice, juicy alla prima paints. It was more either fine art painting,
just kind of playing with paint, or rendering. So I worked very hard on the rendering skills.
Learning to make something as real as it could be. Reflections and transparencies and surfaces
and stuff. With a pencil. With a pencil or whatever. gouache, pencil,
that kind of stuff. Acrylic, oil eventually. So they were… They were called rendering classes. So you
do it as tight as you could, basically. Okay. As realistic as possible. So when did you introduce paint and color? It was much later. Later. When I started to teach. I started teaching
drawing because I…I still see myself as this, I’m a draftsman that learned how to
paint. I was more naturally good at drawing. Painting was actually quite hard for me. Render
is a little different, it’s just if you’re willing to put in 100 hours you’re gonna make
that apple look like an apple. Yeah. So that was just mileage in. But painting,
getting color, getting fresh strokes, making that form turn while still showing the process,
not hiding that process through blending techniques. That was harder to make it look like Sargent
or a fetchen or whatever. That came much later and that takes good color knowledge and I
didn’t really have that. And so I could render well, I could draw well, I couldn’t paint
well. So what I did is when I started teaching the drawing classes I sat in with Dan and
he’d give these great demos and he’d talk until he was… Hilarious jokes all the way through. But then
we’d take a break somewhere around lunch and we’d go into the slide room and back then
it was still slides. And he’d click through and he’d show us Dean Cornwells and whoever.
You know Sargent and Chases and Soroya was big with him. And he’d talk about the color
theory. Look at the warm and the cool, the rich and the gray, and the light and the dark. Just a private instruction? Yeah. Well, for his whole class. Oh. But I’d be sitting in. I’d have done my…Tuesdays
and Thursdays I’d do my drawing class and maybe on Wednesday he’d have a head painting
class so I’d go in, usually have lunch with him, and he’d just let me hang out in there.
And every teacher I asked let me do that. And I would go in on, you know, whatever number
of days…Sometimes I’d be working on my own stuff, sometimes I wouldn’t. But when I could
which was quite often I would go in and sit in and he’d take his whole class into the
slide screening room and we’d just go through slides. He’d talk us through. And then I’d watch him.
I’d be painting with the class, too. But I’d watch and listen to him and he’d sit down
and say, “Okay. Now this blue’s too rich. You gotta shift it this way, you gotta do
that to make it harmonize.” And I slowly, painstakingly figured out color. Yeah. But it took a while. It took a few years.
And where it really took off for me was when I started teaching head painting because I
was teaching color theory, as well as drawing principles, basically. Yeah. And I finally figured it out a couple years
into teaching it. But I was… Now how did you figure it out? Did you read
books or did you experiment? Because I did all of that but I also had a
research team of… What does that mean? I had 10 or 15 students in there. “Now, okay,
guys. We’re gonna work on warm cool. How to get the warm lights and the cool shadows to
harmonize.” Okay. So I’d do a pretty terrible demo [inaudible
00:09:22] the teacher, they assume it’s good so you get that kind of…They cut you a break.
You know? Because you’ve got that authority. You know? Okay. If the therapist says something it must be
true. It’s that kind of thing. So I’d do a fairly horrible demo and then I’d go around
and help these first or third semester students muddle through and every once in a while somebody,
by oftentimes accident, would get this gorgeous warm cool. I’d go, “All right. So, oh, that’s
how you mix that.” And I’d make a mental note and I’d steal from them. Stan: Okay. So they weren’t actually going
out and researching things you were telling them to do. Steve: No. No. No. To be clear. Stan: I thought you were, like… Steve: I should have thought of that though. Stan: That would be great though. You assign
a research project and they have to write an essay about color theory? Steve: Well, they do that, you know, with
their exercises. You know, when I’d give them assignments, and they’d go back home and they’d
work on whatever. Stan: Right. Steve: Let’s make sure the foreground is a
different value into the background so it separates. Stan: Yeah. Steve: And you’re constantly banging into
your students so you’re knocking it into your own head, is fundamental principles. What
are the fundamental ideas? Not the flash. If you have 100 hours to make that apple look
right you’re gonna stumble into it eventually. It’s just a matter of patience. But in a few
minutes when you have to edit out your time or the number of strokes or the colors. When
you have to reduce it down to some essential limited structure or palette how do you get
that truth to come through? There’s certain fundamental things. So that’s what started
to click with me. You know, if you give me enough time I could
do a piece that a studio would buy for a movie poster or movie comp or something. I could
do pretty well given time. But if I wanted to stylize it and make it my own, not just
knock it out or belabor it as a generic rendering which is more or less what my illustration
style was. It was pretty generic looking. It was not distinctive. How do I make it my
voice? How do I take those principles that I love in Sargent and not look like a second
hand Sargent? Stan: Yeah. Steve: So it’s understanding the structures
he’s working with. The simple structures. The color theory. You know, when Sargent makes
a stroke most of those strokes are going down the long axis of the form. Well, why is that?
Well, if we get a long axis line that’s gonna show…Say it’s a highlight mark here, it’s
gonna show the corner where the top of the wrist and forearm meets the side. Well, where
the front of the nose meets the side of the nose, that corner then catches that highlight
or that core shadow. And so that’s structural. But then I also started to realize it’s gestural.
Gestural is how we get from this to that. How do we move from here to there beautifully,
correctly, truthfully, or dialistically in your own style and your own voice? Well, that’s
also…When I do this I can take you from the brow ridge all the way to the tip of the
noise. I can take you from the elbow all the way maybe to the middle index, the middle
joint of the index fingers with one line. It could be a connective line. Yeah. Well, we could do that with color then. Why
don’t we take that orange and we’ll have it slowly move into the blues and then that gradation
from orange to blue then moves the eye from here to there. So how do we move over that
form and feel that solid structure, that box logic? How do we move between the forms and
move that fluid, graceful connectivity which is really what artists are paid to do? We’re
paid to show the rest of the world how the world works on some level. The world can be
this beautiful, harmonious place like a sunset or it can be this rough, textured holocaust
like a Jerome Witkin painting. Yeah. And it’s our job to be biased, to have a point
of view, and see things through a lense. And the only way you can do that is reduce it,
distill it down to its essence and then build it back up with a little bit of tweaking with
prejudices. Yeah. Rather than making everything its own color
we’re gonna make everything bluish. It’s gonna [inaudible 00:13:24] over blue and so I’ve
teated the truth and pushed it toward the direction for some purpose. Stan: Okay. So the way you show forms in life.
That’s your style? Steve: Yeah. The way you show anything. It
can be the structure of it, the form, how does that work or how does that movement come
out of the canvas? And we feel that, you know, the nose coming out and the background going
back. All that kind of stuff. But it could also be the design. You know? How do we flow
or how do we balance or how do we break from this to that? How do things fade together?
Maybe we use a lot of soft and lost edges or how do they separate? We’ll use hard edges. It’s every visual component which is shape,
color, line, angle, texture, depth, flatness, realism, abstraction, organic, architectural….All
those, a million of them. All those visual components are gonna be many and few, big
and small. Those are all tools of the trade that you can use to make a point. Okay. You know, we’ll definitely come back
to style. I have a few questions on that. Right now, let’s see, let’s go back to history.
Kind of pause that college. Okay. So I illustrated for a number of years
and then I…It was just a burn out. You know? You’re cranking these things out. Where can we see these? Stan: You can’t. No, you probably can. You
can probably find them around, a few of them. But I did Blood Brain which is a…The video
market just….Beta and then VHS did just come out so it was a big market for young
artists to crank out these…You know, these little illustrations. Big illustration but
it’d be a little package for a video cassette, basically. Okay. And so what they did is they went back and
they grabbed all the great, but especially all the lousy movies, all the TV shows, they
re-patched and put them out so you could watch them at home. So all that needed cover design.
So I was doing all these horror covers, I did “Chainsaw Massacre Part II”, I did “The
Barbarian Brothers” that were poor man’s Arnold Schwarzeneggers. They were twins. It was like,
“All right, you get two for the price of one,” kind of thing. Okay. Just bad stuff. It was mediocre and then I
did a lot of comps. You know, I did comps for the fantasy movies coming out and that
kind of stuff. Anything that was figurative. And why was it bad? What were you… It was a bad idea. The art was bad. The art. Okay. Yeah. So what was lacking at that point in your… Both the concept and the artist. You know,
I was a hack, basically. I was cranking out stuff. I had a little bit of talent, I put
together a portfolio, I could draw the figure well so I could do these bigger than life
kind of characters, and I was just knocking them out for the deadlines. And I was doing
what they needed to have done, then you’d bring it in and they’d want changes to it
and they’d say, “Okay. Turn it this way and do this and put this here.” Okay. And they’d make me put tanks when there was
no tank in the movie into it. You know? All this kind of nonsense. And you’d just knock
it out and it was no fun, really. Okay. You know? I was making pretty good money for
a while but I was turning out really bad art. Now so, okay, was it bad because you couldn’t
render it well or the idea and there was just the composition [inaudible 00:16:39]. It’s two-fold. When you’re illustrating, at
least on the level I was illustrating which is middle-class level. It was not the heights
of illustration like Golden Age or Silver Age. It was by any means. I was doing someone
else’s idea. Okay. For a mediocre product under usually very
tight deadlines. Okay. And for an okay amount of money. But all those
things have an affect. You’re gonna pay me more I’ll work harder. If you give me more
time I’ll work longer. You know? If you quit changing it it’ll be more cohesive. Right. Or if I’m not lazy I’ll put more time into
the composition. And I was just putting it out there and I could see my skillset was
just kind of doing this because I was…It’s like, think of playing golf. If you’ve got
20 minutes to go practice every single day would it be better to take those 20 minutes
and swing that club perfectly, say 15 times and really get that muscle memory in there
or would it be better to get more mileage and do 100 strokes and just kind of do this
with the club? You know? What’s gonna make you a better golfer? The 15. Yeah. So what you do, how you practice is
what you are. Right. So if you’re practicing doing crappy drawings
you’re going to be a lousy artist eventually. Okay. If you’re practicing…If you’re gonna be
a hack novelist for the pulp, you know, slasher genre and then in your spare time you’re gonna
do the great American novel you’re never gonna do the great American novel because you’ve
taught yourself how to be a slasher novelist. If you’re gonna be a linebacker for the NFL
you can’t someday switch and become a ballet dancer. The muscles have been trained in a
completely different direction and that’s going to inform the rest of your life. Okay. So you can’t say, “At some point I’m gonna
do good stuff.” Because eventually it’s gonna…You’re gonna have trouble with that. Right. You know, everybody does that sometimes. Everybody
puts out something that’s a stinker. Just the way life is. But if you’re not genuinely
trying your best and focusing to get better…There’s no stasis in art or really in life. If you’re
not gonna try and get better you’re going to get worse. Even if it’s because you just
repeat your original inspirations. At 18 I came up with this really beautiful color scheme
or composition but at 45 you’re gonna be a bad hack copyist. People worry about someone
stealing their ideas but we steal our own ideas and we do them more poorly later on
in life. So we have to keep reinventing ourselves,
keep trying to push, make it better. Make that line better. Make that shape simpler.
You know, look at most of the great artists even back into the Renaissance looked like
a tion and you’ll see their styles evolve. Michelangelo. Styles evolve because they knew
if you don’t start pushing in a new direction you’re gonna just be hacking out the Same
old stuff. Yeah. Okay. So you realized that you were…Did
you realize that at the time? That this was happening? Yeah. That’s why I got…Decided to get out
of it. So what I did is I started to teach more and more even though it cost me money.
I made more money illustrating. Okay. But also sometimes you’ll have a two or three-month
drought as a freelance artist so it was nice to have some steady income but it wasn’t much
income. Okay. It was $30.00 an hour I made, I think, at
the height of teaching at Art Center in the ’80s. And so I went back and started teaching
full-time and that took me a couple years to get into that. I always taught a little
bit because I love teaching and, like I said, it’s a way to practice and for me the class
is doing a workshop like I’m doing this week or doing the semester workshops or classes…And
I used to do, that’s my sketchbook. Or one of them, anyway. So I’m sitting down with that young student
showing her how to draw a head and redrawing the cheek bone and seeing how she drew a better
nose than I did and wondering why. All that stuff is great so it helps. But it’s not gonna
mitigate the fact that then you go home and stay up all night and crank up, you know,
the “Blood Brain II” or whatever it is. Right. You know? It’s not gonna balance the score
card on that. Yeah. But I started teaching because I figured,
“Okay. I can render pretty well, I can do other people’s ideas, I can draw well, I can’t
paint. I can’t just lay down paint and make it…” You know, think about when you paint,
you know, I’m separating…Rendering when you tighten things down and you kind of lose
the strokes, lose the process into that film of realism. How do you make something unfinished?
Because that’s what a stroke is. If you lay a stroke down and don’t lose it into the surrounding
color field it’s unfinished. How do you make something unfinished finished? That’s a tough
problem. So if you’re gonna be painterly or stylistic in any way how are you gonna make
it feel like it’s a complete idea? That’s a tricky deal. Yeah. You know? And so where’s the consistency in
that if you’re gonna use broken line? You know, broken, soft edges. You know, limited
color, simplified form. Why does it not look unfinished? How can a sketch be worthy of
being framed? In other words. Worth of of going in a gallery. Okay. And the trick to that is if it feels like
it’s saying what it needs to say. In other words every stroke for the most part that
you put down or every mark in that artwork if it’s speaking the truth about what you’re
trying to say, “This is a cheek bone that turns, that flows down into this structure
that comes forward and then steps back…” If those truths ring out despite the technique
it’ll feel finished. But if it’s a placeholder, if you do a figure drawing and you just do
a ball for the head, well, it could be anybody’s head in almost any position. You know? You got some sense of where that position
is probably but you haven’t nailed it down in space, in position. It doesn’t have the
right character and it doesn’t have a unique character to the models there. But ideally
if you’ve got, and Charles Hawthorne said this, “With every mark you make,” it’s a little
bit of hyperbole but it makes for a good teaching moment. “With every mark you make I know how
you’re feeling.” If you really want to get out of that classroom and go have lunch that’s
gonna come through in some level of that mark. It’s gonna be a lazy, impatient mark that’s
not speaking, not doing the work it needs to do. But if that tracks like an ant up over…If
you can actually feel when you put that stroke on that cheek bone the mounds of the cheekbone…M.C.
Wyeth said, and this I think is true, he said, “If I was doing a painting of a guy reaping
the fields with his scythe,” he’d make those up for the most part later in his career,
he said, “By the end of the day, man, my neck and back were sore because I was feeling that
same tension.” It’s like method acting. Yeah. You know? He was actually…The method actor
actually feels those emotions and sometimes suffers for it after the film’s over. And
he suffered for it because he dialed into that tension. You know? So if I’m gonna make
this hand as opposed to that hand those strokes, those moments, those color shifts, those gradations
and so the contours in some manner or form those have to be quite different because they’re
serving a different master. So, you know…So finding that is incredibly complex and the
artist generally, not always but generally, most of the great art movements have done
this, is gonna distill down. It’s gonna take a piece of the truth [inaudible
00:24:43] might just be by framing it. I’m not gonna put all this [inaudible 00:24:46]
the rest of the room, we’re just framed here but there’s a whole wide world around us that
we don’t get to see in this frame. But, also, what am I gonna do about that particular [inaudible
00:24:56]? Am I gonna do every possible thing? Am I gonna get out the magnifying glass and
do a miniature rendering of it or am I gonna just make it one stroke? Or leave that one
out completely. You know? And so we’re always editing down. Right. So the trick, one of the tricks is when we
edit let’s do it out of a strength, out of a choice. Let’s say, “Shoot. If I had more
time I’d put more petals in there. If I had more time each petal would be a more rendered
petal.” But let’s do something that speaks to some poetic truth. Some deeper truth about
it. Maybe it’s just a zigzag of yellow or a splatter with a brush or something like
that. Or it’s taken out completely or it’s made bigger or it’s moved over, it’s set back
three feet. You know? What are we gonna do to change it or edit it in such a way that
it supports our system of belief? Our agenda? You know, we’re not journalists, we’re editorialists.
And what are we really trying to say about that? And the clearer you can be on that in
terms of the craft and by painting a front plane now, well, that front plane should have
something to do with this front plane and that front plane there, all those front planes
in flesh we’re gonna have some relationship of color and value and such. And because they’re
all on an organic figure they’re gonna have some relationship in terms of shape, too because
they’re all gonna be somewhat organic, figurative shapes. And that’ll be very different than
something that’s clean lines and architectural. So are you saying the decisions should be
based on what your message is instead of just the level of detail? Ideally. Now that might be very carefully
thought out. That tends to be the kind of guy I am. But most artists in history don’t
think it out. But they feel it. You know, every time you work your instincts are telling
you that there’s something wrong, it doesn’t sit back or doesn’t do…Or it’s the wrong
scale or whatever it is. You’re making those critical choices oftentimes and for most artists,
even advanced artists most of the time without the critical thinking. But what I argue when
I teach is that if you don’t spend at least some time in the beginning critically thinking
that all you’re doing is you’re a slave to the system. You happen to get a teacher that you kind
of like and you’re a secondhand version of them. And oftentimes they can’t quite tell
you why it works, they just know that the guy that they got it from or the girl they
got it from showed them that it did work and it looked good and it felt good. But why does
it work? We can’t figure those things out so I’m always a why guy. I wanna know why
something works and then I can play games with it and then say, “Well, maybe I’ll break
that up. I’ll flatten that space. You know? Tangents are bad, maybe I’ll use tangents
for a specific reason. You know, for a counter reason or something.” You can play with those
ideas. So you’re saying the people that feel it instead
of thinking about it, they’re just instinctively copying somebody else or… Oftentimes. Okay. Yeah. And there’s good copy. You know, explain
in a second, and there’s bad copying. Because we all copy and we all have to copy. If you
go to most good museums you’ll see great artists have done copies of other great artists. That’s
how you learn. But if you’re just a slave to that, if you’ve got a…You know a atelier
or a school or whatever, they have the house style. Right. Steve: Now how many students going through
that are gonna be able to transcend that style and make their own style? They’re gonna be
influenced and probably heavily influenced by that style and they’ll probably never get
past it because they don’t know what’s in that style and oftentimes they’re not…The
teacher isn’t able to tell them what is in that style that really makes it work. They
just have a few…They have a process that they’re teaching rather than a philosophy.
And, for me, art is…We’re visual philosophers and we can get into deep meaning of life and
man’s inhumanity a man’s kind of philosophy or just the philosophy of how form reacts
to our mind. You know? How does your audience see things? You know?
How does their psychology work? You know? We’re all related as humans. We think in very
much the same way. How can we use that? Well, if we make things dark then that gets a little
creepier. If it’s in a film I have on and off lights or cracking thunder and loud noise
and silence, that’s scarier. And you can use those to story-tell but you can also use them
on a deeper level to get to kind of iconic ideas, metaphorical ideas, deep ideas. And
Rembrandt used golden light off camera from above. That was religious light. That was
God’s enlightenment was enlightening the Christians, you know, the Calvanists that he was painting…Primarily
painting. You know, you’re gonna rot in hell or you
can be enlightened by this glorious light and so he painted pretty ugly people with
glorious light on them because it wasn’t the flesh that was the truth for him, it was that
the light of above…You know, God’s loving light from above or however he was gonna frame
it. So that’s a powerful metaphor. So you were saying most students aren’t able
to get past that style, the house style of the atelier . Yeah. Yeah. And how could they unless they’re
just diligent and they’re treasure hunters? And that’s what you have to kind of be nowadays.
There’s not gonna be any place where you can get everything. You know? You’re gonna get
pieces. And so you’ll go to that school or that artist or that book or that image bank
and you go, “Oh, look at that. God, I love the way that guys uses line. I love the soft,
sfumato edges of this guy. You know?” I love how, you know, how Rodin was an impressionist.
He’d lay in the impression of a sock and then take a blowtorch basically and melt it down.
Maybe how can I get that into paint? And you treasure hunt and you steal. Okay. And that kind of copying is great. Copying
is great if you’re trying to learn that idea. How do I get form? How do I get three dimensional
concepts on a two dimensional flat surface? How do I do that? You need to copy, you need
to steal from people because those are…Those are nobody’s ideas, they’re everybody’s ideas.
And you copy those and you learn from that and they’ll have you put up a cast or the
ball, cone, and cylinder, and you’ll copy those things and you’ll copy the lighting
and all that kind of stuff. That’s all good stuff. Right. But where you really…Once you get past that
craft 101 stage where things really take off is when you copy not from one source or two
sources but four or five sources. Right. Then start combining. I’m gonna take Da Vinci’s Sfumato idea and
Caravaggio’s value range and Christianity’s metaphor of light as salvation and I’m gonna
take everyday people and I’m gonna take Gothic, not neo-class or not classical ideas…Da
Vinci, the Renaissance, Michelangelo, they use a greco Roman aesthetic. They use the
Lachlan and the Belvedere Taurus and all these glorious Greek God sculptures. You know? They’ve
got Man as God, Woman as Goddess kind of thing and made this ideal of beauty. Well, Rembrandt
was every bit as draftsman as those guys were. He was one of the greater draftsmen in history
but he used the Gothic tradition, the time before the Renaissance where it was, again,
flesh as corrupt, flesh as a bad thing. You know, sex is bad. You know, nudity is bad.
You cover that stuff up, you put on a grape leaf in front of the genitals. That kind of
stuff. Right. You hide that kind of stuff. And he used that.
It was non-glorified. It was a reverse of that. You had kind of buggy-eyed characters,
everything was kind of awkwardly round, you didn’t have the sensual hips, you had the
big, full belly and hips which was the birthing. If you’re gonna deal with sexuality it’s to
procreate, it’s to put more babies in the planet. That kind of thing. And he used that
so he took from four or five sources and did a mash-up. Is it possible to create a truly unique style
or does everybody really just combine? Yeah. It is. from another source. You and I could create a truly unique style
right now and it would be easy. And all we’d do is say, I use this all the time so it’s
not unique. I came up with it years ago and if you guys wanna steal it you can. Let’s
be the first artist team that makes a Jello skyscraper. Okay. That’s completely unique. Nobody’s ever done
that. But it’s stupid. It’s a stupid idea. Okay. So usually when you’re original and you come
up with something brand new there’s a reason nobody ever did it before, it was a dumb idea.
But every once in a while somebody comes up with a brilliant idea. Quantum mechanics or
the transistor or the wheel or fire. Let’s tame fire. Those are big ideas. But most of
us mere mortals aren’t gonna be able to do that. But you might be able to add one thing
like Michelangelo. He took a Greek sculpture which was contrapasta, can I…Maybe I can
stand up here a little so you can see the torso. If I shift my weight from both feet
to one foot I get the Rodin called the classic curve. As soon as you do that you’re throwing this
off axis, the shoulders will go off axis, and everything has to balance out. And you’ll
start to get a stretch and pinch. And what happens is the body’s designed…There’s lot
of reasons for it but designed as a stretch here and then a pinch in the back. But if
I go off axis here there’ll be a stretch here and a stretch here. So from any place you
look at me in three dimensions all the way around you’ll see this dynamic stretch pinch.
That bean bag idea. That’s a lovely idea because it makes things interesting and dynamic from
every view as opposed to the earlier sculptures that were like this. Well, that informed Greek art and then Roman
art after it and everybody up until Michelangelo and then Michelangelo did the one little thing
and it was completely original and he probably dropped his pencil and he went, “Oh, wait
a second. What if I take that classic curve and now make it truly three dimensional and
move that figure in and out of the picture plane.” Because this was three dimensional
from every direction but it’s still flat in the picture plane. But what if I do this?
And that was revolutionary. Who was the first guy who separated the arms and the little
figurines? The primitive figurines. Put them on here. Now who was the guy who shifted the weight
from one foot to the other? You know, they’re just simple ideas but those are revolutionary.
But even those don’t happen very often. Who’s the guy who thought of taking a photograph
and then putting it right next to another photograph, another photograph, another photograph,
another photograph? We got film. Brilliant. So are those styles? Well, those are revolutions. Right. But, you know, how that becomes a new art
form. It’s stylistic but it’s deeper than that because you can put on…You can create
any costume on that three dimensional movement. Right. Hell, you can do it as a Raphael, or a Rodin,
or a Michelangelo, or a Picasso. It won’t matter. You know? You can do a Roger Moore
sculpture, it won’t matter. That idea will hold. That’s a fundamental truth. It’s a fundamental
observation of how the world works or maybe how the world should work say in horror, fantasy,
or science fiction. That kind of stuff where you pause at what could be. But that’s how
the world works and now you can costume that in any way you want. And is the costume a style? The costume’s the style. Okay. So that idea works also for getting the nose
to come off the page. You know? Or reaching the hand out and doing it there instead of
here, that kind of stuff. So it has all sorts of…And then that could be done like a Sargent
or it could be done like a Courbet or it could be done like a Sehgal. You know? And it could
be clothed any which way. Now the easier way to work if you can’t come up with that revolutionary
way to change the world is you just do the mash-up. Hollywood does it all the time. Big
business does it all the time. Little entrepreneurs. What if I put an art course on YouTube? You
might think of that. You would sell a lot of art courses. Yeah. You might think of that. You know? Maybe
I’ll put classes on YouTube so the people who live in Bangladesh can access it. Right. We live in L.A. or I used to and even in L.A.,
the art center of the world, really, there’s still a lot of classes you wish were offered.
There was a lot of styles, a lot of teachers you wish were teaching. You can’t get everything
here. How are you gonna get it in Oklahoma City? How are you gonna get it in Tehran?
Now with the internet you can do that and for…Instead of paying…You know, if you
went to my workshop you’d be paying whatever it is, $400 for that. Yeah. Now a lot of people in this world don’t have
$400 and a lot more don’t think it’s worth $400. But it might be worth, you know, whatever
you’re charging online or it might be…If I can just see a little five-minute snippet
of that for free that might be enough to wet my palette. It might be enough that I can
get the rest of it myself. So that’s revolutionary. So any time you can mash things together…Hollywood
does it in their high concept. So what if we have a kid who goes to boarding school,
a British boarding school? There’s a long line of literature in Britain of kids going
to boarding school and having whatever dramatic story they have in the boarding school novels. But what if we sent a kid not to boarding
school but to magic school? The boarding school is a magic school. Those were two…Boarding
school, magic. Been around forever. Common ideas. Nobody put them together and even if
seven or eight or 20 did put them together no one would have put them together the way
she did. Yeah. What if we have the hero of the story or one of the key heroes of the
story hate the guy he’s trying to save? That’s the Snape character. Right. So that’s how you can create a character in
a story, that’s how you can create an art style. What if we… I guess I’m confused though. Like, are you
talking about styles or are ideas for the message? Everything. I’m having a hard time… Everything. Okay. You can look at what…You can look at art
movements, you can look at styles. I don’t separate the message from it because whatever
you do…I mean if you…If we go outside after the interview and look up in the sky
and see a cloud your instinct will be to try and find a picture in that. “Oh, look, it
looks kind of like a duck.” And you’ll impose meaning on it. Or if you go out as a little
kid at night because your dad made you empty the garbage and you go out and the wind’s
going, you creaking trees. What is it? Who said that? Somebody is talking or somebody’s
growling at me. Or why is the sky angry? There’s this flash of light and this cracking
sound. We are wired for…To make things make sense. For example, if I say, “Oh, look at
that,” and they’re gonna see that my finger points more or less at you you’re “that”.
If I go over here they’ll try and find…I go, “Look at that,” at the picture they’ll
go, “Oh, he’s talking about me.” We connect. It’s called closure in psychology where we
connect the dots. If I do a drawing, I put a dot here and a dot here and a dot here now
what have I drawn? A triangle. Yeah. But I just did the three dots. You guys
drew the triangle. That’s closure. You connect the dots, literally. Right. And so we’re all…Whatever you do in art
or whatever…You know, if I go, “Yeah. Sure,” you’re gonna say, “Now why is he mad at me?”
Or, “Why does he…Does he wanna leave?” I kinda do. No. I’m just, I’m joking. You know,
you’ll start attaching meaning to it and maybe I had a kink in my neck and that’s why I did
that. All right. Steve: But you’ll go, “He’s mad at me. What
did I say?” You know, we are wired to make sense of things and so whatever you do as
artists…That’s why I say visual philosopher. Whatever you do as an artist it means something.
Every mark you make, every… Every mark you make. Yep. That was the thing in the book. And that’s why I did that because usually
what we do is we have a process. And if we have more time we refine the process and if
we have more time we refine it farther and the process, the result, gets better and better
and better give or take a mistake here or there. That’s not the way to do art, I don’t
think, because then you’re locked into a process which is someone else’s process and originally
it was a great inspiration when Fred Fixler or whoever it was came up with the style.
Fred Fixler was out of the early illustrators, they were out of Sargent. Sargent took Carolus
Duran, his teacher, and said, “Well,” he basically said, “He’s got a great system but he’s not
talented enough to know what he’s got. He can’t paint his ideas.” But the implication was, “I was talented enough.”
And he was right, that he could paint his ideas and he had that system and that all
of American illustration comes, or most of it comes out of that foundation of Sargent
which was taking Valasquez and Manet in effect, putting it together. Carolus Duran [inaudible
00:43:27] brought it from a different direction but that’s kind of where it ended up. So all
those things, you know, whether it’s the style, the subject matter, the choice of medium,
they all mean something and if you don’t think they do you’re making a mistake. Now you don’t
have to make them mean something up here. Okay? I used blue. Blue means, let me see, let me remember my
religious mythology. That means sky, Heaven, mystery, above. It doesn’t have to be that
and probably shouldn’t be that. But it’s good. They’re gonna attach meaning to it just like
when you sit every gesture means something. So what should the artist focus on? You’re
saying that they don’t have to separate each of those things and deliberately decide on
each piece? Yeah. Well, you’ve got…You basically have
two questions to answer as a young artist or any time, but, I mean, the two things you
wanna answer is, “What do I see? When I look at that couch or look at that nose in three
quarter position or whatever it is what do I really see?” If you can understand what
you really see you can get it down on the page or the canvas. But then the…That’s
the craft, learning the craft. And so there’s gonna be certain processes you do use because
they start to answer those questions and hopefully there will be a why behind those on some level
rather than just, “Do it this way because my mentor told me and I know it works.” You
know? There’s an old story that housewives tell,
I forget whose family it was. It was actually friends of ours told us this story and they
were watching this woman make her roast for the group that was gonna eat dinner that night
and she cut off both the ends of the roast and put it in the pan and it came out of the
oven and it was delicious. And so they go, “God, that was good. Now why did you cut off
the two ends? How did that make it better?” And she goes, “I don’t know. Mom, why do we
cut off the two ends?” And mom goes, “Oh, I used to cut off the two ends because our
pan was too small.” So they just did it because someone… They saw someone do it but they don’t know
why it helped or if it helped, even. And that’s usually the kind of education we get. We get
a process that works pretty well and a process just says if you follow this step from one
to 10 or one to 3,000 more often than not you’ll get a better result. Right. And the more incremental that process is the
safer it is. But also notice if I tell you how to move just this far in the process as
opposed to this far you’re gonna get a better result, it will take you more time but it
will look more like me because it’s my process and I probably look like that guy back in
that generation all the way back to the original inspiration. So what we wanna really do is
we wanna say what do I see? Now what are the fundamentals that are out there of perspective,
of structure, you know, shape, design, of lighting, color theory, you know all that
kind of stuff? Organic ideas as opposed to architectural ideas. Why is this and this
a fundamental different character than this? You know, what is it that makes those differences? So do we challenge our teachers? Everything
they teach us. Is that how we… Well, you steal from them. But don’t just
steal. Even if you get a great teacher don’t just steal from them. Do you question why you’re stealing every
little piece or… Well, it’s a good idea to question because
then they’ll explane why that works. If they can. And if they can’t you’ll find another
teacher or you’ll start looking at old masters and you’ll say, “Okay. Well, Paul did that
and Michelangelo did that and Bernini did that and on and on and on.” You’ll go, “Now
why is that?” Okay. “Why is it? Why is it that, you know, every
horror film just when you think it’s safe that’s when the monster jumps out?” Well,
why would that be? If you see that enough and think about it enough you go, “Well, oh,
I get it. You know, the motive is to scare the audience as much as possible in that moment.”
So if they’re already kind of scared here’s calm. If they’re already kind of scared then
getting really scared isn’t that big a jump. But if they get kind of scared and then they
go back and they get scared again and go back and get scared again, go back…But just a
little scared, you go, “Okay, this is gonna be a little scare again.” And it’s a false alarm and he opens the door…Nothing.
Opens the door, it’s a cat. Opens the door, it’s the light bulb swinging or something.
And he opens the door and nothing’s there at all and the monster’s behind him. And you
scream like crazy. So what you do is you play way down that visual component or that component
of what you’re trying to say and then you kick it way up and you have that big a leap.
Do I have to step down the step or jump off the cliff? That kind of idea. And so you wanna
understand why does it work? Why if I put a dark value here and a light value here it
feels like it’s form? And you can start understanding that there’s… There must be some formula in life that speaks
to that and artists are afraid of formulas because they think, “Well, that’s…Steven,
you’re talking about all this kind of life philosophy and stuff. If you do formulas aren’t
you killing all that?” No. We use formulas all the time. That’s science. That’s how we
can get rockets to the moon, that’s how we can have electricity, E equals MC squared,
all that kind of stuff. Life worked with a predictable, consistent regularity. The sun
set this last night, it’ll probably set tonight. You can be pretty sure of that. Yeah. So if I make this dark and this light and
this dark and this light and this dark and this light and this dark and this light…If
I make all those side planes the same or similar value and all these front planes a different
and let’s say lighter value I’m gonna get this box logic that will work with consistency
and I can stair step and structure out even the most complicated thing fairly easily and
then…Now once I’ve got that box logic what if I use then rather than a…Just a swath
of dark and a swath of light, what if I put a gradation between it? Well, now that will
round the edge so gradations round the edge. Now it doesn’t matter what technique or what
medium you use, that’s gonna be a fundamental truth that you can depend on. Stan: Right. Now that’s what do I see. What I say about
it is, “Now what am I gonna do with it? How am I gonna make it what I want it to be? Well,
how am I gonna bring back that great Baroque period I want everybody to enjoy like I’d
enjoy…I’m gonna paint it like a Baroque artist or how I’m gonna come up with a brand
new style. Or more likely and more productively, probably, what if I wanna paint like a Baroque
artist but I don’t wanna look like I’m a knock off of Rubens? How do I make it fresh and
new? Right. Okay. You know? And how can I play that up in a
way that’s interesting and…Like John Currin, a modern painter, did more of those more Botticelli
but he did the same thing. He took high Renaissance, really, and used it in kind of an illustration.
And a lot of early illustrators in the ’80s that are early now but did the same thing.
They used these kind of Renaissance styles, Kinuku Craft and all these folks. But they
did it in fantasy or they did it in, you know, a Time Magazine cover so it was modern stuff
or they’d use it as a farce. You know, they’d make a social commentary
with it. And they costumed it in a different way. You know, they used acrylic paint, made
slicker, simpler forms, they used kind of candy colors rather than the old sepia earth-tone
colors. You know, and so you change one component and it’s brand new. You know? And that’s how
you can create a story, that’s how you can create a business, that’s how you can create
a style by mashing up one or two or five things. For me it was taking…I wanted to do figure
but I didn’t wanna do naked people on couches. Okay. Or at the beach. Everybody does that in Califonia.
Everybody does that all over the world. So what if I did nudes but had them action figures.
So I brought in movement and I used a box or I’d do what I know best…Or not the best,
I’m not a very good boxer. But I know a little bit about it. You look like you’re a good boxer. Yeah. A little punch drunk at this point.
But so I’m gonna take the boxer and all of a sudden everybody in California…I was just
trying to be different to begin with. Everybody in California was doing beautiful girls on
the beach with glorious, romantic sunset, the candy color palette of the California
impressionist, all that kind of stuff. Loose, [inaudible 00:52:23] brush strokes, flowing
hair in the wind, and all that kind of atmospheric stuff. And I didn’t want a…Even if you can
be better than all those guys why do you wanna be the same? So I figured, “What can I do
different?” So I’m gonna do kind of gnarly characters. Ugly characters who were not passive but active
and not at peace with their environment, feeling the wind and the sunshine on their shoulders.
But I’m gonna have them fighting in their environment and [inaudible 00:52:53]. I’m
gonna make it a war. So what can I do that’s very, very different? That’s not a bad way
to start rather than doing the same thing. If I was a production designer in Hollywood
I would not be doing “Bladerunner” concept art because everybody does “Bladerunner” concept…The
whole Photoshop program is geared to Bladerunner stuff. It controls the whole industry so everything’s
a variation on that original, wonderful inspiration that Gieger and Cobb and these other guys
put together. So I’d do something different. So anyway that
started with the boxers and I got into art because I loved comic books. That’s what I
used to draw all the time as a kid. I’d draw these comic book characters. And so what if
they were book comic book panels? And then what if I took the energy of abstract expression
and I looked at an artist named Franz Kline, K-L-I-N-E, and broad…He’d use these big,
broad strokes of black on white or white on black, kinetic strokes. What if that was these
figures? You know, and you get that kind of energy and the zigzag of the arm and the falling
back of the body and that kind of stuff. Do you look at your canvas as a comic panel? Yeah. Is that it? It’s a big comic book panel. All right. And I’ll play with tangents and all this kind
of stuff like Comics. There’s a certain haphazard quality to comic books as you’re knocking
them out and stuff and you’ll get tangents or slight croppings. Everything’s kind of
big. There’s a lot of dynamics. You’re trying to get them to move into the next panel. All
that kind of stuff. So I picked up on that. Jack Kirby was a big influence and I don’t
like the way he draws but that was the epitome of that superhero ethic that my boxers are
big superheroes, basically. They’re bigger than life. And then so I brought in comic
books, a little bit of my own history boxing, the Franz Klein abstract paintings, Rembrandt
light, and the religious martyr idea of sacrificing… And those were all things that you… That I liked. You really liked and you wanted to put them
all together. Yeah. Yeah. I learned that from an artist
named Richard Bunkall who passed away of Leugerig’s Disease when he was in his early 40’s. And
his style, you can still see him online, it’s B-U-N-K-A-L-L. Richard Bunkall. He did his
mash-up. He loved New York architecture, neo-classic architecture. So he’d do these big facades
and they would be huge. Six by eight foot paintings kind of things when he was on a
respirator in a wheelchair. He’d be out, they’d built a ramp for him and he’d be painting
these things. So he had this kind of flat facade, the beautiful, deep chiaroscuro light
like I like and then he’d put a Chrysler building inside or a ship or a train or a whale and
just do cut-outs with the arches so you could see into this foggy environment with nothing
in there. And there’d be a floating ship with cables
on it. And then he’d take a…Usually from “Moby Dick” he’d take it and go up into the
frieze of the architecture and he’d block out in helvetica type, a partial quote from
“Moby Dick” or whatever. Those things have nothing to do with each other. So “Moby Dick”
quotes, let’s say a train inside, New York Architecture, and romantic light. And only
a four-color palette. And so what do you do when you look at those? Nobody goes up there
and says, “What the hell does that mean? Those have nothing to do with each other.” They
go, “Now let me figure out what that means.” Right. Do you think it meant something to
him or was… Of course it did. Okay. Yeah. But it’s none of our business what that
is. Okay. And he’s happy to tell us, but, I mean, what’s
more important is when you do that all of a sudden you’ve opened the door and now the
audience can come into your art. But if you give them every little thing, if you come
in and give them every petal on that bush what’s left for them to do? But if at least
you just do the three dots then they get the pleasure of connecting those dots and what
happens then when you leave things open-ended like that where you don’t…When you don’t
tell a story but suggest a concept or put together things that shouldn’t go together…Magic
and boarding schools, that’s stupid. That’s not real. That’s childish but it’s kind of
cool. I wish there was. Stan: Well, I think it’s the execution though.
You could put it together in a really bad way. Right? It’s all of it. Yeah. Any of these…Yeah.
That’s always the danger. You can always do it badly. And sometimes people do it badly
and then somebody else takes the idea and they see past the style and they say, “That
was a great idea. It was just really bad.” So and you’ll see that… Okay. Just for in impressionism, french impressionism.
For a lot of artists and a lot of audience they’ll say, “That’s a lousy drawing. Not
graceful brush strokes.” Okay. So in that case… But, boy, it’s beautiful color so why don’t
I take…Why don’t I steal the color palettes and the beautiful shifts of warm and cool
and rich and gray limiting the value range into that sunlight sunset range of values
and then I’ll put that on a Sargent. That’s what Sargent did with these watercolors and
I’ll use the skill set of a Valasquez, I’ll use the color palette of a Monet. Now I’ve
mashed up again. I’ve taken the best. So you can say…You know, a life coach will say
model yourself after people that you admire. Well, you might have an uncle who’s a multimillionaire
but he’s a dirty, rotten guy. You don’t have to model the dirty rotten, guy part but how
did he become a millionaire? Right. Maybe he saved his pennies in a jar or something.
You can take that one idea, use it. Do you think that the…When somebody has
a good idea but it still doesn’t work is that mostly because of not learning the craft or
is it something else? Well, usually when you don’t have a good idea
you’re trying to tell a story. You’re saying, “Okay. If I show a…I wanna make the world
a better place.” You have excellent motives. So I’m gonna show dictators picking flowers
with little children on a playground teeter totter. Stan: Okay. Steve: So I’m gonna put Stalin there. Actually,
this could be a good idea. I’m gonna have Stalin on the teeter totter with some little
girl. Okay? Because that’s what…The life he should have lived. And I’m gonna paint
this beautiful…I’m gonna use the pitura style of the flesh in there. Well, that’s
a stupid idea because you’re trying to…Well, I shouldn’t say a stupid idea but it’s not
gonna be very successful because you’re trying to force the audience to feel something. A
door just closed. You know? There’s no room for us to bring our baggage in. We’re gonna come to your art for what we need,
not what you need. You got what you needed by doing it. But if you’re gonna show it to
me respect me enough to let me get something out of it. Don’t tell me the ending of the
story. You know? I went to a movie once when Star Trek II came out in the ’80s or whatever
it was and we walked into the theater and these two kids in the earlier showing popped
up from the studio and said, “Spock dies.” And they ran out of the studio and ruining
the film for us. That’s what most artists do with their paintings. “Spock dies.” You told us the ending. Let us figure it out
or better yet let us make our own ending. So if I have a show, if somebody comes up
to me and they’ll say, you know, “That portrait that you did is really sad. You know, that
guy must have been suffering mightily and it might have been my dad that I was giving
it to him for his birthday and I wanted him to feel happy.” I didn’t intend that to be
sad, but something I did in there triggered their response and I never say, “Oh, no, no,
no. He’s not sad at all.” I go, “Yeah. That’s right.” Because it was sad to them and it
is sad to them. When your art… When somebody comes up to you and says your
art means something that you never intended and that happens consistently you’re doing
something right. Now you’re on…You know you’re onto something. Because the door is
opened up and you’re allowing them to come in within your world finding what they need
to make their world better. And that’s when it’s art with a capital A and not just craft,
not just piecing together something or a process. There’s nothing wrong with that, just having
fun, you know, entertaining. So how do we know how to balance it though?
Because it seems like there’s a wide range of what you can leave open or how much you
can tell. Because you have to tell them something. Well, you put it out there. Not necessarily.
I mean, how much did Rothko tell us? I mean, you can do many minimalist work. Yeah. Well. But most of us don’t want to understand. Right. But there’s nothing you have to do and as
soon as you realize that it opens things up. I think that the problem we realists have
is that we’re realists. That we think… You tell too much? We tell too much but also we think that when
we paint a nose it’s a nose. It’s not a nose, it’s our idea about a nose. Now why does that
idea have to be so limited? So go ahead…I’m not a huge fan of Picasso but look at Picasso
noses. Look at Modigliani noses, look at Moore, Henry Moore noses. You know? Look at the guy…The
abstract, the contemporary artists because they’ll tell us how to think differently,
at least. And we may never wanna go anywhere near that stylistically but that’s…We said
before, “Well, what if you do it bad?” Well, now you’ve got a wonderful idea waiting for
somebody who can do it better. Right. You know? If J.K. Rowling screwed up little
boy at magic school maybe J.D. Salinger if he’s still alive, I don’t think he is, maybe
he’ll do it better. But it’s a great idea. Yeah. So I guess most people that go to ateliers
and, you know, the realist schools probably have this problem where they have a fear of
drawing something wrong. You’re right. Right? The way it is in reality. Right. So what you recommend the people do? Right. Well, and it’s a valid fear because
there…If you throw things…If you take that nose and do this it is wrong in terms
of the portrait or if you make the nose go into the face rather than out of the face.
All those things are wrong realistically and there has to be a very good reason to make
them wrong in that sense. So if you intentionally did it for purpose… Yeah. So if there’s a purpose to it then it’s
great and what that is, that’s all context and that’s where talent and taste come in.
You know? How do I do that great idea or how do I do something that’s not a great idea,
but do it in a great way? Sometimes they’re just mediocre ideas like Sargent paintings.
Those are mediocre ideas but they were done in great ways. All he’s doing is he’s…The
captains of industry, he’s just making them royalty. You know? Which is what, you know,
Van Dike paintings were. He was painting royalty back then. Well, now the new royalty at that time and
still is the people who make money as entrepreneurs or inherit money and sustain that money. And
so he was painting these people as Gods. When he painted a little old lady she wasn’t a
little old lady, she was Hara, Goddess of the Universe. You know? And she was seven
feet tall with this beautiful, long neck, deep, intelligent eyes, huge hands that had
strength and grace and power and elegance to them in fashionable dress in a rich environment.
That was a mythology as much as Rape as Sabine or any of that stuff. But, like, some artists like myself even have
a fear of just intentionally drawing things wrong. Just it’s just like not the way it
is. But we need a couch for that, I think. What do you mean? We’d have to lay you down and do long therapy. Oh. Okay. No. I’m joking. I’m joking. I’m joking. Well,
yeah. But, I mean, here’s the…And everybody’s gonna have a different…This is a continuum.
I mean, what’s wrong to Picasso is way down the line in terms of the continuum of what’s
right and wrong to us realists. So you have to decide what’s right to you. But all you
have to do, and that doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s simple is does it ring true to what
you’re trying to do. Okay. Okay? So, like, Klimt broke peoples’ necks
over on this shoulder and it looked incredible but it wasn’t real. Right. But what you’re doing is not real either.
What Hans Holbein does isn’t real either. Rafael did wasn’t real, what Rodin did wasn’t
real, Carpo wasn’t real. None of those are real. They’re stylized, idealized, abstracted,
and they’re poetic. They have a deeper current to them. So, you know, if I took a portrait
of a couple and had them…And put them right together with each other or if I move them
to far outside corners that all of a sudden would have a very different feel. Maybe they
don’t get along so well. You know? That’s what, I forget his name, he’s in California…Yeah.
David Hockney and he would take these…And fairly flat graphic style of painting and
he’d have them in mid-century modern California living room and you could see through the
glass to the pool outside or something like that and he’d put them here separated and
that spoke to isolation in the city. Yeah. At least that’s what I get out of it. You
know? Just by doing that it’s still realistic. He could have done that in any realistic style.
It could have been a Fetchen or a, you know, pick your favorite realist or painter and
plug it in. It wouldn’t have mattered. A Reppin or something. But as soon as you do that…And
Dewing did very much the same thing until American Totalist. And all of a sudden he
needed to have these lonely figures with…It was just a…It was a product of the fact
he didn’t have a lot of money to set things up. He’d have one simple prop in there. He’d have a little vanity desk or a piano
or a simple chair with a painting on the wall and it’d be one woman in a dress like this,
in a flowing dress, and she looked as lonely as she could be. You know? It was just isolated
from the whole world. You know? And sometimes we accidentally come up with it and that’s
a fairly trite concept. It’s real easy to make a cliché especially at this point but
those are lovely little paintings. You know? And so anything can be done well or bad and
it can elevate or degrade and that’s where talent comes in. You know, do you have the aesthetic sense
and do you have a sense of human nature, of how people around you act and react and how
you react that you can pick up on that? You know, what if I make really beautiful people
hitting each other in the face and trying to hurt each other? That’s pretty conflicted.
It’s pretty messed up now that I think about it. So and I’ve had people come up and say,
“I really like your paintings but it bothers me that I like them because they’re beautiful
light, they’re not beautiful figures but they’re beautiful light or whatever they like about
it. But I hate boxing, I think it’s a violent…” You know? “I think it’s exploitive.” And I did that
on purpose because it…By making something beautiful that should be, you know, considered
ugly and pretty brutal and maybe even banned now that’s drama. What if I have a hero who
hates the little boy he’s supposed to save? That’s drama. That’s good drama. You know?
And novelists and filmmakers want that kind of conflict. What if I have a guy who’s a
brilliant but nerdy chemistry teacher have cancer and he’s gotta become a drug dealer
to support his family? I was just thinking of that because there’s
that conflict where you’re rooting for him and then all of a sudden you’re like ooh why
am I rooting for him? Yeah. And the producer of that pitched that
show as, “What if Mr. Chips, the famous teacher at school became Scarface?” Now that’s an
interesting idea. What if this guy who’s a model citizen becomes the worst of our society
but for all the right reasons? I just wanna leave something for my family and pay for
my cancer treatment.” That’s good stuff. So when you can bring things together that’s
oil and water. If I can bring magic and boarding schools, if I can bring an alien invasion
with big game hunting, that’s the Predator series. Now is that tool to find. Now that makes it…That’s a tool for being
creative. Okay. Steve: So you have three ways to be creative.
You can be a craftsman, you can follow the process of your teacher because it’s a lovely
process and it’s darned fun to do and you get good results. You get a B plus most every
time. Right. Nothing wrong with that. That’s right. Keeping the old truth alive. You can be completely
original and make a Jello skyscraper. Okay. But the problem with making the Jello skyscraper
or being totally original usually, let’s say 96.8% of that’s garbage. It’s poo poo kaka,
as we say in the business. We’ll quote you. The problem is with craft is 98.6% of that
isn’t very good either. It was done way better before. Okay. And sometimes it’s just darn horrible. You
know? It’s all out of whack and stuff. So most of the time you’re not gonna be able
to take it to these transcendent heights and you’ll be…You’ll have to work quite a while
even to get to a mediocre height. Okay. You know, it takes you 10 years to learn how
to be an okay drawer oftentimes. Yeah. So the third one is… And I still can’t…Not an okay dresser. But
the third way is the oil and water. Right. You take two things that are usually common
knowledge and put them together. Beautiful design and computers that are easy to use.
You take two and it can be five things together. You know, comic books, boxing, abstract expressionism,
religious light. Okay. And that way you’re making the old thing new
and you’re contemporizing it. So, to you, like what is the purpose of creating
the art? Is it like…Is it enough to just create beautiful pictures or do we have to
have a message or record the modern times? There’s nothing in this world you have to
do. Okay. And in some ways nothing you should do. I
mean, if you’re gonna try and make a message you’re probably gonna close the door and the
people you speak to won’t be the people you really wanna speak to because it’ll be over-simplified,
it’ll be patronizing. So probably, you don’t wanna do it. But there’s all sorts of exceptions
to that. I mean, look at Goya’s war etchings. Look at Kathe Covett’s wood blocks. They’re
talking about the horrors of regimes and war and all that kind of stuff. Sometimes it works beautifully. But most of
us it comes off as cliché. And especially in, you know, though even that far back it
was slower times. Now things move so quickly we get bored. You know, I have to be texting
my friend and watching TV and listening in my headphone to a Steve Huston lecture or
a Stan lecture or something like that while I’m rendering. Right. And usually we multi-task because we get bored
quick. You know, we gotta be doing video games where somebody dies every three seconds. You
know, we’ve gotta watch movies where it’s fast cut, fast cut, fast cut. They can’t have
a three-minute take, that would bore the audience to death. They’ll switch the channel on the
TV. You know? And so there’s all those kind of restrictions and problems. You know, even
getting a set of students in a school that has the attention span to wanna render for
many hours on one piece. You know? That’s even a problem. Getting them to focos on their
craft consistently because there’s a football…I mean, I can watch 12 hours of football on
Sunday. Why would I wanna be drawing? It’s easier. When I’m drawing I’m drawing while I’m watching
12 hours of football. You know? So it’s really easy to get distracted. Right. We live in fairly pampered times. Not everybody,
certainly. But even our poor people aren’t as poor as they used to be. You know? In some
places they are but, I mean, we’ve got…We have leisure and we have conveniences. We
have Sundays off at least. We don’t have to work 12 hours a day. At least some of us don’t.
So all those things create opportunities so there’s nothing you have to do. Trust your
instincts and your instincts will get better with it. Trust your imagination and your imagination
will get better. They’re muscles so work them. And at first you’re gonna make bad choices
in terms of great art probably and maybe you end up never doing great art but you sure
have fun doing it and that small group of friends and family absolutely love it. And
grandma or whoever or your boss absolutely adores that little portrait you did or that
big portrait you did of him or her. So you can manage your expectations and you can be
patient with yourself. You know? So oftentimes we get really hard on ourselves as artists
because we’re creative and we know what it should be, may be, and it’s not coming out
that way and then we lose…We give up. It’s just too painful. There was, I forget the writer but he says…Like
Norman Mailer…Some 20th Century famous writer. And he said, “With every book I write a little
piece of me dies.” That was how painful his creative process is. That was how hard he
was on himself. And think of all the great artists who killed themselves. You know, the
Hemmingways and the…Van Goghs and all this kind of stuff. The tortured creative mind
is a cliché, even. Okay. You know? Because we just…We beat ourselves
up. So being patient, giving yourself time to get there and being comforted with the
idea that you’re not as bad as you think you are and you’ll probably never do a masterpiece
but that’s okay. You put out the best you can. You know, I was waiting, waiting, and
waiting to put out work in galleries and finally Dan McCall said, “You’re never gonna do a
masterpiece. So why wait? Just do the best you can.” Right. And my view now is if I’m not embarrassed
by my work three or four years later there’s something wrong. That’s true. I should be better. Right. So but if you wait to be the best you’ll never
get there, you’ll never put out one painting. I mean you can frame these things in whatever
ways, use whatever words make sense to you but what you’re trying to do is do something
that rings true to you. Is there something you tell students that
have a hard time figuring out what rings true to them or what they should do? Yeah. You know, I mean there’s…Again there’s
nothing you have to do so you can do…Like I love, since I grew up with comic books,
I love all the comic book movies coming out. None of those are masterpieces, some of them
are pretty good but none of them are great films by any means. Most of them are fairly
bad films. But they’re sure fun. They’re entertaining. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just doing
a beautiful sunset or a beautiful figure on a couch. There’s nothing wrong with that in
fact there’s a lot that’s right with that. So it doesn’t have to change the world and
the fact is I can almost guarantee you whatever you do won’t change the world. But it might
change a little piece. It might change one person and that person might go out of the
gallery or from the folio feeling a little different or just being grateful that they
had a break from their troubles. So it’s a…You manage your expectations and you decided what
your definition of an artist is. What do you really wanna be and what’s your…When it
rings true what is that truth? Because, I mean, we have a lot of truths in this world
now. There’s no one truth. There’s all sorts of religious truths and scientific truths,
aesthetic, all this kind of stuff. Political truths. You know? And so you’re probably gonna be working within
a small group, a tribe that agree with you. But the fact is the difference, even if you’re
a completely different tribe than me and it looks to me like you are just kind of…Just
a tad…Anyway. We’re both human beings and so we have a lot in common. And if I find
something interesting and challenging and beautiful or whatever adjective I wanna attach
onto it there’s gonna be a lot of people who feel the Stane way about it. And yet [inaudible
01:18:29] I’m gonna depend on the fact that I’m not so much different than that other,
that tribe. You know? This is the way we go through life, disconnected. Whoever I am I’m not in this old body, I’m
this incredibly handsome, tanned individual who’s six-something and still growing. And
so we’re locked inside us and separated. You know, even when I touch something I’m not
really connecting to it. Not in any deep way. I’m always separated from it. So we’re always
different in that level and yet we are connected in some ways. We can connect in a deep way,
especially through our art. You know, art does and religion does the same thing, philosophy
does the same thing. It connects in a deep, deep way. It breaks past the veil, is the
metaphor for that oftentimes. You know, so all…When you get this fortunate
connection of colors and shapes or this fortunate connection of prayer to an idea sometimes
that veil opens up and you get a direct connection. You know, you get this rush of energy through
your body. Something like that. Sometimes it’s coffee but sometimes it really gets you.
And so you get that connection and so with the artist it depends on two things. That
we’re not so different so if we find something truthful, beautiful, pick your adjective,
other people will, too. Maybe a lot, maybe a little. We can’t control that but some will.
And yet we are distinct. There’s never been another you in the whole
history of the human race but there’s been a lot of people come through the doors. You
know? We got seven billion or whatever it is now and yet there’s never been a person
exactly like Stan ever. And so you have a unique perspective on the world that nobody
else has ever had and that’s an opportunity then to bring something new. Nobody thought
to put those two or those five ideas together the way you did it or to do it that same old
idea at a level that’s never been seen. You know, why can’t I do something as a realist
that’s better than Sargent or better than Rembrandt. You know, there’s that possibility, too. It’s
less likely but it’s still a possibility. But it’s quite likely that you could take
a little bit from Sargent, a little bit from Rembrandt, a little bit from Picasso, and
David Hockney and come up with something that’s very interesting. It’s done all the time.
You know? Any good business idea, any good movie idea, any good story is that. And any
art style is that. Cool. I’m gonna do video art instead of painted
art. That was a new idea that was not too long ago. As we focus so much on craft it
is such a treasure hunt and usually those treasures are really buried deep. And it takes
a lot of energy and diligence just to cobble together a figure-drawing education or a color
theory education. I’m exhausted just doing that. Where is the time to then say something
important about it? But it’s similar to learning punctuation and grammar. You know, that’s
great if you know where to put the semi-colons but if you don’t have something to say in
that story, you don’t have characters that you’ve lived with or characters you’ve lived
as to put down on a page what’s the point of writing? But it’s pretty clearly pointless that if
I become the best punctuarian, I’ll make up a word, in terms of writing skills and I have
nothing to talk about, no insight to bring, then who’s gonna read my story and why should
I even write a story? I’m just gonna put down random words. So oftentimes as realists our
craft, then, includes how to make a nose come off the page and how to put it in the right
place and the right proportion and how to color it right and all those kind of mechanical
things. And fortunately for us we don’t have to then…It can just be that one off image.
You can’t just do one word as a writer. You gotta run the story whatever it is. As the artist that can be aesthetically beautiful.
But ideally we would then have some great idea to talk about some great fundamental
truth, say loneliness or salvation or inhumanity to man or whatever it is. Or the thrill of
competition or, you know, it could be anything. But we have something to say about that and
bring it out. But if I’m gonna lead you by the nose and say, “Now this is what you…You
have to feel with my paintings.” I’m gonna paint this beautiful, in fact she’s really
hot because that’s what we realists usually do when we’re male artists, and she’s draped
on the couch with this gauzy night gown that’s pretty dark. Stan: That’s a good image. Steve: Yeah. Is it hot in here isn’t it? And
then I’ve got moonlight coming through the open curtains and there’s a guy in a black
cape with a skull and a scythe hovering over her and she’s pale-skinned which I thought
was a great touch. And it’s death coming for the hot babe metaphor. You gave us everything.
What are we gonna do? We’re gonna go, “Yeah. She’s a hot babe. But if you’ll just turn
down…Turn up the air conditioning I’ll be fine.” But you don’t get anything else. You
don’t live with it, you don’t take that home. And you go, “She was not only a hot babe,
she was also a really hot babe.” That’s all I can get out of that. Okay. So we need to do something that’s iconic,
that’s metaphorical. And something that stands for other than itself. That’s what a metaphor
is. God is a rock. That’s a metaphor. Now that’s a lot. God is not a rock. If there’s
a God he’s certainly not a rock. But since I can’t understand very well the concept of
God and I know quite well the character of a rock I can get some insight, maybe some
emotional truth out of that metaphor. That’s what metaphors do. They bypass this or quickly
move past it and they go right to this. “Yeah. He is a rock because when I pray to him I
feel like I’m standing on firm ground and I feel like it’s gonna always be there.” You
know? And I’ll start attributing this to God these
rock-like qualities and I’ll get some connection. Bringing it together again. So that’s what
we’re really looking for as artists is to create a metaphor. You know, the fact is sometimes
life can be magical. We can’t sign up for a magical school but sometimes life is magical.
We have magic moments. Sometimes it is wondrous. You know? And there’s a certain emotional
truth there. It’s not scientific truth but we’re flooded with scientific truths. You
know? We’re talking to our audience through scientific truths. That doesn’t make us…We
can go home and drink ourselves to sleep after those wonderful scientific truths. You know? Because we’re so miserable in our lives. That’s
not what people need. But the art, you know, going to a movie…The right movie can change
your life. You know, reading the right novel can change your life or at least give you
comfort to feel like that you’re not alone in your life, that other people have gone
through that. That film on transgender or depression or whatever, or chemicals in the
soil. You know, that’s…”Maybe that’s why Aunt Sally’s sick. She lives by that chemical
plant.” You know, even that kind of stuff it can…The drama of those characters going
through that you can connect to that and pull from it. So that’s the power of art. It works
on these deep, deep levels. Right. I mean, think of the Sistine Chapel where
you walk in, you can’t read, you’ve only listened to these stories through your clergy. You
walk into that chapel for the first time and you see the Face of God. That’s pretty powerful.
You know? What could match that in a life that’s pretty mundane? That’s often as pretty
horrific. Yeah. And yet you’ve touched, as this peasant, you
know half star who can’t read and has no hope for a better job…You’ve touched God in some
way. What was your training schedule like? Well, in school what I did…I touched on
it a little bit before is I made sure I didn’t…That I prioritized the classes. You’re gonna get
let’s say five classes or four classes or three classes or whatever it is. They’re not
all gonna be equally valuable to you. Okay. So do you choose the one you’re interested
in? Because you might be skipping out on something that’s really important but you don’t like
it. Well, that’s always the danger in. It’s when
you make choices. When you leave something out there’s a danger you screwed up. But maybe
I really wanted to be an abstract painter so I’m gonna blow off that realist figurative
class that I had first semester, by third semester I realize I wanted to be a realistic
figurative painter. Now I gotta go back and take that as an elective. What I did was I
took…With whatever electives they give you, you take what you have to take and that taste
testing, that buffet of early college or early education important… like an atelier doesn’t
really have that. They’ll teach the one process through a couple
mediums, usually, and then you’re out the door with a great skill set in that process
oftentimes but you don’t have communication classes, you don’t have design classes, you
don’t have a sense of the contemporary audience you’re working with, you’re really doing paintings
for a 300 or 400 year old audience, oftentimes. So there’s always gonna be gaps and holes.
But so it’s nice in the beginning if you can take a buffer and say, “Well, take a few of
these.” And as I found later on I never wanted to be an abstract painter but I am an abstract
painter. My figures, these are all abstract shapes. You know? You take this out of context
or you crop it in, why can’t that be a six-by-six foot abstract painting? Yeah. Well, wouldn’t that apply to anybody’s? Yes. It would and it should but most realists
don’t think that way. Okay. They say, “That doesn’t look real enough.”
And the only truth is the realism of it. And even that’s okay but there’s…It’s nice to
know there’s other truths and you may say, “I got my plate full already just doing things
realistic. I’m gonna do photo-realistic work. I love doing it.” And so that’s enough for
me. But oftentimes people, if you say, “What about this?” They’ll go, “Oh, yeah.” And they’ll
realize, you know, “That’s why I was fighting doing those type of renderings, because I’m
really a looser painter. It’s a looser truth I’m after.” Or kinetic truth or whatever it
is. So, you know, pick your choices. Kind of have
a game plan. I always try and think two years out, five years out, 10 years out, and then
a lifetime. When I’m 84…I was gonna say on my deathbed but in Florida retired with
a Martini or something I wanna be able to look back and say, “Yeah. I wrote a good story
for myself. You know? I did okay. I don’t regret that I didn’t try and be an artist,
that I didn’t try and get as good as I could get or whatever, or I didn’t spend more time
with my family or whatever.” Yeah. Interviewee: You know, I did it well. I never
wanted regrets and so I tried to plan for that. By doing that there’s a level of maturity
involved. That means you can’t watch 12 hours of football, you can’t go to all the parties,
or maybe even most of the parties. You have to give things up. And so that’s a tough one,
too, and I’ve always thought that college comes too early. You know? We spend 12 years
going through kiddy school. You know, taking stuff that our adult…The adults said we
had to take to be good citizens and for the most part cramming for them and forgetting
them. You know? Can you really remember the capitals of all 50 states? You know, you just
crammed through that stuff and then you forget 99% of it. Yeah. And then what they do is they in the last
year and a half or so you start taking tests and exams for college placement. You start
sending out letters, planning for scholarships, and then you jump right into a package at
Harvard or at Washington State or at this junior college and you run through that for
three-and-a-half years or maybe it’s 12-and-a-half years depending on what you’re doing and then
you’re spit out and you’re expected to be an adult and spend the rest of your life doing
that major which was American Literature or a business degree or whatever it was when
you’re really still a child. You know? In terms of knowing what you want
and what you need to do. So to me it’s better to get out of the children’s school, 12th
grade, and then travel for a couple years or work for a couple years or mix it up. Work
for a year and then go get a year a real pass in Europe or, you know, get an inexpensive
car and drive across the country that you live in. Okay. So experience. Steve: Experience and start to say, you know…I
was at that political demonstration, I don’t like the way the system works. Or I looked
at the system and think, “Well, actually, it’s working pretty good. Need to do something,
I wanna be a part of that system.” Yeah. Or whatever or I think there’s already plenty
of bureaucrats. I’m gonna be an artist. But what does that mean? But people that jump
into it too immature, really. We’re not living in New Guinea, you know, 300 years ago where
at 13 you were a man and you went through a man’s rite and oftentimes your body was
scarred to show that you were now a man and not a child. And so you went through an actual
ritual and things were pretty simple. You didn’t have much you had to do. Here to be a good man or a good woman who
can take care of their partner and their responsibilities and not take from the world but to give back
to the world or help uplift the world or even challenge the world that take some maturity.
You know, and oftentimes we…Our education system targets things early and then they
say, “Okay. Learn to draw. Okay. Learn to paint. Learn to render. Learn to color. Learn
to design.” And you don’t know how to put those things together because nobody showed
you. It took 40 minutes of history then 40 minutes of math and it’s all cut apart. And so you have to be in a position that you’re
mature enough that you know what you want even if it’s wrong, even if you think you
should be an abstract artist and later you changed your mind to be a realist or vice
versa make a choice and then what’s the best plan of action? Because the college isn’t
gonna give it to you, probably. What’s the best plan of action to get there? What do
I need? Drawing? Do I need anatomy? You know, what do I need? Do I need laws of light to
understand how to render it? Is there anything that you would do differently
in the way you trained or in the decisions you made? No. Because all those…You know, when you
look at your life, you know, I’m 58. when you look at your life when you’ve got, you
know, 20, 30, 40 years behind it looks like it was meant to be and everything that was
a mistake is also an opportunity. Right. So I illustrated and ended up hating it but
I got an incredible amount of mileage and I found out what I didn’t like and I took
a skill set that had some problems, I was a hack, as I said. But, also, I was a pretty
good hack because I could render. You know, I could picture make and stuff like that.
So I had…It gave me some skills and I worked on things that I wouldn’t have worked on.
So it was a good stepping stone. And then I went into teaching and every time in life
you’re at those kind of crossroads moments you’re gonna find lessons of what to do and
lessons for what not to do. So you look…I looked at a lot of the teachers
and saw they were burned out. So now how am I gonna go through with this love I have for
art and not burn out on it? You know, so they taught me what not to be as artists as well
as teaching me color theory and whatever else. So there’s always that side. So, yeah, I mean
it is what it is. But I feel good about what I did. You know? So I could have moved faster
here. Once I had done the illustration stuff and I got pretty successful they…The more
they wanted me the worse I got because the deadlines became more stringent and the imagery
oftentimes wasn’t as fun or whatever it was. And so I’ve always kind of held back a little
bit in terms of doing fine art and trying to be super successful at it because I didn’t
want that same kind of having to knock it out. And so actually the last four or five
years I’ve been working on these big commissions for a collector and I haven’t shown in galleries
because I haven’t wanted to. I wanted to do this commissions and kind of just not do the
shows for a while and then when I do shows again in another two, three years whenever
it’ll be there’ll be something different. boxers and the workers will be gone. Do something
new. Okay. I’m gonna do Stalin on a teeter totter, I
think. Did you study more from life or from the masters
when you were… I did both. I studied from life and didn’t…I
didn’t use any of the tracing tools that they use to…I can’t even remember what they’re
called now. But the projection stuff. Now you do it with all sorts of stuff but I didn’t
use any of that. I always drew freehand. Okay. Because you can…What people would do is
they would… You get this photo reference, you could trace it out or you could freehand
draw it and then you take that and you put it in an image projector or print it out and
blow it up and then you work on that. I would always redraw or…And draw freehand. So I
would screw it up but I have to draw it two or three times to get it right and it was
practice. And, also, I still use that process because when I draw I’ll draw it a little
sloppy. So I’ll have to move things around a little bit and that creates these interesting
edges and that sense of kinetics that’s important to my work. Yeah. That’s probably one of my favorite things
about yours is there’s these little things that if you had traced it you would have never
created these varieties from life. Yeah. And I saw that in Pontormo. Pontormo
would do two or three nipples and six or seven fingers and look and he’d just leave them
there. Just looking for anything that created this sense of…It was cool but also a sense
of vibration and momentary…It’s gonna move in a second to something else. Stan: In your book you talk about consistency.
There’s a quote I’m gonna read. It says, “Start thinking of the frame around your artwork
as a window into your world. The marks you make explain the rules of that world and they
had better be consistent.” Are you talking about in a single work or in a body of work?
Consistency? Steve: All. Stan: Okay. Yeah. And that consistency can be how it changes.
So think of a gradation. This can be consistently a well-structured, well-designed arm but it
could go from strong light to ambient lifght to shadow so there can be an evolution there.
That’s what a curve is is it’s always changing directions incrementally and going from down
to eventually up. And so but it’s that ringing true and having a focus of what you’re trying
to say with your work. The more clearly you understand and it can be this understanding
or this understanding or both, understand that what that mark is doing for you. And just the way I almost went into engineering
because I liked math before I discovered art as a young man so I like to know why things
work. I like to figure it out. So that’s just my thing. It’s not all good. You know? For
most people they don’t need to know the…Every single why but I like to know it. So a lot
of times it’s just a emotionally rings true but every mark has to be in service of something. Okay. So what do you enjoy more, a quick sketch
or a longer effort. Yeah. I like all the process. I like to mix
it up and so I’ll do…Like sketchbooks I’ll do more of a kind of Sargentesque kind of
stuff or a quick sketch with oil points would be more my Sargent hat on. And then the longer
would be more of my Rembrandt where I’ll build up wet over dry. Stan: So you don’t like one over the other. I like all that. I don’t at this point. I’ve
been doing it long enough and I went through my early years as a realist doing stuff pretty
tight. I don’t like to sit there and render a bunch of…A big painting, a full painting
with a fully rendered…And if you’ll notice my work it’s designed in such a way and that’
kind of the nature of chiaroscuro you have light and shadow and most of the information
is in the light you don’t have to render the shadow. Most of the information is in the
foreground, you don’t have to render the background. So I have kind of non-background backgrounds
and the shadows are more or less void with a little bit of line work in them. And that
way I’ve designed a piece where it’ll be, you know, say like this…You know, I don’t
have to do anything here. It’s just a few areas here and I might even drop those hands
off into shadow and drop that leg off into shadow. Maybe I’ll put a lot of folds realistic
here and then it will become more broken, more abstract, and more linear than lost.
And so I’ll actually create a gradation of realism oftentimes where I’ll go to purely
abstract shapes, simple gradations. Go from painting to drawing where this literally does. But I’ll do that in the painting and it keeps
things fresh for me. I’m not focused on every little area and it’s…My attention span then
is held because each area has a little bit different problem and then getting those all
to ring true is kind of fun. You know? How can I make line, abstract painting, realist
painting, and drawing all work in the same deal. What medium do you want to learn that you
haven’t? Well, I would love to…Well, there’s two
answers to that. I’m actually playing with writing right now. That’s one of my things
that I’m doing while I’m kind of hiding out. Well, you’ve kind of already… Yeah. I did that and that’s one of the reasons
I did that. I’m actually writing a novel for my kids. Oh, okay. A Fiction. Steve: Sort of a love letter to my kids. Yeah.
Yeah. So I’m just having fun. I’ve always world-built in my… Stan: Is it a graphic novel? Are you illustrating? No. It started as…There was a…Early on
when I was deciding to get out of illustration I did a graphic novel for Disney Comic Books
and then they went out of business before they ever… What was it? Did they print it? Oh they… No. They never printed anything. But they
gave me a nice advance that allowed me to be a fine artist. But I did that so I could
work with these kind of mythological ideas for kids. Anymore books in the works? I might. The publisher wants to do another
one. This is doing pretty well. And I’ve got a whole series, five, six, seven
books I could do. Yeah. Some, yeah, at some point there’ll be another
one out. Okay. Are you working on one? Not yet. But I’ve got it…When I did this
I structured out very loosely three or four and, I mean, I’ve been teaching long enough…I
wanna…One of the reasons I’m doing this with you and doing the new masters and other
stuff is I won’t be doing this forever and I won’t be around forever. Right. So I want to get out whatever I know and what
I’ve got and what art has given me I wanna put it back out. And as many forms as I can
do that I wanna do that. So it’s great to have it on…Recorded, you know, all that
stuff and then in the book form, too, I’ll try and do that. And just everything I got
is not mine, it goes…You know, it’s me stealing from all these other great, great folks so
I wanted to get it out there. Because, like I said, most of the treasure hunt is hard
and I think I have a few ideas that are useful that don’t get talked about or don’t get talked
about in context or at least in my context. And so I think that it can be part of the
conversation. So, yeah, there’ll be more. I’m not sure when. Where do you see your art going in, like,
the next decade or so? Are you gonna do more boxers, are you gonna do a series? No. I’m done with the boxers. The worker boxers,
series that was a particular kind of male mythology, tough it out, life’s a battle,
pick yourself up by your bootstraps kind of stuff. It’s an American idea of if you work
hard, you know, and fight the good fight that good things will happen. That kind of thing.
There’s enough of that, I think. So I’m gonna…I’d like to…I’ve got a series I’ve been meaning
to do for probably 20 years on female…Series. Okay. That’s gonna be a popular one. Yeah. And it’s foxy boxing, it’s called. No
I’m kidding. Female boxing. Okay. Yeah. No. I’m kidding. Is it nudes? It’ll be nudes. Yeah. It’ll be nudes. Yeah. Any specific take on that or… Steve: Yeah. Still playing with that. It’s
gonna be kind of a submerged idea. I had the real male…You know, I like cliches because
there’s certain truths and they push buttons. Especially in this day and age. So I’m gonna
play at least in the beginning with active and passive. The males were active, the female
will be more passive. But there’s also in…It would be a long answer so I won’t get into
it but we spent a lot of time with the male mythologies so I wanna deal with more of the
female mythologies in life. And then I have a series of landscapes I wanna do since I’m
living in a beautiful landscape country. Last question. Where can people buy the book? You can get it any place books are sold is
what my publisher tells me to say. Yeah. You can go online or to whatever book store and
if they don’t have it they can order it but it’s all over the place and it’s in several
languages now, too. Oh, awesome. Yeah. No. I mean those are continuing to add…It
just came out mid-summer so it’s still fairly new. Yeah. But they sent me a German edition. I think
there’s two or three languages other than English now. There should be four, five, or
six by the end of it. Awesome. Yeah. So “Figure Drawing For Artists: Making Every
Mark Count”. Thank you very much. Thank you. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you for being here and… My pleasure. Yeah. I’m excited to see. So sweet of you to come up and spend some
time with me. Of course. I hope to visit you someday. Yeah. Yeah. That would be great. And you’re
all welcome to [inaudible 01:45:45]. Yeah. No. You’re not all welcome. Yeah. What’s your address? Yeah. And cut, cut, cut. Cut it. All right, guys. Thank you for watching. A
huge thank you to Steve for passing on so much wisdom. I’m definitely gonna go back
and re-watch the interview a few times myself and if that wasn’t enough Steve actually stuck
around and recorded a hand-drawing demo after the interview. So I’ll be posting that next
week. You don’t wanna miss it so click that subscribe button and go get Steve’s book.
It’s great. If you haven’t done it already go get it, you need it in your life. All right.
Thanks, guys. See ya.

100 thoughts on “Growing as an Artist – Steve Huston Interview

  1. Hi all, could anyone recommend any good videos, podcasts, articles or really any helpful art history or analysis resources?
    Big old history books are kind of overwhelming for me right now
    Thank you in advance

  2. Ah damn I love how Steve talks about the symbolic nature of art and it's bigger impact on society back then and now, but it's too deep for Proko, he pulls it back to more "generic" art questions immediately. ^^

  3. I appreciate the entire philosophy that is discussed here. such completeness and acceptance resonates beautifully. Thank you for sharing such a good interview!

  4. This guy is brilliant! And you're really good at interviews, you should do more of these! Also, I'm buying this guy's book and I'll be watching this specific interview multiple times in the future, he's so full of wisdom! Thank you so much for uploading this!

  5. he is such a great master and his universal mind and wide perspective on life shows that!!! Am so inspired by this video.

  6. The students of Steve Huston are incredibly lucky. I have so much respect for this man. So humble ,calm, intelligent, kind, humble, charismatic, great draftsman and also amazing teacher. So much knowledge and insight in this video. I have watched it propably 10 times from start to finish. It never stops giving. Thank you for this interview, it's a treasure for me.

  7. I started drawing a year ago, did a 365 day drawing challenge. I'm a self taught artist and I'm trying to find some classes around my area but there are none really. I really want to improve my art and I think finding a teacher is the fastest way to go. I'm trying to learn from as many books, videos, lectures as I can find, I also intend to make videos for people who don't know how to draw so they won't have to go through the thing I did and help them.

  8. hi proko, just a suggestion, I liked your interviews but, would be interesting for the audience if the artist could show a visual or painting and than explain what he wants to say rather than just explaining in words.👍

  9. my name is Tesfaye i am an artis from Ethiopia living in Washington DC Thank you very much, it's a very important lesson

  10. For me, art is the meeting of science and philosophy … Interestingly enough, same for religion . Welcome to why art is a belief. I like the way Steve believes .

  11. I don't think I've copied anyone's ideas. Apart from that figure tutorial of yours, that's the only thing that I've tried copying.

  12. Wow the first non-hippie art interview I have ever seen. Steve Houston is the real thing unlike the teachers I have encountered whenI wanted to learn how to draw or paint. They always asked us students to draw or paint anger, happiness etc. That just told me they did not know anything. Also, I saw their work and all was shittier than what I did as a child. Both of you Steve and Proko not only talk about art you can do it and teach it. Do not ever go hippie

  13. Wow…what an amazing interview. I really enjoyed the adult conversation. Truly a working ARTIST on a journey! Thank you. And the artist he referred to I have a new favorite! I am now obsessed with Bunkall.

  14. Steve just needs a podcast where he talks for a couple hours about his thoughts. This was such a great video experience.

  15. Steve Huston is an absolute genius, a true inspiration, and a wonderful teacher. They don't make people like him every day,.

  16. Holy man this is awesome!!!!!! never heard of Mr. Huston before, thanks for providing us all this fantastic interview. I feel there is so much to learn….unbelievable !

  17. I didnt like Steve Huston lessons. And then, i come across this interview… and what can i say… i identify myself alot with his life approach

  18. Hey Proko, I don't get much time to watch videos can you please make these into podcasts if you haven't already? Huge potential in that space!

  19. great talk, really great. like great in the epic sense. He has this sense of middle class , process/.craftsman, but yet he knows enough to inject some wizardry into his stuff, he gives the sense that mastery is attainable by everyone. , or perhaps everyone cannot attain mastery, but everyone can inject enough magic into their work to get a very great sense of satisfaction, and that is enough.

  20. Such sage advice. Love his philosophy of trusting and being happy with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up. You will probably never have a masterpiece. So relax and enjoy the process.

  21. Each sentence is valuable…,great interview……if you hear this guy with your brain you will see the light

  22. Stan, I have watched this interview for about three times since morning, while googling all the artist
    Sir Steve is talking about. I am on 42:12 now "AGAIN" and I have to leave this comment for every serious artist out there that this interview is the bible for advanced artists. Oh, dear LORD, he covered and answered all my question. It seemed like he lived in me. God bless you Stan (I mean if there is such a thing as god.lol)

  23. Hmmmmm…..Painting landscapes that look like thier made out of jello sounds like it would be fun and quirky 🙂 Shaun of the dead was a stupid idea of making a zombie movie a comedy that became a hit. Got a person like me to love a zombie movie!

  24. Steve Huston makes we want to go out right now and create. I love how great artists can speak about technique and history and make it sound like poetry. Loved this interview!

  25. Thank you so much for this interview dude, Steve is such a great thinker, I'm glad there is a place for him to share his thoughts with anyone who cares to listen. I need my Steve Huston wall of quotes for a happy life haha.

  26. Te felicito por el trabajo tan valioso que haces,porque no traduces al español lo que haces,es muy interesante y mucho mas personas podrian verlos,muchas gracias.

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