Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Interview with Socar Myles!

Today, Ninja Mountain interviews Socar Myles- crafter of delicate horror. Jeremy McHugh sat down with Socar over the internet to have a few questions answered...

Jeremy:Hello Socar! How are you doing? 

Socar:For the rest of this interview, I am going to refer to myself in the third person, and call myself Mr. Boose. You should call me that, too. I think it suits me. At any rate, Mr. Boose is just fine, thank you. Mr. Boose has had a pleasant day. 

Jeremy:...Socar. That is an unusual name, can you tell us where it comes from? 

Mr Boose:Just kidding about the Mr. Boose thing, by the way. Hey, stop making fun of my name. At any rate, it's a stubby version of "Socrates." Amusing as it might be to find myself constantly confused with the philosopher, it wouldn't do much for my Google ranking. 

Jeremy: How long have you been an illustrator? 

Socar:Seven, maybe eight years. I thought it was longer, but when I look back on it, it can't have been. Got my first major job in 2000 or 2001, towards the end of the year. When can I call myself an industry veteran? 

Jeremy:When can you call yourself an industry veteran? I would say 

not until you've been stiffed for payment at least five times and had an art director request that you make one of your assignments "look cooler". We started our careers at the same time, but I've only been stiffed for payment four times if memory serves. Where are you at right now? 

Socar:About the same. I don't get stiffed a whole lot, but the worst instance involved a fellow artist. I met him at conceptart.org, where he was a regular poster. He commissioned a large, detailed piece, but when I wrote to tell him it was finished, he didn't reply! After a great deal of pestering, he told me he couldn't afford it. I ended up donating it to "Picture the Cure," an auction to benefit cancer research. 

My greatest triumph over skiving clients involved a fairly large company. Feeling extra-curmudgeonly, I rang their top bean-counter every day till he coughed up. My last call was placed on a Sunday afternoon, when I knew him to be at a ball game. I wouldn't get off the blower till he swore he'd pay by nightfall--and he did! 

Don't think I've been asked to make something "cooler." Though, I was once asked for "more zombie action." Does that count? 

Jeremy: How did you get started as an illustrator and what attracted you to fantasy art? 

Socar:I hate fantasy art. I think elves and fairies are the worst. "Gormenghast"--that's more like it. Illustrating "Gormenghast" would be a plum assignment, for me. I did take on fantasy jobs when I was just starting out, but I'm a horror fan at heart. I got into that via "Tales from the Crypt" comics, especially Ghastly's work. 

I try to let the horror sneak up on you, when you're looking at one of my drawings. At first, it should look like something pretty: a serene forest, a beautiful woman, a smiling bird. Then, you realise the forest is dead, t

he woman is imprisoned in winding roots, and the bird is sitting on a dead rat. 

Jeremy: You worked on the Ravenloft Dungeon Master's Guide for Sword and Sorcery Studios. 

Your art appeared along side that of fellow Ninja Mountain members Torstein Nordstrand, Grey Thornberry, and yours truly. 

Socar:I knew it was something along those lines! That was another great company to work for. Very reliable, and clear art direction. 

Jeremy: Were you the kind of kid that drew things just to gross your parents out? 

Socar:...Guilty. One of my primary school teachers asked my mother if there'd been a death in the family, as I wouldn't stop drawing cadavers. But an anatomy book was to blame.

Jeremy: Your current work is subtle in its horror. Was it always so, or were you --shall we say--"less temperate" in your horror-inspired youth? 

Socar: My early drawings looked like the inside of my microwave after a spaghetti explosion. (Who knew you had to take the lid OFF the Tupperware?) 

Jeremy: I guess the question is if young Socar was an Alfred Hitchcock or a Peter Jackson in her presentation of horror? 

Socar: Remember those Francis Bacon paintings, with the meat? Those were positively delicate, compared to my intestine-festooned compositions. 

Jeremy: What games and comics have you worked on? 

Socar: I haven't done a huge amount of games or comics work. Let me think--I've done short comics for "Fleshrot" and "Graphic Classics," and background art for "Thundercats" specials. I did a lot of small assignments for RPGs when I was starting out, but I'm damned if I can recall any specific ones, at the moment. Something for Ravenloft, I think. That would be quite some time ago. 

Jeremy: I know you have moved on from game publishing in recent years. What do you do in the studio these days? 

Socar: My favourite assignment this year was from "The Cimmerian", a journal about R. E. Howard. The subject matter lent itself perfectly to my fascination with gnarled bodies, bizarre monsters, and hidden details. 

Apart from that, I keep myself busy with a variety of illustration and concept art assignments, mostly horror-related. And rats. I draw lots of rats. 

Jeremy: Tell us more about your work on "The Cimmerian". How did you come to work on such a fantastic project and what was it like? 

Socar: I was fortunate--it more or less fell in my lap. The editor, Leo Grin, was brilliant to work for, and gave me a lot of latitude with the subject matter. No "make it cooler" nonsense, there. The text I worked from was full of vivid imagery: the job practically did itself. 

Jeremy: What work are you most proud of? What is your current favorite and why? 

Socar: I like this one--it's cheerful, and has a beaked monster ( image on left). 

Jeremy: What are you working on right now? 

Socar: I'm working on a couple of small film-related projects, and looking for more long-term assignments. I turned down a peachy opportunity last year, as I'd have had to relocate, and now I'm kicking myself. Who picks grey old Vancouver over sunny California? I must've been out of my mind. 

Jeremy: Do you do any artwork for yourself? Do you self-publish anything? 

Socar: It's all for me. The contracts are just an excuse. Never self-published, though. 

Jeremy: Did you receive any formal art training yourself? 

Socar: Yes. I went to the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. I think they're calling themselves something else now, but I can't be bothered looking it up. There was a particularly patient teacher there, one Ken Wallace, who accomplished the improbable, and taught me to draw. 

Jeremy: What is your favorite medium? Why? 

Socar: Pen and ink, all the way! It's often seen as an unforgiving medium, but as long as one gets things right at the sketching stage, it's not so bad. Barring any splatter-related misfortunes, that is. 

What's the appeal? Most of my favourite imagery is of the black-and-white variety. I like the sharp lines and contrasts. Also, the materials are really cheap--that's more important than you'd think. 

Jeremy: You were quite well known for your digital painting, but in recent years you have eschewed use of the computer in favor of traditional media. What prompted the change? 

Socar: I wasn't good at digital painting. I couldn't get used to drawing on the tablet while looking at the screen, and that awkwardness was visible in my work. It was a time-consuming process, with little satisfaction. 

Jeremy: Not good at digital painting? I beg to differ, but I do understand the challenges of drawing on a graphics tablet. I've since gone back to pencil on paper myself for finished drawings before taking it into the computer for painting where the handling of the tools can be looser. Have you ever experimented with the digital process in that way? 

Or has your moving back into traditional mediums been sparked by more than just the limitations of the tools? 

Socar: I've thought about it, but the ephemeral nature of digital art is another stumbling-block. Some of my early work is considered too small to be worth printing, though it was standard format, at the time. Other pieces have been lost to corrupted hard drives, or discs that melted in the sun. I like knowing the original (probably) still exists, even when it's no longer in my possession. 

Jeremy: Given your background, I think folks would like to know your thoughts on the "digital vs. traditional art debate" that still gains steam in some circles...any comment? 

Socar: With the aid of a thousand bloodhounds, I couldn't find anything to add to that discussion. Nor, with a thousand timpani, could I drum up the interest. However, if I were to join the debate, I wouldn't dun digital art, or the artists who produce it. 

Jeremy: How has your work changed over the years of honing your craft? 

Socar: It hasn't. My work is boring and stagnant. At least, that's what my critics say. They've got a point: it does evolve rather slowly. Probably a function of my drawing rather slowly. I have to, or I'd make a terrible mess. Unsteady hands, and what-have-you. I've become much more adept at composition, and at designing images with clear focal points. When I first started, I was all over the place. Lately, I've noticed that my lines have relaxed, as well: the look is much more natural than it was. 

Jeremy: What process do you generally follow when performing your artwork? 

Socar: Nothing terribly surprising: a pencil sketch, followed by inking, and a good going-over with a rubber. (An eraser, that is, not a condom. Please don't f*#k my drawings.) 

Jeremy: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing you as an illustrator and artist? 

Socar:I'm too slow. I spend entirely too much time sketching and re-sketching, chasing the perfect composition. Then, it takes me ages to lay on the inks. (Not to the point where I miss deadlines, but I don't exactly churn it out, either.) 

Jeremy: Where do you make your home? Does your home turf inform your work? Does your nationality influence your artistic sensibilities? In what ways? 

Socar: I live in Vancouver, Canada. Apparently, this is a majestic region, full of glorious mountain vistas and soaring evergreens. But I live in Yaletown. Here, we have glorious fashion victims, and medium-sized skyscrapers. The scenes of my childhood--heathered lowlands, grey skies, the North Sea--are much more likely to make an appearance in my work. 

Jeremy: Who are some of your favorite artists? Do they have a direct influence on your work? 

Socar: I'm partial to Durer, Dore, and Klimt, and I plagiarise shamelessly. That is to say, yes, I imagine their influence is observable. 

Jeremy: Do you listen to music while you work? Put on movies? Or do you prefer a quiet studio? 

Are you a day person or do you work at night to avoid distractions? 

Socar: I always have the television on, just below the threshold where I can make out the words. The low murmur of human voices feels quite companionable. Sometimes, I listen to music as well. (What do I listen to? Italian opera, Sicilian folk songs, tunes from videogames, bad 80s synth-pop, the Four Heavenly Kings, Swedish punk rock, oldies, showtunes, Britney Spears--anything I can get my hands on. And I sing along. It's incredibly annoying. People don't like to hang out in my studio.) 

I don't mind if it's day or night, but my apartment is poorly-lit. It hurts my eyes to do pencils at night, especially on dark paper. 

Jeremy: What do your friends and family think of your chosen profession? 

Socar: They used to think I had lost my mind. Before I went to art school, I couldn't draw my way out of a wet paper bag. (Not, of course, that I'm ever likely to find myself IN a wet paper bag--nor would drawing be my chosen means of egress, if I did.) These days, they look upon it with a sort of amiable bamboozlement. The same way I look at bonobos. 

Jeremy: Do you appear at conventions or shows? Do you sell prints or original art? 

Socar: I don't go to conventions. I do show my work, but my august person is not included in such exhibitions. (Ha, ha.) Prints & original art are available on my website (http://www.gorblimey.com). 

Jeremy: I know you now do a good deal of private commissions. How does this compare to contract work? What can people expect from you were they to commission something for their wall? How do customers find you? 

Socar: Contract work is safer, as it's easier to hunt down a non-paying company than it is to pursue an individual. But private commissions are great, in that none of them are mandatory. If Joe Blow asks me to draw a giant mecha-raven with a hundred robots hanging off his beak, I can give him the brushoff he so richly deserves. (That's not the best example. I might draw that, if the whim struck me.) 

Most customers find me via my website. They can expect a wait of 4-8 weeks, depending on availability, and a satisfying finished product. 

Jeremy: Do you keep a sketchbook? 

Socar: No. I throw away most of my sketches. They are too rough and messy to save. 

Jeremy: Do you have other hobbies that influence your work? 

Socar: I seem to remember having hobbies, at one point. Those are things one pursues in one's spare time, aren't they? Spare time--I remember that, too. I had it, once. And then it flew, as time tends to do, and now here I am, being interviewed by you. 

Jeremy: Hobbies? I would say poetry, you rhyming so-and-so, you. I remember reading some of your earlier blog posts and they were very well written in my humble opinion. Do you have aspirations to do more writing? 

Socar: I do, but it's difficult to find time for it. I have a side-job in a technology-related field, and between that and drawing, I'm about tapped for time. I've a finished novel looking for a publisher (though, unless it goes out and starts searching on its own, it's unlikely to find one. It's lived in a drawer since the original publisher went broke). 

Jeremy: I’m sure readers with artistic ambitions would appreciate any advice you have to offer… 

Socar:...Yeah: don't take my advice. It bites the root.

Thank you so much for joining us today, Mr Boose---I mean , Socrates--I mean Socar.  An artist with so many names, but of so singular a talent.

As mentioned earlier, you can visit Socar's studio website at www.gorblimey.com and see many more selections of her delicate and horrifying work. Thank you for reading!

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