Copyright - Clancy Tucker
Quote of the day:
"He that can’t endure the bad,
will not live to see the good."
CHRISTOPHER EPLING -
It's a pleasure today to welcome my first guest illustrator and cartoonist who hails from a city I once knew very well - Christopher Epling from Washington DC, USA. Christopher's cartoons appear in newspapers across Kentucky; including The Appalachian News Express, The Mingo County Messenger, North of Center, and the Kentucky Kernel. Mm ... I'm lucky enough to draw stick figures, but this artist can really draw. Welcome, Christopher.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR ILLUSTRATING JOURNEY.
The real interest began underneath a hardwood living room table inside my great grandmother’s living room. Somewhere I had managed to acquire a set of three colored crayons: blue, green, and red. This is the earliest memory I really carry with me about drawing, at least to the point where I can actually visualize doing it and all. I had started with the red crayon, quickly moving through my minimal medium until the underneath of the table resembled something in between a tire mark on asphalt and suet. This must have occurred around the same time I was learning to write my own name because still today you can make out the letters 'cris'. I could manage all the letters in my name except the ‘h’, which is only easiest to the “I” if you think about it. I still can’t figure out why I had so many problems with it. Oh yeah, my great grandmother didn’t like that I had drawn all over her table either. Although she scolded me pretty deservingly at the time, this was a story she told everyone for the rest of her life. She was an amazing woman. She, more than anyone, fostered my interest in drawing. My family is from the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. I think a lot of people on the ‘outside’ call us “hillbillies”. People would be surprised just how wrong a lot of those ideas are about people from my region. I took up drawing to pass the time. People would cut a shine about how well my doodles resembled what it was I had tried to draw. It stuck. For the rest of my life, it just stuck.
WERE YOU GOOD AT DRAWING AS A KID?
Whether or not I possessed any ‘true’ skill as a kid I am not sure. It very well could be a self-fulfilling prophecy in my case. Enough people, whether they were simply being nice or not, told me while growing up that I had talent. I believed them, so I continued to draw. And draw, and draw, and draw. That is interesting… I have never really thought about it this way. I hope the rest of the questions you have for me is this enlightening!
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME AN ILLUSTRATOR?
Drawing professionally occurred in a vacuum. They say nothing really does, but I disagree. It wasn’t something that I set out to do at all. I promise. I entertained the thought from time to time. It was in Samarra, in Iraq, that I became really reflective of my childhood and home. It was normal for me, and many other soldiers, to carry a notebook with them wherever they went. I doodled in mine, beside coordinates and mission briefing notes. It was in that journal that I started writing what would become known as “Erby’s Turn to Rake”, my first children’s book. After returning to civilian life I returned to those writings and began to illustrate the story. Three years later (I work a bit faster now-a-days) the book was complete. It was published June 2012 and has been well received. From there things took off. Right now I am working on three different books from other people.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING AN ILLUSTRATOR?
I enjoy the start, and end, to a project. Everything in the middle is so hard. The beginning is the best because, much like a writer I am sure, the canvas is clean, untouched, and open to anything and everything.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING AN ILLUSTRATOR?
The hardest thing about being an illustrator is the middle. It is during this time that I start to second-guess everything. It can get so bad that the doubt leaves the drawing table and enters into my everyday activities too. I may start to wonder about other things beyond the paper. Relationships, occupations, finances, and everything and anything you can imagine. That is a total creative roadblock when that happens. It stinks.
DO YOU WORK FOR YOURSELF, OTHERS OR BOTH?
I work on a commission, and for myself. To make sure that I do some original work of my own I will create these mini-comics from time to time. These are small comic-book type publications with little story lines and things. My favorite illustrator and artist is Edward Gorey. He produced many small publications; a lot of them under his own imprint called Fantod Press.
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME AN ILLUSTRATOR?
I suppose that if I had to choose a past life that would fit me it would be living sometime in the 1920’s. I have no idea why this era has interested me so, but the roaring 20’s is the way to go for me. If I had to narrow it down more I suppose it would have been really neat operating a bookstore. That would have been great, plus I would have been able to pick up a lot of first editions.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?
Wow. That is a really hard question. Not because I have had a lot of achievements or anything, but because that could mean so many different things. I am going to go with the first thing that stuck out in my mind when thinking about this. It would be returning from war with everyone in my little five-man team. We all came home. Hands down the best.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
Right now I am working on three different commission works for a few children’s book authors. This is experimental in nature though. All three of these books are totally different, so I thought that it would be refreshing to go from one to the other while working on all three. So far so good… but remember what I said about the middle being the hardest. This might turn out to be a little rough, but I don’t want to jinx myself. I am also working on the promotion of my own book through signings, readings, and speaking engagements. I also work as a cartoonist for four newspapers in my home state of Kentucky. On top of all that, I am working on the next “big” project of my own. It is a graphic novel about my home region of Eastern Kentucky (Central Appalachia).
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE MEDIUM?
Without a doubt… ink. I love using the quill tips and ink well. You can feel every line you make once completed by rubbing your hand across the paper (I try to wait until it is dry of course).
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
People who have overcome challenges to end up giving back to others. That is the most inspiring thing to me.
WHAT DO YOU PREFER TO ILLUSTRATE?
My favorite thing to illustrate is stories where the characters go through a personal change by facing certain obstacles. I know this will sound strange, but I can actually feel the difference in the character while drawing them. Drawing features and emotions can sometimes cause the same feeling to come over me. I can’t tell you how many times I have drawn a character smiling and then realize that I was doing the same. For no reason.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR EMERGING ILLUSTRATORS?
This is something that I have very strong feelings about. When someone has information that would assist another with a similar goal, or dream, I feel that it is more than just a responsibility to help that person out. Especially when you yourself have received such assistance once upon a time. Maybe this comes from the "team" mentality embedded in my soul from the military? I am not certain. For some reason there are a lot of illustrators who protect their own story of how they progressed into the industry like nuclear launch codes. Although everyone has a different "game plan", there are certain fundamental "musts" that should be checked off early on. For me, I started by seeking out others who were doing exactly what it was that I wanted to do... then ask questions. One thing is for certain, I am no Maurice Sendak or anything...not by a long shot! Still today I find myself trying to officially "make-it" in the industry. I am seeking ideas and avenues of approach all the time. BUT... I am a little further along than, say, what I was even a year ago. I found one person, Will Hillenbrand, to be the most helpful person in the world when I was starting out. I knew nothing about how to make it as an illustrator. Believe me, I asked a LOT of questions to other illustrators. But Mr. Hillenbrand was one of the very few who actually took the time to help me. His greatest advice was practical too. “Buy Uri Shulevitz’s book ‘Writing With Pictures”, he said. No matter how well a person believes they are equipped with the tools to create a great work, this book will make you feel like you just opened up your box of colored pencils. His teachings are invaluable. This covers everything from the logic behind the layout of the illustrations in a book, to the actual methods of having the book printed. Then I would also purchase the Children’s Writers and Illustrated Market Guide. In it are the methods of submitting your work to publishing houses for consideration of doing illustration work for them. Read both of these… keep drawing… and put together a nice portfolio. Then… I would suggest going to your state’s book fair and meeting people who are doing what you want to do! I did that. It is where I met Will Hillenbrand. Now, this year, my book is one of the books being showcased at the 2012 Kentucky Book Fair! I will have a table near the person who helped me so long ago. That is really cool!
DO YOU SUFFER FROM ILLUSTRATOR’S BLOCK?
I suffer from illustrator’s block when that horrible “middle” of a project hits me. It is like the “Wednesday” of creating. Hump-day meets creative progress. You are not finished, but you are so into the project that you can’t stop. You have to complete the work! You have to finish strong! If you think about these “musts” so long it will get to you for sure. The best thing to do is just have fun.
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED SCHEDULE?
I work the same schedule as my artistic inspiration, Edward Gorey. I try to get as much finished as I can early in the day. I work better in the mornings, but I get more completed in the evenings? After I break for lunch, I will try to go for a walk or something to clear my mind. I have a white Labrador named Bella, so she helps to keep me to this idea. From around 1pm until 4pm I will work on the administrative stuff with my own work and website. Then I prepare for the evening’s work for a couple of hours. This might include looking up reference images or setting up the layout for a page, or cleaning up the present image after coloring. After a light dinner I start back again. I will work until around 11pm or so. My worst habit is not wanting to stop and staying up really late. Like I said, I get a lot finished in the later portions of the day, but should I stay up too late then I pay for it the next in productivity.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE PLACE TO ILLUSTRATE?
There is a room that I call my studio. It is kind of strange for me to call it that though, but that is exactly what I use it for. The reason I like it so much is the window. Using natural light to draw is really so much better for the eyes, but I promise that there is a difference in how the art looks later under in-door lighting. Sometimes the change is so drastic that I have to wait and work on the piece again when there is daylight out. Surrounding my work desk are tons of reference materials. Books, molds, artwork, music, and of course... tons of sticky notes (handmade of course... save trees!). My workspace is completely isolated from everything else. I may disappear in between the corners of this room for hours... and hours. When I exit, it is much like stepping back into the space time continuum. Hours are somehow lost, yet I am not sure where they went. Except for the product before me, I can't account for where the time goes while working. I'm not kidding... I have to set alarms just to handle certain responsibilities while working!
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN YOUR WORK?
My greatest joy, without a doubt, is seeing the faces of the children who see my artwork… or the satisfaction from the people who are coming to me for a finished piece. Honestly. I think it still reflects back to those early days when I shared my work with people and they told me that they liked it. Sharing with others might have been what kept me doing it growing up, and it surely is what keeps me doing it today.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE ILLUSTRATOR AND WHY?
Edward Gorey. His work is SO multi-layered. He was fluent in Japanese, French, and Lord knows what all else. So, his works have different meanings to different people. A child could read the same book as an adult, but both put down the book with totally different interpretations. Gorey also disliked attention. He wasn’t the greatest interviewee in the world. His artwork is amazing too. I tried a while back to duplicate exactly, line for line, the work on the cover of “The Doubtful Guest”. I also committed myself to complete the drawing using the tiny nibs he consistently used to finish his drawings. It took me nearly a day to complete. That drawing is now in the possession of Rick Jones, curator to the Edward Gorey House in Connecticut. He has it on display there, which I can’t even begin to tell you how humbled I am that it is. Gorey passed away in 2000. I wish so much that I could have met this remarkable artist. Now, I can somehow get to know him through his art at least. I love that about artists, writers, and the like. I feel that each of us, at least to some degree, are wanting to leave something behind once we're gone.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED?
One of the greatest compliments I have ever received was someone’s statement about my cartoons. I had some on display during a book signing and someone told me that they thought my work resembled the art of Robert Crumb. They had no idea just how much his artistic style has influenced me over time. Crumb’s actual content in his work is sometimes a little much for me. I always want to mention that too anytime I am asked about him and my work. I will admit, a lot of his content isn’t something that I, myself, really don’t enjoy. His style though, well, to me it is amazing.
WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED?
The worst comment I ever received came in the form of a response to an editorial cartoon published in a newspaper within Central Kentucky. The comic had someone poking fun at the deep accent most people in Eastern Kentucky have. The person who wrote the letter to the editor said that I “lacked comedic value”… and a lot more about how someone shouldn’t make fun of how certain demographics talk. The person had no idea that I, too, was from the region. They later apologized for the comment in another letter after finding that out. I guess that means it is OK to make fun of certain groups, as long as you are a member of that group too? I don’t know. What got me was the “lacked comedic value” portion. It was all I could think about for days.
WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Of course. Many, many, things. Growing up where I did, my family, the war, loosing both my brother and mother within a year’s time. It was actually after returning to home from the Army that I lost both of them. It was also during the creation of the illustrations for the book. I am thankful for having the book to work on. More than anything I am shaped by my faith. I am a Christian, and it is so important to me to foster that relationship with my creator. Religion is one thing. I really don’t think that a lot about “religion” is very good at all. Even Christ sought to revel the issues with this concerning the Pharisees and Sadducees at the temples. So much of what being a Christian is truly about concerns the importance of staying away from the legality aspect of organized dogma. Of course the 'church' is important, but the concept of the biblical 'church' has no walls. Maybe I went too far here with my answer?
HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU ILLUSTRATED?
I have illustrated four children’s books, all for others, and my own book “Erby’s Turn to Rake”. There are also tons of contributor illustrations out there for various books, magazines, and the like. A huge portion of my work is the multiple cartoons running in various publications around Kentucky. G4 Television has also carried a few of my drawings as well.
HAVE YOU WON ANY PRIZES OR AWARDS?
My own book just came out this past June. So far the work was accepted into the 2012 Kentucky Book Fair, which is really neat. I was named “Artist to Watch” for 2012 by fan favorite comicsrelated.com. Now that the book is being well received, I am planning on submitting the work for various awards within the genre very soon. Winning the Kentucky Press Association Mark of Excellence Award for Cartooning (2012) was awesome! My cartoons were published in four newspapers, but not the "flagship" newspaper in the state. Still yet, my little cartoons made it! I am very proud of that.
OTHER THAN DRAWING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
I love to hike, to go camping, biking, and long walks. When I really relax I head off to antique stores and old bookstores. One of my favorite things to do is to seek out bargains at garage sales and auctions! It is very addictive!
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO ALL WORLD LEADERS IF YOU HAD THE OPPORTUNITY?
The one thing that I would say is “please stop destroying the opportunities of our future generations to live with the same accessibility to resources, freedoms, and social securities as we do today”.
DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
My perfect day would be to wake up. So far I have had many of them, but then again there are details from that point on which sometimes end up ruining a good thing. I would also like to see the lot of us transform into more informed voters. So much of what goes into selecting a candidate for office now-a-days seems to be things that don't really matter all that much to actual government! I call it 'pop-culture politics'. Sure, one could argue that these things have existed in some form or fashion since the dawn of electioneering, but really? The Foo-Fighters performing at a National Convention! Wow... I just realized I have performed the two deadly sins of 'PR' in this interview: Politics and Religion. Maybe Edward Gorey was right!
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
My plans are to continue to draw as much, and as often, as I possible can. Recently I was asked to be on the Board of a new magazine being launched from right here in Kentucky - ”The Blueprint Saints”. I look forward to working with this group due in much to their openness to creative minds, and their interests in protecting the ownership of the artist’s work. There is a sub-division of my business (Epling Illustrations) gearing up called “Salubrious Books”. From now on, this will be the name for my imprint used for all publications and books being produced. Another area that I am really interested in, and have done a little in the past, is community education. The Lexington Comics Creators Group contacted me earlier in August to see if I would be interested in conducting a few seminars and workshops. This excites me more than anything in the world. I also hope to continue with the promotion of “Erby”, as well as the pursuit to produce quality artwork and cartoons for my clients. Eventually, I hope to finish the new book and see this one through to print sometime in 2013. Overall, I hope to be able to continue to draw, learn, grow, and live a healthy, full life. Clancy, I am honored to have been asked to share my thoughts here on your blog. Thank you again for the opportunity.
Christopher’s contact points:
Awards and honours: Chosen by Pikeville College to attend Gropius Masters in residence at Huntington Museum of Art. Created bicentennial postage stamp for Marrowbone KY Post Office, Chosen by the University of Kentucky to represent the school within the Society of Professional Journalist 2012 Mark of Excellence Competition, Current editorial cartoonist for North of Center and the Kentucky Kernel, both in Lexington KY.
Clancy's comment: Wow! I love that photograph of the little guy watching you draw. Contact Christopher if any of you authors are seeking an illustrator. Wonderful drawings.
Love ya work, Christopher! - CT
I'm Clancy Tucker.
McGrath Foundation Book Appeal:
Clancy Tucker - Victoria x 1 paperback
Jasha Levi - NJ, USA - x 3 eBooks
Kim Stedman - Western Australia x 1 paperback
Kathleen O'Dwyer - Western Australia x 1 paperback
Peter Frederick - Victoria x 1 paperback
Sylvia Massara - Sydney – 5 sets of 4 novels
Errol Broome - Victoria x 4 books
Cindy C Bennett - Salt Lake City, USA - multiple eBooks
M. C. V. Egan - USA - multiple eBooks
Dr. Judith O'Malley-Ford - Queensland - 1 x paperback