(Delayed) Bi-Weekly Interview #5 - Matt Stawicki

As an artist, it seems like the landscape is ever-changing from simply the tools, to the aesthetic. I intend to be an artist that never wants to stop learning, and as such, I find more and more interesting artists everyday. Each artist has a unique insight and point of view, no matter the experience level. New views help open my mind and teach me there are many ways to utilize my skills and I hope that sharing our stories will help others in the same way. I believe there are many paths on an artistic journey, and each interview will help to show the stories of the artists that tread them.

Today, we'll be interviewing Matt Stawicki.

(Taken from Matt's biography)

From superhero comics to Star Wars to the paintings of Frank Frazetta,

Matt has always had an interest in fantasy. 

The aesthetic of his art is greatly influenced by the Golden Age of Illustration. Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish are among his traditional influences. Although Matt is a traditionally trained painter he was also an early user of digital methods to create his art. 
In recent years he has created a balance and works fluidly utilizing both techniques in has work. 

Born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware. Matt was always drawn to the arts. 
An independent child he spent many hours entertaining himself by sketching and drawing. 
In his teens he also developed a love for music and started playing guitar. 

He graduated from the Pennsylvania School of Art and Design in 1991. In the year following he studied under the guidance of noted western painter Ken Laager, who further reinforced the Brandywine Schools approach. Since beginning his professional career in 1992, he has created
many images for a wide range of products including book covers, video game covers, 
collectible card images, CD cover art, collectors plates and many other fantasy products. 

Matts work in publishing has been on the book covers of many of todays finest fantasy and
science fiction authors, who include, (in no particular order) Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Dave Duncan, Julie Czerneda, Ed Greenwood and L.E. Modesitt Jr. 

The first collection of this award-winning artists work, The Art of Matthew Stawicki, was published in 2002 by Cartouche Press. Matt's work has also been showcased in
The Masters of Dragonlance Art and Dragon Art published by Flame Tree Publishing among others. 

Select clients include, Daw Books, Tor Books and Time/Warner Books, Other clients include Monte Cook Games, Milton-Bradley, Hasbro, Wizards of the Coast, Vivendi Games, 
The Franklin Mint and The Bradford Exchange. 

Matt’s work has been exhibited at The Society of Illustrators in New York, 
The Allentown Art Museum and The Delaware Art Museum. 
His art can also be seen at various pop culture conventions such as DragonCon, 
GenCon and IlluxCon. 

When not painting Matt enjoys playing guitar and wood working. 
He currently resides in Delaware with his wife Cathy.

Kaminski: With your background of works - mainly delving into the fantastic art realm - what drew you to this genre? Was fantasy something that was always particularly appealing to you?

Stawicki: I think my earliest influence and interest in fantasy would probably go back to when I as kid. I loved superheroes, and still do! The Superfriends on Saturday morning were a weekly event and a must see. Drawing from comics is probably the earliest ‘fantasy art’ that I created. Also Disney movies. Sleeping Beauty is a standout for me because of the wonderful dragon that Maleficent becomes. In fact that scene would later be a huge influence on my painting ‘Dragons Lair’. On to movies like the Wizard of Oz, which was on TV only once a year and was an instant favorite. And then, wait for it … Star Wars! If I didn’t love imaginative stories and characters before, this drove in the last nail. I was hooked.

Kaminski: Oh, how interesting! I've been openly influenced by RPGs such as Dungeons and Dragons and ShadowRun. I've even went so far as to make a very bold proclamation about how much Baldur's Gate attributed to my love of portraiture. When we all start out I think that we draw what we know first - so I would assume that's what got your first steps into this crazy art world. 

When you first started out, what would you say gave you that ultimate 'moment of clarity'? What made you go from simple hobbyist to full-blown professional?

Stawicki: I think I knew in high school that I was going to go for career in art. I didn’t know at that point exactly what that meant. I knew I could draw pretty well and liked to draw realistically. I liked the art on some the album covers that had fantasy oriented subjects. Specifically, the covers done by Ken Kelly for Kiss were great as well as the covers by Derek Riggs for Iron Maiden. There were others but these stand out to me as a ‘ I would love to do this’ kind of moment. At that point I still really wasn’t aware of the professional market, just that someone drew or painted these. 

Then, when I was in college a friend gave a Boris Vallejo calendar. I was just blown away by it and the more I looked into Boris I realized there was a real market for this type of work. 

Kaminski: It seems like your style was already somewhat pre-established, what with your influences revolving around realistic fantasy and sci-fi fare. And with your influences, I think you stand up on your own right with them!

Switching gears: your media fluidity (what with the current 'Media Wars' that seem to plague art schools as of late - Traditional artists vs. Digital artists) seem to be something of particular note. If you had to choose on in particular to mark out as your favorite, which would it be, and why? 

Stawicki: I guess I would have to say that in a perfect world, everything would be an oil painting. However, for me the painting process is a pretty slow one. This not only made it tougher for me to make a living, because you are being paid by the job, but it also meant doing less art. I love painting but the simple fact is, going digital speeds everything up.

I started working with Photoshop and Painter in ’97. I had been painting in oil exclusively for the first six or seven years, so when I started working digitally my goal was to make it look like an oil painting. The aesthetic I was after didn’t change. I was able to do more work and in the process learn more simply because I was able to produce more. Now I use both. The digital allows me to take jobs that I may not be able to paint within the clients timeline. I also do almost all my preliminary work digitally now because of it’s boundless flexibility. 

Kaminski: It's actually pretty amazing how much our approach to digital art parallels, because my reasons are almost exactly the same. With the one addendum being the space limitation. I haven't been able to approach much by way of oil painting because of the space required for a larger oil painting to dry. Not only that, but it's impossible to let a painting dry when you have the small toe-beans of cats lurking around.

I would assume that your ability to switch between medias helped a great deal when choosing which clients to shop for. When you were initially digging your heels into the ground in you career, what kinds of approaches did you use to gain a following or clientele?

Stawicki: Ok, let me see if I can make a long story, short.

When I was in my senior year of college, I did an internship with Western/Historical painter Ken Laager who was doing mostly book cover work at the time. After a successful internship and graduating, I assisted Ken on and off for the next year all the while working on sample book cover paintings of my own. It was under his tutelage that I really started to refine my painting technique and my book cover portfolio. In time, Ken introduced me to his artist rep Sal Barracca, who took me on. Sal really knew the market and had a great reputation, especially as a fantasy book cover rep. He also had an interest in helping to develop new talent, which was/is unheard of from an artist rep. He was representing or had rep-ed several artists that I admired. In no particular order, Daniel Horne, who had also been an understudy of Ken’s at one point, Keith Parkinson, who had just left the agency to head out on his own and Tim Jacobus, who for many years did all the Goosebumps art, are all of note. In addition to myself, he took on several other young artists around the same time (’92-ish). Among them some young guy named Donato, who blew us all away! (I wonder what happened to that guy) Slowly, I started doing book cover work. I would say Sal was a big help in securing and guiding some of my earliest professional work.

Kaminski: Good god man! That's quite the roster to be along side of! You were definitely in better company than most anyone I know of in terms of breaking your teeth in the industry. I'd assume that being around that talent not only pushed you above and beyond, but most likely pushed you to challenge them consistently. Another interesting thing to note here is that most of them were primarily illustrators for book covers and game covers (again, all in the fantasy and sci-fi genre). It's no wonder that you pushed into the same direction!

I'm sure you're always under some sort of non-disclosure agreement (NDA), but that being said, do you have any personal projects or recently released projects that you'd like to talk about or promote? 


Stawicki: I usually seem to have a book cover or two floating around most of the time, as well as contributing to worlds of Monte Cook Games on a regular basis. In the last few years I have doing more and more private commission work. I do have a few bigger Stawicki projects on the horizon, but what I can say now is that I will be releasing my 2018 Fantasy Calendar soon on Kickstarter!

Follow me on Facebook for the latest on those projects.

Kaminski: I'm sure you consistently work on a TON of projects in tandem - client-based or otherwise. In that vein, do you have any advice on juggling personal work on top of commissioned work, or even just a multitude of projects at the same time?

Stawicki: There is definitely a certain amount of multi-tasking you have to get used to in this business. It is crucial that you be on time if you are going to illustrate. What is important to remember is that your art is not the final product. There are other people and schedules that are all depending on each other to get the job done…and done on time! Someone told me once that, the best painting in the world isn’t worth much if it’s not there when the client needs it. So to that end, I would say try and judge your time fairly. I would suggest even trying to build in a ‘little time cushion’, in case things take longer than you think… and they almost always do. 

As far as, doing ‘personal work’ goes, what I would say is, personal work for me usually fills some kind of void that illustration can’t or won’t fill. In my early career I did personal pieces to showcase things that I wanted to do, but maybe wasn’t getting the chance to in the projects I was getting. This was because my portfolio did not include it. In illustration, most of the time, you need to show a client that you are skilled at a certain subject before they will hire you. A client is going to hire you for the work you are showing or doing well. So if there is something else you want do try your hand at, sometimes even a different approach with the same genre, you will need to do samples of it… remember a picture is worth a thousand words!

Personal work for me now is not as related to illustration. I try to take more chances with composition and I am more aware of things like brush work and technique. As I mentioned before, more and more of my work every year seems to be private commissions. In those cases the painting is the final product and will be hanging on someone’s wall, hopeful to be looked at and enjoyed up close and personal for years to come. 

personal work for me usually fills some kind of void that illustration can’t or won’t fill

In short, I think doing personal work is important. It can be draining to always work on someone else’s project or ideas. I think everyone has things they want to get out. At this point, I try to work in one major personal piece a year. Notice I said ‘Try’. I also do smaller little studies and sketches, usually in acrylic, at the end or beginning of the day. They’re all not pretty, but they ARE fun! 

Kaminski: 'A picture is worth a thousand words'... well played, sir, well played.

I've done quite a few projects myself that I would consider as my 'one-day' kind of projects, the bad thing is that I tend to use up my creative energy on them from time-to-time instead of focusing on the important commission or personal piece. Projects such as #junicorn, #robo-june, or even #inktober were ones that I did recently that really pushed above and beyond quickly. It seems that the more frequently you work, the more you find yourself with more ideas to work on even more! It's stupidly cyclical, but that's my take on it.

I'd say, because of this potential cyclical treatment, everyone seems to get burned out from time-to-time. When you feel uninspired, what are some methods you have to rekindle that art spark?

Stawicki: When my eyes roll back in my head and I just can’t take it anymore, I simply have to stop and do something else. I like wood working and tinkering on my house. I have also been playing guitar for many years and find that it is a great way for me to clear my head from the art scramble in my head.

Kaminski: Video games are my typical go-to. That and watching movies, of course. I'm an entertainment industry junky, what can I say.

What goals do you have for yourself in the immediate? What about the long-term?

Stawicki: As of this writing, my shot term goals are to put out the 2018 Stawicki Fantasy Calendar I mentioned. More long term (hopefully not too long), is the next art book, ‘The Art Of Matt Stawicki vol.2’. 

Kaminski: And finally, what's the best piece of advice you've ever received OR what's the best piece of advice you can give to fellow artists?

Stawicki: Best advice? ”Don’t eat the yellow snow!” Just kidding, although it does seem like good advice!

I would say work with subjects that you love! Paint and draw what you love! This can be a challenging path, filled with plenty of self doubt. It takes a tremendous about of commitment to persevere and it is your passion for it that will keep you going.
Kaminski: Pretty damn sound, Matt. So, from one Matt to another - Thank you very much for a damn good interview!

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