With over 25 years in the publishing industry I take deadlines VERY seriously. If you hire me for a freelance job I take your deadline more seriously than my own for my own publication "The Best Of The North Georgia Mountains" http://www.thebestofebrj.com/current-issue
If you look at our publication it is far better than any local small town paper usually is or, for that matter, needs to be. In other words I take great pride in my work whether it be my own publication or a freelance commission and always go above and beyond.
Interview with Robb Newman in "The Best Of The North Georgia Mountains" http://issuu.com/tboebrj/docs/the_best_of_the_north_georgia_mount/49?e=8740931/11666994
Photos by Robb Newman
Interview by Martin Tomelson
Robb: We’ve been featuring a lot of musicians in the paper over the past two years, two of our columnists are professional published authors. We realized… Hey! We should feature more artists! Who should we do, we thought. Coincidently I had started painting again over the Christmas break after a quite long dry spell. I thought… “Why not me?!” Maybe that will help keep my muse hanging around a bit longer? Unfortunately, she tends to come and go. Let’s do it! I’ve asked our UnReal News Desk reporter Martin Tomelson to do the honors as my interviewer.
Martin: You mentioned you recently started painting again; what prompted that?
Robb: “Pay It Forward With Your Art”. What a great idea! Thia came up with it and got it going on FaceBook. Do good and make people happy via your art. Last issue we told you about the beginner’s acrylic art class Thia took at Gilmer Arts. She’s gone painting mad! Popping out canvases now and getting better with each one. And she’s giving them away! It’s such a nice, happy gesture. It had an affect on me as well, it seems. It inspired me to start painting again too. I wondered what good I could do for the community via my art. But I needed to make sure I still remembered how to do it! The images on these pages are what came out of my “systems check.” I’m hoping everyone thinks all systems are go!
Martin: So you were a professional artist once? You’re not a fine artist…
Robb: Whoa! I don’t consider myself wholly unattractive either! Step back bucko!
Martin: No, I mean you were a commercial artist rather than a gallery artist.
Robb: Oh, heh… heh…. Yes, I used to be a freelance airbrush illustrator. A painter for hire, mostly corporate stuff, advertising, marketing materials and internal things, weekly alternative newspapers and some magazines. Also private commissions for high end caricatures and regular portraits. But along with the internet came “STOCK”… stock photographs, stock illustrations and graphics. Art directors could now just pick from a catalog of work already done. It sold much cheaper because it’s used many times. Not custom but close enough to get the job done. Freelance illustration became a very, very tough business. I was forced to go on to other things within the publishing industry to make a living.
Martin: When did you start painting? Did you draw a lot as a child?
Robb: Yes, I remember I started drawing a lot when I got my first MAD Magazine, I guess at 8 or 9 years old. I would copy the caricatures with a pencil in a big pad. It’s funny how that love of caricature has always been with me. Then, remember those ads in the Sunday paper or in the back of magazines “DRAW ME!”? The ad was for an Art Instruction School. They had many drawings that you had to copy and send in to qualify for a scholarship. I did “Binki.” Binki was sort of like a Bambi drawing. I also remember a guy smoking a pipe. I nailed it! Nailed them both and sent them in. The package came back several weeks later. I got a “C.” Basically, Very Good, as the instructor’s note said on the returned application, but not good enough to win a scholarship. I now wonder, did anyone really ever win a scholarship? I never did take that correspondence course but I did eventually go to art school.
Martin: How did you decide to go to art school?
Robb: Many years ago, after selling our business, I needed a change. “What am I going to do now?” Thia said “Why don’t you go to art school?” Actually, she signed me up! Yep, that’s my wife! We visited the school and as we walked down the halls I saw all the students’ fantastic work on the walls and I said to Thia “No way! I can’t do that! Let’s get out of here!” Well, thanks to Thia I ended up going and ended up doing really well after all. I even won some scholarships (take THAT correspondence school! “C”?… how dare you!) and graduated with honors. How do you like that? I know… I shocked myself too. You see, up until going to school I had always been limited, or limited myself actually, to drawing cartoons and sketches, like out of MAD magazine, I never actually painted. Art school was a fantastic, challenging experience. It definitely brings out the best in you. I did work I never dreamed I could do. Inspiration was everywhere.
Martin: How did you start using an airbrush as your medium of choice?
Robb: Well, to begin with at school there were several air brush classes. But beyond that, while there, among many others, I was tremendously inspired by an airbrush illustrator named Mark Fredrickson. His work is amazing. I followed his career in “Airbrush Action” magazine. It was because of him I began to paint with an airbrush. A few years later, for my birthday, Thia surprised me by having my “Airbrush Idol” call me on my birthday. That was quite a surprise! More surprising was that he told me “I will never pick up an airbrush again.” WHAT?!!!! He had just started doing covers for MAD Magazine” (slightly ironic, isn’t it?) and to my surprise they were done, not with an airbrush, but on the computer. He told me anything he could do with an airbrush on board (canvas) before, he could do on the computer only better and most importantly, faster. The only thing he regretted, he told me, was that there was no longer an “original”. He missed having that piece of artwork that wasn’t a print. But said the trade off was well worth that loss. Soon after he also announced that bombshell in “Airbrush Action magazine”, as you can imagine they weren’t thrilled with the news. He had been their star artist for years.
I was already familiar with Photoshop from all the photo retouching work I had done, but Fredrickson suggested that I get a Wacom Pen and Tablet and try painting on the computer. (Wacom Pen is a stylus that you “write” on a plastic board with that simulates an airbrush spray or any other paint brush for that matter.) “You’ll see!” he said. He was right. That changed everything. I too never picked up my airbrush again. No more messy paints, cleaning out the air brush after every color, hours of listening to the maddening sound of the air compressor, no more time spent cutting out frisket, (sticky plastic film used for masking the paint spray from areas of your painting) no more struggle to fix boo boos. One time I was on deadline working on a really big board. It was an illustration of a huge pile of office furniture. It was at the end and figured I could save time by carefully spraying the background a bit darker without masking the rest of the painting. BAD idea! I soon paid the price for my haste. Pfffffsssssttttt! The airbrush spit out drops of paint all over the painting. A huge splatter I had to painstakingly repair. I sure do wish I had a computer and Wacom tablet years earlier when I was freelancing. Instead of ten hours of repair work all I would have had to have done was hit “Apple Z” (UnDo)!
Martin: Do you ever miss not having an original? Do you ever want to go back and paint traditionally?
Robb: I did. Often really. I would see canvases in galleries and elsewhere and feel that tug. I really did want to paint on real canvas with real paint, still do actually, but that was pretty much cured once and for all recently when I was showing Thia how to paint with her acrylics. It was the first time in so many years that I actually picked up a real brush and squeezed real paint out of a tube. It was hilarious! I was like a bull in a china shop, a genuine painting klutz! Within minutes I was covered in paint, my arm was hurting from holding the brush up for so long, I had paint dripped, splattered everywhere. It was a disaster! Mixing the colors, washing off brushes…..I almost drank a red Solo cup full of orange water by accident thinking it was Diet Sunkist! Nope, I’ll stick with my computer. I respect all those that paint “traditionally”, as they say, tremendously, but for me, I realize I spent half my time dealing with the mess, not actually creating.
Martin: What about those that say digital painting isn’t really painting?
Robb: That’s absolute nonsense. It’s just another medium basically the same as any other. You put color where there wasn’t any before and eventually have a painting or an image. Charcoal from a smoking stick in an ancient cave to oil paints to acrylics all the way to “paint” from a digital “pen”, it’s all the same.
Martin: Some say it’s cheating.
Robb: That’s what some artists said when artists started using photographs rather than live models, still life etc. There’s always “purists” and that’s fine for them. Everyone gets to choose their medium, their methods. Norman Rockwell used to hire models and set up a scene, exactly as he saw the painting in his head and took a photograph of it. But the big horror, to him, wasn’t that he photographed a scene that would eventually be the painting, but that he used a projector to shine that photo onto the canvas which he could then trace rather than actually drawing it. Rockwell would hide the projector in the closet anytime someone would visit his studio. Today that is about as common a way of doing things as it gets. Norman Rockwell a “cheat”? I’d say thank goodness he “cheated” so he had more time to do more paintings that we wouldn’t otherwise have.
People forget Norman Rockwell was not a “fine artist” he was a commercial artist, and in the world of commercial art time is money and the one who is paying you always needs that work done FAST! In commercial art deadlines are always tight. For most of those magazine covers with illustrations you see on the newsstands the artist often gets only one or two days to complete the project. You have to really be at the top of your game to pull that off. That’s why even illustrators that prefer traditional painting techniques personally, have switched to digital for their commercial projects. There’s one very well known, published caricaturist, Rodney Pike, that simply manipulates a photo in Photoshop to create all his caricatures, almost zero actual illustration going on. Needless to say there’s many “traditional” caricaturists that hate him, professionally speaking anyway, for doing that. Like it’s a line that shouldn’t have been crossed. But you know what? Some of his work is really pretty fantastic. He’s not even painting! But, who says there’s not a lot of talent there?
Check out a movie called “Tim’s Vermeer.” (Some of it is on YouTube.) It’s about the Dutch master painter whose paintings are so amazing that through the years many have wondered if he used something called a “camera obscura” (basically a lightless projector, precursor to the camera) or some other aid to be able to pull off such incredibly accurate, detailed paintings. On Wikipedia - Vermeer “Theories of mechanical aid” - it explains that many renowned “Old Masters” including Hans Holbein and Diego Velázquez are thought to have used optics, or some combination of curved mirrors, a camera obscura or camera lucida to get the job done. Or, like with the pyramids, it could have been aliens from outer space that helped them, who knows? Are they no longer the “Old Masters”?
Martin: Do you use the new technology to speed up your process?
Robb: Of course! These aren’t the kind of caricatures that you have done at theme parks that are done in ten minutes. These are painstakingly done portraits that take many hours, sometimes days to complete even with any technical assistance that may be used. Let’s face it, I’m no spring chicken, I’m 60 years old headed for the big 61. My illustrating days are numbered, I don’t have a lot of time to waste. I want to paint more paintings. Sure I can, I could, paint every little thing, but, why? With my photo real style I don’t really have to. All that matters is the final image, not necessarily how I got there. I seem to have naturally landed on a 50/50 rule. Somewhere around 50% Illustration and 50% photo compositing, and manipulations my “style”. When it comes to the main part of the image, the main character(s) I illustrate or paint them fully, but, when it comes to the background or less significant parts of the work, it depends. Sometimes, like Rodney Pike, I composite and manipulate photos, like for our joke ads. I have decided I am happy with that. It works for me, and it works well with my style, my finite supply of “senior years” and with my ever-present, seemingly getting worse, attention deficit disorder that after 2 or 3 days of working on a painting causes my brain to revolt and demand to be done with the darned thing already.
Martin: So you want to “Pay it forward” with your art too?
Robb: Yes! I love Thia’s idea. “Paint It Forward”. How many smiles can come from gifts of art. How many dollars can be raised for worthy causes by the sale of donated art? Or pro bono artwork for non-profits doing good work for the community? I want to pay it forward with my art. Well, I already do really. I’ve done the Gilmer Arts B.E.S.T. Series Playbill covers the past two seasons. And a few other projects. But I’d like to see if there are any other non-profit organizations that might have interesting projects going that can benefit from my work and I in turn benefit from by helping the community and giving me a good reason to paint. Of course if some person or company wants to hire me for a project or a portrait, cash is always good too! I have been known to accept that as well. Either way, if anybody has an interesting project please call me 706-889-5851or email me at TheBestOfEBRJ@Gmail.com.
Martin: Great Robb, now how about you pay it forward and buy me lunch?