Viewing Archive ~ August, 2010

I’d like to share with everyone the brilliant artist I know from my OCAD days Patrick Gray. A kind and humble soul, that radiates with Talent and wit. I was able to secure some of Pat’s time for this in-depth interview about his beginnings, inspirations, journey and work.

I: First of all, thanks for taking the time to have a chat!, How about you give us a quick run down of yourself, your background and education.

P: Demographically speaking, I’m a 26 year old self-employed “creative” living in downtown Toronto. I dabble in graphic design and photography but I studied illustration at OCAD and that’s the work I like to be doing. By day, I work as Tavis Coburn’s studio assistant. That’s been my main gig for something like 4 years now.  I was born and raised in Hamilton and still live with my two best friends from back home.  I’m passionate about basketball, cars, and movies and I hope that at no point in this interview you ask me where I see myself in 5 years.

I: Alright, I won’t! , How would you describe your creative evolution throughout the years? starting from your first “creative” related memory, to your transition from highschool to OCAD to where you are right now?

P: Neither of my parents had any particular interest in the arts but I grew up in a neighbourhood with very few kids my age.  My closest friend growing up, Ralph, was a few years older than me and liked to draw, so we’d often get together and try to copy panels from comics, invent our own characters for our favourite video games, that sort of thing.  The earliest clear memory I have was, at probably around 6 or 7 (like early gradeschool-ish), having a fucking total meltdown when he learned how to draw hands and I realized I was completely incapable of keeping up with him.  That’s sort of how I operate, I guess: maintain a circle of talented peers who I’m BITTERLY JEALOUS OF to motivate me! That’s the secret weapon! Anyways, drawing with Ralph gave me a bit more practice than most of my peers would’ve had going through school, I guess. I got called on to decorate a lot of posters and chalkboards.

In high school, again, my closest friend was Mike (Dudek, he also went to OCAD) and Mike and I aspired to get into Sheridan College’s classical animation program. The same dream about 9000 other kids have every year.  To that end, we switched schools and started going to this school in the hood that had a lot of extra art programs, like animation classes and photography and so on.  I took as many creative classes as possible. I was taking like sculpture, anything I could. Partly because I thought it would help and partly because I sure didn’t want to be in a math class if I didn’t need to be. Despite some really wonderful teachers who tried their hardest to help me rise above mediocrity, I did not get into Sheridan.  Out of spite and with a super bruised ego, I decided not to accept their offer to study Art Fundamentals there, which is what they offer everyone who doesn’t get into their animation program. I decided I’d do one last year at high school (Ontario had this weird optional 13th year of secondary school for kids who were preparing for university) and apply to get a degree somewhere.  I didn’t really care where. I applied to a few programs at OCAD and a few traditional universities figuring I’d go wherever they accepted me.  I’m flat broke but I had great grades in high school and got a pretty good 4 year scholarship through the government so I wasn’t sweating the cost too much no matter where I went, thankfully.

I got a letter stating that I was accepted into OCAD’s Drawing & Painting program. I called them up and said “Oh, what about my application to the Illustration program?”  They seemed hesitant on the phone and said I was only supposed to have applied to one program and that I was stuck but they’d look into it for me and call back in a few days. I figured I was screwed for first year and that I’d have to switch in later. Five minutes after I hung up, the phone rings here: “Wait, did you say Illustration? Ohhhh, yeah no problem. Consider it done.” I cracked up laughing, like, oh, what, Illustration’s that empty? You need the bodies? I’m doing you a favour?! Anyways, I had a good laugh at that but then the first semester rolls around. And first year’s a big waste of time.  We’re doing projects that are a few popsicle sticks away from being summer camp crafts to weed out the worst of the flakes. And second year rolls around. I have no understanding of the basic fundamentals of picture making.  I’m panicking because I don’t “get it” and I need to keep my marks up to keep my scholarship. I just start falling back on digital illustration because I knew Photoshop better than my peers. And it’s the SAME AS MIDDLE SCHOOL. I’m getting by in Graphic Design class by putting a slick little wacom drawing in there. Same with 3D class, just coasting by with the tiny bit of drawing ability I had. It still seemed to impress people. So I was coasting by on that to keep my grades up. The thing is, I still drew like a highschooler at that point and I was halfway between realizing it and thinking I was in good shape. My peers wouldn’t ever give me negative feedback. The teachers were the same. I’m like, “Damn, I’m not getting any better…but I’m getting good marks so I must be okay! Right? Oh shit, are the standards just that low? Oh, God! WHO AM I?! WHAT AM I DOING HERE!??! Do people seriously like my work or are they slagging it as soon as I turn around?” And that messed with my head. I didn’t know what I was doing going into third year and I was panicking HUGE.  I’d go drinking with my buddies and just fall to pieces when I got drunk, just like, “what the hell am I doing with my life?”  I still don’t believe people when they say they like my work, to this day.  The sad thing is, I had some great instructors and great classes that I was just nowhere near able to take advantage of.

So I seriously considered dropping OCAD and going into medicine or law or…Jesus, ANYTHING else. Somewhere I knew I could make a good living despite the fact that I’d hate a solid 8 hours of my day for the rest of my working life. I had the grades, I’m a pretty bright kid, I’m just not even close to certain that I can handle illustration as a career emotionally.  At this point, though, I realized I was not as well off financially as I thought I was. The well was drying up a bit. So I thought, shit, you have to stick it out Patrick. Do the best you can and when you have a degree, see what doors are open to you then.

Third year of OCAD saved me, I think. I had a materials class with Paul Dallas that I felt really free to experiment in. I didn’t have to come up with a brilliant concept AND figure out the HOW from scratch at the same time. It was just, play with different ways of making a picture.  Different media on different surfaces. Ink resists. Scratch board. That sort of thing.  I never knew about that stuff! I thought every illustration had to start as a blank piece of paper that you drew lines on and coloured it in! Then I took the class that I can say, without hesitation,  changed my life.  Tavis Coburn was just starting at OCAD as an instructor and he was basically giving out assignments he had received at Art Center in Pasadena. And he did material demos too. “Here’s how to do a 7 layer sand down, here’s how to do something cool with photocopies.” And all this was mind blowing to me. I had been trying to do this really slick, perfect work and it wasn’t me. It was just what me trying to do my version of the work I saw successful people doing.  But Tavis opened up the possibility of doing grimy work. All fucked up and rock and roll, you know? And, I was so frustrated that taking a box knife to the piece I just did and cutting it in half seemed like a great idea! I had a hard time diving into it, but it let me cut loose.  And then he taught us to paint.

Fuck me, are you kidding? No. No. I had never been shown, in almost 3 full years at OCAD, how to approach a painting. I didn’t know about tinting the ground and starting with a midtone. I didn’t know there was a rough formula I could follow to start out with. So I was like, this is a bloody revelation!!! I will be a painter! Except, I sucked at it. Bad. Man, I was so impatient and I couldn’t figure out why my painting of a man looked like a piece of chewed gum. So, in the interest of keeping my marks up, I started doing what I was doing before: drawing, but now I was doing it with paint. And I was beating it up a bit.  It worked. It was a thing. It let me get my ideas out and not have to worry about whether I was going to use paint or pen or go digital or do a fucking paper cut out or what have you.  I was getting better with the software, too, so I could do my work and have nice digital output. Looked good on screen. I knew how to get a good print done, too.  And, seeing that I was competent with the computer, Tavis asked if I was available to give him a hand with a job of his.

Uh, hell yeah I’d like to help out!  So I started helping Tavis when he had big ad campaigns. His process is extremely labour intensive so I’d come over and do clipping paths while he did the work.  That taught me the value of the pen tool and the whole world of vectors. Eventually I started to use Illustrator for him (I was reluctant for a long time) to build cars and buildings and things like that, using overprints and all that. I liked that. It was something they glossed over in school. “Uh, yeah, the pen tool? It’s important. Learn it on your own because we have to move on to our next topic: lens flares.” The whole last year of OCAD I worked for Tavis here and there, just trying to get better and learn from a guy who has my dream job.

My last year at OCAD was the first year they had the thesis program there. Illustration thesis. That’s nuts. That’s kind of hard to do.  I give Paul Dallas and Gary Taxali all the credit in the world, they did a great job implementing that program, but it’s a crazy thing to have to do. Intellectualizing illustration doesn’t necessarily always work. Adding academic relevance to the work of someone who wants to do video game concept art can be really weird and unnatural. I wanted to do exactly what Tavis and Gary did, mostly editorial and advertising.  I came up with a grandiose idea that I thought fit the framework of the Thesis program and tried to do my best but I still don’t think I really got it.  I hadn’t quite realized how much work I needed to be putting into a piece. I was afraid to rely on reference.  I didn’t fully accept that I was going to be competing with Gary and Tavis for work in a few months.  But I got by. I think I did okay. Whatever, I graduated and people were still giving me props, despite the fact that I didn’t believe a word anyone was saying.

After graduating, I really felt free to experiment with painting. I had so much time and it didn’t matter if I failed over and over. I started figuring things out a bit, I guess. I’m still trying to figure things out but now I have a really great sort of “day job” at Tavis’ and I can do freelance work whenever the opportunity comes up.  At this point, my work all comes from connections and knowing people. No one’s really checking for my work. But that’s because I’m still fairly certain I’m terrible and I have a crippling fear of self-promotion. I’m starting to get a little voice of my own with my work, I think, though. I think I know how to finish a piece now. So I’ll probably start getting a book put together and start pushing it eventually.  And, after four years of working with Tavis (who is quietly a brilliant graphic designer) and almost a decade of living with my friend James Cam, I have a pretty good working knowledge of graphic design. So I get in here and there with that.  And photography, shit, I just do it for fun at this point. I love figuring out the gear. Messing with lighting. I’m sure that’s going to evolve into movie making eventually because I’m a total narcissist and would love nothing more than to make a 2 hour feature film just 100% dedicated to me.  Just a two hour ode to Patrick. Naw, that’s not true. But I think that’s something I’d really get into, movie making.

I: What a short answer!, Now, can you please share with us three of your favourite pieces?

1) The Sunfire.
I was seeing a girl who lived out of town and she had a beater Sunfire that she’d drive into Toronto all the time.  I thought it’d be a laugh to do up a little graphic with the flames on the side to tease her about her crappy car.  I dug up reference, built it in illustrator, and then exported it to photoshop to add some texture, grit, and a unifying overall warmth.  When I showed it to her she thought it was cute. That is until the car burst into actual flames on her trip back home that day.  That was not so endearing.

2) Bud Light “NHL Yourself” Facebook App.
I did a campaign for my friend Haley Fiege when she worked at Grip Limited, a few illustrations and photo manipulations for a facebook app selling Bud Light during the NHL playoffs.  The idea was that people could stick their faces in the hockey cards and get their own little profile picture.  Due to the constraints of the job, I wasn’t able to take the actual illustrations quite as far as I’d wanted too.  So I did up my own versions on the side.  These guys were the first and second of four.  I hunted down reference at the amazing sports memorabilia store by my place, found a few cards that I thought conveyed the sense of the era, and brought them home to cobble together digitally.  I used those amalgamations of old cards as reference for fairly large (8 by 10) monochromatic paintings done in fluid acrylics on clay-coated boards (a very, very smooth surface). I scanned them in, reduced them down so it felt a lot tighter and more realistic, and then, where appropriate, went to work softening edges here and there digitally. I then laid in colour using a variety of adjustment layers and added logos and graphics (in this instance, for the fictional Hamilton Felon’s squad).  The illustrated version of the mustache card got canned, unfortunately. I’m not too broken up about it because this is EXACTLY the kind of work I want to be doing for the rest of my life.  Vintage sports illustrations.

3) Walter
A friend of a friend commissioned me to do a series of paintings of their favourite flawed fictional heros.  This is Walter Sobchak, John Goodman’s character in The Big Lebowski.  The other two were Bill Murray’s character from Rushmore and Omar from The Wire.  This is something I whipped up before I finished the painting just to show it around, but I feel like I lucked into the likeness being pretty perfect and it doesn’t feel overworked.  The figure was painted in full colour, acrylic on masonite, and then scanned in.  Texture and the bowling pin stripes were added in digitally.

I: As usual, it’s always inspiring to see your work, how about websites? what are a few you visit on a daily basis?

P: I don’t really do a lot of design blog type surfing. Im on flickr and I check and pretty regularly. I like grain edit and beautiful decay too. I read more sports news than design news though because I tend to get overwhelmed by all the awesome stuff out there. I wind up convinced that I need to design a chair and release a vinyl toy every time.

I: Thanks for your time Pat, always a pleasure talking to you.

P: Cheers heema, thanks for the opportunity to do this. I hope I didn’t over do it.

To view more of Pat’s work, you can visit his website Gray illustration here
and his personal flickr page here.

Hi, I'm Ibraheem Youssef
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