Recently when chatting with a friend about artists who we're most interested in, I was shown the work of Jason Seiler. Seiler is an incredibly talented painter, both on the canvas and digitally, whose ability to not only capture the form but cartoonishly manipulate it is mind blowing. I think we've all come across caricatures at some point or another but they tend to be quick and simple, which is still cool, but Seiler does things differently. He takes all the tools that you would use in creating a realistic portrait and brings them into his caricatures. His talent in displaying the human form, most notably the face, allows him to brilliantly manipulate it in ways that most others can't. One of the things that fascinates me most about Seiler's work is that while he does a lot of digital painting, he doesn't use a whole lot of fancy digital techniques to create them, it's almost as if he's doing an oil painting but on a screen. In the many videos where he's shared his process, you really get to see how he uses his digital brush as if it's a totally normal brush. This is extremely beneficial to the final works because while they're still very realistic, they feel like a painting or drawing. That painterly quality is really beautiful when properly displayed and Seiler has a perfect balance of realism and stroke... something that I personally have never seen digitally.
You've no doubt run into Seiler's work at one point or another as his art has been featured in several publications! But there's so much more to this incredible artist as he also hosts a really interesting podcast where he interviews artists, musicians, and comedians. He also does comedy himself! Seiler is a fascinating character at face value, so I was extremely excited to get to dig a little bit deeper and hear more about his art, the processes behind it, and the man behind the art! It's a great interview with a lot of really cool insight, ENJOY!
1. I always begin by asking about background, so what got you into art? Any schooling? Big inspirations? What helped shape you into the artist that you are today?
I grew up surrounded by art. My father is an artist and musician. For me it was just what you did. I was pretty serious about it as a young age. Started filling sketchbooks by the age of 4 or 5, I would draw for hours and hours and was even grounded from drawing at one point. I began drawing caricatures around the age of 10 and became obsessed with it. I didn’t realize that I could make a living doing that until I was in my early twenties and began noticing caricature illustration being featured in publications. I began to work on illustrations, submitted them to publications and eventually began getting work.
I am self taught but did attend the American Academy of Art in Chicago for nearly two years when I was 26. I was already working professionally but thought school might be able to teach me how to be quicker because the pressure of tight deadlines were stressing me out. Eventually I realized I was doing ok on my own so I quit and focused full time on my career and I’ve been busy ever since.
Early on my inspirations were my dad, and MAD magazine artists, like Mort Drucker, Jack Davis, Norman Mingo, and Richard Williams. Then I became influenced by artists like Sebastian Kruger, and Jan Op De Beeck, and as my work developed I became influenced by illustrators, like Norman Rockwell, Ismael Roldan, Fred Harper, C.F. Payne, Roberto Parada, Thomas Fluharty, James Bennette, Steve Brodner, and Philip Burke.
As I developed as a painter, I began to be influenced by artists like John Singer Sargent and Anders Zorn, and more of a modern influence, Jenny Saville.
2. You do work in both traditional and digital means but what began your shift into the digital painting/illustration world? Did you gradually fall into this over a period of years or did you instantly fall in love with what you could do digitally? Good question. I am first and foremost a traditional artist. I love painting in oils and watercolor. These days I only work traditionally for private commissions or for paintings that I do for myself. Early on in my illustration career I was doing most my work with acrylics, and it was really difficult and stressful to finish paintings on time with the quality that I was aiming for. For results that I would be pleased with required much more time. A friend of mine suggested that I try painting digitally so I reluctantly gave it a try. At the time I felt that digital painting wasn’t real painting and was like cheating. But once I started messing around with it, I realized that I could in fact paint with it and still keep my style and feel, and I was able to work much faster, meet my deadlines, and feel good about the quality of my work.
3. While you do create a lot of your work through digital means you still employ a lot of the traditional painting methods through it, is it important to you to keep traditional painting styles/techniques alive in your digital work? What made you want to keep using these techniques and avoid some of the more technical digital things that you can do when painting?
Yes, I believe that it is really important to paint traditionally as much as possible. I learn so much about aesthetics, brush work, color techniques, soft edges and so on. Under painting techniques as well, and I try to use all of what I learn traditionally within my digital paintings. It works both ways. Because I can work much faster digitally, I learn a lot of new things about color, and so on, that I can also try out within my traditional paintings.
I prefer to be painterly these days when painting digitally. I want it to feel and look real but keep that painted feel. It is important to me that it looks painted and equally important that whether I’m painting traditionally or digitally that my work has the same voice!
4. In your bio on your site you reference getting in trouble for drawing cartoons of one of your teachers as a beginning of your art career. Were things like this your beginning in caricature? What drew you towards skewing the human form in a comical way? How has it developed over the years? When I fist started to draw caricatures, I didn’t realize that it was a known art form, in a way I thought I had made it up. I started to draw my family members in a more exaggerated way, and then eventually my friends in my Youth Group at church. It got to a point for me that wherever I went I couldn’t turn it off, everyone I saw looked crazy to me. In school I would draw my teachers on my paper, and eventually my History teacher, Mr. Wentz had enough and brought me to the principles office. She told him he could leave, that she would deal with me, and when he left she began to laugh and laugh and laugh! It was amazing and quite a relief. I thought I was in big trouble, but instead of a discipline, she hired me to draw 9 teachers that were retiring that year. So I had my first commission. As for what drew me to draw people that way? I think at fist it was just experimenting, but early on I noticed that people’s faces were unique and there were major differences from one person compared to another and those differences I believe now are how we unconsciously recognize each other or remember each other. Some eyes closer together, some farther apart, some large or small, or skewed etc.....
The way it’s developed over the years is mostly that I focus on character and capturing the feeling of my subject, trying to capture if I can, the ultimate likeness.
5. In one of your youtube videos I noticed you were using an image of yourself in a suit jacket for the body shape, so what goes into compiling references for caricature work? Do you really have to build up a bunch for full body/scene images? Do you ever work from life in either your digital or traditional painting?
Yes, for references, I use myself and my wife quite a bit. Sometimes my kids and friends of mine as well. It depends on what the job is. Sometimes I need a specific expression for a person that I need to paint but that expression is no where to be found, so I will take pictures of myself and try to draw that person making the type of expression I need based off of my face. Not easy, but it can be very helpful. I will pose myself or others in whatever type of clothing I might need as well, and that is to get accurate reference of anatomy as well as folds in clothing, lighting reference, perspective and so on. I don’t work from life for illustration work, but I have painted for live for studies and so on.
6. You're really big on promoting the importance of thumbnails and developmental sketches, have you always used these sketches as a way to build and develop your idea before diving into the final piece? What freedom do you think this gives you in developing your work?
Another good question. I don’t always have the luxury of time to do many sketches. A lot of my deadlines for covers or spot illustrations are 1 to 2 days, so I have to work very fast. I do believe that doing a few quick thumbnails of a person is good practice though. Give yourself more options to choose from rather than settling for the first thing that comes out. I find if you do this, you allow yourself to be more creative with your decisions. It’s just good practice.
7. Further on the topic of sketching, you have a large collection of black and grey digital drawings that you've done. How does this approach differ from your full color digital paintings? Is it similar to the difference between drawing and painting or is it the same techniques as digital paintings just with a lesser color palette? How do you approach tone differently in black and grey as opposed to color?
I do a lot of black and white value sketches or studies and the reason I do them is for personal practice. I believe that values are the most important thing to understand when it comes to drawing and painting. There are of course other things that are important as in soft edges and a solid drawing, but values are by far the most important. It’s like going to the gym and working out. The more I practice my values, the better my paintings in color are. Color isn’t all that different, the only real difference is that I think a lot about color temperature, harmony, and saturation.
8. You've done a ton of work for a whole list of magazines and one thing that I found really interesting in one of your videos was the turn around speed that you need for some of these illustrations. Are a majority of your magazine works done in a small time frame? How do you approach a work differently when you've got 1-3 days to do it as opposed to, say, 1-3 months?
Another great question! Well, first, I never have deadlines that are 1-3 months, well rarely anyways. There have been a few larger projects that took a few weeks or so, but most deadlines are wanted yesterday. The only real difference is that with quicker deadlines, I have to get the sketch drawn and approved as quick as possible so that I can get going on the painting which takes the most time. Usually on projects that I have more time, I spend more time on the sketch or idea and there’s also a back and forth between the art director and I, then the editors, and sometimes there are several art directors. That can be a frustrating phase, as there are many opinions and ideas thrown around and sometimes it can take a bit to get it just right. That’s just part of the deal though, and I’m used to it. For me it’s always about delivering the highest quality work that I can no matter how much time I have.
9. You're active in the arts community be it through teaching or your podcast Face the Truth, what drew you towards teaching and sharing your skills? What inspired you to go deeper into the artist community with something like a podcast? How have either of these outlets helped develop your personal artistic practice?
I gotta say, I have done many interviews and these are by far some of the best questions I have gotten. Thank you for that.
What drew me to teaching was Bobby Chiu who started Schoolism.com. He started the school around 2005 or 2006 and I was one of the first artists he asked to teach for the school. I never thought I would teach or be able to, but Bobby saw something in me and knew I could do it, so I went for it. I have been teaching for Schoolism for 13 or 14 years I think? Crazy how time flies. I love teaching and find that I learn a lot about myself and my work as well. But I really love to push and challenge my students and help them grow and challenge themselves. I’m not a person who feels threatened by other artists or worried that someone will pass me or steal from me, my techniques or whatever, I feel that whatever I can do to contribute or help others artistically, that it’s the least I can do. I appreciate when artists have done that for me in the past.
My podcast was inspired mostly because I love listening to podcasts while I am working in my studio and I thought, hey, I could do that. I know a lot of artists and musicians and so on, and I thought people might enjoy hearing genuine conversations between artists. I don’t really prep questions for my guests, I want it to feel like two people hanging out. I feel I get a lot more interesting results this way and it helps the listener to feel as if they know us a little more, more approachable.
Both teaching and the podcast have helped develop my personal artistic practice in many different ways. As mentioned before, teaching helps me hone in on my own skills and makes me think about what I am doing a bit more, and it also helps push me to be the best that I can be, so that I can be the best teacher that I can be. The podcast is cool because I get to talk with artists that I respect and that I am inspired by and I learn and pick up cool things from them, whether it be techniques or types of materials and so on. It has opened up many doors for me, gotten me illustration work which is great, and also connected me with so many more artists that I can proudly say are now my friends if they weren’t already. And we as artists can always use amazing artist friends! It has also connected me with Stand Up comedians that I love who have in return inspired and challenged me to do stand up as well, which is something I have always wanted to do, and now absolutely love doing! I can’t wait to be able to get out there and start doing comedy again!
10. Finally, PLUGS! Where can people find your work? Any shows, covers, or events coming up? Anything and everything that you'd like to share, fire away!
OK cool. Well you can follow my work and podcast etc on my Instagram, @seilerpaints. I also have a fan page on FaceBook, Jason Seiler Illustration. I have a twitter but I don’t really use it that much. Please like and subscribe to my YouTube Channel to follow my podcast, Face the Truth. I do an episode every week, sometimes I do two depending on my deadlines. My podcast is also available on iTunes and most other audio apps, but unfortunately not all episodes are available in audio as I only have a certain amount of space available for each month, so I am playing catch up with the audio versions.
My website is www.jasonseiler.com. As mentioned earlier, I teach for the online art school, Schoolism, a course on Caricature Illustration, and a course on Drawing and painting realistic portraits. I also have videos available on www.gumroad.com/jasonseiler
I just recently finished a huge ad campaign for Cotton, called Rosie Reborn which honors hard working women, I also recently painted two covers for TIME magazine, and a portrait of a Sergeant for a campaign that Adobe is doing to help honor heroes during this pandemic. As for things coming out, I did some poster work recently for a few different T.V. Shows on Pop T.V. But not sure when they will be available?