January 29, 2011

So A Talented Graphic Artist Walks Into A Bar ...

An Interview with Graphic Artist Steve Dressler
Part 2 of 2 (link to Part 1)
Click on any picture to embiggify to original size

Steve, you mention on your ‘home’ web-page that you’ve ‘worked for several digital media companies, creating print collateral for independent musicians and corporate entities alike. (You’ve) also pursued a freelance career developing on-going relationships with the New York and Los Angeles comedy communities at large (and) have worked with several online media outlets.’ Where are you now? Are you working free-lance or is it more of a mix of all of the above?
I used to have a 9-to-5 job working for a CD/DVD manufacturer. I'd handle my freelance gigs whenever I could, sometimes even during my lunch break. After the recent financial collapse, I was relieved of my duties and have had to figure out the full-time freelance market.

A lot of things have changed since graduating in 2000. A lot of the old methods for nabbing jobs have disappeared and I'm still learning how to tackle the market. A lot of it has to do with the Internet. Getting images to go viral seems like the name of the game. Twitter is huge. I've had some recent success, but I'm still navigating. There are a ton of illustrators on the web and obviously a lot of them are good. I'm just trying to stand out in the crowd.

I find that your collection of illustrations runs the full gamut of everything that’s right, wrong or just plain bizarre in the world. I thoroughly enjoy the balance of often quite deep messages with ‘simple’ design approaches. However, how do you keep a piece ‘un-engineered’ enough to give it that unique ‘Steve Dressler’ flair without losing the message?
Its very hard to know when to stop working. Usually I have a vague image in my mind that comes in a flash, and then I spend hours trying to figure out exactly what just flashed through my brain. Mostly, I tend to trust my instincts.

I find it interesting you see my work as un-engineered. I always create my work keeping color, composition, harmony and balance heavily in mind. An ex-girlfriend said it was because I was a Libra: "Its all about balance." I can't disagree with the sentiment, but at times it just seems that I have just kind of figured out when to walk away before a piece gets too full.

The same can be said of your logo collection: you’ve created a collection of very straightforward but iconic imagery, well done (for example, the ‘subtlety’ of the ‘D’ in the Steve Dressler ‘logo’ is awesome)! What is it like for you though having to interact with the customers involved on this kind of design (vs. just jamming out a piece on your own)?
Thanks! I've always had a fascination with logos. When doing design work for a client, the key is to ask a lot of the questions in the beginning. Finding out the types of stuff they hate, or think is trite. That's way more informative than asking them what they like.

From there, I usually present them with a pre-determined number of basic designs to use as a point of departure. Through those designs we can discuss further what works/doesn’t work. After that, its usually just a question of finding a solution that answers the design question in the fewest possible steps. In the end, it’s a customer service. I've known designers that let their ego get in the way of pleasing the customer. It’s commercial art. Keep your feelings for yourself.

That being said, there are plenty of "hell clients." The trick is to sniff them out early and move on. Some clients are never satisfied. They enjoy running you through the paces. If you sense they don't value your time or skill level, you'll rarely end up with an amicable resolution.

While we’re on this topic, I’d be remiss for not mentioning what I think is just absolute genius in terms of your recent ‘Hello Coco’ piece (or even now one of my new faves, the ‘White Stripes’ goes manga!), that has enjoyed a lot of recent Internet ‘air time’. Has this been your biggest ‘hit’ so far in terms of mass exposure?
You're very kind. Hello Coco has been a huge surprise for me. That was a purely personal piece. I whipped it up within hours of watching the premiere of
Conan O’Brien’s new show. I posted it on my blog that night.

Up until then, I had hardly been on Twitter, but thought I'd take a chance and tweeted @TeamCoco. They didn't post it initially, but eventually put it up on their tumblr. Since then, it has made the rounds and the total number of views on different blogs and aggregators has been amazing. Is it my biggest hit? I don't know.

My Pee-Wee Hermann inspired image of "Francis" (ZN: see first image in Part 1) got a whole lot of exposure after I tweeted him @PeeWeeHerman and
he re-tweeted it. From there, Chris Hardwick picked it up and gave me the most generous write-up of my career so far. That image's popularity even forced me to redesign my blog and open up an online store.

I'm still experiencing the aftershocks of both of those images. Having said that, I’ve noticed that my readership has died down a bit in the last few weeks, so I know its time to create the next one. What it will be? I still don't know.

Creating viral images is still something of a mystery to me. What I do know is that when you try to give the Internet what you think it wants, you usually don't get much air-play. The personal pieces seem to do better. I have tried to create images that speak to the language of the Internet (like ‘
Memeforest’). Those images usually don't go too far.

Its better to just keep creating images that I like and hopefully my finger is somewhere near the pulse of Internet culture. If I do a Star Wars image, that's sure to get air-play. That's not really my passion though, so I have to find subject matter that tickles me and the rest should fall into place.

Tell us a little more about your sculptural work. Were the ‘The Nonuments’ a purely personal project or for wider consumption?
The Nonuments were the focus of my senior thesis in college. I had already amassed a 'proper' portfolio of illustrations my junior year, and didn't feel inspired to create a children's book or graphic novel for a senior project.

You see, I have always been a collector and borderline hoarder. I never had a use for all the 'crap' cluttering my apartment. On the suggestion of a trusted friend, I started creating Combines/Assemblages to de-clutter my life and try to make sense of my obsession with vintage objects and ephemera. Once I had 3 finished pieces, I asked my Professor if it was possible for a series of sculptures to be my senior thesis. A tricky proposition, since I was an illustration major and these were so-called ‘fine art’ pieces. I doubted it would fly ... but it did! I was even a featured artist in the senior show.

After graduation, I watched as my fine art friends attempted the gallery market. It wasn't very reassuring. I backed off of sculptures for a while, focusing on earning a living doing commercial design work. Over the last year or so I have started up again. My pieces have started to have more of a 'message' rather than just an aesthetic pairing of objects. I really take my time with each piece.

Part of the fun of making them is searching for the missing puzzle piece that makes perfect sense only once you find it. It can get trippy at times. The whole act of creating them is very ethereal, and acquiring the ingredients is pure circumstance and chance. I think my work is a lot stronger now than it was 10 years ago. I definitely plan on trying to get a show up in the next year.

Which approach do your prefer more, that is, working more as an independent, solo artist or as part of a team?
I enjoy it both ways. (That's what she said.)

My experience has been solo for the most part, though. For eight years, I was a one-man art department for the two companies I worked for. I haven't had much luck snagging gigs within design teams. If I had done a proper internship in college, that would've been very helpful. I can certainly gel within a group structure, but the opportunities haven't really presented themselves to me so far.

However, again, doing improv is great for learning group dynamics. It’s all about listening and valuing the other person's choices. That sort of play eventually leads to what is called "group mind." Its a very powerful thing when you achieve it. It breeds camaraderie. Having a shared goal can lead to interesting and different ideas, if you're willing to listen. When you're working solo, you've only got your own set of experiences to pull from. That's not a bad thing though, you build a specific voice. Sometimes you want a choir, and sometimes you want a lead singer.

You use a variety of art media, including spray-paint and colored pencil, in addition to digital design programs. We’ve touched on your sculptured pieces and photography, plus there’s your design work on apparel, posters, postcards, logos, layouts, web-site front-end and more, all of which adds up to a very impressive skill-set indeed. My question then is simply if you see working on such a wide palette of skills and offers is an advantage or a disadvantage, for example, in that you may be spread too thin?
Well, to be honest, the only disciplines I really seem to make any money off of are the Graphic Design and Illustration. And those two disciplines blend into one thing more often than not. The rest of the stuff I create as acts of pure self-expression and exercises in aesthetics.

Am I spread thin? Not really. Not now at least. I use the sculpture and photography to step away from the computer screen and into the physical world. I like to bring out the colored pencils and spray paint when I get tired of spending hours just pulling on anchor points in Illustrator. I get much better at drawing and designing once I step away from the computer and deal with the spontaneity of real physical media.

In the end, I just want to create a body of work that is representative of how I see the world. It all feeds into each other on a grander scheme. Sometimes you can create an illusion using a computer. Sometimes you just need the real genuine article.

Do you feel there is one area you’d like to work or focus more on/in or even add to your résumé?
I think adding more to the résumé could be helpful, but I know where my strengths are. For example, I am sometimes asked to do animation’s, but that's not in my wheelhouse. I have done plenty of character design and storyboards, but I don't have the technical skills or the drive and patience to do the animation part.

I think my best bet is to stick to the skills I've honed over the years and push those further. Its taken a while to get comfortable and create a visual style that is recognizable as my own. At the moment, I'm not trying to start over again.

Beyond that, what’s next for Steve Dressler?
Hopefully lots of success!

I feel like I have paid my dues and am starting to see light on the horizon. I'd love to broaden my client base and find new opportunities and applications for my design and illustration. Its been said that creatives are the new driving force in the American marketplace. Let's hope that's true!


Steve Dressler is a native New Yorker who attended public schools all his life, including taking only one ‘formal’ art class before graduating. He earned his BFA in Illustration from
Parsons School of Design in 2000, which to many seems like over a decade ago.

Steve lists his hobbies as performing live comedy, writing, creating fine art, cooking, making music and filling his head with trivial knowledge about just about everything (we did not test him on this because unless it’s written on a napkin and in our pocket at that particular moment, we wouldn’t stand a chance). Oh, and if you GOOGLE Steve Dressler, he is the one from the team
Thunderhead and of course, UCBW, where you can see him in the somewhat disturbing 'Give Me Back My Son' video (disturbing only because everyone is so intent on channelling their inner Mel Gibson).

He has played a Mexican kissing Uncle Sam on ‘The Colbert Report’, received a smashed pack of Twinkies from David Letterman, and unknowingly (read: without payment) designed the original logo for the Sopranos. We got the dirt on both these latter two stories, but with all the graphic violence (pun intended), mayhem and sex involved, we chickened out and omitted the gory details in this interview!!

Check out more by Steve at these links:
Website: http://www.stevendressler.com/
Blog: http://elsloganero.wordpress.com/
Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevedressler/
Print Store: http://stevedressler.imagekind.com/
Image Repository: http://stevedressler.wordpress.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/elsloganero
UCB Theatre: http://newyork.ucbtheatre.com/performers/4419


All pictures, videos and other media are used with written permission of Steve Dressler, including all current or previous business affiliations related to same, or are available in the public domain (noting copyright and other restrictions, accordingly). No further reproduction or duplication is permitted without contacting the artist directly.

Some pictures have been modified slightly or combined only for the purpose of space limitations.

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