September 6, 2011

With The Fresh Excitement Of A Child

An Interview with Rob Colvin

Part 1 of 2 (link to
Part 2)
Click on any image to enlarge

It’s that time of year again where the weather is most likely beginning to take a sharp turn in the direction in which it’s ‘supposed’ to be going for, well, this time of year. Now, unless you’re still hiding in your storm shelter owing to the A to Z collection of natural disasters the world seems to be throwing at everyone, you may have even had the chance to step outside and take in a breath of fresh (+/-) air: maybe first thing in the morning at sunrise or as the sun sets at night. Let’s just hope you do get a chance to step back and marvel at the surrounding world for a few moments!

For some, this means enjoying the stars over a valley, for others the great man-made monuments of a large metropolis. Maybe you’re enjoying it by just aiming your camera out your kitchen window once a night to see how things are shaping up for the coming season or maybe you’re just trying to catch a cool breeze as it makes it’s way across whatever small personal space you might have to put a plant or two out. There are so many beautiful places to enjoy: to capture as images, to share and to wonder about on our planet. And hopefully – in the midst of all the stupid things we humans like to participate in and get distracted by – there is at least this one thing we can all share in.

Rob Colvin has enjoyed the nature and the sheer magnitude of some awe-inspiring views for his whole life. Coming from the uncanny and even sometimes alien-looking areas of Utah and the surrounding regions, he started as well a few years back capturing views that many of us have only SO FAR (come on lucky Lotto!) found to be breath-taking through the world of the Internet or Television. But with his sharp eye for design as well as his unique take on the geometric shape of his work – sharpened by his several years of experience in graphic illustration found today in some awesome stock pictures – he has gained a well-earned reputation as a fantastic artist! We are very pleased at ZN HQ to have a few moments to share with Rob:


Welcome, Rob! Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve got on your ‘to do’ list these days?

Well, Ziggy, I've been busy painting. You see, an art gallery in California recently contacted me about showing my work. It's the well-known
Just Looking Gallery.

The gallery is located in
San Luis Obispo in California. They represent several former illustrators, like me. So obviously, it's a great opportunity that I’m really excited about!

What sort of interesting tid-bits can you share with us about your background and what led you to where you are today?
Art has always been my inspiration and passion, even though I wasn't the most talented artist in my high school. In fact, I wasn't the most talented artist to graduate from Utah Sate University in 1984.

In fact in college, I noticed other students were much more talented as pure draftsman. They had a natural ability to look at something and render it exactly how it appeared. On the other hand, I excelled in design and composition. I made a conscious decision then to build on my strengths.

I stylized and simplified the world as I saw it. I focused on shape rather than detail. My work has evolved over the years and my drawing skills have improved, but my sense of design continues to be a hallmark of my work.

You state up front that your ‘art is about play’ and that if you’re no longer having fun with your art, then you’re ‘being way too serious’. With that in mind, I’m always interested to know how artists are wired to get that nagging (screaming?) feeling that they ARE being too serious? Do you have an internal or external ‘early warning system’ for this, you know, something along the lines of ‘well, when the dog stops playing with me, I know it’s time to take a break’?
Boredom! That's my measuring stick. That's when the passion and fun disappear.

You’re right though: it's a difficult thing to maintain a fresh look at the world. Serious routines and easy habits produce sameness and sameness leads to trite boredom. Experimentation is the answer, but with experimentation there is always failure. Trying a new approach exposes your vulnerabilities and insecurities! The road to discovery is scary, but it can open your mind to possibilities you haven't considered.

As children, we have boundless imaginations. However, we tend to lose the ability to play as we get older. We seek security and avoid risk. Stepping out of our comfort zones isn't easy, but if we approach it with a sense of adventure and play, it can be quite fun. You have to give yourself a license to fail.

How do you feel a professional artist such as yourself can maintain their sense of play without perhaps going so far as to ‘endanger’ their reputation or even becoming trite in what they release?
Yeah, there's always that worry as an artist. That if I step outside my usual style, it will confuse my audience. People will think I've lost my touch. I try not to let those ghosts haunt my studio.

I think we need to step over the edge sometimes, in order to maintain our edge. I've been stuck in enough ruts to know they can be more uncomfortable than change.

Speaking of play: what was the impetus behind your very public ‘blogging’ of your sketch-book images? How has sharing this – at least what I consider to be – ‘intimate behind the scenes’ view into your creative process affected you most?
I started that sketchblog on a whim. I saw it as an opportunity to have fun, even though it turned out to be a little more work than I imagined.

I completed an 80 page sketchbook in about 72 days. Some days I didn't have the time to work on the book, some days I was able to finish 3 pages at a time. It took a lot of energy and creativity to maintain it over time. My intention was to continue with another sketchbook, but I felt like it was becoming a performance with too many self-imposed expectations.

Looking at it a bit differently: do you think it has or could affect how your audience views your work or you as an artist?
If anything, the sketch blog expanded my audience! Those already familiar with my work got to see a more playful, less serious side of my creative process. Perhaps some people familiar with my work were confused by the direction, but the benefits outweighed any negatives in my mind.

Obviously, nature plays an important role in your work; well, not only nature, but the specific Western-slash-Rocky Mountain environments around you. I even find this to be so ‘apparent’ – perhaps because these specific views are so unknown to me except through the world of art – that it reaches a level one might associate with other artists from the ‘region’, not the least of which would be Georgia O’Keefe.

Okay, now with that long-winded introduction to my question: How has your physical location influenced your growth as an artist over the years?
I grew up surrounded by the mountains of northern Utah. The mountains have always been a source of awe and wonder to me. I can look at them again and again with the same fresh excitement I felt as a child.

More recently, the red rocks of southern Utah caught my imagination back in 1989, when we took our family on a trip to Moab. I thought then that I wanted to paint that landscape, but I had no idea on how to go about it. Ten years later an artist friend of mine, John Berry, introduced me to plein air painting. We painted in Arches National Park, in southern Utah. After that, I was hooked.

The scale of the land has also always fascinated me. It's all so monumental, so big! And I've tried to create that monumental feeling in my paintings. Sometimes I think I'm successful, sometimes not as much.

How do you think your art would differ if you were based, for example, in the valleys and canyons of New York?
I think cityscapes would be an ideal subject matter for me, because of the scale and geometry. In fact, I want to pursue that direction at some point in the near future.

Changing bytes for just a moment: you proudly posted your first, all-digital illustration back in July 2010. How has this ‘new-found’ technique affected both your creativity in terms of vision and also how you approach a piece?
I avoided the idea of creating art on the computer for years. It was just that all the computer generated art looked so mechanical and cold to me. It lacked that human touch.

Later though, a good friend,
Will Terry introduced me to a technique in Photoshop that looked just like the dry brush technique I had used for years as an illustrator. Up to now, at least, I've mostly just played around with it, you know, just experimenting to see what can be done. It's been a thrill to play with and I have completed a few commissioned illustrations digitally.

Other than that I haven't had the time to do more. I'm sure more will come of it as I move along. Two of the pieces I did just for fun were, "Nice Robot" (above right) and "They Eat Humans Too" (here, left). With these two pieces I stepped away from my conceptual approach to illustration and tried my hand at Pop Surrealism, with a humorous bent. I was quite happy with the results.

Do you foresee an eventual stage in your career where digital work ‘replaces’ all other techniques?
No, I love paint too much. There's just something magical about the tactile experience of moving paint around to create a picture.

A quality digital print from a computer doesn't even compare to the satisfaction of having a one of a kind, tangible piece of art with its rich paint and textures. Perhaps in my old age, if I'm too arthritic to move a brush, I'll do it all on the computer. Hopefully, though, that will never happen.

I did want to ask you: what’s up with all the robots? Were you attacked by a rogue toaster as a child or...?
It started with my first tin robot as a kid. You've probably seen those retro robots that were made in Japan back in the 50s and 60s? They're collector’s items now. I got one as a gift around 1964 when I was 4 years old: it made mechanical noises and had flashing lights. It also scooted along the floor and smoke floated out of it’s head. It was awesome! I've been fascinated with robots ever since.

Continued in
Part 2

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