A couple of weeks ago, Derek over at Drymounted.com had an open call to his readers for questions to be posed to me, with the top few questions that got the most votes would get answered. But because I love to hear my own voice, I said I’d answer them all. So, reprinted with permission, here is way more information than you wanted to know about me-
1. What advice can you give to artists starting to market their work on the internet? Which artists inspire you to create new drawings and designs?
Step one- do art. Step three- profit.
I wish I could say- do x,y,z and that will bring you fame and fortune. But man, there is no method. If I hadn’t learned every aspect of the business side of things while curating the Alamo’s poster series WHILE ALSO spending way too much time learning how to draw and print, WHILE ALSO building up a ton of contacts along the way, I wouldn’t even be at my meager position. There is no set way to go about it- but one thing I can’t emphasize enough- cover your ass. Learn the business end of things, and just hammer away at it. Don’t settle for what other people give you- you have to carve your own chunk out of the beast. That’s my motto, I guess- don’t settle. Get out there and take.
As far as what artists inspire me- I think my influences are pretty evident. I’ve been a comics junkie for decades now, and that shows pretty heavily in my work. Building the Alamo series exposed me to a bunch of new artists and guys like Tyler Stout were a big influence. Seeing his work was like seeing a new way how to draw- a new problem my brain just had to solve. I’ve definitely spun off in my own direction over the last year or so, but that was a starting point, to be sure.
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2. What inspired you to use the Japanese street life as the theme of your latest prints?
Using Japanese (or any other language) instead of English for me is a stylistic choice- you can have signs and text in your work that take up the mental space of language, but without any of the meaning of the text interfering with the viewer’s interaction with the image. When people see my ‘King of Crabs’ print, they’ll focus in on the ‘Disco Donut’ sign in the background, and ask me about that. And I’m always like, ‘What the hell, why not talk about the giant crab?’ For English readers, we’re going to focus in on the English words in a work of art. It’s inevitable- our brains just work that way- we’re going to see the word ‘Dog’ and in our heads, we’ll think of a dog. So, using a non-English alphabet in the art short-circuits that bit of the brain, and can keep the viewer focused on the art, and not the content of the words. And as for street life in general- one thing I’ve learned- when drawing a street scene, no matter how much detail you cram in, you have not crammed in enough. Every square inch of every surface has texture, every door knob, and electrical box, and manhole cover- you could go forever…so it’s a bit of a fun challenge for myself doing that type of work. Also, very time consuming.
3. I enjoy looking at your prints just for their simple and bold visual appeal, you have worked hard creating the look and feel. However is there more to your work than just ‘eye candy’? By that I mean, does your work carry any attributes relevant to yourself?
Well, I used to do a lot…A LOT of gallery shows around Austin years ago, and one thing I could never stand was writing an artist’s statement. If an artist tells you anything more than ‘This is something I wanted to draw’ then they might be blowing smoke up your butt to make them sound more mysterious than they really are. People would ask me what a piece ‘meant’ and I would just die a little inside. Of course, I thought substituting Mr. T for Jesus in an Ultraman last-supper was pretty self explanatory, but I guess I might be wrong. (Check out that painting on Mr Doyle, under “Gallery”) Now, guys like Rob Jones spend hours creating these amazing narratives inside their heads that play out across their art, but none of that is important in admiring the work. I’m not the kind of artist who is going to spend time analyzing my method and thought processes. I think a piece has to stand on it’s own, regardless of context. What I’m trying to get at here is, yes there is a lot of myself in there, but none of that is important- all that matters is that you like it.
4. Tim, much of your work seems to incorporate a recurring theme of 1980’s pop culture. As a child of the 80’s, I am curious if you could explain what this decade means to you & why it is meaningful in your art?
Again, this is a little too close to an artist’s statement, but- I was born in ‘77, and grew up surrounded by the action figures, comic books, and cartoons of that time period. I’m sure if I was born in ‘67, I’d be doing Sigmund and the Sea Monsters art prints and think that The Grateful Dead were cool. The truly surprising thing to me is how strong those concepts from the 80’s still are- G.I.Joe and Transformers are still on the toy shelves today. I had a completely awesome conversation with a kid the other day about Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow. None of this stuff is ever going to go away- it’s like a new American Mythology. AND- once you do one 80’s thing, people ask for more 80’s things. The He-Man prints were requested by a Gallery, the follow ups to the ‘Change into a Truck’ prints were commissioned work…I run the risk of being pigeonholed!
5. What is the most surprising reaction someone has had to one of your prints?
‘Change Into a Truck’ got so far away from me that some really strange things started to happen. I got a few emails saying things like “Oh, I totally agree, Obama Sucks!” Along with others saying “I love Obama, too!” Which is funny, as I thought it was completely a non-political statement. I guess it was like a blank canvas that people could project their own thoughts onto. This relates to me not liking explaining art work at all- the reactions from the public are way more interesting than if each piece came with a ‘mission statement’ attached. Which in this case would’ve been- “I love Optimus Prime.” Seeing that one as everyone’s Myspace/ Facebook profile avatar was really cool.
6. Do you think there is a difference between the artists who create with a paint brush and the people who use a mouse – much in the way music and photography has separated itself in to a digital or Analogue state? (handpulled v digi print)
Years ago, I used to have a little label I released comics and zines under, called Lo-Fi Comics. And part of the mission of Lo-Fi was that everything had to be done by hand. Which made sense, as most computer-art at the time was pretty weak. But here I am today, using a Wacom tablet and Photoshop every single day of my life, and I can’t imagine doing it any other way. (Please note, the lineart for my posters is still hand-drawn, but cleanup and colors on done on computer!) What I realize now, is that I should have been searching for authenticity in art, and not the tools. For me, all that matters is the end product. Is the end product good or bad? How it got in front of me is irrelevant. Not to be reductionist, but I don’t care if my pizza was delivered by Pony Express or by Rocket Ship- all that matters is ‘did I like the Pizza?’
With that said, once you really start digging around in photoshop, you’ll realize how many posters out there are just photo filters and color choices. Truly, anyone can do most of the posters out there with a few clicks. So then, what becomes important is the ideas, and the compositions. Anyone can put a dotscreen over a photo of an actor- it’s what you do with it from there that now matters. There’s definitely a divide between the ‘designers’ and the ‘illustrators’ in posters- and I think both are completely valid- all that matters is the image’s ability to move the viewer.
7. Out of all of your work, which piece would you say has the most personal meaning (conveys your personality or feelings the most) to you and why?
I drew a squid fucking up a subway car…I don’t think that’s got much to say about who I am personally, but it’s the one I’m most proud of so far. Upcoming, I’ve got one of cats stealing an El Camino, rescuing a shark from a Damien Hirst exhibition- that one probably will have the most of myself in it. But I have no idea what that means. Again, I don’t self-analyze- I’d rather just throw it out there into the world.
8. Could you describe the “lifecycle” of creating a print? Your process or methodology from start to finish.
Mostly, it’s stuff in my subconscious bubbling up. Change Into a Truck was an image that wouldn’t leave me alone for months, and I finally drew it. The Squid print was me just really, really wanting to draw a train hitting something. I started out wanting to do a train plowing into a Superman like character, and all the crap getting thrown around. And then I thought an elephant would be funnier. But then I thought a blue whale would be more improbable, and hence, funnier. And then, the blue whale made me think of the cover to They Might Be Giants “Apollo 18″ album, which also has a squid on it. And then I realized giant squids are more badass than whales. It’s really something as stupid and silly as that. There- I demystified art. I have killed it. Art is dead- I have decreed it.
And then from there, I sat down to start drawing the print. I draw most of mine at print size. Scanned that baby in, cleaned it up in Photoshop. I tried coloring it, and failed miserably. Kevin Tong stepped in and showed me who wears the big-boy pants and just did a beautiful job on it. When we do the colors on prints, we set up each color on it’s own layer in Photoshop, and output those on big sheets of transparent vellum. From that point, it’s making with the squeegees, inks, aches and pains.
9. Print runs sell out quickly for a lot of artists – has the flipper mentality made artists seemingly more popular than they really are?
I could talk about this for hours, but I’ll try to keep it short. A lot of artists don’t like talking about the business side of things, and I think that’s just freaking dumb. Selling prints is an amazing mix of art and commerce, and any attempt to separate the two in this industry is futile.
This obviously is a touchy subject, and the opinions vary wildly. But here’s the deal from my perspective. I have no ethical or moral problems with flippers. If someone thinks they can buy something from me and resell it later, that’s their business, and I thank them for their purchase. As a collector of various things, it does drive me up the wall to miss out on something to only later find it on eBay for a lot more. BUT- if I wanted to devote my time to haunting the stores or F5′ing all day to get that toy or poster, I could have gotten it too. All of this is out of the artist’s control.
The artist is only in control of 2 things- quantity and price. If an artist can’t stand flipping, he can do one of two things- raise the price, or raise the qty printed. But, he can’t be a popular artist with low prices and low (lower than demand, I mean) print runs. If he does that- the prints will be flipped. It’s the free market. So I’D THINK that a popular artist should do his fans AND his wallet a solid, and print larger runs. Or, if they REALLY don’t want to print more, then they’ll have to raise prices. Expecting any other outcome is silly. The artists, by not satisfying demand have created this fake ‘hype machine’ that I believe is not sustainable, and drives casual fans out of the hobby. Only the really rabid stay in, and the person who might want something by that ‘Obama guy’ is scared off by having to fight for a product.
(I do realize that some gigposters or other set ups prevent the qty/price adjustments. If I could have printed more of my Hurley’s curse and sold ‘em at $50 I would have. My agreement with ABC prevented that.)
This is something I did for a long time when I was curating the Alamo’s series. We’d list a poster for sale, sell as many as we could for a week or so, and then print what quantity sold, plus what I thought I could sell on top of that. That way, everyone who wanted a print could get one. People could buy multiples. It was profitable, and allowed us to take more risks on smaller posters. And if something fell on it’s face, we didn’t get stuck w/ a bunch of unsold posters. That’s just smart business, and doesn’t rely on false hype.
Now, the OTHER side of the table is this- some flippers act ‘entitled’ to dictate what an artist does. I printed a 2nd edition of ‘Change Into a Truck’ because I KEPT getting emails for it. I wasn’t doing my own printing when the 1st edition came out, and had vastly underestimated demand. It was my piece with no entanglements from a band agreement, so there was no reason for me not to reprint. But while I managed to make a bunch of customers happy with the 2nd edition at a cheap price, there was a very vocal minority of people who thought I had ‘cheated’ them. In essence, what they were saying was this- “you wanting to make money on your art gets in my way to make money on your art.” To which I say- fuck you. When the flippers start feeling entitled to dictate what an artist does, they are out of their tree. For every nut complaining on line, I got even more “Thank you for allowing me to get this print at a reasonable cost” type of email.
I didn’t get a single complaint email which was surprising. Now, which customer do I want? The vicious backbiters, or the nice reasonable people? Honestly, as a business, I want them both- but I am only concerned about pleasing the latter group. And, the really telling thing is that the ‘value’ of Change into a Truck hasn’t taken a hit at all. People are still trading it on eBay for more than before. So what the free market has taught me is this- second editions are good, and make people happy. They help artists pay bills and raise the profile of the original release. It’s a win-win. The complainers are wrong, straight up.
I saw a thread somewhere out there where they were calling an artist ‘over’ because he wasn’t selling out his work in one day anymore. But this is my argument- a one-day sell out only creates the flipping, and means you didn’t make enough! Sure, it drives hype, but that isn’t sustainable. Perhaps what that artist was doing was MEETING DEMAND and keeping customers happy, not failing as an artist.
The really funny thing is in ANY other industry, the producers would just make more. Selling more widgets this season? Make more. Instead, people want to trade on the ‘illusion of scarcity’ and keep a small minority of people happy, as opposed to expanding this hobby and bringing more people into the world of prints. I saw this happen to Baseball Cards and Comics in the 90’s. Appealing to a niche collector base concerned with perceived value will ALWAYS bite you in the ass. What you want is a slow burn of fans who love the hobby outside of any fake value. You want an investment? Buy stocks. Actually, last year would have been a really good time to buy. You missed out.
And to close this out, how about this? When you see someone like Fairey do an open edition- people call him a ’sell out’ and say that the print is worthless. Worthless only to those who are trying to make a buck- not worthless to the people who just want good art. The same people who bitch about open editions are many times the same people complaining about not getting a limited edition print. All of this has taught me one thing-the internet is full of whiny assholes who just like the sound of their keyboards clacking, and don’t reflect what is actually going on in the business.
Man, I hope that answered your question. I’m sure this’ll stir up a shit-storm, but any one who rips on what I said must have their motivations called into question.
10. Tim, how do you balance the demands of being both an artist and entrepreneur? I mean, you run Nakatomi, try to keep fresh young artists in the spotlight, and still release new artwork of your own from time to time. so again, my main question: how do you strike this balance; and which do you prefer at this stage of your career?
You left a couple of things out- I’m also the artist on The Intergalactic Nemesis comic book and play, as well as a new father. How do I do it? No video games. No drugs. Not much drinking. I work a lot. My wife stays at home and helps out with the business and baby.
11. What brings you more satisfaction at the end of the day, working as an artist/illustrator, selling your own stuff OR working as a screen printer and producing stuff for companies ?
Little known fact- Nakatomi doesn’t take on outside print jobs. At least not right now. We’re mega busy with our own prints from me, Clint Wilson, Jacob Borshard, and all the other artists on the site. So we’re not doing anything for other companies. I started Nakatomi to work for myself and to promote my friends and other artists I dig, so I’m not in any rush to start being someone else’s employee anytime soon and take on outside jobs. With that said- being an artist is extremely satisfying, and working with all the artists on the site is as well. I wouldn’t trade it for the world at this point.
12. Is your work influenced by comic artist and designer Geof Darrow?
Hell yes. Not every piece, of course, but if you’re going to draw a city with stuff blowing up, Geoff is the man. I want to meet him, eat his hands, and steal his powers. That is how it works in art.
13. You and Clint make some really awesome prints and are a great example of DIY success. Question- can I join your Nakatomi army? Congrats!
It’s always strange to hear people say I’m a success- I still work 60 hrs a week, but I’ve managed to pay all my bills, and not go into ANY debt at all for over a year now…I guess that qualifies! Clint is completely awesome, and was totally instrumental in getting the printshop built. I’ve learned so much working with that guy, it’s nuts. Thanks.
14. Congrats on your overall, multifaceted success over the -past 3 years (thats about how long I’ve known about you/Mondos and have been buying from you). My question is how did you get started with Alamo Drafthouse, your poster sale business (mondos and Nakatomi) and your artwork? Did you start as a collector and movie lover which evolved into commissioning prints for the screenings at the Drafthouse then creating your own prints? Very curious about this because I am a collector that is interested in starting to make my own prints but I have very limited skills with the pen (but not so bad with PC apps like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.
This is a very long and twisting story. I’ll try to keep it short. In 2003, I quit my job of operations manager of a small Austin based comic book chain, because the owner was completely fucking crazy. All those shops have gone out of business since I’ve left. (No surprise.) I threw out some calls just so I could keep working somewhere and got hired as a food runner at the Alamo. From there I became a cook (totally fun, I suggest everyone give it a shot). And then a waiter. Shortly thereafter the previous manager of Mondo quit, and they offered me the job. (I was like the 3rd manager in 8 months). I think it was because I had retail management under my belt, understood eBay, and wasn’t a complete idiot.
The 1st Rolling Roadshow tour poster series had just been produced when I came on board, under the direction of Rob Jones. A few months later, I realized the potential of this poster series, and it dawned on me that there was no reason to wait for the annual RRS tour to make posters for the Alamo. I realized that even if no-one showed up at the screening, we could sell a lot of these on-line, as most of our customers weren’t even in Austin. And it just really took off from there. There were a few instances where we booked films just as a reason to make a print, as we knew it would do well, regardless of attendance at the theater. (I think we sold more of Jay’s 2001 poster than tickets, as an example). It was really, really eye opening, and no-one had done anything like it before. It was like if a band booked shows no-one came to, just because they were selling out of tour posters on-line. Totally nuts. I had been doing art for years at this point- comics, zines, gallery shows, album covers. Nothing that wasn’t local. So when we had to get a print made short notice for ‘The Wizard’ screening, I jumped in to do it. (It was always a guaranteed seller if there was a celebrity on hand to sign autographs- and Fred Savage was there for that show.) Rob Jones pretty much held my hand through that one, and was very helpful. And it did pretty well. No-one would even touch the Troll 2 poster we needed, so I did that one. And then the 2nd Big Trouble in Little China print was an instant sell out, and I realized I was making the Alamo some good money on posters I was doing at home in my off hours. But, when I found out that they wouldn’t pay me an art fee to do those prints, like we did everyone else, I realized that I was at a turning point in my career. I didn’t want to be a retail manager for a local movie theater the rest of my life (even if it was a good job, and a lot of fun), and in fact, I needed to get off my butt and start my art career back up.
There’s a Sebadoh song, Drama Mine, which has the lyric, “It’s like wasting everything On someone else’s dream” and that’s what I felt like I was doing. Working away at a job instead of following my goals. And don’t get me wrong, I learned a ton there, and it was a great experience. But I can’t just stand still like that when opportunity was knocking. So a friend (who also worked at the Alamo) and I had similar feelings and decided to started laying the groundwork for Nakatomi. And when the time came to leave the Alamo and do Nakatomi full time, my friend stayed at the Alamo and I followed the plan and left. At the time it was very heartbreaking and difficult, and bridges weren’t just burned, but nuked- but from where I’m sitting now, over a year later, I know I’ve made the right decision. The business is working, I’ve gotten married, had a kid, am now a paid comic book artist…all life-long goals. It’s really, really liberating. And the work that Rob and I did at the Alamo really brought a ton of new people into the poster hobby and got some of the artists in front of a whole new audience. I know Billy Perkins credits the Good,Bad, Ugly print as a huge boost to his profile- I’m sure a lot of the other guys have similar stories. There’s a direct line from our work there to say, the LOST poster series. It’s pretty neat.
15. How do you choose the run size for your print releases?
Now that I am doing my own printing, it’s a lot cheaper to print posters. And I decide my print runs like this- “How many do I think I can sell over the course of a few months?” I have been very, very wrong in the past on guessing- both over and under. On my most recent release, I pre-sold it to my mailing list first. I was up front and said, “Hey, here’s this new print, I don’t know how many to print, so buy whatever you want, and I’ll print that plus extra, and sell those on-line later.” And people loved that idea. They didn’t have to panic or sit in front of their computer all day trying to get something at a particular drop-time. Now, that worked a little TOO well, in that my ‘What do I think I can sell in a month” meant that I would have to print well over 300 prints, and THAT is just something that isn’t easily do-able by hand (even with Clint doing all the Squeegie pulling!) So if this is a trend that continues, I’m going to have to buy an auto press. But that’s a good problem to have, all things considered. – I don’t think the culture of the one-day-sell-out is good for the industry. Of course, I’ve guessed VERY wrong on some prints, and have sold out in a day several times…some people call that a success, I call it a failure of my ability to gauge demand.
16. What was your favourite comic reading growing up ?
Iron Man. G.I.Joe was a close 2nd, though. My first Iron Man comic was 189, and from that point I was hooked. I’ve since been able to build a collection of every issue published. The problem with those kind of collecting quests is what you do with it once you have it all?…there is no more thrill of the hunt! I am working slowly on my Tales of Suspense collection, though. But I think I’m purposefully NOT going to complete that one…the longing for completion of a collection is better than the actual completion. Strange, right?
17. Your prints tend to sway in the favour of being influenced by Movies and Musicians/Bands. As an artist do you pursue opportunities in that space because of interest in the respective artists/media or do you find it works the other way around? (in that they tend to come to you for commissions). Would love to see some video game influenced work by you, would be epic!
Both, actually. The He-Man prints were because of a request from a Gallery. Twin Peaks was an open call for a tribute show in Mexico. The Superhero print was for the same gallery’s superhero show. I don’t think my work is obviously influenced by music.
But then again, the Appleseed Cast print that Mitch over at OMGposters got me on was a blast. I just turned on the band’s myspace page and let the music direct the image. It was a lot of fun, and if time permits, I’d like to do more gigposters. But- no jam bands, please. And definitely no Dave Matthews. I will get you Dave Matthews. I will get you. Everything else comes about because I’m a huge fucking nerd.
As far as video game prints- WHAT? I’ve done quite a few!
18. Who would be your dream match-up to collaborate with on a project?
As a rule, I’m not really a big fan of collaboration on a print. In this industry, it’s so easy to have complete creative control of something from start to finish, it’s not appealing to me to give that up. With that said, working with Tong on the Squid, and Nick Derington on other prints have been really educational and fun. But I don’t think it’s completely fair to them to work with me on those things- I mean, I get to do all the fun stuff of drawing the prints, and they have to do all the grunt work of coloring and sepping! Through Nakatomi and the Alamo, I have managed to work with so many artists in this industry, it’s crazy. I guess what I’m saying is- I don’t think I’ll be into any collabs, but if one comes along again, I’m sure I’ll do it. That totally didn’t answer your question did it?
19. How much time do you generally spend designing/drawing each of your prints?
My “Appleseed Cast” print was drawn and colored and sepped in a day. The Crab took like 10 days.