Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Some recent work. My varied styles.















Recently I spoke to a children's literature class at the University of Texas, and someone asked a question that comes up often in regard to my various illustration styles: Why do you illustrate in so many styles, and does it help or hurt you?

And my answer: I don't know. But I like working this way.

To each is own. But for me, having many styles has worked to my benefit. I get a variety of illustration projects because I offer variety. Art directors have rummaged through my portfolio like they were selecting taffy from a candy store. "Oh I want this one and that one and this one!" But some have argued that by having so many styles, an artist never gets very good at one thing.

To that I say, maybe.

I understand that because I have so many looks, people might not know who I am. It's like covering my face with a mask, a different one every day. That might confuse people, I don't know.

I'm a self-taught illustrator. I took a few so-called illustration courses in college. But they weren't instructional, so I learned how to illustrate on my own by trial and error. I read instructional books and studied other artists works. I learned to paint with acrylics by painting and painting and painting. But I never settled on one style because I was always eager to try something new.

Early on in my career editors and agents advised me to pick one style and stick with it. Preferably, they advised, a portraiture style or something very realistic, since my career would likely focus on books with African American subject matter. They advised me to develop a portfolio of 10 to 15 pieces of my best work—to make it my trademark. It's about branding, yes—But ack!—sameness is not fun for me and neither is realistic portraiture.

I don't want to create the same thing every day, any more than I would want eat chicken for every meal. And I love chicken!

Lately, however, I've been giving sameness more consideration, particularly for trade books. There's a good argument to be made for having a trademark style. Problem is, I'm not entirely sure which look to settle on. My personal favorite, which has drawn high praise as well as painful pans, would be this look. Some love it, others hate it. We'll see.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day

I just got off the phone with my 89-year-old grandfather. I called to wish him a happy Father's Day. I'm glad I did; I almost didn't.

Last year he was diagnosed with dementia. I feared he wouldn't remember me. I talk to him about two, maybe, three times a year. But I hadn't called in awhile.

The call went like this:

''Hello," he said, answering the phone.

"Hi grandpa, this is Donny."

There was a very long pause. My throat tensed. My face warmed.

"Hi Grandpa," I said again, louder.

"Hi," he said. "Who is this?"

"Donny . . . it’s me, Donny."

"Donny, who?"

"Donny Tate,” I said, over enunciating my words. “Your grandson.”

There was an even longer pause.

He didn't remember me. Fourty-seven years my grandfather, and he doesn’t recall my name? He can't remember the go-cart he and I built together when I was 10? He doesn't remember my working for him as a teenager, at his janitorial business? Our washing windows together? Moping floors? Cleaning toilets? He's forgotten about the camping trips? The big argument we had when I was 17-years-old?

Suddenly he spoke again.

"Donny! How are you doing, son?"

"Good, grandpa, I’m good!"

"How's your wife and that wonderful little boy doing?"

“Good, they are doing really good. Happy Father’s Day, grandpa.”