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Jeremy Sutton interview

Jeremy Sutton

Ric Welcome to the Art of Making please introduce yourself, tell us who you are and what do you do?

Jeremy My name is Jeremy Sutton and I’m a professional artist using digital technology as part of my mark making toolbox. My artistic roots are grounded in many years of drawing. Drawing informs all my art, no matter what media I use. My painting process is expressive and improvised. While being in control of my mark making tools, I let go of over-controlling my process, embracing serendipity and flowing with the unfolding paint. When painting a portrait I strive to capture the essence of my subject. In sharing a little insight to my approach to portraiture and the impact of digital technology on my life, I’d like to give you some background to my creative journey.

Ric Jeremy that would be great go right ahead.

Jeremy My journey into the world of making marks started over forty years ago when I began drawing wherever I could, covering my bedroom walls as far as I could reach with impromptu frescos of people and assorted animals. Throughout my childhood I loved to draw from my imagination. In 1979, when I was eighteen, while studying Physics at Pembroke College, Oxford University, I started to keep a sketchbook with me at all times, drawing whatever I saw around me, particularly people. I fell in love with sketching from life and for the following twelve years filled up many thousands of sketchbook pages. I started attending life drawing classes at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, as well as experimenting with print-making, sculpture and photography.

After graduating I started a career selling scientific research instruments. While travelling wide and far to places like India, and moving to live in The Netherlands, I kept up my art, leading a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde existence of scientific salesman by day, and artist by night! I broke through my fear of colour by painting a colossal colourful portrait of Albert Einstein. Up until this time my drawings had all been tonally based, with a limited colour range. I was amazed to observe that the wilder the combinations of colours I used, the more interesting and evocative my portraits became. Oil pastels became my main drawing medium. My first one-man show in the US, in Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Palo Alto in 1989, was an exhibition of oil pastel portraits on 24” x 30” Arches fine art paper.

My first computer was a PET Commodore in 1978 or so, on which I programmed simple games (using magnetic tape for storage). No art on that machine! Although I had made a crude portrait sketch using a Computer Aided Design program and mouse in the mid ’80s, my real introduction to digital painting was in 1991, while drawing a live portrait at a party in Woodside, California, someone came up and said “That’s great! You should meet a friend of mine who makes painting software.” The rest is history, as they say. Clare Barry of SuperMac sat me down at her Macintosh computer with a Wacom tablet and SuperMac PixelPaint Pro software and I made my first live full colour digital portrait. I was immediately hooked! I knew that this was a medium I had to explore. Within weeks I was painting live digital portraits on the Wacom booth at the SIGGRAPH conference in Las Vegas. I seamlessly adapted to the new digital medium, applying the same approach to portraiture as I had when working with pastels on paper, building up my paintings with quick, loose brush strokes, changing the colour continually and intuitively. Early on I could see some powerful and unique advantages of working with digital media. One of the most dramatic was the ability to record and playback the evolution of my paintings, sharing the process of how they developed, brush stroke by stroke. The portrait of David Bowie, shown here, is one stage of one of my earliest portrait animations.

By 1994, a crowded field of competing paint programs had narrowed down to just one stand out: Fractal Design Painter. By this time I had secured my Green Card, painted a live digital portrait of Virgin CEO Richard Branson on the Virgin Atlantic San Francisco Inaugural, and chosen to become a full time artist. I continued to explore the exciting possibilities opened up by digital media, extending traditional techniques such as collage, chin collé and image transfers that I had previously used on paper, to my digital canvas, creating collage portraits such as the ones shown here of KRON-TV movie critic Jan Wahl and former San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto.

In the latter half of the ‘90s I received an email out of the blue from Jane Conner-ziser [s1] asking if she could learn Painter from me. Jane subsequently invited me to teach with her at various Professional Photography schools and share the platform with her at a Professional Photographers of America convention. Consequently I have been actively involved in teaching professional portrait photographers for the last ten years or so, and that, in turn, has led to my own re-introduction into photography, and my use of it as a basis for creating some of my paintings. Photography has been the perfect vehicle for bringing together my passions for dance and art. Through photography I can capture the fleeting moment as two people relate on the dance floor, and then I transform that captured moment into an expressive painting. The example shown here, Moment in Time, is a portrait inspired by two professional Argentine Tango dancers, Christy Coté and Darren Lees. Digital photography and Painter are natural partners in – creativity. The possibilities are limitless. I see Painter as just one step in my creative process—I print onto canvas and then apply acrylic paint and a variety of other non-digital media. I stretch and frame my completed portraits, treating them as one would traditional oil paintings. The end result is artwork that integrates digital and non-digital paint into one unified whole.

Ric How did you come to doing Wacom’s President and CEO Masahiko Yamada’s portrait?

Jeremy I met Yamada San in Portland at Wacom’s 25th anniversary party with the launch of Wacom’s new branding and Bamboo product line. I had the pleasure of talking to him then and was asked if I could come over to Japan and paint his portrait. I landed in Tokyo and went straight to his offices by that stage it was in the evening and he very kindly cleared some time and we sat down at the Cintiq21UX in his office. I ended up spending a couple of hours with him and did the digital portrait which was a wonderful experience. You can see from the photos we had a lot of fun and he was very animated. Then at the end of the evening he insisted on giving me a ride back to my hotel with him in his car and it was quite a way out of his way. I could have got in a cab and got back to my hotel that way but he insisted on personally taking me right the way back to my hotel which was about 25 minutes away in another part of Tokyo. I was just so bowled over. Here is me with the President and CEO of an international company and he is taking this time out to accompany me to my hotel. It was hospitality of an incredibly warm and touching type for me.

Ric That’s fantastic. Mr Yamada seems to me to be a man who is just honestly inspired and interested in creativity.

Jeremy Yes he’s certainly full of joy and enthusiasm and on top of all this he gave me a gift before I left the country and got me some special Japanese edible treats and things. You know, he’s just like someone who really takes personal attention and appreciation. It takes time and thoughtfulness to do that even though he’s an incredibly busy person.

Ric When you were doing his portrait what did you guys talk about, politics the weather?

Jeremy [laughs] He told me the story of the origins of Wacom which was very interesting and the desire to be able to do Kanji on computer for the newspapers in those days. It all started in Tokyo with a couple of engineers. He was trying to work out a way to do Kanji with their computers and that’s where they developed the first technology for the Wacom Tablets.

Actually a friend of mine, Sarah Moate is a very respected Zen calligrapher in Tokyo. She was an artist I knew from Oxford when I was there and she actually gave a Zen calligraphy demonstration at my workshop in Oxford this summer. But it was interesting because what she is doing with Zen calligraphy in some sense relates to the origins of what the Wacom Tablet was originally created for, which was allowing basically a calligraphic, Japanese calligraphic expression to be done through digital means.

I learnt from her the traditional way with ink and a brush and all that and there is a lot of very interesting parallels in the way that I work with the Pen/Tablet and the way that she works with the Zen Brush Qill.

Anyway it was just a really nice experience spending some time with Mr Yamada.

Ric How long did the portrait take?

Jeremy In total it took probably a couple of hours but that is just the actual live sitting part. He sat for me for a couple of hours and then I went back to America with the digital file, printed it out on canvas and then continued work on it with traditional paints, acrylic paints.

Ric Would you call this painting typical of your signature style?

Jeremy In some sense that would be for you to judge rather than for me to say. If you look through my work I’d say yes, and yet it’s not that I try to do any style, I just express myself how I feel I can express myself. Sometimes that’s very colourfully and sometimes it’s not so colourfully. The picture of the tango dancers is a fairly muted colour palette and the portrait of Mr Yamada is fairly colourful, it’s not like my picture of Ray Charles.

Ric Is all of this happening on the spot from the point of view of your colour palette? Is it coming from the person’s personality or is it more of a visual representation of what you see?

Jeremy It’s a culmination of everything. It’s definitely happening on the spot as you refer to it. The way that I approach my painting is very spontaneous, intuitive and improvisational. My process is about ‘tuning’ into my subject and then letting it flow. I trying to be as free as I can and let it flow rather than being over-controlled, tight and trying to get everything precise. I actually start off almost abstract and this applies whether I work from a photo reference or from life. I do love drawing from a live subject more than anything else. I have to say, there’s no substitute for what happens in a live sitting, drawing from direct observation. The colour choice is very much an intuitive reaction to the person, to how I feel about them, their personality, their character combined with the ambience and the energy – it’s a whole combination of all of the above.

Ric You’re like a jazz musician but in a different medium using the Cintiq as you instrument.

Jeremy Exactly! It really is like riffing and jamming with the music. The colours come out in a way that has structure, but yet is very free and improvisational. Jazz musicians have structure and they do things which are spontaneous within that structure. My structure as I paint a portrait is that I’m really working with tone and form all the time so my colours reflect that.

I have one thing to say about the portrait painting process and you asked me earlier what did Mr Yamada and I chat about. Actually when I did the portrait, most of the time we were not talking and in fact that’s an important aspect of what happens in a live portrait setting. Both myself and the subject enter a zone or a state of being at a level that’s not just to do with everyday chit chat. I just ask for people to be relaxed, be themselves, look at me and to ignore everything else. I then enter that zone myself where I’m completely focused on the painting process and completely engaged with them and so there’s no need to talk. Most of the painting process was actually conducted in silence.

Ric Obviously you’ve done this using the traditional media for a long time and going into that ‘zone’ you refer to. Do you find that using digital tools allows the creative flow to occur easier? So you don’t have to stop and muck around with different materials or have issues with getting the right colours mixed or whatever. Do you find that using the digital tools allows that zone to be more fluid?

Jeremy That’s a very, very good question – Well let me just think how I would answer that – I’ve drawn all my life and I have really focused on portraiture and drawing for many, many years before I ever touched a computer. I would get into the zone and flow with my pastels and my crayons and my paint in traditional media when I’m drawing a portrait. I have certain colours at my fingertips and I would use one colour and work with that crayon and then change to another, so I would flow with that but there are certain limitations about how I would work with the materials. Now the very first time I painted a portrait on the computer I was just amazed at how intuitive it was and how it flowed just as easily as my traditional media. I expected the technology to get in the way but once I understood the interface it was great. As I mentioned earlier the first program I used was Pixel Paint Pro produced by SuperMac. I was using a Wacom Tablet with a Macintosh computer and I was just blown away at the ease of flowing with it just as if I was working with my traditional crayons. Over time Painter has developed and now there’s literally hundreds and hundreds of brushes. I have my custom brushes and in an instant switch from Jeremy’s ‘mishmash scum ball’ brush to ‘modern art in a can’ brush, to the sergeant brush, to the impressionist brush and in 24 million colours, all in a matter of seconds. There is certainly an incredible speed and versatility to working digitally that surpasses traditional media to a certain extent. There’s pros and cons for both. I can work on the computer, do something relatively quickly and efficiently and print out a 50 x 70 canvas. If I was to paint that same scale of painting with traditional paints, firstly I couldn’t have got the same effects, and secondly it would have taken me a lot longer. So there’s definitely an advantage in speed. On the other hand there are effects that I get from using traditional paints and materials on the canvas which I can’t get on the computer. So as I said pros and cons for both ways and I wouldn’t want to be without either.

Ric Do you feel that people don’t regard as highly the digital output and the work that’s gone into it as much as they would say a traditional painting or sketch. Is there a perception difference?

Jeremy First of all there’s really a couple of questions behind your one question. If I was to just show a finished work of art which was just the computer print as it came off the printer and put it up on the wall it would look like some sort of a flat image on canvas. It would look like a reproduction of something, a print, and so it wouldn’t communicate – it would look like some sort of reproduction of a painting potentially. It wouldn’t necessarily communicate that this is an original $10,000 work of art but a reproduction of something that looks painterly, if that’s how I had painted it. So it’s not communicating what I want it to communicate and I think it’s only when I work on it with traditional paint that it starts to come to life as an original painting, an original piece of fine art. So I don’t put on my wall something that is just a print from a printer. I don’t engage my audience with something where they’re going to look at it and say well that doesn’t look like a painting, what is it? I would say the same thing and so I’m not happy with that. In terms of the more general aspect of your question, if people hear that it’s involving digital, do they associate that with not so much artistic talent required or skill, time and effort then I think that largely there’s still a lot of misunderstanding. People don’t understand that working with programs like Painter, you’re really painting and I think that there’s this misconception that anything that’s done with a computer is easy for example that you can edit it. One of the concepts that I teach and I do for myself is that I never undo, so I don’t edit. If I’m working with paint I just keep painting and that’s one of the things I always encourage my students to do as a painter. If you’re designing on the computer then editing is fantastic but if you’re a painter and you’re engaged in a painting process, then move forward just like you would with traditional media and continue moving forward and then you get a much more interesting landscape on your canvas, much more organic and much richer.

Ric So you’re build up complexity.

Jeremy Exactly and as soon as you undo you take that complexity away. There’s just as much commitment for me in painting digitally as there is painting traditionally. I am just as committed to every brush stroke.

Ric Have we already reached the point where it’s just as natural to express yourself with a digital mark making tool as it is with a physical mark making tool?

Jeremy My quick answer to that question is absolutely yes, there’s no doubt in my mind about it. I go between those two spheres all the time with every commissioned piece I do and every final piece of artwork I’m producing. 90% are involving digital painting and then traditional painting on the canvas and I’m going between the two all the time. I have more power and freedom with computer paint than with using non-computer paint.

At the end of the day what I really want to produce is a wonderful, beautiful, powerful piece of artwork which you see and you just stand there and peak in. It’s not something you can just walk past. To do that, just printing out, no matter how wonderful I feel the digital result I don’t always feel I’ve done something wonderful. No matter how great it’s worked out in Painter, I print it out on a piece of canvas and it’s pretty flat, no matter how textured it is. It’s still not got what it needs to be a painting for me. So that’s always just the beginning of the journey or you could say it’s halfway through the journey because I always want to work on it with traditional materials as well.

Ric How do you find the difference as a visual artist between using a Wacom Intuos 3 versus a Wacom Cintiq?

Jeremy Another very good question. In my studio I use every tablet there is almost. My assistant uses a Bamboo, she loves it and then I’ve got Intuos3 – 6 x 8, 6 x 11 and I use the 12 x 19 Intuos3 with my 30 inch Apple Cinema display, that’s my workhorse. So when I’m sitting down to do a portrait or you know working on a really major large collage that’s my favourite place to sit. If I’m working on a photo reference piece and not drawing in a live sitting then I would use the Intuos3 – 12 x 19, you can’t beat that, it’s comfortable, it’s easy – it’s really, really good.

Ric So you like the experience of having your hand down and looking up?

Jeremy Yes for me it’s more comfortable. Having said that, I just want to give you the other side because I love my Cintiq21UX for certain things. First of all portability with my laptop is fantastic with the Intuos3 – 6 x 11 and when I’m travelling the Intuos3 – 6 x 8 which goes with me everywhere. Cintiqs for me have very specific uses and I love them in specific situations. Live portraiture I love doing on the Cintiq, you just can’t beat it, it’s the best. You can see that in the shots of me and Yamada San because having a Cintiq allows me to have direct contact with my subject. I’m not putting a screen between me and my subject and the Cintiq sits down low so it’s just like a sketch pad. I’ve fallen in love with the Cintiq12WX for my travelling, teaching and presentations. Whenever I go around the world and I give a lecture or a talk anywhere I want to have that 12WX in front of me which takes me away from the podium. It get’s me out from behind the table and puts me right in contact with the audience. I have a little stand for my 12 WX and that’s all I need. I use those express keys and the touch strips so that I don’t need to keep going back and forth to the computer. I love it. There’s no substitute for it and for anybody who does teaching or presenting it’s a must have.

Ric If you could ask Wacom for a new tool or an innovation in pen/tablets that you’ve always wanted, what would it be?

Jeremy OK so if you’ve seen my stage performances then you would understand why I would like a screen of some kind or tablet 4 foot by 6 foot. Something really big that could be used in performance art and that I could do really large hand and body movements with. I know that there’s things where you have whiteboards and you write on and it and translates to the computer, I’m aware that there’s technology getting towards that but if I could paint digitally with pressure, I would love it as a performer.

Ric OK, a nice big surface to work on but do you want to be able to work with multiple pens at once? Would you like to be able to use your hand to manipulate the image to say for instance smudge and draw?

Jeremy Oh that would be amazing, the answer is yes, yes, yes – I would love to be able to work with two pens, one in each hand and be able to paint with two different, for instance variants in Painter, at the same time. I would love that of course, that’s going to take a bit of work on Corel Painter’s side as well as on Wacom’s side.

Ric It usually does, but then the combination of hardware and software development together is very powerful.

Jeremy Exactly, so the answer is yes, I would love that. Also if there was a possibility down the road to be able to do finger painting and literally choose variants and then apply them with one’s fingers, or even the flat of your hand. Different ways to apply and make marks, which of course gets back to your thesis title for your book. The Art of Mark Making, I would love more ways to make marks and different types of marks.

Ric Fantastic. Jeremy it’s been a pleasure having you on the Art of Making Marks and it really opens up, I can see when we get a chance to meet we’ll probably talk for hours and hours longer about this whole subject matter, if there was any last things that you’d like to add please do, otherwise I just thank you again for your interview.

I have one historical thing to share with you and your audience before I go. It’s really interesting hearing you talk about the whole history of mark making and how you see Wacom fitting into that evolution. A few weeks ago I was teaching a class called the Great Gatsby Impressionist Workshop and giving a little overview of impressionism and the history. What’s fascinating and the more I research into it, the more fascinating the parallels are is that when you look back at what was happening in the 19th Century, there was basically a quiet revolution happening with the art materials available at the artists fingertips. The old oil paints and the method of the old masters based on these oil suspensions were suddenly not available in the 19th Century for the artist. So this old master style of painting was becoming actually more and more difficult to achieve with the physical paints that the colour men of the time were producing. There was such a revolution going on in chemistry through the weaving industry so they were looking at how to expand their range of colours to compete with fabrics from the time. Soon they were producing all these new chemical colours. The colour men were trying to produce paints that could last longer and that could be more transportable and all of this was happening in the early part of the 19th Century. By the time you had the Monets and the Renoirs and the people of the impressionist movement, they had at their fingertips all these paints with brighter colours and a wider range of colours. They were portable, they could pick them out and they didn’t need varnishes, unlike oils where some of them never even dried. These paints would dry faster, they were still oil paints, but they dried faster, they didn’t need varnishes and so it opened up a whole new set of possibilities which they grabbed and explored and it made me think of moving forward to the 20th Century to acrylic paint which was frowned upon in the 60s as not really paint for ‘not real art.’

Fast forward to the early 90s, late 80s and then suddenly you have this confluence of technology which allows digital painting. Until the early 90s we didn’t really have a combination of the computer power with software with the Wacom technology really and you needed all three. Any two of those wouldn’t have been good enough to do what a fine artist needs to do in paint. But all three came together and so that launched the whole new medium of paint which I’ve been enjoying ever since.

So coming back to the relevance to your book and what I do as an artist, is that the medium of digital paint for me is a fantastic medium but it is just another medium and I look at it that way and I use it that way. An artist or anyone who wants to express something will express it with whatever the tool is at their fingertips and whether it’s finger paint, digital paint or arranging stones on a beach, they will express themselves in whatever means they have.

So now I’d just like to thank you and the whole Wacom team for everything that they’ve done and contributed to allowing artists like myself to have an incredibly powerful medium to work with, which would not be possible without the Wacom pen/tablet.


[s1]Spelling?

Jeremy Sutton

Ric Welcome to the Art of Making please introduce yourself, tell us who you are and what do you do?

Jeremy My name is Jeremy Sutton and I’m a professional artist using digital technology as part of my mark making toolbox. My artistic roots are grounded in many years of drawing. Drawing informs all my art, no matter what media I use. My painting process is expressive and improvised. While being in control of my mark making tools, I let go of over-controlling my process, embracing serendipity and flowing with the unfolding paint. When painting a portrait I strive to capture the essence of my subject. In sharing a little insight to my approach to portraiture and the impact of digital technology on my life, I’d like to give you some background to my creative journey.

Ric Jeremy that would be great go right ahead.

Jeremy My journey into the world of making marks started over forty years ago when I began drawing wherever I could, covering my bedroom walls as far as I could reach with impromptu frescos of people and assorted animals. Throughout my childhood I loved to draw from my imagination. In 1979, when I was eighteen, while studying Physics at Pembroke College, Oxford University, I started to keep a sketchbook with me at all times, drawing whatever I saw around me, particularly people. I fell in love with sketching from life and for the following twelve years filled up many thousands of sketchbook pages. I started attending life drawing classes at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, as well as experimenting with print-making, sculpture and photography.

After graduating I started a career selling scientific research instruments. While travelling wide and far to places like India, and moving to live in The Netherlands, I kept up my art, leading a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde existence of scientific salesman by day, and artist by night! I broke through my fear of colour by painting a colossal colourful portrait of Albert Einstein. Up until this time my drawings had all been tonally based, with a limited colour range. I was amazed to observe that the wilder the combinations of colours I used, the more interesting and evocative my portraits became. Oil pastels became my main drawing medium. My first one-man show in the US, in Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Palo Alto in 1989, was an exhibition of oil pastel portraits on 24” x 30” Arches fine art paper.

My first computer was a PET Commodore in 1978 or so, on which I programmed simple games (using magnetic tape for storage). No art on that machine! Although I had made a crude portrait sketch using a Computer Aided Design program and mouse in the mid ’80s, my real introduction to digital painting was in 1991, while drawing a live portrait at a party in Woodside, California, someone came up and said “That’s great! You should meet a friend of mine who makes painting software.” The rest is history, as they say. Clare Barry of SuperMac sat me down at her Macintosh computer with a Wacom tablet and SuperMac PixelPaint Pro software and I made my first live full colour digital portrait. I was immediately hooked! I knew that this was a medium I had to explore. Within weeks I was painting live digital portraits on the Wacom booth at the SIGGRAPH conference in Las Vegas. I seamlessly adapted to the new digital medium, applying the same approach to portraiture as I had when working with pastels on paper, building up my paintings with quick, loose brush strokes, changing the colour continually and intuitively. Early on I could see some powerful and unique advantages of working with digital media. One of the most dramatic was the ability to record and playback the evolution of my paintings, sharing the process of how they developed, brush stroke by stroke. The portrait of David Bowie, shown here, is one stage of one of my earliest portrait animations.

By 1994, a crowded field of competing paint programs had narrowed down to just one stand out: Fractal Design Painter. By this time I had secured my Green Card, painted a live digital portrait of Virgin CEO Richard Branson on the Virgin Atlantic San Francisco Inaugural, and chosen to become a full time artist. I continued to explore the exciting possibilities opened up by digital media, extending traditional techniques such as collage, chin collé and image transfers that I had previously used on paper, to my digital canvas, creating collage portraits such as the ones shown here of KRON-TV movie critic Jan Wahl and former San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto.

In the latter half of the ‘90s I received an email out of the blue from Jane Conner-ziser [s1] asking if she could learn Painter from me. Jane subsequently invited me to teach with her at various Professional Photography schools and share the platform with her at a Professional Photographers of America convention. Consequently I have been actively involved in teaching professional portrait photographers for the last ten years or so, and that, in turn, has led to my own re-introduction into photography, and my use of it as a basis for creating some of my paintings. Photography has been the perfect vehicle for bringing together my passions for dance and art. Through photography I can capture the fleeting moment as two people relate on the dance floor, and then I transform that captured moment into an expressive painting. The example shown here, Moment in Time, is a portrait inspired by two professional Argentine Tango dancers, Christy Coté and Darren Lees. Digital photography and Painter are natural partners in – creativity. The possibilities are limitless. I see Painter as just one step in my creative process—I print onto canvas and then apply acrylic paint and a variety of other non-digital media. I stretch and frame my completed portraits, treating them as one would traditional oil paintings. The end result is artwork that integrates digital and non-digital paint into one unified whole.

Ric How did you come to doing Wacom’s President and CEO Masahiko Yamada’s portrait?

Jeremy I met Yamada San in Portland at Wacom’s 25th anniversary party with the launch of Wacom’s new branding and Bamboo product line. I had the pleasure of talking to him then and was asked if I could come over to Japan and paint his portrait. I landed in Tokyo and went straight to his offices by that stage it was in the evening and he very kindly cleared some time and we sat down at the Cintiq21UX in his office. I ended up spending a couple of hours with him and did the digital portrait which was a wonderful experience. You can see from the photos we had a lot of fun and he was very animated. Then at the end of the evening he insisted on giving me a ride back to my hotel with him in his car and it was quite a way out of his way. I could have got in a cab and got back to my hotel that way but he insisted on personally taking me right the way back to my hotel which was about 25 minutes away in another part of Tokyo. I was just so bowled over. Here is me with the President and CEO of an international company and he is taking this time out to accompany me to my hotel. It was hospitality of an incredibly warm and touching type for me.

Ric That’s fantastic. Mr Yamada seems to me to be a man who is just honestly inspired and interested in creativity.

Jeremy Yes he’s certainly full of joy and enthusiasm and on top of all this he gave me a gift before I left the country and got me some special Japanese edible treats and things. You know, he’s just like someone who really takes personal attention and appreciation. It takes time and thoughtfulness to do that even though he’s an incredibly busy person.

Ric When you were doing his portrait what did you guys talk about, politics the weather?

Jeremy [laughs] He told me the story of the origins of Wacom which was very interesting and the desire to be able to do Kanji on computer for the newspapers in those days. It all started in Tokyo with a couple of engineers. He was trying to work out a way to do Kanji with their computers and that’s where they developed the first technology for the Wacom Tablets.

Actually a friend of mine, Sarah Moate is a very respected Zen calligrapher in Tokyo. She was an artist I knew from Oxford when I was there and she actually gave a Zen calligraphy demonstration at my workshop in Oxford this summer. But it was interesting because what she is doing with Zen calligraphy in some sense relates to the origins of what the Wacom Tablet was originally created for, which was allowing basically a calligraphic, Japanese calligraphic expression to be done through digital means.

I learnt from her the traditional way with ink and a brush and all that and there is a lot of very interesting parallels in the way that I work with the Pen/Tablet and the way that she works with the Zen Brush Qill.

Anyway it was just a really nice experience spending some time with Mr Yamada.

Ric How long did the portrait take?

Jeremy In total it took probably a couple of hours but that is just the actual live sitting part. He sat for me for a couple of hours and then I went back to America with the digital file, printed it out on canvas and then continued work on it with traditional paints, acrylic paints.

Ric Would you call this painting typical of your signature style?

Jeremy In some sense that would be for you to judge rather than for me to say. If you look through my work I’d say yes, and yet it’s not that I try to do any style, I just express myself how I feel I can express myself. Sometimes that’s very colourfully and sometimes it’s not so colourfully. The picture of the tango dancers is a fairly muted colour palette and the portrait of Mr Yamada is fairly colourful, it’s not like my picture of Ray Charles.

Ric Is all of this happening on the spot from the point of view of your colour palette? Is it coming from the person’s personality or is it more of a visual representation of what you see?

Jeremy It’s a culmination of everything. It’s definitely happening on the spot as you refer to it. The way that I approach my painting is very spontaneous, intuitive and improvisational. My process is about ‘tuning’ into my subject and then letting it flow. I trying to be as free as I can and let it flow rather than being over-controlled, tight and trying to get everything precise. I actually start off almost abstract and this applies whether I work from a photo reference or from life. I do love drawing from a live subject more than anything else. I have to say, there’s no substitute for what happens in a live sitting, drawing from direct observation. The colour choice is very much an intuitive reaction to the person, to how I feel about them, their personality, their character combined with the ambience and the energy – it’s a whole combination of all of the above.

Ric You’re like a jazz musician but in a different medium using the Cintiq as you instrument.

Jeremy Exactly! It really is like riffing and jamming with the music. The colours come out in a way that has structure, but yet is very free and improvisational. Jazz musicians have structure and they do things which are spontaneous within that structure. My structure as I paint a portrait is that I’m really working with tone and form all the time so my colours reflect that.

I have one thing to say about the portrait painting process and you asked me earlier what did Mr Yamada and I chat about. Actually when I did the portrait, most of the time we were not talking and in fact that’s an important aspect of what happens in a live portrait setting. Both myself and the subject enter a zone or a state of being at a level that’s not just to do with everyday chit chat. I just ask for people to be relaxed, be themselves, look at me and to ignore everything else. I then enter that zone myself where I’m completely focused on the painting process and completely engaged with them and so there’s no need to talk. Most of the painting process was actually conducted in silence.

Ric Obviously you’ve done this using the traditional media for a long time and going into that ‘zone’ you refer to. Do you find that using digital tools allows the creative flow to occur easier? So you don’t have to stop and muck around with different materials or have issues with getting the right colours mixed or whatever. Do you find that using the digital tools allows that zone to be more fluid?

Jeremy That’s a very, very good question – Well let me just think how I would answer that – I’ve drawn all my life and I have really focused on portraiture and drawing for many, many years before I ever touched a computer. I would get into the zone and flow with my pastels and my crayons and my paint in traditional media when I’m drawing a portrait. I have certain colours at my fingertips and I would use one colour and work with that crayon and then change to another, so I would flow with that but there are certain limitations about how I would work with the materials. Now the very first time I painted a portrait on the computer I was just amazed at how intuitive it was and how it flowed just as easily as my traditional media. I expected the technology to get in the way but once I understood the interface it was great. As I mentioned earlier the first program I used was Pixel Paint Pro produced by SuperMac. I was using a Wacom Tablet with a Macintosh computer and I was just blown away at the ease of flowing with it just as if I was working with my traditional crayons. Over time Painter has developed and now there’s literally hundreds and hundreds of brushes. I have my custom brushes and in an instant switch from Jeremy’s ‘mishmash scum ball’ brush to ‘modern art in a can’ brush, to the sergeant brush, to the impressionist brush and in 24 million colours, all in a matter of seconds. There is certainly an incredible speed and versatility to working digitally that surpasses traditional media to a certain extent. There’s pros and cons for both. I can work on the computer, do something relatively quickly and efficiently and print out a 50 x 70 canvas. If I was to paint that same scale of painting with traditional paints, firstly I couldn’t have got the same effects, and secondly it would have taken me a lot longer. So there’s definitely an advantage in speed. On the other hand there are effects that I get from using traditional paints and materials on the canvas which I can’t get on the computer. So as I said pros and cons for both ways and I wouldn’t want to be without either.

Ric Do you feel that people don’t regard as highly the digital output and the work that’s gone into it as much as they would say a traditional painting or sketch. Is there a perception difference?

Jeremy First of all there’s really a couple of questions behind your one question. If I was to just show a finished work of art which was just the computer print as it came off the printer and put it up on the wall it would look like some sort of a flat image on canvas. It would look like a reproduction of something, a print, and so it wouldn’t communicate – it would look like some sort of reproduction of a painting potentially. It wouldn’t necessarily communicate that this is an original $10,000 work of art but a reproduction of something that looks painterly, if that’s how I had painted it. So it’s not communicating what I want it to communicate and I think it’s only when I work on it with traditional paint that it starts to come to life as an original painting, an original piece of fine art. So I don’t put on my wall something that is just a print from a printer. I don’t engage my audience with something where they’re going to look at it and say well that doesn’t look like a painting, what is it? I would say the same thing and so I’m not happy with that. In terms of the more general aspect of your question, if people hear that it’s involving digital, do they associate that with not so much artistic talent required or skill, time and effort then I think that largely there’s still a lot of misunderstanding. People don’t understand that working with programs like Painter, you’re really painting and I think that there’s this misconception that anything that’s done with a computer is easy for example that you can edit it. One of the concepts that I teach and I do for myself is that I never undo, so I don’t edit. If I’m working with paint I just keep painting and that’s one of the things I always encourage my students to do as a painter. If you’re designing on the computer then editing is fantastic but if you’re a painter and you’re engaged in a painting process, then move forward just like you would with traditional media and continue moving forward and then you get a much more interesting landscape on your canvas, much more organic and much richer.

Ric So you’re build up complexity.

Jeremy Exactly and as soon as you undo you take that complexity away. There’s just as much commitment for me in painting digitally as there is painting traditionally. I am just as committed to every brush stroke.

Ric Have we already reached the point where it’s just as natural to express yourself with a digital mark making tool as it is with a physical mark making tool?

Jeremy My quick answer to that question is absolutely yes, there’s no doubt in my mind about it. I go between those two spheres all the time with every commissioned piece I do and every final piece of artwork I’m producing. 90% are involving digital painting and then traditional painting on the canvas and I’m going between the two all the time. I have more power and freedom with computer paint than with using non-computer paint.

At the end of the day what I really want to produce is a wonderful, beautiful, powerful piece of artwork which you see and you just stand there and peak in. It’s not something you can just walk past. To do that, just printing out, no matter how wonderful I feel the digital result I don’t always feel I’ve done something wonderful. No matter how great it’s worked out in Painter, I print it out on a piece of canvas and it’s pretty flat, no matter how textured it is. It’s still not got what it needs to be a painting for me. So that’s always just the beginning of the journey or you could say it’s halfway through the journey because I always want to work on it with traditional materials as well.

Ric How do you find the difference as a visual artist between using a Wacom Intuos 3 versus a Wacom Cintiq?

Jeremy Another very good question. In my studio I use every tablet there is almost. My assistant uses a Bamboo, she loves it and then I’ve got Intuos3 – 6 x 8, 6 x 11 and I use the 12 x 19 Intuos3 with my 30 inch Apple Cinema display, that’s my workhorse. So when I’m sitting down to do a portrait or you know working on a really major large collage that’s my favourite place to sit. If I’m working on a photo reference piece and not drawing in a live sitting then I would use the Intuos3 – 12 x 19, you can’t beat that, it’s comfortable, it’s easy – it’s really, really good.

Ric So you like the experience of having your hand down and looking up?

Jeremy Yes for me it’s more comfortable. Having said that, I just want to give you the other side because I love my Cintiq21UX for certain things. First of all portability with my laptop is fantastic with the Intuos3 – 6 x 11 and when I’m travelling the Intuos3 – 6 x 8 which goes with me everywhere. Cintiqs for me have very specific uses and I love them in specific situations. Live portraiture I love doing on the Cintiq, you just can’t beat it, it’s the best. You can see that in the shots of me and Yamada San because having a Cintiq allows me to have direct contact with my subject. I’m not putting a screen between me and my subject and the Cintiq sits down low so it’s just like a sketch pad. I’ve fallen in love with the Cintiq12WX for my travelling, teaching and presentations. Whenever I go around the world and I give a lecture or a talk anywhere I want to have that 12WX in front of me which takes me away from the podium. It get’s me out from behind the table and puts me right in contact with the audience. I have a little stand for my 12 WX and that’s all I need. I use those express keys and the touch strips so that I don’t need to keep going back and forth to the computer. I love it. There’s no substitute for it and for anybody who does teaching or presenting it’s a must have.

Ric If you could ask Wacom for a new tool or an innovation in pen/tablets that you’ve always wanted, what would it be?

Jeremy OK so if you’ve seen my stage performances then you would understand why I would like a screen of some kind or tablet 4 foot by 6 foot. Something really big that could be used in performance art and that I could do really large hand and body movements with. I know that there’s things where you have whiteboards and you write on and it and translates to the computer, I’m aware that there’s technology getting towards that but if I could paint digitally with pressure, I would love it as a performer.

Ric OK, a nice big surface to work on but do you want to be able to work with multiple pens at once? Would you like to be able to use your hand to manipulate the image to say for instance smudge and draw?

Jeremy Oh that would be amazing, the answer is yes, yes, yes – I would love to be able to work with two pens, one in each hand and be able to paint with two different, for instance variants in Painter, at the same time. I would love that of course, that’s going to take a bit of work on Corel Painter’s side as well as on Wacom’s side.

Ric It usually does, but then the combination of hardware and software development together is very powerful.

Jeremy Exactly, so the answer is yes, I would love that. Also if there was a possibility down the road to be able to do finger painting and literally choose variants and then apply them with one’s fingers, or even the flat of your hand. Different ways to apply and make marks, which of course gets back to your thesis title for your book. The Art of Mark Making, I would love more ways to make marks and different types of marks.

Ric Fantastic. Jeremy it’s been a pleasure having you on the Art of Making Marks and it really opens up, I can see when we get a chance to meet we’ll probably talk for hours and hours longer about this whole subject matter, if there was any last things that you’d like to add please do, otherwise I just thank you again for your interview.

I have one historical thing to share with you and your audience before I go. It’s really interesting hearing you talk about the whole history of mark making and how you see Wacom fitting into that evolution. A few weeks ago I was teaching a class called the Great Gatsby Impressionist Workshop and giving a little overview of impressionism and the history. What’s fascinating and the more I research into it, the more fascinating the parallels are is that when you look back at what was happening in the 19th Century, there was basically a quiet revolution happening with the art materials available at the artists fingertips. The old oil paints and the method of the old masters based on these oil suspensions were suddenly not available in the 19th Century for the artist. So this old master style of painting was becoming actually more and more difficult to achieve with the physical paints that the colour men of the time were producing. There was such a revolution going on in chemistry through the weaving industry so they were looking at how to expand their range of colours to compete with fabrics from the time. Soon they were producing all these new chemical colours. The colour men were trying to produce paints that could last longer and that could be more transportable and all of this was happening in the early part of the 19th Century. By the time you had the Monets and the Renoirs and the people of the impressionist movement, they had at their fingertips all these paints with brighter colours and a wider range of colours. They were portable, they could pick them out and they didn’t need varnishes, unlike oils where some of them never even dried. These paints would dry faster, they were still oil paints, but they dried faster, they didn’t need varnishes and so it opened up a whole new set of possibilities which they grabbed and explored and it made me think of moving forward to the 20th Century to acrylic paint which was frowned upon in the 60s as not really paint for ‘not real art.’

Fast forward to the early 90s, late 80s and then suddenly you have this confluence of technology which allows digital painting. Until the early 90s we didn’t really have a combination of the computer power with software with the Wacom technology really and you needed all three. Any two of those wouldn’t have been good enough to do what a fine artist needs to do in paint. But all three came together and so that launched the whole new medium of paint which I’ve been enjoying ever since.

So coming back to the relevance to your book and what I do as an artist, is that the medium of digital paint for me is a fantastic medium but it is just another medium and I look at it that way and I use it that way. An artist or anyone who wants to express something will express it with whatever the tool is at their fingertips and whether it’s finger paint, digital paint or arranging stones on a beach, they will express themselves in whatever means they have.

So now I’d just like to thank you and the whole Wacom team for everything that they’ve done and contributed to allowing artists like myself to have an incredibly powerful medium to work with, which would not be possible without the Wacom pen/tablet.


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