Illustration West 57 – First Judges’ Interviews: Robert T. Barrett
ILW 57 Show Chair Cliff Cramp interviews one of our judges, Robert T. Barrett
[note all artwork is © Robert T. Barrett and cannot be used in any way without consent of the artist]
- Can you tell us a little bit about yourself or how you got started?
I grew up in the small town of Moab, Utah so direct access to art was not available. However both my parents painted on the side so there were always materials available as well as art books. My family also subscribed to a number of national magazines which in those days were large format and filled with the work of amazing illustrators. We moved to Salt Lake City when I was in high school and I routinely took art classes and was art editor on the school year book. At the University of Utah, I picked up a number of freelance art jobs to help pay for tuition which I also did at the University of Iowa where I completed my MFA. While doing post grad work in Berlin, Germany, I also began teaching illustration (commercial art classes) at the City Colleges of Chicago that had an extension there. After returning home, I shopped my book around and picked up more freelance work and also worked for a couple of experiential design studios painting murals for vistor’s centers and doing pretty much every other type of job that need to be illustrated. Eventually, I travelled to New York City and found a couple of different reps to help market my work nationally.
- What’s your daily routine look like?
I am a full time Illustration Professor at BYU so part of my days are occupied with teaching. Normally, I don’t work on Mondays or Fridays so have those days to complete my creative work. I am usually working on more than one project at a time so routinely review my calendar to assess what task is the most important. I might be doing sketches in the morning for a new editorial or book project and be finishing up a series of paintings in the afternoon. At times I break to check and answer emails. If I have downtime, I work on personal projects or complete work for an upcoming competition. I belong to several art and illustration organizations so there is always a new opportunity to enter my work into juried competitions.
- Who inspires you? What inspires you?
I am inspired by many great artists and illustrators both past and present. I attended a two week painting workshop with Zhoaming Wu in Italy last year so he is currently an inspiration. I love the work of the Golden Age illustrators including Howard Pyle, NC Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, Dean Cornwell as well as more contemporary ones including Bernie Fuchs and Mark English. I had a chance to show my portfolio to Bob Peak years ago which was a very formative experience. I love the work of current illustrators like Jon Klassen, and Victo Ngai even though their styles are very different from mine and have always found the work of Kiniko Kraft to be remarkable.
I am inspired by nature and the opportunity to travel. Certain models are inspiring as well as members of my family I have had the chance to draw and paint.
- What are some favorite projects that you’ve had the opportunity to work on?
I have illustrated 20+ children’s books including one about the Christmas Truce of 1914. That was a great project to work on and I contributed my original illustrations to a Church in Messines, Belgium which has become sort of an epicenter for the Christmas truce and for world peace. I more recently illustrated a book on the Berlin airlift and “Candy Bomber” Gail Halverson who dropped candy to German kids during the airlift. I completed a mural for the School of Education at BYU on the theme of “Children’s Celebration of the Arts” to honor a donor who created a large endowment there to support art education for children. My Life Drawing Book was a great project to work on. In addition to English, it have been published in five different languages.
- What advice do you have for illustrators beginning and pro?
My advice would be to find out what motivates you and work hard to establish connections that will help further that motivation. Find clients who want what you do and get your work in front of them. Locate or create networks to show and receive support for your work. Post new work regularly on social media, keep your website current, enter competitions regularly, go to shows when possible, expose yourself to great art, teach a class at your local school or art center. Co amazing work and stay visible.
6 Describe your workspace for us?
I have a rather large studio in my home with great north light and all the amenities – music, easels, a large drawing board, art materials, projectors, etc. It is organized with a number of flat files that house paper and other materials as well as most of my drawings and finished art. I have other files for transparencies, CDs, jump drives, contracts, income tax records, contracts, etc. My studio also contains a laptop computer and larger monitor, a printer, a high-end SLR camera, and a fairly large costume collection.
- What do you find challenging about being an artist/illustrator?
Deadlines are always a challenge so balancing my workload and teaching schedule is critical. Working with editors or art directors who have unrealistic or unclear expectations can be frustrating. Being asked to make changes that seem trivial or don’t improve the work can be a challenge. Shipping large art pieces to juried competitions including packing the art, filling out forms, pre-paying for return shipping, etc. can be challenging.
- What’s something artistically that you haven’t done that you would enjoy doing.
I am intrigued by sculpture and would like to try my hand at that when I get more time.
- What do you like to do in your free time?
Hang out with family – attend grandkids events – concerts, recitals, games, graduations, etc. Play games or put puzzles together with family members. Go out to dinner and a good movie with my wife. Work in the yard or garden. Genealogy and family history research. Travel.
- Favorite movie and why?
That’s a tough one – I like too many different movies for different reasons. I’m a fan of the old comedian W. C. Fields and like his movies “It’s a Gift” or “You’re Telling Me” the best. “Fiddler on the Roof” had a great message regarding family solidarity and forgiveness. I like the Iron Man and Avenger movies for pure special effects and entertainment value. “Sleeping Beauty” was my all-time favorite movie growing up. I saw it on vacation in San Francisco with my family and it became a favorite and enduring memory – I still find the art in the environments and setting incredible.