Illustration West 58 Judges’ Interviews: Now We Hear From Scott Gustafson as Interviewed by Co-Show Chairs Chuck and Wendy Grieb

[ALL ARTWORK © 2019 SCOTT GUSTAFSON AND CANNOT BE USED WITHOUT CONSENT OF THE ARTIST]

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself or how you got started?
I grew up in a small town in Northern Illinois, and as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be an artist or a cartoonist. Being intrigued by animated films, my first serious ambitions were to become an animator. I also became aware of the work of Golden Age of Illustrators like N.C. Wyeth, Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac, and had a strong pull towards those types of images.

I attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, primarily because they were one of the few schools in the midwest that offered courses in animation (this was the mid-70’s), but after leaving school and while I was beginning to look for work in the Chicago area, I found that the little amount of animation work that could be found wasn’t nearly as interesting as the freelance illustration work I began picking up. So it was that I sort of metamorphosized from a would-be animator into a freelance illustrator.

Who or what inspires you?
As I mentioned, I was inspired early on and influenced by the illustrators working between 1890-1945, but I am continuously inspired by artists of the past and present. One of the great benefits of the internet is the ability to research artists I am aware of like T.S. Sullivant, J.C. Leyendecker, and A.B. Frost, and also come across artists that are completely new to me. It’s very exciting to discover things like Alphonse Mucha’s epic murals in Prague and 19th-century Russian painters and come to realize that just when you thought you had seen it all there are whole worlds of artists and artwork that have yet to be discovered.
I also enjoy following the work of contemporary artists like Carter Goodrich, P.J. Lynch, Forest Rogers, Omar Rayyan and Peter de Sève, among others.

There is, as well, a great deal of inspiration to be found in the world around us. I walk our dog every morning around our Chicago neighborhood and am constantly amazed by the things to be seen: how moss grows on tree roots, a trios of crows taking turns dive bombing a hawk in flight, and today we paused under a blossoming, white tree as the breeze shook loose it’s petals. And I always find myself thinking, “I’ve got to remember that and work it into a picture, somehow.”

What are some favorite projects that you’ve had the opportunity to work on?
One of my favorite projects was a book of Nursery Rhymes that I worked on several years ago. What I enjoyed was that each of the nearly fifty rhymes was a little story unto itself and every spread represented another opportunity to design new characters, set them in whatever period felt right, and make pictures that I hoped would be fun to look at. It doesn’t get much better than that!

I also had the opportunity to write and illustrate my own novel for young readers called Eddie: The Lost Youth of Edgar Allan Poe. It was a new and different experience trying to write a story that I know I’d be illustrating. Designing characters and trying to create an atmosphere through black and white pictures that I hoped would feel right for the subject matter was a challenging and rewarding experience.

What advice do you have for illustrators, beginning and pro?
The advice I find myself giving to most young illustrators is “try to do work or samples that you really want to do – work that you would do with or without an assignment. I have a theory that the passion someone brings to the subject matter they love will show through, and hopefully help you to connect with a client that is looking for just that spark.

Years ago, when I was first starting out, I called a studio downtown that specialized in advertising work. The illustrators there ranged from 2 to 10 years older than I was, and were more experienced. The main tip that they gave me was, “Chicago’s a food town – lots of food clients here, so do more samples of hamburgers and bowls of cereal.” As one of the illustrators looked over my portfolio of fairy tales and fantasy-inspired pieces he asked, “So, do you really make a living doing this stuff?” Fortunately, I have.

What do you love about your job and what do you find challenging about your profession?
I’ve been a freelance illustrator for 40 years now and have always loved many aspects of that career. I work from our home studio and enjoy the flexibility of the schedule that offers. I happened to be fairly self-motivated, so I’ve never really had the problem of not getting down to work if I have an assignment due. My wife, and business partner, Patty, works from our home studio as well, in her own office, so we have an ongoing dialogue throughout the day, but for the most part, if I need to focus I’m usually not distracted by the types of things that might interrupt someone in a typical office situation.

As you look to the future, what are you excited to explore, create, etc.?
The future is always an exciting place – it’s getting there that is the challenge. I have file cabinets and notebooks full of ideas I hope to get to someday, and it’s always a thrill to try something different and learn new things.

What is your favorite medium to work in? Why?
I have been working almost exclusively in oils for about 25 years now and still love it. The richness of the colors and the variety of things that can be achieved with this medium are unparalleled, in my experience. And the really cool thing is that I have barely scratched the surface!

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