When I opened the November 2011 issue of Scientific American and leafed through it, I was immediately drawn to one of the highlights of the issue: illustrations for the cover story about The First Americans. They were done by illustrator Tyler Jacobson, with art direction by Michael Mrak and Jen Christiansen.
Here in the interview below, I catch up with Jacobson, and I'm pleased to introduce the Symbiartic audience to more of his emotive and amazing illustrations. I'm going to throw a lot of them into this interview! Click to enlarge, and make sure to visit the links below. -Glendon
Hi Tyler! Please introduce yourself.
My name is Tyler Jacobson. I have been illustrating professionally for about 2 and a half years now. I graduated from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco in 2009 with an MFA in illustration and started working soon after that. I am from the Bay Area in California having lived in Alameda just across the bay from San Francisco. Now I live with my wife in Renton, WA, a little south of Seattle.
What medium are you most comfortable in? Your work feels a lot like the early 20th Century Brandywine illustrators to me.
I was trained in oil paints and have done a good number of pieces that way. Currently I work with digital tools like Adobe Photoshop and Corel painter. My process is the same with both. I normally begin with thumbnail; small drawings that address composition mainly. From there I will collect reference and create a much tighter pencil drawing. With all my reference around me, and after everything is approved to move ahead, I will paint the image, whether it be on board with oil paints or on my computer. Mainly I am interested in producing an image that has an oil look. And, you are certainly correct. Brandywine artists are really a big inspiration for me. I have studied a lot of their work and I am always push for that sort of feel with it comes to color and lighting. Whether or not I am successful is another story.
A lot of your work is outside the realm of scientific illustration and reconstruction. What challenges did working on the First Americans article in Scientific American present that were different from say, your Dungeons & Dragons work?
I would say the only real challenge was the necessity of accuracy in the illustrations. While I am always thinking about utility in my fantasy work, for the Scientific American work, I really had to apply details that were extremely practical. However, this was fun more than anything. I really enjoyed building a period specific look, especially a period 14,000 years ago. The specialist we consulted during the process taught me a whole lot about the subject matter and that made for a wonderful learning experience.
You blog at your self-titled Tyler Jacobson. How does blogging and other social media help you professionally?
For me it is just a means of getting my art and process to be a little more personal. My website just presents a portfolio of work, whereas my blog lets people who are interested see how I do things and what inspires me. At least this is my goal with blogging and things like Facebook. I would like people to understand that I am working at illustration and to possibly share my experience. In many ways it is a tool for informing other about illustration. At least my take on it.
Tell us about the image that's made the most impact.
This is certainly hard to put my finger on. Often times for me, I begin to see just the errors in old paintings, but there are still a few that I am very happy with and have hanging in my studio. Particularly the Moby Dick work (below, click to enlarge).
Also, I recently did a portrait of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. Space exploration in general is something I really enjoy so that patriot was certainly near and dear.
As for a piece that I am probably famous for, I did a painting for Texas Monthly early in my career that I think was a big hit. It was an illustration depicting a battle with Union cavalry soldiers and the infamous Quanah Parker, an Comanche Chief.
What's one of your favourite images?
When it comes to the Sci-Fi/Fantasy work, which I do the majority of my work in, a piece called The Bramble Queen for D&D was one of my favorites.
Why or how did you get into this field? What do you hope to do with your work?
I went to undergrad for Biology. After a few semesters I found it really wasn't for me. I still love science but being a scientist was not where I wanted to go in life. It took some searching but I eventually came back to what I had always loved which was art. I got a pretty good art education at Gonzaga University, but I really wanted more. That is when I found the Academy of Art, and Illustration. Before then I really didn't even know what Illustration was. It really opened up a whole new world for me. It was exactly what I had always been searching for. I wanted to tell stories and this was how I could do it. So I went to art school and learned everything I could. Of course it is an ongoing learning process and I assume it will stay that way.
Actually getting into the field happened rather quickly for me. At my spring art show at the Academy I met Richard Solomon. He displayed interest in being my art rep. We chatted a bit, but once the art show was over he returned to New York and I began my attempts at breaking into the illustration field. With the help of Irene Gallo at Tor Books, I was able to get in touch with Jon Schindehette at Wizards of the Coast, and so I begin working for Dungeons and Dragons. I continued this work for a few months when Richard Solomon contacted me again. It was then that he become my rep and we have worked together ever sense. I have also continued working for D&D and other fantasy games properties. I feel profoundly grateful to all the people who have helped me to get to where I am today. It has been a great journey so far.
Where can interested scienceart fans and institutions find you online?
Thanks for sharing your work and discussion, Tyler! One last thing: what's your favourite colour?
I would have to say my favorite color is two colors actually. Alizarin Crimson and Viridian. I love the color they create when mixed together. A beautiful sort of gray purple. I once did a whole painting using mostly just those two [From Hell's Heart, above, -GM].