Saturday, June 28, 2008

Meet the Artist

It was last July that I ran my interview with Michael Paige Glover, July 4th to be exact. I chose July 4th because I felt his work captured that sense of Americana that I was looking for. His has the ability to take a scene from everyday life and twist it, temper it with a unique feel of nostalgia and deliver a striking image. It is his use of nostalgia that prompting me to contact him to help with this project.

I also felt that he might connect with both Ben and the book, and I felt it would be that connection that would spark an idea for the cover. I feel that Michael has really delivered a great image that will translate in any format and really fits well with the book itself. After reading one of Michael's blog entries I knew I would have to ask have to share his views and feeling about the project with everyone. Of course, he was happy to answer a few of my questions.

Orange Alert (OA): This is your first experience creating a cover for a novel. What are your thoughts in general about the process?
Michael Paige Glover (MG): First let me say I'm very thankful to have the opportunity to work with you guys.This has been a great experience and has opened up new territories in my own work.
As far as the process of making a book cover is concerned, I can honestly say it's been exciting, challenging and in the end very rewarding. Since this project was something new to me, I felt very free with the creative process but most important was the fact that I really connected with Ben's characters. I think a writer has done his or her job when the reader can effortlessly live inside in one of the characters and stay emotionally connected throughout the book. Ben's novel did that for me. I felt good about the story from the very beginning and everything just flowed from that point on. As I mentioned on my website, I love the dialog and the humor. I found it to be very refreshing and original and the story moved by itself. The most challenging aspect was translating my interpretation of the figures into the actual painted piece. You can go in several directions with how you think they're suppose to appear on the cover: what pose are they taking?, what are the individual expressions and mood?, the type of clothing, hairstyle, etc...and so I experimented with different styles until I came up with something that felt right. I particularly like the heart emblem on the girl's tank top.

OA: How did you approach the initial image?
MG: I started off with basic pencil sketches in a notebook. They were mainly for placement and compositional purposes. Like my paintings, I tend to juxtapose images and off-set things in order to break up the picture plane. I wanted to do the same with the book cover.

Since the story takes place in New York City, the four figures were to be set against the City skyline. I have a stock-pile of photos which I store on my computer and also stacks of vintage books and magazines which provide an endless amount of visual resource. I had a photo which centered on the Empire State building and showed various buildings and the East River. The photo was taken at dusk and so everything was slightly out of focus, which was perfect. From there, I took it into Photoshop and began to play with the colors, tones and texture. I wanted to keep the forms flat and simple because it served as a backdrop to the characters but they had to both compliment each other. I wanted it to be clean and simple but the sky had to have plenty of breathing room. The effect of scattered clouds tends to move the eyes around from the title, the city and the characters. It's cyclical.

We decided that the colors of the skyline would be a turquoise or a cerulean type of blue and the figures would be rendered in sepia tone. I thought this was a great combination. Sepia tone and black and white photographs, not to mention art in general, posses a timelessness and nostalgia that color imagery does not. To me, it's just more powerful and direct. I think the effect is intensified when they're overlapped on top of a color background. It becomes somewhat psychological and creates a mysterious setting.

With the figures, I wanted their overall look to embody photography, illustration or representational painting. I know that's a huge combination but it was my initial response to the characters that prompted this. Somewhere between the three disciplines, I knew the right image would appear. I did a study where the figures were painted with very loose and expressive brush strokes but it quickly fell apart because in the end, it was too contrived and forced.
So, I went back and focused on the linear aspect of each figure. The resulting image falls somewhere between the illustrative and the photographic and that's exactly where I wanted it to be. I ended up replacing the middle figures with new ones because at first, they looked unhappy and a bit cynical, which was not my intention. The two new figures purposefully stare back at the viewer/reader while the other two are looking off into separate directions. I think within all of them, there are feelings of uncertainty, confidence, vulnerability, humor and the need to find love and be loved. I kept thinking of the dialog between each person and so that's how the figures emerged. Visually, I wanted to have movement between each one.

OA: What do you personally look for in a book cover? Do you find yourself looking a books differently after working on this project?
MG: I think my mind unconsciously seeks out the simple and concise book cover because if it's too busy or cluttered with pictures and information, then my eyes will purposely skip over it. I don't want to deal with it. The title has to have room to breathe within the confines of the book cover. The art has to envelope the reader and draw them in without much effort. There has to be plenty of free floating space between the title and image for the reader to get an immediate response of what the book may be about and if they can connect with it. This is usually a quick, visceral response to the title and artwork which is followed by curiosity and leads to the opening the book and of course, reading the synopsis.

If anything, the whole process has made me a little more aware of negative space, the choice of a specific font, what colors are being used and if the synopsis has anything to do with the cover art or vice versa.

OA: You are also working on a book of your own. How is your art book coming along?
MG: It's going well and constantly changing! I made a small book of my current work and it was really my first attempt at making anything that resembles a publication. Although it still needs tweaking, I have to say, I absolutely love the process because I feel in complete control of the production. The only thing that I have no control over is the printing process. Printing is an education in and of itself! My intention was to make it for personal reasons and not publish it but it keeps expanding and after looking at several other art books, I don't see any reason as to why it shouldn't be published. That's a future project still in the works though.

I was writing frequently while making the new work and I had thought of combining passages from my journal with the images to explain my thought process behind each painting. Not only text but sketches, photos and anything that illustrates my creative process. I've always been intrigued as to how artists' create their work and what goes on from beginning to end. I'm even more intrigued when they open up and explain their reasons for each painting. Sometimes this can take away from the piece itself but not always. For me personally, it just helps me understand where they're coming from and what led them to the final piece. So it's started to become more than just an art book. I'm not sure where it's going right now but I'm enjoying the path it's put me on.

In the last interview you gave me, I mentioned that I wanted to make a Graphic Novel based on the subject of my paintings and life. Well finally, I've started this project and although a Graphic Novel takes a considerable amount of time to complete, it's been a great experience thus far. Writing a story and creating illustrations to accompany it can be a complicated endeavor but it's also incredibly addictive and fulfilling. I've had plenty of stories in my head for a long time but never gave myself the chance to express them in words.

OA: Your newest pieces seem to be going in a different direction. There seems to be more going on, and more vibrant colors. Do you feel like you are changing your process in anyway or adding new elements to your work?
MG: Recently, I've been drawing and painting almost exclusively from imagination. I was trained academically to paint from real life and use photos as reference, and it's a great way to hone one's skills and understand your medium but after a while, it becomes restrictive. A lot of the change is also due to drawing and writing comics. Although I've read them for most of my life, I'm new to creating comics and telling stories and so it's really enriched my creativity. I do feel myself being pulled from one side to the other but I think all of it can be unified and used in harmony. Each discipline complimenting the other.
I'm trying to create the thing that I don't think I can create, if that makes since. Extracting this thing out of your mind that looks like nothing you've ever seen before. It's the agony/ecstasy principle. I love vintage photography and nostalgic imagery but it can easily become a crutch and everything you do reads as photo realism. If you get too comfortable in what you're creating, you end up repeating yourself and going around in circles.

In the past year I would say the narrative element in my work has definitely changed shape and is evolving into something more specific. It's difficult to explain exactly what this is because I'm in the middle of it for the moment. I see the earlier work as a little more ambiguous and symbolic but now, I believe it's shifting into the imaginary/surreal realm where my own characters are being developed and new worlds are being discovered. The nostalgia is still there but not as obvious as before. The chromatic colors are a result of this change. The way I'm feeling at any given time in my life is what's being reflected in my work and so at this point, I feel myself wanting to saturate the canvas. I want things to explode all over the place but in color. Overall, the work has been concerned with childhood memories, adult anxieties, functional/dysfunctional relationships and the typical modern family. I think the work will continue to progress with these themes while taking on new forms.

For more information on Michael Paige Glover please visit his website.


christopher cunningham said...

great interview, and great paintings. really love the contrasts...

good luck with this fine book...

Nobius said...

Congrats on the Press by the way. Still in the middle of moving hell. I swear never again. :) Will be in touch soon.