Hailing from his hometown of Louisville KY–the city responsible for giving the world a famous 2-minute horse race, great bourbon, superior baseball bats, seafood-and-taco combo restaurants, and both Tom Cruise and Jennifer Lawrence (you’re welcome)–Garrett McGill is a freelancing artist, illustrator and joke-teller who enjoys animation, classic comedians, and long walks along his bed. Find Garrett at: Official | Twitter | FB | Instagram | dA | Tumblr
What’s your background?
Hmm, let’s see here…there’s some wallpaper, a few pieces of laundry I’ve been meaning to clean, my unread copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People…
Oh you mean my artistic background?! Oh geez…
Well, I’m a jack-of-all-trades-type illustrator and graphic designer with my foot dipped into many fields in Derby City, KY. I grad-jee-ayted from Ivy Tech School of Fine Arts and Design in 2011. I spend most of my time split among freelance work for magazines, contractors, children’s books, writing and drawing comics, and laughing at my own jokes.
What got you interested in the arts to begin with?
Even from the earliest I was in love with animation. I was enthralled and spellbound by Disney animated movies and couldn’t bust open those puff-pack cassette cases fast enough . I wore out those tapes copying the characters. My parents encouraged me enough that when I hit my preteen years where most people drop it, I kept going.
As I grew older I got into the Fox Kids shows—particularly X-Men (♫Waah-na-na-na-NAH-naNAH!♪)—Animaniacs, and the Disney Afternoon lineup. I wanted more than anything to make cartoons.
When did you decide to dedicate yourself to art?
The funny thing is that even though I considered being ‘an artist’ as central to who I was as a young man in school, once I stepped out into the workforce I made it less of a priority.
Fate only intervened after having put in more than ten years into various labor jobs and soul-crushing retail middle-management. Following a particularly grueling holiday sales season, and having contended with employee shortages and 80-hour weeks, after a missed report I was awarded for my efforts a week after Christmas with a pink slip.
The memories of those following weeks are obscured by a haze of bewilderment, soul-searching, and relying on the support of my amazing wife. We talked together. We prayed together. Friends, family and my church came around me to support us. A good friend got me a job processing Word docs quietly at a desk for 8 hours a day. Though the work could be as tedious as you can imagine, it did afford me time to listen to different art podcasts.
Those podcasts were absolutely transformational. Listening to them, for the first time in my life I started to think, “Why not me?”
So for the past 4 years, I’ve been working towards making an impact in the art world. A work in progress, to be sure.
Do you remember your first piece of art you were really proud of? The one that made you say yes I am an artist!
Because of my self-deprecating nature, I have trouble being ‘proud’ of anything I do (I know, I know, I’m working on it). I can, however, remember the first piece that really impressed a lot of people.
In fifth grade, we were given a sheet of paper with some prompt or other at the top, and a lone squiggle of a line in the middle of the page. The task was more or less, “Make something out of this squiggle.”
By the time I’d finished, I’d drawn from memory a rendition of Ed the Hyena from The Lion King.
Not only was the teacher impressed, but more importantly to a socially-awkward kid, the whole class was astonished. Score. Insta-friends.
Do you collect anything?
Dust. Bad jokes. Dad jokes. Friends. Emotional baggage. Inspiration. Surgical scars. Video games. Ghibli films. Art-of books. Calls. Apologetics books. Webpage bookmarks. Reference images. Recipes for cheap dinners. Obscure references.
What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?
The same as most others, I imagine: talk to myself, laugh maniacally, cast furtive paranoid glances in search of the whispering voices…what, you don’t do that too? Oh…
Usually what motivates me to create a personal piece is a stroke of inspiration, generally influenced by whatever it is I happen to being doing that moment. Usually this manifests itself in the form of telling a terrible pun, which I then illustrate and inflict upon the world.
For the more in-depth pieces, I start with trying to refine what it is I actually want to say. Once I decide that what I have to say is worth saying, I collect reference material like an old lady collects cats.
From there I do studies of the materials, surfaces, textures, lighting and color schemes. I then draft quick’n’dirty doodle thumbnails on whatever’s handy at the time—notebooks, napkins, your kids, whatever.
Once I’ve pinned down the composition and flow, my painting process then becomes like the five stages of grief: Denial that it’s ever gonna get done; Anger over the strokes on the page not matching the ones in my mind’s eye; Bargaining with myself over the degree to which the disparity between the vision and the reality shouldn’t bother me; Depression in comparing myself to the work of others; then finally acceptance that I don’t have to be just like other artists, and that my piece is, in fact, good.
Then I think, “Man! Can’t wait to do all that again!”
How do you measure your level of success/achievement?
It’s said that what talents you have are a gift from God, and that what you do with those talents are your gift to God. When I grew older I began to feel that if my art wasn’t serving others, making them happy or uplifting them, then I wasn’t using it properly. That was the goal of most if not almost all art up until a few centuries ago, and to some extent I’m sad that it’s not as much of a focus in the art world anymore.
I’ve done a handful of things like been published in periodicals and magazines, done design work that actually helps a small business grow, gotten a piece ‘officially’ published by Disney. While those were all great, there was another piece I did that I consider far more successful.
At my church there was a couple who’d lost their child in stillbirth, and a mutual friend approached me about creating a piece to memorialize their child. I agreed, and though my skill level was much, much lower then than it is today, I was told the painting moved them both to tears.
That I was able to provide a bit of peace and comfort during a very painful time in their lives outweighs anything I’ve done prior or since. If I could continue to serve in such a way, I would consider that very successful indeed.
What themes/ideas do you pursue?
Part of my personal philosophy is that the power of good-natured humor is a great way to break down defensiveness and to connect people. The world is already a very dark place without me adding to it.
I love when art, comics, movies, games or whatever media has a sense of humor about itself. So my work tends to contain something in it to make you laugh, or at least smile a little. If I’m able to make your eyes roll back into your head so far you can see your brain, and get a groan of contempt and reluctant laughter, then my work here is done.
What advice would you have given yourself ten years ago?
Couple of things;
- Keep drawing, even though you’re working, because despite your inner pessimist you can do what you love for a living.
- That girl you’re about to marry? She is the love of your life and it’s gonna work out great so don’t worry so much…and oh by the way, the magic number is 3. You’ll figure it out.
- Aren’t you listening? Keep drawing.
- Buy Apple stock.
- Also, keep drawing you dummy. I’m serious.
Name three artists you’d like to be compared to.
Maybe it’s like Captain Marvel and if I make an anagram out of their initials I can gain their powers! Okay, here goes:
Weirdness, inking skill and poignancy of Doug TenNepal!
Creativity and energy of Creature Box’s Greg Baldwin and Dave Guertin! (Ed. note: It still only counts as one – Gimli).
Draftsmanship and expressiveness of Glen Keane!
So, my magic phrase is…DGDG!
Sigh. Guess I’ll just have to do it the hard way, then.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.” This is the first and greatest advice, and the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Professionally, what’s your goal?
My struggle for many years was trying to decide where I best fit. Am I a designer? An Illustrator only? Cartoonist? Birthday Clown? U of K fan? All the frightening questions that keep you up at night.
However, I was fortunate enough to hook into a great group of artists online, many of whom are among the members of Boneshaker Press.
Additionally, I was able to put my portfolio in front of a number of professionals and personal heroes at CTNx last year, and even attend a panel of the story artists from Harvey Beaks. Like Dr. Who shouting “Narrows it down!” after every critique, I was able to discern where to focus my growth.
Relying on my talent for drawing, making comic strips, and being funny (ahem), I hope to become a storyboard artist for either film or television.
What does visual storytelling mean to you?
For me, it’s the next evolutionary phase in my thinking as an artist. Just like a person who exists on a 2D plane can’t grasp there being 3rd dimension, I had trouble for longest time envisioning an artistic goal beyond “render more”. The ability to convey not just how “talented” you are at rendering that shape to look exactly like a hair-covered meatball (ew), but an entire story around how the meatball got down there, the stunned reaction on the careless child’s face, the look of ravenous anticipation on the hungry dog lapping up table scraps, and the ominous look of opprobrium from the parent—making you care why you’re taking time to look at this hairy meatball—that’s what I mean.
Did I just spend this whole paragraph talking about hairy meatballs?
(Ed. note: Yes, you did. Thanks for that.)
What are you working on right now? (Other than this project) What are you currently obsessed with?
It’s moving at a glacial pace, but I’m writing and drawing my own comic. At my current pace I anticipate sharing it with you in about 15-16 more years, give or take. Stay tuned for when I start uploading to the hive-mind neural implant network we’ll all be using by then!
In the meantime, there are a number of children’s books I’m illustrating for clients and still keeping busy with a handful of other side projects.
Would you eat the moon if it were made of spare ribs?
Whoever came up with this question must be a complete moron.
(Ed. note: Question was submitted by Garrett.)
(Garrett note: …oh yeah.)