[ January 5, 2004 ]
Although Miami based illustrator Brian Stauffer was born to parents who were both fine artists it wasn't until he was a Sophomore at Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona, that he discovered his own passion. It was Stauffer's first design critique in a basic 2-d design class with color theorist Dr. Glenn Peterson, "We were given a bunch of shapes and asked to work with them in a balanced way. The process of exploring composition really excited me and I suddenly understood what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life." He changed his major from music to Graphic Design and graduated in 1989 with a BFA from The University of Arizona in Tucson. His class was the last to graduate with no computer training.
Over a period of about a year Stauffer's emphasis on illustration began to shift. "From very early on my layouts were illustrative. I built trusting relationships with some visionary editors who were open to the impact that a thoughtful visual interpretation of the text could bring to a story." On a whim Stauffer sent a few of his samples off to Fred Woodward at Rolling Stone who, along with Gail Anderson, gave him his first freelance assignment for a movie review.
Now a successful illustrator Stauffer spoke to altpick.com about his work, the Log Cabin Studio and where he's going next.
It came about when I was working at a startup company called Star Media. It was a big internet company like AOL, but for Latin America. I was Vice President and creative director and basically built the brand and helped define what the content and structure was going to be. There was no broadband on the internet so the design experience was limiting. I also was having to turn down a lot of great illustration assignments and felt the Internet was too far removed from the tactile. I was living in Connecticut and longing to spend more time up at the house and not commuting everyday and working in a cubicle. I just kind of had this escapist vision of working out of a little log cabin. Remote and detached, but in a good way. I was traveling a lot to Montana and I got a lot of solace from thinking about not being in the corporate environment and doing my own thing. The idea of Log Cabin was not as much of a physical place as it was a state of mind - a creative place that I allowed myself to go to. Now that vision is becoming a physical place. In the next few years we will be completing a retreat studio in Montana. We will be inviting Ad's and other artists to come a stay to regroup and talk about the future. There is a lot of hand imagery in your work. What is the significance of hands for you?
It seems like a lot of the stories that I get are about actions between people and it is rarely about who that person is. So one of the things that I think I saw a lot of early on with computer illustration is someone would say here I'm going to send you a portrait of this guy and I want you to do a computer illustration with his image. I really resist doing that. What I tended to do is say ok let's not make it about the guys face let's make it about the interaction between two opposing forces, perpetrator and victim you can do that a lot easier I think by narrowing it down to a common things like hands. In fact I used to be paranoid that I was over using hands and I would call my friends who were more established illustrators and say you know I got this idea but it is using a hand again so should I throw this idea away? And they would say no, do it. That's your thing and it is something that means something to you. I wanted to be very clear with myself whether using hands was crutch or something that I am just drawn to. If the idea is solid and the idea makes sense and it works that way then I do it. I use them less now, but I still the clarity of the human hand as "perpetrator" of an action.
I don't know. I am not a big believer in fate. I think there are all sorts of different ways you can fall through your life from one thing to another. The teaching that I had was good. It was all about thinking about something before hand and drawing it out and thinking through it. But it also had limitations. When you are on the computer you can try different things. You can really do, kind of, what I was doing in that first exercise that I had that great moment with the critique. You get a handful of pieces and you can move them around and you can overlap them and that is hard to do when you are just sitting and sketching and thinking something through. The computer to me is kind of like those cut pieces of paper where you can bring a basic idea into something else. The computer is a great composition tool. I think it is a risk when the computer becomes the concept and I try very hard not to let the computer show through in my work. I really don't want people's attention pulled to the fact that I used a computer. I just did a lecture with an illustration class out in Arizona and they were asking me about my sketches. They were surprised at how close they were followed given that my work ends up in an odd no-man's-land , not looking painted and not looking photographic. Their question was whether is it necessary to sketch before beginning? I think it is necessary to sketch because you have to develop an idea first. I don't know if I would have thought that if I had gotten heavily into computers in college. So on that level the amount of thinking I do before I come to the computer may have been different. The computer to me is just like a drafting table. I have an idea of what I want to and the computer will be used just like gouache, or acrylic or canvas. It's just the way that it happens. What is the first thing you do when you get an assignment?
I start coming up with ideas when I first start talking to the client. I like to know what work they have seen of mine that made them think about me for the assignment. Not so that I can replicate it for them, rather so I can understand even the slightest preconception they might have. I take any comments regarding the initial sketches and I ask them if there is anything specific that they don't want or if anything outside of my story knowledge that I should know about. As an illustrator, I think we have to be really good editors, not writers, per say, but people who appreciate the structure of words. So then I'll will read the story, distill it down and write the headline I would write if I were the editor. Headlines are really textual illustrations in my mind anyway. This seems to work well for me, because lot of times I get of the Hail-Mary phone call for a last-minute gig. I like to work fast and I like a quick turn around. And that came from working from the newspaper. I also think that the less time we have to pick at an illustration, the better.
I think the idea has to be really strong and there has to be a level of originality. I need to feel like I have moved forward in some way. I also really need the client to be happy. I'm not just doing fine art. That's not my calling. I think that many of the final illustrations become works of art independent of the original purpose, but I really get a kick out of fulfilling an obligation that I was selected for. I love the process of translating a text into image. It's great when you work with Art Directors and Editors who understand and expect that an illustration can add an immense amount of impact and meaning to a story. I want them to call me back if it has been a good experience for both of us. I want them to get comments from other people on the piece because it means my work is playing a significant role. That to me is the most fulfilling thing about illustrating. I understand you've done some animation?
I have done a couple of spots and it feels like it is always in development. For the most part it is something that I did because I felt like I had this huge body of work that I felt it would really be nice to explore what this world looks like in motion. I spent a lot of time in Adobe After Effects putting together a five minute reel of six different existing pieces that I translated into motion. I am in the process of revamping my whole animation style with the advent of 3-d functions in After Effects which can bring another dynamic to my animation What's next?
In addition to my illustration work, I'm currently creative directing the launch of a new company called VOY. VOY is Spanish for "I GO". We are acting simultaneously launching a movie studio, a music publishing company, and a cable channel targeting the explosive English-speaking U.S. Hispanic audience. All the company offerings are based on the idea of living ones' life in a state of constant forward motion. It is dedicated to the English-speaking US Hispanic population and it is all about the challenges facing Latinos as they find they're place in American society while celebrating their cultural roots. We begin shooting our first feature film in March, and are producing the flagship television series this summer. The current stuff that's out there for Hispanics is just insulting, and doesn't represent the true picture of the U.S. Hispanic. We are going to change that.
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