Sketchy Details: A conversation with illustrator Dave Mott

Trevor Hogg chats with Dave Mott about what drew him to pursue a career as an illustrator…

“I grew up in Ohio and I’m raising my family here,” states illustrator Dave Mott who lived in blue collar household. “Mom worked at a paint store so I remember all these crazy palettes and swatch books from the 1970s. My parents would tell you they’re not artistic, but they are. My dad is an amazing woodworker and carpenter, and my sister is a great artist as well; she makes beautiful hand-crafted jewelry.” The ambition to pursue a career in illustration led the emerging talent to attend Youngstown State University for Graphic Design. “The most important lessons about painting came from my teacher Al Bright; he used to have us paint to jazz and soul music.” Bright influenced his student by introducing him to African art. “The tribal masks are incredible and to this day are a very big influence on designing expressions and faces. Also, working through college at a grocery store and drawing caricatures of all the customers was big for me.”

“I’d say great illustration is great storytelling with a very specific feel,” says Dave Mott. “When you see it, you know it’s connected to something. The great ones make illustration like that look effortless. There are so many incredible illustrators out there and I follow their work. I guess my gold standard is Dave McKean; he does it in a way that is both telling and visually breathtaking. Also, I know this is a weird mix, but Mary Blair’s work is like that for me as well.” Motts admits, “I’ve never being satisfied with my work; I always feel it needs to get better, and to be taken further. Sometimes it’s done and I need to walk away instead of over-working it.” Webcomics like Lack-a-Daisy Cats and Hobotopia are a source of inspiration. “I have unlimited respect for the work and commitment that goes into that medium. There are resources out there on Behance and Deviant-art for connecting with the comic community. I’ve only been to a Comic-Con once. My goal is to try to get in as many as I can in the next couple years. Most connections I make are through the Internet.”

“Some illustrations can take several hours,” reveals Dave Mott. “Just working on a large scale drawing takes the longest for me; I don’t think I’m fast enough to work on comic pages. There are so many things that happen along the way, I like to keep open for whatever that journey may entail, sometimes that adds time. But if it enhances the end result, that’s great.” Drawings are created by using traditional and digital methods. “I use the digital side of things to compose the work. Sometimes I sketch digitally in a drawing program, but for the most part it’s on paper. Everything that I do finish ends up with some part of it, if not all of it, having some hand-crafted elements to it.” Computer programs like Photoshop aid the creative process. “Oh yeah, it’s made it loads easier. It also allows me to assemble the parts I create by hand into any piece. It gives me more time to experiment with different techniques too. It’s a tool that let’s you bring in all the elements you want and I love that.” Black and white images are not necessarily faster to produce. “Not for me. For me a limited color palette can be more challenging as a full-color piece. In many ways, I sometimes prefer black and white.”

“Favorite [comic book] character would definitely be Batman,” states Dave Mott. “Comic book movie would be The Dark Knight [2008]; I’m curious to see what the last of this series will be like. The take on the Joker was different; it was new to the Batman movies. In some ways it was parallel to the way the Joker was handled in the Arkham Asylum graphic novel. I still love the Inhumans too.” Comics and movies have had a major impact on the illustrations. “They have influenced it a great deal. I was into comics heavily growing up in the 70’s; that time in comics was cool because many of the titles dealt with social issues at the time and also introduced some timely characters [Luke Cage!]. I was always amazed at the way the title looked on the page. For example, the way The Hulk was drawn in that rough, rock type; that was my introduction into typography at 7 years old. It was the same thing with movies. Star Wars [1977] had come out at that time and introduced something totally new; that fueled me to draw, all the time. I still read comics, but now that I’m older, I really dig those compendium type books like Essential Silver Surfer [all the Kirby ones]. For me, now as an artist, they are like classic reference books.” As for his career ambitions, Mott remarks, “One of the goals is to get these children’s book projects that I’m working on published. I love what I get to do for a living, so just to keep getting better and to be able to keep doing this.


Dave Mott’s Gallery: A Personal Tour…



Dr. Seuss Tribute Piece

“The challenge was to create a small set based on the classic Fox in Socks children’s book. In honor of Dr. Seuss, this was the piece I submitted for The Ink Stew Crew, a collaboration site of three artists.”
Character Sketches for Female Characters

“This is me working with character design and mood.”

L is for Lion & T is for Tiki

“The challenge was to create a series of letters for an educational app for the iPad. This project is a work in progress but you can see all the letters on the Letter Project tumblr site and any excuse to illustrate tikis, of course.

Leia & Chewie

“This series is based on the relationship between Leia and Chewie; I did all three of the movies I grew up with. I wanted to show the strength of Leia in contrast to the size of Chewbacca; there’s a cool balance between those two.”

Mingus

“This is a pencil drawing for the JazzDraw blog , a collective of different artists illustrating famous Jazz artists.”

The Mole Character and Character Sketches

“This character is for a kid’s book of mazes which is still in progress. The idea was to create a story with these different animal characters through mazes. The mole was a great character that allowed me to illustrate 80′s computing and video games, which I love.”


Uggie the Dog

“Recently saw The Artist [2011] and absolutely loved it; I wanted to do a small series of illustrations.”


Marvels
“These were part of a weekly challenge where some artist friends and I riff on some of our favorite Marvel characters; it’s a healthy way to satisfy my fanboy craziness. The illustrations are posted weekly on dribbble.com.”

Many thanks to Dave Mott for taking the time for this interview and for supplying the images in the article; be sure to visit him at his website and Twitter.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.

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