The Q&A: Paul Rogers

By Peggy Roalf   Monday August 4, 2014

Q: Originally from Los Angeles, what are some of your favorite things about living and working there?

A: I was born in Los Angeles and have lived here all my life. I like everything about L.A., its short weird history, its architecture, the influence of movies on its culture, the freeways, the odd neighborhoods and the way everything is always changing. Some people move here and are constantly comparing it to other cities, but L.A. is its own thing and if you embrace it you’ll never be bored.

Q: How and when did you first become interested in art and illustration?

When I was in high school I thought it would be cool to have my drawings in magazines, but I had no idea how that happened. I didn’t know any artists, but my high school art teacher told me about Art Center College of Design, in Pasadea. I started there as an Advertising major, and switched to Illustration about half-way though.

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between the art you create on paper versus In the computer?


A: I usually have about three sketchbooks going, that keeps me from thinking that every drawing I do has to be good. By the time I started teaching at Art Center in 2005, I had sort of dropped keeping a sketchbook, but my students are all great sketchbook keepers and I realized that I had lost the joy of filling a book up with drawings, and their sketchbooks inspired me to start up again.

All my finished work now is digital, but there’s a lot of hand-made stuff that gets scanned in to add textures or lines. 

Q: What do you like best about your workspace?

A: I’ve been in the same old building in Pasadena for 25 years. My wife, Jill von Hartmann, has the studio across the hall.  I have all my books and records here and it’s where I’m most comfortable. When I moved in, the neighborhood was pretty dodgy. Now, there’s places to eat nearby and it’s one of the few spots in L.A. that people park their car and walk.

Q: Do you think it needs improvement, if so, what would you change?

A: Sometimes I think I’d like a big screen to run Turner Classics all day.


Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: My library of books, but if the building was on fire, I have about seven scrapbooks that contain all kinds of stuff I like, old ads, illustrations, menus, matchbooks, candy wrappers, I’d grab them.

Q: What is your favorite part of the creative process?

A: When it goes well, there’s a moment when I’m working on small sketches and trying to figure out how to approach a problem and the idea sneaks up on me. The process of making a lot of small sketches sometimes reveals the best approach. When it goes badly, it’s like pushing a large rock up a hill.

Q: What was the strangest or most unusual assignment you’ve taken? What made it a success or a failure?

A: A few years ago, Brad Bird called me about doing a poster as a prop for this movie he was making about a family of superheroes. The idea was to make it look like the father had been a superhero for a long time and the poster was to be in a kind of WWII-style propaganda. I thought the image would appear in the background for two seconds and that would be it, but it was a Pixar picture so I treated it like it was going to be printed full-size. The movie was “The Incredibles” and the poster ended up being a big part of the film’s identity.

Q: What was your favorite book as a child?

A: I used to check out this book from the library every week, it was a history of comics called “The Penguin Book of Comics.”

Q: What is the best book you’ve recently read?

A: I’m working on a map of Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles for Herb Lester, so I’ve just re-read all of Chandler’s novels. They are all great, if you’ve never read them a good place to start is “The Big Sleep.”

Q: What prompted you to create a scroll version of Kerouac's On the Road? Where does the project stand at this stage and how many more sections remain?

A: I was thinking about how Jack Kerouac wrote the first draft of “On The Road” on a long scroll and today how we scroll through images online. The idea for making a drawing for every page of a book isn’t mine, Matt Kish did it for “Moby Dick” and Zak Smith did it for “Gravity’s Rainbow.”

I just started making drawings between my other assignments and putting them up on a collective blog I’m on called Drawger. People seemed to like it so I kept at it. I read a chapter at a time and do some research to get details right, then I make one drawing per page in a Moleskine, I try not to re-draw anything and this keeps it looking like a travel journal and feels right for Kerouac’s style of writing. My copy of “On the Road” has 310 pages and I’m about 50 drawings from the end. There has been some interest from publishers, so hopefully it will be in bookstores soon. These drawings aren’t going to draw themselves.

Q: What was your first professional assignment and how did you get it?

A: When I was a student, I had a class with Mike Gaines, who was an art director at NFL Properties, He introduced me to the legendary Dave Boss who gave me two assignments. Drawing football players for $150 each, I thought I had arrived.

Q: What was the last art exhibition you saw and what did you take away from it?

Q: I saw the Matisse Cut-Outs show in London this spring. That was pretty overwhelming, so much great work that I’d only seen in books. Every room was fantastic and there were some home movies of Matisse working with scissors from his bed or wheelchair. I always think about him and how at the end of his life he was trying to squeeze in one more day of work.

Q: What is/would be your karaoke song—and why?

A: I’d like to be able to sing “Lush Life” like Johnny Hartman, but sadly I’d sound more like Jack Webb.

Q: Where do you teach—and what do you like best about teaching?

A: I teach at Art Center College of Design. The students there are smart and talented and the faculty is loaded with fantastic artists that I admire. It’s good for me to be around young artists who are figuring out how they are going to make their way in this business. They can spot a phony quickly and if you’re saying things in the classroom that you’re not doing in your studio they know it. That has driven me to keep evolving my work and to not get stuck doing the same thing over and over.

Illustrators are a competitive lot, and the first impulse we all have whenever we see a great piece of illustration is, “I could have done that job, Why didn’t they call me for that?” Now when I see a piece done by one of my former students my reaction is “Ahh, look, they got a piece in the paper, how nice.”

Q: Where did your idea for Name that Movie originate? What was the most difficult part about getting from idea to finished art?

A: “Name That Movie” was published by Chronicle books in 2012, it’s still in print. That book started from a series of blog posts on Drawger. It’s a movie puzzle book that is made of a series of drawings from popular films of scenes that appear on the screen. If you haven’t seen the film, you probably have no chance of guessing the title. The process of getting the book done was simple, Jay Sacher was an editor at Chronicle, saw the blog posts and offered to make it a book.

Q: What is your hobby?

A: I play golf, I love it, but it’s hard to work it into my schedule.

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: Martinis and steaks at Musso and Frank Grill with my friends Jeffrey Smith and Brian Rea.

Left: Cover for an illustrated map of Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles. Over 50 locations from Chandler’s fiction and life in LA. Text by Kim Cooper, published by Herb Lester and Associates, Fall 2014. Right: Poster prop for the Pixar film, The Incredibles.

Paul Rogers’s
 illustration career has included work for posters, magazines, advertising, logo design and United States Postage Stamps. He has collaborated on books for children with Wynton Marsalis and Bob Dylan and recently authored a book of illustrated movie puzzles for Chronicle Books, (it’s available on Amazon and makes a nice gift.) He lives in Pasadena, CA where he is an Associate Professor at Art Center College of Design. DrawgerTwitterInstagram