The Q&A: Michael Sloan

By Peggy Roalf   Monday October 26, 2015

Q: Originally from Boston, what are some of your favorite things about living and working in New Haven?

A: I grew up in Boston, though I spent a lot of time in Europe as a child. My mom and her boyfriend from Amsterdam took 10 years to figure out whether or not they should get married (they never did). Each summer the three of us would travel around Europe in an old Volvo while they tried to make a decision about their relationship. Once we drove from Amsterdam to Greece and Turkey, through Syria, all the way to Aqaba, Jordan, across the desert where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed. These trips made a big impact on me. I was inspired, constantly drawing and absorbing like a sponge, and the inspiration would stay with me long after I returned home to Boston. Those were prolific times for me, and I still think of them as my personal benchmark for how creative and productive I can be. Our life in Europe ended abruptly when I was 14, and I was so sad and angry about it that I completely stopped drawing for several years and began to play guitar instead. 

I currently live in New Haven, Connecticut with my wife and three children. I love our 100-year old house where I work, our community of friends, and the museums downtown. It’s a city with good trees, and the ocean is just a few minutes away. 


Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? 

A: I have an entire shelf of sketchbooks in my studio, and they’ve become an increasingly important part of my work. I sketch as a way of documenting the things, places and people that I see when I travel. I recently spent a year living with my family in Hong Kong, where I had the most productive sketching experience of my adult life, a lot like those times when I was a child in Europe. I created a series of watercolor and ink paintings of Hong Kong's traditional outdoor street markets that led to solo exhibits in Hong Kong and the US. 

Q: What is the balance between the art you create on paper versus in the computer? 

A: All my illustrations start as brush and ink drawings on watercolor paper. Sometimes I’ll complete the art traditionally with watercolors before I scan it into Photoshop. Other times I’ll scan the black and white drawing first and then add color in Photoshop using a Wacom tablet. It’s about 50/50, but I prefer to work traditionally. I don’t want to give up drawing with a brush and ink on watercolor paper.

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

A: The wooden drawing table that I’ve used since I was five years old. 

Q: What do you like best about your workspace? Do you think it needs improvement, if so, what would you change? 

A: I work at home in an upstairs room overlooking our backyard. I like the view of trees and the quality of light. I chose the dandelion yellow color of the walls since it reminds me of the color of the room where I used to draw as a child. The door to my room is covered with my children’s artwork. There's really nothing I would change about my room—I love it the way it is. Well, maybe I would get rid of my computers since they can be very distracting. 

Q: How do you know when the art is finished? 

A: The art tells me what it needs. At some point the art tells me that a certain brush stroke is the last one it needs for it to be finished. Then I sign the art and it’s done.

Q: What was your favorite book as a child? 

A: I had many, and they were mostly illustrated books. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and illustrated by Pauline Baynes. The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien—his illustrations are also important to me. I loved The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood written and illustrated by Howard Pyle. I had a vivid imagination, and I wanted to go back in time and be an outlaw in Sherwood Forest. 


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

A: Sarah and Simon and No Red Paint, a picture book written and illustrated by Edward Ardizzone. It's about a struggling artist with a young family who feels that if he can persevere and create his masterpiece everything will turn out all right. Then he runs out of money and can’t afford to buy the red paint that he needs to finish his masterpiece! I admire his perseverance and conviction, though it does take a toll on his family. I’m touched by his young son who wants to be an artist when he grows up, just like his dad. My children have said that to me.

Q: If you had to choose one medium to work in for an entire year, eliminating all others, what medium would you choose? 

A: Oil painting. I've been painting with oils for about six years, and always have a work in progress on my easel. I'm a fan of the illustrator Robert Hunt's plein-air landscape paintings, and I’d like to try painting outdoors.

Q: If you could time travel to any era, any place, where would you go? 

A: New York City in the 1950’s, when jazz music was really happening and baseball had a golden age. I would be a Dodgers fan, and I’d live in Park Slope, Brooklyn so that I could walk to EbbetsField. Andreas Feininger’s black and white photographs of NYC in the ‘50’s, and Miles Davis’s music really capture the spirit of that time and place for me. I have a strong connection to New York. It’s where I started working as an illustrator, and it often appears as a location in my dreams.

Q: What is preoccupying you at the moment? 

A: The melody of a song that I heard on the radio this morning. The taste of an apple that I picked from a tree today. The oil painting that I’m working on. An assignment for The Boston Globe. A dream I had about getting lost on the subway in Brooklyn that I want to illustrate. What to make for dinner tonight.

Q: What was the [Thunderbolt] painting or drawing or film or otherwise that most affected your approach to art? 

A: There are many. If I had to pick one it would be the film Les Vacances de Mr. Hulot by the French director and actor Jacques Tati. I love his vision, his comic sensibility, the music, his characters, and the way he composes his scenes.  

Q: What are some of your favorite places/books/blogs/websites for inspiration? 

A: I'm inspired by traveling, and I often use my sketches from trips abroad as the basis for new work. My dreams are an important source of inspiration. So is music: I play bass guitar with Joe Ciardiello and Barry Blitt in the illustrator’s jazz band The Half-Tones. We perform frequently at The Society of Illustrators where the exhibits and collections inspire me. My children’s artwork inspires me. I’m an occasional postage stamp collector, and sometimes when I need inspiration I’ll browse through my collection. I don’t spend as much time blogging or networking online as I’d like.

Q: What would be your last supper? 

A: Yikes, that's a morose thought to ponder! New Haven has some of the best apizza in the world. How about New Haven pizza and beer with my family and friends?

Michael Sloan is a graduate of The Rhode Island School of Design. His first published illustration assignment appeared on The New York Times Op-Ed page. His illustrations have been published by national magazines and newspapers, on book covers, by corporate and institutional clients, and over 100 times in The New York Times Op-Ed Letters column. Michael has lectured about his artwork at institutions and organizations such as The University of Connecticut, Hong Kong University, The Yale Club of Hong Kong, and The Fashion Institute of Technology. He has shown his paintings of Hong Kong street markets in solo exhibits in the USA and Hong Kong. Michael is also the creator of The Zen of Nimbus comic. His work has been awarded three silver medals from The Society of Illustrators in NYC, where he performs frequently during sketch nights as a member of the illustrator’s jazz band The Half-Tones. [Ed. Note: The Halftones will appear at TSI November 3rd and December 8thInformation]




The Zen of Nimbus comic:




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