The DART Interview: Jeff Lowry

By Peggy Roalf   Friday July 5, 2019

Peggy Roalf: Which came first, the brush or the pen?

Jeff Lowry: Definitely the pen, as long as I can remember I have always drawn in either pen or marker. I love other materials for sure, but pen has a special place in my heart. I especially enjoy sketching in ink only, as this forces me to be more mindful the decision I make when drawing. As for other mediums I often save them for special occasions, like creating private commissioned work or for exhibitions/gallery work. In these situations I’ll switch mediums up, it could be black and white drawings with a large permanent maker, ink and crayon, and my favorite acrylic on paper, it all really depends on the piece. 

PR: Please describe your work process—is most of your work done directly, or do you also use digital media? 

JL: For much of my career I have used a combination of the two to create client work, sketch (in ink), ink final art by hand (if time permits) or scan and digitally ink, then digitally color the final. Now most if not all of my client work is done purely digitally (iPad Pro). I chose this route for a few reasons; client work usually involves a quick turnaround and digital really lends itself to that. Second, the advancements in tablet technology and drawing apps have made drawing purely digitally less of a taboo, because I can achieve similar results of a purely traditional piece, but with the efficiency and flexibility of digital. With all that said, I still use a sketchbook to work out rough ideas, especially when I’m stuck on a project.

PR: What are some of your creative inspirations—artists, music, literature, culture in general—that you draw from in your work?

JL: I find inspiration through many sources. Music was a big source of inspiration in my youth, but as I have gotten older I find much of my inspiration from my surroundings, personal interactions and culture in general. As for artists, there are far too many to name, but a few big ones would be Mark Wang, John Malta, Josh Cochran, Nicole Rifkin, Hyesu Lee, JooHee Yoon, my wife Heather Pagone, John Stobbe, David Sandlin, Milton Glaser, Marshall Arisman, Carl Titolo and on and on. I could spend half my life working out this list, but you get the gist.

PR: Cycling, skateboarding, and other random sport-like activities seem to have a hold on you—and your art. Can you tell the readers how this came to be and where you think it might take you? 

JL: Cycling and skateboarding have had huge influence on me and my art, much of my life and youth is rooted in these activities. Both have helped me form my personal identity, from the pure act of participating to the culture behind it. These activities are just a small thread in the tangled knot of what makes me who/what I am. Being an artist I draw heavily from my personal experiences and interests, plus it’s super fun to draw Heather (my wife) doing a heel flip.  

As for where I see this taking me, I would love to create work for any cycling or skateboard magazines like Transworld, Thrasher and Skateboard Mag. Having had the chance to create a few board graphics, I wouldn’t mind doing more or creating art for cycling apparel, bags or bikes.

PR: I noticed that you often gravitate towards animals as subjects in your art. What is there about creatures, great, small, willful and docile appeals to you?

JL: One of the most important things I have learned, was to draw the things that aren’t easy for me or things I didn’t like to draw and to begin treating them with the same love and attention to detail that you put into the things you like to draw. Drawing animals and backgrounds was a huge difficulty for me. In doing so, I began to find inspiration in places I didn’t take the time to look. It’s made me a better, more well rounded artist. I have to thank Marshall Arisman for that advice; I wouldn’t be here without it.

PR: There seem to be quite a few illustrations in your portfolio that tell people how to make stuff, from construction projects to making Jello into a ball. Do an artist need to be a maker themselves to do this type of art? 

JL: I think artists are inherently makers. We use our art as a way to construct how we see ourselves, our lives, our culture, surroundings and society. I was really drawn to creating work that shows how things work, how I think they work or how they may be made. One piece in particular I created an exploded diagram of my good friend John. I wanted to create an image in which the viewer would be able to see all the details, nuances and quirks that make John, John (in his underwear). This image was meant for viewer to gain the same level of familiarity with John in just a few minutes that took me years and years of friendship to gain. Plus John is a dork and everything about him is fun, so everyone should meet him.

PR: Do you keep a sketchbook? If yes, how does that contribute to your work process?

JL: I definitely keep a sketchbook. Every time I leave the house I make sure to have one with me, you never know when you think of a idea for an image, hear something funny or see something you just have to draw. My sketchbook is a place where I experiment with materials and techniques, work out ideas for personal and clients work, right down notes/ideas or just sketch for the hell of it. Lately I have been drawing with ink and crayon. I have been enjoying using cheap materials, because it challenges me and they are easy to replace

PR: Where do you live and how does that place contribute to your creative work?

JL: I’m currently living, working and teaching in Tucson, Arizona. Since being back in the desert, I find myself being drawn more and more to its natural surroundings, where as while living in Brooklyn I was drawn to the city itself. I have begun combining the two, playing with how nature and urban environment intersect and coexist. My view of the two is more of an optimistic one, one where nature can flourish along side urban centers.

PR: Please describe your workspace and how it contributes to the illustrator’s basic condition of working alone.

JL: Since I moved West most of my client work is done on a tablet (iPad Pro), my workspace can be anywhere. I have worked on client projects on planes, in coffee shops, in bed, at a bar with friends, the park, pretty much anywhere I can sit and draw. I find this flexibility beneficial to my work process, because I don’t have to be tied to my desk working on my computer anymore. Plus it allows me to be out with people while working on a project, making the job of a illustrator feel less solitary. With that said, 95% of the time I work alone, on the couch while listening to podcasts...

PR: What kind of breaks do you take when working to a deadline? 

JL: When a project is going really well, I can get so into it that I can work 10 to 12 hours straight without realizing I haven’t eaten or moved the entire day (kids: don’t do this at home). For me breaks usually occur when I’m stuck on a project and need to step away. When this happens I usually watch part of a movie (the entire film), watch cartoons, catch up on chores, take a shower, go skate (rarely) and my favorite: cycling. There something very meditative about a long ride that allows me to let my mind wander and free up any creative constipation that might be backing me up, plus exercise is good for you. 

PR: How do you know when the art is finished—or when to stop working on it?

JL: For me it’s a gut feeling of “yep, this is it”, when a piece reaches a certain point. It’s taken me a long time to start trusting that feeling and to not let my mind overwork something. It still happens from time to time, but that is part of the process, you continue to learn it and trust yourself more.  

PR: Do you use photographic reference materials very much? If yes, how do you avoid the pitfalls that can arise when working from reference? 

JL: I very rarely use photo reference (not that there is anything wrong with it). I prefer to work without reference, because for me, drawing something not exactly right is usually what makes an image more interesting. I prefer things to be a little off or a little weird, it makes things (life) less boring. Though I have needed to use photo references a few times and in those situations I do not work directly from the reference. I prefer to study them, find the key features then put them away, this forces me to draw from memory. This allows me to work with reference when ever need be, without it overpowering my typical creative process.

PR: What would be your dream job—the one thing you have always hoped for in an assignment? 

JL: I have been lucky enough to have had the chance to work on few dream projects. I’m currently working on a children’s book (which was a huge dream job of mine), but it’s in the early stages and there isn’t much I can share. Though the few dream projects that still remain would be working on cover art (magazine or book) and creating murals. With that said, I’m happy with my current trajectory and I’m interested to see where this path takes me.

Jeff is Tucson based illustrator and adjunct professor. His style can be described as a mishmash of the 90’s, cartoons, bad movies, comics and far too many video games. He received his BFA in illustration from University of Arizona and his MFA in illustration from the School of Visual Arts. His work has been shown at the Society of Illustrators, Communication Arts 2019 Illustration Annual, American Illustration 34 Annual, American Illustration 32 &  37 Chosen Archive, and 3x3 Illustration Annual No. 10, 13, 15 & 16. He was also finalist and semi-finalist for the 2015 & 2013 Adobe Design Achievement Awards and recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Graduate Art Award. 

He has created work for: Nike, Makespace, Buzzfeed, Harmonix (Hasbro), Popular Mechanics, AKA NYC, Moleskine One (RED) Day Project, Manufacture New Jersey & Savvi.


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