Interview with Michael Shoaf

Here’s #3 in our series of our contributing Artist Interviews. 

1.    How long have you been doing art?  Since before I was old enough to remember.

2.    How did you first get started? My mom has some drawings I did when I was two or three years old, and you can tell they are helicopters and airplanes, etc. I would draw on pretty much anything Mom or Dad would let me… used grocery bags, scrap wood, parts of cardboard boxes… anything.

3.    What was your first commercial job?  In seventh grade, a rich kid in my class paid me $30 each to do pencil renderings of his dad’s Porsches.

4.    When did you first start referring to yourself as an artist?  Some kids in grade school called me that… so I just kinda went with it.

 5.    What was the first piece of work you sold and do you know where it is today?  I don’t really do “gallery” work, but I’m considering that as a possible direction I’d like to pursue. Everything I’ve done has been for commission, and occasionally something for me or something to give as a gift.

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6.    Is art your primary business or is there anything else that you do for living?  I work for “The Man” as graphic designer, but do freelance illustration on the side.

7.    Are there any special works that you would like to share with our audience or perhaps some new ones that have not been published elsewhere?  I sure wish I could, but a couple pieces I really like aren’t “public” yet, as the client has requested that I don’t show it until he gives the green light.

8.    What’s your media of choice?  For personal work, I like watercolor… for commissioned work, I usually go digital.

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9.    What are some other tools/supplies/mediums that you primarily use for your work?  Prismacolor Pencils… and I like drawing on marker paper or just regular tracing paper when I want to draw on both sides of the paper.

10.  What, besides your art, brings you creative fulfillment?  Working on my 52 Chevy Fastback… especially the sheet metal work.

11.  What are your motivations for creating?  It’s just sort of a need… like when you get hungry, you eat; when you’re sleepy, you sleep. The need to do something creative is kinda the same. There’s just pent-up creative “energy”, and I release the pressure by making art.

12.  How do you know when a piece you’re working on is done?  I guess I just sense the point that when additional work on that project starts to make the piece weaker instead of stronger. Then it’s time to stop.

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13.  What are some of your artistic goals for the future?  I really need to get better at drawing people & animals. There’s the gallery work thing, and I’d also like to do some children’s book illustration.

14.  What other artists or movements influence your work?  This is gonna sound like a cop-out, but I have to say that pretty much any art I’ve ever seen has had some sort of influence on me — some positive and some negative. But my college painting professor, Melvin Stanforth, has had the most direct influence on the way I make art and the way I think about it.

15.  When you start a new design, no matter whether it is for work or your own personal portfolio, what is the first thing you do?  First, I research. Usually I just search my own personal archives or the web for reference images, but I also look for informational aspects of the subject – how it works or if there’s any history of note, etc. Sometimes I’ll need to take photos or have my client do so if it’s something unique about a specific car. Then I sketch things out to see if I can make it work visually. The sketching process also lets me kinda get acquainted with the subject of the piece. Like if it’s a car, I’ll usually draw it from a couple different views before I settle on the one that gets used in the final art.

16.  I know it’s probably hard to pick, but do you have a favorite out of the work that you’ve done?  Yeah, but I’m not allowed to show it publicly yet! (See #7.) Not sure if I would call them a favorite, but there are a pair of watercolors I did in my last year of college, and for some reason, I still really like them. They were both based on my own photography of a 47 Chevy Coupe my Dad and I had just gotten. Those paintings just sort of went so smoothly, and it was one of the most satisfying art projects I’ve ever done.

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 17.  What kind of projects are you working on of your own right now? Working on my own line of t-shirt art, and illustrating some passages from the Bible.

18.  What advice would you give for artists who are just starting out?  Something they don’t seem to tech in art school is business skills — that’s something I’ve really had to learn on my own. Fortunately I’ve had the opportunity to work for people who have helped me learn a few things. But I still have a lot to learn! I would encourage new artists to try to take some business classes or read some books on the subject, etc. And never stop learning: read and get involved with other creative people (not just visual artists, but writers, musicians, designers, etc.)

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19.  And lastly, a fun question! All artists have their quirks. Name one of yours.  Wow… I don’t know… I’m sure I have more quirks than I realize, but one thing is that I’ve noticed I’m way more productive with less clutter in my workspace. I’ve become almost vindictive about keeping my work area free of things that are not directly related to the project I’m currently working on.




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