Allow myself to introduce… myself. My name is Tyson and I’ve been painting and drawing all my life, but started making a living at it back in 1991. My dad was a terrific painter hobbiest who dabbled in realism, cubism, and impressionism, so I had plenty of influence and inspiration growing up. In descending order, favorite-to-least, oil, acrylic, and gouache on board were my favorite mediums through high school and art school, but during the mid 90’s I began using the computer to create full illustrations digitally and that is how all the magic happens today.
Can you still remember how to sharpen a pencil?
Yeah, my work is all digital, but I sketch regularly and keep sketchbooks. All my pieces begin by pencil sketch and once approved, I scan in and use as a template. There are rare occasions where I sketch on the computer, but there’s something special about sketching on paper. It just feels right. In fact, as I am delving into gallery shows, I’m actually breaking out the oils and board again. It’s been a long time coming and feels great.
How much money do you earn on average per day?
When I decided to do commercial art as a career, I had many admonitions about how I won’t make any money and ultimately live an unhappy life. Being 18 and considering all this, I decided I’d rather be poor and do something I enjoy than do something I hated and make some money. Money is nice, but it’s not a guaranteed pathway to happiness. I’ve been fortunate to bring in enough dough to consistently eat and fund the mortgage to a decent house in a great neighborhood, where my wife is a stay-at-home mom with our two kids. I’m really happy about all that and the gravy is this huge ladle of artwork I get to serve up on top of it.
Do you have an agent or do you handle everything yourself?
I handle mostly everything myself. I do ads in the source books each year, do postcard mailings, and keep in touch with folks I’ve worked with in the past via cards and email. It’s a concerted effort keeping you in the mind of art buyers, but I really enjoy the relationships I’ve developed over the years. Many of my clients have become good friends.
In conjunction with this, I do have an agent, Munro and Campagna, and they connect me with projects when something is a good fit, but we’re not exclusive. They have their own marketing and promotional schedule I participate in as well and they are terrific to work with.
15 years is a long time to be working in the commercial illustration business. How much has the industry changed since you started? Would you still want to be an illustrator – if 2008 was to be the start of your career?
The fundamentals of the illustration business seems the same to me. There have been significant changes in communication and the workflow process as we as a society have integrated computers and the internet into our lives, but this change has happened in most industries. The unique change is how many illustrators have shifted from traditional media to creating artwork digitally.
Back in the day, there were serious debates of the validity of digital illustration. There was a lot of suspicion and mistrust of how much the computer actually performed in lieu of the artist’s skill. Today this issue seems to have disappeared for the most part in the commercial world and rested in the fine art world, although I see that eroding as well. As all of us have incorporated the computer into our daily work life and home life, the mystery and suspicion of the computer has dissipated quite a bit. The mystery is gone so to speak. People realize that it takes some serious skills to produce good artwork digitally and that the computer is a beast not easily tamed.
Workflow aside, the nuts and bolts of illustration as a business transaction seems the same to me: Art Director needs art, Art Director hires illustrator, illustrator creates art, Illustrator delivers art, Art Director’s company pays illustrator. I didn’t know any more about the business than that when I started in ’91 and I know I’d make the same decision again if I were starting out in 2008. I’m more about finding out what you like to do and doing that vs. finding reasons not to. That be a weakness, but it’s also proven to be a strength in my case. I knew I loved drawing and painting and wanted to do that for a living, so I went for it. I’d do it again.
Apart from art and illustration what other things are you into?
I’m into music. Big time. I’m not a great instrumentalist or anything, but I play electric guitar, bass, and offer some vox. Often, I write and record music–it’s a great exercise in creativity but a nice diversion from visual art. Me and some close friends free-form jam every few weeks or so. I love to rock.
Who are your favourite artists/illustrators alive today?
I’ve got to say my favorite artist right now is Alberto CerriteÃƒÂ±o. I was a judge at an artshow last year and gushed over his entry, The Melancholic Cat. I got the chance to meet him, and he was the nicest guy. In fact, he was just featured in the Fresh section of Communications Arts. He rocks.
I also really like Brian Despain’s work, we met at an art show we were both in–he’s really cool. We’re both fans of old-school robots. He’s more of a fish guy than I am, but he makes it work tremendously well. I also met Echo Chernik at that show too. Her work is just great and she’s super nice.
The big names I like are Mark Ryden, Shag, Gary Bassman, Bob Dob, Nathan Ota; I know it’s trendy to name obscure names, but I gotta be honest – these guys have had and kept my attention for quite some time and keep bringing the goods.
What do you think about Disney’s venture into more mature PG-13 market place, has the mouse had his day?
I love the old-school Disney. I just rewatched Sleeping Beauty recently with my daughter and was blown away by the style perpetuated by Eyvind Earle’s backgrounds. No one had attempted to apply a contrived style like that to an animated story before that point in time, and it’s just so beautiful. Over just the last few years I’m seeing finished shorts and features still in production at other animation houses where style is again becoming an interesting and innovative part of the story telling, and I’m very happy it’s moving that way. That’s where animation gets very exciting to me in exactly the same way as illustration. The narrative is enhanced by the rendered style.
We’ve moved past simply emulating past animation works and pushing the realism of 3D. Everyone knows that’s doable, so it’s not very inspiring anymore. That’s where I think Disney animation has been really stagnant over the last few decades, although they’ve produced some great films during that time. I wish they would really push style and keep it for kid-rated stories. That would keep it interesting for Disney, but I’m afraid they’re moving to PG-13 to attract more dollars, diversify, and all that. I’m sure Papa Walt wouldn’t approve either.
Many of my clients have become good friends over the years and we have great conversations catching up over the phone when a project comes up, yet we haven’t even made eye contact. My business isn’t just about providing a professional, anonymous service; I have relationships with these good, kind folks. So this year I decided to find ways to show more of who I am, what I do, how I work, and what I think about things that are both professional and personal. It’s time to get to know each other better. My blog is just one part of that.
With a choice of any space or gallery in the world; which city and venues do you consider to be hotspots and which ones would you like to show at?
I’m just starting to dip my toes into my fine art era, but if I close my eyes and dream a bit, I’ll start close to home with Roq La Rue Gallery in Seattle, take the VW Microbus down to 111 Minna Gallery San Francisco, then freeway down to the BLK/MKT Gallery in LA, and finally jump on the jumbo jet to Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York. Fortunately there are so many great galleries out there in so many cities these days catering to collectors and voyeurs drawn to narrative fine art usually confined to the commercial world. The last ten years or so have really blossomed in this genre and that works wonderfully for me as an artist and a consumer of other artists’ works.
Are you involved in any collaborative projects at the moment and is there anyone you would like to work with?
There are a few discussions on the table with some colleagues about animation shorts and children’s books, but we’re all so busy, I’m not sure when those will become a reality. I like to collaborate with people I know–even if they aren’t artists. There’s nothing more inspiring than batting around ideas with someone who makes you laugh and push your creative boundaries.
What’s next in the pipeline for Tyson Mangelsdorf?
Well, as I alluded to before, fine art is the next big deal for me. That involves doing some prints created from digital work and producing some actual paintings on board. I keep so busy with commercial projects, that it makes it difficult to do, but after the tremendous response I received from a show I was in last summer, I’m extremely motivated and am making it happen.
Daffy or Donald?
Daffy’s got that dark, old-school looney schtick–that’s the stuff that can keep you up at night huddled in a ball with your pillow pulled around your ears while your hard-boiled-egg-like eyes peer in paranoia out into the darkness wondering where that black duck will show up next. That’s much more interesting than the merely grouchy sailor, Donald.
Jammin’ or Wacommin’?
Wacommin’ baby. I’ve used Wacom tablets since my first serial 12×12” in 1994.
Doh!, Engage, May the Force be with you! or I’ll be back?
Mmmmm…tough to choose just one, but I’ll go with ”Engage” back to ’66 with my boy, James T. Commanding a freakishly fast starship, having a best friend with pointy ears, and gettin’ chicks? I wouldn’t mind rolling like that.
You can see more of Tyson Mangelsdorf’s work at