LCS INTERVIEW :: Tommy Kane
Hey Tommy thanks for doing this interview! To start of with I would like to know how you have survived in the advertising industry over the last 25+ year and how much has the industry changed since you started. Ohh… and do you have a Wacom pad and an iPod?
The thing about the advertising game is that they pay you very well. So for a guy like me who barely made it through school, it’s a good way to make a living doing something creative. I initially wanted to be an illustrator. After arriving in New York City as a young pup, that dream didn’t seem feasible. I landed a job at an advertising agency doing magic marker illustrations.
Before the advent of the computer, advertising agencies used to present ideas to clients in the form of magic marker renderings. So I felt lucky to have a job where I mostly drew pictures all day. I learned all the tricks of the trade and became quite good at it. When I started out in adland I didn’t know anything about advertising. I never took a class in it at school. Basically I was clueless. I learned that the art directors were the ones who thought up the ideas and then presented them to the clients. They hired the photographers, directors and illustrators to execute them. I thought maybe I could do that.
At one point a crisis arose at the agency I was working at. Their biggest client at the time was tobacco giant Brown & Williamson. The client was unhappy with the ads they were being shown and they threatened to hire a new agency if they weren’t shown something they loved, and pronto. The agency had pitched idea after idea after idea. All the creative types in the agency were working round the clock. One of the creative directors of the agency mentioned to me in passing that even if lowly me had any ideas they were willing to look at anything. This was on a Friday and they were desperate. I spent the weekend coming up with ideas. I then drew them up perfectly; after all I was the staff illustrator. I had about twenty five in total.
First thing Monday morning I went into the creative director and told him I had some ideas. He had forgotten he even mentioned it to me. When he looked at what I’d done he nearly fell out of his chair. He made me present my ideas to the client. I was not too pleased about this, being a scared kid. To make a long story short, the client bought all my work and the agency was saved from embarrassment. They promoted me to art director and my career in advertising was born.
Maybe it was a blessing I had no advertising training. My work was a bit unconventional. I did photo shoots around the world. I hired great illustrators like Guy Billot, Wilson McLean, Greg Spalenka and Matt Mahurin to name a few. I made connections and ended up art directing videos for MTV. Lenny Kravits, Robert Palmer and Buster Poindexter to name some. Like anything it has had its highs and lows over the years. Advertising has changed so much since I started. Now with computers, the ideas we present to the clients look like finished ads. We spend all our time looking for swipe material and then photoshopping the hell out of it. The clients have trouble looking at the idea, they get lost in focusing on the clothes someone is wearing or the hairstyle in the swipe photo. They think they are looking at a real ad. I mostly look forward to getting home and doing my own drawings for my blog. I just want to work at an ad agency that doesn’t break my balls. Get out at 5:30 and weekends free. I don’t take it serious at all.
People always feel the grass is greener on the other side. There are a lot of people out there who would kill for a job like mine and others who would hate to be in my position. So I count my blessings. I do have a Wacom pad that I inherited from a friend but I haven’t plugged it in yet. I’m a bit intimidated. I’m not great with technology and yes I have a 40G i-pod and a shuffle.
You mentioned “they pay you very well”. I want to know how much and by who, and have you ever been paid in anything other than cash?
When I started out I was making $12.000 a year now I make $175,000 a year. I have never taken anything under the table. I have never cheated on my taxes. I don’t want extra. I want to be paid for an honest days work. I have never cheated on my taxes, even by a nickel. One time I did a lot of work for someone and they gave me a new Harley Davidson motorcycle. But I really lost out on the deal but I didn’t care. I was having fun.
So in answer to your question I was always at a level where I made good money and never had to participate in hanky panky. I never would because I am an honest guy who cares about those things. You cannot bitch about George Bush and the conservatives and then say I took money from under the table. They try to make it seem like they are for honesty and Jesus yet they rob us blind. I am democrat and the opposite of them. I am honest and want to do what’s right even if it hurts me. Honesty is the best policy.
When working as an Art Director; how do you go about finding an illustrator or photographer, do you use agencies or sites like this site and do you ever take chances on newbie's?
I mostly found illustrators in the Blackbook or Workbook. I haven’t done ads with illustration in a while. If I was to hire illustrators today I would certainly use internet sites like LCSV4, Illustration Mundo and DRAWN! I keep track of a lot of illustrators now. I believe in giving new people a shot. In my career I have mostly done that with photographers though.
Do you always have creative freedom when working on a job? Also what do you do with yourself when you’re not being creative? Do you have any kids? Are you married?
To answer your first question. I don’t always have creative freedom. But there are enough talented people out there that if a client didn’t like someone I chose, there is always another great artist to use. Advertising is a business of compromise. Usually they want me to work on their stuff because of the type of ads I’ve done in the past. Believe it or not I just got married in May. It took me a while but great things happen to those who wait.
No kids yet but we’re planning on it. Soon. I pretty much create all day long at work. I illustrate all weekend and draw in my journals. I paint. Outside of that I love to drink ice cold beer. It helps to blow off steam when you work so
If you don’t mind me saying you have a very cool name Mr. Tommy Kane. Have you though about names for kids? What about Michael Kane or Kane Kane or would you prefer a girl?
It’s funny you mention that. I really haven’t been called Tommy since I was a little kid. When I made my website I went online to buy a domain name and the only one left was “Tommy Kane.” So I bought that. Now everyone calls me that. Before I was Tom Kane. So it was a lucky accident but I like it a lot.
Maybe I’ll call my kid Candy Kane Or Sugar Kane or Walking Kane. I don’t think I should answer the question of what I prefer to have. Once you write something online it’s there for good. Then ten years from now my kind will be surfing information online and come across what I had said. If I say I want a girl and it turns out a boy or vice versa then the kid will read it and feel really sad. You I’ll be happy to have a baby that is healthy.
If you have a girl please don’t call her Candy Kane, but on a serious note Walters a cool name! Anyway I started a thread on the Illustration Mundo forum called ‘The Doodletastic thread’. I would like to put your illustration skills to the test. Take this sketch :
It’s a sketch I did for the thread and do your own take on it in your style, show me how good you are. 😉 Also what do you look like?
Here is a photo of me.
Also the assignment you gave me. This is my take on your drawing. You’re right Walter is a good name.
Are you openly seeking illustration work at the moment and how do you normally go about promoting yourself? You mentioned the Blackbook earlier; what do you think of these type of books as a form of promotion in this day and age? And my son wants to know are you a Harry Potter fan?
I am openly seeking illustration work. I just finished a piece for a magazine in England and have an assignment to do a book cover right now and I sent out some mailers recently. A lot of places said they won’t look at work digitally. So I am making a bound portfolio. I’m so busy it’s taking a long time to get around to finishing it. Just putting my illustration website together was a huge undertaking. When you are not illustrating full time so many other things get in the way. I am always doing photo shoots and commercials at work so my time is eaten up. Plus it’s exhausting too.
The Blackbook is dead as far as I’m concerned. No one I know looks at any of those books anymore. They seem so ancient. I’d rather find an illustrator in Juxtapoz magazine.
So I guess the trick is to get into Juxtapoz. Plus it won’t cost you anything.
It’s very cool your son is into Harry Potter. I’ve seen all the movies. I had always intended to read the books but never did. Now it would be like reading war and peace four times. The type of things that influenced me when I was a kid was stuff like Batman, Green Hornet, Lone Ranger and of course Fireball XL5. Super powers are the best thing to dream about.
So are you looking forward to Spiderman 3, Fantastic four 2, and have you seen Ghost Rider yet? And before I forget have you ever shown your work in galleries or do you have any aspirations to show your work in galleries or be part of a show?
Yes I’m looking forward to all those movies. But the one I really want to see is “The 300.” I have never had any aspirations to be in a gallery. I rarely if ever go to any. I always loved illustration. People always ask me about galleries because I have so many paintings. Some agents have come to see them; I let one person take a few paintings (ones I wasn’t so interested in). They sold one for $4,000.00. Somehow it never interested me. I would rather have an illustration in a magazine than sell a painting in a gallery. I would be part of a show of other artists. I see that a lot on the Juxtapoz website. I would like to do something with someone like John Casey. He’s a friend and a genius.
Peanut butter and jelly or cheese and pickle?
This is easy. I love peanut butter and jelly. IÃ‚Â¹m a huge fan of blueberry. I get it at the farmerÃ‚Â¹s market in Manhattan. But my choice would by far and away be, cheese and pickle. I love pickles to death. When I was a little kid my dad loved to get pickles out of the barrel at our local butcher. I tasted one once and I was hooked. Ever since I have chased after the perfect dill pickle. Orchard street in Manhattan used to be where all the pickle shops were located. ItÃ‚Â¹s not to far from me. There is still one family left. You can get pickled green tomatoes, olives and sauerkraut. There is also another pickle store in New York. They have every kind of pickle from new, to sour and half sour. I buy them in giant plastic containers. Great with grilled cheese. So a pickle wins every time with me. That salty crunch, there's nothing like it.
VH1 or MTV?
Years ago I liked MTV. I was even on once with my friend David Johnasen of the New York Dolls. I had art directed a few Buster Poindexter videos. He hosted a thanksgiving special and he let me and a few friends come on with him. I also knew downtown Julie Brown pretty well. We hung out a bunch. Then there was the whole real world thing. Now it’s 24/7 Real World, Road rules and Real World vs. Road Rules. Vh1 was also cool for a while. I loved all the behind the music stuff. Stories of coke and booze ruining the lives of guys with big hair dos. I also loved the Bands reunited series. Now I never go anywhere near either channel. I prefer to watch a cooking show over that garbage.
Nokia or Samsung?
That’s an easy one for me. SAMSUNG. I do all the advertising for Samsung in North America. I am doing a big commercial right now with Beyonce. You will see it everywhere. The next two weeks I am doing eight photo shoots for ads. Phones and flat screen televisions. I definitely have the inside scoop on this. Samsung kicks Nokia’s ass. I’ve even been to South Korea where the stuff is made. Unfortunately I still have an old Motorola razor. And don’t tell anyone but I’m waiting for the iphone to come out. I love apple. Plus I own the stock. It’s trading at 89 today. My wife made me buy it at 60.
Thank you so much for doing this interview! I would just like to finish off with what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given and did you follow it?
My mom always told me to “keep my head warm and if it rains or snows, don’t get it wet.” What kind of ridiculous advice is this you ask? Well. I used to be sick all the time. When I was in art school in Buffalo, I would go around in the snow wearing just sneakers and no hat. I was constantly worn down and sick. I’d earaches all the time. It took forever for my mom’s dumb advice to sink into my skull. Finally while living and working in New York I started to get it. I will dress sensibly according to the weather. I started to not get sick. Now I have hats with ear flaps. Nice warm ones. I don’t care how stupid I look. I stay warm and dry. Now with all the work I have to do, I can’t tell you how valuable it is to not be sick. I have friends that are sick all the time. Not me. I know the secret trick. So no matter how much advertising work or personal illustration I have to do, it doesn’t matter, I can do it because I am healthy and strong.
Thanks Tommy! It's been great! – By the way I've just started up a new project called MAiLmeART.com since I don't think it's really fair to post myself something for the project I've stuck something in the post for you to say thank you for taking the time to be interviewed. You can check it out by clicking here!
You can see more of Tommy Kane’s work at