July is all about fun for The Junkyard. It’s hot and sticky and perfect margarita weather, there are tons of vacation days to take, students are out of my city and I can enjoy it once again, and hanging out by a campfire telling ghost stories never gets old.
That is why painter and illustrator Harry Boardman is the perfect summer release in our In Depth series! A keen sense of humor and wicked imagination (and superb talent!), Boardman brings out the monster in all of us.
Junkyard Arts: Let’s start where we always start! How did you first realize you were an artist?
Harry Boardman: Like so many artists, I’ve always drawn and painted. Because of that, and supportive parents, I was in some form of art class or private art lessons from around age 7…perhaps earlier. I remember being in art class in 1st grade and deciding I wanted to be a real artist.
Those classes eventually lead to private lessons with a watercolor painter and illustrator named Jeanne Doan Burford in Southampton, PA. Jeanne taught the girls how to paint in watercolors and read stories to the boys who then illustrated them with pen and ink. Using a small metal nib and lots of textures, I learned to illustrate a story.
JYA: Were you able to continue that sort of focus with formal lessons as you got older?
HB: I continued with an art-heavy curriculum in high school taking night classes at the local community college in 10th grade to satisfy the social studies requirement and fit in another art class…spending about half my day in the art room was awesome! I was accepted into Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY to study illustration and that’s where I studied after high school.
JYA: Seeing your work it’s clear you are comfortable going from realism to impressionist to illustration and cartooning. Are you more comfortable with one style over another?
HB: Unlike so many artists who seem to be able to work in one style consistently, I am drawn to many different styles and media. My challenge is to make a body of work look like one person created it instead of 20.
JYA: Totally. Do you find it hard to hold a familiar thread through all your work as you go from style to style?
HB: I do move from one style to another fairly easily and believe that certain styles work better in different scenarios. I maintain a lot of line work and hope that my drawing style will shine through. When left to fall back on a familiar style, I use heavier outlines and prefer to work quickly. This makes colored pencil pretty ideal for adding dolor to my drawings because there is no dry time. I also enjoy trying to treat the medium differently than expected. It’s a good thing when people look at the monsters and say, “that can’t be colored pencil right?”
JYA: Now that you’ve brought it up – let’s talk monsters! I find your 365Monsters idea pretty refreshing, considering most people are doing blogs about what they ate every day of the year, or what hair clip they used or whatever. Tell me about how it came to be.
HB: In early 2008 America was seized by an economic crisis…or so I’m told. The art market in the woods of Pennsylvania was still decent but slow just like other businesses. I’d been thinking of creating a blog/internet art project. With a budding idea to do…something online and a slow economy, I decided to create a project that would be fun, unique, connect me with new art lovers/clients, and keep me busy drawing and exercising the “creative muscle”. Now I had something brewing but none of the details worked out.
At the same time I had clients coming to the studio to look at paintings or pick up their commissioned portraits (of their kids, dog, house, etc) and they’d always seem to see something, smile, and ask “what’s that?” “That” was almost always a monster painting off to the side. They featured colorful creatures, cartoon Harry’s fighting them with medieval weaponry, and odd scenes.
With so much interest in my monsters (a side/personal project at the time) and the blog project blooming in my mind, a plan was hatched. I decided that the best way to do this was to create a new piece of monster art every day for a year, write a short story about it, and post it to a blog. On Halloween of 2008 I committed to the project with almost no preparation and begana year of insanity.
JYA: I featured one of your monsters in a Gallery Wall I did months ago because I not only loved the artwork itself, but I loved the story.
HB: Once in a while the story comes first (like any good illustrator is trained). In most cases I completed the artwork and then wrote the story after…giggling most of the time. I’d just look at the artwork and try to put myself into that particular monster’s shoes and the stories came naturally.
JYA: Do you have a favorite monster? One whose shoes you are most apt to fill?
HB: I do have a few monsters that I prefer over the others. It’s usually because they (and their story) are so ridiculous that I can’t help it. For other favs it’s because they’re secretly of friends or family who don’t know they’ve been monsterized.
JYA: So you did the 365Monsters for fun, but you also have commercial success as an artist doing landscapes and portraits.
HB: The project was done for fun but also largely as a way to challenge myself and put me on edge. It was designed to be difficult. It was also designed to be a publicity-generating tool for my business. Although I used to also have a contracting and custom cabinetry business, artwork is my business now.
JYA: For all those trying to make it exclusively on their artwork, what is some advice you can share? Also, custom cabinetry?! That is a totally different set of skills! Im impressed, but I digress…
HB: Making a career as an artist is tough and often unforgiving. It’s a full-time job just to find work and then you still have to create something that is unique, innovative, creative, and beautiful each and every time. I’d say the advice goes something like this: be relentless and never quit, this industry is constantly changing and there are absolutely no rules at all. Be seen and represent yourself because if you create the greatest painting the world has ever seen, already done by me, and no one sees it, it kinda doesn’t matter!
Who you know is very important too because it’s often someone else that can open the door for a great opportunity for your career instead of yourself. It’s also very important to do two more things. 1. learn to let your work go. You have to be able to sell it. Besides, you make that artwork and can make more so let it go. 2. Grow a thick skin. People aren’t always kind and whether it’s a critique made to your face or something awful said when they think you can’t hear, you’ll have to deal with it and move on.
JYA: Right on. I’ve had teachers tear apart my performances before and sometimes you just need to say “yup” and move on. Moving on! Who are some of your influences? I have a feeling this is going to be a broad range
HB: Most of my influences are not overly monster related. I’m primarily a landscape and nature painter. The artists who most influenced me are Vincent Van Gogh, Wassily Kandinsky, Alphonse Mucha, Arthur Rackham, Gustov Klimt, and Chuck Close.
They are all inspirations for different reasons. I found each of their work at different points in my life and their work affected my own. Kandinsky, Klimt, and Mucha are artists that I studied closely and learned to paint by emulating. Rackham kindled my belief that artwork can be scary and beautiful at the same time and added to my understanding of alternate ways to draw and use ink outside of my training. For me, Van Gogh is just perfect. I relate to him and his work and am easily lost in his brushwork, abstractions, and color choices.
JYA: Tell me about the mural project you just finished. How did the project come about and how were you able to go from someone who usually draws or paints in a smaller medium to going onto a wall – something many artists have a hard time reconciling.
HB: The most recent mural project was painted at my local library. The Indian Valley Library in Telford, PA is an excellent library. They recently completed an addition that added large walls of glass that give a light and open feel to the library that’s really great and they also installed a green roof over their new addition. All of the work was paid for with donations and some of the donations were incredibly generous and show how much the community loves this library.
I was contacted to create a donor recognition mural. The challenge here is to create a library/family-friendly piece of artwork that also incorporates about 200 names. The design features a large gnarly tree supporting a big book. There are all manner of animals and bugs hidden throughout the painting. I hired a calligrapher to letter all the donor names in the book.
Although my monsters were quite small, I do like to work large when possible. Switching from small ink and colored pencil pieces to an 8’ tall x 11.5’ wide acrylic painting on a wall is fine for me. It’s nice to have the room to stretch my arms as I work.
JYA: What other projects are you working on right now?
HB: I’m working on producing an annual art show that I take part in with a group of artists I’m [working] with. I also tend to work in bursts of nonstop painting and am prepping for one of landscapes, full of lush texture, thick paint, and bold outlines. I’m also booking galleries and other venues for solo and group shows into late 2012 and early 2013.
JYA: Busy! Any plans for another 365 project?
HB: Yes! This one will be called “52 Farms” and will feature weekly postings of paintings in oil or oil pastel of working farms in the 2 or 3 counties surrounding my studio. These paintings will be more ambitious than the daily ones in 365 Monsters. I chose farms because they are a part of my ongoing body of work and I feel that painting them is a good way to connect my artwork with my community. I’m hoping to create 52 killer paintings, plan a coinciding gallery show, promote these working farms, and promote my work all at the same time.
JYA: A week for a painting sounds pretty insane. How do you cope through moments of no inspriation or motivation when you have a project like this looming?
MB: The initial 10 to 20 monsters were really tough. It was hard to create the work, write the story, work out the bugs of my first blog, and still manage my existing workload. Plus it’s hard to be creatively on demand like that. As time went on, I got into a groove with the project. Wherever I went I saw monsters (but no one admitted me to an institution) and inspiration was everywhere. I also got into a nice routine of eating dinner with my wife and then heading to my studio to work on my monster art for the day. People often don’t believe that I actually did a new monster each and every day but I did. The only time I did the monsters in advance was when we travelled to the UK for 4 days in December of 2008. I did the monsters in advance and posted them from abroad.
In the end I never missed a day because, not only was I having a blast, but my blog readers and monster fans were counting on me.
When it was all over I was glad to be free but missed it terribly at the same time. I’m so glad I did the project.
THE SAME QUESTIONS WE (SORTA) ALWAYS ASK
What materials do you most often use?
ink, colored pencils, oil paints, oil pastels
Favorite place to visit?
I’m really happy here in the woods but I love to visit the Brandywine museum and the MOMA. Visiting the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam is an experience I’ll never forget and would be happy to go back someday.
Music you listen to while working?
As I work there is always something on. My music library is often on random and goes from Ray Charles or the Beatles to the Raconteurs or Cold War Kids. When music isn’t on, movies are.