Andy Rash Interview
Before we start, a brief biography to place our readers:
Andy was born in Kingsport, Tennessee, in 1972 (Nineteen Seventy-Two). He studied at the Savannah College of Art and Design, B.F.A. and New York School of Visual Arts, M.F.A.
Currently, he works as a freelancer, doing illustrations for important and various publications:
- American Medical News
- Associated Press
- Black Enterprise
- Business Week
- Disney Magazine
- Entertainment Weekly
- Fortune Magazine
- International Herald Tribune
- Internet World
- Parents Magazine
- Sports Illustrated for Kids
- Storyworks Magazine
- The New York Times
- The New Yorker
- The Wall Street Journal
- The Washington Post
- Time Magazine
- Time Out Chicago
- Time Out New York
Also, he has published the following books:
- Ten Little Zombies: A Love Story
- Are You A Horse?
- Agent A to Agent Z
- The Robots Are Coming
- Superhero School
- Secret Agent Game Time!
- Sea Monster’s First Day
He also has majors awards:
- American Illustration
- Communication Arts
- Illustration Now
- Society of Illustrators
- Society of Publication Designers
It would be difficult to pigeonhole into a single style as he has explored different graphics, all with great talent. I personally believe that his pixelated portraits (iotacons) are great.
To many illustrators or designers, the city of New York is “the Mecca”, being also a dream to get published for magazines such as Time Magazine or newspapers like The Wall Street Journal.
Coming to New York was a scary prospect, and I might not have done it if I hadn’t gotten into the illustration program at the School of Visual Arts. SVA has an amazing program, and I met several of my closest friends there, as well as a couple of my first clients.
Have you ever imagined that at some point you would go this high?
That’s a very nice question, but I honestly don’t think of myself as very high up. I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to support myself with my drawing and writing, but there are many, many illustrators who show me everyday how much higher there is to go.
Did you find it hard to get where you got?
Yes! It was hard, is hard, and probably always will be. I’m constantly promoting my freelance work, writing books, creating television pitches, but it’s work I love to do. I guess it’s supposed to be hard.
What age did you start drawing?
was drawing fold-together furniture with tabs and slots for assembly when I was four, according to my mom, so I assume I was drawing at least by three.
Were your studies a great help and motivation?
Absolutely. The Savannah College of Art and Design has a great program for aspiring designers and artists. They teach important things about design, color, life drawing, etc. At SVA, I was honing my style and learning more about clients, promotion and solving visual problems.
Which came first, the publication of your own books or collaborations in reputable journals?
I had shown my portfolio around to book publishers, but it was an illustration I did for The New York Times Book Review that encouraged an art director at Scholastic to call me in for an interview. He got me my first book deal, I’ve done several books with him, and I work with him still.
Was your success progressive or is there a specific event that marked a before and after in your career?
Some things happened pretty quickly. My first year of freelancing I got into several publications including The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Entertainment Weekly. But I have not found a steady climb. Some years are very good, and some are very bad. Usually, if the economy takes a dive, so does a newspaper’s interest in silly drawings. But I keep finding new opportunities for illustration work in unexpected places.
Many artists go through very difficult times in which they are greatly at risk in both: their future and their self-esteem, as it is not easy to acquire a position in this critical world. Did you ever doubt about your future? Did you consider changing careers or you always had your point clear?
Everyone comes to a point when they want to throw up their hands and surrender. Being creative for a living is very difficult, and there isn’t an enormous amount of money in it, but there must be something else to it that means so much to me that I can’t give it up.
Did you have the support of family and friends?
I did and do. My parents are always trying to sell or give my books away. One of my best customers is my sister-in-law. I rely on my friends to help me with editorial concepts and stories. I’m collaborating with a very good friend on a television project right now. The support I value most of all is from my wife, who is an excellent designer, and gives me great advice.
What has been the publication you feel most proud of?
That’s a tough question. I published a book last year called Ten Little Zombies: A Love Story, and while it may not be my favorite book, it was certainly my favorite publishing experience. I did the whole thing, save for the cover and endpapers, and put it up on line for my friends, and then Chronicle Books agreed to publish it, essentially as is! That was amazing. I have a picture book called Are You a Horse? that I’m proud of because I think it works very well for kids. And I have a book called Agent A to Agent Z, which is optioned for animated television. I think I feel closest to that book.
What do you consider has been your greatest achievement or recognition?
I don’t know. I’m just happy to keep working.
Was there any person or teacher who made your career so important?
Certain people have helped me in ways I can never repay. Tops on that list is Steven Heller, who art directed The New York Times Book Review for many years and now runs the MFA Design program at SVA. He hired me and hired me and hired me until other art directors started doing it too. David Saylor, who was that art director I mentioned who called me in to Scholastic for an interview, has been an incredible friend and collaborator for several picture books. He is now a Creative Director and VP at Scholastic. I could list many more, but these two people are incredible craftsmen who showed me a great deal kindness and patience as I was first learning the trade.
Do you have a defined method when you start an illustration?
Not really. I usually draw sketches with a colored pencil and then refine the lines with a black pencil. If necessary, I trace the whole thing on a light table to rearrange things and make sure they fit in the space provided. Except for the iotacons, which are unsurprisingly done in the computer from the beginning. The artwork for Ten Little Zombies: A Love Story was done without a single sketch- just paint on paper. That was a very pleasurable experience.
What kind of style or technique do you have fun with or feel more comfortable while drawing?
My first true love when it comes to painting is gouache resist. I don’t get to do it that often for quick deadline jobs, but the art for several of my books including Are You A Horse was done this way.
Do you have many studies and sketches of each job?
Not for the iotacons! The sketch and the finish are pretty much the same thing. But for other editorial work, I’ll usually do several sketches and show a client the best three. For book stuff, I do tons of sketches, but try to show the best one.
As I said, your artwork “pixelated” called iotacons left me fascinated, because with a few colored squares you manage to represent a wide range of easily recognizable characters. There are more illustrators who use similar techniques, but in your case I think you reach a high quality style, very difficult to do if it is a portrait with a few squares.
Thanks very much!
Also, on your blog iotacons you show a dollar bill with this technique, claiming that you made in 1987 with an Atari computer and using a joystick. Excellent. You were then one of the first to perform this type of artwork. Where does the name iotacons come from?
That dollar bill is a real piece of art recently discovered at my parents’ house. As I mention on the blog, there was nothing retro about it at the time!
Iotacons is a name I made up combining the word “icon” with the word “iota” meaning a very small piece, as in the expression, “not one iota.” I was trying to say that these portraits are intentionally done with as little information as possible. I also liked that it sounded like “emoticon,” sort of.
Do you have any particular technique for this type of artwork?
Yes, there is a definite pattern to these iotacons. When you break it down, there are only a few variations of eye placement, nose shape, leg thickness, etc. to choose from. I get as close as I can given these limitations, and also try to exaggerate features people are especially known for, just like a regular caricaturist would. At this scale, a single pixel added to a person’s nose or eyebrow can make a lot of difference.
How do you reach that level of synthesis? It’s hard to imagine sketches on paper with this kind of artwork.
No paper sketches. It’s all done in the computer! As for the level of synthesis, I’m really glad people are responding to these things in the same way I do, but I don’t think I can explain it. It may all be context. For example, I doubt anyone would look at the 43 pixels I used to make Paul McCartney’s head and declare that it looks just like Paul McCartney. I think when you have four guys dressed up like Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band, you look for the guy who doesn’t have the big nose, the long nose or the unibrow and you say, “That must be Paul.”
Finally, seeing the variety of types of jobs that are on your site: Books, Editorial, Conceptual, Portraits, Maps, Iotacons … If you had to choose a line of work, which one did you choose?
I’m not sure. I think most of my work is pretty similar except for the iotacons. As much as I love doing them, I think they are too low-res to convey complex concepts or emotions. They are a fun hobby, although I have had them published in a couple magazines, including the current issue of Wired. If I had to choose, I guess I would have to choose the illustration style involving paint, which is most of the non-iotacon stuff.
Thank you very much for your time and from part of our team, our sincere congratulations on your work.
Thanks for asking!