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19 Feb 2011

Illustratin' Elton: The Weekend Of Jason Seiler

Welcome Eltonites to "The Weekend Of...". This is a very special weekend for the blogsite. February is the month of cartoonin', illustratin', paintin', portraitin', drawin', well, everything, related to Elton, obviously. We had great artists here, from Brazil, from France, Italy, Australia. I thought about inviting someone to the weekend, someone very special. He's one of the most talented guys I've ever seen. He's so young, but he has good experience in his profession. He also teaches. Most of you know him for his covers, his artworks. Extremely talented and gifted, his illustrations have been featured as covers and interior pieces for TIME, Business Week, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, MAD magazine, GOLF magazine, KING magazine, Revolver, Guitar Player, The Village Voice, Penguin Group, Disney, The New York Observer, D Magazine, The Bloomberg Market, New Line Cinema, Universal Pictures, Aardman Animation, and Sony Image, among a long list. Ladies and gentlemen, the doors of AllSongsList are all wide open to receive the fantastic, incredible, the genious... Jason Seiler!!!

First of all thank you very much for your valuable time to give us for this interview. Let’s start. How did you become an illustrator? How you started your career?

I have been drawing my whole life and have been serious about it as long as I can remember. I never had a set plan as to what I was going to do with my art. All I knew is that I wanted to be an artist, that I wanted to draw and paint every day until the day I die. I have always been good at drawing people and eventually I started drawing caricatures between the ages of 10 and 12. As I got older I started doing small commissions for people, drawing wedding and birthday gifts, retirement gifts and so on. But what I really wanted to do was illustrate for magazines. I began by sending my work to little publications that know one ever heard of, and eventually a few of them started hiring me for covers and inside illustrations. As time went on I got better and better, and the jobs got better and better. My career is built on one job leading to another. I never know where or who the next job will be for, but so far the jobs keep on coming in, and thankfully, I'm always booked.

Great! Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?

Yeah, well sort of. I collected Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man. I read some of them, but mostly I collected them for the art. I would copy page after page. My parents have sketch books of mine that are filled with Batman and Spider-man, they were my favorite for sure.

Right! What is your main source of inspiration? Do you have some favorite character? When designing a character, do you do a lot of research first?

I don't really have a main source of inspiration. I'm inspired by artists, such as, James Jean, Jeremy Geddes, Sean Cheatham, Sam Weber, John Singer Sargent, Richard Schmid, Lucean Freud, Jenny Saville and much more. I'm not inspired by caricature art. There are caricature artists who I think are good, but for me there's much more to what I do than just caricature. As far as designing characters, and researching, yes, if I'm designing a character or caricature, I will gather as much reference as I can and from there I usually do quite a few sketches before settling on a final design.

Once you said: “Caricature is not only about how much you can exaggerate a person, there’s so much more to it than that”. What’s your definition of a perfect caricature?

I'm not sure if there is a "perfect" caricature? There are so many ways that the same person can be drawn. I think what makes a caricature great is if the artist has captured the person's character. I feel this is more important than how much the artist has exaggerated the person's features. If you look at a caricature and it "feels" like the person, than I think you can call that a successful caricature.

How important are the sketches in you work? You released a DVD talking about the importance of sketching as a means of practice and preparation for finished works.

It's very important. I don't do tons of sketching for every job that I work on, but the more you can sketch and experiment, the stronger the final will be. Sketching is like working out, like preparing for a marathon. Knowing how to paint and finish an illustration is of course important, but if the foundation is weak, then what's the point? So, focusing your energy on the sketching is key to having solid finished pieces.

Perfect! What hardware and software you prefer for your painting work, in case you do? Or you prefer the traditional way?

Well, I prefer painting traditionally but most of my work these days is done digitally. I love painting in oils, acrylics and watercolors. Painting digitally helps me meet deadlines, and it's also easier to make adjustments or changes if needed. For my digital work, I use Photoshop mostly using the paint brush tool. I work on a 21" Cintiq made by Wacom.

You are an instructor of a correspondence course on How it works?

I have 9 lessons which are each 2 hours in length, pre-recorded. The students are given an assignment with every lesson. Once they're finished with their homework, they upload it to the Schoolism site along with any questions or comments that they may have. I download their homework and comments and record a personalized critique for each student. I will draw and paint on top of their work sharing with them my opinions and techniques. If the students work hard, they'll leave the course much better artists. It's encouraging and exciting to see students growing before my eyes. I take on anyone who wants to learn, beginners to seasoned professionals. Currently, one of my students is in his 70's and he's amazing too, one of my best students! My next class starts February 18th, check out for more info.

Fantastic job! How did you fall into the world of Wonderland and Tim Burton? And how did you adapt to his style?

My friends Bobby Chiu and Kei Acedera at Imaginism Studios were hired to work as character designers on the film. They asked if I wanted to help out and so I did. It was a great experience and was very exciting to see characters that I worked on alive on the big screen. I didn't try to adapt to Tim Burton's style, I just did what I felt would fit the feeling of the story. There were a few designs already finished that were really nice, so I think those pieces probably influenced style a bit too? I did a few designs of my own, but mostly what I did was give life to sketches that Bobby did. I would get a sketch that was good, but basic, no real detail or anyhthing and from there I would paint it. I was given total freedom to take it where I wanted. Bobby and I designed the Tweedles and for their look, I was influenced by the evil twins in "The Shining" as well as by kids that I saw a park that I took my daughter too. There were these kids with thin transparent skin; you could see blue veins, I took a mental note of how cool that looked and as soon as I was in my studio next, I painted blue veins on my tweedle character. It was cool sitting in the movie theatre and seeing the blue veins on their foreheads, and knowing where the idea originally came from brought a smile to my face.

Sure! How do you promote your work?

I don't do much for promotion. I try to post regularly on my blog and I enter all the major competitions. The most important thing that I do is work hard. Never miss a deadline and always put in 150% into what you do. Make sure you're workable that you're a pleasure to work with.

I really like your official website, specially the Portofolio and the store section. Could you explain us, please, what we fans could find there? That’s on

Sure. In my portfolio section, I have a nice collection of my favorite pieces, some from publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Rolling Stone to name a few. And others that I have done for myself, or for self promotion. I also have a sketches section which I feel is great for art directors, they always like to see an artists sketches. I have a character design section which features work that I did for Alice in Wonderland. I also have a "case study" section which shares some of my technique and thought process. In the store section you can order my first book, "Caricature, the Art of Jason Seiler" and my second book, "SEILER 2008-2009" as well as my first DVD, "Sketching with Jason Seiler". If everything works out how I'd like it to, I am planning on having two more DVD's out this next year.

Wow, fantastic!!! Do you have any recent favorite projects or anything coming up you’re excited about?

I am working on a book that I can't say much about at this time because I want to keep it secret. What I can say now is that it will be nothing you would expect. I'm pushing myself, trying to create something really special, almost re-inventing myself if you will. But no worries, it will still be 100% SEILER. I'm currently working on concept designs for costumes for Kung Fu Panda on Broadway. It's great to work on and I hope it get's picked up so I can continue to work on it. As mentioned earlier, I'm planning on putting out two more DVD's this year. I'm also working on new techniques for my illustrations. I'm trying to develop and expand my portfolio, adding more non-caricature work, more portraits, I think you'll like what I'm working on? Right now I'm developing ideas in my sketch book and once I have what I want worked out, I'll begin to add these new pieces to my portfolio. I recently painted Donald Trump for the cover of a well known magazine. I can't say much more at this time, but it will be on news stands and in book stores in about a week. I'm very excited about this cover as I believe it's one of my best pieces yet. What's even more exciting for me is that I know Donald Trump will see it. I wish I could see his face when he see's it!

Let’s see! I am absolutely impressed about your Elton’s cartoon with Leon. How difficult it is to caricaturate Elton?

Thank you. Well, it's actually not difficult to caricature him, but this particular piece is not a caricature. Rolling Stone wanted a realistic portrait. I'm used to seeing Elton John with crazier hair and glasses, but for this, they wanted him to look a certain way and actually provided me with their own references which they wanted me to paint from. I was told that the owner of Rolling Stone and Elton are good friends, so I felt a lot of pressure to really get this piece right. I was relieved when I heard that everyone at Rolling Stone loved the painting. I love working for Rolling Stone, I'm really into music, so painting musicians for the biggest music magazine is a perfect and exciting fit for me.

Could we define you as an eltonite? In case, what fascinates you most about Elton John?

UM? Well? I'm not really that into Elton John to be honest. I do like some of his older music, and I think he's insanely talented. As a person, Elton is a great guy, I know he does a lot of good for a lot of people and I think that is awesome, but as far as music goes, I'm more of a Muddy Waters, Rollingstones guy. :)

Hahaha ok! But could you tell me your five favourite Elton's songs in running order, for my AllSongsList? Thank you.

Sorry, don't really know what they would be, but I do like "Crocodile Rock", that's a great song!

Would you want to add some observation or suggestion, or something you want to say to eltonites?

Not sure? Let me think . . . . . OK, I got it. Long live Sir Elton and long live the Eltonites and while I'm at it, long live the Beach Club at Jimmy Johns, because that is a damn good sandwich!

Thanks so much, Jason, you've been so kind with us eltonites. You are acknowledged for your determination and your fearlessness for hard work, for honestly assessing your work where it is, where it needs to go. For this undying hope that all such efforts in the end pay off. Go on with your great work, I wish you all the best in life and be ready for the surprise. Old Rabbit have someone here...

pictures courtesy by Jason Seiler

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