This month’s issue of SciFiNow sees the latest thrilling instalment in our team-up with the brilliant folks at Poster Posse: a poster by Johnny Dombrowski for the groundbreaking SF collection Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison.
Johnny took the time to answer a few questions for us about his background, his inspiration and why you’ve got to be ambitious.
Tell us about your background as an artist. Where did you study and how did you get in to digital art?
I was enrolled at the School of Visual Arts and started out with a major in Cartooning and Comics but switched over to Illustration to receive my bachelors. That’s only the tip of the iceberg though- I’ve been drawing my entire life. I was always the kid inside doodling, rather than jumping around outside. It’s probably why I’m such a hermit these days.
How would you sum up your style? And how has this developed over the years?
Describing my style, may be a bit tricky. It certainly has a heavy comic book influence with bold line work and flat colors. Growing up reading nothing but Batman or Spiderman will do that to you. That and spark an interest in a deep sense of atmosphere, which only increases the more artwork you expose yourself too. Not just illustration but art history and photography as well. So, with that, I become a man without a country. I want those crisp shapes and bright colors, but at the same time, moody lighting and foggy depth. My style at that moment is my best way to solve that equation. I hope, at least. It doesn’t always work that way.
What have been your favourite projects to work on so far?
I’ve recently been fortunate enough to be working on a lot of really fun movie poster gigs lately. Illustrations for groups like the Poster Posse, Mondo, Black Dragon Press and more. Growing up, it was a weekend tradition to go to the movies with my father and it definitely stuck. I’ve been a huge movie buff my entire life and I’ll always go with the classics. Give me any film noir movie and I’ll be a happy kid.
A lot of your work is based on popular culture, what attracts you to this kind of work?
Outside of the movies posters, I’m not sure if much of my work is based on recent things happening in popular culture or the news. I’ve always fallen in love with images from history. Things you would never see today. You look through photographs or books old enough and they almost turn into fairy tales. Something other-worldly. That’s what I tend to focus on. Stories that haven’t been told in a while that need repeating.
Are there any dream clients/collaborators you’d love to work with and why?
Speaking of stories, out of everything, I think my dream job would have a comic published. They’re a lot of work, but as I’m maturing as an artist, my eyes are starting to drift back to that. My imagination tends to run wild so a single illustration can quickly morph in to a story whole knows how many pages long. Maybe a one shot for Batman? Really focus on his detective skills. The darker, seedier side of Gotham.
What is usually the most challenging part of a commission?
The hardest part of a commission is always getting off the ground. The beginning stages of a sketch, the first twenty minutes of a drawing will determine everything, so you have to make sure you get them right. The more you plan in those stages, the easier the rest of the project will be. There’s nothing more intimidating than a blank page.
What is your process? Are you a ‘tight’ sketcher of ideas or does it start loose and come together digitally?
Because of that beginning, I am a very tight sketcher. I want to make sure lighting is established and any important details are fleshed out before I start with the final. After that, I rough out the entire layout of the final very loosely, be it by hand with a pencil, or digital on a Cintiq. I then get more to details, blocking in bit by bit.
What programs/tools can’t you live without?
Photoshop. I’ve been using it since my first years in high school and I’m still experimenting with it. Still learning new ways to use it more effectively. That said, nothing beats the power of ink and a brush. Looking through years of illustrations and comics, the use of black and white has made some pretty amazing stuff.
What would you say separates you from other artists?
My life. It’s the same thing that separates them from me. Everyone always worries about creating their own unique style, including me, and no matter what you do, that will never work. It will always sneak up on you. One gigantic part of that is what you’ve been growing up with your entire life. What you’re interested in. What you love to draw, to read, to look at. All of that will come together to form your own Frankenstein’s monster that you can call your process. For me, it’s reading those old comics books and pulp magazines. Watching film noir and looking through black and white photography from the 40s and 50s. Growing up in the woods and then moving out to the city. You start to build a world where all of your and only your illustrations can exist.
What advice would you give to yourself if you could travel back in time to the start of your career?
Don’t be timid. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The time I spent trying to make everything perfect wasted a lot of time. There are some cases where it’s best to jump in head first.
What would be your three key tips or pieces of advice for artists trying to start a career?
1. Ambition is key. There’s no such thing as talent. Successful art and artists comes out of hard work. 2. Stop caring about what’s popular. Create what you want to create and your voice will eventually be heard. Even though it may not be the ears and eyes you expected. 3. Don’t. Be. Timid.
Anything you are working on/upcoming that you would like to plug?
Working on some amazing movies posters right now. Of course, no titles I can mention at the moment so you’ll have to be patient. That and after 6 years of switching from Cartooning to Illustration, I’m finally working on a comic book, or rather, comics books. I don’t want to say much but it’s the biggest thing on my plate right now and I haven’t been this excited about anything in a long time.
See Johnny’s work in the new issue of SciFiNow, on sale now!