STUDENT OF THE SEMESTER: JOE ROUSE
Throughout the year the Society of Illustrators chooses a student who shows superior artistic talent, initiative and drive, and is largely involvemed with the illustration community as our Student of the Semester (SOS). For our first SOS we have selected Joe Rouse, a senior at Savannah College of Art and Design, who was also one of our very own hardworking interns this past summer. Joe went above and beyond helping out with our summer events, the renovations to the Museum, and with mentoring some of the students involved with our NEA-sponsored Summer Illustration Art Academy Program. Below is an interview I had with Joe where we discuss his decision to go to SCAD, his work as president of their illustration club, and some tips and feedback on his technique and style.
So let’s start at the beginning. Tell me a little bit about your background. Where were you born?
I was born in Illinois and lived in Berwyn, a town just outside Chicago until I was about six years old. My family then moved to Woodridge, which is about 40 minutes away from Chicago, where we still live today. It was nice to be close to Chicago because I would spend a lot of time at the Art Institute Museum, which always inspired me to draw when I got home.
When did you first start making art?
I started creating art from a very early age. I always like to say it was as soon as I picked up a pencil I started drawing. My first sketchbook had to be when I was in 3rd grade and I would always fill it with drawings of my favorite super heroes like the X-Men and Spiderman. I would also fill it with cartoon characters from Loony Tunes or monsters from movies or TV shows. I was also into video games and would draw my versions of my favorite video game characters. I started drawing a lot from print outs from the Internet when I started using computers as a child. My first completed piece of art I can remember was a watercolor I painted in sixth grade that I still have today. It was a simple painting of a humming bird and a flower, but I always like to look back at the very beginning of my art career and see where I am now.
Who were your earliest influences?
As for my influences, my parents and my high school art teacher were my greatest influences. Every drawing I ever created when I was young would be showed to my parents and they would respond with nothing but encouragement. When I was in middle school I asked my parents if I could draw on the walls of my room and they said, “Go for it!”. I drew every little thing I could imagine on those walls. That experience sticks with me to this day because it set a very important creative foundation and drove me to keep pursuing art without limits. I also owe my high school art teacher, Mr. Voelker, recognition for where I am today. He gave me direction and inspiration that has given me the drive and skills I have today. Every project I came to him with would be met with enthusiasm and excitement for what a great piece of art could be. Actually, nine times out of ten, he would be more excited about what you were doing than you were, which always inspired me more. I learned a lot through the hundreds of books he kept in the art room at our high school. A lot of artists that influenced me such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Dali, Zdzislaw Beksinski, Ralph Steadman, Brad Holland, Shaun Tan and a bunch more were found in those books. I knew about some of those artists at a very young age and they had always inspired me to try and paint or draw like they did. It wasn’t until I started working with Mr. Voelker that my work really started becoming finished and presentable. The most important thing I gained from my parents and Mr. Voelker was confidence in my work and myself. That confidence picks you up when you are struggling with your work because you know you can make it happen.
How did you find SCAD?
I found SCAD through my high school art teacher. I had applied to various other schools, but my teacher recommended SCAD due to the direction I wanted to go in my art career and the way I work.
Did you always plan on studying illustration?
I did not always plan on studying illustration actually. I studied architecture for four years in high school and always thought I would end up in that field. Even when I started art classes, I was working for an architect as a drafting administrator. I had only started getting familiar with illustration about halfway through my senior year. Artists you would consider fine artists like those I stated before always influenced me. I was more interested in portraits and rendering than specifically illustration at the time. But, as I got into the second half of my senior year I started looking at works by Ralph Steadman, Brad Holland, Tim O’Brien and various other illustrators and was inspired by the different ways each artist used concept, personal expression and media to produce art with such individual and unique voices. The concepts, uniqueness, and individuality of what I saw in those illustrators is what attracted me the most.
How was your transition to an art school?
My transition to art school was a very easy one. I spent most of my last two years in high school in the art room surrounded by about 15 other focused high school art students. When I got to SCAD it was exciting to be around so many other excited and talented artists so I felt pretty at home. Savannah, Georgia was the farthest I had ever been from home at the time so it was exciting to see a new place and learn the area.
Your work is very dark and intense. Can you tell me a little about it?
My art is fairly dark and intense, and I feel that’s because I have always been intrigued by darkness and fear as well as the different emotions that come out of the two. For my process, I usually sketch out a very simple composition with loose line work and simple shapes just to see where certain subject matter should be and how they interact on the page. After I think I have what I need I move to my final page. When I move to the final page, I don’t always scale up the previous sketch to exact proportions. What I do is use the sketch as reference like you would a picture of an apple or tree. I do this because it gives me the room to use some of my creative instincts and allow for a more personal expression within the work. I will also set up 3 - 4 prepped surfaces for one final project to allow me to draw and paint without hesitation. Having multiple prepped surfaces for one final helps relieve the fear of making a mistake because you know you have three more chances to go.
What materials do you use?
The materials I use vary quite a bit because I experiment a lot. I like trying new things with pieces and it’s exciting when something goes “wrong” in the right way. But I always seem to stick to an inkbottle with a brush or pen quills as well as use of charcoal. I have also used a lot of watercolors, but acrylics have become quite fun in some of my recent experiments.
Who are your influences now?
As for influences, Alan E. Cober, Ralph Steadman, and Brad Holland are definitely some of my favorite illustrators today. I also love the works of Rick Sealock, Jack Unruh, Joe Ciardello, Norman Rockwell, Matt Mahurin, Marshall Arisman and a ton of others. I always go to places like Illustration Mundo, Escape From Illustration Island, Illoz and Drawger to see up-and-coming illustrators as well as established ones. I am always finding someone new that inspires me in some way.
You are the President of the SCAD Illustration Club. Can you tell me a little bit about your club?
The SCAD Illustration Club is set up to provide students with a place to discuss illustration, participate in juried exhibitions, network and basically anything an illustrator would need help with. We hold our main meetings every two weeks, which consist of presenting dates for shows, we may be setting up or interesting illustration related topics we find. We also participate in community service based events such as raising funds for the Humane Society where the members produced art related to the Humane Society’s cause and sold postcards and prints. Every fall we hold a Halloween show where people can come dressed up and enjoy some festive illustrations, food and candy. This year we are starting to have a “Best Of” show at the end of each quarter, which allows for the club members to submit digital files of their work produced during the quarter to be shown on projectors in a slideshow. We are also starting a quarterly sketchbook show that will coincide with the “Best Of” show. We hope it is all incentive for students to become more involved in the world of illustration and to just improve their skills as artists. This being my last year with the club I hope to leave it with some exciting and overall helpful events and discussions.
What are your plans post college?
Once I graduate, I hope to make my way back to New York City to pursue illustration. I have been making plans with some other artists from college to move there and start a studio together.
You were an intern with us this past summer. One of our biggest summer projects is hosting a camp for underprivileged youths. Can you tell me about your experience working with the kids?
First, I would like to say that providing that camp for the children is fantastic. I think its great to give an opportunity for kids to get into art and give them some direction as well as confidence to draw and create. I personally really enjoyed working with the groups of kids and helping them draw and paint. Taking them to the Bronx Zoo, Aquarium at Coney Island, Brooklyn Museum and other museums was a real treat the kids and myself. There were some very focused and talented kids I worked with over that month and I felt like they really enjoyed themselves. I have always enjoyed teaching others about what I love to do so it was a great experience for me.
Do you have any words of advice for college students?
For art students specifically, the best piece of advice I can give is to not worry whether or not your work is the best around or the best it could be because you will always improve as long as you never stop pursuing art and creativity. Take risks in your work and don’t be afraid to make mistakes, sometimes they lead you right where you wanted to go. Also be sure to work with other artists on a regular basis. The more friends you have, especially in your field, the more you will grow and just enjoy art in general.
For all college students, I know you hear this all the time, but just be sure you are happy with what you are doing. You hear a lot about all-nighters in college so make sure all that sleep you lose is for something that makes you smile in the end.