Artist Interview: Shannon Stamey Gets Bjork-y About His Cat

Photos courtesy of Shannon Stamey (left).

The Davis Girl (TDG): I am joined today via Google Hangouts by illustrator Shannon Stamey. He draws things. Welcome Shannon.

Shannon Stamey (SS): Thanks for having me!

TDG: You draw some pretty awesome things, Shannon.

SS: Thanks! Sometimes I draw total crap.

TDG: What do you do with the crap drawings?

SS: There’s a furnace in the basement of my apartment building.

TDG: Oooooooh.

A commission sketch of Captain Marvel.

SS: Other times, I keep them to remind myself where I’ve screwed up.

TDG: I like to burn things, too.

SS: I usually just throw them away.

TDG: What is the the last thing you drew?

SS: A small commission sketch of Captain Marvel. I also took some notes for another private commission I’m working on, which is mostly just scribbles and bullet points to the side.

TDG: What’s your favorite illustration tool-thingy?

SS: My absolute favorite is sepia pencils on parchment. I love that marriage of color and texture.

The artist’s work station.

TDG: I like permanent markers on anything.

SS: As much as I love ink and the way it looks and feels, it’s not something I’ve ever been very good at using the way I’d like to be able to.

TDG: You once said you were self-taught. How did that happen?

SS: I don’t have any kind of academic background. If I didn’t have all the illustrators that came before me to look at and learn from, I wouldn’t know anything.

TDG: Which illustrators?

SS: My first favorites were Maurice Sendak books when I was 4. I remember it vividly. My grandma got copies of “Little Bear”, “Where the Wild Things Are” and “In the Night Kitchen” at a yard sale and I fell in love with the pictures. In 3rd grade, my teacher gave me her copy of “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” and “Scary Stories to tell in the Dark”, so my first influences were a little on the dark side for a child, but I adored that sort of thing. I’d also watch the opening credits to MYSTERY! on PBS just to see the Edward Gorey intro animation. But I’d turn it off after that. I loved movies, so VHS box art and movie posters were also something I loved a lot growing up. I got caught stealing the cover boxes for Evil Dead and City of the Living Dead from a video store when I was 11. Since then my influences have varied a lot more. Norman Rockwell, Gil Elvgren, Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Jon Bauer, Kay Neilsen…

“Wynken, Blynken and Nod”. 2004. oil, colored pencil and pastel on paper. 16×20.

Most any Golden Age illustrator is gonna be on this list. Basil Gogos, Bernie Wrightson, John Totleben, Moebius, Jae Lee, Travis Charest, Bill Sienkiewicz, Andy Braze, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, John Atkinson Grimshaw, Mead Schaeffer…This could go on for a while. They’re guys that I don’t necessarily emulate, but the quality of their work really does make me try to discipline myself to be better at what I do. Maxfield Parrish is probably the biggest influence. Not so much stylistically, though it does show through sometimes, but more from a versatility standpoint. He could do children’s books and advertising, Fine Art, murals, and all done in different mediums and style. I would like to have that kind of versatility in my work.

TDG: Ok.

SS: Yes.

TDG: In your Twitter bio you describe yourself as a “Golden Age illustrator.” That sounds fancy.

SS: It’s mostly in reference to subject and mood more than it is about style for me, personally. I like things to look older than they are. I like old things. Things that have some history and personality to them. Things that’ve been well-loved. So, for a lot of my illustrations, I do my best to create that. Not just in subject, but in the look and feel of the illustration. It’s one thing to draw a lady in a Victorian styled dress, but it’s another thing entirely to make the paper you’re working on to appear as if it’s from a newspaper from 1910. It goes back to the color and texture thing I mentioned earlier. Sometimes, I tea-stain, sand and burn illustrations and prints to make it feel authentic. To look water damaged and faded.

TDG: How can you tell a thing is loved and not just forgotten garbage?

SS: By it’s imperfections. The nicks and scratches in wood. The creases and stains in paper. The way an old book smells. And I try to make most of my illustrations not just look that way, but feel that way. I want you to want to touch it as much as I want you to look at it. Even garbage was well-loved by someone.

The Spider and the Fly colored pencil on paper. 2015. 12×18

TDG: Last week you announced a $10 postcard deal and your Twitter feed blew up. What happened there?

SS: A client had to cancel a commission unexpectedly and I plan my budget on what I’m scheduled to make on my commissions. So, I decided to start this $10 5″x7″ postcard sketch deal in hopes to help make up for that lost work. And the response to it has been overwhelming. In the best way. I got my first request three minutes after my post. And it’s been going pretty steadily since then. People have been unfathomably supportive and kind in taking part in this with me. I’d originally only planned to do it for that week, but I kept getting orders, so I’ll just keep it an ongoing thing until further notice.

TDG: How long does it take you do to a 5×7 if someone wanted a unicorn?

SS: My 5x7s average an hour each. Some are tougher than others. Especially the ones with characters I’m not as familiar with or have no experience drawing.

TDG: How many unicorns have you drawn?

SS: I’ve only drawn one unicorn. And that was for Shannon Smith in 3rd grade.

TDG: What’s your favorite thing about unicorns?

SS: They fart rainbows.

TDG: What is your favorite snack?

SS: Salt and vinegar chips. Hands down.

TDG: Favorite cartoon character? 

Krieger from “Archer”. Courtesy of Google images.

SS: Growing up, it was Wakko Warner from Animaniacs. now, it’s a toss-up between Krieger from “Archer” or Rick Sanchez from “Rick & Morty”

TDG: So how do I give you $10 to draw a Golden Age rainbow-farting unicorn eating a Pop Tart?

SS: You can PayPal me at: shannonstamey@ymail.com for your Golden Age rainbow-farting, Pop Tart-eating unicorn.

TDG: You should be so lucky. I mean, you are. Because I just did. I sent you ten dollars. So, what happens now?

Swamp Thing ‘The Anatomy Lesson’ pt.2. Sepia pencil and pastel on parchment. 8×10.

SS: I add you to what is a much longer list than I anticipated. I change my pants from [sparkling]* myself at the response this post card deal has gotten, and I get back to work. I’m trying to do these in order as they come, but there are a few I’ll knock out early as they’re things I can do quicker while I do some research on the others that I need to study up on a bit.

[*Shannon did not say ‘sparkling’. Expletives deleted throughout.]

TDG: What does the business side of all this look like?

SS: That process is pretty simple. We talk about what you want, I tell you what I can do, we figure out what works best for the final project and I do it. For general commissions, clients pay a 50% deposit via PayPal to secure me starting the project.

TDG: Wait–

SS: Once the commission is done, they pay the balance. Everything, with the exception of prints are original pieces of illustration. I don’t do anything digitally. 

Oil, pencil and charcoal on paper, 2003.

TDG: Can you make anything?

SS: Almost. There are stipulations: I’d like to keep the sketches comic, horror/sci-fi/literature themed. No portraits of people or pets. Nothing too salacious or extreme. I have scruples. 

TDG: I think there’s a cream for that.

SS: It’s a salve, not a cream. God[sparkles]! I have to draw a rainbow-farting, Pop Tart-eating unicorn?

TDG: With Krieger. Krieger and a rainbow-farting unicorn sharing a Pop Tart.

SS: [Sparkles].

TDG: In sepia.

SS: Fine.

TDG: What’s happening in the background while you work? Music? TV? Sensory deprivation chamber?

SS: I’m currently in the cafe’ next door to my apartment that I’m in every day to do work in. I actually used to work here, but I got fired for being a [sparkle] to a customer who was a snotty [spark]hole. The playlist sucks, as it typically does–Some sad, folky [sparkles] that I can’t stand. Maybe don’t listen to something that sounds like feral cats [sparkling] in an alley! Usually, I make a playlist for every piece I do. And I listen to that playlist while I work on said piece.

TDG: What is your dream project?

SS: To work with Guillermo del Toro in any regard. I love, beyond words, that he got James Jean to paint the poster for The Shape of Water. I love that James got to paint the poster for Mother! as well.

TDG: Any pets?

This guy. 

SS: I have a cat. Her name is Pepper Potts. She is not deaf and does not [sparkle] in alleys. Or listen to [sparkly] music. She loves mayonnaise, sandwich ties, and watching “Archer.”

TDG: What do you do if you are stuck–creatively speaking? 

SS: My method of getting unstuck is a series of things: I will make a new playlist. I’ll look over the works of the people I admire. I’ll watch a movie that inspires me. I’ll go to the movies. Being in a theater is a cleansing feeling in a way. I’ll deep-clean my apartment. I’ll go back and look at my favorite things I’ve done and remember how doing that made me feel.

TDG: What is your favorite movie?

SS: Se7en. I got it for my 18th birthday from my boss at the video store. It was the first movie I watched that really struck me visually. It made me study cinematography more and more. And I’m probably the biggest Darius Khondji fan there is.

Thumbnails of the artist’s work on Instagram.

TDG: Do you have a store? 

SS: I don’t have a website or a store. That stuff, to me, is impersonal and creates a disconnect. If someone wants to see my work or ask me questions about it or buy a print or commission something, I’d much rather talk to them directly. The best place to see my work is on my Twitter feed and Instagram.

TDG: Is everything there for sale?  

SS: Most of my original works are already sold. I don’t hold onto them very long usually. I have maybe two left, I think. I do sell prints of most of my works though. All prints are made-to-order. I never do prints in bulk. Again, it goes back to that disconnect thing. I don’t want to pull a print out of a box of 50 and just hand it to someone. I don’t order a print until someone wants one.

The artist’s tea-staining in process.

TDG: What’s the best way to order a print or commission an original?

The best way to get work out of me is with a bag of salt and vinegar chips and a bottle of Laphroaig…Or, to just contact me via Twitter and we’ll take it from there. 

TDG: Have you ever been approached by a writer to team up?

SS: I’ve done some work with writers for a couple covers here and there.

TDG: But you haven’t found the Alvin Schwartz to your Stephen Gammell?

SS: I have not. Unfortunately. But I’m confident they’re out there… “Some-where, out-there…” That’s me singing in Fievel’s voice…

TDG: Fievel was a twit.

SS: This interview is over, harpy!!

TDG: Not until I say it is. What advice would you give your seven-year-old self? 

Shannon Stamey’s seven-year-old self.

SS: Not be so intimidated by the art that I loved. To not see it as something I could never do. I remember the box art for Transformers the Movie blowing my mind. And the package art for GI. Joes. I wanted to draw that stuff, but it just seemed too good to me then. I was afraid of using color and paint. The box art for Creepshow and House were things I loved, but again, they were so good to me at that time, it almost made me not want to draw. So, I’d probably just let myself know just how much I’d [sparkle] up on the way and to not let it discourage me.

TDG: Creepshow and House? Is that a thing or two things?

SS: They were great 80’s horror movies. Bernie Wrightson did the box art for Creepshow and I’m not sure who did the artwork for House, but I loved those images.

TDG: What haven’t I asked, but you want to say?

SS: Being a traditional (paint, pencils, and paper) illustrator makes it very hard to find consistent work with most companies and clients wanting digital art. And it’s frustrating. But I do feel like we’re turning a corner for kind of a Renaissance for traditional work. I hope we are. So, I’m looking forward to moving back to LA this summer and working with people I want to work with, doing what I’ve spent my entire life teaching myself how to do and sustaining myself on that work. And I get Bjork-y when people take pictures of my cat.

TDG: Well this has been a treat. A big unicorn-sharing-a-Pop-Tart-with-Krieger treat. 

SS: Thanks for listening to me rant about things. I’ll get your Unicorn/Krieger to you as soon as possible. 

Unicorn-loving illustrator Shannon Stamey welcomes connections and commission requests via Twitter or Instagram

  • Victoria Nations
    December 28, 2017

    Yes! The Edward Gorey opening to MYSTERY! and the gorgeous cover art to the “House” VHS!

    Shannon Stamey creates such gorgeous, melancholy artwork, and he seems like a [sparkling] delight, as well. Thank you for introducing me to him.

    • Erica Davis
      Victoria Nations
      December 28, 2017

      It was a [sparkling] pleasure.

  • Victoria Nations
    December 28, 2017

    Did I say “gorgeous” enough? I’m afraid I haven’t sufficiently captured the gorgeosity of his art.

    • Erica Davis
      Victoria Nations
      December 28, 2017

      RIGHT? A few of his pieces give me legit chills.

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