Artist David Palumbo
David Palumbo is a freelance artist and art director for Night Shade books. His works have appeared on/in countless trading cards, magazines, album covers, advertisements, etc. David has gained two Spectrum medals for his impressive work. Since 2003 his work has appeared in galleries from New York to Paris. I was honored to set down with him to find more about what drives the artist to create.
Can you tell us a little about what you were like as a child? Did you always have a love of all things creative? What is your fondest memory from that time?
I’d say for the most part I was shy and not very athletic, most definitely an indoor kid. I really enjoyed movies and comic books and I spent a lot of time drawing monsters and, when I was a little bit older, making short movies with friends on our video camera. We always liked making things and playing make-believe. It’s hard to pick out any one specific memory or moment, for the most part it was really great. I tend to be a nostalgic person and so my childhood has an all over warm cozy tint as a result.
Are there any little known things about you that your fans might be surprised to learn?
Probably, though I’m not sure specifically what. I don’t know what anyone would assume about me to begin with. Some random info: I have mild phobias of insects and the ocean. I don’t follow video games but still play Tetris on the NES. I’ve never done any illegal substances.
Do you think there is something to be said for genetics when it comes to a person’s artistic ability?
Maybe. I think at least as much credit would go to environment though. Having strong role models and support as an aspiring artist is a tremendous boost.
What was it like being influenced by Julie Bell and Boris Vallejo? Do you think you would be as good at what you do if not for that?
It’s so hard to imagine who I would be or what I would be doing if my mom had never met Boris. I was only about seven years old at the time. I certainly had an interest in drawing and comics, but at that age your life could go in so many different directions. Being as they did meet, it was fantastic to grow up surrounded by art and watching up close how a person can make a career as a painter.
I was always encouraged to pursue whatever I was interested in and had so much support for practicing and studying art from a very young age. Nothing was ever forced, I just loved doing it.
I’m sure once I begin, it would quickly become a very long list. In the field of illustration, certainly Donato Giancola, Jeremy Geddes, and Sam Webber are a few who are tremendously inspiring to me. In the broader field of painting, Antonio Lopez Garcia and Alex Kanevski also come to mind. These are the tip of the iceberg though, I could name dozens more without even branching out from visual art.
What was it like to work on Magic The Gathering expansion Avacyn Restored?
The whole Innistrad setting was such a pleasure to work on. Painting for Magic in general is always a good time, but the horror theme really struck a chord with me. Everything was so moody and dark and creepy. Certainly some of my favorite pieces to date were for that block.
When did you first know you had to be an artist?
Probably when I became aware it was an option. I know it’s a cliché, but I don’t really remember a time when that was not my plan.
What do you think you would be if you not one?
If I wasn’t a painter, I’d likely be involved somehow in the film industry. That’s still a creative field though, so maybe it doesn’t count? If I wasn’t working as a creator of some sort, maybe something in the sciences.
What advice would you give to those just starting to learn the craft?
Don’t rush the basics. Solid foundation skills will pay off indefinitely.
You work is vividly realistic, how exactly do you accomplish that on canvas?
I typically don’t work on canvas because the bounce and texture bother me. Up until recently I was working on very smooth illustration board and I would use small brushes to get sharp detail and high level of render. So lots of patience. Lately I’ve been working on more textured surfaces with more expressive brush strokes though, and I feel it still has a high level of realism (in some ways more so). Boiled down, I think it’s a combination of correct drawing and a good grasp on how light turns form. I’m also a believer in working with good reference material if you want realistic results.
What do you like to do when you aren’t painting and such?
I like to travel, though mostly I only do it for work. If I could take a couple months off, I might go on a long road trip. To be honest, it’s really hard to think what I do with myself that isn’t somehow related to art. I do play D&D sometimes, watch movies, read, go hiking when the weather is right, but if I’m away from painting for more than a week I start to get very antsy.
Your line of paintings, The Gritty, uses texture to portray mood, atmosphere, and emotion. What led you to undertake that? Do you find it often hard to convey emotions in paint?
I think that I wanted to paint loose for a long time but was concerned that it might not “sell” in the genre illustration market. It was always a bit of an internal conflict between the part of me that respected tight and the part that was excited by loose. I ended up pursuing tighter painting early on because it felt more marketable and presented a good challenge. In the past couple years I started getting bored and growing dissatisfied with it though. I began making small figure studies to experiment with more visible brush calligraphy and ultimately it led me to realize that I wanted all of my paintings to have that looser, more expressive quality. I had planned to slowly introduce it into my work, but at the end of last year I came to the decision to just go for it and see what came out. What really excites me in painting now is to capture emotion and atmosphere and I don’t feel I was doing that very successfully with my more rendered work. The textural and brushy work, on the other hand, has more poetry and mystery to it. I feel it often says more with less. Conveying emotion in paint is certainly challenging. It’s hard to find the balance without going too heavy handed.
What is your favorite subject to cover?
Absolutely figures are what I enjoy painting most. If we have to get more specific, I can paint female nudes again and again without getting tired of it. I like painting all kinds of things though, and my interests shift around. Put it in the right lighting and just about anything is a joy to paint.
Is there any one subject you’d most like to cover that you have yet to?
Hmm… maybe I’d paint more animals. I mean, I do for assignments now and again, but to do some personal work and studies might be fun. I don’t do it enough.
Why do you think art has always played such a significant role in providing comfort to the masses?
Escapism I suppose. Also seeing reflections of our own thoughts, feelings, and experiences which lets people feel connected and understood and lets us better understand ourselves.
Your work seems to tend toward the darker side of things. Why do you think that is? Why do you think society as a whole is so fascinated with the dark and unknown?
I’m not entirely sure why that is. As a teen I really liked horror movies, but I gradually became less interested in them as I got older. My interest in contemporary horror films is practically zero. I still love some of the older stuff like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Zombie 2, but modern horror turns me off completely. I’ve tried to figure this out for years now and still have no answer. I have figured out that the atmosphere and texture of those older horror movies is still fascinating to me. I think that is what I try to achieve in my darker paintings, but I’m not quite sure what it is. Certainly, I prefer to tilt to the psychological side of it.
What projects are you currently working on?
Right now I’m working on a twelve painting series for an illustrated reprinting of The Anubis Gates as well as finishing up our Tarot series and a few other freelance odds and ends.
Anything you’d like to say in closing?
Thanks for taking the time!