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Interview: Nathan Taylor, illustrator of The Princess and Mr. Whiffle: the Thing Beneath the Bed

Welcome internet traveler.  This interview was conducted online with the intent of giving future readers of The Princess and Mr. Whiffle: the Thing Beneath the Bed an insight into the mind of an artist.  In this case, the artist is Illustrator of the Future award winner Nathan Taylor.  First off Nate, I know you are a gamer.  So, this interview follows gamer progression and gets harder as you go along.  Are you ready to play?

Bring it on.

Tutorial question: What first made you want to be an artist?

You might laugh, but I don’t have any memories before wanting to be an artist.  I never wanted to be an astronaut or a fireman or anything else…well, maybe a Jedi, but I never had a dream other than art.  I think being an artist is as much a part of me as having brown eyes.  That’s the romantic answer, the one I believe is true.  But, for the child psychologists out there, another answer could be that I was good at drawing as a child, my parents encouraged me, so I kept at it.  Every child wants approval after all.

First level: Much of your art style harkens back to the Disney 2D animation that you grew up with.  How much of an influence would you say Disney played in your art?

HUGE influence.  Disney was one of the few cartoons my siblings and I were permitted to watch around the house, and I absolutely adored the fluid animation and the style of rendering that made their characters look so cartoony, but also real enough to believe.  You can definitely still see the influence.  They weren’t my only source of inspiration though.  I also soaked up Sunday funnies like Tumbleweeds, Garfield, and Herman; and I had a brief period where everything took on a Precious Moments style.  I tended toward those styles because they were safe and I could get away with them.

Ninja eleves sound scary, but Nate makes them look cuddlely.

Second level: As a follow up, which artists are blowing your mind all over your draft board these days?

Travis Charest remains one of my all-time favorites, Chris Sanders of “Lilo and Stitch” fame, Chen Wei (Lorland) who does brilliant digital work, Adam Hughes and his beautiful style that I aspire to, Frank Frazetta with his dynamic color and compositions, and Mike Mignola for his style that seems so rough and fluid at the same time.

Mid-Boss question: The Detroit Silverdome was recently sold to a Canadaian company for about 1% of what it cost to build it (586k vs 55 million).  If you could buy it for 1% of what the Kanucks paid, what would you do with it?  (FYI – it seats 80,000)

Biggest paintball arena ever.  I would go completely bread-and-circuses and hold massive championship-level engagements between several groups of players at the same time, and sell tickets.  For safety, the first 50 rows would be labeled as Splash Zones.  I’d have to have naval battles as well.

Sneak peak of Nose Dive, A Nate Taylor original

Boss fight: Artists are sometimes a medium for what they are consuming (ie, if you read westerns, your art would have a western flavor).  If art is a mirror that reflects society, what kinds of things would you expect people to see in your work?

Wow, that’s deep enough to require floaty wings, but I’ll bite.  The number one thing that people can always expect to get from me at this point is a feeling of frivolity or whimsy.  I’m not a really a dark illustrator with an orchestra of inner demons, so I can’t imitate Brom; I don’t have an animalistic core of unchained wildness so I can’t do Frazetta (not for lack of trying); so I just do what I am, which is light colors and cartoony figures.  Then again, maybe that’s just a front for my boiling cauldron of inner turmoil which threatens to burst through at any moment.  If that’s the case, then I’m an unpredictable juggernaut, a time bomb of loose wires and artistic Semtex.  Beware?

Plot Twist Question: Most artists experiment with multiple forms of art (sculpture, music, etc) before settling on how they best express themselves. What are some failed art forms that you have tried and discarded?

Ah, the list of forms I don’t use is long and distinguished.  I’ve found that disciples of one medium or another tend to be very protective of their camp and enthusiastic in their evangelism, so let me say that my distaste for these mediums only means that I’m no good with them.  I don’t like watercolor because it’s too fluid and uncontrollable.  I like something that will stay where I put it and acrylic has proven itself more suited to my style.  Oil paint is also something that’s no good for me.  Sure, it’s the tried-and-true medium of the masters, but in my hands it becomes only so much goop.  Also, I’m an impatient little boy and I don’t want to wait three years for my painting to dry so I can work on another layer.  Drawing with charcoal makes my teeth itch, sculpture is fun and delightful but it requires a serious devotion of time and resources to make any good kind of effort out of it, and mixed media is right out because I’m far more interested in creating an image than I am in figuring out an altogether new way of creating an image.

Experimentation never looked so colorful

Big finale: For this book, you collaborated with Patrick Rothfuss.   Since this is a collaboration, people may want to know, how much of the art is Rothfuss’s vision and how much was yours?  Did you play a part in the storytelling at all?

In the early stages when we were still creating the style of the book, I used the Princess as a touchstone.  If I could find a version of her that Pat liked, then the rest would flow from that.  So it was basically a game of back-and-forth.  I’d do a sketch or three of the Princess and ask what he thought of them until we settled on a look.  After that, I would sketch up several pages at a time, send them to him, and he would either say, “Yes!  Beautiful!  Perfect!” or a combination of those words along with a suggestion of adding or removing elements to bring more life to the story.  As for the storytelling, it’s all just visual from my end.  All the words are his, and that’s why it works so well.

Epilogue: What’s next for you?

Six months ago, I would have had no idea, but I’ve got a large body of work all of a sudden.  Apart from Coming Distractions, I have a graphic novel about ghosts, a web comic about an interstellar hero, and a children’s book about an Alaskan cat all in the pipeline.  The next several months are going to be very busy for me.

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4 Responses

  1. Nate, are you taking questions from the audience?

    If so — on a scale of 1-12, with 1 being almost very, 12 being ticklish, and 6 being root canal, how would you rate the level of tooth itchiness you experienced from using charcoal?

    If not — Pat, do funny thing happen to your teeth?

  2. Funny things happen to my teeth all the time, but usually when used to speak amusing witticisms.

  3. Dear Scott,

    Thank you for your kind question regarding the sensitivity of my teeth. I give it an auspicious 11, which is similar to the feeling your teeth get when you haven’t brushed them and spend the entire day drinking coffee and eating sugary cake, then scratch a metal fork on a very old chalkboard.

    That is the sensation generated by charcoal on paper, tremoring through my skin, ricocheting along my skeletal frame, and itching my teeth.

    Profoundly,

    The Everlastin’ Naten

  4. Really? A virgin? Who wants a virgin?!? Thanks for the laughs, boys.

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