In this edition of UnderCover, we talk with artist and illustrator Scott B. Henderson about his art and his love of Chadwick Ginther's Thunder Road series.
Can you please tell us a bit about how you came to illustration and in particular comic and graphic novels as your primary artistic practice?
I’ve been drawing pictures to stories for pretty much my whole life. In the early days it was comics of Garfield, Transformers, Star Wars, Robin Hood, and any other pop 80s hits, all mashed up. As I was entering Junior High/High School I became more aware that illustrating comics (or graphic novels) could be a job. After high school I went into the School of Fine Arts at the University of Manitoba. I had a few teachers and professors that were supportive but also challenging, but regardless I just kept practicing, making more comics. In a lot of ways, it was just who I was and there was no denying it. All that practice, and skill, mixed with a little luck (and yes, there are those who say “In my experience there’s no such thing as luck”), led me to my first paying jobs, and it took off from there.
Are there particular mediums you enjoy working with more than others?
Until very recently, my traditional mediums have been pencil, and pen and ink. My teachers have always encouraged me to try other mediums, and for a number of years I also really enjoyed oil painting. But, not having a well ventilated place to work from and more focus on the “traditional” comic mediums (pencils and inks), it sort of fell to the side. I will dabble with some watercolours, but those are usually just sketches, or little comic con commissions.
What are your thoughts on digital illustration vs old school pen and ink?
As it happens, I just switched to doing my art almost entirely digitally in the last year or so. I will still do some commissions in pen and ink, or my sketched at conventions, but now I do it all on my Cintiq and computer. In the early 2000s I worked with a friend from SoFA to colour comic books, so I took to colouring any of my comic work digitally after that time. A few years later I was learning how to do lettering on the computer (because my handwriting is awful and I couldn’t pay someone else to do it). Having the Cintiq allows for me to do things that would have been much harder to do traditionally—like cars!—as well as being able to correct mistakes more easily. One of the other deciding factors to going digital was that it reduces the ever-growing pile of original art that sits in tubs in a closet. When I was younger I tried to always do everything traditionally—pen to paper, etc—and use the computer as little as possible. But now, I much more enjoy the digital tools. Early on in learning the differences between traditional and digital art, I was really conscious of not falling into certain shortcomings of digital art—things like wonky proportions (because you’re zoomed in too much); I really didn’t want my digital art to look dramatically different from my traditional art. That being said, I can do more, but it definitely hasn’t made me faster!
You've been illustrating for a number of years. How do you continue to challenge yourself and push the creative limits of your art?
I usually challenge myself by finding a new artist to look up to, and figuring out how they do what they do. The flip side is also looking at their shortcomings (or my own) and pushing to break out of that mold. For me, its often been getting better at perspective and creating authentic backgrounds (not necessarily realistic mind you), better anatomy, but also things like more diversity and variety—figures, faces, fashion, and all theose little details. I am the most readily available model, but not every character should look like me.
What did you connect with in Chadwick Ginther's writing that inspired you, and allowed you to meet Ted and company from the Thunder Road universe on an artistic level?
I believe I picked up Thunder Road after the Manitoba Book Awards—I believe it was the year that Chadwick received the Van Rooy Award. Norse mythology in Manitoba? Yes please. Chadwick’s writing was very visual to me—I could easily picture all the things happening, either in a movie format, or as a comic book (I still think Thunder Road would make an amazing comic by the way). It was easy for me to visualize, and the characters were funny, edgy, and figuring out all the nods to Winnipeg and Manitoba were fun (Fun Fact: I’m pretty sure my uncle appeared in Thunder Road in one of those iconic Winnipeg locales that people frequented in Osborne Village).
How do you approach character illustration in general, and of this, what did you apply to your Thunder Road universe pieces?
When creating characters I often do a few sketches, but a lot of the time I kind of impulsively come up with visual details (other than the ones specified in the book). Unless the author or my collaborator asks for more, I often go with some of my early designs and run with it. I always feel like I want to keep moving forward—new sketches, different sketches, doing the story, a page, moving onto the next thing.
Chadwick's books are action-filled, and your corresponding art conveys that energy. What are your considerations when illustrating action sequences, how do you translate that tension and energy from text to image?
I am often visualizing the scene in my head as though it were a movie, then pausing at different points. Maybe imagining a different angle. Comics and film share a lot of similar tools, methods and terminology, so depending on the mood of the piece I will be considering camera angle, lighting, and contrast. My high school art teacher, Fran Kogan, taught everyone early on about doing “gesture drawing”—you only have a few minutes (or if she was wanting to challenge us more, 30 seconds to a minute) to sketch out a figure. The idea is to be fast, and loose, about capturing the kinetic energy of the pose, not about details. Often, when yo start to drawing something, you don’t take that energy into account and your art will look stiff. This skill definitely helps to illustrate that momentum and energy.
Chadwick's most recent title, When the Sky Comes Looking For You, is a collection of short stories, each set in the Thunder Road universe. Your piece commissioned for this collection introduces viewers to several characters—how did you approach this piece and how did you know which scene or character could or would make the final cut to be featured in the illustration?
Chadwick definitely had some influence in that, though having a collage of elements seemed key for such a book. I asked for advice on some elements he wanted. I couldn’t use them all (unfortunately), but tried for as many as I could. In some ways I was being inspired by another local artist, Scott A. Ford—many of his pieces are very busy, with all these little Easter eggs and elements from world he’s drawing from. It’s busy, but it ends up being a fun hunt to look for all those little details. I wanted the metal band, but there was only so much space, so I had to sacrifice them. The dominant theme with the stories where animals (or shapeshifters), so I focused mostly on those elements. And it wouldn’t be Thunder Road without Ted and his tattoos.
Fantastic art, Scott. Thanks for chatting with us!
You can visit Scott's website at https://scotthendersonart.wordpress.com/
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