A Brush With Depth (Frontenac House), a collection of Canadian artists Rick Sealock’s “best illustrations, many behind-the-scenes stories, and hopefully helpful advice on illustration, self-promotion and reinvention that sustained a 30-year-plus freelance career and counting.” Sealock is what I refer to as a master of brutal-istic exaggeration, a practitioner of raw and untamed transgression and purveyor of surrealist absurdity—in short, a spot-on specimen of the ultra-expressionist 21st-century illustrator.

On the occasion of his new book, I’ve asked him to wax about the inspirations, influences and expectations that have gone into his oeuvre. He is entertaining, and that is an understatement. Let’s read what he has to say …

What was the origin of A Brush With Depth? Why did it have such a modest title?
Dare began with the first step. A double dare! Neil Petrunia, the publisher of Frontenac House and a fellow instructor at the Alberta College of Art & Design (now AUArts) “dared” me to assemble my illustration lectures and images into an art book. He thought it would be educational, inspirational, entertaining and give something back to the profession. We had a finished book (but no title) after 10 years. I misjudged the work that would be involved. We had working titles like “Smoking Chickens & Such” or “Bovines Behaving Badly,” “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Illustration, But Were Afraid to Ask,” but none that reflected the book’s personality or vibe. Was it overkill or clichéd, off the wall or banal, or both? Thus, a title for those who love my work and enjoy the depth of concepts, creativity and imagery splashed across each page or one for those who dislike my work and will enjoy the title’s implied shallowness! Everyone’s happy!

Where are you originally from and what was your career path?
I was raised on the wide-open prairies and tall skies of Southern Alberta—yup, a Canada boy. It must be in the water because illustrators Douglas Fraser and Murray Kimber are also prairie boys. Since graduating ACAD in Calgary, in 1986, I have primarily focused my freelance work on editorial illustration. In 1993 I began juggling my freelancing with teaching illustration at ACAD and made a seismic shift in my illustration work after a boot to the head review in “Borrowed Design.” In 2005 I moved to Ontario to teach illustration at OCADU in Toronto and at Sheridan’s FAAD program in Oakville. Currently, I’m still juggling illustrating and teaching at Sheridan, where colleagues, to name a few like Blair Drawson, Sandra Dionisi, Joe Morse, Thom Sevalrud and Carl Wiens, make it fun.

You can describe your work as a mix of cartoons, emotional releases, and angry sketches. How would you describe your work?
I usually describe my work as “Fun, Manic or Quirky”; others say it’s wild and wacky, though yours implies complexity and depth, so let’s go with that!

In retrospect, my early life was a visual overload of comics. MAD Magazines and Cracked. I devoured this visual satire, which smashed the brains out of me. The editorializing and incredible caricatures of these encyclopaedias were a constant source of entertainment for me. They elevated commentary to an artistic form.

Mesh this with Frederic Remington and CM Russell Wild West art calendars, black velvet bullfighter paintings, and a pinch of German Irish heritage thrown into the mix, could be responsible for what I do … or damage I do?

Why is brutalism appealing to you (and why does it also appear in your imagery)? What does this say about your personality?
To quote Mel Brooks: “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”

I give people what they want, and apparently the art directors I’ve worked with want brutalism? Perhaps all-nighters on deadlines and budgets that are shrinking reinforces this?

Art directors often want an image that has that extra “zing”, something wacky and energetic, manic or humorous, with a dark edge or a wacky edge, that will either tickle or tackle the viewer. In return, I would like to pay homage. Cracked The following are some examples of how to get started: MAD Magazine for parenting. Their acerbic humor skewered and mocked everyone and everything. This indoctrination, whether it was conscious or unconscious, had a great influence on young minds and illustrators. As a gun-for-hire illustrator, I follow the art director’s lead, so brutalism follows me or I follow it. It’s been a happy marriage.

What do you teach your students? What do your students learn from you? Do I? Do you? Do you want to know who I am?
It’s possible that it will also include all of your questions, including brutalism. I teach best when I’m animated and having fun, hopefully keeping it excitably engaging. Student evaluations define it as a choreographed mayhem of flailing-arm rants, comedic standup, and drill sergeant lectures on the nature of illustration that include a repertoire of “Don’t tell me, draw it!” “Redraw, revise and refine.” “More sketches!” This constant reiteration of the importance of process work (drawing mind maps, sketches, media studies, etc.) It is designed to help students communicate and focus on visual concepts, and to define their creativity. The discipline of generating process work to identify, interpret and distill “ideas into images” can produce breakthroughs, happy accidents or unexpected “aha!” moments that can further hone the progress of their personal visual voice.

While there is constant shifting in our industry due to today’s technology, students’ passion and curiosity to explore and challenge their visual journey still prevails. And it can be intoxicating, thrilling and scary, if the student is willing to figuratively throw themselves onto their own pen—essentially take chances and create images that they believe in and put out in the world, and the response to the image can further educate. They create and learn to create. Who wouldn’t want to draw for a living!

What is your favorite part of your art?
I love illustrating! I love creating new things or meeting a tight deadline. I love the unknown of what I’ll draw tomorrow. I love the journey.

I love this excerpt from the book: Although illustration possesses few secure signposts pointing the way to success, it offers enormous freedom—of medium, style and content. On a social level, illustrators must be able to see the culture of today. They pick at the many threads making up our various cultures—political, social, economic, artistic, etc.—and weave them into challenging images that are both read and responded to. Illustrators are free to create and consume simultaneously, and this freedom is reflected in their work. This profession is one that adds to and draws on our cultures. It can bring about a lot of change.

What would you want other people to say about it (or do?)
They will probably say some amazing, super nice words as they enjoy both the book and the images. Hopefully they will also say that this is a fun book on why—and how—to be an illustrator. Like other industry books, it covers business, marketing, promotion and assessing portfolio. On how to speak about the struggles of stylistics, anxiety and coping methods used by Illustrators. How many of the book’s showcases were inspired in student discussions when lecturing on the common fears of illustrators: What am I worth as a photographer? What is my worth as an image maker? Can I handle losing or winning? Can I maintain a career in illustration? It may seem like a lot of work to students, but illustrators are used to it and have come out stronger. Even seasoned illustrators who have won awards and accolades still wonder how to improve their work. They also question whether they should pursue other styles or markets, or jump onto the latest fad. That while the book’s images are the main focus (channelling a coffee table as big as a picture book or vice versa), it’s vitally important to advocate the discipline, resilience and curiosity required to sustain a career in our industry. Yes, you should always promote yourself!

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