SB: Let's see, it's about noon. You're a freelancer. Have you showered yet?
SH: Going by the stubble on my face, I'd say it's been a full day and a half since my last shower. My wife will let me out of my studio tomorrow, when my assignments are due, for 20 minutes of fresh air, a shower or a meal, and one phone call. I remember the color of the sky so fondly...green.
SB: What is currently on your drawing table?
I am currently working on 9 portraits for Steven Charny at Rolling Stone. They will appear in the greatest guitarists of all time issue. Great job. Great client.
SB: Wow, 9 portraits? You really are busy.
SH: The project got bumped down to 8 portraits. Keith Richards didn't make it.
SB: You do a lot very smart conceptual work and also more straightforward work, such as portraits. Can you tell me something about how you approach either?
SH: The process is the same for both conceptual and aesthetic based work, but I spend more time up front on ideation for the "smart" stuff. In my ideation, I am trying to combine to disparate elements from the text into a single image. The process begins with two or more word lists, and I try to find a "bridge", or connection between them. Bridges can be visual comparisons, historical reference, literature, a play on words, etc.
Aesthetic images often become a game of match the medium with the content or tone. My best work begins with a preconceived idea of how I will treat the surface, or drawing. Once I'm into the piece, it's like a boxing match degenerating into a street fight—all rules go out the window.
Interview continues below...
SB: Huh...with all this preliminary work, how do you find time to brush up your Halo skills and dominate your apprentices?
SH: With discipline and training. I quickly dispatch my apprentices (Chris, Kenny, Shaun) in Halo so that I can get back to work. The truth is, I enjoy many things more than beginning a painting. The preliminary work is for me—to get things right. This step of the process, along with my sketchpad, is very personal, and I get to decide wether it is seen publicly or not. A blank canvas/board means judgement. I'll find many things in my personal life to avoid that.
SB: You are very involved with the Illustration Academy, along with a couple other artists in our group, Gary Kelley and C.F. Payne. Can you tell us a bit about the Academy, its philosophy, and why the students insist on hogging the Society of Illustrators juried student show every year?
SH: The Illustration Academy serves to bridge the gap from the student to the professional. Currently, we do not offer a degree, so students are there to get that critical information in a seven week vacuum. The growth of the students in that period is truly unlike anything that I've seen anywhere else. The best instructors in the world attract the best students in the world. All of these things combined create well-armed, highly informed visual problem solvers. I couldn't be more proud of the effect that we have on the student, each other, and the amazing kinship that is fostered at the Academy.
SB: While you're at it, you can stop hogging all the awards for yourself. You've been collecting medals consistently at the Society of Illustrators annual award shows for several years. Now that you are a rockstar, do you feel at all guilty having sold out? Are there groupies in illustration, and are they attractive?
SH: It's been a dream fulfilling run, as of late. I'm truly honored to be recognized. I'm seeing a number of students and young professionals imitating me stylistically. It's an odd feeling—strangely flattering. I was guilty of it at the start of my career, and it took some good friends to help make me aware.
As far as selling out, I don't believe in it. I ultimately make the images that I want to make. The text provided serves as a catalyst for the images, but each new problem requires a different solution. It's rare that my hand is guided too heavily with art direction, although it does happen. There's only one groupie—my wife, and I'm a bigger fan of her than she is of me!