I first met Marc Scheff in 2009 when I join his Meetup group Figure Drawing for Illustrators. At the time it was held in the super cool, always artsy, and full of suprises Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn NY. Coming in, I had a lot of practice with the art students league of NewYork and other figure drawing meetup groups. People would always come from all corners of the class to see what I, this new kid, had drawn. I always got compliments and even admirers— I’m pretty good at drawing crowds, but little did I know that would all change that one fateful day.
Digging into the gesture drawing during the earlier period in the session as a general habit I like to look around to see everyones pose, some were nervous, others were confident, Marc however was so relaxed and even having a casual conversation while simultaneously drawing. My experience told me that usually people that talked during such ceremonies didn’t really draw like angels. Looking at Marc’s drawings told me one great lesson: Even an angel would sell a part of their soul to have the touch of gold and marks of flawless precision…and to think that a guy from Harvard University who majored in computer science would take on such a path that at times comparably, can be financialy tumultuous. Success has been very kind to him. His painting “Me King” made it into Spectrum 18 this year. Marc’s clients range from Gameloft, Electronic Arts, and Playdom Games just to name a few— he leads a life where his creative passion and financial security are both liberating and harmonious. His humble approach to art, background, and his awesomeness( Marc just recently finished some new paintings and we are the first to present them!!!) makeing this interview extra sweet! Enjoy!
These are The Big 12 Questions I asked Marc…
1.Your path from coming from a prestigious school like Harvard and majoring in computer science to going back to school for illustration.
I always loved art, and always drew. However, I used to be pretty risk-averse. So, when I went to college I decided to major in Comp Sci so that I could get a job out of school and afford art classes on the side. The funny thing is, I completely forgot about that plan and stuck to it anyway. So, years later when I finally did take that art class, I happened to be pretty good at it, and I fell in love with drawing like I had never known it. This wasn’t about X-Men fan art on my French homework anymore, this was about the mysterious process of creation, the completely consuming meditation that creation provides for me.
I just love it, and still, if I could go back I’m not sure I would do it differently. My CS background has helped me get a few art jobs, and kept me afloat when I was a little wanderlust with my art career. I do all my own tech-stuff and so if I need changes to my site, or my online portfolio it’s fast and easy, which are great qualities in a marketing department. Beyond that, my best friends for life I either knew at Harvard or know through those connections. If I did anything different, there are good things I’d miss, so I’m very happy that I have enjoyed two careers so far.
2. In terms of ways of thinking, how has computer science influenced you versus illustration?
I think the processes for programming software and painting are essentially the same. There is a process, you must follow it, and if you do then the end-result will be much better than if you did not. Once I learned the illustration process that I think gets the best results for me, I could see this clearly.
I can break it down like this:
You want to create a thing. You start with the idea. Then you rough out the idea in broad strokes. Then you begin to figure out where all the pieces generally go, then you start to add a little detail a little at a time over the whole piece. Once you have the structure completely there, you add more detail. Once that is done, you polish things up.
In other words, both programming and painting require the same kind of planning. It was a surprise to me when I got to art school that illustration required planning. For what it’s worth, I was also surprised that programming required planning (I was not top of my class…). I learned that fleshing out the idea a little at a time and planning always saves me _lots_ of time later. Changes at the end are always harder than at the beginning.
And finally, with software and art, if it’s broken in the end, you still have to be willing to fix it. We’re human, and that just happens and everyone is happier if you fix what you just made.
3.What was your first illustration gig?
I did a bunch of card art for places like Fantasy Flight Games and AEG (Legend of the Five Rings aka L5R). I got a lot of practice on those assignments, and was lucky enough to know a few other artists who would crit my work and help me improve.
4. Being a family man. How do you balance work and family life. I know the deadlines can be crazy. Any tips?
My best advice is to stay connected to what you love. You love your partner, your child, your art, and not always in that order. As long as I can have those three things in my life, then I know I am happy. So if something I am doing is not in service to that love, then I need to make a change.
The tough part is when those loves are in conflict. Deadline coming when it’s my turn to watch the child, or rush deadline on a date night. These things happen and it’s not always smooth going. All I can say there is, don’t freak out. Take a walk alone and think about what you need to do. There is always a solution that will help nurture those three loves in the end. It might be as simple as horse-trading (“I need to skip date night tonight, let’s go out tomorrow, on me, and I’ll take your Friday night kid shift”), or just showing that you understand this isn’t hard for just you.
4a. You’re a fit guy do you eat healthy? Workout? I ask because a lot professional that I’ve ran across have very unhealthy eating habits and are very inactive in physical fitness. If you want to touch on it you can. If not that’s fine to.I don’t want to overwhelm you.
Interesting question. You are right, it is easy to live a sedentary lifestyle as an artist, and it is just as easy to grab the quick unhealthy option for food.
I really think staying fit is pretty simple: eat healthy and exercise. I also think that this is less difficult than it seems. I think it comes down to choice. There is always a healthy option, and always an opportunity to exercise. That might be as simple as situps, pushups, and pull ups every day, or the option with more vegetables than fewer. We all make these choices every day, just choose the healthy one!
In terms of what I actually do, I go through phases, but I do always have some kind of health kick going. I used to lift weights and stick to vegetarian options. Now I’m following some of the weird tips from Tim Ferris’s “Four Hour Body,” I run about 1.5 miles every morning with my dogs, and I use a door gym every morning for about 10-15 minutes before work. The one I got is here: http://www.officialtower200.com/, but there are others. I still don’t eat meat, but I do eat fish, and I still avoid dairy.
5.When did you start getting steady reliable work and what do you think was the main reason for that?
I think two things will help you get more work: being good at art, and being good with people. I’ve always been pretty easy with people, and only in the past few years have I brought my art up to a level where I can get steady work. Sometimes you just need one skill or the other, but both really help. Without exception, the _successful_ professional artists I know are all personable, polite, and respectful of your time. This is as much about knowing when to let someone go in a conversation as it is about hitting deadlines. A good friend just got hired as an art director based on a pleasant conversation he had in the hallway at a Game Jam. You just never know where that opportunity is, so just being nice does actually get you places.
And, again, being good at art.
6.Classical illustration vs Digital illustration process.
For me these are the same. Idea, sketch, rough, paint. There are sub-levels in those levels, but that’s pretty much it.
7.What was your transition like from illustrating from freelance to joining the staff at Gameloft?
I feel like I’m going to get kicked out of the freelance club by saying this, but I really loved it. The thing I love the most is being around other artists all day. You can’t beat the experience of seeing other people work and learning new skills.
I think I will go back to full-time freelance down the line, and when I do I will most likely set up a group studio. That shared experience with other artists is just so valuable.
8. You’ve done work for for playing cards, videogames, and personal commissioned pieces. What are the major challenges?
Style and deadlines. A lot of these companies have strict style guides, from color to costuming to rendering styles. If the art director didn’t hand me a thick PDF style guide, I asked for one and they either gave it to me or gave me the overview.
For personal commissioned work, I have a more explorative process, which has everything to do with style. One of my major inspirations these days is Scott Fischer (http://fischart.com/), and in talking with him, it’s been easy to see that this challenge of finding something to say in your art can be a meditative visual ramble until you settle on a clear idea. So the challenge here is doing that, and on deadline. The way I approach it, especially when stuck, is to do whatever I can to stay fearless and try new things on the digital canvas.
9. Do you have creative freedom or is every pencil stroke reviewed?
Every company is different. For a lot of my professional work the line-quality is assumed, and it’s the composition and concept that get the heaviest crit.
That said, there is a lot of freedom. If I have an idea I love that deviates from the brief, I’ll still show it. If it works, sometimes it gets approved. It’s extra work, but I love this work. The freedom you have is the freedom you make for yourself.
10. Your main influences?
These are always changing. Right now I look at a few people a lot:
- Scott Fischer, http://fischart.com/
- Jon Foster, http://www.jonfoster.com/
- Terese Nielsen, http://www.tnielsen.com/
However, I am constantly looking at new artists for inspiration, and I love so many of them. Everything from Iain McCaig to guys like David Levy doing concept art, to the great matte painter Rob Ruppel, to the classic realists, fauvists, impressionists, back to the intricate patterns on ancient (and modern) city structures. Inspiration truly is everywhere, and I try to bring as much as I can to my work.
11.Finding your niche and tips for illustrators you learned from your own experience.
Stay open to opportunities, and don’t stop working. That’s pretty much it. If you don’t know what your niche is, just keep working and at some point you’ll make a thing that speaks to you differently. If you do know your niche, that’s great too!
12. In the next twenty years where do we Marc?What Legacy has he lead and any master plans that you may want to reveal?
In twenty years I plan on having done just about everything out there: cards, covers, comics, games, film. I love the process and each industry has new challenges and opportunities.
In the short term, I’m working on a book in a children’s style, and a game, as well as some personal work which I’m actively using to evolve my voice.