Rich Pellegrino Interview - Canvases of Color

Rich Pellegrino is an illustrator and artist currently working in Warwick, Rhode Island. And what you don’t know about this talented young artist you’re about to find out. IP had the pleasure of catching up with Rich to discover more about the man behind the bold canvases of color.

Tell us about yourself. What inspired you to become an illustrator and artist?

There have been a bunch of twists and turns along the way in my career. But to answer your question I’m really no different than other artists. From my earliest memory I’ve always wanted to be an artist. Even before I knew what an artist was I knew I would draw for the rest of my life. I couldn’t imagine anything else. I just didn’t know I could get paid to do it.

Growing up in the 80’s was a great time to be a kid. The cartoons were great. G.I. Joe and Transformer cartoons were my life. I drew Optimus Prime all the time. Just couldn’t get his arms right. Foreshortened perspective was my Achilles’ heel. I had to settle on having them shooting out of his hips sideways. Anyhow, cartoons led to comics like Todd McFarlane’s Spiderman, which inspired me to be a penciler for comics for many years.

Two of my high school studio art teachers were detrimental to me pursuing a career in the arts. One said I’d go nowhere. The other nurtured and encouraged my interest in drawing. I had no idea who da Vinci was, Van Gough, Impressionism… the list goes on. I was hooked from the moment my eyes were opened to them. After that I got serious about school and pursued a college education. Further down the road I shifted from penciling comic pages to painting covers and then gallery work.

Since I hadn’t taken any art classes in high school until senior year, and honestly, had too much of a good time to study hard, I had a lot of catching up to do. I was rejected by RISD and had to go to a community college. In the end I attended a community college and transferred into RISD. After a year and a half of watching student loans pile up over my head I decided to leave school and travel the states looking for comic work. I went to comic conventions all over, with a portfolio in one hand and leave behind samples in the other. I was always ninety five to ninety nine percent there. Looking back I’m glad I was since it had a big influence on my going back to school.

I went back to RISD more focused than ever and started painting junior year. When I graduated I was fortunate to get cover work right out of school. I realized that while I enjoyed comics and fantasy work I didn’t enjoy making them myself. I did like painting, and decided to pursue that which is where I am at today.

Although it’s difficult to briefly summarize your process, can you give us an overview on how you tackle your paintings? How do you achieve such rich colors and great textures?

I start with researching the subject matter. Google is a wonder. Research is one of the parts I enjoy most on projects. Learning information that I didn’t know before is exciting to me. Ignorance is bliss until you find out what you’ve been missing. My next step is making a lot of preliminary drawings and thumbnails. These are often fast gestural sketches in pen and ink, to get a natural feel for the subject. Sometimes I fill up entire sketchbooks with studies for just a few paintings. Once I get a simple and direct drawing I’m happy with, it’s scanned and then transferred to a piece of hardboard. Occasionally I paste it on backwards with acrylic matte medium and rub off the paper, other times I trace it onto the board from a printout with graphite paper.

For painting I prefer quick drying media like watercolors, gouache, and acrylics. I find myself using Acryla Gouache a lot lately. The rich colors are easy to get by applying them straight out of the tube without much mixing. If that’s what you’re going for you don’t want to diminish the integrity of the pure color by diluting it with too much water and another color. When I was in school I learned if you get the values right the color choices do not matter. I clung to that, as I was deeply afraid of color. Back then I was also painting in oils, and with those, the more I put on, the more everything blended together.

To achieve the textures, I use a mix of new and old brushes, palette knives, water, and many layers of paint. It’s all how the paint is laid down. I try to have as much fun as possible with it.

Pop culture seems to be a big part of your artwork – the music industry in particular. What other forms of popular culture do you like to draw inspiration from?

Yeah, the pop culture thing sort of snowballed. It started off as an excuse to try something new. My intent was to make visual cover songs of some of my favorite music. In my Hendrix image I was trying to get the feeling Jimi got across in his, Are you Experienced track.

Movies, literature, and the Discovery and Science channels are as a big an influence on my work as music. Alfonso Cuaron’s, Children of Men is one of my favorites. I love the way it was filmed. Kurosawa was another great filmmaker. Guillermo Del Toro is a master of color and light. His 2006 film, Pan’s Labyrinth is a masterpiece. Some writers I dig are Palahniuk, Kerouac, Salinger, and Orwell. Still, Hendrix and Dylan influence my work the most, their sound and lyrics equally of course. I want a brush stroke to sound like a distorted A chord. You know - something loud and visceral.

When I saw Bob Dylan a couple weeks back I was taken aback by how well his light show reinforced the lyrics of his songs. Ballad of a Thin Man in particular stood out, with its eerie tone combined with mood lighting that cast the band’s shadows on the wall behind them in different shapes and rates of speed. It was a surreal visual experience.

The thing that connects all of these different, creative individuals is their ability to create a world full of living, breathing characters.

Who are some of the artists that have influenced you?

My friend and mentor Rick Berry will always be my biggest influence, for sure. I have a lot of talented friends that always show me new things and inspire me to experiment and push myself. Most of them post at Gorilla Artfare. There are really so many artists that I enjoy. If I had to pick my main ones they are probably pretty standard, Degas, Klimt, Schiele, da Vinci, Van Gough, Kathe Kollwitz, Whistler, Lucian Freud, Toulouse Lautrec, Gauguin, Cézanne, and Volliard. Comic artists are Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, J. Scott Campbell, Joe Mad, Phil Hale, Kent Williams, and James Jean.

Is there someone who isn’t an artist that inspires you?

My mother taught me to improvise when I make mistakes. I can see that a lot in how I approach painting. It’s all give and take.

What haven’t you worked on yet that you would love to do as an illustrator or painter whether it’s personal or commissioned?

Well, I really want to get this new series of paintings completed first. I’m working on a group of new figure paintings that are different from anything I’ve done before. The problem I’m running into is that painting is starting to feel a bit one-dimensional. With all of this multimedia stuff going on painting can seem a little restrictive. At first this was tough to get around but figuring out how to make it work has been one hell of a fun time. It’s been interesting. Sadly, that series of paintings will have to wait for now until a couple other projects are finished up.

My dream commissioned gig would be for a Rolling Stone article on Jimi Hendrix, editorial spots for the New Yorker, Playboy, and Guitar Magazine.

Your work has been featured on Drawn, 2DArtist Magazine and Juxtapoz to name a few, how do you promote yourself? Has there been one avenue that has been particularly successful for you as far as advertising?

Simple! Just email them! I email my website address with a short message. You don’t want to badger people with your work though. Being respectful is what’s most important.  Send an update every quarter year.

“Live Painting” can be a bit intimidating. How has it helped as an artist?

Live painting helps in the respect that I get out and interact with people. Collaborating in public is when it’s most fun. It’s all or nothing at that point. So I have to just go for it. I can’t worry about making a mistake too much. That attitude frees me up. The whole experience gives me exposure to people that may have never known I exist otherwise. I like to keep business cards out and ready. But I don’t get too caught up in it. Once I’m painting it’s just the canvas and me.

What industry books have you read and found to be helpful to your career?

I’ve read a lot of them. The GAG books are the best on professional practices and rates. Instructional drawing books are ok to learn structure but there is nothing better than observational drawing from life. If you’re in school ask your teachers questions on business practices, like contract negotiating, email etiquette, deadlines, self-promotion, and anything you can think of.

How do you recharge your batteries, stay focused and motivated?

Deadlines help me stay focused and motivated. And to help stay focused during the workday I drink a lot. No, that doesn’t sound right. I keep hydrated with water and some morning coffee.

When I’m between projects I self impose deadlines on personal work to keep my hand in shape. Recently, I got a planner to keep my days organized to the hour. That helps when juggling a lot of things. Time usually ceases to exist in the studio for some reason.

I found it necessary to maintain a personal life. Sometimes you just burn out and have to take off a few days.

And finally, what is it you would like people to know about Rich Pellegrino the artist? What do you hope your audience comes away with after seeing your artwork?

I want them to be able to find something they can relate to in my art. If people don’t get some sort of feeling out of something I created then it’s a failure in my eyes.

Illustration Pages thanks Rich Pellegrino for such an enlightening and informative interview. Please take the time to know more of Rich's work by visiting his links below.

Rich Pellegrino's Blog
Rich Pellegrino on Etsy

Also enjoy other Illustration Pages interviews.


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