Scott Gustafson

There’s more to this artist than his fan­tas­ti­cally de­tailed and nos­tal­gic fairy tale im­ages.

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I’m not proud of my com­puter il­lit­er­acy but I do feel the need to be hon­est about it and share my sit­u­a­tion with oth­ers,” ad­mits Scott Gustafson, ren­derer of gor­geous fairy tales scenes in tra­di­tional me­dia. “It’s only through talk­ing about this shame­ful prob­lem that I think we, as a so­ci­ety, can come to terms with it and learn to deal with those less for­tu­nate among us who nei­ther text nor tweet…”

He is, of course, jok­ing. As a vet­eran il­lus­tra­tor of 36 years to date (and count­ing), Scott has lit­tle need of dig­i­tal tools,

ver­sa­tile as he is

The idea of some­day be­com­ing an artist was with me from just about as far back as I can re­mem­ber

with al­most ev­ery tra­di­tional medium – be it oils, gouache or char­coal. Be­sides, the kind of glo­ri­ously de­tailed and coloured scenes he paints, hark­ing back to the Golden Age of il­lus­tra­tors, seem to cry out for the gen­tle touch of me­dia to can­vas, rather than the some­times harshly de­lin­eated tones of soft­ware.

Scott is unashamedly in­flu­enced by the likes of NC Wyeth, Nor­man Rock­well, Max­field Par­rish and Arthur Rack­ham, and like those ad­mired artists, he cre­ates nos­tal­gic, glow­ing im­ages that never veer to the sickly or twee. It would be slightly re­duc­tive to call him a chil­dren’s artist, al­though it’s true that Scott has cre­ated many illustrations for age-old fairy tales and bed­time sto­ries (if you’re of a cer­tain age and grew up in Bri­tain, you might be re­minded of the clas­sic hard­back Lady­bird story books).

Yet he has also writ­ten and il­lus­trated his own chil­dren’s book, Ed­die: The Lost Youth

of Edgar Al­lan Poe, which show­cases a some­what darker side to his tal­ent, and com­mer­cial clients in­clude Play­boy, The Saturday Evening Post, The Brad­ford Ex­change, Dream­Works and The Green­wich Work­shop.

sin­gle-minded am­bi­tion

“I grew up in a small town in north­ern Illi­nois, and at­tended el­e­men­tary and high school there,” Scott says. “I al­ways liked to draw and was con­tin­u­ally en­cour­aged by my par­ents, rel­a­tives and teach­ers to con­tinue draw­ing and paint­ing, so the idea of some­day be­com­ing an artist was with me from just about as far back as I can re­mem­ber.”

How­ever, it was an­i­ma­tion that called to the young Gustafson, so much so that he even­tu­ally ma­jored in an­i­ma­tion at the Chicago Acad­emy of Fine Arts. Am­bi­tions changed when he re­alised that he could be­come a free­lance il­lus­tra­tor, but he

feels that his ed­u­ca­tion still aids his work to­day.

“In study­ing the work of the great an­i­ma­tors like Ol­lie John­ston, Frank Thomas, Eric Lar­son, Woolie Rei­ther­man, Bob Jones and Bob Clam­pett, I found that they helped me to learn how to cap­ture fa­cial ex­pres­sions and pose a fig­ure so that the pos­ture and pose helped de­fine the char­ac­ter and the role that he or she plays within the story,” Scott ex­plains.

the ap­peal of an­i­ma­tion

“These days, I’ve ac­tu­ally found a lot of in­spi­ra­tion look­ing up pen­cil tests of great an­i­ma­tors on­line. The work of Glen Keane and Ser­gio Pab­los is par­tic­u­larly won­der­ful… I’ve grown to pre­fer these pen­cil tests be­cause they’re the ac­tual an­i­ma­tor’s draw­ings, filmed in se­quence as a test be­fore go­ing to colour. I’d rec­om­mend tak­ing a look for any­one who ap­pre­ci­ates great char­ac­ter devel­op­ment and beau­ti­ful draw­ing.”

So would he con­sider dab­bling in an­i­ma­tion again? “Well, an­i­ma­tion on the level of the an­i­ma­tors I’ve men­tioned is a very com­plex art, and as much as I’ve gone in and out of fan­ta­sis­ing about it again, I usu­ally take the lazy way out and watch clas­sic films like Fan­ta­sia or Lady and the Tramp!”

As he has done for most of his pro­fes­sional ca­reer, Scott works from home, al­beit in his own stu­dio which takes up the en­tire sec­ond floor of the house: “This space is one of the main rea­sons we bought this house over 20 years ago.” He also tries to keep to reg­u­lar work hours, which helps keep a sep­a­ra­tion be­tween

work and non-work time. “When I was younger, liv­ing in a four-room apart­ment, I got up late and worked late, and it seemed like that’s all I did…”

A typ­i­cal Gustafson im­age be­gins as a se­ries of thumb­nails, any­thing up to 12 loose sketches to set the idea. That be­comes a larger sketch: “I av­er­age about three of these to show the client, or just to make sure I’ve tried more than one ap­proach to a given idea.” A more fully fledged draw­ing comes next, with ref­er­ence, props and even a model shoot if nec­es­sary.

“Then I trans­fer this draw­ing to the sur­face on which the fi­nal paint­ing will be done – usu­ally ges­soed ma­sonite. This is done by ei­ther di­rectly trac­ing through a copy of the fi­nal draw­ing us­ing graphite pa­per, or by mount­ing an archival print out of the draw­ing onto the panel.”

With the im­age com­plete, Scott turns his at­ten­tion to­wards colour. “On a mounted, re­duced print-out of the fin­ished draw­ing, I do a loose in­di­ca­tion of what I think the colour will be for the fi­nal piece, fol­lowed by un­der­paint­ing. De­pend­ing on the piece, I do ei­ther a monochro­matic tonal un­der­paint­ing to es­tab­lish the val­ues, or, re­fer­ring to the colour study, a thin, trans­par­ent layer of those colours in the cor­re­spond­ing ar­eas of the trans­ferred draw­ing.”

Ev­ery paint­ing’s a chal­lenge

The fi­nal stage is paint­ing. “De­pend­ing on the com­plex­ity and size of a piece, this can take any­where from sev­eral days to sev­eral months. Last week, for in­stance, I fin­ished paint­ing a vi­gnette in three days, but the pic­ture be­fore that one – an­other il­lus­tra­tion from the same story – took three weeks to paint. They are all dif­fer­ent and all present their own sur­prises and chal­lenges.”

Scott has ex­per­i­mented with many medi­ums over his carer, but pri­mar­ily he now sticks to acrylics or oils for fin­ished colour work. “In re­cent years I’ve been con­cen­trat­ing al­most ex­clu­sively in oils as they of­fer the widest range of flex­i­bil­ity and pos­si­bil­i­ties, as well as depth of colour and over­all rich­ness.”

It’s a com­plex process – though the re­sults are cer­tainly worth it – and it’s lit­tle sur­prise that Scott hasn’t re­ally had time or in­cli­na­tion to in­ves­ti­gate dig­i­tal pro­cesses. “Se­ri­ously, though, the com­puter is a fan­tas­tic tool, and I’ve come to rely on it for many things, chiefly com­mu­ni­ca­tion and ref­er­ence,” he says. “I leave any­thing more com­pli­cated than that in the ca­pa­ble hands of my wife and busi­ness part­ner, Patty, who han­dles all those as­pects of our busi­ness mar­vel­lously.”

With a new book in the mak­ing, ten­ta­tively ti­tles Sto­ry­book Fables and sched­uled to be pub­lished by Ar­ti­san in au­tumn 2017, life is good. Scott ad­mits that he has never re­ally though about what’s next be­yond the cur­rent project, and so far that has worked out well for him and his fam­ily. Of course, there are al­ways new am­bi­tions.

“I used to fan­ta­sise about il­lus­trat­ing Alice in Won­der­land or The Wind in the Wil­lows, but John Ten­niel, Rack­ham and EH Shep­ard are pretty fast com­pany,” he laughs. “If I were of­fered the chance, who knows? I love il­lus­trat­ing clas­sics, but I think it would also be ex­cit­ing to work with a con­tem­po­rary au­thor as well.”

When I was younger, liv­ing in a four­room apart­ment, I got up late and worked late, and it seemed like that’s all I did…

…and the Tiger with the Beau­ti­ful Lit­tle Red Coat, also from Clas­sic Bed­time Sto­ries. An orig­i­nal im­age imag­in­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two mytho­log­i­cal char­ac­ters, which was made into a lim­ited edi­tion print. Lit­tle Sambha… Mer­lin and Arthur

The fin­ished piece, which Scott painted on can­vas us­ing oils, was awarded a Sil­ver medal in Spec­trum 17, in 2010. A Con­fab­u­la­tion of Dragons

“The won­drous words that had crowded his brain ear­lier that night were gone…” The ti­tle page from Scott’s il­lus­trated novel. Young Poe

A lim­ited edi­tion gi­clee can­vas print, one of sev­eral avail­able to buy through Scott’s web­site. The Man in the Moon

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