When I hung up my own commission sign years ago, I put into policy that three characters were included. 3 characters per piece. I wanted scenes possible because while it was what I was looking to buy, it was also what I wanted to build, and now I have quite the wondrous portfolio of scene after scene. None of which would have been possible by sticking to the one character code.
Wil Wheaton has described him as “Awesomely disturbing.” He hails from Houston, Texas. He is become Death. He is Jack Crowder.
Jack Crowder is an independent artist with a rich client history (General Mills and Transmetropolitan: All Around the World to name a few), but he shows that artists find their true wealth in their craft. With a career of almost two and a half decades behind him, Crowder has seen a lot and evolved with every development. Part of what makes him stand out amongst deviantART’s many artists is his highly personal commitment to every order he takes and his unique practice of offering annual, quarterly and weekly discounts on all of his commissions.
Like the above quote says, these commissions aren’t just jobs to him; he is as much a fan of art as he is a performer. You’ve heard the saying that “So-and-so is a pleasure to work with,” but then you work with Mr. Crowder. Aside from covering the basics like ease-of-contact and following vivid instructions, he takes an enthusiastic interest in the final product; going so far as to offer recommendations for the best possible picture and adding touches that not even his customers thought of that really bring the pictures to life. Taking a commission out from Mr. Crowder feels less like a business transaction and more like a conversation with an old friend.
You can find him online at JackCrowder.deviantart.com and he’s always open (and offering new discounts) but for now, let’s look at some of his artwork and see what makes him tick.
Q: What inspired you to become an artist? Are there any artists in particular whose styles you try to incorporate into your work?
Crowder: I distinctly remember crayoning out the astral projection of Splinter coming out of the campfire to the Ninja Turtles when I was six. Where the fight scenes might have resonated with other kids, that was the one scene that spoke fluently to me. In many ways, I’ve been looking for that inspiration in film ever since and it would explain a great deal about my obsession with The Matrix. I was a 90s kid, so I bopped around a bit in the pop culture pool. I would fill entire blue-lined notebooks full of whatever I was into. Riffs on Neil Adams’s Batman, Arthur Adams’s X-Men and the album covers of Savoy Brown or Alice Cooper. I submitted regularly to Wizard Magazine’s off-side contests and won a lot of cool stuff. While I climbed the school ropes, as you do, I incorporated different styles with different mediums. I got a lot of joy working with General Mills and many musicians in my college years. After repackaging, I got DJ Jon Frank’s whole catalog sold as background music to MTV; that was a big deal back then. I was heavy with pencils (2B, 4B) on everything before daring to bring it into digital programs. I didn’t get the idea behind doing digital artwork because I had minored in 3D animation. Back then to me, if it was going to be on a computer, you should be sculpting it.
An ex of mine put my portfolio to the fire right after I graduated. Everything from high school and everything I’d done to create those marketing demos was lost. I would spend years before I would do any real illustration again. I didn’t return to art until I met my wife. I had this wooden plaque that I drew her face on with Sharpie and it still hangs in our house today. It’s just been a ritual to keep it where we hang our keys; it’s the root. I particularly remember putting a photo of it on Myspace and the aforementioned ex pestering me about it; see, I had never drawn her. She kept stating that I loved the girl that I’d drawn. It was early then, so I didn’t know if the relationship had wings, but I’m so glad they’ve never lost them.
I became a digital artist after that in several projects that I did with soon-to-be wife. It was on a spent Dell laptop that I began using familiar programs in different ways. We both wear one of my first digital illustrations. It’s a crest of sorts and was part of a social media experiment that we launched. We did a series of videos on Youtube that caught Clint Catalyst’s attention and we were invited to the Jared Gold fashion show in Los Angeles.
Now, I am not including freelance work (the whole logos lot) as part of illustration; I don’t envision them in the same sphere. For my own work, I use loose lines with intentionally-pixilated edges (what’s the fun of using a computer to make art if it doesn’t leave some tracks?). When Bravo was the couch surfer’s dream, there was this series called Work of Art produced by Sarah Jessica Parker. A real gem of that show was artist Miles Mendenhall, whose obsession with pixels echoed my thoughts. I use pixels because I was there at the front line when videogames were born. There wasn’t a Megaman or Mario in those first three consoles that I didn’t fight alongside with. However, I would never bring in that sketchy feel into freelance work where things must remain vibrant and clean.
I am constantly trying to challenge myself when it comes to digital pieces. I don’t want to get stuck – or worse – bored. A few years ago, I decided I would remove black from any piece that I did for a while. It forced me out of my comfort zone because the structure of my digital pieces required those dark barriers. I began integrating and learning ways to paint digitally.
Q: What do your fans seem to like most about your work?
Crowder: As much as I want to say it’s the cheesecake, the best compliments I’ve gotten are how I’m still that 90’s kid bouncing about. Whenever I get comfortable, I force myself to try doing things differently. I don’t think I will ever stop shifting in my seat when it comes to where to begin. Sometimes it’s about a hand, or sometimes it’s about just the layout. You’ve got to be excited about it, but you also got to know when something isn’t working.
Now, I don’t always know when it isn’t working. My wife does a great job letting me know when I’m way off; usually after I’m finished and it’s done. No one supports me when I’m stuck like she does. She’ll peal in that I should make a character’s eyes larger; that keeps the flow of not being stagnant. I really miss the REmake/REmodels that Warren Ellis and later Si Spurrier ran on public domain characters. Those were the items where I figured out what fit and didn’t.
Q: What’s your favorite part or moment of production?
Crowder: I think my pieces get their souls in that last hour. It’s in the texturing phase that I like to think the Midas touch happens. That judgment on how things should feel or the atmospherics – when I get to that phase, the figures are already finished and perhaps that’s a leftover from having done so many years of 3D sculpting. I create everything separately, but I’m getting better at painting everything on one canvas. It’s been a pushing away from the wall. It’s not strange for me to think everything I did, including whole backgrounds, are completely rotten a few hours lately. It’s my favorite part because it requires the best assessment; it’s the arrangement. It really is when I have the most fun.
Q: As an independent artist, what are some hurtles you must face when looking for clients both small and big?
Crowder: They’re all on my shoulders. Social networking has been a mountain for me and I’m still getting my gear. I have a vague sense of what I should be doing, but – perhaps it’s personal demons – I just can’t get into the giant cross-posting, multiple identity-having, brand-waving machine for myself. I mean, these are things I’ve done for clients in the past and rooted for others, but it’s just never been easy for me. I have the wonderful experience of having been laid off twice, so I’ve considered any job a daredevil situation. When it’s come to conventions or even print-selling websites, I’ve been very reluctant to put myself on the line. There’s a lot of fish in the sea out there and sometimes I play like I need a chaperone. I like to think I create very one-of-a-kind works, but great talent is intimating. It’s that self-doubt that has sort of kept me from trying to reach a bigger fan base or even a new audience.
Q: Parents never like to say they have a “favorite kid,” but do you have a favorite illustration/project so far?
Crowder: There’s an amorous fugitive inside that goes wild when I get a sequential page or a set of pages. There was a period where I was doing these pitch books. I’d get authors wanting a single page of their children’s books. I would put so much of myself in designing these mascots and I’d run them by my daughter to make sure they were engaging only for my art to be ditched when the author’s book would get picked up; I still congratulated them each time. At least with a sequential, it’s more than one image and usually it’s the climax of a short.
Q: It’s rare to see artists offer so many deals on their commissions. What inspired you to offer so many discounts on your work?
Crowder: It’s about having a community. I like to setup seasonal ideas that may become a theme throughout my work. If you were to look at all the original content mixed in with fan art, I’d hope there might be some sort of bridge of consistency because of those deals. The savings don’t just bundle for the commissioner, they help create an overall message to my body of work. I wouldn’t have continued with art if the community wasn’t so wonderful. The people that purchase my art have been the nicest I’ve ever known. It’s a constant honor to work with their darlings.
I’ll be speaking with Jack again shortly to get a step-by-step process of how he makes his art come to life. If you’re not already checking out his galleries, we’ll see you then. You can find Mr. Crowder at JackCrowder.com, JackCrowder on deviantART and you can even see some of his previous work in comics here.