Washington based illustrator Tyler Stout is a busy man, and it’s not all art related. Outside of his career as a freelance illustrator he is also a husband. A father. For some, that won’t sound like much, but those with spouses and children know the importance of priority — take care of your family, first and foremost. Stout understands this. His unique brand of poster art was missed for most of 2014 due to his enlisting in the military, a venture into the National Guard that ensured health insurance for the artist and his family.
For an illustrator as high profile as Stout, or anyone for that matter, it is an admirable move to put aside the client and fanbase that has helped you establish a career in order to take care of your own. This isn’t something he would say though. In fact, he would prefer the reason for his hiatus go unmentioned. I felt it needed addressing, if for no other reason than to get it out of the way.
There is no tease in the following interview as to what Stout will do next — that is not what our interview was about, but we took to looking at this current point in his career, the return to his art, his business, and the major pieces he’s created in the past year or two.
ETDC: As a freelance illustrator I can imagine it can be stressful to take time away from your work, or time away from the search for new work. Did you have conversations with clients before your break? Was there any fear that the work might not be there when you were ready to start up again?
TS: It was indeed a bit of a leap of faith, in retrospect. My obliviousness to important life decisions and repercussions has come in handy more than a few times. Conversation wise, I didn’t talk to too many clients beforehand, since I was kinda worried that might talk me out of it, but Sarah (my wife) was very good about fielding emails while I was away. She’s used to cleaning up the many disasters I get myself into, bless her.
I was worried about money, for sure, but the sidebar job that I’ve been doing for the past year actually qualifies my family for health insurance and certain things that I don’t easily get on my own as a freelance dog. But when it comes down to it, I just didn’t want to do something just to make money, I wanted to just have a bit more depth as a person, ha. Less one trick pony at life, more two trick pony.
I imagine it felt get good to get back to doing the art thing again. Were you refreshed when you finally sat down to work again? Do you think the time away helped your craft at all?
I was, it definitely made me appreciate all the time I get to spend creating the things I do. I don’t know if it made me better at them.
I wouldn’t expect huge new, ‘this is the artist’s work after taking military grade LSD’ type changes in my work, but I certainly have a bit more Joie de vivre in my step, so hopefully that seeps into my work. Or it could all end in tears again.
For ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Mondo released prints of each character and you handled the group illustration. Your illustration leads the viewer’s eye in such a wonderful way. How far in advance are you getting on board for a project like this? Was it always set as a Comic-Con release?
Oh man, I am the worst when it comes to planning big picture type stuff. ‘Guardians,’ it just ended up the way it ended up, the releases, the vinyl album, the handbills…
My one word career definition would be ‘happy accident.’ Two word definition. I like keeping the scope small, do this poster by this date. Then after I’ve missed several deadlines and finally get the project done, we can kinda talk about how it will be released, what dates work best. Most of that is outta my hand. I would imagine from a client side of things I am not great to work with. My motto has always been ‘Better late than terrible.’ But that’s a bad motto. My poster mentor Rob Jones has a better one, ‘Do the best job you can in the time allowed.’ Which are words to live by, I just haven’t started living by that yet.
Was using your illustrations for the vinyl release and the accompanying handbills in the works from the start?
The vinyl release was somewhat of a secondary objective. It was ‘get the poster done’ and we might use it for the soundtrack as well.’ and then once it was done, handbills became an option and we did that. But it was very fluid, very by the seat of our pants.
Mondo probably has the grand design all figured out (certainly more than I do), but I just go play by play. Less overwhelming that way.
Your ‘Alien’ poster for the 35mm screening at the Alamo Drafthouse puts the focus on the film’s namesake. You’ve successfully handled major films such as the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy and Marvel blockbusters and with ‘Alien’ you veered away from a style you’ve become known for. It’s a total reimagining of the film at the gut level rather than a montage of characters. It’s an exciting turn. Was your plan to experiment and try something new with that piece, or did other factors dictate the direction you took?
I appreciate you saying it was an exciting turn, ha ha. I have had more than a few emails saying, ‘hey, I liked your Alien poster, screw the haters.’ Which is kinda a compliment, I think.
I don’t read a lot of online feedback about stuff I do, since it seems too weird, but the general consensus seemed to be people weren’t loving it. I liked it so at least I have one fan. But yeah, the factors were likeness rights, that’s always a big one. If you can’t get actors permission to use their faces, then you have to do something that doesn’t need to have actor’s faces. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
When you have posters like your ‘Stars Wars’ set going for huge amounts of money, is there pressure when you take on a big film like ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ or ‘Alien’ to deliver something the fans will go nuts for? It would seem like there are three bodies to please — yourself as the artist, the client, and the audience / customer. You seem like a pretty straightforward guy, how do you keep that equation simple and not let the pressure affect you, no matter how real or imagined it may be?
I’d like to say it doesn’t affect me at all, but that would be a lie. Having people interested in your work, you kinda do feel like you have to meet their expectations. To the point where things can start to shift from ‘doing what you want to do’ to ‘doing what you think people want to see.’ That’s life, it’s a balance.
I try to take those opportunities when I’m doing something that no one cares about to try new things, and if they’re well received, then maybe next big project working a bit more of that into the finished piece. Ultimately you have to do what you think looks best, otherwise the scale you’re measuring against disappears and everything becomes abstract. If the goal is to just sell things, that’s a weird goal to have. Long after you’ve spent the money you want to be able to look back and be pleased with the body of work you have created. In my opinion, of course.
When you have posters available on your site, you do your sells as raffles rather than a ‘first come first served’ scenario. How did you come the conclusion that this was the best method for you?
Just as an asterisk, I actually do have ‘first come first serve’ sales, now and again, when I’m too tired to go through the lottery process. But if its something I think a lot of people are interested in, then I try to do the lottery to at least give a few more people a chance.
First come first serve really only hits up those people that are online right then, which totally works. But lots of people keep different hours, especially worldwide, so lotteries kinda spread out that sales a bit more, giving more people a random chance. I dunno if it’s the best solution, but I can at least sleep at night believing its a fair way to sell prints.
The one thing about the lottery system I noticed is that it does get you engaged with your fanbase. For someone that doesn’t have a Facebook page, Twitter, or Instagram, your site during sell times becomes a place of activity. It’s interesting to see – it just proves that a strong work will get seen even without a major online presence. It’s the final product that matters. Was this always your aim, or is social networking something you just have no interest in?
Man, I feel old. Back in my day, a website was actually social networking, I was on the cutting edge. Then Friendster came along and ruined everything, ha ha.
But yeah, I mean, I’m all for self promotion, lots of the stuff I do would fall under that category, but as far as Facebook and Twitter and stuff, I guess I just like doing things the way I’ve been doing them. I don’t like the idea of just relentlessly bombarding people with sales pitches. I feel like you can get the info you need from my blog, or my website, or from just emailing me. So I’ve kept it simple.
That being said, I do have an Instagram and Twitter account, so I’m slowly branching out. Granted I did start both of them under pseudonyms, but that’s just to make it bearable for me, ha. But they’ll be integrated into the new site and used when appropriate, hopefully. It’s all just ‘learn as you go’ what works, and when it stops working, then you try something else. I’ve been fortunate enough that my caveman style of business has worked up ’til now, so we’ll see where it goes from here.