In February of 2008, I was invited to accompany The GroundUP Pirates on their first California art tour. A hand full of us flew over five hours of land and water anticipating what this could mean for GroundUP…and for ourselves. One of the artists was Amy Wagner. She’s known to have an entourage wherever she goes, and a few of her friends who lived in the area were able to come out to the art shows we were involved in. One of her supporters was Jerrell Conner.
After our tour, Mr. Conner was soon adopted into the GroundUP collective and started showcasing in Hawaii. This helped to keep us connected and prompted his visit in September of 2008. A year later–almost to the date–we were married.
From graphic design to animation to clothing to illustration to painting, he’s covered a huge spectrum of art. I’ve been wanting to do an interview on him for a while and after his website had been newly revamped by Janice Gaspar, I figured this would be a good time to feature his work. Although I don’t believe Jerrell is a fan of following a traditional writing style, he has certaintly been able to write his own story into my life. Allow me to introduce…my husband.
Your name and the type of art that you do.
jerrell conner. i do all kinds of art. my major–and first love… in terms of art–is illustration. i’ve been drawing since i can remember, and i’ve always loved to sketch and doodle. just a pen or pencil and a sheet of paper, such a simple yet effective way to release creativity! i also paint, animate, and design.
Why did you choose to go by your name and not an alias when it comes to your paintings?
i figure it’s my name, so i should use it. hah, i mean, it’s art that i’m creating, so i might as well put MY name on it, rather than putting it under some other title. however, often in the past (and occasionally in the present) i will omit my name from certain pieces or listings when my work is published (for example on the site for my graphic novel Revelations my name is hardly ever listed, if at all). the reason being, is that on some projects i feel it needs to be more about the actual ART of that project then WHO created it. typically i feel the art will speak for itself.
What artist first inspired you when it came to choosing your style?
hmmm, good question. tough though…to choose just ONE…well, i think the very FIRST artist that REALLY made an impact on me stylistically was Egon Schiele. his was of drawing his figures. the line weight, the odd shapes and contours are so definitive and really inspired me early on.
What encouraged you to keep at your art?
quite simply i loved doing it. and people always encouraged me to keep at it. that support, i feel, was very important. being an artist is not an easy life, it’s very personal and putting yourself on the line and out there for criticism. it’s also, not inherently that stable of a career. it’s full of risk, doubt, ridicule, and many other cruelties. so, i can totally understand why so many give it up. for me i always felt it was a calling from above, and to throw away that gift was something i would NEVER do.
Your favorite medium to work with?
i would say MIXED medium. no it’s not cheating, it’s a valid answer! when i do art shows i like to mix it up, keep the viewer guessing, not knowing what is used for what and really just being experimental and coming up with different looks and approaches to making works.
What would you say was your “big break” into the world of showcasing your work?
it wasn’t until a yearbook competition that i realized the potential of art. i was told not to enter the contest because there were 7th and 8th graders entering it, and they were bigger and better than me. but i did it anyways, and ended up winning too! so my illustration of a wolverine with tennis shoes, torn jeans, sunglasses, and books while propped on a basketball won the competition. it was the first time this snaggle toothed little kid really saw what art could be. it could be a career, it could very well be THE thing you do as your profession…this could be done for a living…wow!
As far as size, would you prefer to go small or opt for larger pieces?
i actually like to do larger formatted pieces, though i don’t get to do them that often. since i do a lot of series, when i do paintings it’s usually not just a one-off, but part of a larger whole, that may include upwards of 10 or more for that given series. so, with time constraints i usually do more medium sized works. another thing is larger pieces are harder to sell, because they are priced more, yes, but also the fact that it typically will go on someone’s wall, and a 10′ x 4′ painting might not be the easiest piece to find a location for!
What did you do in order to get your name out there?
i don’t really know. i just followed the trail of open doors placed ahead of me. which started as an intern doing storyboards at Electronic Arts (got credited on the “Medal of Honor” game series), then started doing a few smaller art shows, and that led into working on my book and publishing it. it was all a matter of baby steps. more recently i got an art rep, and that’s helped A LOT. just having someone ELSE peddle your work and get you gigs is a beautiful thing. oh, also my websites and having my work published in Spectrum (annual book of the best in fantastic art) has helped reach markets that i had yet to be exposed to.
Were you formally trained or self taught?
kind of both. growing up and drawing EVERYTHING i could was sort of the first training ground for me (drawing from fashion magazines, pausing the “Street Fighter” and “Mortal Kombat” video games and drawing the character poses), and just creatively making up my OWN characters giving them back stories and special attributes and characteristics, that was all fun and paved the way. but going to art school really stepped everything up a notch. i went to Otis college of art and design, and just being in that environment of artists and that community was an experience that i wouldn’t ever want to trade. it was one thing to be one of the best at what you do in a high school setting, but to come to a college where most are as talented as you, if not more so, really puts things in perspective and you have to find your own voice and style. that was really a blessing.
What major career opportunities came after getting your degree? Any career shifts?
not much actually. we were told that the first year or so after graduating was going to be really tough to find any steady work. and for me it was, almost to the day! i ran around and did various freelance and work after school for about 12 months, then i landed the EA job working on video games…finally a steady gig! and that project came through a former instructor of mine at Otis, Barry Jackson. it was a great opportunity and i loved being a part of that team, even though i came to feel that the studio 9-5 gig wasn’t really for me.
Tell us about your Revelations series and how this major project came about.
here’s an excerpt from my website theredr.com about that very thing:
“The year is 2001 an artist named Jerrell Conner is finishing his studies at Otis college of art and design, when a major shift happens in his final project. Half way through his senior thesis, his joint collaboration, cross-major project falls through as other members decide to move in different directions (this turns out to be a major blessing). He regroups and finds a new project that sparks his interest. He takes on a very short biblical story touching on the end times. The project is a HUGE undertaking, so he focuses on a small portion of the story line, and only does a short mock presentation for it (as if it was a full feature animated film); complete with movie posters, concept art, with a sculpture of one of the main characters slowly rotating on a hand crafted display table, and the pièce de résistance a 3 minute long animated trailer (from the nonexistent movie) projecting on the wall next to it.”
check out the site for more on that.
How does your faith motivate or influence your overall art?
there aren’t many ways that my faith DOESN’T motivate or influence my art. i believe being an artist is a gift from God, so I am CAREFUL to use it to be a blessing to others. i feel, to do it for selfish reasons or even just for the sake of making a “pretty picture” is such a waste of that talent, and gift. the world DOES need some beautification projects, but feeding the eyes should not be done to the neglect of feeding the spirit and soul. every artist has their own voice and their own strengths, so ONLY i can bring my aesthetic and my imagination and my creativity into not only the “art world” but the entire world. i give my all to be true to that voice, to that vision. because if i don’t, that art and those stories that i was supposed to tell will be lost forever.
Ultimately, what would you like to see for Revelations and what steps are you taking to get there?
the whole goal for Revelations has been to get it to the BIG screen. it was ALWAYS meant to be an epic feature film. now in what capacity has always been shifting. from crudely animated, to live action, to CGI, to some sort of hybrid of live action/CG. right now i am in the middle of book 2 (it’s a 3 book mini series). so once book 2 is released next year (2010) there is just one more title that i’ll have to flush out, board/layout, pen/ink/color and then we’ll see. depending on what kind of support we’ll have with publishing and distribution will play into what steps need to be taken to get the story from pages to screens.
What major projects are you currently involved in?
other than Revelations, there are a host of freelance jobs i’m juggling at the moment, but the biggest, most time consuming behemoth of projects is the “Cheech and Chong animated movie” that i’m working on with a TINY team of artists and animators. we’ve been working on it for about a year now, and are looking for a 2010 release. so that’s pretty exciting to know something so massive, that you put so much work into will be seen by hundreds of thousands of people, maybe even millions! in a way i really see it as a training ground for me in what to expect when the Revelations film(s) come out…even though it is pretty much the MAIN reason why Revelations book 2 isn’t ALREADY out. i believe it’s an investment for the future, and that God has placed me where i am for a reason.
What are the benefits of freelancing versus working a 9 to 5 job?
well with freelance, obviously you have your FREEdom. so, you can come and go as you like, you can make your hours, and report to yourself. 2 drawbacks are you have to be self motivated, because NO one else is going to make you do your work and stay on tasks (something that really isn’t a problem for me), also you don’t have the security of a STEADY income and health insurance, etc. so it’s not for everyone, but if you know how to work it and live the kind of life where you can, it can be an amazing blessing, not building someone else’s dream for them, but fulfilling your own.
How have you seen your different interests come together to make a cohesive career?
i know God has opened many different kinds of doors for me to do various types of art and explore so many different opportunities through them. there are ALWAYS new projects around the corner and things coming in, and when there isn’t i’m free to let loose on Revelations. but along the way i try to stay focused and make sure the random jobs that come along are actually benefiting my own goals/calling.
it’s REALLY easy to take on a couple small fun jobs that have nothing to do with where you want to be and what your plans are, and look up one day and you’re a few years off track and in the complete opposite direction. that’s SUPER important to me, whenever i take on new projects…”how do they fit into the BIG picture?” it’s important to know.
Any people you’d like to thank?
why yes. i would like to thank God. without whom none of this would be possible! my loving parents James and Fely for their support and love throughout the tough “artist life” that i’ve had to live. many parents just aren’t that understanding. also my pastor at church Fred Price Jr, for supporting my books, and giving me sound guidance in my search for truth (in regards to the book and life in general). and lastly but not least in the least, my beautiful wife Kytia, who’s support i need the most, and who’s talent and beauty pushes me to get up in the morning and give my all and be a better person, artist, and man. i love you.
❤ K. Love