Philip Straub

digital painter

 “The idea of my work affecting people emotionally when they view it is really exciting to me; in fact, I thrive on it. Like most other artists and performers, it’s the audience response that really makes my craft interesting.”
―Philip Straub

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September 2005

Tell us a little bit about your background? Where are you from originally?
I’m originally from Upstate New York; Syracuse to be exact. My family moved to Southern Connecticut when I was eight years old and I lived there until two years ago when I relocated to Maitland, Florida, to work at one of Electronic Arts studios as, first, a Concept Artist and now an Art Director.

Who were your main influences growing up?
There are quite a few influences I’ve drawn from that ultimately inspired me to become an artist. In the early days I enjoyed drawing and painting many of the characters and scenes from my favorite books like “The Chronicles of Narnia” series and “The Lord of the Rings” series. I loved to read when I was a kid and would go through as many “fantasy” type books I could get my hands on. Eventually this led to my writing and illustrating my own stories and, for a time, I actually considered being a writer over the path of artist. Eventually I won a few awards for both my writing and paintings, but it was the art that always kept my interest longer.

During elementary school, while I was doing all that reading and fantasy painting/writing, I also became interested in landscape and wildlife paintings. I loved the Hudson River School painters and would try and recreate that look with acrylics and watercolors. At the time, Robert Bateman, the well known wildlife painter, was really coming into prominence and so I would try and reproduce the beautiful painterly effect he achieves in his paintings.

By the time I was in high school the fantasy stuff was back in full swing and I was incredibly inspired by fantasy illustrators like Michael Whelan. I love the way he does fantasy without it looking cheesy, and there is always a sense of symbolism in his work that sets it apart form a lot of the other fantasy illustrators out there. I also started exploring some of the Masters like Rembrandt as well as the surreal work of artists like Dalí.

Once I attended College at Paier College of Art, a small school in New Haven, Connecticut, my eyes really began to open. There was this whole other illustration culture that I really didn’t know anything about. Sure, I knew a few illustrators names here and there but I had no idea how much history there was in American Illustration. I began pilling through all of the “Society of Illustrators” annuals I could find. There was a wealth of inspiration in those books and it was then I made up my mind to make sure I was included in that history once I graduated and became a professional artist.

How do you think your illustration/painting style developed?
I think an artist’s style is really the sum of all of his or her experiences and artistic preferences. My style is still developing, really, and I don’t think I’ve even hit the tip of the iceberg on what exactly my ultimate vision is for my painting style. I really still have so much to learn. That said, there are some components during my career that I can identify as things that helped develop my style in the direction it currently is in. The realism, well, that comes from my schooling. Paier College of Art is a “Sharp Focus” school…meaning the focus is on realism and the curriculum supports that. The teachers there all subscribe to the school of realism and there is even a class that focuses on producing one hyper realistic painting during the whole semester. One of my illustration teachers, Tim O’Brien, a fantastic and well know illustrator, is a very realistic oil painter, so the techniques I developed during that time were a reflection of his teaching.

Upon graduation, my work tended to be fairly subdued and I used of lot of earth tones to help accentuate the more somber subject matter I focused on at that time. My first job, working for well-known children’s book author and illustrator, Mercer Mayer, would change all that. The work he was producing during this period of his career was very very colorful and, not only that, it was being created on the computer, using some new program called Photoshop. So, I went from being a traditional realistic oil painter to a digital artist focusing on colorful children’s content! It was hard at first, but it was really the training ground for what was to come. During that time I produced digital paintings for over 25 children’s book and further refined many skills, especially my understanding of color theory. I stayed active in the freelance illustration scene while working with Mercer and I began to see a shift in my style; over time my work started getting more colorful and bold.

This colorful style continued to develop when I went onto my next job working at a division of Vivendi Universal Games, producing illustrations for licenses under some big names: Jurassic Park; Disney; Fisher Price; and Mattel. More and more my personal work, which tends to focus on fantastic themes, was utilizing the influences of working in the children’s market. Working in a variety of different markets has ultimately pushed me to develop two separate styles – one that is whimsical and childlike, the second focusing on darker fantastic subject matter. It’s kind of fun to put on two different hats depending on the assignment or my mood. It certainly keeps things interesting.

What materials do you use to produce your work, and how much is done on the computer?
These days I primarily use Photoshop and Painter to produce my illustrations. I’ll occasionally use 3D software to lay out detailed man-made scenes, but I generally enjoy the process of drawing things from start to finish. I’ve experimented with combining traditional media with digital and there are few pieces that represent that technique in my portfolio.

How do you keep yourself motivated and interested?
That’s easy…I’m always trying to improve as a painter, illustrator, and concept artist. There are so many skills a successful artist must master in order to truly be effective as a painter, and I still have a long way to go. The motivation really comes from trying to be the best I can every day, attempting to make every painting better than the last. In addition, I have a constant backlog of ideas or concepts that I haven’t yet brought to life through paint. Sometimes it will get to the point where there are too many ideas backed up in my head and I simply must spend the time painting them to make room for more or else I’ll go crazy.

The idea of my work affecting people emotionally when they view it is really exciting to me; in fact, I thrive on it. Like most other artists and performers, it’s the audience response that really makes my craft interesting.

What was your most challenging assignment?
Ha…I’ve had more than a few of those. I recently did an illustration for an advertising campaign for a very large company that was extremely challenging. It’s tough when a job begins to evolve into something that takes an artist out of their style, and that was the case with me and this job.

From your portfolio, what is your favorite piece?
That’s a really tough question since on any given day I might give a different answer or tell you I don’t really like any of my paintings. In addition, some of my favorites are covered under the NDAs I have out there for different entertainment properties and therefore I can’t show them. I have a few favorites from each of the different styles I’ve explored over the years. Probably my favorite of my traditional oil paintings is a painting titled “Faceplate”, an image I’ve gotten so much mileage from and one that’s still a favorite of many who enjoy my work. Of my children’s book style, I think my favorite is a painting I produced for my “Secret Places” brand titled “Enchanted Evening”. My favorite “Concept” painting is a piece titled “Projectile”; it represents where I want to take my concept work as I move forward.

Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?
I’ve always got a few different little projects going on. I’m working on a few different book projects right now; one focusing on the children’s book style I produce, and the other on the darker fantasy style I enjoy painting. I also produce designs for stationery, textile, and fabrics, and have a few different products coming out this fall featuring my work.

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