Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Interview Bruce Sereta

Born: Cleveland, Ohio 1958

Padua Fransican High School Parma, Ohio
Ohio State University Columbus, Ohio
Cooper School of Art Cleveland, Ohio
Zarney Design Studio, Illustrator. Medina, Ohio
Hitchcock Flemming and Assoc. Illustrator. Akron, Ohio
Artist's Studio, Illustrator Cleveland, Ohio
I've been freelancing since I was in High School. . finally in 1996 I went full-time

What is your favorite illustration style? For work, which style do people want the most?

There's so many, I really don't have one. For the most part I like any style that has good solid drawing. whether it's distorted, abstract, realistic, or decorative. Something that's well designed, good color and composition, and shows some thought and skill behind it.
I get calls for everything from photorealistic to abstracts, from serious portraits to cartoons. I'm lucky in the fact that I work with a number of clients that are open-minded, and are willing to consider different approaches to their project. We may work together to decide the best look for the image, or, if we've worked together long enough, they just give me the assignment, tell me what they have in mind, and let me do what I do. Other clients have a specific style in mind, they have everything worked out around that look.

I think there are two major factors that ultimately decide the look or style and determine a successful illustration; the subject matter, and the audience. Is it humorous or serious, what's the message you're trying to get across, and can you get their attention. There are times when budget dictates the style, as well as the deadline. I may get a call for a very ambitious and elaborate illustration, but they may not have the time, or the money to produce it. That's when having several style and techniques come in handy. I can suggest a simpler approach, a style or technique thats quicker and easier to do, something that fits their budget and time restraints. I've also noticed that it seems to come in waves, for example there was a period a few years back when I was getting a lot of calls for retro work, Rockwell, Parrish, Flagg, Elvgren, Sunbloom, vintage poster stuff. It seemed that a lot of people were trying to get away from a digital look, they wanted a painting that they could actually hold in their hands. I still get a lot of requests for retro work but there's more of a balance now. Over a year period I'd say that I do just about 50/50 - digital to traditional work.

How did you end up working for extremely well known places such as AOL, AT&T, and Coke a Cola? Did they come to you or did you go to them?

Some jobs come from marketing efforts, directories like the Workbook, Blackbook, GAG, Showcase, getting on listings, blogs, portals and directories on the web. I just launched my web page
in December, so it's still a little early to tell exactly what effect that will have. And after all it's just an online portfolio, you still have to make people aware that it exists, and get them to visit. I also have a rep., Martha Spelman, Retro Reps, which has helped bring in some nice jobs. A lot of it is timing, someone looking for a particular style, and they come across your work. When people see that you've done work for major clients, they feel more confident in handing you an assignment, you've proven yourself . After all, it's their job on the line if you mess up. That' why it's important to keep visible and showcase your work, remind people that your there. But all in all, most of my business comes from referrals, word of mouth, ( yep, it still works. . . even during the digital age ). A good example is what has happens continuously. . . An art director, or creative director that you've worked with leaves that agency for another, at first you consider it a loss, but then, they call with a project, they maybe working with a half a dozen or more art directors at their new job that didn't know of you, now they do, and it continues on as others change jobs. You've just added that many potential clients to your list. Most agencies, design groups, and design/marketing departments in companies work in teams and are at least somewhat aware of what other projects are going on. But in the end it is your work that sells itself.
I've find that by diversifying the range of my work, offering several different styles and techniques, really does helps keep the phone ringing. It just makes sense, cast a wider net. I was once told you make your own work, in other words create a demand for your services. If you do what you love, and love what you do, chances are you'll get good at it. People will want it because it is good. Develop and focus on your skills, concentrate on your work, the money will follow.

What is your favorite illustration you have made?
The answer to that can only be. . . the one that I'm working on right now. Which means, that hopefully with each job or illustration I keep improving, learning, and developing, getting better at my craft. . . and it also means I'm still working. There are some I'm more proud of than others, but, I really have no favorites. One that comes to mind right now that I think turned out well is this piece. . . but ask me again another day, and chances are I may choose something different. . .

What is the most interesting illustration job you have had so far?

Every now and again, as a new Casino is about to open or has recently opened here in Las Vegas, or has undergone renovation, I get a call to do what are called property maps for use in a visitor guides and such. Somewhat similar to the maps you see on a kiosk at the malls, just much more elaborate. I do a walk-thru of the entire casino and hotel, some, while under construction, gathering info, taking reference photos, and making quick sketches. I'm given a set of blueprints, and access to places most people never get to see, High roller suites, behind the scene areas that are off limits once the property is up and running. I certainly am not an architectural illustrator, that's a completely different discipline, but I do love architecture, and this town has some pretty interesting buildings. Some of the places I've done. . .The old Desert Inn, New York New York, The Palms, Silverton. . .

What do you like to do when not illustrating?

The last several years have been extremely busy with work, so when I do get time off, I make sure to spend time with my wife. We like to travel, visit family, discover and visit new places. I love music, I've been playing guitar since I was 5, I also write music. It helps me to take a break now and then, if only briefly, and play some music, it's a great distraction and then I go back with a fresh view of what I'm working on. I love to do woodworking, and projects around the house, although not much of that lately. I also love to cook, no "top chef" stuff , but I like it.

What was your first project that you became well known for? Were you excited?

I think it would be the series I did for Camel cigarettes. I don't know if I became well known for it, but it was one of the first times my work was used in a National campaign on that scale.

Give us some tips to become famous!

I might be, if I knew that answer. Getting known for your work can take some time, but it also can happen overnight. Over the years I've seen styles come and go. An illustrator gets a high profile job, and they become the hottest thing. Everyone jumps on the band wagon, and then anyone with a pencil, paintbrush or computer is copying that style. The problem then is that the market becomes saturated, that's all you see, everywhere you look. So people start going for something different. And then what happens to that illustrator, you never really see much of their work anymore. I prefer a slow steady approach, I plan to be around for awhile, and I would like to keep busy working as long as I'm able to, not a one-hit wonder. I think the trick is to offer something that people want. After all, this is illustration not fine art. I think that building a good reputation is crucial. For me it's all about people, I follow some basic rules in my approach to any project, and my business in general. It's mostly common sense:
First, and foremost - Deadlines, I know that most deadlines are fictitious, and are usually somewhat flexible, but they have them for a reason, there are other people involved, illustration is only one part of the project. I take them seriously. . . can I get this done when they say they need it, and still do a good job? They may not need finished art for a month, but I may already have two months of work ahead of me. You may have just produced your finest work, but if you miss the deadline, it's of no use to any one.Second - Make it easy for them. . . Listen, learn to read your client. Find out what their needs are, ask questions, lot's of questions, even silly ones. . . what's the size, special printing techniques, how's it being used. I find that most clients appreciate it, even a call afterwards because you have thought of something that perhaps was overlooked. Anything that makes the job go smooth. The last thing you want after working on a project is a call telling you that something was left out or that there's a mistake because you weren't listening. What you do want is that call saying it's perfect the client loves it.Third - I Never promise anything that I'm not sure I can deliver on.. It may be very tempting, and I may be able to push it now and again, but I wouldn't do it on a regular basis. Your basically getting a call to solve a problem, and they're more likely to remember if you create even more of a problem for them than if you just turn the job down. Know your strengths and work on improving them, know your weaknesses and work on eliminating them.You want a reputation of being reliable and easy to work with. That goes along way. I always get clients saying they enjoy working with me because they can hand me a job, and then move on to the next thing on their list, without worrying about what will show up on the due date. I don't know, it seems to work for me. I'd hardly consider myself famous, but I have been somewhat successful at what I do.

About how many illustrations do you make within a week?

That's hard to say, I do anywhere from 110 to 140 jobs a year, with usually 4 to 6 weeks off, and maybe a week or two of slow-time spread out over the year. That may be a bit misleading though, because one job might consist of several illustrations, a series of 4 or 8, and another might just be a quick pencil sketch. This is the end of June and so far I have completed 72 jobs. I've taken the liberty to include samples of the work I've done this month as an example. It's been a little busier than usual but it's pretty typical, especially of the type of work I do. If you wish to include them. . .

What is the best part about what you do?

Being able to work from home, do what I love to do, and get paid to do it!

What has been inspiring to you?

I have a list a mile long of artists and illustrators who's work can bring me to tears. I wouldn't even know were to begin. I can tell you that on occasions I like to revisit my old favorites. As time passes it's easy to get caught up in work and life, your heros seem to fade away. I have a small library at home, and it's always a treat to pull out a book on the works of one of the old masters, say, Dean Cornwell, Saul Tepper, Leyendecker, John Singer Sargent, Charles Dana Gibson, Frank Frazetta, I could go on and on, and i realize, once again, just how good these guys were. WOW. And this is were the internet has displayed some redeeming value. It has allowed me to discover sites with current, and past artists who have produced some really great work which I may not have been made aware of otherwise. Every now and a gain I hear a song, I have to stop and listen, it just make want to pick up my guitar and play. It's the same with art, an illustration catches my eye, I have to stop everything, and just be amazed. Then I get an overwhelming urge to draw or paint. Some might call it "monkey see, monkey do" I call it "inspiration".

How do you currently promote your work?

By the usual methods, mentioned earlier. Directories, listings, portals. . . I'm pretty lucky in so far as I'm almost always busy, so I've taken a more passive approach to self promotion. I rely a lot on word of mouth, maybe too much, but I've never really had to look for work, in fact, I have to turn down work more often than I care to, or pass it on, if the client is agreeable.

What do you think of Monday Artday?

What can I say, I love it! I'm for anything that helps to promote, share, and display illustration and artwork. Again, the internet has proven a great vehicle to discover and see what else is going on in the world, and it allows you to participate, instantly, and Monday Artday is great source for this.
Please visit his sites and tell him thanks for such a great interview!


cata said...

Excellent interview!
Thank you indeed!

Ces said...

Oh he is so versatile!

mayankkewlguy said...

he is a really gud painter..the best i've seen uptil now on blogspot...

studio lolo said...

Very informative and humble interview! He rocks!