Interview with Jhoneil Centeno

Welcome to the Epilogue Interview, Jhoneil. As a working professional and a favorite of many artists here on Epilogue, I’m sure a lot of people will be interested to hear about you and your art.  Maybe we can start by learning a bit about your background.

Thanks Epilogue and Patrick for selecting me for this interview...
Anyway, my name is Jhoneil M. Centeno. I was born in 1969 in Manila, Philippines. I came to the USA when I was 13. I studied painting at the Pasadena Art Center College of Design and graduated with a BFA in painting. After graduation I started working as an animator for a computer game company in Chatsworth, California called the Dreamer's Guild. They are gone now but that is where I started my professional art career. I still work for a computer game company, but I take time to do illustrations for other various companies.... and for myself.

It seems you had an artistic bent even at a young age.  When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I always enjoyed drawing ever since I was 6, but I think I started thinking I wanted to be an artist when I was about 16. I told my high school counselor about this and he told me that there is no money in becoming an artist. So I took my GED and passed. I went to a community college after that and started taking art lessons.

There is a great tradition of comics art in the Philippines, many great artists of the fantastic such as Alfredo Alcala, Nestor Redondo, Alex Niño, and many others. Did this school of art influence you or the type of art you would pursue?

Not really. I did read a lot of comic books in the Philippines but I did not think I had enough patience or talent to work on one. Actually, I just recently became aware of Alfredo Alcala and his work. Very interesting life he had. He was living in Los Angeles and I did not know about it. I wish I could have met him.

Who were some of your most important early artistic influences the artists who first made you want to draw?

I remember this kid in my first year in school and he could copy pictures really well. We were both 6 years old. I was very competitive even then so I wanted to be like him. Well I can never really copy pictures well so I just started making up my own characters. I also remember the 1976 remake of King Kong and my earliest drawings are of Kong on top of the World Trade Center clutching a woman. I recently visited the site of those two towers and thought about how much they meant to me.

Can you talk a little bit about your formal art training?

Well like I said earlier, I took some art classes in a community college and when I was done with that I took my portfolio to Art Center in Pasadena and I got in. Some of my most memorable teachers included, Dwight Harmon for media experimentation who above all else thought me to have fun with art. Steve Huston and Burne Hogarth for drawing. Richard Bunkall for painting - he was really heroic to me.

It must have been an amazing opportunity to get to study for a time with a legend like Burne Hogarth.  Anything interesting you can say about his class?

It was loud. I could hear him shouting angrily at his students and models sometimes when I was walking the hallways. He is an interesting character to say the least. Kinda egotistical and very knowledgeable about the world. He was 83 when I took his class and he stacked our drawing benches after class and arranged them in circle before class. Lots of energy. I learned a lot from him but I'm not sure if I liked him. I can say this for sure though: my imagination was better after I took his class.

What or who are your most recent influences - the artists or movements that are of most interest to you now?

Hard to really think of artists that influence me... I guess I can say Craig Mullins, Michael Whelan, and a lot more. I do admire a lot of the folks here in Epilogue - Stephanie Law, John Shannon, and Socar Myles just to name a few.

You've done lots of work in the gaming world. Are you a gamer yourself?

Errr... sure I am!!! (In case the bosses at the company I work for read this).

Do you consume much Science Fiction and Fantasy - books, movies and the like?

I did. I remember reading 2-3 sci-fi and fantasy books a week. I don't have much time to read nowadays, but I still watch a lot of sci-fi and fantasy movies. I can't wait for the Matrix sequels to come out.

Although you were trained in traditional media, and have some great oil paintings in your portfolio, your commercial art mostly seems to be digital. What made you gravitate toward that particular medium?

Lots of reasons. Digital is easy to change just in case an art director wanted something different. I can also just email it and there is no degradation. I can also chat and do some work. I can't do that in my studio. While I still draw a lot in pencil, charcoal, etc, I just think of that as practice. I am currently working on an acrylic painting from a live model, but it's taking a while to finish. I am not sure if I will come back to using oil paint because I am a little allergic to it. It makes my skin itch and I have to wear rubber gloves when I am using it.

There's a great step-through tutorial on your site (http://www.jhoneil.com) that shows a basic walkthrough of one of your digital paintings.  Is this the way you approach all of your paintings, with a grisaille (grayscale underpainting), or do you play with different approaches sometimes?

No sir. I get bored with doing things the same way over and over, so I always try to come up with new ways to start a project. Sometimes I see a picture with really great colors and I use that as a sort of palette where I can pick my colors from. If I have no particular colors in mind then that is when I do grisaille first.

I thought it was particularly interesting that you sketch right on the computer - many of us are still stuck starting on paper.  Was the transition to purely digital sketching difficult at all?

Yes. It took me nearly a month to get used to using a tablet. Right now however, I even do preliminary sketches on the computer.

I’ve noticed that you weave in some 3D rendered background items sometimes, but you get them to blend in to the painted sections very nicely.  Was this a difficult process to master?

Not at all. I have been using 3D software at work since 1994 so I am very familiar with the tools involved. Using 3D does tend to make something a little too perfect so I do a lot of retouching for it to look right.

Do you use models or photos of models as reference for your characters, or have you gone entirely with the Hogarth school of invented figures?

I'll say that 90% of my work is entirely invented but I do a lot of 5 minute poses with models in my studio so I have gotten pretty good with drawing people from memory.

What is your studio like?

I have a very small studio now - only about 500+sq ft. I used to have a bigger one but I also lived there. The current one is fine for now but I do wish that my ceiling were higher so I could paint big again. As for lighting, I have several... I bought these really powerful spotlights for $100 each and I used those as my primary light. I also bought a bunch of cheap spotlights at Home Depot and they also work very well for more dramatic lighting.

How long do you generally take from beginning to end on a completed painting?

3-5 days if I worked on it all day. However, I do have a regular job now so I can only work on paintings when I get home or on weekends, so it takes a while now. The trick is to keep working on a painting without losing interest however long it takes... I am not always successful at this.

Do you have much free time between assignments?  If so, what sort of things do you like to do on your own time?

I don't have a lot of free time but when I do, I work on various projects and hobbies. I paint, make sculptures, I make arrows for my bows, I do archery, read, etc.

What would be the most important advice you could give to young artists starting out in the commercial art field?

Keep working on your art and always try to get better. Also, try to get a day job.

So, what's on the assignment list right now? Any interesting pieces in progress?

Oh, I am working on a series of paintings I call "Women from Hell". This is an ongoing theme of mine anyways so might as well make it an official series. Right now I am working on a panoramic painting of Death, except Death is a woman. Here, let me show you: http://www.jhoneil.com/transfers/death.htm. It was inspired by this passage:

"And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death. And Hell followed with him."

That’s looking like a very successful picture. I’m sure we’ll all look forward to seeing it finished! Well, to wrap up the interview on a swing from the sublime to the silly, tell us: What cartoons did you watch as a kid?

Voltes V, Mazinger Z... All the giant robots from Japan that were popular during the late 70s and early 80s. "Let's Volt In!!"

Art at its best.