Interview with Larry MacDougall

Tell us about yourself, where you're from, your background?

Well, I grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, a small industrial city about an hour down the road from Niagara Falls. Hamilton is rather unique in that it has the Niagara Escarpment running right through the center of town. The escarpment is a line of cliffs and steep wooded hills than run for hundreds of miles north through Southern Ontario. This was a great place to play and hike as a kid. Luckily for me, when I was a kid, the woods were never far away and I could pretty much get there when ever I wanted, which I did.

After leaving Sheridan, did you go directly into commercial illustration? Describe the transition from student to professional artist.

I attended the animation school at Sheridan College for one year. The training at Sheridan is excellent and I learned a lot about drawing, however I also learned that I did not want to be an animator. I wanted to be able to draw like one but not work in the business. I was too interested in my own ideas. After leaving Sheridan I then went to the Ontario College of Art and Design hoping for some training that would be a bit more useful to me. No luck. I ended up leaving O.C.A.D. also after a year and decided it would be better to teach myself. I went to work in a comic book store and drew constantly in my spare time until I was finally able to start free lancing in the gaming field. This process took about five years. At Sheridan the importance of structural drawing and anatomy was constantly drilled into us and it was this fundamental approach to drawing that I slaved to learn and still study today.

Most of the work that you've posted is watercolor and/or gouache. What do like about working with watercolor as opposed to other mediums?

I love working in watercolour because it lends it self so well to the misty, defused, atmospheric effects I am usually after. However, for most commercial work a brighter and more dynamic look is usually required and so I use gouache to add that extra punch. Gouache can deliver a hard edge and bright colour like acrylic or oil but can also be used like watercolour to fade out details and blur lines. For me gouache is the best of both worlds. It also dries quickly and is easily cleaned up. It lends itself to working small, which I do, and is very easy to make corrections with. And of course many of the artists I admire most work this way. John Bauer, Arthur Rackham, Gustave Tenggren, Edmund Dulac, Brian Froud and Alan Lee are all practitioners of the watercolour and or gouache method. I feel like I am in very good company and also doing my small bit to maintain the tradition.

You have an affinity for Winsor & Newton materials. Do you have any preferences as far as brushes and surfaces?

Yes I do tend to work with Winsor & Newton colours. Generally speaking I work on smooth hot press paper for watercolour and a slightly rougher cold press paper for gouache. Although lately I have been mixing it up to keep things interesting. For brushes I usually go with whatever is cheapest. I do most of my work with very small synthetic brushes - in the 0, 1 and 2 range. For the larger areas I have flat oil paint brushes and some nicer watercolour brushes. My small brushes tend to take a bit of a beating when I work and so it seems to make more sense to go with the cheaper brushes. I can easily replace them and don't have to feel as though they are precious.

Can you describe your creative process - how you come up with ideas for a new drawing and how you take those ideas and create a finished piece of art? Describe your working method and technique for creating your pieces.

This is a very hard question to answer but also a very fascinating one. I will do my best to keep it simple. I love to doodle. I love to sit there and aimlessly draw with no real ideas and just see what comes out. I save these either in sketch books or piles of loose leaf paper. When I need an idea I go through these drawings. Often what will happen is that I will see how to combine something from page 6 for example, with something from page 31. Two random doodles that were never meant to be anything on their own but when put together make a cool little idea. I believe that the more you draw the better your chances of finding these ideas. This is the way I have been able to come up with my best ideas.

Describe a typical day at Underhill Studios. What kind of schedule do you make for yourself?

I am a morning person. I do my best work in the morning. On a good day I can be at my drawing board by 7:00 or 7:30 a.m. with a coffee. I will doodle for an hour or so to loosen up and then I will get to work on whatever project happens to be going at the time. I will usually take the afternoon off and do errands or something non art related, unless there is a deadline bearing down on me. I also like to work in the evenings after dinner. I will get back to work then.

You and Patricia collaborated on a piece together last year. Do you find it helps the process being one part of a creative pair?

Absolutely! Patty helps me all the time. First, she is much better at drawing animals than I am. This is a big help. Plus, I don't think in a very commercial way. Patty helps me solve problems and obtain commercial results, since I tend to get rather weird ideas for straight ahead projects. She can also usually tell me what's going wrong when I am stumped.

You have a book of collected work available Witching Hour: The Art of Larry MacDougall. How did that come about?

This was very weird. One day, out of the blue, I got an e-mail from Phil Reed at Cartouche press wondering if they could publish a collection of my work. Phil had a list of artists he wanted to work with and for whatever reason I was near the top of that list. We met at Gencon a few months later and got the ball rolling. The book came out last October.

What advice would you give to new artists who are just beginning to develop their talents?

Draw! Study structural drawing and anatomy and figure construction. What you learn when studying the figure can be applied to everything else you will ever have to draw. You can't be a commercial artist if you can't draw the figure.

What do you think the most important thing is for an artist to learn, technically speaking?

In my opinion the greatest weapon you can have in your arsenal is the ability to draw out of your head without reference - making it up - inventing. Being able to draw in this way is your best chance at being original and your best chance at putting down your ideas undiluted and pure, straight from the imagination. If it is your intention to be unique and stand out, this is the best way I can think of because it gives you access to source material nobody else has - your own mind - your subconscious - the place where dreams come from. You can't take a picture of it, how else are you going to get there. Where would Moebius or Frazetta or Amano be if they couldn't draw out of their heads?

What do you do when you're not working on art? Got any interesting hobbies?

Not really. I'm pretty much all art. I like walking my dog or taking drives. I also like music. Music that lends itself to day dreaming or painting - ambient music or movie sound tracks mostly, progressive rock too.

If you could work with absolutely anyone (artists, companies, writers--anyone at all) on a project, who would it be?

Pixar! I would love to work on a Pixar film.

Got anything else you're dying to say to the good folks at Epilogue, which wasn't covered by any of the above questions?

Thanks for all the great art that gets posted everyday - another good place to get ideas ;)

And, it wouldn't be an Epilogue interview if we didn't ask, what cartoons did you watch as a kid?

We always liked Disney, but when I was a kid they were few and far between. No videos or dvd's in those days. I think we probably liked anything Warner Brothers best, and Roger Ramjet.

Thanks, Larry, for allowing us to take a peek inside Underhill Studios!

Art at its best.