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Computer Artist Interview
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by Nancy A. Hitchcock

Originally published in Computer Artist magazine


Bob Staake can find something silly in just about anything. As an artist specializing in humorous illustration, that's his job. As someone who was trained as a political cartoonist, that'shis nature. And as a kid who always loved to draw cartoons, that was his dream.

As a humorous illustrator, Staake says his role is to draw people into advertisements or editorial, or to persuade them to buy cereal or greeting cards.

Take Kiwi Air, for example. A client approached this artist to illustrate an article about a new airline in Australia called Kiwi Air. "Kiwi Air!," he laughs. "The first thing you think of is the fruit, which is just ridiculous. So instead I started drawing this fat, big bird ambling down the runway with a pilot on its back with a couple of passengers bouncing away like crazy and you look at this thing and you think there's no way it would ever take off. But it's enough of a visual, it's wierd enough, that would cause somebody to look at it - and hopefully become engaged with the manuscript."

For the past 15 years, Staake's playful, enigmatic drawings have been capturing people's attention in publications such as Sports Illustrated For Kids, The Washington Post, Parents, and MAD magazine, and for clients such as Sony, Hallmark, Blockbuster Video, the Ren and Stimpy Show, Dexter's Laboratory, and the NFL. This St. Louis-based artist has also written several books including The Complete Book of Humorous Art (North Light Books, Cincinnati, 1996).

As Staake's style becomes more recognized worldwide and he is called on more often, he explores ways to work faster without jeapordizing quality. This is especially important to Staake since he refuses to turn down assignments. "I like to work. I like making money," he proclaims. "It's so laughable to me that I make a healthy income drawing funny pictures. I try to be appreciative of that."

With speed in mind, Staake turned to the computer in 1995, but also because he was feeling pressure from his clients to start working electronically. "An increasing number of clients were asking me if I do my stuff on the computer: it didn't prevent me from getting jobs, but it just seemed apparent that I'd ignored it long enough," he says. "I've always considered myself a pragmatic business person as much as an artist, and it would be suicide not to be working on the computer for doing what I do."

Once he got over the learning curve of his very first computer, Staake began creating all his illustrations on a Power Mac 7100/80. He usually begins by creating a sketch, scanning it into the computer with a UMAX 1260 scanner, and then manipulating the image in Photoshop. "I've always worked straight pen to paper and I've always used the same tool - a Fountain Pentel," he says. "With the computer, sometimes I even draw my art in pencil without preliminary lines and scan it in and it appears to look like pen work."

Staake found that the computer increases speed, particularly on projects that require painting large spans of color and duplicating items. In his crowded, chaotic drawings, Staake likes the look of flat color in the background, but he doesn't like the time-consuming task of painting the colors. "Up until the computer it was very difficult. It was a real dichotomy because I knew that while I had this kind of crazy, wild, free-flowing pen line that would look nice with a solid color behind it, I don't really work that way," he explains. "I kind of slash and stroke away at the paper and to spend the time to do the flat colors the right way takes time. So now, with aflick of the computer -- bingo -- the color is there. To me, that's just an extraordinary benefit."

The computer also helps tremendously when Staake needs to duplicate an item. "Having to do identical twins, repeat something exactly, or create games for childrens' magazines, the computer is absolutely ideal," he says. "I had one game called Match the Alien for Disney Adventures where I had to create 14 aliens that essentially looked the same. So I drew it in the computer and repeated it over and over and just changed slight elements-one had four fingers, another had eyes wide apart. Of the 14, kids were supposed to find the exact same one. Well, with the computer, that's a major time saver."

Another example where the artist needed to duplicate an item was for a game that Staake created for Sports Illustrated for Kids. The game involved a busy stadium scene where readers had to locate sporting terms. The computer made terms like 'double dribble' quite easy: Staake drew a dribbling baby and doubled it.

Working fast is the nature of the industry, he reports. "It's a short-order business. It's nice to do big, wonderful masterpieces, but this is more of a McDonald's type of business than a Le Cirque business. It's a business with short deadlines that are getting surprisingly shorter."

Staake also finds that the computer fosters creativity. "I'm doing an illustration for Disney Adventures now, and I feel I can be more abstract and more fun," he says. "The computer just makes you feel comfortable to experiment. Computers work best for people who are creative. I think Picasso would have gone crazy with the Macintosh."

Although he was trained as a political cartoonist (at the University of Southern California he majored in Journalism and International Relations), Staake is doing what he always wanted to do. "I always knew I'd be a cartoonist," he says. "I'm doing exactly what I was trained to be ever since I was a little kid. Newspaper work, books, magazines, greeting cards, animation design, advertising -- as a humorous illustrator, I try to do it all."

 

-Nancy A. Hitchcock

 

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