My purpose in life has always been to be an artist, to be an illustrator. It started with a drawing of a frog in a top hat, which won first prize in the county art show when I was eight, and it continued on over the years. From comic books created with my best friend, to cash earned drawing pin-ups on the boys' binders in high school, making art has always played a large role in my life. Art has been the way I pass the time, the outlet for my feelings, the way I satisfy a craving inside that cannot be satisfied otherwise. For all my life, art has been my best friend.
I studied in the intensive illustration/animation program at San Jose State University, earning my degree in 1999. My focus in the program was illustration, which enabled me to take classes from illustration legend Barron Storey and contemporary illustrators John Clapp, J.Courtney Granner, and Alice Carter. I also studied life drawing with Sheldon Borenstein and Glenn Vilppu; through this I developed a love of figure drawing and portraiture, an appreciation for the struggle to capture the ever-changing features and gestures that make us uniquely human, uniquely individual.
I pursued a career in editorial illustration for many years, but my true calling is creating dark, surreal images that are playful yet thought provoking. The challenge of creating a powerful piece that makes the viewer think, and that evokes emotion, not only through the work itself but also through the idea behind it: that is what I enjoy the most. My work has been published and shown in galleries here in the U.S. as well as abroad.
What’s your preferred medium to paint? Have you tried different mediums before?
My preferred medium with painting is acrylic, though I have some experience and some success with watercolor and acrylic inks. Because I was trained as an illustrator, I learned to use acrylic paints because the deadlines in illustration can be notoriously short. I didn't have time to wait months for paint to dry. Also, patience has never been one of my virtues.
I tend to use acrylic paint in layers somewhat like watercolor, building up the colors to create a feeling of depth and a richness not unlike oil paintings.
What’s your favorite and least favorite thing to paint?
My favorite thing to paint at the moment is traditional-looking still lifes, and lately, cats – with a little something extra. In most cases that extra is eyes. I consider my art to be surreal, and a little creepy. I like to depict the world as I see it – but I also like to be surprised.
One of my favorite things is to watch someone looking at my art, maybe smiling, maybe frowning – and then they spot the surprise, and they jump. That's the best. My least favorite thing to paint is crowd scenes; but that's a holdover from my illustration days when everyone seemed to want crowds. I don't like painting busy, crowded images, and since I'm a detail person, trying to make every single tiny face look how I want it to look makes me insane.
When are you the most creative? Morning? Night?
By nature I am nocturnal, so I tend to get up late, and then I continue working after the rest of the house has long gone to bed. Night is like a cocoon for me: I get to be in my own world, which is pretty special for an introvert such as myself. I get some of my best ideas at 2am, and I like to be able to sketch them out right away.
What do you listen to when you are painting/creating artwork?
Music is definitely a muse for me. I lean more towards rock, everything from early Rolling Stones, through Aerosmith to 80's hard rock like Metallica and 90's grunge like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. I like music that moves me, makes me happy and fuels my anger.
I've also gotten into podcasts lately. Draftsmen, which is an art podcast by Stan Prokopenko and Marshall Vandruff, and some others that aren't art related. If you haven't listened to My Dad Wrote a Porno, I highly recommend it. It will keep you laughing.
When you receive unsolicited critiques or comments, how do you feel/how do you react?
Because of my subject matter, I get a lot of comments when I have a booth at expos, or show my art in a gallery. My work tends to fall into one of two categories: you love it, or you hate it. I like that, because I never want to be boring.
One of my artistic goals is to make art that makes people look twice. When people do have comments, I want to hear them; I am always interested in what people have to say, good or bad. Critiques never bother me because my illustration program in college was a trial by fire; once you've been told by an internationally renowned illustrator that your portrait of Queen Elizabeth looks like Charles Bronson, everything else just sort of bounces off.
Toni's Favorite Trekell Products:
The Hahnemühle Grey Book is a dream, with its thicker paper and grey tone. It's wonderful for adding some color to a black and white sketch. I also love the shaped wood panels; painting on a non-traditional shaped support inspires me. The Spectrum brushes manage to keep their shape for a long time, even though I beat my brushes up blending the acrylics; even with the small brushes that I use most often, Spectrum brushes survive longer than most other brushes.
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