Artist and recent graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), Garrett Ley, shares how his education and cultural experiences shifted his art style beyond manga. He concludes on his experience teaching Copic airbrushing.
As a recent graduate of SCAD, how did your education shape your style?
In school, I was pushed to draw quickly and differently from project to project. By being exposed to different styles and studying abroad through my education, I learned where my work belonged in industry and culture. I learned that there was a big difference between creating a few illustrations a year and telling stories with a volume of self-generated images that involved the creation of characters, props, environments and worlds. Making a living telling stories requires speed, scripting, knowing your characters, the ability to draw in many different styles, perspectives, places, and choosing the best storytelling methods possible to tell your story.
After being exposed to different forms of storytelling in classes and surrounding myself with people with diverse interests within the industry, I picked up on things I liked within each art form. Whether it was American superhero comics, American independent comics, Franco-Belgian comics, animation storyboards, etc., I applied things I liked about them to my style. But because of the industry’s chameleon-like demands and the rigor of my education, I also developed my own style within all of those art forms in case any jobs of those kinds came about.
Why did you choose SCAD’s Sequential Art program?
My intent at school was initially to learn how to "do manga" and to translate the narratives in my head to paper through clear and concise storytelling. Underneath that manga surface, I think what I had was a hunger to surround myself with different perspectives and people who knew more about this industry than I did and to learn where my work could fit into this industry and culture. In essence, I needed an art boot camp.
I set my sights on SCAD's Sequential Art program because of what it offered. It broke down visual storytelling in the forms of concept art, world building, comics and storyboarding (think "art in a sequence"). Due to finances, I spent my first year at a smaller art school in my state that didn't offer Sequential Art. But learning comics and storytelling meant everything to me, so I re-applied and finally entered boot camp.
So your original creative focus on manga shifted while at school?
Figuring out what I wanted to say as a storyteller and traveling abroad with SCAD to Lacoste, France fell at the same time as my senior project loomed closer. In retrospect, it was good timing because gaining a whole new perspective of my life by being abroad really helped filter what was worth telling.
The more I dug deep into my story and gained perspective on my perspective, the less I cared what I called my art style. Japan became much closer in the sense that I knew I could always visit, but much farther because I realized from experience that culture runs much deeper than I assumed before. While the sky is the limit and you can not be Japanese and still enter and participate in the "manga" industry, (check out "Peepo Choo" by Felipe Smith), and I know I will continue to tribute it with fan art, table at conventions and more, I feel manga has cultural implications that are separate from me.
Moving forward, I am not turning away from the influences of manga, pop and fine art that I love so much. These have been my starting point and will continue to permeate in my style. I still love and read manga, but my primary objective in my personal work now is to tell good stories in the most honest way and draw in the most me style that may take on, whether it may still look like manga or something different. Not that I wasn’t honest before - I think I was drawing as honestly as I knew how. But now that I have developed so many new skills, styles, and influences, my personal style is evolving in a more informed and diverse direction. I’m excited to have more to draw from in my arsenal.
What would you say is your unique lens as a creator of visual narratives?
Often the best inspiration comes when you're not looking. Spending all your time drawing and telling a good story are two different things. It’s those times when I’m not intensely focused on drawing that life happens. When life happens there are experiences to draw from; during which I'm learning, overcoming, or exploring something. These are the moments I zero in on when telling stories because they’re the most interesting and most human. Going backward from there, I would say my unique lens in telling these stories is in the vibrance I bring to it with color, Copics, my personality and the like. Lastly, with the moments and stories that I want to create in the forms of illustrations, comics and visual narratives in any form, I want them to connect people that wouldn’t otherwise talk.
What inspires me about art and in life is knowing that I don’t have all the answers. With manga I was granted an ultimate escapist experience by not only being immersed in a story, but in another culture. I think that’s a big part of what kept me so fascinated by it. I felt like I was learning about life while I read it. I also noticed that even though my classmates in high school weren’t always as passionate about drawing as I was, the stories brought people together. I thought that was beautiful and exciting. Being able to deliver a broad message that involves so many, while affecting them so uniquely and personally that they can bond over it is exciting to me. In essence, I just love learning about life and I hope my work can provide the same feeling for people that I get looking at others’ art and reading and watching their stories.
Before graduating last year you taught a class on Copic & its Airbrush System. We wish we had attended, could you sum it up for us?
Sure! Thank you, that was a great day for me. In the class, I covered a lot about Copic. I was happy to leave people excited about the possibilities that Copic Markers unlock for artists! I told them what Copic Markers are: alcohol based markers used to prevent streaks and how they are one of the only products on the market that can achieve the same digital-like effects that so many people are after these days. In the class, I focused on the different types of Copic products and how their use throughout a range of industries--everything from fashion to illustration to architecture and graphic design.
The real fun came when the airbrushing started. People quickly realized how intuitive it was when I simply pressed the button at various pressures and held the nozzle at different distances and angles allowing the color to flow different ways. With the airbrush system, you don't need to move as quickly as you do with markers because spraying the color provides the perfect texture to blend with another at any moment.
Using my own work, I showed them how masking over parts with paper allows you to isolate the texture if you only want it in certain areas. Lastly, we went over which papers are best to use with it including the two papers Copic offers! It was a great time and I loved showing people how to use the Airbrush System and watching people light up when they realized there was a very affordable way to create airbrush effects.
Thanks very much for the interview, and as always I hope people come away inspired to continue creating in the new year!