Greg Kletsel is one of my favorite illustrators. I really like the energy of his illustrations, how there’s always so much going on in every image, that you can’t ever get bored with it. And how his characters look so honest, so authentic, each one having a different personality.
I’ve been following his work ever since I discovered him, two years ago – and even had a few of his doodles printed out and stuck to my wall of “inspiring stuff” I have in my studio. 😀
So last month when I was in New York I emailed Greg and he was kind enough to meet with me and do this interview!
We met at a pub in Brooklyn, near the Pratt Institute – where he teaches a Sketchbook class every week, had lunch and talked about stuff like procrastination, learning how to draw something you can’t, ways of boosting your creativity, benefits of having a mentor, or why it’s important to keep a sketchbook throughout the years.
What’s your favorite thing to draw?
People, weird characters, skulls, elephants, sneakers and tall socks.
What are some things you can’t draw (or hate drawing)?
Soccer balls. Bikes were a problem but I figured it out.
How do you teach yourself to draw those things you can’t draw?
Draw them over and over again. Start from reference and then start drawing them from memory in your own way.
What do you like to do while drawing? What’s your routine?
It’s nice to zone out when doodling, drawing freely and without any prompts, assignment or project in mind. I’ll put on a podcast and start filling the page. It’s almost like a meditation for me.
What does your desk look like, right now?
I just got a new electronic standing desk, feels very futuristic when it changes heights. On it is my Cintiq, computer, scanner, sketchbooks, pens, post its, etc.
If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be?
Voice actor / psychologist / 90s music video director.
What is a mistake you made, when starting out as an illustrator?
I started out as a graphic designer, and did that for five years. I knew I wanted to eventually pursue illustration, so I quit my job and started down that road. At first, I mistakenly thought I could just do the work I was doing in my sketchbook. I didn’t really know how to build a cohesive portfolio, promote myself to art directors, or any of the fundamentals of a career in illustration. I had a lot to learn about the industry and the illustration process, and eventually figured it out through trial and error.
I think when you reach out to people and it shows that you want to learn, they’re usually very generous with their time.
Did you have a mentor, when you started?
I’ve had many people help me along the way, including friends from college, fellow illustrators connecting me with other illustrators and art directors, giving me advice and motivation. I think when you reach out to people and it shows that you want to learn, they’re usually very generous with their time. Creative people helping other creative people.
Some great advice I got starting out was to develop a consistent voice and unique point of view throughout my portfolio. This is as important as having a “style”. My work was a little all over the place early on, and that feedback helped me to define the work I actually wanted to be doing.
Doodlers Anonymous said about you that you’re a “drawing machine”. I know many artists don’t feel as confident to draw a lot and put it out there (they might spend more time on one piece, polish it until they’re happy with it). Where do you think your ease to draw comes from?
You have to draw a lot. The more you do it, the more comfortable and confident you become. I think it’s that way with most things. Put in the time.
What inspires you to draw? Where do you get your ideas from?
I think it’s just fun to draw! I like the process, it’s very calming and “in the moment”. Ideas come from everywhere, but I like to explore the memories and culture of my youth in a lot of my work.
You teach a class about sketching at the Pratt Institute. Is it important for an artist to keep a sketchbook? Why?
I think it is important. For me, it’s the foundation of my work and essential to my process as an illustrator. It definitely doesn’t hurt to keep a sketchbook!
What’s in your sketchbook?
Wall to wall characters, to-do lists, random ideas for projects, experimental things, scraps.
Has the habit of constantly sketching helped your evolution? How?
Yes. Looking at old sketchbooks feels like looking at a primordial version of what I do now. I have sketchbooks from when I was little kid and you can see a connection to the work I make today.
Procrastination is always an issue, but I learned to accept it as part of my process.
What does a day in your life look like?
Coffee, emails, Internet, draw, draw, draw, emails, draw, draw, dinner with my wife, Netflix, Overwatch.
Do you procrastinate, put things off until the last minute? Have you found a solution to that yet?
Yeah. Procrastination is always an issue, but I learned to accept it as part of my process. I guess sometimes you need to back yourself into a corner to get things done.
Do you feel inspired by looking at other artists’ work? Name a few.
I love the work of Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen. I learned about them and college and they’ve been my favorite artists ever since. It’s great to look at other artists’ work for inspiration and motivation. Go to a museum!
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the possibilities, when looking at other artists’ work for inspiration?
It can be overwhelming, but I stopped seeking it out once I really got into my illustration work. It’s cool to see what other artists are doing out there though.
What are some ways to boost your creativity, on days when you’re feeling low?
Listen to music, watch YouTube, immerse yourself in the things you love.
What is the next step for you?
Ah…the eternal question. I’m always trying to “figure it out.”
What would you say to young/aspiring artists, to help them improve and find their way?
Make as many things as possible. Be in the moment. Try not to judge everything you’re doing. Read Nike’s slogan and get to work.