illustration as a way of life

By William Greeley

Many of the great themes of Pat Perry

I recently took a trip back to my hometown, Grand Rapids Michigan, where I visited family and friends. Coming from the Bay Area, going home is always a bit of a culture shock. Grand Rapids is uneventful and very conservative. One night, while grabbing drinks with old High School friends, I found myself in the middle of an intense argument over who’s 9-5 job is better and who makes the most money. At this moment I realized how different my views of work are and how leaving home and becoming an illustrator has changed me.

During my teenage years I was introduced to the artist Pat Perry. He has a unique and uncommon approach when it comes to his work. Unlike most illustrators, Pat doesn’t have a permanent home or studio, he works on the go. Pat will train-hop from state to state, camps in unexpected places, and creates incredible illustrations out of his sketchbook. Recently he has been settling down in towns for months at a time, cranking out work and returning to the road. Pat takes full advantage of the freedom that illustration offers, and pushes that to the extreme.

Work is hard.
This leads us to the question of what “work” really is. For a lot of people it’s the 9-5 office job, where you sit in a cubical and respond to emails. For others it can range anywhere from being a plumber to a professional athlete—it’s quite a wide range. But the work of an illustrator is unique, and requires a certain mindset and self discipline that causes a lot of striving illustrators to fail. Most illustration jobs are freelance work, which means you’re bouncing from client to client, illustrating anything from a magazine article to a wall of a building. This being said, illustrators work from wherever and for whomever they want.

Growing up, I spent my summers working at my father’s furniture factory. The rigorous hours and repetitiveness of an assembly line taught me two things. First, I learned how to be efficient when it comes to packing tables and chairs into boxes. And second, it motivated me to pursue my dream of becoming an illustrator. I would spend the busy days building boxes around weirdly shaped furniture, running back and forth constantly trying to keep up with the rest of the line. But on the down days, when most of the workers were dosing off and waiting for more work, I found myself drawing.

The Life of an Illustrator.

The typical workday of an illustrator requires a ridiculous level of self-discipline. Working on strict deadlines leaves very little time for distractions. Deadlines can range from anywhere from a few weeks to a few hours, depending on how intricate the job is. For most jobs, the workday ends when you leave the office, and picks up again the next day when you head to work. This isn’t the case for illustrators.

Most illustrators find themselves cooped up in their studios working ridiculous hours and cranking out work for clients. This isn’t the case for Pat. From the beginning of his illustration career, he chose to set down his own unique path that set him apart from the average illustrator. Exploring the country by train hopping, camping in unusual areas, and creating masterpieces in his sketchbook, Pat has experienced things that most human couldn’t imagine.

By taking this unusual career path, Pat is thrown a unique assortment of job offers. His talent and consistency of creating beautiful work draw in companies such as Taco Bell and Converse. Yet, Pat is not a corporate artist. His work tackles environmental issues, and fights for the people rather than big businesses or corporations. Pat makes artwork that reflects what he cares about. This mindset is limiting when it comes to building a steady income, but pays real dividends in his work.

Making Politics Beautiful

Pat recently finished the first commercial illustration I’ve seen from him in quite some time. The article focused on a man from Detroit who bought a house in an auction for $500 and his journey of rebuilding it in Detroit, shortly after General Motors filed bankruptcy in 2009. This man had a vision very similar to Pats, rebuilding in a city full of opportunities. Pat couldn’t have been more of a perfect fit for this job.

The illustration is of a run-down house that’s inside of a wheelbarrow. There is a toolbox and overgrown plants in the foreground. The middle ground has two characters facing away from us, looking as if they are having a conversation. The man on the right seems to resemble the young white male who bought the house, and he is talking to one of his elderly African-American neighbors. The background has a few houses and what looks to be smoke rising in the distance. The image perfectly captures the essence of the article, and portrays a mood of hope and opportunity. His choice of medium, which seems to be graphite and watercolor, is executed in a way that shows the beautiful side of a rundown city.

In an interview for Communication Arts Pat said that he wants “to make paintings that just softly whisper to you the thing that you forgot.” This cuts to the center of a lot of Pat’s work. He gathers this immense catalog of sketches from his travels, and uses them not just as a storyteller, but also as an Activist.

Telling stories with every illustration.

Back in November, during the protests at Standing Rock, which were organized to try and prevent the Keystone Pipeline continuing its route through and possibly contaminating Native American land, Pat created a poster that consists of a piece of the pipeline with the words “DAPL” written on the side. Walking across the top of the pipe is a swift fox holing a sign that says “NO” which is draped over the side of the pipe, perfectly placed so it reads ”NO DAPL.” Underneath the illustration it says, “This concerns everyone.”

He chose to use the swift fox because of the danger this pipeline brings to many animal species and habitats. The swift fox is one of the animals that will be greatly affected by this pipeline. The pipeline is designed to run through government land that isn’t used by humans or farming purposes, but these unused areas also happen to be where a lot of the wildlife lives, and especially the endangered swift fox. Including the fox in this illustration brings light to the danger that the cooperation’s, and our president, don’t seem to care about. The pipeline also crosses the Ogallala aquifer, which supplies water to 8 states. The danger of any type of oil spill and destruction to habitats really is a concern for everyone.

The Balance between beauty and politics.

Pat’s original approach to this illustration seems to be ballpoint pen, and a touch of watercolor to add value. The prints that he produced are printed in a cool value of red. Each of these illustrations, even though they are the exact same image, portrays a slightly different mood. The Sepia tone color scheme of the original Illustration gives off a feeling of sorrow and despair. While the cool red print is the exact same image, it’s not as emotionally heavy as the original color scheme. It could have easily been a strategic approach to attract more people to purchase this print, which in the end will mean a larger donation to the Standing Rock association.

Sometimes you make money for other people.
Pat recently finished a mural while traveling around New Zealand titled, “Reweave the Unraveling World.” Tackling the topic of switching to renewable energy, Pat uses his conceptual skills to create a masterpiece. The mural shows two figures, weaving what looks to be a blanket. The background around the figures shows a landscape that’s run down from the pollution. Inside the weaving, Pat depicts a scene of a possible future powered by renewable energy and respect for our environment.

He also uses color to dictate the mood. The polluted aspects of the landscape are painted in dull and muted colors, while the figures and the weaving are illustrated with bright blues. Colors are one of the key factors to dictate mood in an illustration, and Pat takes full advantage of this skill. The advantage of spreading a message through a mural is that you reach not just art lovers, but also a wider variety of people. Being on a public wall, it’s hard to miss.

By taking this unique and personal direction as an illustrator, Pat has faced many challenges. Tackling issues that he cares about has always been his main motivation, even if it means turning down jobs that potentially could make him famous and rich. But that’s the price of real work.

The Power of Public Art

©William Greeley and the CCA Arts Review

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