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Heart of Darkness
Clutter Magazine
Published on 10/01/2008

Issue 12 features a cool interview and my art on the cover.
You check out the interview on Clutter or read the transcript right here!

Interview in Clutter Magazine, Issue 12

How did you get started - have you always been someone who doodled in
school books?

Yes, I specifically remember drawing all over an Algebra test. I didn't even answer one question. I remember I was pretty proud of that. I guess I've always loved art. I cant remember not feeling that way. I went to art magnet schools from 7th grade on.

Was your passion for art what drove you to study it at College?

Yes, I actually left High School a year early by taking the California High School Proficiency test and started Community College. (So technically speaking, outside the state of California I'm actually considered a high school drop out). At that time I was really into photography and painting, but when I signed up for classes all the good ones were full, so I took this astronomy class instead, figuring I'd get my general ed classes out of the way first. Well I ended up loving it so much I decided to switch my major to Astrophysics and became the vice-president of the astronomy club. That lasted about a year or so. Then I really had to think about what would make me happy in life. Would I be satisfied years down the road working in that profession? I was beginning to question it. So after really thinking about it, I started taking all the art courses there and switched back to an art major. But I think that's the beauty of going to a Community College before a University. It gave me a chance to really explore and know for sure what I wanted to do with my life. And that small diversion down the Astronomy path has actually incorporated itself into my artwork in a very lovely way I think. I worked on a portfolio for 2 years there, then applied to Art Center and got my BFA there.

Did your time there help to define your style or learn new techniques?

By the time I got to Art Center I knew I wanted to paint. But my personal style didn't come right away at all, in fact I'd say it came even later than everyone else. I spent a lot of time trying new things and experimenting, while other students honed in on trying to get a signature look right away. I guess maybe my work seemed scattered, but that's what school is for. So I did what I wanted, tried new techniques, new colors, learned how to render, and then by my 4th year everything started gelling together and evolving a natural and cohesive way. I didn't think about what style I was painting in, I was just painting...

Which artists do you admire and have influenced your work?

Some of my favorites in somewhat of a chronological order are Botticelli, Bronzino, Caravaggio, Velasquez, Toulouse Lautrec, Ingres, Mucha, Schiele, Hokusai, Hiroshigi, Yoshitoshi, John Currin, Mark Ryden, Glenn Barr, Kent Williams, Katsuya Terada, Yoshitomo Nara, Aya Takano, James Jean, Lori Earley, Jonathan Viner, Esao Andrews, and Jay Ryan.

How do you go about working on a poster? Do you listen to the band, play on
the name, take ideas from the band?

Yes pretty much all of the above. I'll usually start by brainstorming words to get a solid base for the concept, then start doodling. The ideas come from the band name, a song lyric, or more recently, just a feeling I get that I think encapsulates the bands music.

Do you choose which artists to work with or do people commission you? Are
you a fan of those bands?

Well lately I havent been doing many posters since I've been painting so much, so I'm only doing them for my friends bands I really like. For instance my friends in Mastodon just asked me to do a poster for them, so I snuck it in between paintings. It was a fun little break, I love their music, and they are great people, so I did it. But in general the commission comes from the band, the management, or the venue. Of course I will take preference towards the bands I really like!

And have you ever turned down work because you didn't like the group or
what they stood for?

Definitely. If I really dont like the band, or i think it's an odd fit, then I'll just say no.

In some cases is it just a paying job? Do you get more pleasure out of
working with groups you personally like?

Sometimes I'll do a poster for a band I don't necessarily know or love, but that I know is a good band to do work for. But that's not really the case anymore. I'm slimming down a lot of my commercial work. But if I like the band that makes all the difference for sure, it's definitely a deciding factor.

How does the process work? Do band management want to see concepts (in the
early days) or do they now trust your style and work now you've become

I've never really given them sketches to look at, posters are pretty different than illustration work. The management or promoters are not art directors. Normally I just email them a finished poster and have them proof the info. That's about it. But if I'm hired to do a tour poster, then yes, I send them sketches to look at, but they always let me do what I want. Now especially I am given more freedom to create which is how I work best.

How do you feel your style has developed over that time?

I look back on all my artwork and see a definite change in line quality, color pallette, concept and imagery. It's important to see growth, no matter what stage one's career is in. I'm always pushing myself to try new things and be aware of the past and how it can, and does, effect the future. My interests in certain things change, and in turn so does my art. It's an ever-evolving dynamic event that won't stop.

Do you try and work in a different style between the artwork and the
illustrated posters?

Sometimes, but it really depends on what I'm trying to say with the piece. I think I can get a little more whimsical with the posters and darker with the paintings, but the opposite is true sometimes. One thing I like about posters is they give me an opportunity to try new characters or situations out with less pressure than a painting feels.

Is there a different process for a band poster, general illustration and
comic work?

Not really for me. I always start with writing and brainstorming, then on to rough thumbnails, a rough sketch, a refined final sketch, then onto the colored piece. The comic work takes a different approach though as the interiors are a whole different ballpark than a single illustration, but the beginning process is the same.

Could you give us an idea of the typical day in the life of Tara McPherson?

Wake up in the late morning, go get coffee, walk to the studio, check emails, run errands, paint, a friend will stop by the studio to say hi, paint, paint, oh yeah i need to eat, paint, paint, paint, quick dinner with a friend, paint, paint, paint, clean brushes, walk home, make sleepytime tea, watch a little bit of a movie, read or play bass in bed 'til I'm tired, sleep for hopefully more than 5 hours. After this solo show which I am finishing paintings for right now, I am promising myself I am going to take 2 days off a week like a normal person for a while.

Your work seems to contain a real tension between dark, gothic elements,
mixed with a sweeter colour palate. Do you enjoy creating that tension? Is
it deliberate?

Yes, I love that tension and I think it mirrors life in that regard -- the darker side of life, the seedy underbelly -- yet on the surface it all may appear quite appealing. I defintely go by intuition though, and use what feels right for a certain piece of art. Sometimes i have an extremely specific idea of the color palette, or sometimes i have to play around with it for a while. I go through phases with colors as well, right now I'm obsessed with turquoise. I also find that by imposing restrictions in my work, say a limited color palette, it really helps to unify the piece.

Whenever I see your work I get a sense of love and loss as recurring
themes, always a slight melancholy - is that a fair description?

Yes but I also feel I give my characters a sense of hope in their eyes. As life has it's ups and downs, so do the characters in my world. Love and the loss are two of the strongest primal emotions we have. For me feelings like that are so deep, there is no escaping them. I have to find a way to explore these ideas through my work.

Is your work at any one time completely influenced by your mood when
creating it?

Oh for sure. I am not one to hide my emotions and I truly feel that my art being personal lends itself to its relatability. I process the events in my life, and my friends lives, through my art. Some is directly personal, where I'm expressing my own love concerns, and some is inspired by observations of friends' lives and interactions.

Do you find the process cathartic?

Completely. I have to do it in order to feel better. It's like breathing. I need to get these things out of me and it's the only way I know how. Writing doesnt do it for me, talking feels better, but making an image to illustrate an emotion, that's the best there is.

Do you get a kick out of people being moved by your work and sensing that
same emotion?

I wouldn't say I get a kick out of it. I'm really in awe of the inspiration I can create through an image. It's amazing. I'm so honored whenever I hear that. I mean, I think that has to be the ultimate compliment I could ever hope to get.

Can you tell me more about the amazing Cat on The Witching work? I think
that's my favourite character you've done. Is he evil or just possessed?

Haha... If I remember correctly, I think the soul of a little girl was put in him by a witch. Yeah, what a great character right? That was really fun painting him.

How has living in NYC influenced (or not) your art?

Well one of the main things I love about it here is that I feel like the day is longer. Since everything stays open so late, I actually feel like there's more hours in my day. I can get so much work done, and still feel like I have somewhat of a life. So that has helped my art in a positive way. I'm in a really great space here and I've met such amazing people. Another thing I've noticed about NYC vs other cities, is that since it is so expensive here, you must work very hard to live, so if you are in any way shape or form apathetic about your life, this city will eat you up and spit you out. A harsh reality, but I kind of like that. I need to be surrounded by people who are as motivated.

Has being in NYC made it easier to get your work out there and meet with
art directors, etc. compared to LA?

Hmmm... I guess it's easier to meet with art directors and editors since just about every company has an office here, which is very nice to be able to pop into Kidrobot or the DC offices to meet with them about projects. LA is such a big town for this type of work as well. Both are great cities and I'm happy I got my start in LA, but, I love NYC.

Your artwork is also featured in a new film "Juno." How did that come
about? Was it weird to see your art up on a cinema screen?

The producers emailed me quite a while ago asking for my art to be included in the film. They sent me a synopsis of the plot and the actors involved, and I thought it sounded like a really cool movie, so I said yes. I didn't realize that one of the posters was going to be in such a great shot. I've had art in tv shows before and I really never notice them. They sent me to a screening at Fox in Times Square last year and when I saw how great of a scene one of the posters was in I was so excited. I think they showcased really great artists and musicians in the film, and seeing how they took a piece of my art, that has a quite a few levels of complexity to the image, and combined it into the scene where she tells her best friend she's pregnant... well i think it was such a perfect fit. I just love it.

Any plans to animate any of your characters?

Not at the moment. I've been asked in the past but I dont think I want to yet. I'm really focused on some specific things right now like gallery work and finishing painting the graphic novel for Vertigo. I'm just not sure I want to throw that into the mix yet, or ever. We'll see...

Kidrobot has been a big supporter. Have you wanted to make toys of your
illustrated characters for a while, such as Ace and Ion?

Yes i always wanted to make toys! And I really specifically wanted to work with Kidrobot, so when they asked me i was extremely excited. They are really great to work for and I love the vision they have with me. They are always just as excited about the projects as I am, it's awesome.

You've also got involved with the Dunny platform. What was it like fitting
a unique style onto a rigid platform for the LA Series 4 and Bubble Yucky

It was super fun. I love bunnies.... like... a lot. I have a bunny named Jupiter and he hangs out while I paint. So making my version of a bunny shaped toy was pretty cool. I think limitations are a great way to challenge an artist and push oneself to create something dynamic.

You've also got a Squert and a War Wound Qee out. Do you have a preferred
platform, or is each one a different challenge?

Yes I'd say each one is pretty different. I think so far I'm partial to the design of the Dunny.

Speaking of Qee - you were chosen by Mike Mignola for the second 8"
Hellboy design. That must have been a great honour?

Seriously! I couldn't believe he asked for me to do it. I met him at San Diego Comic Con a couple years ago, his table was right near mine, and he came up to talk to me and said he liked my art. I was really excited about that, but to get to create a Hellboy variant, wow, that's really an honor. It was pretty daunting to begin though, because here you have a character with a legacy, how do you make a version that is in line with the identity and vibe of the character, but make it different enough and embed your personal style to it. I was nervous but so excited when i started it.

And now there's a Gosho doll in the works. How did you get involved in that

Well this is a funny story... Jonathan Cathey who started Super Rad Toys and makes the Gosho's is a very dear friend of mine. I met him when i was 17 at Santa Monica College in LA. We used to work together at this store called NaNa's- we were roommates for a few years and have stayed very great friends. So he ended up starting a toy company, which was fabulous to see him do, and it's taken off in a fantastic way. Last year he asked me to do a Gosho, and so I did! I have the prototype sitting right here and it looks amazing.

What's your take on the "designer toy" phenomenon? Is it an interesting
creative outlet or another way to reach a slightly different audience?

I've always been very interested in character driven art, so to see mine fully realized in 3-D has always been a dream. I used to manage a Japanese Anime store before college where we sold all kinds of manga, art books, dvds and toys. Working there really got me interested in Japanese designer toys. My favorites were by this company called Fewture and I remember thinking how amazing it would be if I could do that someday. So here we are now! I feel so lucky that I get to make them, and happy that public interest has caught on.

What's next for you - both in terms of illustration work and toys?

Well right now I'm finishing up 17 oil paintings for a solo show that opens on February 23rd at Jonathan LeVine Gallery. I am also doing an installation room with large scale sculptures of the Skullflower and Mr. Wiggles characters. I have some really neat things coming out with Kidrobot, I am going to finish painting a graphic novel for Vertigo DC called 'Donor', I'd like to do some more rock posters since I haven't really done any over the last couple years, I am starting to put together a second art book with Dark Horse and we have a Coloring Book and new merch coming out this year as well. Lots and lots of cool stuff! After I finish all that I'll be ready to do another solo painting exhibition.