Interview: Drew Pocza, Creating Art So Cute You’ll Puke!

For the next installment in NeonMob’s month-long #NeonMonsters affair, we’ll be releasing a set from Drew Pocza (@dpocza) called Frightlies, commissioned in the earliest days of NeonMob.

Wanting to know more about the development of his style, comic work, and how he manages to create work that both adults and kids love, we shot him some quest ions. Without further ado:

NeonMob: “Art so cute that it’ll make you puke” — where does that come from and what does that mean to you?

It was kind of a happy accident. I love doing cute and kid-friendly styled work. But to see the art and then see me, it’s sorta jarring. I’m an old, decently covered-with-tattoos guy with a few facial piercings and 1.25” stretched ears. The contrast just cracks me up. And somehow when messing around with tag lines I landed on the puke.

image

NeonMob: So, how would you say that character manifests in your forthcoming Monsters set?

“Manifest” is the perfect word since they are monsters. Creating 100 monsters was hard. Not gonna lie. But I love character design and so I tried hard to give each monster that little something that makes them fun and unique. I wanted each monster to have enough personality that it would be easy to see them in some kind of setting they should belong in. You could just see them and imagine for yourself what they are about.

NeonMob: Tell us more about the themes and stylistic choices you made with your set? Did you try to stretch yourself in a new direction, or is this “quintessential Drew Pozca”?

Stylewise, at the time, I was only doing the thick black outlines stuff for the most part. It seemed natural to me and something you would see on Cartoon Network.

The themes were a little more difficult: “Monsters.” Sure there are LOTS of them out there. But I knew I wanted as much variation as I could get. I used to do monsters for fantasy gaming similar to Dungeons & Dragons (DnD) and I grew a nice fan base off of monsters. Easy peasy. But there are more than just fantasy monsters. Looking beyond the typical DnD monsters I got into sci-fi, classic movies, and folklore. I can’t say that I tried a new direction for them, but went with the encouragement that NeonMob wanted me for MY style. As an old art director friend of mine used to say, “Go with what ya know” — which for me, means bright colors and fat black outlines!

image

NeonMob: Tell us about the process for creating each illustration. How did you come up with the idea for each character?

At first I was thinking 100 monsters would be easy to do. So I just start pulling monsters out of my head. As I began to really think about them I realized there are “basic” monster ideas but that only got me so far. I had to dig deeper.

I work digital on a small Cintiq. But it always starts with a sketch. Sketchbook Pro is great and I feel much closer to traditional drawing in a sketchpad in it than I do in Photoshop. I needed to keep track of monsters so I would work up about 10 sketches per page. I find my initial thought is good so I’d send it off for approvals and once the approval came in, I’d take them into Illustrator. One thing I tried to keep was line consistency. So I worked on all ten monsters on one page again. That way the style would match through all 100 and not have lots of different line weights. It was a system that helped produce a consistent visual language, outlining and coloring in Illustrator. As I worked through the 100, I found new ways to get more out of the design, so I ended up going back through to make sure they all matched up.

Once they were dialed in, it was off to Photoshop. Everything was built in Illustrator, even backgrounds, but I put them in PS to lock down all the bells and whistles so that nothing would be potentially lost in file exchanges. And PS has nice automated stuff to batch a process exporting so I could run it and go get more coffee. With working on so many monsters, I felt like I really needed project management and any way to save time.

image

NeonMob: Was there anything difficult about producing this set? Anything that surprised you or that you hope our community of NeonMobsters will notice?

YES! The first 40-50 were much easier. I knew what I wanted for the first 30 or so, but had to kick in the creative juices for the rest. It reached a point between 50-75 that I needed help. I put out a call on Facebook to ask people what their favorite monsters were. I got a lot of responses and fortunately not many overlapped.

image

The last 20 were brutal. I was staying up late to meet the deadline and was losing feeling in my drawing hand! I had to start looking into folklore from several nations and put my spin on it. From China, Native America, and Australia, I found lots of crazy creatures. One of favs came from an Aborigine folk story about a monster who’d wait for people who were hot and tired to take a nap under a tree, then once they fell asleep, he‘d suck their blood through suctions on his fingers and then barf them back up. WILD.

I was as close to mental fatigue as ever and yet somehow, I think reading that story helped.

NeonMob: Some of your work is decidedly bubbly and “cute”, with bright, solid patches of color. Some of your other more recent work is textured and subdued. What determines how you select your color palette and texture, and how does it change the way people respond to your work?

I have my “periods” just like Picasso had. LOL! I started everything with vector and it just had that bright, cheerful look. I think it was almost the nature of the application. But it worked for me. Bright work kinda led to cute and vice versa.  And the contrast of the fat black outline really made it pop. But I got tired of always using the outline. It worked often, but I was starting to get business/office related work and it made it feel too cartoony. So I started doing work without the outlines in hopes it would have a more “illustration” feel — it did. I had to find ways of toning down the brightness as well, but didn’t go the obvious route with dull colors. Instead, I went with strange textures and shapes; a more vintage approach. Then I found myself pulling the outlines back in. When I realized I could never get exactly what I was looking for in vector, I started taking the art into Photoshop to add textures like brown paper bags, wood etc. It took it to another level. (I hope. But I like it!) I still use punchy colors, but the textures help tone them down.

image

Some time later, I got tired and bored of the solid outline and wanted a more brush-shaped look: something more natural and easy on the eyes. So when I started doing Pokeweed comics, that’s where I started. I wanted mistakes and uneven lines.

Today I like to think my work is pretty versatile visually yet it still smacks of Pocza . People can check out my site and know I did all the stuff even though there is variation. Now I would say my work is 60//20/20: 60% is done with the loose brushwork, 20% has the hard line, and the remaining 20% has no outlines.

image

Each project tends to dictate what style I use. If it needs to be scalable I keep it all in Illustrator. If it’s a set size that’s small enough, I go at it ending up with textures in PS. But it all works for kids and office work alike.

NeonMob: Tell me about Pokeweed Comics. It seems like many of these are somewhat autobiographical, so what role does creating these strips serve for you?

image

I have made comics off and on over the years. Always admired the daily comics and would have loved to done the syndication thing. Pokeweed is a culmination of a few strips that failed. But somehow together they work well.

It started when I was laid off from a gig in a the gaming industry. I was on unemployment and looking for work and wanted to stay creatively active.

image

So I started making a few strips and playing with technique. I was not interested in doing my typical fat stroked art and wanted something loose and free. But I couldn’t get the look I wanted in AI until I figured out how to make a custom brush and got a Wacom tablet. The Cintiq changed how fast I could work in general, but the pressure sensitivity was exactly what I needed. It pains me to look back at the early strips, but I also enjoy seeing the growth and watching the characters get refined.

Pokeweed has and always will be a fun place for me to visit. It’s an escape. It was never about making money. Although I wouldn’t be opposed to that. In it’s prime I was doing the strip five times a week. Sadly I never got a buffer to work ahead of schedule. Being unemployed I could just do one a day, but as freelance picked up — or heck, even the stress of no work coming took its toll on me creatively — the strip got pushed back to “when I can”. That really bums me out. I miss the strip. A lot. You can read more about the strip here. I go more into depth about it there.

NeonMob: Have you learned anything about yourself by creating them on a regular basis?

Yes. I realized I know nothing. The older I get the more interesting everything becomes, but the faster it goes away. Pokeweed covers alllllll kinds of stuff from philosophy, conspiracy theories to fart jokes. The first 100 or so strips were pretty easy. It was almost all potty humor. Once I ran out of poop jokes it got harder. I had to dig it deeper, like the monsters. If you know me, you can see me in each character. And often, I use daily stuff that actually happened. For example, and ex friend in real life called me a “good little Nazi" and unfriended me because I am not a fan of the current administration. And I am vocal about it. But what she didn’t understand is, I’m not a fan of BOTH sides. But I digress. So I used that jab as a fun gag in a Pokeweed. If anything, people will read Pokeweed and realize, I have no clue. LOL. But I try to have fun.

image

NeonMob: You wrote that at one point you were headed to become “a hip, youth pastor” but that path didn’t pan out. How has spirituality influenced your work and how you think about it?

Oh yes. I had this wild idea that I should be a youth pastor. I was heavily involved in my church and was pushed in that direction from friends. It seemed good. So I went off to Calvary Chapel Bible College. Shortly after graduating I ended up not staying at the church and took on various jobs. It was a several years before I got back into art. It was around then computers were really taking over the creative process and I had a friend encourage me to go back to night school and I ended up getting a certificate in design from Cal State Redlands. But the real training was doing the work on the job.

Many years later while doing design and illustration I got into doing work for Mars Hill Church here in Seattle and then other churches and so on. But what was fascinating to me is that I came around again to the Bible. Now I had art training and Bible training and put the two together.

Now, as an old guy, I look back and am thankful I wasn’t a youth pastor. As much good as I think I may done, I wasn’t cut out for it. Now is the time I hope to shine with a new series of stock illustrations geared towards kids I call Drawn By Faith I’ll be launching soon. It’s intended for churches and ministries to use. Do a search for Bible based art and there is mostly cheesy clip art crap out there. I am not saying I have the perfect answer to art needs within the church, but I do offer something a bit more fun and well done. SO, if you know anybody in the church creative teams, tell them to look into drawnbyfaith.com!

image

By doing the Bible-based art, I have picked up several other gigs including work for Microsoft, so you never know how God can use situations or talents. And doing Monsters for NeonMob helped me land work for Project Spark coming out on XBOX. And after almost 20 years I had a guy connect with me on Facebook and tell me how much he appreciated me way back when I was hanging out with his parents. He is grown up and married now, but it was great to hear from him and I was very encouraged by that. (Insert some cool song like the Circle of Life here).

NeonMob: What advice might you give to someone considering a career in art, but might be on the fence? In other words, if you were to go back to a younger Drew Pocza and tell him something you wish you’d known then, what would you say?

DON’T! Find something stable. LOL. I went about it alllll wrong. Career-wise, I wish I had gone to art school from the start. Not just kinda make my way floating around in life. I try to encourage my son to find out what he is passionate about and to make money with it. It’s so cool getting paid to do what you love, but have some kind of plan. Take a business class! It’s so important if you want to make money from what others consider “a hobby”. There are so many things I would go back and do, and that is a must.

image

Another is to not listen to negative people. Sure, take into consideration feedback from people you respect, but don’t give up doing your own thing. Find what YOU do. Then do it well. Bruce Lee applied this in martial arts and called it Jeet Kune Do. He took the best aspects of martial arts and made it his. Do that. It’s ok to use something you like from another artist as long as you are not ripping them off. Take what you like from here, there and everywhere but make it yours. What works as a model for one artist probably won’t work for you and so on. I am still trying to find myself the right art buyers. If you can find your target audience, that’s half the battle. My work isn’t for everyone, but it is for someone. Now I’m trying to find them and get in front of them.

Oh, and for younger Drew… I was happy with the illusion of reality from the blue pill while asleep in the Matrix. But once I took the red pill, I can’t unsee or unthink all the conspiracy theories. And it’s scary seeing a lot of it unfolding. Thanks Morpheus!

NeonMob: Finally — what’s your take on NeonMob?

I’ll admit, I had no clue what was going on when we first started this adventure. I think I may have been one of the first artists? I had a blast doing the pieces, but when I saw the site come together… wow . NeonMob has done a great job at creating a great collection of artists of so many styles. It’s an honor and humbling to be a part of it all. So, Happy Collecting and thank you VERY much.

image