Artist Nouveau – The Stylish Mr Kemp

My name is Chaz and I’m an Art Nouveau illustrator from Denver. I trained at the Art Institute of Colorado and I’ve been a freelance artist for a number of years now. As to my medium, I primarily use a program called CorelDraw.  This allows me to create my work utilizing a vexel style while giving my art a look that is quite different than most of the other painted, photo-realistic work made popular today.  My main influences are Alphonse Mucha, Ivan Bilibin and American comics. I am also inspired by music, history, literature and all things steampunk.

Tell me one little-known fact about Chaz Kemp.

I have the crappiest sense of direction in the history of all mankind.  I have the floor plan of my apartment tattooed on my hand so I can find my way around.

Let’s work through your influences and inspiration starting with American Comics. Give me an idea of the type of titles that you got into first and what titles, if any, you read now?

When I was a kid, I got into X-Men, Justice League and Teen Titans.  While reading those books often made me wish to be a superhero, (complete with a bath towel for a cape) comics really made me want to draw more than anything else.  I spent huge amounts of time drawing and creating my own superheroes.

When I got older I started to find that the reason I liked some books more than others was because I liked the art better.  Soon I started collecting books based on the artist more so than the story and I worked really hard to emulate my favorites.  I fell in love with the art of Arthur Adams (For his fantastic line work), George Perez (He was brilliant at making every character look unique), Joe Quesada (for his intense style and brilliant shading) and later, Joe Madureira (he successfully blended the anime and American-styles.)  They really inspired me to create my own look and approach to illustration.

As to the titles I read now – I just got back into comics after several years away and I’m really grooving on the DC Universe relaunch.  I think it’s brilliant.  I love the Justice League, Flash Aquaman and the Teen Titans.  Over at Marvel I started reading Unlimited Spider-man and I’m loving it.  I’m also reading Avenging Spider-man but mostly because Joe Madureira’s penciling it.  I wish I could get back into reading the X-Men again but they have 20 different X-titles and they each feature Wolverine, which is very silly.

What led you to adopt an Art Nouveau style?

I’ve been a fan of the style from the time I was a very little kid.  I had a lot of old, 1800s children’s books with art nouveau illustrations and I just loved them.  I had no idea that the style was called art nouveau until I took an Art History class in college.  Later on I started studying artists like Alphonse Mucha, Ivan Bilibin, Aubrey Beardsley, Walter Crane and Jim Fitzpatrick.

When I became a freelance illustrator a few years ago, I wanted to do art that stood apart from what everyone else was doing.  I wanted to develop a style that really spoke to me and made me happy.  Art Nouveau was the answer for me and I started carefully examining Mucha and Bilibin.  Those two artists seem to have the ability to draw me into their stories like no one else can and I feel at home in every piece that they’ve created.

I still feel as though I have a long way to go in terms of perfecting my own Art Nouveau style, but at least now, I’m really enjoying the journey.

Tell me about your job history – the journey from college to here.

I’ll try to make this concise because the path is kind of twisty.  lol  Well, after attending Art Institute I got my first big break working for a small publishing company that made phone directories.  (In fact, my first day at the job was 9/10/2001 – the day before 9/11.)  From there I worked for a company that did military contracts and then to a place that made belt buckles.

In each of these corporate-type jobs, they saw me as a necessary evil, even going so far as to tell me that they didn’t need to pay me a decent wage because there were a lot of artists who wanted my job.  My morale was pretty crushed.  At Art Institute I was near the very top of my class, but here I was considered a clip-art generating art monkey.

Doing the 9-5 gig clearly wasn’t for me.  I was unhappy on several levels and the stress was just killing me.  So I turned to freelancing and I’m much happier because my future success rests completely in my hands.  If I work very hard and continue to improve as an artist, I’ll not only be successful, I’ll be much, much happier.  So even though the money isn’t quite there yet, I know I’m on the right path.

Where does that path lead to if all goes well?

If all goes well I will hopefully become a well-known artist who’s in demand!  I want to do book covers, posters, video games, etc.  I want to be a rock star in the art world complete with my own theme music.  (laughs)

Seriously though, I feel as though I’m on the right path.  I have a fairly unique style, I’m getting a little more recognition, I’m winning awards and I’m finally starting to get some consistent work.  I’ve just picked up a gig with Cerulean Games doing some video game art, I did an inside illustration for Steampunk Magazine, just finished a cover for Dark Quest Publishing for an anthology called, “Clockwork Chaos” and I just got involved with Fairy Punk Stories.  (A creation by author Peter J. Wacks.) They do wonderful steampunk fairy tales and nursery rhymes and my first project with them will be “Rumpelstiltskin” written by the very talented Quincy Allen!

Rock star? Are you already involved with music? Tell me about it.

In fact I am!  lol  I’m in a band called Pandora Celtica.  We’re a dark, faerie, Celtic Acappella band.  We do a lot of original songs and even add tribal Middle Eastern drumming to a few pieces.  You can find us on Facebook and at our site (www.PandoraCeltica.com) as well as I-Tunes, Amazon, CD Baby, Spotify, etc.  We’re currently in the studio recording our 5th album called “Faerie Rebel” and we have a Kickstarter to help fund it because recording costs aren’t cheap.  🙂

Pandora Celtica is a great way for me to step away from drawing and get into a different creative head space.  I was taking the bus yesterday and a guy sat down with me and we just got to chatting.  He was there in New Orleans when Katrina hit and he was telling me how he lost everything he had spent years building and how the news didn’t even come close to telling everything that happened there.   I was so moved that I started writing a new song.  Writing the song brought forth a ton of images in my head so that when I got home I started drawing.  For me, creativity is all connected.

Celtic Acappella? So, what sort of music do you listen to?

Doing Celtic music was a pretty natural step for me.  I love bands like Clannad and Old Blind Dogs plus I was an actor at the Colorado Ren Faire so I was surrounded by it.  When my friend Traveler Hawk & I decided to form a band, we both loved Celtic music and we didn’t know a lot of other musicians so we decided to make the band Acappella.  Add to that our tendency to sing dark music and we had a band that was pretty unique.

As far as the music I listen to – I still very much love Celtic music but I also adore Sting and Level 42.  Sting is my musical idol and I’ve been a fan of his ever since his days with the Police.  Lately, I’ve been really, really grooving on the music from Cirque du Soleil, Emilie Autumn and Celtic Woman.

From what’s gone before it looks like Steampunk and Celtic fantasy(?) are central influences. Do you read this sort of genre fiction?

Steampunk has absolutely crept its way into my art over the last couple of years.  Most of it takes place in and around the Victorian era which is when Art Nouveau really started coming to the forefront so, once again, I found a perfect niche for my illustration style.

I’ve been reading a ton of steampunk lately.  Right now I’m reading “Penny Dread Tales” which is a very good steampunk anthology filled with well-written short stories.  I’ve had a great time with George Mann’s “Affinity Bridge” and Mike Resnick’s “Buntline Special”.  The writing for steampunk is getting better and better as of late and I believe that it’s a genre that’s here to stay.  All they’re missing really, is having me do their covers for them…  lol.

Is it difficult to get work as a cover artist?

It’s looking hard to break in.  I’ve talked with several authors and they all say that they have no control over who does their covers.  I’ve sent promos out to several large publishing companies and have met with mostly silence.  I know that it’ll happen eventually – I just need to be more famous.

In the meantime, I’m doing a lot of work for smaller, independent publishers (like Fairy Punk Stories) who are a lot more receptive to me.  They operate outside of the huge publishing machine and so are more willing to give someone like me a chance.

All in all though, my time will come provided that I continue to work my butt off, do really good work and  above all else, stay positive.  The last couple of years have been really rough but things are beginning to turn around for me – which is awesome!

How do you network/self-publicize?

Self-promotion is a lot of work, let me tell you.  lol  First off, I scour the internet for Fantasy, Sci-Fi, gaming & Steampunk publishers.  Then I create a database and send them all promotional emails.  I also post a lot of my new illustrations on Facebook and I visit a lot of blogs when I have the time.

When I send out promos, they’re accompanied by humorous emails so that I can show off both my art and my personality.  I’ve been told by a couple of people that my promos are unprofessional but I’ve been told by a ton of Art Directors that they’re great because they stand out.  Which, to me, is kind of the point.

I’m actually to the point now where I love networking.  Whenever my band has a gig at a convention anywhere in the country, I usually make a trip to the dealers room and talk with various publishers in person.  This is a really good way to make a connection with them.  I give them my art cards, chat a bit about who I am and why they should hire me and try to score some work that way.  It’s fun and I’ve met some really wonderful people.

You have a very definite visual style. Do you find this limiting or is it a substantial plus factor?

Thank you!  I consider that a compliment.  🙂  I love the fact that my style is quite a bit different than most other artists and I’ve spent quite a few years getting to that point.  Eventually, my work will be popular enough that people who see will immediately know that it’s mine.  That’s exactly where I want to be.

It is limiting in the sense that the digital painter style and the anime style are all the rage at the moment. For now, artists who use those two styles tend to get the bulk of the work.  The problem with that is two-fold:  1) Since both of those styles are extremely popular, the final product no longer stands out.  Take a walk through the romance section of the bookstore and you’ll see that all the covers look exactly the same.  2)  There’s too much competition.  Let’s say the art director is looking to have an anime-styled book cover.  She has thousands of artists to choose from so she’ll use the one that can be had for the least amount of money.

This all works in my favor because eventually, the public will get tired of those two styles and they’ll start demanding something different.  When that happens, I’ll be there waiting to offer them just that.  🙂  It’s all part of my master plan.  (Insert evil laugh here.)

Tell me more about your band. Do you have a song up on utube I can link to for the interview?

-band mates

-recording history – is digital on-line availability (and piracy) a totally bad thing for you

– best gig

-band (other than your own) you would most like to be in and why?

Pandora Celtica is a 5-piece, dark, faerie, Celtic, A Cappella band.  We do some traditional songs and a ton of originals.  We have 4 albums currently, with a 5th album on the way entitled “Faerie Revel.”  One of the things we’re doing to help pay for it is going through Kickstarter.  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pandoraceltica/help-pandora-celtica-create-their-5th-cd-faerie-re?ref=live

I have some fantastic bandmates and we all have faerie personas that all the fans know us by.  There’s Nessa: She sings alto and does all of our booking.  Rubiee:  She sings soprano and handles all of our social media and merchandise.  Requiem:  He sings bass and he’s the band manager.  Discordia:  She sings soprano and she’s in charge of our costuming.  ShadowCat:  That’s me – I sing tenor, I’m the music director as well as the resident artist.

As I mentioned before, we do quite a few original pieces.  Requiem, Nessa and I do the majority of the writing for the band for now, but someday we may get to see a song or two from Rubiee and Discordia.  We’re hoping anyway.  🙂

You can find our first four albums (Dog Party in the Key of Swinging Cats, F’n Sharp, Out of the Box and On Thin Ice) on I-Tunes, Amazon, Cd Baby, CD Universe, etc.

As far as piracy and such, of course we would prefer to have our fans buy our music.  That would be fantastic and it would help us financially.  The more money we get, the more we can tour and then everyone gets to see us live in their hometowns.  That being said, there’s really no way we can stop people from stealing our music if they really want it.  I’m not entirely certain that we should do anything about it, to be honest.  We want fans to share our music with everyone they can so that we have the chance to gain more fans.  Then, hopefully, those new fans will groove on us enough to start buying our music.  We’re also looking into hooking our fans up with music drop cards so that they can download free songs as well as offering up a free song or two on our website.  (www.pandoraceltica.com)  Stay tuned.  🙂

Our best gig to date… Man, that’s a tough one.  We’ve had SO many wonderful gigs so far and our fans are so very amazing.  We just won the second round of the Irish Music Festival Battle of the Bands last night and that was pretty neat.  (One round to go!)  Recently we played at a place called the Mercury Cafe in Denver and that was a stellar gig.  We’d had a fairly poopy gig earlier in the day and this was the last performance out of 4 that we’d done that weekend.  The setting was incredibly magical, the place was packed and the sound equipment was behaving.  We were definitely on that night and everything came together to create a perfect evening for everyone!

If I could be in any band, other than my own – I’d probably have to say that I would LOVE to perform with Sting.  I know all of his songs, I could help sing harmonies to everything and I could play my doumbek without taking anything away from any of the other musicians he had in his band.  That would be a dream come true.  When we we weren’t onstage I would beg him incessantly to make me his apprentice so that I could learn how to write songs like him.  *Sigh*

On your site it looks like you don’t do the artwork for your CDs. Why not?

By the way – love your Plaid to the Bone T shirt. You a George Thorogood fan?

George Thorogood’s song was awesome.  I used to love that song.  My buddies and I would put that song on in the car as we drove to dance clubs.  That song was filled with SO much testosterone!  Lol.

Actually I do all of the art for our band (especially the CDs) and have since the beginning.  To date, the only piece of art I didn’t do was our website because Rubiee wanted to design it.  She did a fantastic job so no complaints there.  It’d be kind of weird letting someone else do our art for us…

Is there a reason why your cd covers are not in your trademark style?

I think I approached doing the album covers with the sense that it was more about the band than it was about my art.  So I tried to take a more minimalistic approach.  However, for our next album, the band wants my art front and center on the cover so that my art is more prominently displayed.

You are on death row, convicted of murder (wrongly) and you die tomorrow. What is your final meal?

I would ask for an elk steak, but that because my digestive system was so delicate, I would need to hunt it myself.  Since I don’t have a clue as to how to hunt, I’d need 2-3 years to learn how to do it properly.  In that time I could appeal my sentence and be set free!  If they don’t fall for that, I’ll ask for my mom’s famous goulash and ask her to include a star trek communicator in the bowl.  They could then lock onto my signal and beam me out of there.  (It’s always good to have a solid plan B)

And finally: If you were an artist (musician, writer, actor, film director etc.) in a discipline other than you currently operate, and you were going to be remembered for only one piece of work (a one-hit wonder), what would that piece (song, painting, movie) be? One single existing  piece of ‘art’ by someone else.

THAT is a fantastic question, Bob.  I would create a very groovy world that would be half high fantasy and half steampunk.  Maybe the steam-tech would be Atlantean in origin.  I’d create some really awesome characters, cultures and organizations to populate the world and then I’d invite all of my favorite writers, artists, directors, actors and musicians to create works based on my world.  To me, that would be heaven and hopefully something that would live on forever.

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About Bob Neilson

Bob Neilson lives in Dublin with his wife, two daughters, son, two dogs, one cat and a growing feeling of claustrophobia. In partnership with his wife he runs a successful retail business in Dublin city. His short fiction has appeared extensively in professional and small press markets and he has had two plays performed on RTE and one on Anna Livia FM. He also presented a radio show on Anna Livia for a year. He has had two short story collections published, Without Honour (1997, Aeon Press) and That’s Entertainment (2007, Elastic Press) as well as several comics and a graphic novel. His non-fiction book on the properties of crystals is a best-seller in the UK and Ireland.
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