A “Digital Art Revolution” Interview with Artist Steven Parke.

Steven Parke is an award-winning artist, illustrator, and photographer. His clients include Warner Brothers, HBO, the Discovery Channel, and many A-list entertainers. Mr. Parke was the digital artist for the first-of-its kind graphic novel I, Paparazzi, published by DC/Vertigo Comics. He followed with In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe, the first ever all-digitally-photographed graphic novel, which was nominated for YALSA’s Best Horror Novel in 2005 alongside Stephen King and IDW’s 30 Days of Night.


This is a recent interview with Steven Parke, conducted by Scott Ligon, author of “Digital Art Revolution, Creating Fine Art with Photoshop”, specifically for this blog.


Steve, I knew you years ago, and I gave you bad advice. I was working at an ad agency in Washington DC and you were living with your parents, often drawing pictures of Prince, who was your favorite musician at the time. I kept telling you that you should get out and show your portfolio and start getting work, rather than just drawing pictures of Prince and you’d kind of humor me, saying, “Yeah, you’re right.” However, you’d keep sending gifts of your artwork to Prince. You’d make friends with members of Princes band. You did this not out of any career motivation, I think, but out of genuine interest and love of the music. The short version is that you were eventually contacted by Prince, did album covers and then became the art director for Paisley Park for many years, which led to an entire career. I use this story as an example to my students about the practical value of doing what you love.


You were just a kid in suburban Virginia. On the surface, it was no more likely that you would become Prince’s art director than it was for any other suburban kid who could draw. What approach did you take that resulted in your success and how could other people apply this?


I don't know that I had an approach at the time. I was young and stupid...and that appeared to do very well for me. I had a lot of “right place, right time” moments, but I also was fairly practical in my approach, which was to produce something and then find a way to get it to someone who could help pass it to who I wanted. Dedication, I suppose, factored in as well. I tried not come off as "stalkerish" because I wasn't. I really just wanted to share something I liked to do with an artist I liked.


You started out as an artist working with physical materials, including very accomplished pencil and airbrush illustrations. For the past few years, you’ve worked primarily as a digital artist. Do you see this as a natural progression from your previous work?


I do- as you know I worked in a very photo-realistic style and frankly that is all - or mostly - about technique. I was moving on to looser work by the time the digital thing happened. But I'm REALLY glad to have had the drawing and painting experience behind my digital work.


What is appealing or enabling to you about working digitally?


command z (EDITORS NOTE: This is the keyboard command for “undo”)


Is Photoshop your main software program?


Yes - but I also use Corel Painter.


How do you use Photoshop in your work?


I use the layers, I use the masks - it allows me to blend all the elements I like into one thing. Of course I also use cloning tools for retouch, which I also enjoy doing.


You are a Photographer as well. How does Photoshop figure into your work as a photographer?


It allows me to be looser at a shoot. Not so specific with my lighting setup since I can do post production very easily in Photoshop.


Do you consider your photographic work to be different from your images that are drawn or painted, or is there a lot of overlap in your approaches?


Oddly their are similarities. I start off with a very structured approach to my painting, which is also good to have when approaching Photoshop. However I would say that working digitally has allowed me to experiment a lot more as well since I'm not as concerned about getting rid of an "unhappy accident". But I can keep the happy ones.


What was it like working for Prince?


How long do you have? It was great fun, but after 13 years it was difficult to keep up with the demands of someone who doesn't need to sleep. I got to try all kinds of things. Prince assumes if you can do one thing visually you can do others. That worked to my advantage.


What other musicians did you work for?


David Bowie, AC/DC, Bon Jovi, Victor Wooten, Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Chaka Khan, The Grateful Dead, Paul McCartney...at least that's what I can recall right now.


Tell us about your other work.


I'm kind of all over the map. I like to take on different types of work to keep it interesting. I paint model kits to do something with all the paint I still have...lol. 


For more information on the artist: www.steveparke.com


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