Welcome to our Tenth edition of Artist Spotlight. This week’s Artist is Lee Kohse
Q: Who are you and what do you do?
A: My name is Lee Kohse. I’m the current creative director of Speed Racer and I am a freelance artist for Lucasfilm Ltd. and many others but I am best known for my work on Star Wars and my own comic, www.kindergoth.com. I’m 6ft, blonde haired with blue eyes. It sounds sexy but I’m actually pretty grotesque to look at. I like quiet walks on the beach at night (less chance for witnesses) and every time I leave Southern California, I suffer from Mexican food withdraw. Although when I travel to New York or Chicago, I can usually sustain myself with pizza.
Q: How do you work? (Tools of the trade, etc)
A: I pretty much work with anything I can get my hands on. I regularly use pencils, oil paint, acrylics, watercolor, pen and inks, markers, gouache, and even digital. In fact I once painted a vampire comic with my own blood. Sounds creepy and artistic but it was a total accident. I had just spent an hour mixing all my colors when I cut myself and blood gushed onto my paints. I was too lazy to remix them. Sometimes I might celebrate Arbor Day by dipping a small mammal in pigment and hope for the best. So as you can see, I will pretty much use anything in reach. That may explain why I have been banned from the petting zoo.
Q: How did you get your start?
A: I started out eating crayons but moved on to stabbing thinly pressed sheets of dried wood pulp with graphite infused clay sticks. In my senior year of high school, my art teacher locked me in the supply closet every day. It sounds bad when I say it like that. The supply closet was about 700 sqft and had an art table and an easel and stacks of paper, canvas, hard wood, and almost every type of paint you can think of. I got to use anything I wanted to create anything I could. It was heaven. Up until the point where you remember that you’re in high school and that hot girl in the back of the class refuses to make eye contact with you because the giant zit on your forehead could explode and blind her at any minute. Other than that it was heaven.
Q: What styles of art do you most identify with (please feel free to include other artist’s names, or other inspirations, etc.)
A: Damn, now I have to get serious. I’m self taught so I have a really strange perspective on style. I see an artist’s personal style as a collection of consistent mistakes. If we all drew perfectly, we would all draw the same. The trick is to find those errors in your work that are esthetically appealing to you and eliminate the ones that are not. I often look at other artists’ work and study it to see how they do things I am having issues with differently. For instance, when I was hired to do pinup art, I studied George Petty and Gil Elvgren to learn how to infuse a static pose with personality. A good example is Vargas, he was technically brilliant and when I look at his art I think “Wow this is great” but when I look at a Petty or Elvgren piece, I think “Wow this is great” and I catch myself smiling. That subtle difference is what I want to learn. For composition, I study Keith Parkinson, Struzan, and Frazetta. They had an uncanny ability to capture a moment in time. Think of it as a single frame from a film that could tell the entire story. Personally I try to stay away from montages if I can but the client pays the bills so they get what they want.
Q: What kind of artwork do you most enjoy doing/creating?
A: Drawing and painting in general is very zen for me. I worked for Verizon and several other huge companies as an artist. Every artist in those companies spent their days pulling their hair out going insane or crying into their hands. The art directors were awesome but the executives further up were experts in marketing not art or design. But that didn’t stop them from making design and art changes. The marketing guys at Verizon could sell a bullet proof vest to Superman but it would look like crap. After spending hours arguing that stock photos of girl in a hot pink dress would look horrible on a dark green page with yellow print not matter how hot the model was, I would run to my home studio and draw comics, monsters, or my favorite films or books to relax. One day it just occurred to me that if I took out the cost and time of commuting and therapy, I would be earning about the same and be a lot less stressed. So I made the jump to full time freelance artist. My happy meter jumped 90%, my blood pressure went down, and I haven’t had to look at my list of great places to hide bodies in years.
Q: What projects have you worked on in the past?
A: The list is too long so I’ll just hit the highlights. My first regular paying job as an illustrator was doing pinup art for a lesbian magazine. I worked for beautiful women that asked me to draw lots of beautiful women and I got hate mail from a group of other women saying I was going to burn in hell for drawing such beautiful women. And people wonder why I’m so cynical. I did lots of indie comic books but my big break was doing sketch cards for Lord of the Rings. That got me into licensing art for everything from Aliens Vs Predator to Shrek. I regularly do art for Star Wars, Speed Racer, Indiana Jones, Marvel Comics, and it looks like I will be doing a lot more Voltron art. I do lots of concept art and story development work for film and TV but I cant talk about that. I could, but then I would have to dust off my list of places to hide bodies.
Q: What is your Dream Project? (if you have one)
A: I would love to do concept development for Star Wars. Maybe help create a character or contribute to designs of vehicles and races in the Clone Wars or some other SW project down the line. I would also love to spend a month or two doing a big painting so I can push myself creatively. That’s really about it. I already work on my dream projects so now its a matter of pushing myself harder to do better and if possible be more involved in those properties if they have room for me.
Q: What do you like about the art world?
A: I love the openness of it. I love that you can go to a comic convention and walk up the artists of your favorite titles and ask for advice. Not long ago I sat next to Dave Dorman in Artist Alley and he just started talking about some tricks he uses. I flew home, hugged my wife, and immediately started playing with that advice and got some great results. I love that artists are usually pretty open to sharing ideas and feeding off of each others creativity. The highlight of my career so far was that I got to work with the artist that made me want to become an illustrator, Keith Parkinson.
Q: What do you DISlike about the art world?
A: With the advent of digital art the learning curve for artists is increasing much faster than it used too. That is a very good thing. But it also makes stealing others art very easy. I also don’t like art critics that read too much into a piece. I entered a piece into a show once and won an award. At the show’s opening a woman came up and to and said “I love your commentary of Southern California air quality”. The painting was my Gothic/Industrial interpretation of Mary Poppins.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve been given professionally?
A: “Don’t put that in your mouth”
Q: What is your goal, professionally?
A: To suck less. I love it when I can create a piece that makes me stop and say “Holy crap! I made that?” It’s even a better feeling when I can look at the same piece a few months later and see all the mistakes. If I can see the mistakes in a piece, it means I’ve improved since I created it.
Q: What wouldn’t you do without, and why? (could be art supplies, or anything else you wish)
A: What a weird question. That’s like asking “What part of your bike do you need less?”. The seat, because if you take away anything else you would crash. But you’ll crush your nuts into the frame if you hit a bump too hard.
I cant really think of a specific thing I cant do without. If you take away my watercolor, I just thin down my acrylics and make do. If you take away my acrylics I just use more liquin in my oils. If you take away my arms, I just use my feet to paint. Take away my feet, I would use my chin and neck. Take away my neck and my head falls off. I guess that would be the answer. My neck. I cant do without my neck because I would be dead and unable to paint.
Q: Are you open for commissions, and if so, how can people contact you?
A: Yes I take commissions. My telepathy has been on the fritz since I downloaded that last upgrade so please contact me through my website: www.kohse.com/contact
Q: What super power(s) would you like to have, and why? (could be more than one)
A: Healing and super speed. So I can draw faster and not kill myself trying to make deadlines.
If you would like to learn more about Lee, see more of his work, commission him – or anything else in between… his contact info is listed below! 🙂 Thanks for reading, and Thanks Lee, for being our Tenth Artist Spotlight! 🙂
Lee’s Contact Info: