Shark Quarterly"Magazine Interview With Automotive Artist
K. Scott Teeters
Late in '96, I had a phone call from Wayne Ellwood, the editor and publisher of "Shark Quarterly" magazine. "Shark Quarterly" magazine covered C3 Corvettes, 1968 to 1982. Wayne was familiar with my work in "Vette Magazine" and asked if I would like to be interviewed for his Corvette magazine. Of course I said, "Yes!" However, since Wayne was in Ottawa, Canada (about 400 miles from where I live in New Jersey)we would not be able to sit for a few hours for a formal interview. So, I agreed to writing out answers to questions that Wayne faxed to me.
What follows is the interview from the Spring 1997 issue of "Shark Quarterly" magazine. Thanks Wayne!
Q. How would you best describe yourself.
A. For the most part I would have to describe myself as a quiet person. But we've all heard the statement, "still waters run deep". I am always thinking and pondering where I want my life to go and the deeper questions of life in general.
Q. Who are your roll models? What artists are your personal favorites?
A. Well my "life" roll models are my grandmother Mary Huntsman for how to be a loving and compassionate person. Earl Nightingale the founder of Nightingale-Connant Audio Publishing has been another roll model of how life can be a never ending series of goals, insights, understandings and happy, interesting relationships. In the art world I've always admired Leroy Neman for his unique style and speed, Andy Worhol for his originality and especially Leonardo DaVinci for his pure genius! Norman Rockwell is also one of my favorites. In the automotive art world my personal favorite is Ken Dalison. His watercolor and pen& ink renderings capture the essence and fun of high performance automobiles. I also like Hector Louis Berghandi's work. His paintings are just stunning. I also enjoy Dennis Brown and Mark Sterenberger's work.
Q. Tell me about your early years? How did you get involved in art? What were some of your earliest projects?
A. I was one of those kids that was ALWAYS drawing on my book covers and note paper margins. When I was 9 and 10 it was tanks, rockets and guns. But when I was almost 11 my brother took me with his to the local Chevy dealer to get something fixed on a used car he'd just bought. So as I was sitting in the showroom I noticed this beautiful car. It was a 1964 Corvette Coupe and it was love at first sight! Of course I took a brochure and from that moment on, it was cars, cars, cars! I read everything I could find about Corvettes and in the process began learning about other cars and "racing". What turned me on about the Corvette was it's stunning looks AND the fact that it was faster than almost everything else on the road. Where I lived in Collingswood New Jersey (that's in South Jersey) the only race track in my area was the Atco Dragway. So I got interested in drag racing.
In school I took all the usual art classes and always got A's. In high school I loved Mechanical Drawing class, got straight A's and "thought " I wanted to be a draftsman when I got out of school. The project that nailed my final grade was a grid style enlargement of a cut-away drawing that was actually part of a series of technical illustrations used in a series of Pennzoil ads. Being a Chevy guy, I chose to do my enlargement of the Chaparrel 2E. And that's what got me hooked on illustration.
At the same time I was noticing all of the art in the car magazines I was reading. It was Kenny Youngblood's work that really caught my eye and gave me the bug that I wanted to be a magazine illustrator.
Q. What was your job before you got into doing automotive art as a full-time profession? Did any of your work experience match up with your interests in automotive art?
A. My first job as a draftsman was horrible! By lunch time of my first day I knew it wasn't for me, but I hung in there for a year. I left that job and got into the construction business and said, "I guess I'll never sit behind a drawing board again!" During that first year as a draftsman what was saving my sanity was a weekend job at the Atco Dragway as one of their track announcers. This job turned out to be critical for my career. I was still drawing cars on my own time and in August of 1974 all the car magazines were covering Chevy's new Monza. At the time I was a died in wool Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins fan and I just new that he would probably run a Monza in Pro Stock for '75. So I did my version of what I thought the car would look like and showed it to my co-workers at the track. My co-announcer Tony Williams said, "Man, you should send that into Drag Racing USA, they'll print it!" So I did and got a call from DRUSA editor, Neil Britt telling me that he'd love to run the piece, but could I do it in pen & ink so it'll reproduce better. Needless to say, I got right on it and it was printed in the center spread and I got $200! That was fall of 1974 and I've been doing magazine art ever since.
After the construction thing dried up I started freelancing doing graphics and technical illustrations. So after two years I was back behind a drawing board. From there on, my day job as a tech illustrator and my freelance magazine work kept me very busy. I stopped announcing after 3 years and started doing poster art for the track. But the more I worked at my day job and did my magazine thing, the more I realized that I should have gone to art school for illustration. So in 1978 I started going to Philadelphia College of Art Evening Division. The experience was great, but it actually side tracked me away from automotive art for a few years. I continued doing regular features for Vette Magazine and occasionally art for Cars Magazine and Super Stock & Drag Illustrated.
So I never really "switched" careers, I sort of slid into illustration via my freelance work and school.
From 1983 to 1991 I worked on my own as a freelance commercial artist. I had a few art reps and a big portfolio and mostly did line art, product illustration, food art, some architectural type art and graphic art. Around 1985 I started listening to a lot of motivational and success psychology tapes and an idea I kept hearing over and over was that we should "do what we love to do". So I thought, why not drum up some magazine work as filler projects for my regular commercial work. The first thing I did was call my old buddy Steve Collison at SuperStock and ask if I could do some spot art for the book. Steve said, "Sure Dude!" and I was off! I was getting interested in old race cars from the 60's and early 70's so I started adding hand written caption to most of my spot pieces. That lead me to do a series of illustrated, hand written one page articles titled, "Retrospect - Drag Racing History". At this point in my career I had many things lead to other better things. And I must say that it all started to snow ball when I started doing what I love to do, which is drawing and rendering cars.
At one point in the late 80's I was doing "Retrospect" for Super Stock, "The Blueprint Series" for Guide To Muscle Cars, "Profile" for Fabulous Mustangs and Exotic Fords, "The Illustrated History of Muscle Cars" for Muscle Car Classics, "Imagineering" for VW & Porsche in addition to spot are for Super Stock and Popular Hot Rodding. So I was making a substantial portion of my income from drawing cars! I NEVER imagined I'd be doing that when I was a kid in high school.
In 1987 I started doing instruction sheet art for Tyco Toys. The corporate office was only 15 minutes from where I lived, so it was a very good setup. Over the next four years more and more of my freelance work was for Tyco. In 1991 I did a feature for Super Ford titled, "Paint Only". what you could do with just a cool paint scheme on your car. I sent photos of the art to Babe Kubo the man I did the instruction art for, who forwarded the photos to Mick Hetman the design manager in the R & D Group. The R & D Group at Tyco is where the product lines are designed and worked out for final production. When you see a Tyco R/C, Electric Racing or Matchbox item on the shelf or in a TV commercial, it does what it does and looks like it does because they made it that way! Needless to say, this looked like the place to be, besides, the department was loaded with motorhead artists! I started working as a full time freelance designer in October 1991 and was hired full time in May 1992. I'm now in the Preliminary Concepts and Development Group. Basically, I draw, color and model all day! I work mostly on the Matchbox product line and I design play sets for our Action Systems line and occasionally I work on outside inventor submissions and sometimes on our R/C and HO Electric Racing Lines. Some of our work is on outside idea submissions, but we mostly do the concept and designs in house. About 80% of the Tyco catalog was designed in house and we are very proud of that. We have an excellent, if not the best group of designers in the toy business.
As far as "style" is concerned, I tell most young artists who are groping for a style to find an artist that you particularly admire and try to copy them. I know that sounds outrageous, but the fact of the matter is that unless you are a master forger, you'll never be able to completely copy someone's style. You might come close, but if you stay with it, your own style will begin to surface. I started out copying Warner Burher's layout style, Mark Sterenberger's line style and John Joduga's color style. Well now my work look nothing like their's, it's my own style and occasionally I'll get some feed back from people who will say to me that they recognize my "style". I find that to be particularly gratifying.
Q. Would you like to relate any interesting experiences you had in getting into business?
A. When I was in art school the best teacher I had, Gill Cohan, gave us a very wise piece of insight. He said that we were moving into a very difficult career because we will eventually be working for people who will know much less about art than we do, but we'll have to do what they ask for because they are the client. I have found this to be painfully true. But it just goes with the territory. In business the person who often has the final say knows nothing about art or design and they'll make a completely subjective decision. Again, it goes with the territory.
Another thing I learned is that if you are already in the art field you need to keep your own private projects going. The reason for this has several aspects. As a commercial artist you will often be taking direction from an art director. You will be fulfilling "their" vision of what the piece should be. Hopefully, they're a good art director and the final piece will turn out good. Or even better, if the art director has worked with you and has faith and trust in you, he'll let you do the piece the way you want to. But the bottom line is that at the end of the day after you've been taking other people's direction you are usually tired. As time rolls on before you know it you haven't done anything the way you'd like to, but you're tired from working and you no longer have the time or energy to do "your " art work and the artist in you begins to dry up. This is why it's so very important to get into an art nitch that you love and that you create and complete "your" art pieces to keep the artist in you alive and happy!
But how do you do that after a long day of deadlines and art directors and marketing people? You do it by setting aside daily time for creative thinking and planning. Think on paper, write out questions and ponder the answers. As ideas pour into you consciousness, make plans and carry them out on a regular basis. Even if you do a half hour or an hour a day, just regularly pick at it until "your" project is complete. For a commercial artist, there's nothing as gratifying as a completed project that is EXACTLY the way you envisioned it!
Q. What is your favorite SHARK year/model/color? Why?
A. My absolute favorite Corvette is the 1967 427/435 hp coupe. Blue with a white hood stripe and a white interior or red with the black stripe and black interior. And side exhausts are a must! A VERY close second would be a 1969 427/435 coupe, the L-88 dome hood, side pipes, white with a black interior. I've always had a soft spot for Duntov's '69 L-88 racer with the fender flairs, L-88 hood and Hooker Header side pipes. That was a sweet machine! Some of my other favorites were the SS Stingray Racer, the '63 Grand Sport, the Mako Shark II and the Manta Ray. The four rotor concept car was perfect from every angle. I also liked the Stingray III show car from a few years ago.
I've seen photos of the '97 Corvette that were taken by one of our Matchbox product managers. Since Matchbox will be offering a '97 Corvette in it's 1-75 line of die cast cars, one of our guys was invited to a secret place deep in the holly grounds of Chevrolet to see, touch and photograph the new baby! There was a fair amount of grumbling that it wasn't radical enough and blah, blah, blah. But I think that when the public finally sees the car, socks are going to go up and down! I like it.
Years ago I read that designing a new Corvette is the hardest design job in the automotive business. It has to "look" like a Vette, but be new and different, but not "too" new and different! That's why the '97 Corvette does not look like the Stingray III show car. But honestly, I could live with one. Only if it was red with a white interior!
Q. What do you think of customs and advance design work?
A. Most customs are over done. It drives me nuts to see a perfectly good Corvette with side skirts that look like they're off of an 80's Trans-Am. And why you'd want your Corvette to look like a Testarosa is beyond me. I like it when racing dictates styling. The flairs from the L-88 racing option were nice. The pontoon flairs for the '75 IMSA Corvettes were interesting in a bodacious way! The '89 optional ground effects racing package looked good. I just love the Callaway LeMans car. Currently, my absolute favorite production car the the Viper GTS Coupe. When I saw that car at the '93 New York Car Show on the big turn table I could not stop looking at it. Like a handful of Corvettes, it's perfect from every angle. The electric blue paint and white stripes perfectly accentuate the beautiful curves of the car. I wish it was a Corvette!
As far as other design are concerned, I think we'll see more "jelly bean" cars. They certainly fill a nitch. I hope the hard edge box cars don't come back. It's nice to see Detroit getting it's wits back with the new Camaro, Firebird, Sunbird and most of the Dodge line. It really bugs me when I see cars trying to look like BMWs and Mercedes'. Marketing people, let designers design and stop following the follower supported with marketing data! Look at what Chrysler did with their designs when they let the California designers just run with it. GM and Ford would have NEVER done the Viper, Viper GTS or Prowler
The new '97 Corvette will probably be around for a very long time. I'd guess at least till 2010. We'll probable see incremental improvements, but where it will be by then, who knows. I'm just amazed at the performance levels of todays performance cars. Most run the quarter mile in the high 13's, top out at 160 plus, stop like a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier and get 25 to 30 miles per gallon! Back in the 60's muscle car days, you needed a 454 big block or a 440 or a Hemi to run 13's and you were happy if you got 10 mpg! And they were nasty to live with.
If automotive history has taught us anything, it's that people will always want performance cars and convertibles. I'm sure that will never change.
(Me in 1995. I still look the same, just a little more gray in the beard.)
Whenever I speak to Corvette club groups I always am asked the same question, "Have you ever owned a Corvette and if so, what year did you have?" So, here's the story of my Corvette.
The photo above is of my 1965 small-block coupe that I bought way back in 1975 when I was 21 years old. When I first got the car it had a set of beautiful Cragar mags that unfortunately put the front tires just enough to the outside that when I would pull into a driveway, the tires would kiss the top edge of the wheel well and was causing stress cracks on the fender. So, I replaced the Cragars with a set of 67 15 x 6 steel rally wheels.
Obviously, the former owner had made many modifications to the car. The hood is from a 67 big-block and they added extra tail lights so that there were two groups of three lights on each side. That was a very popular thing to do to 63 - 67 Corvette back then. The engine was a 300 hp 327 that I rebuilt in 77 shortly before the car was stolen. It had power steering and a wide-ratio 4-speed. The side pipes were amazingly LOUD. I had nothing to do with the dopey stripe on the sides.
Like most Corvettes it had its share of quirky things that it did that only a Corvette lover would put up with. But the car was a blast to drive and very strong for a mildly tweaked small-block. I could get 50 mph out of 1st gear, 75 mph out of 2nd, and 100 out of 3rd gear... and that was as fast as I wanted to go, thank you.
Its hard to believe that I only paid $2,800 for the car in 75. My Dads comment was, You paid $2,800 for a 10-year-old Chevy?! But Dad, its a Corvette! I said. Dad shook his head, No, its a 10-year-old Chevy, but its your money. Dads still not impressed with Corvettes.