If you were to spend any time at all with Jeff Haynie, it would not take long for you to discover his kindness of spirit, his sincere interest in others, his enthusiasm for life, and his intense desire to learn and grow as a person and an artist.
Just a cursory look at his resume and one is in awe of what he has accomplished and for whom he has worked. Take a look at this. His work has been published by Disney, Pixar, Warner Brothers, DreamWorks, EA Games, Big Fish Games, American Airlines, Texas Instruments, Pepsi-Cola, Frito Lay, and Bic Pens.
I’m thinking, because of the great variety of things he has done, he must be easily bored. “Sometimes I wish I was more bored”, he says. “I feel so blessed to be an artist. There are so many things I love to do.”
“I’ve had to be very flexible to learn new things just to continue to do art for a living.”
“It is so hard to be a full-time artist. I started my career as an illustrator because that was the only way I could make a living. Even that was very difficult because I was always painting someone else’s idea or vision. Then after illustration died in the ’80’s, I moved into the entertainment industry doing art for computer games. Outside of a general goal of making a living, my focus was always to grow as an artist. After a long day working for someone else, I would come home and work on my own work and vision. It’s amazing how God has been so involved in my journey as an artist.”
In this two-part interview you’ll learn what makes him tick, how he has found his way amid a dazzling array of jobs, and what he’s doing now to continue making a living creating art.
How would you define the type of artist you are? I’m a visual communicator that loves to tell stories that relate to the human experience. You could call me a “Whimsical Symbolist.”
A large part of what you do is to create fantasies; what is Fantasy Art? I think of fantasy art as drawing directly from the imagination, which is what I prefer to do. Fantasy art interested me from an early age because of the otherworldly quality. It consisted of places imagined or characters that didn’t exist.
“Computer painting is one of my favorite media. I can do quick studies and sketches to make creative choices. This tool changed my artistic life. It opened a lot of doors to learning as well as selling my art. I paint with Photoshop on a high end Mac computer with a Wacom tablet. I paint about 10,000 pixels by 8,000 pixels so that I can do amazing detailed Giclee prints.”
What kind of person creates Fantasy Art? Probably someone with an overactive imagination! No, I think an artist who chooses this type of approach to their work usually loves to stylize and looks to evoke a sense of wonder in the viewer. Not all fantasy art is dark or violent. It seems that artists that love to create or express a narrative in their work, romanticize or stylize. This could be the light, the stage or environment, the character, or the relationship between all these elements. Great examples of past masters: William Bouguereau, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, J.W. Waterhouse, Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Frank Dicksee, Alphonse Mucha, etc. There are so many great Old Masters that I would consider great fantasy artists. Then there were so many great illustrators like Frank Frazetta, Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle, etc.
What qualities must be found in every great piece of Fantasy Art? I am a strong believer that any piece of art needs to start with a strong foundation. I don’t call these the basics anymore because it is so easy to lose sight of the most fundamental qualities that affect the human eye… qualities such as strong shape design, clear value structure, value contrast, color contrast and composition. As I have studied the great masters what I find that they have in common are all these qualities. My personal favorite quality is light and shadow. It is so inspiring to take an object or environment and visualize the story or visual impact as you design the light coming from different directions. Each direction will create a different design to the shadow shapes and the light shapes. The reason I enjoy drawing from my imagination is to explore pure abstract design with the light/ shadow relationships, even though the overall feel is realism.
Who purchases Fantasy Art? There is a niche market of fantasy art collectors. It has a wide range of demographic who buys. I find my collector usually loves cats and or fantasy art.
How do you come up with your ideas? There are several ways that I have developed in my art lifestyle. I have several sketchbooks scattered around the house and studio. I think of them as my visual playgrounds. Ideas come at anytime of day. The key is that I write them down or sketch them right then and not wait. One of my sketchbooks has a lifetime of painting ideas in it. Not that all of them would make great paintings, but when I’m feeling like I’m not thinking I just open one of the sketchbook and flip through it. Ideas flow. Sometimes I see my cats doing something or I hear someone say something that sparks an idea. Then there is my straight approach that I learned from doing visual direction and art direction in the entertainment industry. Let’s say I want to do a pirate cat. It starts there with no idea or story. I write down everything that I can think of associated with Pirates. I sketch thumbnails of anything such as swords, ships, hats, hook arm, peg leg, flag, cannon, gold, etc. Then I go online and type in pirate, pirate hat, pirate ship, parrot, etc, and save the best photos of these elements. So what I am doing is looking at everything associated with that idea and then I see what inspires me. Usually by this time I have several ideas brewing. Then I make pages of the main elements that I could include into a painting. These pages I call style pages, or pages with key elements. I print them out on nice photo paper. What I am doing is building a visual library in my head of elements that inspire me about this subject. These pages are only for ideas because I don’t shoot reference anymore but prefer to draw everything out of my head. Then I begin thumbnails and play with ideas, situations, elements and environments. At this point I will have several ideas that I can visualize as a painting and begin. Now I have everything I need to start the piece. I work mostly on 11×14 thick Bristol board. I just start drawing and let things develop as my story develops. Other ideas will emerge during this process that I quickly sketch in my sketchbook. This is very relaxing and fun. It’s very mobile so I can do this anywhere. It wasn’t always that way. I used to hate the drawing stage, which was just a means for me to get to the painting. Now I keep about 3 to 5 of these going on a one time.
Being an incredibly talented and versatile artist, what do you consider to be the most important contributing factor to those qualities? Thank you for the kind words John. First of all I thank God for his blessings, the gifts of art and teaching. I work really hard at it in order to be a good steward of the art and teaching gifts. On a practical level, I focus directly on the foundational elements working together to strengthen each area of the piece. I realized that is what is most important. Now I sound like a teacher. But that is what my mind is focused on when I am working. I do composition studies, value studies, and color studies. I allow myself to enjoy each step. Value is very important for lighting, mood and impact. It amazes me how many artists miss that part. As I’m working on the computer on a painting I turn it to black and white very often to check the values. In composition I am focused on shape design: which direction do I want the light to come from to create the most beautiful light and shadow shape breakdown on the subject to make it come to life and speak? How do I want the eye to flow through the painting, so what edges, lines and value/color contrast can I push to move the eye to my focal point? Now what does that say to the eye? So that is some of what goes on in my head as I work. It’s creative problem solving. Now when you add being a Christian and the Holy Spirit is involved… oh, man. God will lead you to places your mind can’t foresee. Happy divine accidents happen. I’ll come into the studio the next morning and look at the painting and go, “Wow, did I do that?”
Now the idea of being versatile as an artist really started when I began experimenting with different medias. So as I grew in the foundational elements, those things didn’t change. It was about learning the technique of each medium so that your style qualities can shine through. One of the most common questions I get from young artists trying to find their way is “How do I find or develop my style?” The first thing I tell them is not to confuse style with your medium. An artist’s style has to do with your creative choices, shape design, color choices, line quality, quality of details, etc. So whether you work in oil, pastel or digital, your style will come through even though each medium has unique qualities. So when people come into one of my galleries and see one of my sculptures next to an oil painting they know it’s the same artist. They see my style by my shapes, colors, lines, details, etc.
How would you define your role as an artist? I view my role as an artist to be one of a visual communicator and teacher. As artists we have the opportunity to help others see life and our world in a different perspective. On a practical level I enjoy taking an object, character or location and presenting it to the viewer in a way of beauty. I find that human emotions are touched on a deep level when light and shadow are designed in a way to accent the object, scene or character. My approach is not to present a copy of what I see but to design the composition where the viewer can move through the painting and experience what they see on an emotional level, and hopefully, a spiritual level. So you could say as artists we are also teachers in teaching others to see. I know that sounds arrogant but I don’t mean it that way, but rather that I feel blessed to share my imagination and unique way of seeing with others in hopes to inspire and bless them.
Most of us know of the fabulous work that DreamWorks does, how did your employment with them come about? What was your job? This was a big step in my artistic journey. At the time I was a freelance illustrator. The illustration business dried up. My wife and I decided it was time to try something different. We began to pray about a new direction. There was an artist friend who was working at DreamWorks. He told me I would have to learn how to paint digitally to break into the entertainment business. So several artist friends who had made the digital shift in their work taught me. I was very resistant at first but quickly fell in love with the medium. I e-mailed a portfolio and a website link to the DreamWorks producer. He called me the next day. It was a steep learning curve to learn a whole new world of 3D and 2D software as well as computer game development, and my teachers were the very talented much younger artists than myself that I had the pleasure of working with. I started as a texture artist, which is an artist that paints the 2D outer surface or “skin” of a 3D model that is ultimately animated, or the 2D details of the environment that has been designed in 3D geometry. In 3 years I worked my way up to Senior Art director. So in this three year period I learned a whole new set of skills; skills such as: video and film making, matte painting, 3D software (Maya and 3D Studio Max), concept painting, visual development, storyboards, video compositing (Adobe After-Effects) and some animation. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially with all the talented people I got to work with. It expanded my perspective as an artist, storyteller and teacher.
We’ll continue this exciting interview next week. Was DreamWorks the pinnacle of Haynie’s employment, or were there other new and exciting challenges? In the meantime, you may view Haynie’s work HERE.
Until then…thank you to Jeff Haynie, and to you the readers.
John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his art and bio, please click HERE