LTD/EDN: In what degree of #manvsmild does this interview currently find you?
In truth, I’m in a really vulnerable place. We’ve been talking about a tea cup and saucer, and it doesn’t get any more mild than that. Perhaps we should sip tea and revisit years past, running through train yards and hanging off the sides of oil drums while painting them? That might make the mild a little more wild. Or…we could discuss a matching doily set to go with the teacup. You pick.
Staying on the mild side… How has the birth of your second son (congrats!) impacted your art? Any time management tips for other artist-parents?
Having kids is the hardest job I’ve ever taken, yet I can’t imagine my life without them. Because of my kids, I look at the world differently. I appreciate the small things again. I get to share their sense of wonder as they discover a caterpillar or jump in the ocean for the first time. I took these things for granted without kids.
It’s very grounding to have a toddler hit and spit in your face in a crowded restaurant. You feel everyone’s eyes burning into you when your kid is being loud or having a tantrum. But I don’t care. For every tantrum and every disgusting diaper, there are a hundred hugs and laughs and new accomplishments and amazing discoveries.
Nobody likes the hard stuff in parenting; it’s how you cope and get that kid through it that matters. I’ve been doing it for seven years, and I still pray every day that I don’t screw these kids up. Thank goodness my wife is such an amazing mom (and woman in general). Yes, parenting impacts my working hours, but I manage. I still work a lot; I just shuffle my hours around. My best advice to artist-parents: keep your sketchbook with you always, and fit in any notes or thumbnails as much as possible. They are invaluable.
Animals factor heavily into your subject matter. You grew up with animals, but we don’t see a ton of non-human animals on your Instagram feed. Is there a secret underground rabbit hutch?
I wish. As a kid, I designed underground hutches with the hopes my dad would build me one. I’m still waiting! He built me a number of above-ground hutches, which served their purpose in their time though…
Unfortunately, we don’t have any pets at the moment. I enjoyed having dogs, rabbits, ducks, cats, lizards, hamsters, fish, frogs, toads and all kinds of creatures as a kid, but my wife is allergic to many fuzzy creatures. So I’m holding off for a little while, and I’ll probably just smuggle a bunch of frogs into the backyard for the boys. I do eventually want to get a Great Dane or an Irish Wolfhound. They’ve been my favorites since I worked at a kennel as a kid. I’m fascinated with all creatures, and I generally have animal documentaries playing on a Netflix loop while I work. I usually keep it muted and make my own soundtrack with Spotify music mixes or podcasts.
We think you do a great job of sharing art and life via social media (especially on Instagram). Is this something you enjoy? Got a favorite feed we should be following?
I spend a lot of time away from the world holed up in my south of Los Angeles bubble, in my studio or doing kid stuff. So I enjoy seeing what my friends and peers are doing through Instagram and Twitter and tumblr. I like IG accounts related to graffiti, animals, architecture and tattoos, as well as some painting-related accounts such as @paintguide (which is curated by the excellent artist, Henrik Uldalen @henrikaau, who also opens it up to other artists to co-curate). @CBScrew and @waisted crew are the two graffiti crews I belong to, and it’s fun watching their accounts.
I follow over 1,400 people, but I’d probably be just as happy only following @animals and calling it a day. Oh yeah! Fat Birds on tumblr is awesome! I look at bird blogs on tumblr more than I look at anything on my phone.
You told the Das Process podcast that you “Went to school to meet your wife.” Awww. Marital prospects aside, do you think it’s important for young artists today to go to art school?
Yes, if only to mature and learn how to meet a deadline and get some social skills and etiquette. If you get through college and earn a degree, you can probably function in some sort of career setting. I’m not saying that it’s 100% necessary though, and there are, of course, cases that differ.
I didn’t learn to paint at school; I learned how to paint from my friends Axis, Natoe and a couple of others who were using acrylics at the time. I learned how to use a computer by just getting hands on and then later from my friends Ken Bustamante and Bill McEvoy. I did learn how to render at school. My favorite classes were the life drawing classes, which helped tremendously, and I think can change how we see what we’re drawing.
So it’s that, plus the heavy workloads and the deadlines that still make an art college degree useful. But you do have to have a natural drive. I’ve met plenty of people who’ve already given up on art and for whom the education was a waste of time. To each his own.
What was your biggest challenge as an artist upon graduating? Any tips for artists newly navigating the sphere of gainful employment?
I’d been working freelance art jobs my entire way through college, but my first job out of college was at JNCO jeans. Remember in the 90s, that very horrible raver pants-driven wannabe streetwear company? Surprisingly, they employed some of the best artists I’ve ever met! I’m lucky to have gotten a year-and-a half stint working there with Axis, Kofie, Epik, Yeloe, Pryer and a bunch of guys from my crews. It was hard, but I just buckled down and made as much art in as many arenas as possible. The awesome people here later moved on to Treyarch/Activision and brought me along to my favorite “corporate” job ever: being a texture artist on video games.
I worked in video games for over five years and met some great people and had some of the best and hardest experiences ever. Now, when I want to impress my older son and his friends, I pop in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2X or one of the Spider-Man titles and let them have a go at it. Then, I point out all the secret things we put into the games—the “Easter eggs” as we call them. It’s very satisfying.
When I wasn’t working, I was making album covers and merch for punk bands. When I wasn’t doing that, I was with my crews, spray painting walls all over LA. I never put down my pencil, and I’m still that way. I’m convinced that if you work hard, try to perfect your craft (yet realize a thousand artists out there are better than you) and treat people with respect, there will be opportunities for you to make a living with your art. That goes in general for all walks of life.
Do you have a daily routine and/or can you walk us through a day in the life of artist, Greg “Craola” Simkins?
It varies but here goes. I try to get up around 6:30AM. I make coffee for my wife and I, and I drive 5 minutes to Redondo Beach, where I finish my coffee and then go for a long walk. I generally stop and gather any thoughts that are popping off in my head using my trusty iPhone notepad or sketchbook.
After that, I go home, help the kids through breakfast and clean up. I get my oldest one ready for school or play with my youngest. Then, we either walk to school, or I walk out back to my studio and begin my work day at around 8 or 9AM. I work until 6PM, have dinner, play with the kids, do homework, clean up, and then it’s bedtime for the boogers. My wife and I catch up while watching a show, or we go back outside into the studio and both work and chat about the day. That’s a pretty normal day. Sorry to have bored you all!
When you’re working on a body of work for a new art show, how do you begin?
Everything comes from my sketchbooks. It all starts with the notes or sketches. If a sketch really grabs me or a concept gets stuck in my head, I’ll further draw it up. I might redraw it a couple times, and I’ll gather references to make sense of patterns on creatures and stuff like that. Then, I’ll do a final line drawing and begin painting it—always leaving room for spontaneous additions. I never start with anything too rigid. Take “Wanderers” for instance. It came from a couple sketches I had in my book. I redrew it a couple times, but I felt I had enough information to just begin. A lot of times, I just begin painting. I generally have my sketchbook open in front of me with some prompts from previous ideas for inspiration. But once I start, the paint often tells my hand where to go next.
How do you keep track of your ideas? (We know you lost a sketchbook at the beach some months back. Did anyone ever return it?)
Yup, like we’ve been talking about, my sketchbooks are more precious to me than any finished works. I get nervous when I don’t have one with me, and that day when I lost one sucked. It still upsets me that I could be so careless. At least it was barely started.
I try to hold onto an idea until I can jot it down. Than I can relax, knowing that if I come back to that scribble, I’ll remember the idea and be able to expand on it later. It’s getting that way with writing, too. I don’t really share my writing with too many people, but if I don’t jot it down, I’m a nervous wreck until it’s written out and cast out of my head.
Can you give us the latest update on ‘I’m Scared, The Movie’?
I’m pleased to say that filming has begun! I just dropped off a starry night sky backdrop that I painted for the set. It’s such a beautiful set with amazing puppets and props by really talented people. Dan Levy, Pete Levin and Robyn Yannoukas really put together an amazing group of people to work on this animated short. I’m keeping everything under wraps, but I just saw the animated animatic that Pete and Jonathan Wayshak put together, and I was more than excited!
What’s your process (and/or philosophy) when you approach the design for a product? What’s been one of your favorite products to design with your art?
It’s different with everything. I’m working on a speaker design, for instance, and it’s a very different process than this teacup. For a lot of things, I try to find an existing work to license that fits the product. But with the teacup, I created something new. I was really excited to paint something for the teacup that hinted at my previous work which has included teacups.
In “The Nature of Nurture,” I introduced the Strawberry Octopus (or “Strawctopus”) into my world. He is sitting in a large teacup in the painting, and I wanted to design something which hinted back at that but was also its own thing.
It’s funny: when I need a design for an upcoming product/project, I tend to forget I’ve got a bunch of finished work on file from gallery shows; I always want to design something new. Good thing my wife manages my schedule and helps arrange my time! I generally won’t take on a project if it doesn’t fit in the realm of the work I’ve created. I don’t look at these images as illustrations for a project, rather just a piece of art that suits the product but is also a snapshot of something that would exist in “The Outside.”
What artistic tool(s) could you never live without?
I can’t possibly pick one, so here’s a pic of the tools I use on a very regular basis. But if I was forced to have only one: ballpoint pen and sketchbook. I might go back on that later, but at this moment, it’s very satisfying to fill in a sketchbook—no matter how messy it may be to everyone else.
Technically, that’s two tools, but we hope it never comes to that! What music is currently playing on your iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, cassette tape ghetto blaster, etc.?
Burl Ives, right now anyways. Looking at my playlist panel on Spotify, here’s the rundown: Wes Anderson Movie Music, Joyce Manor, The Dead Ships, Phil Harris, Cloud Nothings, Modern Baseball, Bernard Cribbins, Circa Survive, The Mellomen, Cliff Edwards, Vintage Children’s Classics, Descendents, Jawbreaker and the soundtrack to A Mighty Wind. There’s a mixed up mind for you.
Specific books from your youth played a big role in inspiring you as an artist. Read any good books lately?
Who’s got time to read?! I listen to audio books while I work, though, and I just finished (and really enjoyed) Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard book. I listen to a lot of C.S. Lewis as well. He had a great mind, and I respect him a lot.
As a lifelong Californian, is there anywhere else in the world you’d uproot for? Or, give us a Southern California Board of Tourism pitch for staying put…?
I probably could live in a bunch of different places, but I really love the South Bay just south of Los Angeles in California though. Five minutes from my house, I can see dolphins almost daily. Watching the pelicans hover in a line above the crashing waves is like a glimpse into the past. I need to and would love to travel more, but I love this place.
After talking to you, people often make a point of saying how nice you are. We, of course, agree. But in a sentence, tell us something absolutely rotten about yourself in a fruitless attempt to debunk your nice-guy image.
I am dreadfully and painfully sarcastic, and I also hate kittens.
Nice-guy image remains intact, and no one will believe you about the kittens. What’s coming up next for Craola?
More paintings, books, exhibitions, shows and murals, an animated short movie release and a secret project I can’t talk about yet. I want to keep exploring this world that’s unfolding in my head. It’s the kind of place you can escape to, and perhaps you might get lost in it if you aren’t careful. Hopefully I don’t go insane along the way!