13 QUESTIONS

JON RENZELLA

 

 

Who are you and where are you from?

 I'm a woodcut, tattoo and comic book artist originally from the US but based in Taichung since 2008.

Can you tell us a little about your work and the reasons behind it?

My woodcuts are simultaneously an exploration of using the binary language of the medium to depict a complex world of forms, space, and texture as well as a meditation on various aspects of the human condition and existence generally. My tattoos are collaborative works with the client, figuring out how to merge my style with their vision. The comics I do for fun, but they have also provided many opportunities for experimentation and focused learning and improvement that carries over to all of my other work.

How do you think your childhood impacted your style?

As a child we moved to a new state every two years, so I spent a lot of time between friends. Aside from my brother, I had comic books to keep me company, and when I wasn't reading them I was drawing my own. My woodcuts follow the comic book process of first penciling then inking the drawings.

Can you tell us a bit about your workspace?

My woodcut studio has an area dedicated to drawing large works, a desk for smaller pieces, and an area for carving. There is a press in the basement, and upstairs there is another studio for tattooing and digital work.

Do you listen to anything while you’re working, and if so, what?

When I'm doing concept work or drawing I always listen to music, and when I'm carving and printing I listen to podcasts.

How do you approach the creative process? (Talk us through how you construct a piece? Do have a concrete idea of what it will look like before you get started? What type of reference do you use?)

I envision my projects as being on a conveyor belt, with the closest thing being the one I'm working on now, and each subsequent project less and less clear as it gets further down the belt. By the time I get to what I'm working on I have had about two years to think about it, and have a fairly good idea of what I'm doing.

I begin each piece with a couple of thumbnail sketches, working out rough composition and spatial relations. I then begin drawing on the wood with pencil, copying the thumbnail in reverse with the help of a mirror (the final print comes out in reverse, like a stamp, so all drawing has to be done backwards). After I get the rough pencil work done, I begin tightening it up, both erasing my previous rough lines and drawing darker and darker with the pencil, finding the correct lines and always checking how it looks in the mirror. Next I switch to markers and pens, inking the final image over the pencils. This is both so I have another opportunity to pick the right lines, and so when I carve I can't smudge the drawing away. After inking I carve the block, removing the white shapes and leaving the black. Once carved, the block can be printed on paper. Some of the prints are then hand painted with watercolor.

When creating feels forced what do you do to get things flowing again?

Luckily I have enough projects ongoing simultaneously that if I don't feel like drawing I can carve, if I don't feel like working on woodcuts I work on comics or tattoo designs. I usually work in three three-hour chunks per day. Typically I start the day doing digital work, the afternoon drawing woodcuts, and the evening carving. This helps keep me from getting burnt out on any one area. If I have a particular deadline the pressure keeps things moving well.

What have been some of the greatest breakthroughs you’ve experienced within your learning as an artist? (Those moments that have opened up whole new creative avenues or that have led to you taking large leaps forward in your development?)

Being offered a tattoo apprenticeship at Diao Yue in Taichung forced me to think about my work in a totally new way. It also was the reason I started working in digital media, because it was easier to modify tattoo designs than traditional media. This led me into doing digital comic art. Other than that, it has been much more incremental improvement, minor epiphanies building upon one another rather than large breakthroughsAny artists (new or old) that have been inspiring you as of late?

My former teacher and master woodcut artist Haig Demarjian has always been an inspiration, same for comic artist George Perez. Jaime Calderon Dibujante is unreal. And I'm always inspired by all the artists and creative people in Taichung.

What do you look for in art of others? What would you hope people look for in your work?

In the art of others, I love seeing decisions that never would have occurred to me to make, an original voice, but the most important thing is passion and drive to make whatever it is that speaks to the artist. I hope my work lets people look for whatever it is they're looking for.

What are some of your favourite places or things in Taiwan?

Orchid Island, random weekend drives with my wife to Nantou, being able to walk around the city after dark without worrying about being mugged/shot, the fact that there are 5 vegan restaurants within one block of my studio.

What’s next?

Working on the second volume of my woodcut graphic novel, continuing to incorporate watercolor into my woodcuts, finishing the final issue of my comic book miniseries 'Journey' for Formosa Comics, and hopefully improving in all areas of my art.

 

Lei Studio