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Comics artist Paul Madonna

Paul Madonna talks about an artist's path through an art work, an internship at Mad Magazine, and writing and drawing every day...

READERSVOICE.COM: Can you explain what ink-wash is and how you add it to your pictures? What do you like about this effect rather than, say, cross-hatching or blocks of black?

PAUL MADONNA: When I graduated college I thought I had to know what to call myself so I chose ‘cartoonist,’ though artist and writer has always felt more comfortable.

Above, when I mentioned rules of a piece, I think that each work, or each body of work, comes together for the creator, and subsequently the viewer, because of a path created in the work. That path is defined by the tools, marks, subject matter, approach and execution of a piece—and more, of course. These are the things the creator decides both consciously and unconsciously. For me, it’s always been a playing with materials and concepts, a searching, combining elements unconsciously and becoming aware through those experiments, then purposefully making choices based on outcome.

That’s the long and abstract answer to why I currently use ink wash, which is simply india ink and water. I came to wash, and chose it as my current medium, because it’s immediate, fluid, and rich. Cross hatching or blocks of black are just other methods, and often not chosen but, rather, used as the expected tools of comics.

It’s these sort of assumptions that limit a work. Any art is about learning to express ideas through mediums, and in order to do that you have to experiment.

There’s been an anti-craft movement for a while now and I think it’s led to an imbalance in expression. Personally, it’s not enough to express myself, I want to connect with people as well.

All that said, I’ve found myself appearing to be more of a formalist than I ever expected. My imagery is all drawn from life these days, and my aim, visually, is toward representation rather than any abstraction. This came out of a conceptual choice to simultaneously pursue the nature of imagery and words, and the combination of the two together.

With drawing I focus on seeing and recording, on using my selected tools representationally. While with writing I tell stories or record thoughts. I think it’s in the combination of the two that my application of abstraction shows. That recipe is my current set of rules.

RV: Would you spend about one day a week walking the streets of San Francisco doing sketches and taking photos, or more or less days on average?

PM: I’m either drawing or writing or both every day. Both can be consuming, though, and often when I’m focused on one, the other is in the back seat or on break. Switching between the mediums is switching thought processes and disciplines, and allows a break from the other without having to break from the studio.

Work needs to breathe, needs to be out of my sight and thoughts in order for me to know what to do next. I often check in on pieces, look or read, make a note, then put it away again. It’s that first look response I want, the first impression that can help me see into the heart of a piece.

And I can only get that by having time away from it. And more than working with multiple disciplines, it’s why I work on anywhere from three to 10 pieces at once, at all times.

RV: Do you have some destination in mind when you go out?

PM: Sometimes. Often I just go for a walk because it’s a beautiful day, and see what strikes me.

RV: When you were traveling, promoting All Over Coffee, your book published by City Lights in April 2007, did you do a lot of sketches on the way with a view to doing drawings, or was it too busy? What places did you go?

PM: I actually didn’t travel that much for the book to answer that. When I travel I do write a lot. I like to draw wherever I am, but I always need a time to get acquainted with a place, before I start choosing sites.

RV: How long did your internship at Mad Magazine go for, and what were the people like there? What did you learn?

PM: I was at Mad full-time for a month. I learned a lot. Too much to say here so I’ll just throw out two big ones.

One, that MAD saw itself as an editorial magazine first. It was where I learned that you write, then draw. Not the other way around. And two, that adults who care about their work, get the work done, and don’t focus on what time it is.

RV: What do you remember about your time at art college?

PM: That I must have been the biggest pain in the ass.

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