Interview with Artist Cory Skerry

Editor’s Note: The interviewee for this week’s interview deliberating lowercases the first person pronoun as a way to decolonize English; by this perspective, i is not more important than the other English pronouns she, you, or we.

Who are some artists and/or illustrators who have influenced your work? How and why?

I've been a devoted fan of Sophie Campbell's work since i first saw her sketches for Wet Moon on her DeviantArt page in 2002 or 2003. When i emailed her out of the blue to ask about the subtle shading effects in her work, she kindly explained ink washes to me—and in the days before YouTube had a tutorial for every art supply imaginable, i couldn't have learned without her help. Since i have no formal art school training, it was also lucky for me to come across Becky Cloonan, whose incorporation of graphic design into her illustrations and book covers helped me break through some preconceived notions about what illustrations are. Lenka Simeckova's bizarre, mischievously creepy subject matter attracted me, but once she had my rapt attention, i was equally ensnared by her palette, lines, and composition.

Recently, i've found my process and confidence impacted by gazerlies. They are constantly making art with whatever is available, including items they fetch from the trash. This fearless, mad-science approach has inspired me to stomp my way through experiments instead of sticking to my comfort zones.

What media do you use? Do you think any media are better, or can shape, how speculative elements are depicted in a work?

I use nearly everything, but most of my commercial speculative work is done in ink washes (thanks, Ms. Campbell!), digitally in Photoshop, or a combination thereof. I also have a deep love for Copic markers, watercolor, and aerosol.

I work at an art supply shop on the weekends, and with that plethora of specialized product knowledge kicking around in my skull, it is my professional opinion that all media is best for speculative elements.

How has the field been changing in the past ten years?

I've noticed free stock photos taking the place of magazine illustrations and book covers. While i understand it's expensive to commission illustrations, i also wish more publishers understood there are inexpensive (or even free) ways to showcase more relevant art. As an ex-graphic designer i'm supportive of thoughtfully selected stock, but i'm never going to like a bland landscape presented as an “illustration.” #sorrynotsorry!

What i love, though, is that publishers have finally begun shedding the lie that minority representation undermines sales. I thought that was garbage when i first heard it from some big shots in 2007, and once i realized that was a prevalent attitude among publishers, i began to notice that “whitewashing” everywhere. By 2020, i'm happy to say it's vanishing—i see PoC and queer visual content from legit publishers all the time.

What have been some challenges for you as a working artist? What have been some of your triumphs and joys?

Managing my time well is challenging as a freelancer—because i work from home, sometimes there are interruptions or distractions that i'd never get in an office (some crows just begged for seeds outside and i, a complete sucker, acquiesced). I have a lot of those work hours to manage: i am an illustrator, but i'm also on the submissions staff for novellas, i'm a freelance fiction editor, and i sell art supplies. I stayed home from the art supply shop to finish some illustrations today, in fact. (Sorry, Alan!)

Fortunately, i love all of my jobs, and spending 100% of my time doing things i enjoy is the ultimate triumph.

What is some advice you could pass along to people just starting out in the field? How can we work to support each other?

Since i don't have a lot of time for mentoring, sharing resources is the strongest way i can pay it forward. I think every illustrator interested in working with corporate clients should check out Dear Art Director. The fantasy art blog Muddy Colors has helped me on many occasions (a post on fitness completely changed how i structure my day as a freelancer). I wish i would have known about Schoolism as soon as it started, because it offers excellent, self-directed online art courses for far less than college or art school. WetCanvas is a fantastic forum for questions about traditional supplies!

Most of all, i think you can support other artists by obstinately being yourself. Each moment in my life that someone really influenced me as an artist, it was because they wallowed in what they loved until it became the foundation for their successes.