Hasslein Blog: Portrait of an Artist: Pat Carbajal


Hasslein Blog

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Portrait of an Artist: Pat Carbajal

by Rich Handley

The first time I ever saw Pat Carbajal's artwork, I was floored. It was a sketch for the cover of my first book, Timeline of the Planet of the Apes: The Definitive Chronology, and it was simply amazing. Since then, we've asked Pat to create covers and interior illustrations for all of Hasslein Books' projects to date. His artwork has to be seen to be believed—and he's one heck of a nice guy, to boot.

Pat has become an invaluable member of the Hasslein team, creating sketches of each author's headshot for posting on our About page. These proved so popular with our writers, in fact, that we've taken to calling the headshots "Carbajalized," and several have used the sketches as their social-media profile photos.

Recently, I sat down with Pat (electronically, since we're on different continents) to discuss his work and what excites him most as an artist.

HASSLEIN BOOKS: Pat, your ability to recreate a person's likeness is simply uncanny. How do you manage to so perfectly capture the faces of everyone you draw, every single time?

PAT CARBAJAL: Thanks! It's not easy; portraiture is, I think, the most difficult aspect of my work. Every single portrait is a design challenge, but it's what I like to do the most. It's difficult to explain how to capture the likeness of a person; it's more like a feeling—it's almost emotional. I look at every detail of the subject's face, or the photo of the person, but I also close my eyes and use my mind's eye—how I remember the person. Especially the eyes; they're the window to our souls, as they say, and THE most important part of a portrait.

Technically, I see faces as geometrical figures and lines. First, I sketch a rough with the distinguishable features exaggerated, and then I start to tighten the sketch to make it look as realistic as possible. Sometimes, people say about my work, "Wow! It looks like a photograph!" as a compliment, and I know they mean well, and I really appreciate it, but I secretly hate it! It's not my intention to recreate a photo, but what they really mean to say is "It looks alive!" which is what I try to achieve. I stay away from the "photographic hyper-realistic" style in illustration, because I find it stiff. I like stains, splashes of paint and pencil traces within a realistic style.

HASSLEIN: How did you first discover your talent for illustrating? How old were you at the time, and how did you develop your craft over the years?

CARBAJAL: As far as I can remember, I always drew. I guess I started when I was three. Every kid doodles, I think—all kids are artists. Most grow up and move on to other things; I, like every artist, took it to the next level and never stopped, and tried to get better as I grew up, because I enjoyed it tremendously and people seemed to like it and encourage me. Most kids, when asked about what they would like to be when they grow up, say fire-fighter, astronaut, police officer or veterinarian, but I knew perfectly well that I was going to be an artist, come Hell or high water!

Comics and cartoons were a great influence, and I copied from comics and from the TV. I still use TV as reference; it's the best "live" model you could get!

HASSLEIN: Were you always interested in comics—both as a reader and as an illustrator? What are your favorite comic characters to read, and to draw?

CARBAJAL: Comics were my obsession as a kid. I couldn't get enough of them. I particularly loved John Romita's Spiderman and Marshall Rogers' Batman. I remember Garcia Lopez's Superman, too.

HASSLEIN: How large is the comic book industry in Argentina? Is there a lot of work for you there, or do you mostly work with companies outside your country?

CARBAJAL: Sadly, now the industry is quite dead, but it used to be massive—hundreds of titles and plenty of jobs for artists, writers and editors. At one point, the rates in Argentina were higher than in the U.S. The industry imploded in the '90s, though, so when I started to look for work, there were no comic book publishers to go to. Yes, now all my clients are in America, and a few are in Europe, too—both publishers and collectors—which is really cool. People actually want to buy my stuff! Thanks, collectors!

HASSLEIN: Please describe the process by which you create a typical cover painting—those you've done for Hasslein Books' Planet of the Apes and Back to the Future titles, for example. What is involved in producing such a detailed work, from conception to final product?

CARBAJAL: The first Hasslein cover was Timeline of the Planets of the Apes. Our pal Ed Gross suggested me for the cover. The first thing I did was re-watch all the Apes movies for inspiration. Guidelines from the art director are what really get the ball rolling. In this case, Ed wanted Caesar playing chess with the characters from the saga, so I did a sketch, it got approved and I started to work on the final painting for the cover. I really wanted to put Nova on the cover, but there was no room for her, sadly. I liked how Taylor looks on that cover; it's a tiny Charlton Heston portrait, just one inch, but the likeness is there.

For Back in Time and A Matter of Time, the Back to the Future timeline and encyclopedia, the original idea was the DeLorean flying through time with a lot of iconic items from the trilogy flying around. I did about four or five concept sketches but neither worked, less is more, so the lone DeLorean with fire and lightning was the winner.

HASSLEIN: Who or what are your favorite subjects to draw, and why?

CARBAJAL: Sexy girls! Or portraits of people with an interesting face, with character, not necessarily beautiful or pretty people. People like Bette Davis, Ian McKellen, Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Peter Cushing, Boris Karloff, Peter Falk, Jackie Cooper, Danny John-Jules—faces that tell a story. I did a portrait of Robert Davi as Sanchez from the 007 film License to Kill; now there's a guy with an interesting face, and Davi liked it so much he used it as the promotional art for his show in L.A. I was thrilled!

But mostly, sexy girls.

HASSLEIN: What sort of reference materials do you typically use? Is your house a massive museum of art resources at this point?

CARBAJAL: Yes, I have so many art books, magazines and comics that when I need something, I don't know where to start! For reference, I usually use photographs, either existing stills or I take them myself. For instance, on the Planet of the Apes timeline cover, that's me as Caesar with Roddy McDowell's face playing chess. And TV as well—I pause the DVD and use a pose or expression from the characters onscreen.

I have this pet peeve with reference photos, particularly with movie-related art. Fans can always identify the photo that the artist used for reference, so now I use one pic for the face, come up with an original pose for the body or use a completely different still to depict lightning and shadows, and then I use a frame from a movie—anything but copying from an actual photo.

One example: For the Strickland entry in the BTTF encyclopedia, I used a close-up of actor James Tolkan from the movie Top Gun and the body from a single frame in the first BTTF. Tolkan has no frontal close-ups in the BTTF trilogy!

HASSLEIN: You've been creating a number of illustrations for Alan J. Porter's upcoming JamesBond lexicon, which you've expressed great enthusiasm for. What is it about James Bond's characters and technology that you find so intriguing, from an artist's perspective?

CARBAJAL: I remember seeing, for the first time, a mammoth billboard of this guy in a dinner jacket with a gun, a girl with a lot of arms, a small jet, sexy girls fighting, and explosions, and I asked my folks "What is that?!" "It's the new James Bond movie. Let's go see it," they said, and I was hooked. That was it for me—Bond and comics. I went home and started to draw 007, and I've been drawing Bond ever since.

What I find intriguing, as an artist, about the world of Bond is the same thing as everybody else: the perfect cocktail of adventure, action, fantastic gadgets and cool villains. And that's what I love to illustrate. And sexy girls!

HASSLEIN: In addition, you recently illustrated Paul Giachetti's Red Dwarf lexicon, which required you to immerse yourself in a franchise with which you were previously unfamiliar. What do you think of the show, now that you've watched it in its entirety—are you a fan?

CARBAJAL: Oh, yeah, Red Dwarf. I loved it—definitively a fan. It was a challenge, because I was completely in the dark about the show. I didn't know it even existed! Right before starting work on Total Immersion, the RD encyclopedia, I caught a couple of the final season episodes during a trip to England, but I didn't really know what the show was about until I got the DVDs and saw the complete series. One of my favorite portraits is in that encyclopedia: Danny John-Jules as Cat. I think it's one of the best things I did; maybe it's because Cat is sooo cool!

HASSLEIN: Finally, please tell our readers what other projects you are currently working on, and what you have lined up for the near future.

CARBAJAL: Right now, I'm working on two graphic novels for Checkmate Comics. One of them is called Bud Colbert, Time Travelling Janitor, a satirical sci-fi adventure, and I'm working on new Oz books based on the works of L. Frank Baum. I'm also designing t-shirts for Rotten Cotton, which means that people are actually wearing my art.

Hopefully, sexy girls!

HASSLEIN: Where can fans see your work?

CARBAJAL: At my blog and my Facebook profile.

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