Interview with Daniel Fishel About Study, Work and his Editorial Illustrations

Posted at 7 pm on February 27, 2013 by

Posted in: Ink Illustration, Pens and Markers

Daniel Fishel’s portfolio is full of interesting editorial illustration in inky textures. We like that the images he makes are driven by ideas but also the gritty strokes of the brush and his hand-drawn lettering. Other work on his site is described as ‘limited colour’.

Less texture is used and the illustrations are restricted to just a few choice colours, making simpler, more graphic images.

Daniel is based in Queens, New York, where he is studio partner to previously AOTM featured artist, John F. Malta. He did his BFA in Illustration at the University of the Arts and his MFA in Illustration as a Visual Essay from School of Visual Arts. We asked Daniel a few questions about his work and how events and situations like these have influenced him.

Please tell us about yourself and how you became an illustrator.

I grew up most of my life in a small town south of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. After a punk rock band I was in broke up, I figured that I would either start another band or give college a try.

At the time I was thinking about becoming a psychology major and applying to local colleges but decided that going to a regular college with a two-foot mohawk wouldn’t be ideal. So, I chose to go to art school. The choice was purely out of the idea that I did well drawing my bands posters and record covers that it seemed like the right choice.

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So, when I got to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, I was going through foundation year and exploring the various majors at the school.

I thought I would be a painting and drawing major but after walking onto the floor and seeing nothing but throw back paintings of abstract expressionism or photorealistic large pencil drawings of the artists’ friends with 40 oz’s duct taped to their hands, I knew being a fine arts major wasn’t for me. I almost became a graphic design major, but the entire department was super swiss base. It just didn’t really feel right to me and my naïve thoughts of what graphic design could be. So when I got onto the illustration floor, it felt more like a solid fit.

The projects revolved around things that I was familiar with but never knew existed as a thing you did and made money from. At the time I studied at the University of the Arts, most of the professors teaching there worked primarily as narrative illustrators. I wanted to push myself to be more of a conceptual illustrator and they helped as much as they could to reach those goals.

Ultimately, after graduating from undergrad, I moved on to study at School of Visual Arts MFA Illustration as a visual essay program. While studying at SVA, I slowly started receiving work from various publications, but it wasn’t until close to graduating when I was getting steady work. I currently share a space with an illustrator I was classmates with named John Malta. He is inspiring to me to try to work harder and make better work.

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How would you describe the work you usually do?

I like to make the joke that I draw sad hipsters doing things, but that’s not entirely true. When I am hired for an assignment it usually is about some kind of tension. Tension between people, objects or an internal tension. My personal work deals with these same themes but it usually revolves around something going on in my life.

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It’s interesting that your portfolio is subdivided into ‘Painted’, ‘Limited Colour’ and typographical work. Was that decision based on feedback from clients or another reason?

I mostly do this to have a clearer conversation with the people I work with. It’s easier to talk about a body of work than several titles of individual pieces of art work on a page. Also there is a small difference in feeling between the limited color work and painted work which is why I separated the two.

One is super textured and one is flat with very little texture applied. The work with type section is there to show I can draw lettering on my stuff as well. I think I would only move beyond this structure a little bit if I had projects that were more in depth with multiple images. For now, as most of my work is editorial illustration it makes sense to make the divides the way I do.

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You have a good amount of experience as an educator. What would you say is one of the most frequent questions asked by students and your response?

I wouldn’t go as far as calling myself an educator, but I’ve been super lucky these past two or three years to be asked to talk at various art schools and universities.

The one question I get asked a lot is about the benefits of graduate school. I mean, of all the the more interesting things to ask me about process, influence, and business, they want to know more about the illustration as a visual essay program at School of Visual Arts.

All in all it was the best two years of my life. I’d do it all over again if I had to, and only recommend it if the individual felt they needed an extra two years to figure themselves out.

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What is something you find students don’t think about but should?

A few things. 

  • Make what you want, how you want it. Then find a place for it. Whether it’s on a gallery wall, an iPhone game, a mural or in a magazine, those decisions come after you figure out what you want to draw and what you want to say with the drawing. Thinking about the marketability of an illustration before you’re about to create it will stunt you from making the best most honest work you can create.

  • Keeping a sketch book is important. But, if all your doing is ‘sketching’ and not developing final artwork along with keeping a sketch book, then all you’re doing is preparing for nothing. Sketchbooks are great testing grounds to fail and succeed without consequence, but pushing pieces to final will develop how you can make images the way you want them too. Better to make 5 failed finals one week than make half a sketchbook with half finished drawings. There is more to learn there I think.

  • Get off the computer and go to a museum/gallery, library/book store, a concert, to the beach, see a movie, see friends, a comedy club, or even try out that new restaurant down the street. I assure you, that will be more inspiring than seeking inspiration from your tumblr feed.

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Anything coming up this year that you’d like to share?

I am doing my second and last ‘First Four Years’ talk I am moderating at the Society of Illustrators in New York City on April 27th, 2013. The first talk at SOI dealt with illustrators who all got their start doing editorial illustration and then branched out to do other things.

This talk is more focused on illustrators who started their careers doing other things that aren’t editorial illustration. It’s going to be a really interesting talk. Other than that, I am just working on various short-term and long-term projects while I wait for warmer weather to skateboard in. 

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© Daniel Fishel, 2013