I don’t want to brag, but I knew Scott C. back before he was a big deal, the darling of the Internet. And what has that gotten me? Well, knowing a really nice guy, for one. But also this chance to chat about his new – excellent – hardcover collection of his work, Amazing Everything. And if you’ve spent any time on the Internet, you’ve probably seen his adorable watercolor creations, which lovingly embrace pop culture and weirdness – from a lumberjack holding hands with a log, to… Well, lumberjacks doing other stuff.
Scott and I chatted about all that, his connection to the gaming industry, and most importantly, what painting had him stumped:
MTV Geek: Okay Scott, let’s kick it off talking about Amazing Everything… How’d the book come about?
Scott Campbell: Amazing Everything is something I’ve been wanting to do for awhile. I've never collected my paintings into a book before. It is nice to see everything in one place! And in a book that is sort of heavy that I can place on my table or tables. My friend Maurene Goo helped me lay it out and Insight Editions was gracious enough to offer to publish it. I've worked with the editor, Kevin Toyama, on other projects, so it was great working with him again. Actually having someone to help edit my writing was very satisfying. And Jack Black's foreword is like an awesome little poem. He acts as my bouncer for the book, I would say.
Geek: What’s it like seeing your art collected in a hardcover format like this?
SC: It feels splendid to see it all together! Like a family album. There are many memories in this book. Organizing all of the paintings was like laying all of your photos on the floor and trying to pick the best ones for your little album. And then you are proud to show your newly composed album to people whenever they come over for coffee. That is the feeling for me.
Geek: Actually, to take a step back – I’m pretty familiar with your history, but can you talk about your work with Double Fine, and how that’s grown into the career you have now?
SC: I've worked for Double Fine for about 10 years as Art Director and concept artist on games like Psychonauts and Brutal Legend and the soon to be released Once Upon A Monster with Sesame Street. I worked long hours on those games and enjoyed creating those worlds very much.
When I was not working on these games, I would paint for gallery shows and make comics for comic conventions. These activities were to keep myself creating things that were not games. Those first projects took us about 5 years each to make, working on one subject matter for that long can be quite draining. It's all been very fun though and a great learning experience. I love everyone at Double Fine. They are the best gang ever. Super talented and super funny and the leader, Tim Schafer, is such a good bro.
Geek: You have a pretty unique style, as you can see in the book… What’s your process, generally speaking? How has it evolved over time?
SC: It is a very loose style. I've always enjoyed illustration and design from the 50's with their shaky lines and offset colors. I love real interesting lines. I have also grown to love rather muted color palettes like that of Maurice Sendak and Marcel Dzama. The faded colors of olden days illustrations appeal to me, even though they are probably just faded. I like that watercolor paintings can look old timey like that. I also like the texture and airyness you can get with watercolors.
As far as themes go, it's always been appealing for me to hint at certain narratives in my paintings. It makes it interesting for me at least. During the brainstorming stage, I usually just doodle and write all over pieces of copy paper until sweet ideas start to take shape. I am very into collecting reference and I usually just draw things from this reference until ideas form. I scan these little pencil scratches into Photoshop and often times use them as is because I don't want to lose that loose energy. And I don't know if I could recreate some of those weird faces and body poses if they look just right. Some things just make me laugh so much and I enjoy imagining other people perhaps laughing at them as well.
Geek: Do you see yourself taking it anywhere else? 3-D gaming, maybe (though I don’t know how you’d hook that up, not like you have any connections there)?
SC: I’ll always be doing things with games for sure. I love that medium and I like the Double Fine gang so much. But I would also like to do film and live performance. I have these puppets of my characters that this fellow from Henson Studios made for a show at Gallery Nucleus a few years back. I would really like to do some sort of show with these dudes. There is a Mummy, a Knight, and a Caveman. I think they could probably have some amazing adventures and some not so amazing adventures.
Geek: We’ve talked to the creator of Gallery 1988 before, and it seems like there’s this new vanguard of artists responding to pop culture – like you. Why is that, do you think?
SC: I feel like pop culture helps people identify with each other. People are proud of what they are into and what they know. You can team up with other people who enjoy those things. Nostalgia is a very strong thing and can make people feel pretty great. So if you can have your favorite artist's interpretation of that nostalgia, I think you would want that on your wall or on your desk.
Geek: And moreso, it’s responding in a positive way, not a snarky way – which is evidenced by your work. I think Jesse Thorn from Sound of Young America calls it “The New Sincerity.” Why that perspective, for you? What’s important about it?
SC: "The New Sincerity". I have never heard this concept before, but I like it! I must confess that I had to look it up on the Internet to read about it just now. I like that way to describe things though! I think my art would very much fall into that category. Some art can be considered naive and innocent, my paintings certainly have been called that before. But it is real for me.
I like to paint pleasant things because I feel pleasant. I like when other people feel pleasant. They are lighthearted feelings, but they are as important to feel the deeply intense feelings. I like people. They are super weird, people, and they do some weird things. They do some terrible things, but they also eat sandwiches and drip things on their shirts.
Geek: You have a pretty popular series of “Great Showdowns…” How’d the idea for that start? And do you have a favorite one you’ve done there?
SC: The Great Showdowns began as little paintings for the Crazy 4 Cult shows at Gallery 1988. The reaction to them was pretty positive, so I did new ones each year for those shows and eventually just made a website for them, to give me a reason to do them much more often. They are incredibly enjoyable for me to do, from beginning to end.
I like making lists of my favorite movies that I need to do. I like when people suggest new movies I need to do. I like seeing those little important moments grouped together like sweet mix tapes. I enjoy going back and researching these movies and reliving them. We see so many movies in our lifetimes! Some many many times over. So they are like a big collection of DVDs on my shelf. I used to collect DVDs, until I realized I rarely went back and rewatched them. So this is a way I can collect the important parts fro myself.
My favorite Showdown might still be the Ghost showdown. Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore versus the little clay pot dude on the pottery wheel.
Geek: Other than the pop culture, what’s a visual idea you keep returning to? Lumberjacks, maybe?
SC: Lumberjacks just came forth for a show in London. And I don't know why I started doing those guys for a London show because there aren't really any lumberjacks in England. But I do have things that I return to quite often: mummies, knights, Victorian age people, little pudgy animals, zombies, etc. Actually, mummies have a been big thing with me for quite some time now. I think perhaps since I first saw the King Tut exhibit when I was age 6.
Geek: What’s something you never want to tackle again? What was the hardest drawing you’ve done?
SC: The hardest painting i have ever done was the King of Kong DVD cover. It just took forever. It depicts an arcade with about 50 different arcade machines and a long line of people waiting to play King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. I had a lot of fun doing this painting and coming up with all the arcade game names and designing all the people in there, but it just took way too long! I started going a little nuts. I listened to a lot of books on tape at that time. I'd do it again though. I just would figure out ways to simplify it. And maybe use less colors.
Geek: Just to sum up, for someone who DOESN’T know your work, why check out Amazing Everything?
SC: This is a book that contains characters enjoying themselves. There are so many of these little guys that if you set this book on the table, some might start spilling out and start playing tennis on your table, or enjoying their pizza picnic right there while you watch TV.
Amazing Everything is pretty excited to hang out with people. This book loves to sit on tables in front of TVs and do puzzles with people. This book loves playing tennis and having pizza picnics. It is a real blast to hang out with, this book called Amazing Everything.
Amazing Everything, with a foreword by Jack Black, hits bookstores on October 11th, 2011 from Insight Editions.