Matthew Innis is the artist responsible for the highly successful "Underpaintings" blog, but in all likelihood you probably already knew this, seeing as how half our traffic comes directly from his site. We thought if we interviewed him we might learn something about running a successful blog.
1) If you were stranded on an island with five other people with no food for weeks, how would you bring up the idea of resorting to cannibalism? Would you kinda joke about it to gauge people reactions then go from there, or take one or two people aside and go after the tubby guy before they knew what was going on?
I am a vegetarian, so if I said in passing, “Gee, Bob looks delicious,” I think it would ring everyone else’s alarm bells. Cannibalism would hopefully be the option of last resort, and aside from the moral issues which might get in the way of my eating my fellow islanders, as a vegetarian, I’m not overly fond of the taste of meat. So my focus on the island would not be, “which person do I eat first,” but “how do I make sure I’m the guy who gets eaten last.” To make the others seem more tasty to each other, I would give them all nicknames that would make them sound like food; names like “T-Bone,” “Chicken Leg,” or “Entrée.” I would also start exercising like crazy, not just so I would be harder to take down, but because the exercise B.O. would make less appetizing.
2) How many hobbits could you beat in a street fight before being overwhelmed by their sheer numbers? What would the number be if you had a lightsaber?
This is similar to a question I have pondered for years. Since reading The Fellowship of the Ring in fifth grade, I’ve often imagined getting into a bar fight with a bunch of hobbits while inside the Inn of the Prancing Pony. I think I know how that would play out. But a street fight, that would be totally different.
There are many variables that could affect my answer. For example, what kind of hobbits are these? Are they Harfoots, Stoors, or Fallohides? What is the environment like? Is it a paved street or cobblestone? Is it clean, or is there debris? How close are we to one of the seven daily meals hobbits eat? Are any of them smoking pipeweed? Have they been eating mushrooms? Is any one of them wearing The One Ring?
Hobbits are generally peaceful, but pretty tough. If I could get my back to a wall so no hobbits could sneak up on me (they move rather stealthily), if there wasn’t anything on the ground that could be used as a projectile against me (they have good aim), if none of them were invisible, and it was almost one of their seven mealtimes (they must be hypoglycemic), I think I could take down eight. (I have three kids, so from the experience I have beating them up, I think that I could take down the first three hobbits without breaking a sweat).
With a light saber, I could take them all. ALL. I mean, what chance would they have against someone wielding the Force? It would be like Anakin Skywalker at a Jedi nursery school.
3) If you had a time machine, would you go back and kill Hitler, knowing full well that the most awesome mini-series "Band of Brothers" would never be made as a result? This also goes for pretty much every awesome video game AND the Indiana Jones series.
“Yes, I would go back and kill Hitler,” or at least, that would be my first reaction to this question. I would do this so I could save the many victims of World War II who suffered and/or died as a direct result of the events that that man set in motion. However, this might create a time-space paradox by which not only “Band of Brothers” would no longer exist, but I might not either.
My mother was born in 1932 in Eindhoven, a town near the Belgian border in the Netherlands. If you ever saw the movie or read the book “A Bridge Too Far,” you may have heard of it. She grew up during WWII, and I remember the stories she told my sisters and me about the bullet hole in the ceiling from when a Nazi soldier shot at my grandfather when he was seen standing too close to the window after “lights out;” how her best friend across the street was killed when parts of a British plane that had been shot down landed on the girl’s house; the day her half-naked grandmother embarrassed and delayed a group of Nazi soldiers, allowing the Jewish family hiding in the attic to escape across the rooftops; the day her family ate their pet cat because food was so scarce; how the fear and stress of the War caused a large portion of her hair to fall out at age 8, and how it never grew back; and the day she met her first American, a soldier who heroically saved her by grabbing her and diving into a well during a bombing raid. There were many stories, more than she ever shared with me, but it is without doubt those events shaped her life, and thereby mine.
Of course, quantum theory would provide for time travel without paradoxes, so going back to kill Hitler would more likely result in a parallel universe. In my original universe, Hollywood would still have “Band of Brothers,” Indiana Jones, and the History Channel.
4) If you were immortal, where would you see your art career 400 years from now?
In 400 years, I will be the last living painter - There can be only one. This is the very reason why I have a mirror next to my easel, instead of behind me, and why I use a katana as a mahl stick. I’m also a slow painter, so in 400 years, I’m hoping the painting currently on my easel would finally be finished.
In many ways, this question makes me think of the lottery question, “If you won the jackpot, what would you do differently?” Nothing would change for me, I’d just be doing more of what I love to do. I imagine by then I would be challenging myself to larger canvases, with complex subjects and compositions, and that I would still be trying, without success, to be more painterly.
5) We all know you have an impressive collection of feral cats, have you ever considered giving them away as prizes for your contests on Underpaintings?
Yes. Unfortunately, the farthest any package has it made it is only one neighborhood away before the mewling alerted the mail-lady to my scheme, and she returned the cat to me. I am currently working on feline hypnosis in order to put the cats into a deep sleep before placing them inside the boxes. So far, all that happens, though, is that I fall asleep, and I wake up to find the pantry depleted of marshmallows.
BTW - If anyone wants to try painting using cat whiskers, I have a huge supply.
6) Why did you decide to start what is one of the most successful art blogs on the internet? How has this affected your artwork?
In the words of Trey Parker, “Blame Canada.”
Allow me to make a short story, long . . .
I consider myself largely a self-taught artist . . . and I have the college degree to prove it. When I was in school, there was not an emphasis on technique and execution; the main goal, it seems, was to teach “concept.” And other than a few tempera paintings when I was in elementary school, I had not even picked up a brush until college, and I had not tried painting in oils until I was a senior. I was really behind the eight ball - I was getting a late start, and I had no one teaching me the basics of the activity I ostensibly wanted to do. To make up for the lack of training, I read a lot. I have a huge collection of art books, and it all started in college.
After graduating, I was able to get some illustration jobs, and basically started to teach myself to paint while on-the-job. I ended up doing a variety of commercial art jobs, from creating game art and book covers, to making prototype costumes for toys, sculpting action figures, and working in an animation studio. After several years, living on debt got old, and I quit art cold turkey, and went out looking for one of those J-O-Bs that offers health coverage, a retirement plan, and a steady paycheck.
I found one. It was awful. But I ended up with a savings account (my wife and I did not have kids back then), and I just couldn’t seem to forget about art, so maybe I could make that awful job slightly better if I knew it was paying for me to pursue art as a hobby.
Being self-taught, I was never really confident in what I could do, or in what I knew. So I made a short list of artists with whom I wished to study, and started taking classes and workshops with those people. My top five at the time were Marvin Mattelson, whom I had wanted to study with since I saw the work his students had been doing back in my college days, Jeremy Lipking, whose inspiring work I had just seen in American Artist Magazine, Tony Ryder, whose portraits blew me away, Juan Martinez, whose beautiful drawings I had seen in a show in New York City, and Michael John Angel, whose students were creating some of the most brilliant, drama-filled still lifes I had ever seen. I have been able to study directly with four of them - Angel is the only one of those five with whom I have yet to study - and I appreciate all that I learned from each of them.
For class with Juan, I traveled up to Canada. It was a great workshop, and I met some extremely talented people while I was visiting. Among them were Will Nathans, an American who had also studied with Mattelson, Kate Stone (I wonder whatever became of her), and Canadian Kristy Gordon, a Ren & Stimpy alumnus turned fine artist. Kristy was doing an awesome portrait of Kate, and I stopped by her easel to make a comment, and she started asking me questions, and like a typical out-and-about American with poor etiquette, I started giving her suggestions, and talking about art history. Kristy seemed interested in what I had to say, which I found shocking, because, after all, I was just a guy who read a lot of art books, and didn’t every artist do that?
Kristy and I kept up communications, and a while later, she wrote to tell me she had started a blog. I commented on some of her posts, and she asked me some more questions, and then she suggested I do a blog too. Up until Kristy’s blog, the only other art blog I had seen was James Gurney’s, and he’s brilliant, and I didn’t see what I could contribute to the blogosphere after seeing what he was doing. But Kristy insisted I knew a lot about art, so I figured, what the heck, I’d give it a try.
To my surprise, other people found what I had to say interesting too.
I didn’t know at first if anyone was going to read my posts, but I decided to keep plugging away at it. I decided I wouldn’t be someone who could help another artist finish a great painting the way Gurney might, but instead I could be someone who provided some knowledge and ideas that could help someone start a painting - an under-painting, you might say. I wanted to provide the kind of knowledge I wished I had been taught back when I was in college; I think every student deserves at least that much.
The blog has helped me a lot. For one thing, I’ve found out I’m a pretty good researcher (I think that is more accurate than saying I’m knowledgeable). And I’ve also learned that the adage, “To teach is to learn twice,” is very true. What I write about reinforces within me the techniques and lessons I’ve gathered over the years, and that helps me during the juggling act of painting, when there are so many different things to remember simultaneously.
The biggest impact on my art from all of this - the teachers, the blog, the research, and the support of the readers - has been a greater confidence in my own work. I feel that I was given permission to do the things in art that I had wanted to do but was discouraged from doing when I was younger (e.g. using the color black, working representationally, using my tongue to lick the lead white off my brushes, etc.). With that confidence, art has stopped being a hobby again, and because of the people with whom I’ve studied, and the notes I’ve made through the blog, when I mess up a painting (and I invariably do), I have some tried and true lessons to fall back on to see where I went wrong.
7) How would you define art using only 2 letters as your answer (you can have one number too if needed)?
That’s tough. If I could use two numbers, it would be easy, but just two letters? Hmmmm... I think I will go with “q” and “i.” “Qi” is the Chinese word which refers to life force. It is vital, and encompasses the soul. And the inverse of “q-i” is “i-q,” which is fitting, because the majority of artists I know are possessed of high intellect. (I could have gone with the Japanese counterpart to Qi, which is “Ki,” but the inverse of of that would be “ik,” which just didn’t seem as fancy).
(I can't believe he came up with an answer for that last question that didn't involve "fu")