Mike Bear

Where did you grow up and when did you decide to become an artist?
I grew up in Stanwood, Washington USA. I've always enjoyed drawing and illustrating, I think the real turning point was when I was 12 I really wanted to be a paleontologist and I was lucky that my parents took me to the University of Washington's Natural History Museum to meet and talk to real life paleontologists. I asked one if he gets to draw dinosaurs for his job and he told me that's what professional artists do. And I realized I didn't want to actually dig up dinosaurs, I just wanted to draw them.

Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? How did you develop your skills?
I went to the Savannah College of Art and Design so I could learn to draw comic books. By my senior year I started getting very interested in painting and wasn't sure if I wanted to pursue a career in comics, but I also didn't know what else I could do since my portfolio was mostly comic book art. My first job after college was drawing the GI Joe: America's Elite comic for Devil's Due Publishing. It was bootcamp for drawing, but I really wanted to continue learning about color and design and I would take figure painting classes and do personal work to continue to learn.

Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
I was fortunate to have a very supportive art teacher in high school. Her name is Gail Merrick. She convinced me and my parents that I could make a career out of art. I was a pretty hard worker in my classes which helped me get some scholarships, that also gave my parents some confidence in me to attend an art college. I didn't really know what else I could do for money besides construction work.

What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
Marvel comic books were a huge influence on me. I could see the artist's hand in the work and I knew they could make a living doing it. My art teacher introduced me to Norman Rockwell and other classic American illustrators. It wasn't until art college that I learned about concept art and visual development work for animation that I realized there were other paths. My grandmother was also a painter and I think growing up with her paintings in the house affected me deeply. 

Did you have a favourite subject to draw when you were a child and do you still have one today? If you do, what makes it so special?
I initially loved drawing dinosaurs, then serious comic book characters, and finally, I love learning how to design characters that are funny and environments that are aesthetically pleasing. Designing gags is probably my favorite thing, mini stories through a single illustration. I feel like it's a never ending problem, but at the same time, I can feel some sort of progress as I keep working.  

From the initial client idea to the final work: what goes through your mind when you are designing and what is the method you use when starting a project? Could you describe it?
Every client is different, as well as the project. It's common for a client to just want one aspect of my work, for example, color design or just polished illustration. Every project starts with doodles in my sketchbook. Then it's onto photoshop to polish it up and make it presentable. My initial thought is usually stress about what the client wants. Worrying how the close I'll be to giving them want they want. Sometimes things go smoothly, and sometimes there can be several rounds of feedback. It's important to ask a lot of questions and be clear to the client about your process and theirs to make things go smoothly.

What is your process in colouring your art and what type of tools and media do you use?
For my sketchbook I use a Zebra pen, col-erase pencils, and Tombow markers. And for final work, Photoshop with a lot of brushes I've collected over the years.

What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
The easiest part of creation is when I have no assignment, no client, and it's just me following some whim. Usually, it's an idea that I sketched while hanging out with friends. The hardest part is when I second guess myself about what a client might want. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it often leads to the work really feeling like work. 

What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work/collaborate with?
I try to work on personal illustrations in the morning and late at night. During the day I work at Marvel Animation Studio as a background painter with some very talented and fun people. It's a great situation for me, getting to collaborate with people during the day, meeting deadlines, painting pretty things. Then come home and work on whatever I want.

What are some of the things you have learned from other artists who you have worked with or whose work you have seen?
Oh man, too many to count. Whether it's little photoshop tricks or sharing brushes, or even just chatting about the last movie we saw. The most important things I've learned are how to be patient and to collaborate with everyone I work with. For a few years I was working in flash and basically learning how to animate on the job and it was pretty frustrating at times. But I had some great coworkers who taught me to just ask questions when you get frustrated. It's ok to ask for help.

Is there something that you have designed that you are most proud of?
One of things that was the most exciting to me is something that no one will ever see or play. At my first video game job at Rockstar games, I designed several characters that were then modeled and rigged by some extremely talented character artists. And when they were put into the game that was in progress, it was blowing my mind that I could run around the game world and see my characters walking around. I was very bummed when the game got shelved.

What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
I drew 14 issues of GI Joe: America's Elite, then did concept design for Max Payne 3, and for the past few years I worked on a Plants vs Zombies game, starting on the prototype team. Currently, I'm at Marvel working on a new cartoon that should be out next year, but I can't say what it is just yet. Oh and I designed characters for a Christmas commercial for Flaunt Animation last year.

What is your longterm career goal and what would your dream project be?
Oh boy, after pursuing my dream of drawing comic books and learning that it wasn't what I imagined it to be. I've tried not to have any serious dream goals, but I definitely have a goal of learning how to tell stories with my work that will make people laugh and feel some good feelings. That being said, I would still love to work at Disney Feature Animation! There are so many brilliant people in the arts, I think I'd be happy as long as I can keep learning from some of them about how to make good pictures that people like. 

Working for a company or freelancing: what suits you best? And why?
I like both, if that's a possible answer. Sometimes working for a company can be creatively stifling so it's nice to work for clients who really want what you have to offer. There are benefits to both, but I think if you can figure out a good balance then you've nailed it.

What advise would you give to an artist who is dealing with an art-block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
Sometimes it's good to step away from making art and get out in the world, whether it be traveling or camping or just having some beers with your friends. I think inspiration comes in waves too, but you can also jump start yourself by signing up for a class, visiting a museum, sketching with your friends, and things like that. 

Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, there are lots of choices. When you’re young, sometimes you know only one thing: you love to draw. What should a young artist take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path?
That's a good question. And I've felt for a long time or what felt like a long time, that I didn't know what kind of artist I wanted to be. Especially, right out of school. One of the best pieces of advice I received was from an illustrator named Nathan Fox. We were sitting at tables next to each other at a comic convention and I asked him how he developed his distinct style. He told me that it was just by "doing the work". And that hit home, and has shown itself to be true. Sometimes an artist has to try many types of work to know what they want, that's certainly the case for me. As I worked different art jobs I learned what I liked and what I didn't like. Those things have really formed me and my taste as well as just by growing up you are sort of revealed to yourself. What motivates you, what doesn't, etc. 

Many art teachers and schools suggest to their students that a commercial artist should always work in one consistent style if they wish to have a healthy career. In your own experience, do you believe this to be true?
I think that may be true if you are pursuing a career in editorial illustration work but a lot of commercial work demands that an artist be flexible, since one day you could be working on Max Payne and the next a cute reindeer commercial that looks like Rankin-Bass. It also helps to have a curiosity about style that gets you to experiment, it's like learning different languages. The more you can speak the more you can travel around with ease. Ideally, you could learn one language really well, and one that many people speak/understand, so you could be more commercially viable. But at the same time it's important to develop a personal tone and taste, but an artist shouldn't put too much pressure on themselves, that can be counter productive. 

If you had to recommend only one art book (a comic book, graphic novel, children book, ''how to'' book) to a fellow artist, what would it be and why?
Oof, that's a tough one. I definitely go through phases. I think you can't go wrong with a good Norman Rockwell art book. Beautiful illustrations that serve a very well designed story. Cheesy, appealing, and expertly executed. 

What’s your point of view about the industry today: what are the expectation for someone who wants to make a living with an artistic career?
I'm not sure I can comment on any industry as a whole, but the only thing I can say is that if you want to make things for someone else, you often don't get a lot of say for what that is. If you want to make your own stories and have a dream job, you need to just do it yourself and maybe one day you can make a living from that. The career path of a lot of art jobs can lead to management where you won't be making art anymore (lots of meetings and keeping the project moving), and that worries me a bit. I'm not ready to lay down the digital brush any time soon.

Who are the artists who inspire you the most today and what are some of your favourite designs out there?
I'll try to keep this list concise, Cory Loftis, Robin Davey, Paul Felix, Invisible Creature, Tadahiro Useugi, Miyazaki, Recently Joe Pitt and Mackenzie Schubert.

We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
I wish there were feature hand drawn animation projects developed in the USA but there does seem to be a healthy industry for 2D animation in television, although much of it is outsourced. But it's still great that the shows are designed and produced in LA. 

Social networks, crowd funding websites, print on demand online service, you name it. New media on the internet are connecting the artists directly with their fans like never before. In your opinion, how is this affecting the industry and what are the pros and cons?
I think all of these tools are very helpful for artists. Although, I think artists can fall into the pit of pursuing likes, I'm guilty of this, but it's great to have immediate feedback from an audience. It's definitely a jungle though, there are so many distractions. 

Finally, Where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
I have a website ( bearmantooth.com ), a Tumblr ( bearmantooth.tumblr.com ), an Instagram ( instagram.com/bearmantooth ), and a Twitter ( twitter.com/bearmantooth ). Also, my email is ( mikebear1@gmail.com ). If anyone is interested in prints, just shoot me an email and let me know what you want and I'll ship it off to you. And if your looking for a freelance designer, I am available!

Thank you Mike :)