Bobby Baxter

Where did you grow up? At what age did you start thinking about pursuing an artistic career?
I grew up in an outback mining town called Kalgoorlie, in Western Australia. Being a kid in the late 80s and through the 90s was awesome! We had amazing cartoons, great video games, and spent hours running around the bush building forts and shooting each other with Super Soakers. I think I was around 8 or 9 when I realised I was pretty good at drawing. I would copy pictures of my favourite characters and discovered I had a knack for it. I started adding characters into my school projects and my teachers actually really liked them. I think just having that little bit of encouragement early-on pushed me to keep getting better. Eventually I was asked if I would like to participate in a cartooning class with a handful of other kids, once a week at the local university. That class lifted the veil and showed me that there were adults out there drawing for a living… and just like that, I wanted to be one of them.
 
Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? How did you develop your skills?
It’s a mixture of both, really. I didn’t go to university till my mid-twenties but have always looked for new ways to be creative. I get inspired by all sorts of things and just try stuff out. It took a few years of working on newspapers as a graphic designer and being creatively unsatisfied before I decided to return to study. My degree was in animation and interactive media at Qantm College in Melbourne. The study was intense and gave me a great foundation to build on, but I wouldn’t say that’s where I learned all of my skills. I think what it really did was set me up with a solid direction and an understanding of what the industry actually expects of me.  From there, it was up to me to make sure I got to where I wanted to go.

Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
I’m really lucky to have been supported the whole way by my family and friends. I’ve had nothing but encouragement from my parents, and my wife is also an artist so she keeps me going as well. One time, when I was a kid, I got the chance to design and paint a huge mural at a kindergarten in town. That same week though, I fell off some play equipment at school and broke my wrist so I couldn’t draw. I was crushed but I didn’t want to let that stop me! Instead of giving up, I went ahead and painted the whole freakin’ mural with my non-preferred hand (albeit very slowly). I think from then on, my parents saw just how much art meant to me and they’ve been behind me ever since.

What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
The 80s/90s gave us so many great cartoons, but my one, major defining influence was The Ren & Stimpy Show. That cartoon changed everything for me. It was the grossest, most beautiful, ridiculous thing I had ever seen. As a kid, it was as if they had looked inside my brain and asked “What’s your idea of the perfect cartoon?” I’m almost certain they are the reason I’m still drawing cartoons today. I copied pictures of those ‘feelthy eediots’ over and over, and owe a lot of my earliest drawing skills to them.

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?
Well, it seems that after all these years, I haven’t strayed too far from my old pals Ren & Stimpy. My current self-published comic is called ‘Brown Fury’ and is based around a team of fast-talking, hard-hitting, extra-terrestrial turds! I don’t know why but I have always loved toilet humour. It’s like a part of my cheeky inner-child never grew up. I think I just really like to make people laugh as well. I have a huge appreciation for deep, beautiful, thought-provoking art but it really isn’t something that comes naturally to me. Poop, snot, farts and puns… That’s my domain.

From the initial client idea to the final work: What goes through your mind and what is the method you use when starting a project? Could you describe it?
At first there’s always the “Oh God… you want WHAT-NOW?!” moment. Then, once I’m done freaking out, I start to dissect what they’re actually after. The funny thing is I am a jack-of-all-trades, so when a job comes in, it could be anything! I do comics, character design, illustration, 2D flash animation, 3D modelling and animation, background design, storyboards, user interfaces for video games… The list goes on. So, sometimes it might be a type of job I haven’t done in a while but once I’m back in the mind-set, it’s pretty smooth-sailing. I try to find ways to push my skills further and learn new things on each project. However, I avoid getting too attached to anything I make. Clients can be brutal and you have to be willing to throw out or completely change your work, no matter how amazing you think it is. After-all it’s their baby, not yours. Just grow a thick skin and invest the real love into your own projects.

What is your process in creating your art and what are your favourite tools?
Blue col-erase pencils and scrap paper are never far from reach. Most of my ideas and designs come from the random doodles I quickly scrawl down at any point throughout the day. Sometimes there could be about 50 tiny characters on a page and I’ll spot one and say “Hey, who’s that weird little dude? Let’s flesh him out some more.” At that point, I’ll either grab a bigger sketchbook, or jump on my Cintiq and start sketching away. For ages I was a Photoshop guy, but recently I switched to Clip Studio Paint (a.k.a Manga Studio) and I gotta say, damn I like that program! The drawing tools just feel slick and responsive. I also love playing around with Japanese brush pens and Copic markers.
 
What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
For me, I never get sick of designing characters! I could do it till the day I died and love every minute. I think the hardest thing I have encountered was coming up with the story for ‘Brown Fury’. Writing is something that doesn’t come naturally to me at all, and it really is the most important part of creating a comic. If the story and characters don’t grab you, no one will care how pretty the pictures are (aside from other artists maybe). In the end, I found the more I fleshed out the story, the more it actually helped inform the art. It left me with a heap of grey hairs though!

What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work, collaborate or share your creative time with?
Until recently I was working full-time in a small animation studio in Melbourne. It was great to be surrounded by that much talent each day and I learned a lot from just hanging out with the other artists. At the end of last year, my wife and I decided it was time for a tree-change so we left the city and moved to a smaller town in Tasmania. Now I work freelance from home so things feel very different. As far as collaborators go, it changes day-to-day. Physically, I’m in isolation in the home office now, but I haven’t found it difficult to bounce ideas around with clients or teammates on Skype or what-not. I also have a close group of friends that I chat with constantly. I like getting their input because they’re not all artists themselves so you get different perspectives. My wife’s creative background helps as well, and she is probably my harshest critic. In fact a lot of stuff in ‘Brown Fury’ is the result of her suggestions or feedback.
 
What are some of the things you have learned from other artists who you have worked with or whose work you have seen?
Almost everything I know has come from studying other artists. I think you just have to be a giant sponge and try to take in as much as knowledge and information as you can. I get bored of repetition pretty quickly so I’m always looking for something new to learn. That’s probably how I became a jack-of-all-trades. The one thing that I always try to remind myself is that there are a million or more artists out there that are better than you. Rather than being discouraged by that, be patient and learn from them. More often than not, they’re just as willing to teach you too!

Is there something that you have designed that you are most proud of?
Without a doubt I would say my comic ‘Brown Fury’ is my favourite project to date. It took the sum of all my skills to produce that book. I don’t think there’s anything more rewarding than finishing your own project and letting it loose on the world. Working on TV shows and video games is all good fun, but it doesn’t come close to the feeling you get when you create something that is entirely yours.

What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
Before I started freelancing I was at 12Field Animation working on a few shows including Trip Tank for Comedy Central, Greatest Party Story Ever for MTV and the studio’s own tele-movie Dogstar: Christmas In Space. During that time I was also developing ‘Brown Fury’ on the side in my own hours. Soon I’ll be starting an animation gig with a group called ‘Three’s A Company’ based in Sydney. I probably can’t say much about the show yet, but it’s looking like it will be a heap of fun to work on. And of course, I’ll continue with more ‘Brown Fury’. I’m about to kick off production on issue 2 as we speak!

Do you have a longterm career goal? What would your dream project be?
Having just switched things up with my career recently, I’d say for now the goal is to see if I can survive the freelance lifestyle. So far it has been great, I’m getting plenty of work coming in and hopefully that continues. Further down the track, I would love to focus 100% of my attention on ‘Brown Fury’ and more of my own projects. I’ve especially fallen in love with making comics, and it would be the best thing ever if I could do that full-time.
 
What advise would you give to an artist who is dealing with an artist's block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
Lower the stakes. Sometimes I put pressure on myself to make some kind of life-changing, ultimate piece of art and it only ends up crippling me. Take a step back and try doing something totally ridiculous, or explore a new technique… see where it takes you. Don’t worry about what people will think of it, you don’t even have to show anyone. That’s why I draw on scrap paper; there are no consequences if I screw up. Just have fun and don’t be too precious about your work.

Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, you name it. There are so many careers and when you are very young, sometimes you know only one thing: you simply love to draw. In your opinion, what should a young person take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path?
Oddly enough, I have thrived on trying a bit of everything. It means I’ve never really mastered any one area, but on the flip-side it has made me a very adaptable and employable artist. For studio situations in particular, I found that most artists would be brought in for a short time, do their specified job and are then forced to move on, where-as I could bounce between departments – jumping onto the animation team, across to storyboards, over to design etc. I was able to stick around much longer and because I was constantly changing things up, the work never got stale either. My advice would be to try out anything you might be interested in and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You can never really know if your passion lies in a specific role until you give it a go.
 
In your own experience, what would you suggest to someone who is inspired by your work and wants to follows your footsteps: should they work in one consistent style, or work on many different ones?
There is so much to be learned from mimicking different art styles and techniques. I would definitely suggest trying as many as you can. Also, I believe if you lock yourself down to just one style then you’re reducing your chances of being hired on other projects. That’s not to say you can’t develop a personal style of your own over time. Just be flexible.

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?
A few years ago the Creature Box guys did a Kickstarter for their art book “The Monster Volume”. I think that’s still got to be my favourite book to flip through. The presentation is amazing! Every page is unique and so well designed. You can see that they really put everything they had into it. Not to mention the artwork is INSANE!
 
Who are the artists who inspire you the most today and what are some of your favourite designs out there?
Argh! There’s so many! A few that I’m into right now include Sean “Cheeks” Galloway, Skottie Young, Rad Sechrist, Ben Balistreri, Zoe Si, Joey McCormick, Anthony Holden, Graham Annable, and Dave Guertin & Greg Baldwin from CreatureBox. My long-time buddy Patrick Brown is also a huge inspiration to me. He and I have very different styles and tastes but we love sharing all of our art secrets over a few beers.

We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
I love hand drawn animation and I think for many of us it was our gateway to becoming artists in the first place. I hear a lot of people say it’s a dying art-form, but I tend to disagree. Sure, the big studios aren’t giving it much love, but take a look online and in the independent animation scene. More and more people are craving that aesthetic and I feel like it’s already making a comeback, though you may have to go somewhere other than the cinema to experience it.
 
When clients contact you for a commission, what essential info should they include in their very first email in order to communicate with you efficiently and effectively?
Things go most smoothly for me when the client has a fairly solid idea of what it is they actually want (maybe even an example) and a ballpark budget they are willing to work with. It’s embarrassing for both parties if a quote comes back and its way outside what was anticipated. If the client is open with you at the start it makes things much easier to assess what you can do to work within those constraints. If their budget is low then at least you can discuss a compromise before getting too involved.
 
Finally, where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
There’s my website ( bobbybaxter.com ) where you can purchase a signed copy of ‘Brown Fury’ ( very limited amount left! ) and check out a whole bunch of my work. I post new stuff on Instagram ( instagram.com/bobbybaxtercartoons ) and Facebook ( facebook.com/bobbybaxtercartoons ) all the time. I have a RedBubble page ( redbubble.com/people/bobbybaxter ) if you’re in the market for a classy new t-shirt. And lastly, I recently started a Patreon page ( patreon.com/BobbyBaxter ) to help fund the creation of more of my own comics. Any support I could get there would be absolutely amazing.

Thank you Bobby :)