An interview with Dave Mottram

By Ed Vinicombe on Oct 10th, 2013

Hi Dave, for those who are unaware would you care to introduce yourself?

Hi, Thanks for the interview. My name is Dave Mottram and I'm an illustrator living and working in Ohio. I was born and grew up in Youngstown, Ohio.

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Could you explain your path to becoming an illustrator?


Sure. I loved to draw at a young age, so it was a dream to do that for a living. Everyone that I knew worked as soon they could get a job, so I did. I worked at a grocery store, I worked through high school and part-time thru college. At the time, I had a chance to work full-time on an assembly line but chose to pursue art. I went to college, and at first I hated it. Then, I studied African art and loved it. After I graduated, I worked part-time for a park illustrating posters and trail maps for hikers. Eventually, I landed a design job full time. I decided to pursue having my own studio a few years ago, and here I am.

What kind of creative background did you have when growing up?


I grew up in the 70's so cartoons, comics, movies and record covers were so inspiring as a kid. Sometimes, I drew my dad's album covers (and on the paper sleeves sometimes, he was pissed) but mostly comics. I saw Star Wars when I was 7 years old and that blew my mind. In the 80's it was Video game arcades. Shopping malls in the 80's were amazing. They had fountains, neon and were completely over the top. I always saw those Video game cabinets as pieces of art. The top, sides, front were covered in art and I loved it. When I was 17, I bought an airbrush and painted Batman and Judas Priest album covers in my parent's garage(they were not good).

Do you find it hard to still keep hold of a unique style and approach to illustration with so much competition out there?

Yeah, it's difficult. But style can be a crutch. When style outweighs execution instead of complementing execution it gets in the way. Also, it's easy to piggyback a style and lose what makes your voice unique.
There are plenty of talented artists that intimidate the hell out of me. So much talent. I try to just focus on what i'm doing and maybe get to the level I see them at.

How would you best describe your style & technique?

Well, it'd be easier to describe technique. My style is all over the place, I guess that's good and bad. Especially when Art Directors are looking for something specific.
My style is really influenced by tribal masks, vintage Disney and painterly textures.
The technique is to create different parts, like pencil shading and drawing and bring those into the piece.

Could you explain the technical process of your drawings, start to finish?


I start with research. I love this phase because it's learning. It may require me to draw elements out multiple times and see how differently I can get it. This is why you'll see so many daily sketches on Instagram, dribbble or my blog. These sketches are part of the research phase. I'll draw it out, doesn't matter if I have 2 weeks or 2 days. Depending on the gig, I'll either bring them into Photoshop or Illustrator. I'll use the sketches as my skeleton and I'll bring in whatever leftover scraps of research I have into this phase. When I start rendering anything digitally I'll rely heavily on the shapes of the drawing. I'll paint in those shapes in PS with texture brushes and work that piece until done. Research drives it all.

What would you like people to remember you for?

I suppose if they do, just a person who was always working at getting better at their craft, a journeyman.
If my daughter remembers me as being supportive and encouraging then I've done something. That is what was given to me.

What are your thoughts on the current design community & the influence of sites such as Dribbble, Behance & Site Inspire..

I think it's an open community and there is support out there. When you have a community like that, it's easy to show your work.
Dribbble has been great for me, it's helped me contact other artists I may not have had the chance to meet. I love Pinterest.

What kind of music, film or literature gets you motivated?

Movies like Moon, Blade Runner and Looper are pretty inspiring. Spirited Away and Amelie really gets me motivated as well.
Older animated films like Jungle Book, Sword in the Stone and Sleeping Beauty are wonderful. Paperman, because it paid respect to that great linework that made old Disney films unique.

Any advice for a young illustrator who wants to learn?

Anyone who wants to learn and approaches every problem as a student has a bright future. Your life experiences make your work real.
Weird is good.

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