Alumni Profile: Justin Devine

posted on June 19, 2020 by
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We're so happy to feature the amazing Justin Devine in our newest Alumni Profile! Justin in a multi-talented artist working across a wide variety of media from painting and drawing to professional illustration and design. He recently co-authored and illustrated a book with his wife Megan Lynn Kott which will be released this fall, and is often found organizing community art events such as his newest enterprise - Drawn to Culture (find it on Instagram @drawntocultureblog)! Be sure to check out more of Justin's gorgeous work online at jdevineart.com or on Instagram @jlawdev.

Tell us about the subject matter/content of your work.
For as long as I’ve been making art, I’ve always enjoyed drawing natural things—plants, animals, shells, bones, etc—and still love to do studies of these types of objects. Mushrooms are especially fascinating to me at the moment.

In college, and the years immediately afterwards, I focused mainly on portraits and figurative realism; during the last few years, I’ve moved away somewhat from the fine art mode and have been leaning in more to illustrative and comics-inspired artmaking. Currently, I do lots of character studies from books and movies I enjoy, plus entirely imagined scenes and characters.

Tell us about how you work/your process.
Although I’ll occasionally still bust out the acrylic or oil paints, these days I mostly work small-scale on paper, in ink or watercolor. All my preliminary work tends to be digital—either by mocking up my composition beforehand as a Photoshop collage or by sketching digitally then transferring the image onto physical media.

Right now I’m living in Wisconsin, and although I now have room for a basement studio, my artmaking process hasn’t changed much since I was living the apartment life. Go figure.

What medium(s) do you work with?
Right now it’s mostly ink (the pentel pocket brush pen is a particular favorite of mine) and/or watercolor. Having recently acquired a new tablet, I’m starting to dabble in entirely digital work as well.

About how many hours/day/week do you work?
It varies wildly—from dozens of hours a week to just a few. In my day job I’m primarily a graphic designer, though I also create line drawings, paintings, and vector graphics (for marketing and/or packaging), so I can spend many days in a week doing commercial work. If I’m sketching for myself, or for a specific project, it will be usually be for only one or two hours at a time in the evenings.

How do you navigate the art world?
My experience of the art world is heavily dependent on my physical space and community. When my wife—Megan Lynn Kott (herself a brilliant watercolor painter)—and I were living in the Bay Area a few years ago, we were both participating in lots of events and shows, and also curating some of our own (we ran a weekly drawing event in Oakland for years, which, at the time we moved, was drawing in dozens of people per week).

Since we moved (first to Detroit, then to the Milwaukee area), my participation in art events has dropped off. I’m still endeavoring to re-find or rebuild my place in a creative community, but in the meantime, participating in things like digital challenges has been enormously beneficial to me. I love creating monthly drawings for Inktober every year, and seeing what people all over the world are producing at the same time. I’m going to be participating in the Minneapolis-based gallery Light Grey Art Lab’s next show/book project, based on an online call for art, and I’m excited to create something for the worldwide mushroom-themed art scavenger hunt Game of Shrooms in August.

I also started a weekly fanart-showcase blog/social media feed about a year ago (drawntoculture.com), and am currently endeavoring to build that out as its own kind of creative community.

What is your definition of success?
Honestly, I don’t really think about success much these days. I’m making a living doing creative work, which seems like all I could reasonably ask for.

What inspires you? What do you read, listen to, look at, watch, eat, smell…?
I love reading and listening to audiobooks; mostly genre fiction (I’m on a high fantasy kick right now), but occasionally literary work as well, and even the occasional pop-sciency or nerdy-deep-dive nonfiction.

Some good friends of mine host a podcast in which they field round-table discussions of horror-movies, and I was recently a guest for a string of episodes in which we covered the “folk horror” subgenre, which is a particular favorite of mine; this lead to several weeks of me watching, reading, thinking about and making art about horror, folklore, and the intersection thereof.

What else would you do if you werent an artist (or what do you do when you arent making art)?
I have fantasies of moving to Oregon, buying a pig, and becoming a truffle hunter. I don’t even really like eating mushrooms generally, or truffles specifically, but I love going for walks in the woods and looking for mushrooms. Also, I really like pigs.

And yes, I know that truffles are rarely still harvested with pigs, but it’s my fantasy, ok?

What are you working on now?
My wife and I co-wrote and illustrated a book last year called Unfamiliar Familiars, which comes out this September from Chronicle books. I’m also in the early stages of illustrating a horror/sci-fi comic (from a Monterey-based author), and making weekly illustrations for my blog.

How do you get yourself through dry spells, self-esteem fluctuations, deep shyness, general low periods, inertia?
Haltingly? I’m not totally sure. I have a real problem dealing with these issues and, as much as I enjoy working as a freelancer, I think physical isolation can exacerbate them.

I mentioned Inktober above; I really enjoy participating in regular art challenges like that, and also occasionally the art meme challenges that pop up on social media (like the recent “6 fanarts” challenge). The app sktchy has also been really great for me, providing a continuous stream of people-pictures to draw, with no real expectations attached.

Having something to organize also helps; whether cohosting Oakland Drink and Draw a few years ago, or running Drawn to Culture now, encouraging other people to make things helps me to continue doing the same.

Tell us about your education and background. Self taught? Mentors? Art college? Lessons? Internet? Combo?
After YAC, I majored in studio art at San Jose State University. I’ve also participated in a few workshops, like the Illustration Master Class in Amherst, MA.

Any feedback on the value of YAC.
YAC is the best. I’d like to avoid hyperbole, but cannot overstate how important YAC was—and is—to me personally and to the community at large. Having an exciting, vibrant, nonjudgmental environment to go to almost daily as a teen was itself a precious gift. That I was exposed to so much talent and diversity of thought as a young person was even more valuable. That I was made to feel like I belonged, that my work was worthwhile, and that and my skills were worth developing was priceless.

YAC is where I developed or deepened some of the best friendships of my life, and also where I learned to think of myself as a real artist.

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