Posted // 2013-01-24 -
Artist and cartoonist Tony Poulson got his formal start in a way that many wouldn't expect -- as the cartoon editor for a local publication. Since that time, he's turned his small, single-box statements into a career as an artist about town, creating giant murals for the public to check out, as well as a gallery artist with his works on display at small businesses and galleries around the valley; not to mention snagging big gigs like painting the halls of the Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas.
I chat with Poulson about his career in print and transitioning to the art scene, his bigger works on display in and outside the state, thoughts on local art and a few other topics. (All pictures courtesy of Poulson.)
Gavin: Hey, Tony. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Tony: SLC-born-and-raised; married to the Local Lovely, who is by far my greatest support and inspiration; father of the Little Lovely (three-week-old Amelia); and ringmaster to four cats.
Gavin: How did you first take an interest art, and what were some early influences on you?
Tony: I've been drawing since I was a wee lad. My parents saved everything, so there is nothing more fun than going through the archives and seeing where it all started. As far as early influences, I'd definitely be a fool not to mention every Saturday morning cartoon from the '80s and '90s. And video games -- video-game art from Street Fighter 2 to Mario Bros., which I would re-draw or trace. I actually follow some of these artists on Instagram now; it's super-cool to associate with them and have them comment back on my work.
Gavin: What specifically led you to drawing and creating cartoon-like works?
Tony: You, hopefully, have those art teachers growing up who push and pull you, and not till later on down the road do you see what they were trying to do for you in the long run. In particular, I had a teacher who told me I couldn't exaggerate the human form until I learned the construction and rules of it. Screw that! Sure, I learned the foundation, but it was so much more fun when you could accentuate and distort "reality." I completely enjoy working in other styles of art, as well; not only does it expand your perspective and skill set, but it makes going back to cartooning that much more enjoyable.
Gavin: You attended the University of Utah for a communications degree, but during that time you became the cartoon editor for The Daily Utah Chronicle. How did you get involved with the paper, and what was it like creating those pieces?
Tony: It honestly came about by accident. I was sitting in one of my foundation art classes on the first day and this kid -- I truly wish I could thank him -- saw my work on my binder and told me they were hiring a new editorial cartoonist at the paper and thought I'd make a good fit. I grabbed my portfolio that afternoon, walked into the office and asked for the editor in chief. I put my work on his desk and told him I was his new cartoonist. Confident? Yes. A little cocky? Depends on who you ask. Did I get the job and change my career in art forever? Absolutely. I totally enjoyed the rush of the deadline. It didn't matter what political party you were associated with -- if they provided the ammunition, I used it. Campus-related work was always fun, too, and working with other well-rounded journalists really made my college experience that much more enriching.
Gavin: During your time there, you picked up a couple of Society of Professional Journalists awards. What were your thoughts on winning those?
Tony: It was a total honor being honored by the Society of Professional Journalists. It was the first time my work was being recognized on a truly national scale against some other extremely talented artists. It was also the first time the Chronicle had won in art and gave me a great excuse to go to Vegas to accept the award -- and party with my girlfriend at the time.
Gavin: After you got your bachelor's degree, what made you decide to become a freelance artist and pursue a career outside of your major?
Tony: Majoring in communication is a funny thing: So many people go into it looking for an easy, I-don't-know-what-else-to-do-I'll-try-this-just-because major, and then there are those who love and respect the art of communication. Educating yourself about the basics of speech, what connects people and how to effectively communicate is what has led to my success in anything I've accomplished, especially my art. After college, I was out of work and hopped onto Craigslist to pick up some side work painting to make some quick dough and pass the time until something else came about -- I was confused what to do with myself after spending so much time in the classroom. I stumbled upon an ad looking for decorative painters. I showed up to the interview and learned it wasn't a temporary job painting homes but working for a national company working on the Capitol Renovation. Sadly, a gent I worked with fell off a scaffolding and broke his neck, so within a month of doing "grunt" work I was put on the small crew painting everything from the Governors office to the Senate chambers to those ridiculously blinging gold elevators. I spent the next two and a half years pouring every ounce of me into the work up there.
Gavin: What's the process like for you in creating a new cartoon or painting for a project?
Tony: I truly take my influence from everything around me. My mom -- God rest her soul -- always had a small notebook on her to take notes when anyone would say anything that would spur an idea or future gift purchase. I do the same, only with my iPhone, and those who I enjoy making art for tell me they can see a small piece of them in the work I produce.
Gavin: How much do you play around with your creations before you make them final?
Tony: I think it stems from working at the newspaper and other time-sensitive jobs, but as soon as I have that big idea, I lay it down in either a quick sketch for later or work on it immediately and right on to the final piece. I'm definitely not one of those artists who has projects just floating around unfinished. Start it, work it, finish it, or scrap it so it's not weighing you down -- or wasting valuable desk space).
Gavin: I read that you got to work on the halls of the Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas. How did that opportunity come about, and how was it working on a landmark of the strip?
Tony: Ahhh, yes -- Vegas; it's such a different town when you're working through the day and sleeping at night when you'd normally be hitting the club/bar scene. I was asked to work down there with another talented painter, Todd Stubbs, who basically taught me everything I know about the decorative-painting world, as well as a handful of other decorative painters from around the country. We painted the entryway murals on the ceilings of the top three floors -- high-roller/Presidential suites that, to this day, I haven't been able to talk my way into again just to take a peek at the paintings once more. It really was a great opportunity and truly hard work, both mentally and physically, and for a kid in his early 20s, a great way to make some fantastic money -- my wife still asks me why I didn't save more, but I was young and getting paid weekly from the unions in that town and there were far too many places to spend it. I'd have to say one of the funnest days was nearing the end of the job. I went to one of the larger suites and draped the authentic zebra skin over me and ran around the place; I think the paint fumes were finally getting to me.
Gavin: You also entered the Out Of The Box competition for City Weekly last year. What was it like making one of our newsrack boxes?
Tony: I've read City Weekly for what seems like forever and I've always wanted to illustrate a front cover, so being asked to paint one of your boxes was a total honor and something I'll be able to show my daughter when she gets older.
Gavin: Do you prefer working on the giant murals or the smaller drawings and sketches, and why?
Tony: I honestly enjoy the challenge of both. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a small doodle jumbo-sized on a wall, however.
Gavin: Have you looked into doing any exhibitions of your work, or do you prefer having your work in random locations for people to discover and buy?
Tony: I'd love to work on a solo show, but time is truly my biggest battle right now with a child, a wife, my work at MINI of Murray and commission work keeping me busy.
Gavin: Going local, what is your take on the current local art scene, both good and bad?
Tony: If we're discussing the Gallery Stroll, then I think we're doing great and everyone should come out and support the scene. Spend some money, people! Sure, artists attain great joy from creating work, but nothing makes the heart sing -- and keeps the heat on -- than selling one of your pieces. I think the only bad thing is judgmental gazers. Sure, everyone has an opinion and has their right to critique, but you can't put down the people who are doing the work and actually hustling to get it out there.
Gavin: Who are some local artists and comic creators you believe people should check out?
Tony: My circle of friendly influence is mostly online and through Instagram, but locally, Chuck Landvatter is always someone to keep on an eye on; he and I attended school together at the U. Trent Call always has mind-blowing designs and colors; I will own one of his pieces hanging at Eva's one day. And Kat Martin -- not only is her work funny, but she's a delight in person and a master of the art-festival scene.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Tony: I guess my only expectation is don't expect anything. I'd love to be apart of more group shows -- and even a solo show, just to say I'd done it -- but for now, I'm keeping all options open. Also, having a daughter now, I'm excited to see what she might dabble in and her influence on my work.Of course, being sleep-deprived will have its own influence, as well.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Tony: I'd love more folks harassing me on Instagram, so come on over and join the party @thetonus. Any other random requests or commission work can inquire at email@example.com
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