He is like the wacky uncle that I never had, who has somehow come into my life at this time and enriched it immensely with his sense of humor, kindness, generosity and, of course, his art. Yes, you should all be immensely jealous.
Lots of local folks are familiar with Walt through his editorial cartoons for the Virginian-Pilot and his lifetime goal of sketching every human on the planet. There are now at least three fun books at Café Stella to flip through of his attempts to do so, but he should maybe leave the coffee shop more often if he wants to sketch EVERYONE, because I am starting to see a lot of repeats.
And people go totally koo-koo bananas over his drawings of them, because they are as charming and fun and whimsical as the man himself. Almost everyone I know has had one of his portraits of themselves as their Facebook profile photo at some point (myself included) and his renderings always seem to capture something in ourselves that we fail to see.
Since he is a freelance illustrator and art director, Walt spends most of his time sitting in front of some kind of electronic device trying to draw on it and constantly being interrupted with annoying and interruptive e-mails to respond to. So, he has made it a point to get up out of the chair and meander around the block a few times in the name of good health and, even then, he can’t quit with the devices because he humorously chronicles them for us on his Facebook page in an album called “What I Saw On My Walk Today” that shows his eye for the small oddities of life and are always captioned with something that makes you chuckle.
So, since I have him basically captive in my basement, I pinned him down to ask him a few questions about what he does and how and why he does it.
Ok, first question: What is your typical response when someone goes “Oh! You’re THAT Walt Taylor!” (Seriously, I see this happen all the time.)
Once I’ve determined that it’s not someone with a warrant, I’m flattered, of course, and at the same time feel exposed. I like to be in the background, observing normal human beings doing what they do, kind of like Jane Goodall.
What do you find the differences in your enjoyment and abilities to be between drawing digitally and using a real pencil for your work?
Not a lot, actually, as far as the act of drawing goes. You’re making a mark of a surface. The difference comes in how the computer interprets and displays that mark. It took me a little while to get there, but now drawing with a stylus gives me the same pleasure as drawing with a pen.
Besides people, what are your favorite subjects to illustrate?
Trash. I love to draw trash. I used to draw buildings a lot, especially in New Orleans and downtown Norfolk. But buildings don’t change a lot, and you pretty much have to be outside in the weather to draw them.
Didn’t you go to art school or something? What useful things did you learn there?
I did get a BFA from a regular little school, and the main thing I learned was to think of myself as a real artist, as opposed to a DMV clerk who can draw funny pictures during breaks. But as for drawing, I learned it by doing it. If you want to go into printmaking or sculpture, I guess you have to learn specific skills, but not so much for a sketcher.
And then you used all that great learning to go into… advertising?
*sigh*…You had to go there, didn’t you? Yes, advertising was ideal for someone with facile talents, who could spin out superficial creativity on order. But I was always conflicted about it. It’s a great way to make money, and the people are generally fun to hang with. But I’m glad to be easing out of it.
And then you got out of advertising, or at least working directly for an agency. Why?
The older I get, the more I feel like a commie. Not the bad kind, like Stalin. Capitalism has evolved into a great nightmare machine chewing up the landscape and spitting out people who can’t fit in, and making us slaves to material goods that we don’t need. The old saying is that capitalism is the worst system except for all the others, and I don’t know if that’s true, but it feels better to be a bystander than an active participant.
Stylistically, your work is almost instantly recognizable as being ‘yours’, whether it is a sketch, a political cartoon, some wild digital mess or simply a photograph. That is an important thing for an artist. How did you develop the style that you have into what it is?
Did you actually say “wild digital mess”? Huh. I guess I have a recognizable drawing style, but the other stuff, I don’t know. I’m basically a pleasure-seeker, a lotus-eater. A child—a very old one. I want to make whatever I’m doing fun. It’s that simple.
Let’s talk for a second about Mina (my 7-year old daughter). She was never much interested in art before your encouragement of her and the generous way you give her access to your expensive art materials. You have genuinely changed the way she thinks about herself and her abilities.
Sample conversation between Walt and Mina:
Walt: That’s nice, Mina! You’re going to be an artist one day!
Mina: (without looking up) I am an artist.
Children are born artists. They create marvelous art. And we adults immediately set to scouring the art right out of them. “That’s not what a tree looks like, sweetie. This is what a tree looks like.” Bah. As for Mina, I’m not worried about her in the least. She’s going to be and do whatever she goddamn wants.
So, pretend this is the commencement speech at a fancy art college and tell all the hopeful-eyed young whippersnappers what you think they should know about the art world, like, the real one.
You mean like the Ten Habits of Highly Creative People? I hate that shit. Some older people have learned from their mistakes, some haven’t. But that’s what you learn from, your mistakes, not what old people tell you about theirs.
Lastly… I hear you have a book coming out soon. Tell us the details.
Yeah, editorial cartoons. Sad to say, a lot of my younger friends don’t even know I do them. They don’t read the paper. Those of us who grew up on newspapers think that’s a bad thing, but like most things, it’s both bad and good. Life is all about change. I hate that about life.
If you’d like to buy Walt’s book, it’s under 10 smackers. Click here.