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Pope Phoenix: comic books, anime, and a splash of realism

Pope Phoenix is a self-taught, Bronx-born art director, illustrator, and motion designer. A father, a full-time digital mercenary and a mentor to designers on social media. He joins us to speak about his work, his inspirations and what it takes to make it as a professional artist.
Let’s start at the beginning, how did you discover you were an artist?

I discovered I was an artist at a very young age. Right around eight years old. My family were all geeks and nerds way before it was cool, and my brothers had a huge collection of comic books.

I grew up reading Spider-man and Thor. At that age, my favourite artists were Walt Simonson and John Byrne. I used to use a ballpoint pen to trace their lines in the books to try to understand how to do what they did.

How would you describe your style?

My style is a combination of comic books, anime, and a splash of realism. When I create art I try to get as close as possible to an image that has realistic properties on stylized characters.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I find inspiration in a lot of places.

Always from other artists: Marco Nelor, Khary Randolf, Lina Iris Viktor, Alexander Lozano, Ergo Josh… Photographers such as Vincent Peters, Ridwan Adhami, Noemad, and animators like Mason London, Rachel Reid, Slim Jim.

I’m also inspired by hip-hop from the late 90s and early 2000s; music paints images in my head and that fuels a lot of my drawings.

Musicians from all genres—Jay-Z, Pusha-T, Kendrick Lamar, Lizzo, Rihanna, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis… I try to expose myself to as much as possible because you never know how art will affect you and what will come from it when it does. You just have to be open.

How did you discover the Affinity apps?

I discovered Affinity through a desire for freedom. Carrying a laptop and a Wacom along with my sketch book started to become more of a hassle than I wanted.

Around this time Apple released the Apple Pencil for the lower end iPad, which made it affordable to draw on the go without the use of the aforementioned equipment. It made sense for me—the only problem was Adobe didn’t have a good solution for iPad vector art.

I tried quite a few free options during my search but they always excelled in one area and lacked in another. I would have to draw in Procreate first, then switch to another app to use any decent vector capabilities.

Finding Designer was a godsend. Its toolset, its capabilities, the price… It completely changed my workflow for the better.

You work on iPad a lot, what advantages do you feel from using it?

Portability. I travel a lot—I’m like a creative shark, lol. Sixty to seventy percent of my art is done on the train during my commute into and out of the city.

Between leaving work and picking up my son. Having a device and an app that provides the tools I’d normally need multiple devices for has allowed me the opportunity to produce more work and experiment more.

All of the Flashing Lights

The touch functionality of the iPad changed how I worked as well. I love hot keys but pinch to zoom is amazing. It makes drawing in my sketchbook difficult at times since I can’t zoom. Between us I’ve pinch zoomed my sketchbook on more than one occasion.

What are the most important characteristics to succeed as a professional artist?

Perseverance, focus/clarity and connections.

Perseverance to endure how long it takes to get your skills to a level that will get you noticed. That includes intensive study and practice.

Focus and clarity to figure out what you want to do with your art. Do you want to be a fine artist? A commercial artist? Editorial? Once you understand where you are going, what your goal is, where you want to end up, you can map your work backwards to your starting point. Then you have a strategy.

Connections are important because no one succeeds on their own. This is a crowded field that is highly competitive and the more people you have in your corner the more likely you are to succeed.

The last characteristic you need is the knowledge that there are no shortcuts. You have to put the work in to be successful.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

My superpower would be the power to control my density. It sounds weird but density controls so much that it would be multiple powers in one. Lower my density and I can pass through things or fly.

Increase it while running and I become so solid that I can run though things like walls and cars. It’s a pretty flexible power. See Lemillion from My Hero Academia.

I’ve thought about this quite a lot…

More Pope

Pope has participated in multiple art shows, has released four children’s books: Earl’s NestEgg Adventure, Earl’s Little Book of Annuities and The Legend of the Income Stream and Charlie and His Imaginary Friend, and launched a sticker line called The Glorious Monster.

In the last two years his illustrations have been published by ESSENCE, HANNAH and QUO magazines, and The Marshall Project website.

Check out Pope’s website, Instagram and Behance.

Artist relations

Umar is part of our artist relations team. He likes to tinker with computers, build things and play competitive games. His favourite colour is green and he enjoys bouldering, which is basically climbing without any ropes. It’s less dangerous than it sounds.

Credits & Footnotes

Images used with permission from Pope Phoenix.