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Rion Vernon

interview by Margo Tiffen

Rion Vernon is an accomplished artist and the mastermind behind the superb website www.pinuptoons.com. We liked Rion's work so much, we begged him to give us a gallery, and he graciously acquiesced. His illustrations are featured here, with new 'toons added every month. Rion's ladies are sassy, sultry, and sweet as peaches n' cream. Mmmm. I bugged Rion over e-mail with questions about his life and work, and here's what he had to say...

Do you work mainly in illustration? Have you worked with other art forms (photography, sculpture, etc.)? If so, do you feel that they give you a broader perspective when you're illustrating?

I have always been interested in a wide variety of mediums. Basically, whatever can help me get my idea across. I love photography as well as film. It's something that I would really like to do more of. Especially since there is so much that can be done within the digital world.

As a kid, I used to make these little stop-motion films, ya know, like Gumby and Pokey stuff. I would sculpt these little guys out of clay and spend hours moving them just a little bit, clicking the shutter once, moving them, clicking, moving, clicking. Pretty insane for an eight year old kid.

I had a chance to do some sculpting when I was working on The Lost World. I had designed a dinosaur for the film and so I tried my hand at creating the maquette. Let's just say that I should stick to pencils and paper!

In your bio, it says that you've been doing freelance artwork since you were eight years old. What kind of work did you do back then and how did you first get hired?

My dad's an artist as well. He got me a gig doing a newspaper advertisement for a housing development. The ad's theme was a "letter to Santa" so they wanted some little kid lookin' crayon drawings. The only problem was that they came back and told me that the drawings were too good. Pretty hilarious. At eight years old, I had to dumb my stuff down.

Did you go to an arts high school or public/private? Did you have much support from teachers in high school for your art? From your family?

I did go to a private school early on. Then in high school we moved and I hit the public schools. I always got a lot of support from art teachers as well as my parents. I owe it all to them for being so enthusiastic about my creativity.

In high school, my art teacher told me that there was nothing that she could really teach me. She knew I would be bored stiff if I had to glue yarn to poster board, so she let me hang out in the supply room and draw whatever I wanted to. That was great. I would go through magazines and just draw caricatures of people all period. She was a very cool teacher!

Have you had any further formal educational training after high school? Did you have any mentors?

I haven't had any "official art training". I was lucky enough to get hired at Stan Winston Studios a year out of high school. That was my "college" education right there. There are so many amazing artists there. The lead designer, Crash McCreery, really became something of a mentor to me. His work is amazing. On top of that, he is one of the most creative and super cool guys I have ever met. He inspired me in many different ways and I was very lucky to have met him.

What kind of professional work have you done - you mentioned Stan Winston Studio, DreamWorks, Nickelodeon and Paramount. What tv shows / movies have you worked on?

Most of my work has been limited to film, animation and interactive. It's funny... I have this huge body of work. I have done so many designs, but have had the worst luck with projects being cancelled. The first major thing I worked on was The Lost World. It was a trip to see my design up there on the screen. After that... it was pretty much flushed project after flushed project. That gets frustrating, as you know that all your stuff will never see the light of day. It's all fun work, but you strive to make that next step and see it through to fruition. That's the main reason that I am currently self employed and focusing on my own stuff. If it doesn't happen, I have no one to blame but myself (instead of being tempted to blow up the corporate offices that cancelled the projects).

Do you listen to music while you work? Is there something about that music that you find specifically inspires your illustrations or creates a certain mood?

Most definitely! Music IS inspiration! Depending on what it is that I am trying to immerse myself into depends on what I listen to.

Who are some of your favorite bands?

I listen to everything from film scores, to Pink Floyd, To Nine Inch Nails to Tom Waits. I love "visual music". Mike Patton is my personal hero.

Any hobbies? (Surfing, skateboarding, reading, collecting shit, etc.)

It's funny. My hobby is my art. I mean, I am very lucky to be able to make a living doing what I love... and I DO love it. I spend every waking hour working on my art. I am obsessed. A few years ago I made myself get a gym membership just so that I would actually start using this machine we call the body. I spend so much time in front of a table, drawing pictures, that I would end up looking like Stephen Hawkings if I didn't force myself to exercise.

Some of your illustrations are based on live models. Who are some of the live models you've used? Do you usually contact them first or do they seek you out?

Inspiration comes from all over. Some are live models only in the sense that they are based on photographs of real people. I mean, I wish I could get Adriana Lima to cruise on over and have me stare at her for hours but... no luck on that just yet.

Others have been the lovely ladies who have discovered my site and appreciate my work.

How did you first get into Pin-Up toons? Are there any artists/ photographers/ movie stars/ fashion designers whose work you enjoy or take inspiration from?

Jessica Rabbit. It all started with Jessica Rabbit. Being a boy at the tender age of about 14, a voluptuous cartoon woman in the real world made my brain blow a fuse. I was determined to be able to draw her without looking at any reference images. From there I started to create my own style.

I have always loved the old pin-up stuff from the 40's and 50's like Gil Elvgren and George Petty. Then there are the cartoon influences through Tex Avery, Disney's Fred Moore and the SpumCo stuff.

I also have stacks of Skin Two magazine which I gather inspiration from as well. There are some really great clothing designs in there. Again, the shiny plastic stuff just screams "real life cartoon" and I think that's why I dig it.

A lot of the classic illustrators who did cheesecake and glamour art had a straighter, more "lifelike" look than the toons that you do. What do you think the differences / similarities are in people's impressions of the two styles?

I think pin-up art has always been an idealized representation of the female form. The artist pays homage to the beauty of the female no matter how unrealistic that representation may be. What could be more idealized than the cartoon? I think there lies the similarity.

For me, I am a cartoonist. That's just my style. That's how I see the world. It is so much easier for me to stretch and pull a shape into something graphic that represents how I "feel" the image to be, rather than trying to depict it accurately. I remember visiting Disneyland's Toontown when it first opened and thinking, "Finally! Now this feels like reality."

The toons you do depict girls in a variety of different styles -- in their fashion, setting, and personality -- what do you think defines them as sexy or desirable? Are there common elements? Are they so diverse specifically to impart the concept that there's a great variety to what people find appealing?

There really is a wide variety of what people find appealing. It's cool that most people can pick out their "favorite" Pin-Up Toon pretty quickly and identify with a specific style in my work. It makes the experience that much more personal and that's great.

However, the reason that I have created so many different types has no bearing on trying to represent all different styles. The reason is simple. I draw the kinds of girls that I find attractive... and I am hopelessly in love with every pretty girl I see. Goth, punk, preppy, bubble gum, raver, tomboy, sporty, hip-hop, hippy, bad girl, good girl.

I'm done for. It's hopeless. They are too many of them! Coming in too fast! Aaaaaah! Stay on target! Stay on target!

Tell me about pinuptoons.com. When did you start it and what are your goals for the site and the merchandise?

The concept began as a wall in my office at DreamWorks. I would stick these little ripped out pieces of paper with doodles on them up on my wall with thumbtacks. People would stop by to check them out. The collection grew and it was obvious that I needed a way to display them on a grand scale. So I created www.pinuptoons.com and fell in love with the medium of the web.

From the beginning I knew that these images needed to be on calendars, stickers, baby-T's, bowler shirts, lighters, playing cards. All that stuff. That is what I am currently trying to attack. I have a couple of pretty cool possibilities heading my way. If it is supposed to happen, it will. All that really matters is that I continue to do what I am passionate about. Good things will come of it.

Where are you located? Do you have a studio or do you work out of home?

I am a southern Californian. I have a studio in my home and I thank the universe every day that I no longer have to get on the freeway and drive to a cubicle!!!

You mention you are the son of an artist/designer, can you tell me more about that?

Yes! My dad's great! He's been a designer / illustrator for years and was always very enthusiastic about my art. It's funny, the way I "rebelled" was to do cartoons. He is much more of the traditional artist and loves painting western art. You can see his stuff at www.donvernongallery.com (That caricature of him in the top right corner was one I did of him, actually).

We have a great relationship. He's totally my buddy. We'll hang out and talk art, teach each other stuff and encourage the other to push themselves creatively. He has a great sense of humor and we spend most of our time joking around! Thanks Dad!!

 

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