• October 2010

Illustrator Michael Gibbs interviews visionary artist Greg Spalenka

By Michael Gibbs
Illustrator and Art Director
Be Inkandescent Magazine

Greg Spalenka, founder of Artist As Brand™ has been an award-winning artist in publishing, film, popular art culture, and fine arts world for almost 30 years.

“The Artist As Brand workshop was born of the desire to see artists align their authentic visions with financial success,” Spalenka explains. “The foundation of this workshop is a culmination of heart wisdom, and 28 years of art entrepreneurial knowledge distilled down to core principles. I am committed to empowering your artful journey.”

Spalenka graduated from Art Center College of Design in 1982 and began his freelance career in New York City, where his unique vision and innovative approach to illustration quickly garnered him an impressive international client list, including Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Playboy, The New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Forbes, Mother Jones, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Opera, and the NFL.

He has won numerous awards – including gold and silver medals from the New York and Los Angeles Society of Illustrators – and has participated in many group and solo exhibitions in the United States and Japan. Spalenka has taught at the School of Visual Arts, Laguna College of Art & Design, Otis, Art Center College of Design as well as lectured at art colleges and institutions around the U.S. and beyond.

You may see his most recent concept design work in the December 2010 release of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

I recently talked with Greg Spalenka about how he defines inspiration, what makes him want to get up in the morning, and how he’s successfully moved from the world of illustration to film.

Michael Gibbs: How do you define inspiration?

Greg Spalenka: Inspiration is like breathing. It approaches us like an inhalation of oxygen filling us with vitality, then exhales into an exaltation of manifestation. This give and take when passed onto others can create a synergistic euphoria. It’s enough to make you dance!

Michael Gibbs: What inspires you?

Greg Spalenka: Transcendent attempts to touch the divine. This can translate into life-affirming events that showcase the best in mankind to the little flower lifting its petals to the sun. Manifestations of creativity in all forms, whether in the microcosm or macrocosm, of reality or dream, keep me humble and motivated all at the same time.

Michael Gibbs: I know this is an oft-asked question, but artists’ perceptions of the answer never cease to fascinate me: where do your ideas come from?

Greg Spalenka: My mantra growing up was and still is, “Am I more than I am?” In my lectures I talk about accessing my “interior cathedral,” which is an infinite source of ideas and answers to my questions. I meditate regularly and this helps me access that magnificent, infinite data bank.

Michael Gibbs: Has your muse changed during your career? If so, in what way?

Greg Spalenka: Nature and spirit are at the forefront of my imagination and powerful muses. Diving into the mysteries of reality is the same. Ambition was a muse for me at the beginning of my career, but more recently I am focused on the authenticity of my vision, creating art that is closer to my heart.

Michael Gibbs: Much of your work seems almost mystical in nature, many featuring goddess-like female figures. It almost seems as if that work is channeled from a very different place than your editorial work. What inspires the series of works featuring the female form?

Greg Spalenka: I am in love with the divine feminine. There is such beauty, elegance, purity, harmony, when spirit and nature are dancing together within the female form. It is almost an obsession.

Michael Gibbs: An artist can inspire others in many ways, for example through their work, by teaching, by their work habits, or business sense, etc. Would you consider yourself an inspiration to others? If so, how?

Greg Spalenka: I am committed to empowering truth within people, through my art and education. In my art, I aspire to wake up the individual to their true purpose. Start looking at the potential within you and how you can bring that unique vision to the world.

The teacher has lived inside me for a long time, so the art and education go hand in hand. I have learned that when the student is ready the teacher arrives, when the teacher is ready the student arrives, and when the connection is complete you can not tell the difference between the two.

Michael Gibbs: Tell us about “Artist as Brand.” I know it is a workshop for artists on establishing a strong, unique presence as a business by establishing oneself as a brand, but it also seems motivational and inspirational in nature. How is that venture going?

Greg Spalenka: I created the Artist As Brand™ workshop to see serious artists align their authentic visions with financial success. The key word here is “authentic.” It is your unique, one-of-a-kind, authentic voice that becomes your brand! The real definition of the word “brand” means “a mark.” There is also a purpose to that mark which brings meaning to it; otherwise it’s just a symbol that tells us nothing.

Essentially I am teaching a new paradigm of artist sustainability that is based on the foundation of an individual’s true creative purpose. It does this without having to utilize the corporate world to ensure income. The participants in my three-day course learn how to create their own independent art empires with fans, patrons, and collectors from around the world.

Michael Gibbs: What made you go from wanting to work as a print illustrator to working on movies? Was it a business decision, or more of a case of following your muse? Is it more fun, more rewarding, to work on a film? (I recall discussing this a while ago, and you really enjoyed the collaborative nature of film.)

Greg Spalenka: I began working in film through the kind invitation of Production Designer Barry Jackson. The world of publishing had been waning since the late 90’s, and having seen much of the concept design work of productions that Barry had worked on intrigued me. I loved learning about how a [CG animated and live-action] film is made. I enjoyed working in collaboration with talented individuals.

It paid fairly well, but you earned it because you worked very hard. At the end of the day though, you owned nothing you created for these films, as it was all work for hire. You can see a bunch of my work in the December 2010 release of, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. Ultimately, working in film has inspired me to bring my own creations/stories to the screen.

Michael Gibbs: It’s one thing to be inspired, but another to stay inspired. How do you stay inspired over time?

Greg Spalenka: For me it is too much inspiration! I will need several lifetimes to finish up the ideas I have in my head already. However, for others who may have some challenges with this, I suggest really getting to know who you are! Know Thyself! Believe me, the universe inside you is vast. Take a little time and effort to travel the depths of your soul and you will find treasure beyond your wildest dreams. Of course taking a trip to another city, state, country can do wonders, too.

Michael Gibbs: Perhaps the ultimate “inspiration” question: what inspired you to become an artist?

Greg Spalenka: I did not have a choice in the matter. The art spirit lives large inside me. Just going with the flow.

About illustrator and designer Michael Glenwood Gibbs

Michael Glenwood Gibbs is the designer of Be Inkandescent Magazine and its parent company, Inkandescent Public Relations. An award-winning designer and illustrator, Michael has been freelancing for some of the nation’s most well-known publications and companies since attending Pratt Institute as a photography and illustration major in the mid-70s. His award-winning artwork has appeared in Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Worth Magazine, Consumer Reports, Harvard Business Review, and publications for United Airlines, Verizon, IBM, Sears, and American Airlines, as well as many book covers and posters.

What inspires Gibbs? “Assignments such as the commission to create one of 100 posters for the ‘Heads for Haiti’ fundraiser to raise money after the earthquake that rocked that nation,” he says.

See that image above, and view of Gibbs’ work here: www.michaelgibbs.com and www.mglenwood.com

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