By Michael Gibbs
American illustrator and painter Sterling Clinton Hundley made his debut as a fine artist in 2009 with a solo art show, entitled “Emergent,” held at the Ghostprint Gallery in Richmond, VA. It featured 104 new works of art.
A 1998 graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, he’s currently an Associate Professor in VCU’s Department of Communication Arts, as well as on the faculty of The Art Department, an online art school dedicated to training and preparing artists for today’s professional art world.
Hundley says he’s a big fan of helping students achieve their goals, perhaps because while still a student himself, he achieved professional status. his work appeared in the Society of Illustrators Student Scholarship Competition, CMYK, Step by Step Magazine, and the Society of Illustrators Annual Competition. During the summers of 1998 and ’99, Hundley attended the Illustration Academy in Kansas City, Mo.
He is the recipient of three Gold and two Silver medals from the Society of Illustrators New York, as well as Gold and Silver medals from the Illustrators Club in Washington, D.C. Hundley’s work appears regularly in the pages of Communication Arts magazine, American Illustration, Print Magazine, and Step by Step Graphics. His clients include Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Marvel, Atlantic Monthly, the Grammys, GQ, and The New Yorker.
It was a pleasure to sit down with Hundley in his classroom at Virginia Commonwealth University to talk about his ideas about the artist as entrepreneur. Scroll down for that, and click here to listen to our interview as a podcast on “Art 101: Artists on the Real World of Art,” on the Inkandescent Radio Network.
Michael Gibbs: First, let’s talk about your success in the art community. You were immediately successful as an artist, winning awards while still in college at VCU. How did you get a jump-start on the business?
Sterling Hundley: Looking back, I was afforded opportunities early on, for which I am very thankful. I worked hard for my luck. In my career, much as in my life, I aggressively addressed my fears, embracing them as motivation. “I run at hills.” I remember telling myself this when I was involved in sports, early on. I’ve embraced that as a metaphor for much of my adult life. My assumption was that my fears were universal—shared by most. It’s just that others weren’t willing to turn to meet theirs. Every moment of contentment in my life has come on the heels of a conquered fear.
Michael Gibbs: Have you always been an artist, even as a kid? Do you remember the first picture you drew?
Sterling Hundley: I grew up in a supportive, creative home. My father is very creative, intelligent, and complex. He has been somewhat of a serial entrepreneur, but has focused mostly on blue-collar type work. My mother is an artist, and an amazingly pragmatic, actionable thinker. Growing up in such an environment, one is bound to benefit from the context. My brother and I grew up drawing, constructing things of clothespins, chipboard, and yarn; inventing parking garages out of throw rugs, and worlds out of twigs and acorns. In putting together “Blue Collar/White Collar,” I was amazed at the similarity between work that I created then and now.
Michael Gibbs: Who are some of your biggest influences in the art world?
Sterling Hundley: As an artist, the most sincere of all compliments that I can give to a work is, “I wish that I had created that.” My influences range from the aesthetic to the intent behind the creation of work, from Bernini to Picasso. In truth, my influences are an aggregate of likes and dislikes in music, politics, culture, my own life experiences, and all things between. I gain as much from things I condemn as I do from those I envy.
Michael Gibbs: Now let’s talk a little about your work as an art teacher. You are on the faculty of VCU, as well as a new cutting-edge art school called The Art Department. It’s an online school that has some pretty amazing artists teaching students—including several from Pixar. What is the goal of this program, and do you see online art programs replacing the college classroom?
Sterling Hundley: I’m grateful to find myself at the crossroads of the top-rated public Art School in the nation at VCU, within the most sought-out department within the School of Arts (Communication Arts), and as the director of The Art Department’s (TAD) Richmond location. The juxtaposition of both programs affords me the opportunity to assist the most serious of our students with amazing opportunities, a burgeoning artistic community that is drawing in world-class talent, and to connect these individuals with industry. The Art Department is both brick and mortar and online, and aims to deliver content directly from its source—the very practitioners who are leading their respected industries.
Michael Gibbs: Now let’s get down to one of the ideas that we really like about your philosophy of art, which is the idea of the “Artist as Entrepreneur.” Granted, historically artists don’t tend to rock the business world. But you think that can and should change. Tell us about that idea. How you are trying to make a shift in the industry?
Sterling Hundley: We are in The Golden Age of entrepreneurship; one small step away from “if you can think it, you can make it.” With such advents in technology, and unprecedented access to a global audience, the qualifier that will determine something’s success hinges very much on distinction. Through platforms such as Kickstarter, Behance, and other creative-centered endeavors, artists no longer needs to wait for an external catalyst to validate the creation of the work. They need simply to author, manifest, and disseminate their own work.
Michael Gibbs: In terms of creating a business around your art, you have had a successful career in illustration and gallery work. Do you approach these two worlds differently? If so, how?
Sterling Hundley: Authorship. It’s an interesting word, particularly when considered in the most open of terms: to originate content, in any form. As an illustrator, I was always interjected into someone else’s process, creating work that is a reaction to an external catalyst. I am seeking responsibility for the creation of work from its inception, for better or worse.
The title of my book, Blue Collar/White Collar, is a reference to illustration as the blue-collar worker. Illustration is pervasive, and it works for a living. Illustrators are limited in time and space—time in which to communicate an idea to an audience, and the space in which it is shown. Such limitations are necessary to forge a direction. That gives our images a purpose.
The best illustrators establish their own rules and fashion follows suit, not the other way around. As a painter, you are afforded both the time with the viewer, and the space in which to explore nuance and dialogue, as opposed to dictation.
Michael Gibbs: How do you create a higher purpose for your students, and in your own artwork?
Sterling Hundley: I begin each course with the students completing a soul-purging writing exercise that seeks to unearth the motivation behind the work that has inspired the desire to pursue art as a lifelong ambition. Through this exercise, the students identify their passions and opinions and are encouraged to use them as guiding principles in the creation of their work. These ideas become the lens through which ambition is focused. I feel that I must convince them of four things:
- You have something to say.
- You have the means to say it.
- You have something worth hearing.
- Say it.
The third point is by far the hardest. It is filled with self-doubt related to quality and communication. It’s a belief that the arts matter; that their art matters. Remove art and culture from life and we’re back to being upright animals.
In my best estimation, all of art comes down to one thing: counterpoint. Dark versus light, saturation versus desaturation, cool versus warm, action versus static, open versus closed, etc. Ideas are born of the juxtaposition of such disparate things. In determining governing principles in the pursuit of my work, I begin with my passions, particularly those things that trouble me. Movement happens away from things. Recognizing what you will not stand for tempers your resolve and gives you a clear path forward. Each new chapter in my creative life is propelled by a desire to learn something; to satiate a curiosity. By juxtaposing these governing concepts, I am able to plot a course beyond that which I already know.
Michael Gibbs: Where can our readers see your work displayed?
Sterling Hundley: I have just closed my most recent exhibition, “The Spoils of Saint Hubris” at Ghostprint Gallery in Richmond, VA. We are wrapping up work on the catalogue next month. This fall, I am seeking venues in New York, the West Coast, and Europe. I have an exhibition in Encinitas, CA, in November. And my commercial work is largely archived in Blue Collar/White Collar at Adhouse Books.
For more information about Sterling Hundley, visit www.sterlinghundley.com.
About illustrator and designer Michael Glenwood Gibbs
Michael Glenwood Gibbs is the designer of Be Inkandescent Magazine and its parent company, The Inkandescent Group LLC. An award-winning designer and illustrator, Gibbs 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.
Gibbs’ 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.