Six Degrees Magazine
The following is the complete
interview with Six Degrees
December 2008 Edition
Where were you born and raised?
What is your ethnic background?
Both my parents were Scicilian. My grandparents were from Palermo.
Where did you go to school and what did you major in?
I graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1978 with a BFA in Design. Then I did some post-graduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee studying
film history and film editing.
What is your work title?
Creative Director for Sussman Sikes & Associates Advertising and Partner in Frame Your Face, LLC.
Tell me about your business. How did you get involved in it and what do you do there?
In 198O, I moved to Detroit and began a career in advertising as an Art Director. I’ve done work a for such clients as Black & Decker, Buick, Cellular One, D.O.C, GMC Truck, NAPA, Pro Golf, Little River Casino, Weight Watchers and many more. Along the way I re-discovered my love for film and have been directing television commercials for several years now. I never completely abandoned my less commercial art, but found very little time to paint. Then in late 2OO1, I did a sketch I did of a friend and turned it first into a 24″ x 24″ print, and then into a 54″ x 54″ acrylic painting. When Alan Sussman, president of Sussman Sikes where I am the creative director saw it, he said “Put a thought bubble on that, and we have a business.” Well, I didn’t want a business! I just wanted to draw and paint again. But Alan can be very persuasive. The reaction to the new work was surprisingly intense, and pretty soon other friends and associates were asking me to do their portraits. The rest, as they say, is history.
How did you know this was the business you wanted to do? Where you also reading comic books growing up and drawing them? How did the love for pop art come about?
All through high school and college I painted and drew cartoons. For some reason, Milwaukee was home to some of the most important underground comic artists
of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Guys like Denis Kitchen, Bruce Walthers and Jim Mitchell. I bought every underground comic book I could get my hands on. Loved their stuff. And they lived just a few blocks or so from me! So they were my heroes. At Kansas City, I decided to major in graphic design, not painting. But I still studied all the great Pop artists: Warhol, Lichtenstien, Tom Wesselmann, Jasper Johns. My work combined what I liked about pop art and underground comics. Then when I moved back to Milwaukee in ‘78 after college I actually got to meet Jim Mitchell, and he offered to introduce me to Denis Kitchen, who was publishing a lot of comic books (“comix” in those days). He thought my comic “Space Punk” had possibilities. But two things happened: I got engaged, and I got a job offer from an ad agency in Detroit. I took the advertising job, and 28 years later, I’m still here, still doing advertising. But now I’m painting again, and I think anyone can see what and who my influences are.
What do you like about your job?
Whether it’s in my role as a creative director facing a new assignment or as an artist starting a new canvas, I love the proverbial “blank piece of paper’. Looking for inspiration, creating something out of nothing. Trying to define and explain something my way.
What do you find most challenging with your work?
TM: Well, there are two constant challenges: One is keeping up with culture and technology and making sure my work, both in advertising and as an artist stays
relevant. The other is to find the time and energy to do both my jobs to the absolute best of my ability, and still have some kind of family life. I could really use about 36 hours in a day.
What does a typical day at work involve you doing?
I’m in the office by 7:30, dealing with e-mails and any paper work left over from the day before. Then I spend about an hour on Google looking for anything that might be similar to Frame Your Face, making sure it’s still one-of-a-kind. If I have a portrait that I’ve been working on I’l spend some time there. Then I have to turn my attention to my other job and prioritize any assignments and get going on them. I might be going over pictures of locations for a photo shoot, looking at proposed designs for a web site my creative department is working on, editing a television commercial, writing an ad, anything. I’ll keep going till about 6, and then I might spend another couple of hours back on Frame Your Face. That’s a nice 12-hour day!
Who is your clientele?
I find my clientele for Frame Your Face to be extremely diverse. From parents who want portraits of their children to the more famous among us who want a portrait for themselves but want something really different from all the photography they have.
I read that a few celebs have your work? How did that happen and who are some of them?
Because of my position as a creative director I’ve met a lot of producers, directors, agents, what have you. Some of them commissioned me to do portraits of the stars they were working with. Kid Rock and Usher, to name just a couple, had portraits given to them as gifts. Then it’s word of mouth.
What is the average costs of a portrait and which have been your popular ones?
A 24” x 24” unframed commissioned portrait is $650. You can spend over $3,000 if you want a big, hand-painted canvas. If you want to by a print or painting of a celebrity or historical figure, you can spend anywhere from $300 to $1,800.
What do you believe makes you successful in your line of work?
It’s hard to bring anything new to the party these days. If you’re unique, you can be successful. I’m unique. Not in my talent; there are many, many talented artists out there. But whole package of what Frame Your Face is, what the portraits look like, the colors, the thought bubble, the big paint-by-number canvases for parties, that’s all unique.
What are your future work goals?
I want Frame Your Face to really blow up big enough that I can finally walk away– albeit with some regret – from advertising.
Are you married?
Liz and I have been married for since 1980.
Do you have children?
We have two boys. Alex and Matt both both swam and played water polo in high school.
Do you own any pets?
We have two Caviler King Charles spaniels, Griffy and Bear.
Tell me about the comic book character you use to draw? What happened to him or her?
My comic book character was called Space Punk. He was sort of a 60’s version of Buck Rodgers. That is, he lived in the future, flew around in his space ship, had all sorts of adventures like Buck Rodgers, but he was a real 60’s sort of dude. And Space Punk was an “underground” comic, so it was sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. In space.
What do you like about living in Detroit?
You know, despite all the problems, Detroit is still a big, buzzin’ town. It has an identity that pre-dates the problems that make the headlines today. It’s tough.
It’s got grit. It has great museums and theatre and great sports teams. It has astonishing architecture downtown and beautiful suburbs.
Who do you admire and why?
I really admire Denis Kitchen. His comics were so good, so relevant. But he didn’t fade away with the 60’s and 70’s. He moved way beyond drawing comic books to build an amazing publishing house. He’s published the works of Will Eisner, Al Capp, Harvey Kurtzman, and many more. Because of him, classic comics like The Spirit, Li’l Abner, and Krazy Kat are still in print and can be read and enjoyed today.
What is the best advice you can give someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
If you love your art, don’t ever give up on it. Even if you have to put it on hold for a quarter-century.
I should have asked you this in the beginning but why did you stop doing murals or as it says in your website put away your paintbrushes?
Well I was getting married, and I thought I needed to get a “real job”. Needed a steady pay check. I didn’t feel I was selling out, because I loved advertising and besides, I could still draw as part of my work.
What does your family think about your success as an artist? Do any of your sons have a knack for art as well?
I know they don’t care for the long hours! The boys claim they can’t draw, but I’ve seen example that put the lie to that. Alex is studying film and video production at ASU, so perhaps there’s some continuity there.
What has been one of your most favorite paintings to put together and which is one that you look forward to doing?
I always look forward to the next one. Strangely, because this almost never happens, my favorite is also the public’s favorite: John Lennon.
Lastly, what is the method you use to put together your drawings?
That’s changed in just the last couple of years. I used to start with a pencil sketch, then I’d ink over that, and then scan that into the computer. Then I’d add the thought bubble, the words and the color. The last part’s the same, but now I use a stylus and draw directly to the computer.