Friday, November 13, 2015

An Interview with Artist Aaron “Doc” Springer


Welcome to Up Around the Corner, Aaron. Please, tell us a little about yourself and your Art.

A little about myself, eh? Well, my name is Aaron Springer, but I also go by Doc. The doc nickname came from my online moniker from Xbox live, which is Imdocholliday. I was always a big fan of the movie Tombstone, and so after years of friends calling me doc because of the online friendship, I decided to add it on since a good amount of my friends don't know me as Aaron. 

I'm from a small town in Ohio, grew up as the stereotypical "nerd" kid. Wearing Dragon ball t-shirts and playing Diablo while watching anime after school. Going to a high school that had a "drive your tractor to school day" most people weren't into a lot of the cartoons and games I was. So I wasn't exactly the "popular kid". That combined with the fact that my art teacher would never admit me into the "tag" art class(talented and gifted), because she said I would never do anything with my art, I really felt driven to succeed. Oh and my parents. My mom was always telling me not to care about those kids and what they thought. Just do what I love. 

After high school I ended up going to the Art institute of Pittsburgh for "media arts and animation."  Originally, I was hoping to get some kind of job doing comic book work, but I ended up falling in love with 3d computer modeling, and specialized in that.

I ended up getting in with a bunch of incredibly gifted artists, and we all used to just go above and beyond one another every week for our class projects. Challenging one another to be even better. Combining that with several teachers who actually cared about teaching (perhaps because they hadn't been beaten down from years of teaching and college politics, so they still had their rose colored glasses on, like Sunil Ketty) we all continued to spend more and more time outside of class learning and practicing our work.

Fast forward to after graduation, there weren't a ton of actual art related jobs, so I ended up falling into a job as a construction helper for this general contractor, Bill Adleff. We weren't a big company or anything, it was mainly just me and him rewiring houses and doing all kinds of other random work for people for around 5 years. 

After being done with that, and not doing much but small odd jobs myself, I ended up having the opportunity to move back home to Ohio, when my grandfather moved out of his place and into a nursing home. 

This gave me an opportunity to build up a portfolio of work and start doing the comic con thing. 

Initially I had t-shirts, all focused around bears and puns about them. People enjoyed them, but for whatever reason people didn't want to buy t-shirts. 
My girlfriend at the time, Minxy Stafford, convinced me I should start selling art prints. I was skeptical, but with not having to pay rent, I spent the time making a portfolio of artwork and then went back to the con scene, this time with much more success than before. 

Ok, haha, I realize I went overboard with the explains toon, but eh, it's who I am. Haha. 

Art prints rule over bear pun t-shirts. What exactly are art prints and what kinds of pictures or portraits do you do (maybe besides the occasional bear)?

To my understanding, the term "Art Print" comes from the Latin words "Articus Perintius".  Either that or it's a spell from Harry Potter. 

In reality though, Art Prints are basically photocopies of original works of art. Lots of artists still do original hand- drawn sketches, then get them photocopied and sell the copies, or the originals themselves, but for more money.

I do things a little bit differently though. The method varies depending on if I am doing a more photorealistic depiction of something or going for a more cartoony crossover/spoof.  For the photorealism, I will usually just work solely in a digital medium. I'll have a picture of the person I'm working on in front of me, and paint the screen pure black, then just look at the highlights on my reference picture and attempt to "draw them with the mouse. After it's done, I'll make another layer underneath and paint it white. It ends up giving you a two color image that's almost like a stencil. It takes a long time to do, because you are constantly refining what it looks like to make the most realistic looking image.

When it comes to cartoons though, I usually get lots of references for the cartoons I am mashing up, then either print them up or just look at them on my phone or computer while drawing an amalgamation of the two. Then I scan them in, use reference pictures to match the colors, then ink and color the drawings. 

As far as subject matter goes, typically I just do what I love. I still enjoy watching cartoons and playing video games, so I mash up different cartoons and other Pop culture into a new idea. 
I don't just randomly choose two things though. Normally I'll look at the show, and figure out the number of main characters. Then I'll think of something else that is or was popular, and find ones that match up. Invader Zim, an old Nickelodeon cartoon, was about this alien and his pet robot who he disguised as a dog. Then there is this new cartoon called Adventure Time. It's about this kid and his dog having crazy adventures. 

So, since they both have, at their core, 2 main characters, they both work well to me mashed up. I think that's what makes people enjoy my art. Is that it's not just random craziness, but a more measured psychosis. They can see the characters being in each other's world. 

Or I could just be overthinking everything and all people really want is one picture with everything from their childhood squished into one. 

Do you enjoy visiting art museums, and what do you think of the art they exhibit? What influence do you believe the art being created today will have on what's displayed in museums fifty years from now?

I do indeed enjoy visiting art museums. I don't go and look at them all the time, but I will usually go once or twice if I'm in a city that has a good museum. 

As far as art being displayed in the future, that is a whole other can of worms. Today we have access to Soo much art, that it has seemingly made most of today's artists have no need for a museum.

Other than the occasional traveling artist exhibit, like Alex Ross who does incredible oil painting comic covers, I really can't think of any artist who gained fame in the last 20 years enough that they would be a household name in the future.

Banksy, perhaps. That seems to be the new way of getting your art known. With the amount of access to artists from all over the world, unless you are sponsored by a company like DC or Marvel, you have to go outside traditional channels.  I know some of Banksy's work has been sold for outlandish amounts of money, and he's spray painting these things on walls!  Some thieves have even been known to steal the wall that is was spray painted on in the middle of the night!

So as far as art museums go, I think, unfortunately, they won't honestly have a ton of new artwork in them 50 years down the line, because the artists of today are using such different media that it has made the traditional galleries useless to them.

Want to see today's artists’ work? Just go online. Most of them work digitally now as it is, so you can look at their work in the same amount of detail from your home as you would anywhere else. 

What is one of the most challenging projects you’ve taken on as an artist, and what’s lesson you’ve learned that you think would benefit future artists?

I can't think specifically of one solitary piece of art that I'd classify as "the most challenging", but I'd have to say, as a whole, the adventure of trying to get a business started doing what I love is most likely the most challenging. For years in my free time I attempted to get a t-shirt business up and running. First, I'd initially try and screen my own shirts that I had figured out how to get it to work at home after numerous attempts at making the screen and such with materials readily available. They would be shirts with cool pictures I made and added sayings that I thought were meaningful in some way or another. After making I would have to say around 50 shirts or so, I kind of gave up that idea. People would like the ten designs or so I made, but no one would ever really buy them. I didn't aggressively market them to be honest.

Next came the Bear shirt ideas, with the help of my buddy Ecks. That's not his real name, of course. It's another one of those Xbox live monikers I know lots of people by. There's Ecks, elegant, Warmaster, etc...  Anyways, his uncle has a t-shirt printing shop. One that does high volume orders for big name companies. After getting the recommendation, I'd go there and get some 25 or so shirts made up at a good price. I ended up selling more of those than the others, but it still was no kind of business. Even after teaming with him and his business and going to some cons, I wasn't really getting the kind of sales numbers I was looking for to justify it as a successful venture. That, combined with some of Ecks array of health problems that caused him to have to step away from his company for a while, (shameless plug, Vidiotwear) I ended up striking out on my own to finally come to the business I have now of making prints and sometime soon hopefully get some shirts made of my prints perhaps.

It was a long road, and I'm nowhere even close to being at the top, but I'm chugging along, convention by convention, adding more dates and meeting new people along the way. 

As far as what lessons I've learned for future artists, it might sound cheesy, but if you've read down this far, it is definitely worth finishing the article read. The advice is, to just never become complacent. Always keep learning. New techniques, new ideas, new formats and mediums, just never feel like, ok, this is my forte, this is my niche, I'm going to draw exactly this way and style the rest of my life. 

It seems like lots of young artists get in this habit. They think they've hit the technical skill wall, that they can't get any better or draw anything more realistic, so they stop trying, and their work never evolves.

One important thing that college did, for all its faults and mistakes to look back on, in the early semesters they really almost broke you down and built you back up again. It sounds like a bad thing, but in reality it was just what most people need. It's what I like to think of as the Picasso effect.

When you think of Picasso, you think of these weird half faced blocky characters. That's what he's renowned for. So people just assume that's where his skill peaked. He found his niche and went with it. In reality, though, he was a master artist the likes of which could be put up against any of the other greats, and his work would rival theirs. He was an incredible artist. After he got to that point, of being able to paint these incredible lifelike realistic paintings, then he figured out his signature style. It wasn't like all he could paint were weird block people. It was that he first learned how to perfect realistic artwork, then, after he reached that point, he figured out how he enjoyed working and with what style.

If you look at his stuff, I feel like it shows it. The composition, panel arrangement, everything once you examine it. His true talent reflects itself in his work.

That's what kids need to realize. Just because you like anime, or Disney style drawing, doesn't mean from the start you should strive only for that style of art. Instead, you need to learn how to draw realistic anatomy and muscle structure. Proper basic skeleton building. Once you have those fundamentals, learn how to properly light and shade your artwork. Those lessons are universal, so no matter what you are working on, they apply.

Lots of people will come up to me and say, "I sure wish I could draw. You really have a gift." Something along those lines. Every artist hears that every day of his life practically. In truth though, it isn't a blessing or a gift, drawing is a skill. It is a technical, muscle memory type skill. Anyone, as long as they have some way to grip an artistic utensil, can draw with enough practice. It is why those photo booths can replicate photos. Drawing, painting, all those are technical skills anyone with enough time can master. It's the creative thinking that can't be taught. You can teach someone the ability to perfectly replicate a still life bowl of fruit. You can't teach someone to look at that bowl of fruit and draw that bowl of fruit in a unique and funny way that is both similar to other bowls of fruit, but unique and different from them at the same time.

It's the creative thinking that makes artists what they are. It's what we should strive to teach our kids. Be hungry, be obsessed, and never be satisfied with your work. Because the next piece you make will be even better than the last one. Throw some Bob Ross knowledge in there as a good closing thought.

Thanks everyone who actually took the time to read what ended up turning into a novella almost. Stay hungry.

Thank you, Aaron, for kindly answering my questions.

You can connect with and find out more about Aaron and his art through the link below:


  1. This interview so insightful. With your permission, I would like to use excerpts for my work in career development for students. Thanks!

  2. Sure. I would be happy to have you do that!