This week we are talking with Art Donovan, steampunk author, artist and curator.
Airship Ambassador: Welcome Art, it is so great to finally catch up with you!
Art Donovan: Hi, Kevin! Thanks for the invitation, I’m glad to be here.
AA: There are so many fun things to chat with you about – your lamps, your writing, and the museum exhibitions which you’ve curated. Let’s start at the beginning, with your design work before exploring the world of steampunk. What was your path which led to working with some impressive corporate names?
AD: Whoa! The Beginning? That would be 1975. I was a mechanical artist at Mego Toys in NYC. I was doing design, paste ups and mechanicals for all of their Superhero toys. It was thrilling. I got to know the illustrators and engineers there and I quickly started working in markers, acrylics and gouache along with making 3D prototype design and construction. This led to a career in graphic/ industrial design at Deskey Associates, NYC and other design firms when I finally gave it all up to start designing and making lighting in 1990.
AA: Your works are usually sculpture and lighting. Are there other mediums in or with which you work?
AD: My background and my projects required working in every imaginable medium and material, paint and substrate. This comes in awfully handy for doing things, not only in lighting but also, 2D and 3D graphics, interior staging and interior design for my wife, Leslie’s company, Staging Places and also for solving tons of ways to fix, build, touch up, modify and alter any kind of object for our clients.
Faux treatments are a specialty for me, as it is part of my background in photo-realistic illustration.
Which leads me to an important point, which is: When you pursue a career, there is no such thing as “wrong turns”. When you are serious and dedicated, everything you do and learn, adds to your tool kit of abilities and experience.
AA: Is there anything you would do differently, or recommend to your younger self, from those early days?
AD: For myself? No. I don’t think so. It takes a lifetime of experience, both good AND bad, to arrive at who you are- both as an artist and as a person.
AA: What can you share about some of those design projects? What were some of the challenges which came up in them?
AD: I would love to answer that, as it’s a really good question, but after 39 years of full-time art and design, I don’t even know where to begin. But I will say this about the greatest challenge and it applies to all artists: The toughest part of doing a commissioned project is getting paid, in full, in a timely manner. I cannot stress this enough. Here’s the deal: 50% of your bill is paid by your client to begin a project. Pencil don’t touch da’ paper until that’s done! Then 50% (the balance) upon delivery. Get the check in your hands before the piece goes on the UPS truck. No two ways about it. If you have been lucky otherwise, good for you. But don’t plan a career with this kind of luck.
AA: Gotta pay the bills – get the money up front! What were some key experiences from those projects which have stayed with you and influenced or guided your more recent work?
AD: The key experiences I have had was re-visiting the designs I had completed for clients and then re-thinking the projects from a standpoint of using alternate materials, more effective construction techniques and better allocation of my time for the project. If I didn’t so that, I would still be working 18 hour days/ 7 days a week- like I did for the first 8 years of our lighting company. It’s always grueling in art and design, but at the beginning of a company, it was a staggering amount of effort.
We’ll break here in our chat with Art Donovan.
Join us for Part 2 where Art talks about his work and influences.
Keep up to date with him on his website and his blog.
More information is also available on his page in The Steampunk Museum