Professor of Art at CSULB
MFA Print Exploration
April 28, 2020
W: Historically have you found yourself feeling the most creatively fulfilled by the work you do professionally or outside of that?
G: I would say that my commercial work has been, for the most part, very enjoyable. I thoroughly believe that in my personal work, now that I am pursuing my own MFA, is more interesting to me and I have a lot more confidence in it. I put that on the fact that I spent so much time helping other people make imagery for their words or their requests. When I was in my undergrad I was just making whatever I could, the best I could, really hoping to make my instructors happy because I didn't know what I was going to go or do. That was a really frustrating time for me.
I constantly reflect back to my first jobs doing editorial illustration and how I would be in such a panic when I said things like, "okay, I'll have sketches to you by tomorrow" and how long it would take to have those sketches done. It was very intimidating for me and now I can see how time has made it so much easier. The other day I did an entire job in one sitting. It was maybe six hours worth of work and I had a great time doing it. I sent them the sketches, I got my feedback, and then I just went to town to get it done. So, those are great moments, but I'm now less enamored by knowing that something I have created goes into print than I was when I first started. I used to go collect them all and now I just think, "oh, there's another one out there."
Part of the job is finding the love in something whether or not you are 100% on board. So in this instance, I had to draw jets flying. Basically, it was about a merger of two aerospace military companies and how a couple of subdivisions focused on carrier vans and elevator repair were branching off. My art director told me what he had in mind, which was fighter jets flying this way and then other fighter jets flying in another to show this branch off. I gave him two suggestions, one being the fighter jets that are branching off are not fighter jets, but are regular planes because it's not military-related. The other was to have jets flying overhead and a carrier van and an elevator floating down via parachute. To me the second idea is much more interesting and unique visually. They chose the original idea, which I was not personally in love with and not feeling as excited about. The challenge now becomes, “how do I make it exciting and interesting for me?”
Over the years as I worked as a professional editorial illustrator this has been a large part of my job. Now, suddenly having the opportunity in the MFA to make work that I want to make and without having a specific purpose or place for it I have been experiencing something very different. So, to answer your question I would say I fall on the side of “outside professional work”, but it's pretty close. You love them for different reasons. I love freelance work and I also love teaching people. Every experience is different.
G: What types of design or art do you partake in to fuel your need for creative outlet?
I've got some friends and all they want to do is draw all the time. They don't care about going outside or their overall health. They just want to sit there and do their thing. They're fulfilled by that, but I know that I have to do it in doses because if I only draw day in and day out I get burnt out. What I've found ultimately is that my interest is not necessarily directly in drawing. I like creating things and I like solving problems. I like to tinker and that may be with microcontrollers in an Arduino, which is my current trend, or tinkering on a motorcycle or just editing things. That's the busy me who wants to do stuff, but I do spend a good portion of that time in a drawing or designing aspect too. I find that it's what I have the deepest well for.
W: How do you find your creative drive impacted by times of high stress? Including right now as we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?
G: Well, to be honest, this whole situation hasn't affected me too much. Obviously teaching went online so I didn't lose my job, and my freelance, to a degree, had dwindled down because I've been focusing more time in the MFA purposely. I juggle teaching classes, taking classes, my professional work, my mural work, and then also trying to maintain a level of physical health and a healthy relationship with my wife while also taking care of the dogs. There's a lot of stuff being juggled. I like to plan and arrange things but adapting and improvising to new environments has always been my strength.
Something that I started thinking about for myself and that I share a lot with students is that you should always be doing the best that you can. Obviously, that's nothing new, “do the best that you can”, but the part that's not also stated is that the best work that you do doesn't have to be the best work that you've ever done. In my mind, the way that you can get through obstacles is to instead think of it like this, “This is the best that I could do with the materials available and the time at hand”, right? Let's say I had a year to do a painting and it was the most amazing painting I've ever done. Then the next painting is a commission by someone who loved the first, wanted one like it, but needed it done in two weeks. I can't expect it to be better than the first one. I had so much more time and energy to put into it .
Going back to the other question, I still enjoy the freelance work so much not because of the content, but because I'm more proud of the fact that it took me one day to create something that used to take me an entire week. I'm more impressed and happy with myself because of how far I've come and what I can do in a short amount of time. I can say to myself, "this is a strong and solid piece of work" regardless of the fact that other people were involved in the project. We're working together and sharing responsibility for that project. That makes it easier for me.
I can't think of an instance where I'm making personal work and I'm under tons of stress. I don't really have a time constraint or parameters by others. Any time that I start to slack on it, or I'm not delivering up to what I think I'm capable of, that's the only time I'm really frustrated with it. That has nothing to do with my skill level. That's really on me for managing my time poorly. Ultimately, art is not like a history test where you can cram the night before. You either spent the time on it or you didn't and it shows.
Another tangent, but one of the greatest lessons I learned in school was in seventh or eighth grade and it took me years to have it really sink in. My teacher called me out on some really poorly done homework and I mean poor for a seventh grader. He asked me if it was the best that I can do. To call his bluff I had to say yes. Then he says, “ and you put your family's name on it? You're going to bring this home and your parents are going to be proud of you and they're going to put this work on the fridge because you did your best?” I was just embarrassed at that moment, but years later I suddenly recognized this idea of pride. Pride is not necessarily a bad thing. So, every time I put something out there I have to be okay with going, "yeah, Gary Musgrave made that." That's a tough one to swallow because we are constantly progressing forward. Something I made years ago will look awful to me today because of how I have evolved and what I have learned along the way.
"I still enjoy the freelance work so much not because of the content, but because I'm more proud of the fact that it took me one day to create something that used to take me an entire week."
W: What are some tips you have for finding creative inspiration/outlet when in isolation or a high stress environment?
G: Definitely, looking at other work is good. I give a common assignment for my students to design a book jacket. Specifically, books that have been censored like Huckleberry Finn, Catch 22, or Catcher in the Rye. The minute they get their book title, the first thing that they do is look up what other people did. Bad idea because you instantly get locked into that depiction. It depends on your skill level and whether or not you aren't overly influenced by things, but god forbid you get Huckleberry Finn. I would say 90% of them go with boys on a raft on the river. It's really hard to get away from outside influences. So given that whatever my challenge is, I don't necessarily go look up what other people have done to solve that challenge, right? A good way to solve a problem like that is to read an analysis of the work, (if it’s a book that you don’t have time to read) and look for metaphor and analogies. If it’s an article or short read, read it, pull out the words that are interesting and look them up. Go down the rabbit hole of seeing analogies, metaphor, and relationships to the subject to solve the problem differently.
I do a lot of research into certain topics and I like to make a list of things thematically. My mind works in a very linear way. People may not always follow my train of thought because I will go off on tangents, but my thoughts are not non sequiturs, they are very linear. I just didn’t share every step I took to get there. The ideas I come up with or connections I make are not random. So, in times where I'm struggling for content or a solution to a problem I will get on the internet or open a book and start researching things that I find interesting or that I don't understand. This helps me to create imagery, solutions, or connections that are maybe not so obvious or cliche.
I think that this question starts to fall into the previous one where the stresses or the sandbox that we're playing in is what helps us to make and create. When we have the world at our fingertips and it's whatever our hearts desire it's more challenging. It's a bad challenge. It's those controlled constraints within creation that really help us to find interesting solutions.
W: I'm smiling because I'm going to present to you my next question and you're going to laugh. On that note, If you could create any project right now with unlimited time, energy, and resources, what would it be?
G: Yeah, World Peace!