Dylan, congratulations for winning the Figurative Art award of the Artzine Prize 2018! Your piece ‘Portrait in Precipitate’ was the most voted by the prize jury in its category. Why did you choose this piece to enter the prize?
Thank you very much! And thank you to the jury for everything. This is going to sound really negative, but one of the most effective parts of my process is to hate everything I draw. I try to never hold any project on a pedestal of satisfaction, or else I’ll get too comfortable with my development. Each piece has to be a fresh attempt at pushing myself further. Portrait in Precipitate was the newest project at the time of the submission window, so it was getting a brief flash of favorability before becoming irrelevant. I would have been embarrassed to submit any other work at the time.
When did you start your path as an artist? Do you remember your first artwork? What did it represent?
I went to college pretty undecided. A girl I had a crush on was an art major, so I thought I’d try that just for the heck of it. Drawing was always a hobby through grade school, but my focus for the major was sculpture, and I began idolizing artists like Ron Mueck. My first piece of any emotional substance was a sculpture named Dignity of a woman on her deathbed. I don’t remember what happened to that piece, I have a bad feeling she’s in a landfill.
You define yourself as a photorealistic portrait artist. For us, ordinary mortals, what you can achieve with only a pencil and a paper is absolutely incredible! Where did you learn your technique? What would you say to those people out there who may find themselves wondering: “why does this guy do photorealism instead of just taking a picture”?
As far as the reasons behind working in photorealism, it can get a bit tricky. With this genre, the art is so much more than the final product. For me, it’s an exploration of medium, an exercise in precision and self-discipline, and an attempt to engineer myself and my tools to produce the work of a machine. There’s seriously such a long way to go, but pitting myself with a pursuit of perfection guarantees that there’s always another milestone to reach, so there’s always a reason to stay busy. And also I love it.
And an artist saying they are self-taught is supposed to be impressive, but it really just means that entire swaths of foundational training were shirked in lieu of specializing in an the artist’s niche interests, learning only techniques that had immediate necessity. Maybe I’m only speaking for myself. That being said, I consider myself self-taught, and I would be utterly lost if I was asked to draw a figure from life.
Your ability to capture every last detail of an image, makes it very difficult to guess if what we are looking at is a photograph or a painting or drawing. How long does it take you to finish one of your pieces, and which parts or elements are the hardest to get?
Completion times can vary a lot. It seems like every time I figure out how to make the process more efficient, I add a new element that can slog everything down. But these days I can manage an 18 x 24” portrait in about eight days of intensive work.
And the absolute hardest thing to draw are light textures on light surfaces, it takes a super subtle hand, and way more restraint than I have the patience for. But I’m also going to take this as a chance to vent some frustrations about highlights. Highlights are impossible. Not difficult, impossible. Because there’s no way to make a 2-dimensional charcoal drawing emit light. It took me a couple of years to come to terms with that.
What inspires you to choose the subjects of your work and what do you intend to transmit or appeal to with your art?
With my portraits, proximity is a pretty big factor in determining who I draw. It’s always an incentive to expand my social circles to get new models in the mix, but I’ve done five portraits of my roommate, and could probably do five more. As far as intentions with my work, it’s really easy for the “message” to take a back seat to creating an image that’s visually exciting. I enjoy the process of translating textures I haven’t tried before. Expanding my vocabulary with the medium is a huge priority. Most of the time I have to cross my fingers and hope that an audience finds an image as compelling as I do.
Black and white is your main palette. Have you explored using colour as well?
I would love to work in color someday! I have such respect for the artists that do, color compounds every possible challenge black and white could present. I feel like going in that direction would just be a natural chain of events, but right now there’s a whole universe in charcoal and I feel like I’m just scratching the surface.
What artists would you point as artistic references?
Chuck Close for precision. Emanuele Dascanio for light and shadow. Eloy Morales for absolutely insane image quality translation.
Which would you say are the greatest satisfactions your career as an artist has brought and brings to your life?
It’s easy for me to underestimate the value of being a creative. It’s not something I think about, but every once in a while I’ll look at a fresh batch of drawings and realize how special it can be to generate something that didn’t exist before. That’s a bit of a schlocky answer.
What projects are you immersed in at the moment?
Getting ready for my first show in homefield Seattle! Wish me luck.
Where can we find Dylan Eakin when not in his studio?
I wish I had a more glamorous answer to this question. I’m an extreme homebody, and right now my drawing studio is my bedroom. I try to have a project going constantly, so you probably can’t find me anywhere. My friends can’t find me. My family can’t find me. But I’m right here. I’m in my room, you guys.