An illustration inspired by scientific illustrators of old, by Erik Pitchford.
An illustration inspired by scientific illustrators of old, by Erik Pitchford.
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Entering college for the first time is a huge transition. For many students, we are moving out of our homes, maybe even from out-of-state, and entering into a world unknown while learning to navigate a big life change. Part of being at MCAD is learning about and reflecting on your creative work and your perspective of the world, and learning to talk and write about those things professionally. I was curious how one of my peers, who also happens to be one of my favorite people to follow on Instagram, sophomore Erik Pitchford feels about some pretty heavy questions about being an artist at MCAD, as well as his inspirations and how social media ties into everything.

Sophomore Erik Pitchford is considering illustration as a major.

 

Hi Erik! I love your work and your Instagram feed. So, what is your favorite thing about studying at MCAD?

Perhaps my favorite thing about studying at MCAD is the environment of the school itself. Coming from a relatively small midwestern town with a high school where it always felt like art took a backseat to other endeavors like sports, being an artistically minded person meant there was only a small number of people at my school that I could collaborate and have a creative discussion with. In contrast, MCAD is an incredibly vibrant and inviting community of artists just like me. We all come from different backgrounds and have different ways of thinking, but we all have the shared goal of creating work with meaning and purpose. It has been incredibly gratifying meeting so many like-minded individuals and to feel the sense of belonging I do at MCAD.

What do you like best about illustration, your potential major? Are there any classes, techniques, or professors that stand out to you?

While I certainly consider the written word to be powerful alone, I have always felt that imagery has a certain power that writing is simply incapable of harnessing. Imagery is able to instantly connect with people to convey meaning and emotion in a way that the written word can only do through exceptionally long bodies of text. However, when imagery and writing are used in tandem, the two work together in a way that creates the most lasting impression on the viewer. Finding ways to create imagery that emphasizes and works well with writing is what I look forward to in exploring Illustration and is what I consider to be the major’s greatest quality. This coming semester will be my first where I take classes specifically related to my major, starting with Introduction to Illustration. That said, I am not entirely sure what to expect from my classes and professors, but I am more than excited for the skills and techniques I will learn and the people I will meet along the way.

Newest illustration by Erik

 

When it comes to inspiration, what three things inspire you most?

Perhaps the thing that inspires me the most is life. I choose such a vague and broad word because my passion for it is just as broad and encompassing. As an attempt to put this fascination into words, I am simply enthralled by the concept of life itself. In this massive desert of stars and planets that make up our unimaginably expansive universe, here we all are on this tiny little planet we call earth, an oasis for this most precious gift called life. All life that we are currently aware of has only ever lived on this small rock in the Milky Way, growing, evolving, and co-existing with one another for millions upon millions of years. The vast scope of nature, all the world’s plants and animals, inspire me beyond words, and I am honored to be a participant in life and depict it with my art as best I can.

Another thing that inspires me is the past. Whether it be looking back millions of years at the dinosaurs or hundreds of years with the dawn of modern science and reason, I find it fascinating to look back and realize just how much our earth and our way of thinking has changed. The fact that we are constantly driven to discover and learn more about the past is incredibly inspiring to me. Not to mention the fact that new discoveries are constantly being made, creating an endless list of things to find inspiration from. This also includes styles of art and culture that have come and gone through the ages, I find it very interesting how people’s tastes have changed throughout or even as a result of history.

And lastly, another concept that inspires me is the future. While I am deeply interested in how life will change and grow as time goes on, perhaps what I find most entrancing is man’s relationship with nature and how we will affect earth’s future. While I do find inspiration in how we will forge our future and better our lives, this interest is primarily fueled by fear rather than wonder, namely regarding man’s negative effects on nature. This sublime inspiration I find with the future drives my desire to create work that in some way affects people's views regarding nature and our effect on it. If I can inspire at least one person to look at nature in a new light and join the fight for a more environmentally aware world, then I will consider my art a success.

Illustration by Erik

 

How do you feel about social media and art, specifically yours? 

I have a fairly mixed relationship with social media and its effect on today’s art scene. I have always been a rather elusive person in terms of my online presence; I rarely post anything on Facebook, I don’t have a Tumblr or Twitter account, and I only started using Instagram last fall. This behavior has never been driven by a feeling of animosity towards the internet or the fear of putting myself out there, it simply stems from feeling I didn’t have anything to say on social media. While I have begun to post regularly on my Instagram and I still check what my friends are up to on Facebook, the primary reason behind me keeping these accounts is the issue that I find most daunting regarding social media: achieving relevance. Instagram and the internet as a whole is overflowing with artists, each trying to get a word in and trying to show off their work to the countless millions that regularly use these social media platforms. The problem is, with this oversaturation of artists and their work, it has only become more and more difficult to create art that not only stands out but that is viewed by more than a handful of dutiful followers. Every time I open my Instagram feed I am bombarded by art, all of which is by very talented individuals, but with so much incredible art available to view at any time the challenge of getting your foot in the door and becoming in any way relevant appears all the more daunting with every login. How does a single drop of water stand out in an entire ocean of water? Despite this, I also feel like it has become a necessity to have these social media accounts to be successful to any propensity. The world we live in has began to exponentially depend on the internet, whether for business or pleasure. If an artist has any desire to gain notoriety then they must go where the art-viewing public is, and these places are social media platforms.

While this may all seem very cynical, I can say that social media is still a great way to connect with other artists and get inspiration from their work. I follow many of my fellow MCAD classmates on Instagram and I love to see what new work they create. I have also found that social media is a helpful way to catalog my work and I find it rather enjoyable to look back at my own posts and see how my art has improved. Social media’s relationship to art has always been a sort of double-edged sword to me, but I do feel that when it is used in a way to boost artists’ presence and connect with other art makers that it can be a very beneficial tool.

What is your dream job?

Because of my fondness for science and the natural world, I think my dream job would be to work as a scientific illustrator. It would be a dream to be able to create art of newly discovered species, art for scientific articles or research papers, or perhaps create pieces for museums or zoos across the world. Ever since I was little, the art of foreign environments, prehistoric creatures, and all forms of plants and animals have always filled me with a sense of wonder and admiration for the natural world. I would be incredibly humbled and honored to be able to instill such a feeling in children and adults just like me.

 

Illustration by Erik

 

What project are you working on currently?

Over the course of the summer, I have been working on new art pieces to sell at the upcoming MCAD Art Sale and to use as practice for the coming semester. In this regard, I have recently completed various commissioned pieces for people around my hometown as well as several pieces of my own devising. I have always been very fond of 19th-century nature illustrations such as the work of John James Audubon, as well as the work of Walton Ford who creates modern work with a similar aesthetic to these classic illustrations. With my most recent pieces, I have sought inspiration from this style of illustration while incorporating visual tropes that I personally find attractive. Similar to much of Audubon’s work, notably his Birds of North America series, the subjects of my work tend to be avian in nature. Birds are incredibly interesting to me: they are capable of flight, they manifest in a menagerie of shapes and colors, and they share a lineage with the dinosaurs of old, a personal fascination of mine. My aim is to depict birds dynamically, portraying their beautiful shapes, colors, and natural behaviors in a way that is not dissimilar to the work of classic illustrators, but more modern and with more action.