No work, no food
November 17, 2011
Mikhail Vyrtsev (also known as Reey Whaar) was born in Moscow in 1988, did good in school, and listened to his mom. For a year he studied cooking, then graphic design for one and a half year, then worked at Danone, where he handled shipping documents. And he realized that he wanted to be an illustrator: “I kinda like this capitalism—no work, no food.” Mikhail has worked with many agencies, including Lunar Hare, TBWA, Rodnaya Rech and Leo Burnett Ukraine. He has been and still is doing watercolor illustrations for slick magazines, such as Playboy, Men’s Health, Pro Sport and Psychology.
Watercolors are often thought of as a technique for painting sunsets and bouquets. Why have you chosen it?
I guess for the same reason Durer did when it was yet hardly used by anyone. It works! And it’s not even about watercolors. I sometimes add markers, or color ink pens, or gouache. Or I might scrap scrape watercolors off with a knife. You can even draw with a cigarette butt, if you feel like it. If oil applied to paper without unpleasant side-effects, it would work too. But oiled paper is only good for wrapping fish. And I just enjoy playing around with water. It runs here, and runs there. I add layers and apply washes. It’s like playing solitaire, or black jack with water. Sometimes—oops!—I end up with 22. So water wins and I’ve overdrawn.
Have you ever sold any watercolor landscapes or flower bouquets?
I have, and I still do occasionally. At times, I think that if I set up a shop selling such paintings (well, and maybe carpets with naked girls too, for the global community of truck drivers), I’d have a much steadier income. Only I’d develop both depression and a drinking problem, and my face would swell up, though otherwise I’m skinny. I’d look like a dandelion.
In your work do you mean to bring sarcastic messages in contrast with your ‘romantic’ technique?
There’s no such contrast. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an article in “Science Today” suggesting the two were antonymic. A loving husband who beats his wife in front of their children; people jumping out of the windows upon seeing a red chart; a war for the sake of peace; permanent disability as a result of an assault and battery on a panda bear; alcoholic clowns; fashionable artists who can’t even hold a brush, and their installations with concepts good for nothing but a drunken kitchen discussion; the Darwin Awards; the Christian church rolling in luxury; politicians acting against their own nations; food that kills; designer chairs impossible to sit in; people doing jobs they hate, etc. It even seems sometimes that if I bought a fridge, it would appear to heat things up. And there’d be nothing wrong with that—it would be me they’d think crazy and send away.
What would you write to capture attention, if you were supposed to provide a text description instead of your portfolio?
I’d convert the graphics into ASCII and submit those.
What is watercolor today?
The same it was six centuries ago, pigment mixed with a binding agent—gum arabic, for instance. Only now they use less vegetable pigments. I find it amusing that today’s watercolor art isn’t really watercolor painting, but graphic editing skills combined with what used to be watercolors. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what tool is in your hand and what medium you apply it to.
Whose watercolor artworks do you find interesting, among both Russian and foreign illustrators?
Grzegorz Wróbel, John Lovett, David Bellamy, Dmitry Ligay, Dima Rebus, and some other guys I don’t remember. Yeah, they’re great.
Why is it that when it’s time for children to learn to paint, in most cases they use watercolors by default?
I think it’s because oil is more expensive, and if they used it kids would get sick after the very first lesson. And another thing—they wouldn’t be strong enough to break the canvas in half to fold it and see the different symmetric shapes they can make.
Could you share some of your practical knowledge—what kind of paper, brushes and paints should beginning artists be after, and is there anything they should never use?
Thank to the communists, no need to search desperately and face a lack of choice or severe shortages today. You should try everything. No doubt you’ll come across something you can’t stand, which other people might be crazy about. You just have to know why you need it. For instance, I once used industrial construction brushes and make-up sponges to paint, and diluted watercolors with spirits.
Where should one learn to paint with watercolors?
I believe the Moscow State Internet offers a large variety of articles and videos. But if you are looking for a tutor, an angry red-faced man to yell “You’ve done it wrong”, probably MARHI or something. I’m not the one to ask, really.
What colors run out the fastest in your case? What are your favorites?
Ochre, vermilion, Caput Mortuum, cyan, sepia, Payne’s grey.
Who looks for watercolor illustrations these days?
My guess would be those who miss things you’d call warm and illuminated.
How do you go about manual painting to avoid having to do it all over again if your client asks for changes?
It’s all the same. Photoshop helps you deal with everything. It’s great not having to bother with all those tracing papers, cutouts and film developing, if something needs to be changed.
Do you throw away your paintings after scanning them?
No, I keep them. I should probably put them up on a wall somewhere, for those non-conformists to spray “Why” all over them.
What other media and techniques do you use, what new materials do you try? Who do you look up to and envy, what would you like to learn?
With lipstick on the mirror I can write “I’ll find you and kill your whole family.” I won’t name those I envy, but I’ll find them and kill their whole family.
Is there any kind of illustration that you hate?
I sure do hate political cartoons.
Where do you say a talent for drawing comes from?
Nothing will do but daily physical activity, a glass of wine, and endless discussions on how bad things are in Russia. Forget skills and practicing to perfection.
If illustration once wore off on you, what would you do for a living?
I’d be building high-performance computing clusters.
What do you do in your spare time?
I carry out experiments on monkeys in my basement, then I go to the living room and turn on the TV, and me and my dog on the carpet watch “Lassie”, and my parents on the couch behind smile so wide you can see all their thirty two teeth, refusing to notice my passion for the basement monkey experiments.
What place on Earth would you choose for yourself?
It could be Scotland or Ireland. Poland would be my last choice, because in case of war it’s always the first country to be occupied and divided.
What’s your most vivid childhood memory related to drawing?
One day a friend came over. We were drawing, and he doodled something. Well, I looked at it—and it was like in that movie “Requiem for a Dream”, with dilated pupils and everything. Since then, I’ve had a feel for this kind of art.
Is there a book you would like to illustrate?
Hemingway wrote a nice story in just six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” And there’s another fine piece by him: “The Greeks were nice chaps too. When they evacuated they had all their baggage animals they couldn't take off with them so they just broke their forelegs and dumped them into the shallow water. All those mules with their forelegs broken pushed over into the shallow water. It was all a pleasant business. My word yes a most pleasant business.”
Why is illustration needed at all?
To express things when words won’t do, even swearing.