From Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators
August 2009 PSInside Newsletter.

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You can taste the tang just looking at the tempting fruit Kurt dishes up in his product illustrations. A visit to his website will have you wishing you could reach into the screen to pull out that icy margarita. Here are some of his thoughts on the business of creating such eye catching, sensory art.

questionWhat’s the one aspect of illustration that most inspires or motivates you?

AnswerI love the fulfillment it continually provides. Illustration is hard work but euphoric when all the planets of the solar system align and the assorted creative elements of your illustration fall into place. As we all know, its sheer hell when they don’t. But if you can get in that groove where you can’t stop or walk away because of obsessing over the piece you’re working on, it can be exhilarating.

questionWhat do art directors like about your work?

AnswerOne art director made a comment on LinkedIn of which I am most proud. He said, “The thing that stands out most about Kurt is his willingness to take the extra step to make things great instead of just good.”

questionWho or what has been the biggest influence on your work?

AnswerPittsburgh Society of Illustrators members have been my greatest influence so far. Mom always said, “You become with whom you associate.” So hanging around very creative, talented people does invariably raise the bar. And isn’t that just what being a member of PSI should do?

questionWhat would you do with ten million dollars?

AnswerHaving ten million fall into my lap would finally allow me to relax. The struggle of chasing jobs to sustain life can be a bit tiresome. The money would be invested. Gifts would be given to family and friends. I’d have a really tricked out house, car and computer. My wife and I would continue to travel but with ten million we could really go in style! And she would probably end up with a whole bunch of shoes. Do I have to tell her I have this money?

questionWhat do you enjoy reading?

AnswerThe backs of cereal boxes and toothpaste tubes. Sometimes I even read these things called books but that is limited to software “how to” books and manuals.

questionWhat one thing would you like to learn to do?

AnswerI’ve always admired those individuals who have a fluent connection with the universe. People who clearly understand the incredible power of the law of attraction and readily practice this metaphysical concept in their daily worldly relationships. They clearly understand that their thoughts become reality so they think only positive ones, and that it is essential to give in order to receive. As a result, good things come to them. I’m far from processing these qualities in my own life so I would like to learn how to do this consistently and better.

questionShare an interesting work related anecdote about a tight deadline, dream assignment, or favorite art director.

AnswerI’d been aggressively going after illustrating for the Daily’s Drink Mix package label redesign. The project would be quite profitable if I could just persuade the creative director to hire me. There were 12 different illustrations and I quoted a week to do each one. I finally got word I won the contract except for one little stipulation, instead of 12 weeks I only had eight. I got this news as part of the creative team in the client’s conference room for initial planning and couldn’t conceal the blood draining from my face as I tried to process the fact I was losing a month of time. Panic overtook everyone in the room as I fell silent. Discussion quickly ensued for a contingency plan. Maybe someone else should be hired to help? That jolted me back to reality. I had to make this work. I finally regained my composure and assured the group I was capable. I smile when I think about the ride back to my studio asking myself over and over, “Okay, so how are you going to pull this off?” As evidence shows, I succeeded and those illustrations were for a long time the jewel of my portfolio. The experience helped me once again to realize what I could do when I have to.

Here’s the website where you’ll find those tempting drinks:

Kurt Pfaff

questionHow would you describe your personality and lifestyle?

AnswerMy lifestyle is devoted to ferociously toiling behind a computer screen with occasional outbursts of intense relaxation by traveling to far off lands such as Sidney Australia, Barcelona Spain and Istanbul Turkey. I married a woman who is determined to see as much of this world as she can. For this I am grateful because if not for her, I would probably never move from behind that computer screen.

questionWas there a significant turning point or detour in your career?

AnswerThe biggest career detour was October of 2000 when a 20-year partnership in an advertising agency and marriage was dissolved. My first wife and I called it quits and she bought up my share in our business. I was forced to reinvent my life. It was a time of considerable turmoil and stupendous joy. I found out that old saying is indeed true, when one door slams shut not one, but many doors fly open. Uncertainty was, and still is, the scary part.

questionFrom what illustration assignment did you learn the most about yourself?

AnswerIf I’m doing it right I learn about myself from each and every assignment. I try to push my own envelope to explore creative places I’ve not discovered yet. If I’m not terrified and questioning myself and my abilities at the beginning then I have little interest in the job. Luckily there are plenty of uncontrollable variables with each project to make it engaging. Assignments are plagued with inflexible production constraints and challenges with ridiculous deadlines. Throughout the project evolution answers are found by thinking it through and problem solving. The payoff is the check that arrives afterwards of course, but there are many other sources of gratification. Admiring the finished piece while chuckling about how frightened I was at the various stages of construction yields a fair amount of satisfaction, too. I enjoy sometimes surprising my customers and always get a kick out of surprising myself as well.



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questionWhat was the most constructive criticism that you ever received?

AnswerWe become what we think about most.

questionWhat advice would you offer to those who admire your work and want to learn from you?

AnswerI really don’t know if I’m worthy of their admiration. I’ve been at this for a while now and I’m still a work in progress. My big secret is put in the time. Draw a lot but, more importantly, discover your niche or style. For me, I’m still looking. The great thing about PSI is we are a collection of individuals. The successful ones learned to follow their own path and have the strength to believe in themselves. That works in life too. You won’t get anywhere following the crowd. That means taking many risks and sometimes enduring ridicule. That’s where the strength part comes in.

questionDoes the artwork that you do for yourself differ from the artwork that you do for your clients? If so, how?

AnswerTime is a valuable commodity so I feel producing artwork must serve a purpose. I don’t just pick up a pencil and start drawing. I work with 3D and drawing programs and practice regularly to gain experience. I am hired lately primarily for illustrations on packaging. Although I am extremely grateful for the work the result is being somewhat pigeonholed in the eyes of agencies and their creative and art directors. The last few challenging PSI assignments of Recast, Right Now and Fission of Form have been wonderful opportunities for me to explore an editorial style. I like the fact that art directors aren’t molding my work into their particular need. By getting into my obsessive and exhilarating groove I had the means in which to learn and develop unrealized possibilities. By taking on these exercises I could showcase my capabilities in other divergent illustration genres and once again surprise myself in the process. The finished product is utilized as promotion to advance my business by opening doors that once were closed to me because I didn’t have specific samples. The assumption was made I didn’t or couldn’t do the work. I’m happy to have proven that assumption wrong.