CD: We’ve known each other for many years. When we first met you were at the Bible of the industry, The Creative Black Book then as a creative consultant to photographers, but always as an artist.
Tell me about how and where you got started – a little bit of life history, interest in art, the early days of the Black Book and the shift into Heartstorming.
Ian Summers: One of my earliest childhood memories is the joy of receiving a new box of Crayolas which was every few weeks because I liked to break them. This upset my father. He didn’t understand why I peeled the paper sleeves and used the sides to color. I loved coloring outside the lines. This also annoyed my father.
I had not yet been to an art museum. I had no idea what art was supposed to look like. I recall a coloring book with Looney Tunes characters. Maybe I was 6 or 7. Elmer Fudd was colored green. Bugs Bunny was blue violet.
But somewhere along the way, my Mom and Dad realized that I was talented. They sent me to an after school program in downtown Paterson, NJ where we sat for hours drawing lips, ears, and mouths from dismembered plaster casts.
I joined the Fair Lawn Boy’s Club when I was 8. I learned to box and shoot rifles. There was an art contest. I made a charcoal drawing of my best friend Bob. I won first prize in my age category. I got lots of pats on the back. I entered and won Halloween window painting contests.
When I declared myself an art major he told me that painting was something doctors did on weekends. They even tried to get me interested in becoming a medical illustrator. We settled on art education as a major.
My first job after graduating college was as an art teacher in a high school in NJ. I loved it. I think I was good at it. I painted. I was accepted in a local gallery. Sadly I have only one painting done in those formative years.
After three years, I turned down my tenure contract, got married and arranged free passage on a cargo ship that would take us to Paris where I expected to meet all of my art heroes. We were running out of money.
I was reading the classifieds and saw an ad for an art teacher wanted in London. I called. We took the ferry from Le Havre. I was interviewed and became the Artmaster at the American School in London. It was the sixties. I couldn’t have been in a more yeasty environment.
Two years later, we boarded a cargo ship destined for New York. I had a pregnant wife and no job.
I remembered a trade called art director. I knew it had something to do with advertising. Someone told me I needed to have a portfolio.
I became an art director without the slightest idea what that meant. I had some of the best bosses in the industry who helped me along. Within two years I became a Creative Director at a now defunct agency called Leber Katz Partners. But there was something missing. I felt an emptiness. It took years to identify what was wrong
After 14 years I left advertising and became a Creative Director at Random House. Stayed a couple of years. Started my own publishing company. And then a new opportunity opened up in 1986. I was appointed Creative Director of The Creative Black Book. I traveled all over the US helping artists enhance their careers, giving talks, and loving it.
The Black Book was sold. I had some profit sharing and could take a few months to figure out my next move. I decided to synthesize experience and passions and to become a coach to creative artists. Ran a full page ad in PDN and was immediately in business.
I co-created a world where my clients are encouraged to bring what they love into being by being a compassionate teacher and an expressionistic painter.
CD: The Conjured portraits are captivating to me. Especially when people have said to you that they know the people you have painted. Tell me how this series came to be, your inspiration, what it is like to draw on the iPad and of course, the software that you are using to create these images.
Ian Summers: People often ask what I mean by conjured. I rarely use any photographs or references. The faces seem to magically appear on the iPad. Thus conjured.
While these pieces are still a mystery to me, I believe the faces are the syntheses of memories of those I have met on my journey.
I start with a blank canvas at Sketchbook Pro which gives me a variety of tools to draw with. No photo scrap. No tracing. No one sitting for a portrait.
While I have a stylus, I prefer my fingers. Much more tactile. No paintbrushes to clean or paint to spill. No waiting for paint to dry.
These finger paintings are totally spontaneous. I never know what the face will look like when I begin. As I work, the image tells me a little about the conjured face as it emerges on the iPad.
When I started conjuring faces, the resemblance to anyone living or dead was purely coincidental. Yet viewers wanted to associate the face with someone they know – often celebrities.
Early in the process, my friend Robert Hayes challenged me to do self-portraits without looking at myself at various ages in my life. Conjured Face 210 showed a male face wearing yellow glasses. Christopher Harting simply wrote ‘selfie.’ I responded ‘They are all selfies Christopher, although that was not my intention. Perhaps it is inevitable.’
Is it still conjuring since I used no reference; not even a mirror? I think the face makes me look older with jowls, too gray, too…. So I took my iPad to the bathroom mirror and compared. Yikes! It’s a SELFIE.
See most of the Conjured Faces here.
16” x 24” prints have been made of 24 Conjured Faces that were on exhibit at the Banana Factory gallery also in Easton. I gave a gallery talk and invited the audience to write a name for each face on a post-it. No two names were alike.
The next phase with this body of work is to locate facial recognition software with a large database. I want to submit each of the images to the software which hopefully will return photographs of people who look like the artwork.
CD: Who have been your mentors or guiding lights through your career – as an artist and as an art director?
Ian Summers: I was most influenced by the abstract expressionists in the ‘60s; Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning & others. Pop Art grew on me and I later developed a love for Roy Lichenstein which when I think about it makes sense because I grew up with comic art.
Art directors and designers like George Lois, Ivan Chermayeff, Paul Rand, Saul Bass, Milton Glaser, Lou Dorfsman, and so many others were idols.
CD: What projects are you currently working on and are you planning to show or publish this material?
Ian Summers: There is a current show of my Out The Window series at Santa Bannon Fine Art gallery in Bethlehem, PA. These large paintings were inspired by the working class streets of Easton, PA. My loft is on the fourth floor of a converted warehouse.
CD: Many people know you as a guide for photographers. I am interested in knowing how this came about, this desire and need to guide people along their creative paths and how this has helped your art?
Ian Summers: While I loved my career in advertising and publishing, there was something missing. An emptiness. I was not taking care of my self creatively. Mostly everything I did was solve problems for others. I later redefined creativity as causing what one loves to come into being. My two greatest passions were being ignored: Making art and Teaching.
One of the things I teach is that it is possible to do more than one thing in your life. Photographers were told by well-meaning teachers that they must choose one specialty and to do it for the rest of their careers. Artists have many passions. I help my clients articulate their dreams and to manifest them. For example, I worked with a photographer who photographed spills and splashes before the age of Photoshop. He had many creative interests, but this was the only realized subject matter he had in his portfolio. I convinced him to introduce the word AND into his dream. I do this and that and that and that and… This is heresy. I show people how to tie it all together by locating the thread of vision that weaves its way through his or her body of work. I show them how to sell the thread rather than only the subject of their work.
CD: Advice for young artists starting out?
Ian Summers: About 20 years ago, I discovered an anonymous quote which is the best advice I can give to an artist or anyone else for that matter.
Be who you is,
Not who you ain’t.
‘Cause if you ain’t who you is.
Then you is who you ain’t.