I came across an article in the California Art League’s March 2013 newsletter entitled, “Joe Rubinstein – A Lesson in Portraiture”. His charcoal demonstration sketch of a fellow CAL member was superb. The article also mentioned Joe was a world renowned comic book illustrator who has been a pioneer in that industry for over 35 years. This rare combination intrigued me. I researched his website and Facebook Page and just had to learn more about this amazing artist. I wrote to Joe, and he graciously agreed to an interview with Pastimes for a Lifetime.
Q. As far back as you can remember, did you first consider yourself a fine artist or an illustrator?
A. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a comic book artist, and then I wanted to be a painter. I’m a comic book artist who paints, or I’m a painter who illustrates, or an illustrator who inks, or any combination thereof.
Q. When it comes to fine art, what is your medium of choice?
A. I enjoy them all for completely different reasons, but most recently (3 years ago?) I’ve taken to watercolor. One medium I never use in fine arts is ink since I use it all the time for comics.
Q. My students are interested in the latest tools of the trade. May I please inquire what brands of painting and drawing tools and grounds you prefer to use or recommend?
A. Anything that happens to be at hand. I like canvas and wood panels for oil painting for different reasons, and I like sticks of charcoal when doing bold drawings like a life-size demo for the CAL. I like charcoal pencils and pastels for portraits, and smooth kid-finish paper for watercolors.
Q. At what age did you realize you were an art spirit? Who spotted your talent and supported its development?
A. I have no idea what an art spirit is. I came to this country from Israel. I couldn’t read the language. I looked at my older cousin’s comic books. I wanted to draw like most little kids like to. Then I wanted to learn to draw better (“realistic”). Then I wanted to learn to paint better. I’m still trying to learn how to paint and draw better.
Q. Did anyone try to talk you out of fulfilling your dream as an artist or comic book illustrator? If so, how did you handle it?
A. My father paid for my art lessons starting at the age of 11 at the Art Students League of New York, but he didn’t want me to become an artist, even after I started to get freelance work in comic books. He wanted me to join the electrical workers union, which is the one he belonged to, so I could save enough money to study in Paris. I knew if I did that, I’d be too afraid to paint again, after a year. So, I just kept working. Ironically I just completed a comic book for the Electrical Workers Union Number 3, telling their history.
Q. Is fine art more of an avocation with comic illustration as your main vocation?
A. Now it is. I still enjoy comic books very much and all the notoriety and collaboration that comes with it, but ultimately I just want to paint and draw my own pictures alone or at least in the classroom with other good painters.
Q. For my students interested in pursuing a professional career in the arts, how did you go about getting hired when you first started vs. how you receive commissions today?
A. I became a “gofer” in a studio when I was 13 years old. I started to pick up the trade and the skills, got relationships going with the people there who then vouched for me, which helped me get other comic book jobs. I think getting yourself an apprenticeship is a good steppingstone to whatever field you want to go into.
Q. I understand you also teach classes. Do you teach comic illustration, portraiture, or both? How long have you been teaching? May I please inquire where and when you offer classes?
A. I teach whatever people want to learn. At comic book conventions, I do one and two day workshops. I’ve taught life drawing, head portraiture, and watercolor painting from photographs. Anything I know how to teach, I’m certainly willing to teach it. I offer Skype lessons from my home as well as workshops and demos throughout the L.A. area, and really anywhere in the country if the studio/ school/university flies me in for the occasion. Presently, I am looking for somewhere in L.A. to start teaching.
Q. What advice do you have for art students?
A. Everything comes from drawing. Adding color doesn’t make it easier if you don’t understand how to organize your picture in black-and-white terms. Also, don’t forget – you started this trip because it was fun and magical. Try not to lose that.
Josef Rubinstein’s stellar resume dates back to the 1970s where he worked as an inker at D.C. Comics, Marvel Comics, Archie Comics and more. His illustrations have appeared in numerous publications including American Artist Magazine, Society of Illustrators Annual, Advanced Techniques in Comic Art, and The Life of Nelson Mandela. He attended High School of Art and Design, Art Students League of New York, National Academy of Design School, and private instruction with David Levine, Aron Shikler, Burton Silverman, Everett Raymond Kinstler and Nathan Fawkes. Awards include the Eisner 2004 Award-Best Humor Series, First in Graphics Drawing-Salimugundi Club, Best in Portraiture-The Thora Birth Award, Huxtur Award-Best Series 2002 Spanish International Cultural Festival and Honorable Mention-American Arists National Portrait Competition. For more information, visit Joe’s website or Facebook Page.