TNC Interview 2020
Robert Carter


The Godfather

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TNC talked with award-winning illustrator Robert Carter about his recent work for The Folio Society's edition of Mario Puzo's masterpiece THE GODFATHER. Discover more about The Folio Society's The Godfather here


Hi Robert how have you held up during these very strange times? Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?


Well, I have it better than many. I have a job where I don’t need to interact with others, no need to wear a mask, sanitise everything etc. So I’m thankful for that. Unfortunately these topsy-turvy times haven't really sparked any creative surge within me either regarding the current global crisis. Perhaps when the world rights itself once again I’ll find inspiration in the aftermath.


Congratulations on the release of your art for The Folio Society's The Godfather, how does it feel to have this out there for people to enjoy?


Thank you, It feels fantastic! I’m so thrilled to finally share the work I’d been entrenched in for roughly a year. It was difficult keeping it to myself. Finally telling the secret you’ve kept to yourself for so long is cathartic. The new anxiety is waiting for the response, holding your breath hoping people will enjoy what you’ve done.


How did you get involved in the project?


It’s funny my father had been telling me for years, “Why don’t you illustrate one of those Folio Society books” Like I can just choose to do so. Well I thought he was right, it would be a dream to work on a book with them. So I hunted down the art director's email, shot off a quick message stating who I was, what I did and how much I’d like to work with them. I hadn't heard anything back in such a long time I'd forgotten all about it and moved on to other things. To my great surprise eventually my inbox dinged and I was offered the Godfather! However the joy of that didn’t last long. I was told weeks later unfortunately there were complications with obtaining the rights so it would be put on hold perhaps indefinitely. Many months later thankfully they did secure the rights and we were able to move forward. That was April of 2019.


Where did the inspiration come from for your illustrations?


Well the obvious answer is from Mario Puzo’s masterpiece itself. Illustrating one of the most beloved and famous novels of our time was intimidating but also exhilarating. Puzo's novel is full of shady characters, deceit, backstabbing and betrayal, I liked the idea of not clearly showing the faces of those depicted. Either by partially cropping them, obscured by shadow, or turned from view etc. It suggests they have something to hide, they’re not showing all their cards yet.


It creates a tension and mystery that I felt kept with the tone of the novel. Although the story is famously violent it is also one about family and the Christian faith runs throughout. The title itself being a Catholic tradition. So as with the book I wanted to play that juxtaposition of brutality and faith. Religious symbols and iconography pop up several times in the series illustrations; Kay's necklace, the angelic Apollonia, the kissing of Micheal's ring etc.


Overall I aspired to capture the atmosphere and flavour of the story in a unique way in just a few images. Hopefully I’ve achieved that.

What were your biggest challenges you faced on this project?


There were a few. The novel is set predominantly in the 1940’s after WWII. So any depiction of fashion and technology etc had to to be accurate to that time period. The cover and slipcase in particular had to meet certain technical requirements when it came to the printing/manufacturing process. But mainly and most importantly in my opinion, was to accurately capture the vibe of the novel. Stay true to its voice if you get my meaning. I wanted the images individually and as a whole feel like they lived in the same world as the words written down.

"Digital art had come a long way and I was seeing many artists doing incredible work using tablets." 

Have you always had a passion for illustration?


I’ve known since I was little I wanted to do something art related. I’ve been pursuing a career in it ever since. Perhaps foolishly I’ve never actually considered any other profession.


You're a graduate of Sheridan College of Art and Animation, how much did this experience prepare you for your career in illustration?

Immensely. You can certainly excavate a career for yourself in illustration without going to college, many have. But you'd need a very focused tenacious drive to get there without help. For me going to Sheridan forced me to learn. The fear of failing a class, the fear of wasting all that tuition money and wasted years. Fear is a great motivator lol! But not only that, once you’re there you have the vast pool of knowledge of all the profs to draw from, as well as learning from your peers in class who are tackling the same lessons you are. You learn not only how to hone your artistic skills but you're taught the business side of illustration as well; contracts, promotion, how long it's expected to get the job done etc. You're immersed in it. It’s a wonderful way to learn.

What made you switch from traditional oil painting to digital art and how much does your traditional art background influence your illustration?


Roughly 10 years ago I decided to try my hand at digital painting. Digital art had come a long way and I was seeing many artists doing incredible work using tablets. The industry had also started to change, deadlines became tighter and tighter with each passing year. I found painting traditionally too lengthy and arduous a process to stay relevant in the competitive world of illustration. 

Illustration ©2020 Robert Carter from The Folio Society edition of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather

So I bought a Wacom Cintiq and taught myself. I wanted to maintain the look of my traditional work however, which took some time to figure out. The way I work now is still, in many ways much the same as I would paint traditionally. I still start with a drawing on canvas (virtual) I still do a midtone undercoating, I still paint in the colours starting generally with the darkest darks etc. It’s just picking and mixing pixels rather than oil paint. The bonus to working digitally is its much cleaner, smells better, overall less expensive and it’s faster! Plus if alterations are asked for they can be made much more easily.

Illustration ©2020 Robert Carter from The Folio Society edition of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather

Do you have any advice to offer an illustration or art students about to start their first year?

Have fun! Do the work, put in the time, learn not only from your profs but your fellow students. Try new ways of working you may have shied away from in the past, experiment. But don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the time while you're there, it will be over before you know it! 

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from your work?

I hope they enjoy it!

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