Rob Generette III on design education, getting inspired by sports, and what's next after retiring from teaching
Illustrator and art educator, Rob Generette III (aka Robzilla) is on Overtime this week. In this episode, Rob shares what he’s learned from teaching art and photography for the last 20 years and what he’s learned from his own design education. He also shares how he came to be an incredible sports illustrator and found himself drawing live on air at ESPN. He also hints at his next big project, so you’ll have to listen to the episode to find out what’s he’s working on now.
This episode is brought to you by Wix. Push the limits of design and start creating beautiful, impactful websites that are uniquely yours at wix.com/dribbble.
Links Mentioned in Overtime:
- Rob on Instagram
- Rob on Twitter
- Rob on Dribbble
- Sketchbook Pro
- Adobe Illustrator
- Adobe Photoshop
- Adobe Ideas
- Brian Yap
- ESPN on air drawing
- iPad Pro
- Apple Pencil
- Adobe Draw
- Rob’s latest appearance on Adobe Live
- Rob at Adobe Max
- Nike Off-White Presto Illustration Off-white by Virgil Abloh
Dan: All right, welcome to the show, Robert Generette the Third.
Rob: Hey, thanks, Dan, thanks for having me.
Dan: Yeah, thanks so much for being here. Large, big fan over here. Huge fan. And you have a couple different names that you go by, so I wanted to make sure that I covered them all here. You’ve got, obviously Robert, Rob, Robzilla, which is cool, and Mr. G, I think is another one, right?
Dan: Who calls you Mr. G?
Rob: I’ve been Mr. G for the last 20 years. My students call me Mr. G.
Dan: Yeah, right. Students, students. So, you’ve been teaching for the last 20 years?
Rob: Last 20 years. I resigned like a month and a half ago.
Dan: Whoa. See, I didn’t know that. Is that, are we breaking the news here on Overtime?
Rob: Yeah, well, to the world, yes. I did a conference last, I mean, a couple of months ago, and I said it there, too, but this is, this is like a world premiere.
Dan: And after 20 years, that’s a long career as a teacher, which is fantastic, by the way. I always thought teachers should be millionaires. Especially after I had kids and realized how much the school shapes who they are. So, what did you teach for that, was it all the same subject, or?
Rob: Well, it was art. Most recently it was art and photography, 33 millimeter film. We had a darkroom and everything, brand new school building, four years old. I found that odd.
Rob: For them to put that in there, especially how expensive it is to do wet lab, as far as photography’s concerned.
Dan: Yeah, especially with digital, a lot of people going through digital, it’s cool to hear that it won’t be a lost art, right? It’s still being taught, that’s awesome.
Rob: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I had fun doing it. It warped and shaped how I approach illustration now, so it’s amazing.
Dan: Is it something that, photography has been a passion of yours as well, as illustration and everything, or is that something you picked up later specifically for teaching?
Rob: I picked it up specifically for teaching, but I was always low-key curious about it. Like from afar, like, “Ooh, yeah, see, he’s a photographer, I admire that, but I’ve gotta keep moving, I don’t have time to learn that.” ‘Til it was time for me to learn it.
Dan: Have you taught illustration and art as well, and what do you enjoy teaching?
Rob: I enjoy teaching photography. I would love to teach illustration, I never really had the chance to teach illustration. Either the budget wasn’t there, or someone had the position and didn’t wanna give it up. It was even said, at one time, that I would ruin someone’s program if I taught illustration.
Dan: Said by you, or somebody else?
Rob: No, this was a former chairperson of mine, and that was her exact words.
Rob: “He will ruin my program if he taught illustration, or computer graphics.”
Dan: Those are fighting words, aren’t they? I mean, that’s …
Rob: It’s a blast of caffeine for me, and it just lets you know the politics when it comes to education. Sometimes you feel like, yo, my kid has the best teacher, and the most suitable teacher for this subject matter, and that’s not the case at all. There’s somebody probably more qualified within reach, but it just didn’t pan out that way.
Dan: Right, right. How are the kids with photography? Is it the kind of class that you get a lot of kids that are really excited about learning photography, or is it more of an elective that they just happen to fall into, or?
Rob: It’s coffee creamer, it’s half and half. Some kids want it, or they had a relative who’s in the field, and they’re curious about it. Another small section of kids, they genuinely wanna know how to do it better. But then you get the opposite half who didn’t have a class for first period, so guidance had to find them something to do, so figuring, ooh, all you have to do is take pictures, you can pass that class, and they’ll plop the person in there. If they took Art I, then they’re inside of photography, so. ‘Cause that’s the pre-req.
Dan: Right, right. And you’re actually teaching, or you taught, the film process, too, right? Not just photography in general.
Rob: Most definitely. The film process, I had to learn it. As a matter of fact, during my interview I told them, “Yo, I can learn it in two weeks.” You should’ve saw the look on my principal’s face, like, “Oh, really?” It was almost like challenge accepted, I’ll take you up on that. I learned it in two weeks. Being that it was a new school, I had to put all the enlargers together, I had to set up the darkroom, I had to unpack all the chemicals. As I unpacked the chemicals I would learn the nature of the chemicals and where they fit within these different processes. As far as putting the enlargers together, it prepared me for if there was some troubleshooting to do, or if one decided it wanted to malfunction. Even though somebody had to cause it to malfunction, I would know how to fix it, because I put them together basically.
Dan: Right, right.
Rob: So, I mean, it prepared me. You know, School of Hard Knocks when it came to that, but I made it work. I made it work.
Dan: Yeah. Well, I wonder if it was an advantage that you were starting it from scratch, then, and you were learning as you were building it?
Rob: I’ll say, yeah, definitely.
Dan: Rob, what got you into teaching? You did it for 20 years, which is amazing. What brought you there? Did you go to school specifically to become an educator, or?
Rob: Well, I would call it process of elimination. There was only two majors at the school that I attended, South Carolina State University, as far as art. You could either be a printmaking major, or you can be in art education. At first I was a printmaking major, until I had a conversation with a young lady on the yard. She asked me, “What’s your major, what do you do?” I was like, “I’m a printmaking major.” Wait, no, “I’m an art major.” She took it a little bit deeper, she was like, “Well, what concentration?” I was like, “Printmaking.” I was amazed that she took it that deep, but I was like, “Yeah, printmaking.” She was like, “So, how’s that gonna work when you graduate? How are you gonna earn a living being a printmaking major?” She wasn’t doing it to be like, “I’m a gold digger.” But she was just speaking, just to make the conversation more more interesting. That’s the first time I thought about it, and this was the beginning of my sophomore year. So, I started looking at the art education curriculum, and seeing how it parallels with the printmaking, and decided, man, I’ll do art education, because I can be that starving artist, and then fall back on art education if it doesn’t work out.
Dan: Wow. Pretty smart for a sophomore to think that way, you know?
Rob: Yeah. I wanted to do it, I wanted to do it low-key for two different reasons. I had a SOB professor who was real tough, he had all the rigor and everything. In order to stay as a education major, you had to keep a certain GPA. He would take your GPA hostage, like, give you the ransom note, would cut out letters and everything. You don’t complete this assignment to my likings, and I’m gonna finish your GPA off, you know?
Dan: Oh, geeze, yeah.
Rob: And I gotta have this conversation with him, and tell him about the set of skills I got. But I knew that that threat was looming, so I wasn’t gonna make that switch until the last minute. Even though I had did all the work in the shadows, but to make the official switch I decided to wait ‘til the last minute to do it. And it worked out dope. That conversation I had with my academic advisor is classic. Imagine your student coming up to you and saying, “Hey, look, I wanna switch majors.” During the beginning of their senior year, and then discovering that they did all the footwork, so you’ve been cut out the whole entire process.
Dan: So, that must’ve been a shock to them, that you’d planned ahead that long, right?
Rob: Yeah, yeah. I didn’t want my mom to know I was switching over.
Dan: That’s kind of an amazing forethought for a sophomore, I wish I had that kind of intuition when I was that age. I was pretty …
Rob: It was happenstance, really. If I didn’t have that conversation then, I probably would have struggled a little bit more as a printmaking major, and then decide, like, what, around junior year I wanted to become a teacher? Which would’ve put me in the super senior category of college, like, “Oh, yeah, he a super senior.”
Dan: Right. Then you’ve gotta extend your college experience for a while longer for that. So, how did that start? Were you an illustrator as a young kid, or?
Rob: Well, if my mom had to tell it, she would say that I started drawing at age three. I was that kid in class who would get in trouble for not putting his name on his paper, but there would be like the bomb little cartoon drawing in the name spot of all my worksheets. You know what I’m saying?
Rob: And some people out there can relate to this-
Rob: … I was that dude who, like right about now is the time everybody’s running with their little supply lists to Target and Staples and Home Depot, all that. I mean, not Home Depot, but Office Depot. I would be the one who would run through his paper, his lined paper, his loose leaf, in two weeks, with drawings.
Dan: Yep, yep.
Rob: So I started back then, but the thing was I didn’t think I was doing something special. I thought everybody can do it. I went that way, I had that train of thought all the way up until like 10th grade.
Dan: Wow. And then you realized, “Wait, not everyone can do this.” Right?
Rob: Yeah. I won a school lunch program contest. What it was was, what happened, it was a sub plan left by my teacher to enter this contest. Well, you had to make school lunch seem better than what school lunch was. And school lunch was the bomb back then, I don’t care what anybody tell you. Compared to now, school lunch back then was the bomb.
Dan: Yeah, I agree.
Rob: So, around this time, and I can pinpoint it exactly. This was around the time that Mike Tyson lost his first boxing match in Japan.
Dan: Oh, right, wow.
Rob: Because we were talking about it in the library. I just dated myself real hard.
Dan: That’s all right.
Rob: “Oh, yeah, he taught for 20 years? He old.” But then they’re like, “Oh, he was a sophomore in high school when Mike Tyson lost his first match?” So, Buster Douglas, like, who was Buster Douglas? That was the whole entire conversation. That’s a lot, there was no YouTube or anything back then, so you didn’t have that instant footage of anything.
Rob: It was hearsay basically. That was our conversation as I sketched out this apple as a superhero. Because, I mean, my whole train of thought was let’s focus on the nutrition, and beef it up a little bit. So, I had this apple flying through the air, and it was that funnel view, worms eye view, classic Superman type launchpad pose.
Dan: Nice, yes.
Rob: I didn’t think anything of it, I colored it real quick. The dark outlines, I kept all my stroke in the same direction, but I ended up winning the whole state competition. That’s when it hit me, and by that time it was too late for me to apply for the Governor School of South Carolina, so I didn’t have anybody to turn to at the time. I didn’t have anybody who recognized that skill early on, which could’ve changed the whole course of my life. Kind of falling back on that major conversation that we had, that was one of the driving points for me to become a teacher. I needed to be that person that somebody like me could rely on when it comes down to picking that direction, to going to. I used that as a motivational point the whole 20 years I was teaching.
Dan: Wow. You became a person that could recognize someone with talent, right? And hopefully encourage them to pursue it.
Rob: Yeah. Not only talent, but then there was a second category that I began to recognize. That was somebody with the drive. Sometimes people with talent don’t have the drive, because they’ve been told all their life they can do it. It was nothing to them, they choose to wait ‘til the last minute to do stuff. You potentially get stuff that doesn’t live up to the potential of the person who created it.
Dan: Right, right. So, in a way maybe it was a positive thing that you didn’t really recognize your talent until high school? Or it wasn’t recognized, I guess?
Rob: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I would have people ask me to do stuff, and I would look at them weird, like, yo, you can do that yourself. Because, while at school, I would show them how I did something and they would pick it up. I was like, “Yeah, you can do that yourself, all you’ve gotta do is x y z,” and they’d be like, “Oh, yeah, hey, look at this.” I was like, why are they so amazed? But I never really considered myself as being a Picasso. Even to this day I’m still a little humbled by it, and I know a thousand people who can do something similar to what I do. I can’t sit there and put no crown on, or anything like that.
Dan: Wow, that is humble. I think anyone looking at your work would disagree, because it’s, yeah, it’s awesome. As we’re talking, I’m scrolling through so many great projects. So, you’re teaching, just to segue into that, you’re teaching for 20 years, but you’re also, in addition to teaching, you’re illustrating, and you’re doing freelance illustration, right? Was that kind of always in the mix, or something you developed later on?
Rob: Funny story, I started out teaching elementary. I had these amazing students that were in fifth and sixth grade. They later went to middle school, they kept in touch. This was around the time, it wasn’t taboo for a student and a teacher to have a conversation on social media.
Dan: Yeah, you’re right.
Rob: Of course that changed, but they would always say, “Oh my God, Mr. G, I need for you to come teach at my middle school, the teacher here sucks.” Then, when they got to high school, “Oh my God, Mr. G, can you come teach at my high school? The teacher here sucks, they’re teaching me everything that you taught us in fifth and sixth grade, we’re doing one and two point perspective, we’re doing all this.” I heard them, and there was an opening at the high school that they attended, and I went to interview for it. Long story short, what happened was I interviewed, I knocked it out the park. The only problem was, the media wasn’t what they want, because they were looking for, and I’m doing air quotes, a computer art teacher.
Dan: Right, right.
Rob: During that time, I was traditional, I had that big portfolio that I lugged around to interview, to interview filled with my work and my students work.
Dan: Yeah, analog, yeah.
Rob: Yeah, super analog. I had to get let down for that job because I wasn’t digital yet. Here’s what’s funny. I told you about me learning photography in two weeks, and how the principal was like, “Challenge accepted.” This was early summer here, this was like a week after school let out when I’m on this interview, and I looked at this vice principal and I said, “Hey, look. Give me the remainder of the summer, I’m a fast learner, I can learn what it is that you want me to do with kids in art on the computer.” “Oh, no, no, no, sorry Mr. Generette, we want somebody who already has that experience.” So, I got that jerky response. I pushed one more time, and he was like, “No.” I was like, “Okay, I think we need to conclude this interview.”
Rob: I shook his hand, and I gave back my visitor’s badge, and on my way out of the interview I called a friend, and I was like, “Look, I need the torrents for Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop.” You know that’s how everybody-
Dan: The torrents, the torrents, yeah, right.
Rob: … everybody got started on that stuff.
Dan: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
Rob: I think we used the same guys account, too, man. Like, his serial numbers, and everything. That was the gateway drug. Of course I learned that stuff within three weeks, both Illustrator and Photoshop, enough that I can teach somebody how to use it. My whole goal was, I was gonna teach my middle school kids how to use it, lie on the art contest application form and say that they’re high school, just so that we can stomp out that high school that rejected me.
Rob: Unfortunately, the budget wasn’t there. That’s always the case in education, the budget wasn’t there, we didn’t have the computers, we didn’t have the software, we didn’t have the licensing, and I wasn’t about to put a torrent on government property, like nah, it’s just not right.
Dan: Wow. So, you learn this stuff in three weeks, over part of the summer.
Dan: And that was the instigator for you to get into digital creation, right? I mean, from analog to digital?
Rob: Yeah, and I wanted to be a graphic designer. So, I started doing side work. I built a portfolio, but I was still hungry. I wanted to be formally trained in graphic design, so I took all of that self taught stuff, made the portfolio, and I applied and got into SCAD with a scholarship.
Dan: All right, yep.
Rob: For grad school. I mean, like a 50% off scholarship. Needless to say, I got kicked out of SCAD with a 3.7.
Dan: Wow, how does that happen?
Rob: Well, they said I didn’t put my work up for review. This was like a week before the deadline. Actually, I had to remind my academic advisor that I needed the course, so I got in there late, so it made it harder for me to meet the first deadline, so the second deadline, it was a week shy of the second deadline. I had that folder on my computer with everything that I wanted to submit in it, and all of the sudden I get this letter in the mail saying that I’m being put up on academic suspension for refusal to put my work up for review.
Dan: That doesn’t seem right.
Rob: No, I appealed it, and of course they stuck to their guns. Then I asked the faculty person that was in charge of my appeals, I was like, “Well, tell me about this committee that’s gonna review my work. Who are the folks that’s reviewing my work?” The academic person was like, “Well, it’s all of the graphic design department.” I was like, “Oh, so it’s all the people that gave me the As and Bs on stuff?” He was like, “Well, you don’t have to be facetious.” They was like, “You can come and apply for a year.” So, I took that letter, and I framed it, and I put it up in the little workspace that I had, my little studio. I said I was gonna go back in a year and kick their behinds. I ended up going to Full Sail and finishing out, ‘cause I was trying to create a college corner. I never went to SCAD, even though I would really love just to go back and kick their behinds, but it’s so expensive to kick somebody’s behind nowadays.
Dan: Right. Maybe that was their plan.
Rob: Yeah, possibly.
Rob: I think they should give me an honorary joint.
Dan: At this point, I think they definitely should. I’m like, “Who’s laughing now.” Right?
Rob: Yeah, SCAD bees. Give me an honorary MFA, let’s go.
Dan: Absolutely. That’s just crazy to me, doesn’t sound right. So, yeah, you ended up going to Full Sail. All of this is driven by you having a passion to wanna be a graphic designer, right?
Rob: Yeah, I wanted to be a graphic designer so bad that I neglected my illustration talents. I was one of those people who thought the two were intertwined. If you’re listening to this and you’re trying to decide on what you wanna do as far as majoring, I’m gonna make you look a little bit deeper, because just because you can draw doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be in graphic design, but it necessarily doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be in graphic design.
Rob: You’ve just gotta know that the nature of being an artist and a graphic designer are two separate things. I don’t want you to find out in the last minute, like, yo, I’m going to school for graphic design, and then all of the sudden, oh I can’t, I gotta do it this specific way? I can’t put my own spin on it like this? No, you’ve gotta earn the right to put your own spin on it. You’ve gotta do the assembly line type situation, until you get to a point where somebody’s coming up to you and saying, “All right, do it your way. Oh, we like that, let’s run with it.” I don’t want nobody to fall into that, but graphic design helped me, getting that MFA helped, because I now know how to work with graphic designers when it comes to illustration.
Rob: So, I’m getting some usage out of that degree. Little side note, this was another hard learned lesson, schools have two different types of accreditation. There’s national, and there’s regional. Regional tops national. Most folks don’t know.
Dan: Right, right.
Rob: Yeah, so I thought by a school saying that they’re nationally accredited, I was like, “Oh, yeah, I can get a pay increase in my teachers check because I have this degree.” Not the case at all. The state of Maryland would not recognize my MFA to teach high school, elementary, or middle. Now, funny thing is, I can go to a post-secondary school.
Dan: Wow, that is weird.
Rob: And a MFA is valued over a MAT. So, it’s all kind of weird stuff that I learned. They want that studio experience over teaching experience. So, when your kids go to college and take art, the reason why, I guess, homeboy was an SOB that I studied under in undergrad was because he had all the studio experience, but when it came time to facilitate the class, he fell a little short when it came to that.
Dan: Yeah, right, right, right. Yeah, that seems backwards to me.
Rob: Yeah, well, the whole world is backwards right now.
Dan: That’s true, actually.
Rob: We’ve gotta look at it through a mirror just to get it right.
Dan: That’s a good point. So, somehow, were you discouraged at all through all of this? Because you’re teaching all the while as while.
Rob: And just had kids.
Dan: Wow, that too.
Rob: Yeah, so most of these knockdowns I know I’ve gotta just get up and wipe myself off. I learned to move with the wind, so to speak. If you’ve ever heard me do public speaking, I mention that you need to learn how to move with the wind because you might have a plan, but who says your plan was the best plan for it?
Dan: Right, yeah.
Rob: I always use two trees for example, I’ll use an oak tree and I’ll use a palm tree. If a strong wind comes by, that palm tree will bend in the direction that the wind is blowing. When the storm is done, it goes right back upright, because it’s pliable. While an oak tree is more stern, so when that wind blows, oak tree is like, not move. That eventually cracks it, cracks it right at the trunk, you know what I’m saying?
Dan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Rob: The storm is over, it’s broken. So, I always tell folks, learn to move with the wind. You might have a plan, but an obstacle might get in the way. You just know how to go around that obstacle, and see where it leads you.
Dan: That’s good advice for anything.
Rob: Yeah, everything in life. Even dinner plans, like, what’re we eating tonight, move with the wind. Just don’t break wind, you know?
Dan: That’s good advice, too.
Dan: This week’s episode is brought to you by wix.com. With Wix the web is your playground, start with a blank slate and design your website in any layout you want. Work with advanced features like retina ready image galleries, custom font sets, and sophisticated design effects. Each feature is intuitive to use, so you’re in control from design to live. With Wix, you’ll have real creative freedom to tell your story online exactly the way you’ve envisioned it. Push the limits of design and start creating beautiful, impactful websites that are uniquely yours. Go to wix.com/Dribbble to get started today. That’s wix.com/Dribbble. Wix, what will you create?
Dan: Super great attitude when you’re going through this stuff. The stuff you’re doing now, right, the stuff that I’m seeing on social media and stuff, is amazing. You’re doing it all on the iPad.
Dan: It’s cool to see someone start from analog in loose leaf paper and school, and then go through all the technology that’s changed, and now really embracing the iPad, or just digital creation of stuff that used to be analog. Do you find you’re primarily working digitally now, even thought you’re using traditional methods? I’m curious about that.
Rob: Yeah. I’m using analog methods on a digital device.
Dan: Yeah, yeah, right.
Rob: This leads to another funny story, but I won my first iPad. You remember a company named Veer?
Dan: Absolutely, yeah, oh, I loved Veer, yeah.
Rob: Veer had a anagram contest. They ran it for four weeks.
Dan: Anagram, that’s the same forward and backward hearing thing, right?
Rob: Well, that’s when you can take a phrase or a word, rearrange the letters, and create a different phrase or word.
Dan: Okay, gotcha, yep.
Rob: What they did, from Monday to Friday they would give you a phrase. You had to rearrange the letters to say something about Veer. That Friday, they would do a draw of all the correct answers and announce who won an iPad one that was custom-made by Colorwear. So, week one went by, I didn’t win. Week two went by, I didn’t win, but I loved doing these anagram puzzles, I would do them during my planning period at school. Week three went by, I didn’t win. The fourth week, I had forgot to check to see who won. I had already packed up my bag, I was almost out of the school, and I was like, “Oh, I wonder who won the anagram contest.”
Rob: So, I doubled back, I went back to my classroom, I turned on that very slow PC, got on Twitter, and I see a response from somebody saying, “Hey, Rob, congratulations.” Then I went into the DMs, and I was like, “No way.” It was from Veer, “Congratulations Rob, you are our fourth week, fourth and final week winner. Send us your email, I mean, send us your mailing address, and you’ll have your iPad soon.” I typed my address so fast, because I’m a chicken pecker, but it almost looked like kung fu the way I was making a beat on that keyboard, the way I was hitting those letters. That was a Friday, and the iPad arrived on Tuesday.
Dan: Wow. This was the first version of the iPad?
Rob: Yep, the first generation iPad. It was maxed out, it had 64 gigabytes. It had the cellular service on it, wifi.
Dan: Oh, yeah, good.
Rob: It had a graphic on the back, and it had that matte feel to it, and that little rounded corner square that was on the home button was teal.
Dan: Oh, wow. So, it was custom.
Rob: It was a custom thing. It had the certificate from Colorwear and everything inside the box. That was my first experience with iPad, I was like, “Yeah, I’ve got this iPad, I don’t have to carry around this portfolio no more, I can take pictures of all my analog work, and take it on interviews and show people my work right there in person, just hand them the iPad and let them flip through it.” It becomes a different experience because I added a tactile feel to it. Then later, Sketchbook Pro was on there, and I just started doodling in Sketchbook Pro. But I needed Vector, because I was used to using Adobe Illustrator when it came time to do my images.
Dan: Right. And that, that came later, right?
Rob: Well, as a matter of fact, I would heavily freelance during the summertime, but I was also a daddy daycare to my youngest son. I couldn’t take him to the basement because it was just dangerous down there. I went on a two week hunt for an application where I can at least start on the iPad, and then go to the basement later, and finish everything out on my computer.
Dan: Right. So, like something that created vector that you could reopen in Illustrator, or something.
Rob: Yeah, and just finish everything out. My wife was an educator, too, but she had recently moved to becoming an eleven month employee around the same time. So, I was with the kids during the summertime. I was looking for stuff, and I kept bumping into Adobe Ideas. It cost $9.99 during that time.
Dan: Right. For an app, that’s huge.
Rob: Yeah, right. We’re thinking back in the days now, $9.99 for an app? Most people don’t wanna pay for an app to begin with, which was crazy to me. If you’re gonna use the thing, pay for it.
Dan: Exactly, yeah. It seems like a steal now.
Rob: Yeah. So, when you paid your $9.99, you could pay a $1.99 extra, and you get ten layers as a bonus. I was like, “Oh, this look dope.” But the reviews wasn’t to my liking, until the last time I ran into that app. Last time I ran into that app, they had this video by this amazing artist named Brian Yap. At the time, Brian Yap worked for a creative company called Boxing Clever, and they were out of somewhere around the St. Louis area. I saw what he was doing with it, and I was like, “Hey, I need this because I need to do something similar with it to get my work started.”
Rob: What drove me or attracted me to it was my printmaking roots. So, I used that technique once I got it. After reading people’s reviews, I was like, “You’re dogging this app, but how does your work look?” Luckily, I found, somebody used the same name as a reviewer as they did as an artist. I don’t judge people-
Dan: Doing some sleuthing, internet sleuthing later, yeah?
Rob: Yeah. But to dog this app like that, your work was butt. I was like, “Oh.” See, I can’t take all these reviews to heart about this app, because I’m not seeing the work that they’re trying to do. No app could magically help this guy out. You know what I’m saying?
Dan: Right, right not the problem.
Rob: Especially what they’re trying to do. Yeah, you need to go back and build your foundation, your traditional work. I bought Adobe Ideas with a quickness. I used it to do a cover for a local band named Higher Hands. That was my first experience. My first drawing was of my older son, my second drawing was of my younger son. I still have those drawings saved on the iPad.
Dan: That’s awesome. From then you were hooked, in terms of using it as a … Is it your main medium now?
Rob: Oh, yeah. I mean, if I had to give it a ratio, it was like 80/20. I can go full 100 though, it depends on the job.
Dan: I saw you recently, I saw a clip recently that you posted on Twitter, you were actually on ESPN, like on the air, drawing.
Rob: It was crazy.
Dan: I’ve gotta hear the story about this, because that sounds incredibly … First of all, it’s awesome, but it’s also, like, I can’t imagine anything more terrifying. Not that I’m an illustrator, so I can’t relate to that part of it, but was it scary, fun, or both?
Rob: It was, the one word I always use is, it was surreal.
Rob: It’s like it didn’t happen. If I didn’t DVR it, it didn’t happen, because I got proof now, I can go back and look at it. But it wasn’t scary at all. A lot of people, like the producers there, my main man Andy from Apple who arranged that whole thing to go down, because what we were doing there was we was using the new iPad Pro with Apple Pencil to illustrate the results of game four of last year’s NBA finals between the Warriors and the Cavaliers.
Dan: Right. Should’ve been the Celtics.
Rob: Hey, they’ll get the year coming up man, like for real.
Dan: I hope so.
Rob: They got the East. A lot of people …
Dan: Yeah, we should, I think, we should.
Rob: A lot of people going further north, talking about Toronto, but nah, nah, you got the East.
Dan: Sorry, I interrupted there.
Rob: Oh, nah, no problem, man. The funny thing about sports is, I didn’t go to sports. Sports kind of gravitated towards me when it came to what type of work to do. I didn’t imagine myself being a sports illustrator. I would draw sports for fun, because I would watch baseball, and baseball can go up to like three plus hours, that’s enough time to knock a project out.
Dan: That’s true.
Rob: And get your workflow tightened up. I used to sit in a chair, put a pillow on my lap, put the iPad on top. I would watch the Nats play, and my thing was, I had to have a drawing done by the end of the game.
Dan: That’s cool. Were you, you were a fan before the iPad, or is this sort of like a, this happened at the same time, or?
Rob: I was a fan before the iPad. I’ve even got Nats plates on my jeep. But, the whole boom of sports and doing work for sports, it gives me a great appreciation for sports. I wake up, I don’t even turn the news on anymore, I go directly to ESPN. I have Sports Center playing.
Rob: In the morning.
Dan: So, it’s like it’s part of your routine, inspiration routine.
Rob: Yeah. Because, I mean, first of all it’s fun. Every sport has a different challenge when it comes to illustrating it, but it’s not the same thing over, and over, and over again.
Dan: Yeah, that’s true.
Rob: So, it’s random. I’m doing some work now with the Charlotte Hornets for their 30th anniversary.
Dan: Ooh awesome.
Rob: Yeah, so it’s some amazing stuff.
Dan: Yeah, and you’re doing stuff for Nike. It’s cool to hear that sports found you. How did it start, though? How did you get into that world?
Rob: The genesis was me sitting in that chair with that pillow on my lap. So, not only would I draw within that three hour period, I would share it on social media. I didn’t have any fears of somebody stealing it, I would share it.
Dan: ‘Cause you’re just doing it for fun.
Rob: Doing it for fun. So, when it came time for me to do it for pay, it was no problem at all because it was still fun.
Dan: So, it was like it was less pressure in a way, because you …
Rob: It depends on the art direction. But it’s still less pressure. If we double back to ESPN, I have Apple to thank, and I have Adobe to thank. First of all, Apple for arranging that whole opportunity, and choosing me out of all the people to do this stuff. They could’ve went with someone else.
Dan: Well, now it seems like a no-brainer to me, it’s perfect.
Rob: And Adobe, because Adobe used to invite me to the Adobe Live. I think I’m the most, I’m the artist with the most appearances on Adobe Lives that’s not a host.
Dan: Yeah, yeah.
Rob: That prepared me for the cameras in Bristol, Connecticut, at ESPN.
Dan: Yep, shooting live.
Rob: Yeah. Big ups to Jack, he’s a producer at ESPN, and he took me under his wing because he wanted to make sure I was as comfortable as possible. I think that he didn’t know how I was under pressure, so he was like, “You all right, Rob? You good?” I was like, “Yeah, I’m good, I’m good, I’ve got it.” Not to mention SVP, Scott Van Pelt, comes on super late at night. I was half asleep.
Dan: ‘Cause it was live, right?
Rob: It was live, man.
Dan: Oh, geeze, so even more pressure.
Rob: No, not really, though. As a teacher and a freelancer, I was accustomed to working late, so it was almost automated.
Dan: Did your, I imagine your teaching experience, too, I imagine that has helped that kind of situation, and also the Adobe Live kind of stuff, almost anything in the camera where you’re, I mean, essentially you’re educating, just in front of the camera instead of in front of a class, right?
Rob: Yeah, and I credit teaching to that attraction, that draw that I have. Being a teacher, whenever you’re in public or you’re doing something of that nature, it adds a warmth to the whole experience. Because I’ve gotta know my demographic, I’ve gotta know what’s comfortable for them, I’ve gotta have my transitions, my segues. I’ve gotta have a certain flair to deliver whatever message it is that I’m trying to deliver, whether if it’s verbally, if it’s written, or either visual. So, that stuff comes into a whole lot of play. Whenever I do Adobe Max, and I’m speaking at this year’s Adobe Max.
Dan: Wow, great, excellent.
Rob: I put all of those different tenets and elements in effect whenever I go up there. Most of the time I don’t know what’s gonna come out of my mouth until I watch the audience walk in.
Rob: Yeah. So, I try to set up my deck in a way where I can move with the wind. If I see a large population of dark colored clothing and tattoos, an age range of 22 to 28, I’m gonna approach them differently than I would a crowd of 34 to 45.
Dan: I guess you wouldn’t know, yeah, you wouldn’t really know that fully until you’re up there, right?
Rob: Yeah. But my deck is in the same order, it’s just how I narrate it that changes everything.
Dan: I see, yeah, yeah.
Rob: It’s crazy. I’m really thankful for being a teacher. I’m thankful for being an effective teacher.
Dan: That’s amazing. Yeah, I can imagine that gave you all sorts of amazing experience for the stuff you’re doing now. So, you mentioned earlier that you retired from teaching recently, very recently. What’s next? Or what prompted that? I can almost guess, but.
Rob: Right, you’ve got a more clear view of it than I do. Well, teaching got in the way of doing art.
Dan: Yeah, yeah.
Rob: It finally got in the way of doing art. Before they can share that same space, but it was time to move on for teaching because, like I said, I wasn’t necessarily teaching what I do. I tried, several times, but it doesn’t pan out. There’s probably somebody who worked at a school, be like, “Oh, we would love to have you as a teacher, we’d give you anything you want.” That means I gotta drive out to you. My school that I last taught at, my commute was two and a half minutes, and that’s because I had to stop at a stop sign. Like, it’s less than a mile away. My school is less than a mile, it’s still my school. I watched them build it. But I hit a ceiling, man. I hit a ceiling to the point where my ear was touching it, and my shoulder at the same time. If you can visualize that. That’s how hard I hit a ceiling. I was being underutilized.
Dan: Yeah, yeah.
Rob: Freelancing is up, but what direction I’m going into, I’m just moving with the wind. I’ve got some assignments lined up, which is pretty cool. My wife knew that I wanted to quit teaching for a while now, she’s very supportive. We had a conversation a couple years ago, and I was like, “If I quit now, how much do I need to bring in a month?” She told me the number, and I was like, “Really?” I was like, “Oh, man, I can almost double and triple that a month.” Especially with some of the jobs that I had at the time. I think it was like eight years ago, the school year was about to begin, and I was like, “Hey, baby, why don’t you go ahead and put the benefits in your name?” She didn’t even ask questions, she knew. She knew what was up. She did, she did it to be funny, like “Why, why you want me to do it?” I was like, “I might quit any day now.”
Dan: This was eight years ago, though, you said?
Rob: Yeah, this was eight years ago, so I was always on the fence about leaving education.
Dan: Yeah. That’s a big move.
Rob: I didn’t want it to harm my family. That’s the biggest, scariest part. If I was single, I wouldn’t have that element of fear there, but there’s three other people relying on me now.
Dan: Absolutely, yeah. It effects not just you, yeah, absolutely.
Rob: You young people don’t have to worry about that yet. You know what I’m saying? It’s just like a grumpy old man telling you about it right now.
Dan: No, I’m definitely the grumpy old man as well, so.
Rob: It’s fun, isn’t it?
Dan: Yeah, it is. It is, actually.
Rob: I actually look out my door and stare at people who are standing in my yard, like, yo, why are you on my grass? I like this phase of life, man.
Dan: Literally, like get off my lawn.
Rob: Yeah. I’ll stare at you until you move off my lawn.
Dan: So, we can expect more of Robzilla out there, then?
Dan: Because you’re, by retiring from teaching, and being out there, speaking, you’re gonna be even more visible to the greater world, which is awesome for us.
Rob: Yeah. And I wanna find that balance, I don’t wanna over saturate.
Rob: I don’t wanna be Robzilla, Robzilla, Robzilla, Robzilla, hitting somebody in the head with the same thing. But I still wanna keep it kind of relevant.
Dan: I’m excited.
Rob: Yeah. It’s some cool stuff coming, too, man.
Dan: I can imagine.
Rob: Some cool stuff. I’ve gotta work on that cool stuff after I get off with you on this podcast.
Dan: Oh, nice.
Rob: But, yeah, there’s some cool stuff coming.
Dan: Final question for you, what’s your favorite sneaker?
Rob: My favorite sneaker is the Jordan 1.
Dan: Is there a certain era of the Jordan 1, or?
Rob: The OGs.
Dan: Yeah. The red?
Rob: OG gold.
Dan: The red, white, and black ones, I have those, too, man.
Rob: I’ve got the reds, I’ve got too many sneakers.
Rob: Whole top portion of my closet is all Jordan 1s.
Dan: Nice. Wow.
Rob: Yeah. I can go a month without wearing the same Jordan 1s.
Dan: That’s awesome.
Rob: Yeah, and I’ve got friends, their collection is crazier. But, I mean, I was on a teacher budget, and I think I came off nice.
Dan: That’s amazing.
Rob: I even barter sneakers sometimes when I’m doing my pricing.
Dan: Exactly, you get paid in sneakers.
Rob: Yeah, I’d be like, especially if it’s a rare pair, I’d be like, “Yo, I can’t get my hands on this, but maybe you can.”
Rob: Let’s go, because it’ll save me some hassle. I was gonna spend the money on them anyway. I don’t sell myself short, but yeah.
Dan: I’m gonna hire you with sneakers.
Rob: Let’s go.
Dan: I’ve gotta get them first, though, actually.
Rob: That’s the hard part. That is the hard part.
Dan: Here’s another dumb last question, too, though.
Rob: Go for it.
Dan: On your illustration of sneakers, by the way, Rob illustrates sneakers better than anyone, which is awesome. I mean, I don’t collect sneakers, but I just love the … There’s something about your sneaker illustrations that’s, I don’t know, it’s really enticing. What’s the red plastic thing around it? Is that like a security tag or something?
Rob: You’re referring to … What Dan is referring to is the off-white collaboration with Nike.
Dan: Yes, I guess, yeah, specific, I guess, yeah.
Rob: Man, Dan, the way that Virgil set up off-white is ingenious, you get what I’m saying? I hope I’m not a whistleblower here, but I don’t think people understand the name off-white. I’m an 80s baby, so the destruction and the aesthetics of a group of people was destroyed in the 80s with crack. Virgil witnessed this, I witnessed it, a lot of people witnessed it. But the phrase off-white was a slang term for crack.
Dan: Oh, I see, wow.
Rob: But he’s just, he’s giving it to you in a different form, and a different purpose. So, technically, what he’s creating is dope, in the slang term of it. What Virgil did, and this is why I like off-white, if you are a design major, when you took your first typography class, one of your very first assignments was to take a certain typefaces, or certain typefaces, you had to deconstruct them, and then reconstruct them again. That’s what he did with ten Nike sneakers. He took them apart, he took those same elements, just like that anagram that I won the iPad with, and he rearranged them to create something different. That little lock that he has on there, is just a visual signature piece that kind of stands for his brand.
Dan: Ah, so you know…
Rob: It’s official, yeah, it’s official tissue if you see it on there. He did something else ingenious that I always wanted to do, and I said it as a joke in the teachers lounge years ago. I was like, “I just want a t-shirt that has, in plain text, sans serif, the word t-shirt on it in quotes. In quotes.”
Dan: In quotes, right.
Rob: I was like, “As a matter of fact, I want my whole house like that. As a matter of fact, I want it on my couch, I want it on my rug. When you go to get cereal out of my cupboard, I just want a white box, black words on it say, “Cereal.” You get what I’m saying?
Dan: Yeah, yeah.
Rob: I was like, “That would be so dope.” I said it as a joke, but he brought that to fruition. He literally put shoelace on the shoelaces.
Dan: That’s great, I love it.
Rob: So, I’m not a hype beast when it came to me wanting his sneaker. I can identify what it took for him to create that shoe, going through design school. That’s the whole crazy thing about it.
Dan: I love it. I love how I just snuck that in there as a last, in quotes, last question.
Rob: Good stuff, Dan, you should be on the radio.
Dan: I know.
Rob: You’ve got the voice and everything.
Dan: Likewise. But I honestly hadn’t, I hadn’t heard of this, the off-white campaign. Now, I’m looking, as you’re telling it, I’m looking it up, and it’s actually pretty awesome. I’m glad I asked you, because it opens up a whole another world of stuff to go down and appreciate, so.
Rob: Yeah, I got a, I don’t know. When I draw the shoes, I try to show the viewer what I like about the shoe. The way, we didn’t get into the technical stuff, but the way that I do my lines is parallel to my time as a hip-hop production hobbyist.
Rob: So, there’s certain elements about an illustration that mimics the process of creating a hip-hop beat.
Rob: I got those parallels and everything broken down to how the shifts and the line weights relates to the drums of a hip-hop song, and the way that the shadow moves-
Dan: Now you’re blowing my mind.
Rob: Yeah. The way that shadow, I curve the shadows out and make them move, because there’s no gradients in Adobe Draw. So, the way that I make these things, and make you blend these things in, the heavier shadows, they kind of float there like the bass lines of a hip-hop beat. It’s crazy, man.
Dan: Yeah, this is awesome. I wanna start the whole episode over, now, and start with that.
Rob: We should do a part two.
Dan: We need a part two, now.
Rob: Yeah, we need to do a part two, let’s do it for.
Dan: Hip-hop beat deconstruction as it relates to illustration.
Rob: Yes. It’s crazy. Either way, I approach the iPad as how early hip-hop producers approach drum machines.
Dan: Wow. Are you an 808 fan by any chance?
Rob: I’ve used the 808.
Dan: I always loved it.
Rob: Yeah. I watched a documentary yesterday on this guy named Paul C, he was gunned down early in life, but he had a certain way of manipulating the attack, and the k, and the velocity of that 808, and setting it under a drum break. Let’s say James Brown, Funky Drummer, and made it sound like a different animal. All that stuff was just like, the nostalgia of it was just incredible. Like, I’ve still got my beat machine in the basement, my two turntables, and about 20 boxes of records.
Dan: Wow, wow. That’s awesome. We need a part two, Rob.
Rob: Yeah, we’re gonna do a part two, definitely.
Dan: Just on all that. That’s amazing. I’m sad to say this, I wanna thank you for being on the show today, ‘cause it was awesome, we covered so much cool stuff. There’s so much more to cover, which is great. So, people can obviously, where should people go to follow you, and hear about what you’re up to?
Rob: Well, follow me on Instagram. I do this funny thing where I post every illustration as a Trip-Tik.
Dan: Yes, I noticed that, and it’s awesome.
Rob: Yeah. That’s because I’m the third, so I cut my illustrations into thirds. But I also make it hard for you to steal my bike, so to speak.
Dan: Right, right. ‘Cause one image is just a piece of it, yeah. I like those.
Rob: You gonna put in some work if you’re gonna steal my images.
Dan: That’s true, you’ve gotta stitch them back together somehow.
Rob: But I used the compression of Instagram to my advantage, too. So, I’m working in vectors, but if you look at what I post on Instagram, it’s kind of distorted, it’s kind of pixelated.
Dan: It is, yeah.
Rob: I keep a certain level of pixelation in there, ‘cause I’m making it for the size of a phone screen.
Dan: Right, right.
Rob: It makes it a little bit harder for you to steal my bike, too, especially if you plan on printing from my Instagram post.
Dan: Yeah, it’s not gonna be clear, try to print from there.
Rob: Yeah. It’s gonna look so horrible.
Dan: Well, that’s interesting to hear there’s a method there. I mean, obviously, we’re excited to hear about what you’re doing now that you’re retired, and putting more time into public stuff, and can’t wait to see what you create now.
Dan: Thank you, thank you so much for sharing it with us.
Rob: Yeah, I’m just gonna drop a little hint, Antman and the Wasp.
Dan: Ooh, that’s a big hint.
Dan: Ooh. Okay, wow.
Rob: So, by the time this comes out, it should be out. So, enter to win that.
Dan: Wow. I just saw that movie with my kids, it was awesome.
Rob: Yeah, I love it.
Dan: Probably one of my favorite Marvel ones so far, actually. That’s incredible. So, Xbox, that was a big hint.
Rob: Oh, yes.
Dan: Okay. Well, thanks, Rob, man, and best of luck with everything.
Rob: Yeah, thank you for this opportunity, man. I really, really, really, really, really appreciate it.
Dan: Back at you.
Dan: This has been Overtime, Dribbble’s official podcast, I’m Dan Cederholm, and thanks for listening to this week’s episode. Please subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts, and we’ll see you next time. Thanks again.