ARTIST FOCUS: STEVE THOMAS
I had a little bit of a nerd overload going into this week’s Artist Focus. As an avid Star Wars fan, it was Steve Thomas’s Star Wars propaganda pieces at Ltd. Art Gallery that intrigued me and made me want to see what else he had done.
My body wasn’t ready.
Researching his work led me down the rabbit hole into a magical world full of Star Wars, video games, 80s cartoons/movies, comic books and more.
And it wasn’t just the subject matter and style of Steve’s work that was eye-catching, but also the breadth of his work. Along with his geeky pieces, Steve has created logos, corporate marketing, and even interactive graphics for a stadium.
Without further ado (because seriously I could keep going), Steve Thomas.
Tell us about yourself. Where are you from? Where do you live now?
I grew up in Windsor, Ontario—across the river from the Motor City (Detroit). From there it was off to University in Ohio where I majored in Informational Graphics and Page Design. I got a job in Pittsburgh creating graphics for a newspaper (maps, charts, cutaways, etc.) met my wife there—a fellow Canadian—and we moved to the Twin Cities of Minnesota to start a family. We still live in the north burbs above Minneapolis and St. Paul.
What is your day job? What do you do there? How long have you been doing that?
Up until a couple of months ago I was on the web side of things at a newspaper in St. Paul. I would make sure the right content got to the right place on the site and was assigned the correct art. I also did some interactive graphics. I had been doing that for about 3 years.
Now, I’m full-time freelance illustration. If you need a poster, logo, t-shirt, or any other illustration let me know. <smiles>
How long have you been designing/illustrating? What got you interested in art?
I would say I’ve seriously been designing and illustrating for about 15 years. I’ve always had an interest in art, but never really knew where it could take me. I guess that’s how I ended up in Informational Graphics. Being a starving artist didn’t appeal to me.
Who/what influences your art? Is there a particular person’s style that has influenced you?
I’ve always been drawn to the travel and product posters of the early 20th century, as well as the retro-futuristic art of the pulp magazines of the mid-20th century. I wouldn’t say I have a favorite artist since so many styles appeal to me.
How would you describe your style?
Graphic art. Graphic in the sense that it doesn’t have that painterly quality other art can have.
What medium do you typically use when creating art?
I typically use the computer (Illustrator and Photoshop) and mouse, although I have been known to pick up a brush and dabble in acrylics.
How do you tackle new projects? Do you plan everything out in advance or do you just start designing and see where it takes you? What’s your process?
It all starts with an idea of what I want to do (travel/propaganda/product/gig) and thumbnails. Lots of small thumbnail sketches! From there it’s on to gathering reference photos. I rarely do a complete drawing, but start right in on the computer pulling elements together. I fuss with the colors and fonts a lot before coming to something I can call finished.
As a Star Wars fan I find your Star Wars t-shirt designs (Boba Fett and Vader) are just exceptional! How did you come up with the idea for them?
Those were somewhat requested by the fine folks at WeLoveFine.com. They had seen my faux He-Man concert poster and wanted something along those lines for some Star Wars characters.
Vader was a challenge. The final image was probably the 4th compilation of elements I tried. But it all clicked in the end. I’d like to do a Stormtrooper at some point.
And you know I have to ask you about your Star Wars travel posters. Did you have to research the movies a lot to come up with them or are you such a huge fan of Star Wars that it just came organically?
Funny, but I didn’t go back to any of the movies to nail down the ideas or the taglines. However, I did do a lot of internet research on vehicles, places, aliens, and uniforms to make sure I had the correct amount of accuracy.
Where did you get the idea to make video game-themed propaganda posters? They’re wonderful!
I saw a commercial one evening, I can remember that much, but I don’t recall what the commercial was about. The only thing I remember is the idea clicking in my head. I wanted to get them done as fast as I could so I took about 3 weeks of late nights and weekends to get the first 8 completed. I was very surprised and pleased with the reception they received.
Has video game art, concept art, or fan art influenced you at all?
I’d say concept art from the Star Wars films has influenced me. You can’t tell from my stuff now, but there was a time when I thought I could do that kind of artwork. I quickly realized that I couldn’t. Those guys who do concept art have an entirely different level of imagination.
Tell us about your current projects. What are you working on? Any upcoming art shows?
I’m working on some more prints for Acme Archives Limited. I don’t want to say too much at this point (paranoia in me thinks it’s only a matter of time before someone else beats me to the punch when it comes to what I plan to do).
I have a solo show at Ltd. Art Gallery in Seattle and a piece in Gallery1988’s Crazy 4 Cult show in New York City. Then I’ll have a couple of other group shows at Ltd. Art Gallery before the year is out.
Are you an avid gamer? If so, what are you currently playing?
Most of the games I’ve ever played were back in the 80s. The classics. I have a 1st gen PlayStation that collected more dust than play time. I did have a short love affair with Jet Moto. I was determined to have a perfect season and win each track. It took a while, but I did it. After that, I was pretty much done.
If you could be any video game character who would it be? Why?
Bionic Commando. That grappling hook was awesome.
What do you do for fun?
I’d like to say golf, but I haven’t been for a couple of years. Nowadays, I have fun with the kids (we have three), watching them grow. Outside of work, family time rules.
If there’s one thing that you want people to know about you, what would that be?
I like 80s tunes, a lot of the one-hit wonders: Flock of Seagulls, Ready for the World, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, A-ha. Plus the not so one-hit wonders.
If you like Steve’s work and would like to stay current with his latest projects, follow him at:
Love the Masters of the Universe one.