I am happy to share this interview with Jeremy Colwell as our first of many colourist conversations! Jeremy is a colorist for DC, IDW, Image and Dark Horse. In this interview we discuss a little about color, a little about his history and a lot about his love of his family. Since this was our first interview, conducted around holidays and deadlines, it’s a little light. Be sure to holler at me if you have some questions for colorists!
You can follow Jeremy on Twitter: @Jeremy_Colwell
ML: You’ve done a wide variety of work. What do you think has given you the flexibility to do this variety of styles?
JC: I’ve been very fortunate to work with lots of talented people. One of the joys, or frustrations, of being a colorist is the way color should support the story and art based on what has already been produced by the creators ahead of me in line.
The fundamental principle I use to be the most flexible is to check my ego at the door on each gig and try to find the right look for that book, regardless of how I comfortable I would feel doing it. I reach out to the team to get input. I look to see what others have done with similar art. Trying to do a style that I like more if it doesn’t fit the service of the books intention will not only look bad, but will be harder for me overall. Like trying to use a hammer instead of a wrench to tighten a nut, style should be thought of as using the right tool for the job.
Some styles are much easier or more natural for me. Working in a very painterly style is my favorite even though it is much more labor intensive and time consuming. Cut and Brush is my hardest. I did some work for Hi-Fi a few years back and it was probably the hardest work I ever did, which is odd as a lot of colorist start out using that technique. Guess my brain is wired differently.
I think being stylistically flexible has helped my career. When I get approached with a job and the client asks if I can use a specific style, even if I haven’t done it before, I am often confident enough in my ability to adapt that I can say yes. Sometimes I have to spend a few days or pages working out the technique, but I don’t mind. I’m often studying and practicing on my own anyway so getting paid to learn is a bonus.
ML: What was something you were really excited to work on?
My newest book, Batman/TMNT, has to be my top spot so far. It’s my first official DC book (the other DC was as part of Hi-Fi), it’s Batman, and it’s been a very high profile book. Freddie Williams II, the artists on the book, and I have worked together many times. Back when I was inking, I inked him on a Markosia book, Project EON. We met up again at Dark Horse on Brain Boy and then when I painted over him on the covers for the book called X, he contacted me about Batman/TMNT wondering if I had ever colored inkwash. He had a very specific art direction he wanted on this book and hoped I could bring his vision to the pages. Again my flexibility saved the day. While I’d never done it for print, I’d done quite a bit of it for personal practice. I sent him some samples, did a practice Turtles piece at his request, and then he recommended me to editor, Jim Chadwick. A few business hoops later I was on the book. Can’t thank those guys enough for giving me the shot at it.
ML: Is there any one color or rendering situation that really makes your head spin?
I think it would be simpler to list the situations I’m comfortable with. I have so many areas of technique and theory that make my head spin. As I mentioned earlier, Cut and Brush is a struggle for me. It’s gotten much easier now though as I’ve learned more about lighting and forms. I think it was the exacting nature of the selections that haunted me. When I’m working painterly I build the forms and push/pull areas as I find the form. Cut and Brush just feels so unforgiving to me.
Cell shaded is also hard for me, but I’ve developed some techniques with it that make it easier. When I first got the Powerpuff Girls gig from IDW, Troy Little had already done an issue and my editor, Sarah Gaydos, asked if I could try to match it since it was a good look for the book. It was cell shaded mostly. It took some time and effort, but my flexibility won out and I made it work. That series is still one I look back on very fondly. Doesn’t hurt that the Powerpuff Girls movie was a major staple in my young son’s DVD watching and I am a fan of the cartoon, too.
ML : How do you control yellow?
JC: I avoid it. Actually, I have no real issue with yellow. I use it all the time and don’t give it much thought. I have my Cintiq color calibrated with a X-Rite i1 Display, so if it looks right on my monitor, I know it will print right. At least that has been my experience so far.
I also have color profiles in Photoshop that I got from Hi-Fi (on a disc in their book, Master Digital Color) and one I got direct from DC when I started working for them. I use those to CMYK proof my RGB work for even better print accuracy.
ML: Is there a color or lighting situation you find yourself leaning on?
JC: I’m sadly simple when it comes to doing fancy lighting or color storytelling techniques. I’m very much a render and volume guy. My background in art was largely observational drawing and painting. I had chiaroscuro drilled into my head and did lots of still life painting studies focusing of the color of light and shadows.
My natural inclination is to go with local colors and then warm or cool them as the scene’s environment dictates. I love seeing other colorist got crazy and expressionistic with the colors, but often when I do it, it just looks out of place. I have gotten much better over the years though. I like working in red and orange backgrounds into a panel for an impact shot or cooling everything off for sadness.
ML: Is there anything you’d like to share about your work or achieving the elusive work life balance?
JC: For me, my family has always come first. Before starting my comic career, I was a stay at home parent for about 10 years. I handled the vast majority of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and care giving. I volunteered at my boys’ schools a lot, teaching art mostly–which I still do when the opportunity arises.
Once they were both in school full time and I was needed less at home to care for them, my wife and I decided it would probably be a good idea for me to earn some income. I considered a job in finance or accounting, something I was always good at but would require more education and possibly chain me to a desk, which I hated when I worked previously to being a dad. My BA degree is in Interdisciplinary Visual Arts from UW. I’ve always painted and drawn and dreamed of making comics my whole life.
After a lot of discussion, we decided I should pursue comics. I started as an inker and had some success with indie books and doing backgrounds for some established pros, but it didn’t seem to be building into much. Since I have a background in painting, I thought I’d try my hand at coloring. I never looked back.
My life, despite periods of hectic deadline juggling, is more balanced now than ever before. I loved being a stay at home dad, and it gave me a great sense of purpose, but having a career in comics is a lifelong dream. It fulfills my need to do something for myself, which I didn’t know was missing until I did it.
The support of my family is the reason I can do this job. As my workload has increased, they have stepped up to take over many of the things I used to do. For example, my middle school son does the dishes, my high schooler does the laundry, and my wife handles most of the cleaning. They also are understanding of my work schedule. Some nights I have to lock myself in my office while they hang out without me. Now I just need to teach them to flat for me.
Balancing work and life rarely feels like a chore. Yes, there are hard choices sometimes, but I live by the concept that you always have time for the things you put first and I try to keep my priorities based on solid principles.
ML: How did you get so sweet & cool?
JC: Just lucky. Although my sons may argue with you about the cool part.