Artist, Ryan McClelland, has artwork inked on my arm and hanging on my wall. His experience with tattooing, watercolor, and expressing his creativity has combined to create a style that makes him one of my favorite artists around. So, how could I not include him in our first issue of Rock|Life? I scheduled a tattoo appointment with Ryan at Main Street Electric Tattoo and asked him a few questions.
Rock|Life: How long have you been painting and drawing?
Ryan McClelland: Forever.
RM: Since I’ve been able to do drawings. But I had a painting class in my senior year of high school and I hated it and I didn’t start painting until my 20’s. Probably 20 or 21.
RL: What made you start back up?
RM: Quitting drinking, replacing that habit. I needed something to consume all day.
RL: I know you do a lot of watercolor, is that your favorite? Or is that just easiest to you?
RM: Yeah, I’d say watercolor is probably my favorite. Watercolor seems to be more consistent for me, and I can put more detail into it.
RL: And how long have you been tattooing?
RM: I’ve been tattooing about three and a half years now.
RL: What was the first painting you sold?
RM: This crazy abstract, like three canvas piece. That someone basically just paid me for the paint, and that was it.
RL: What are your plans with painting? Is your goal to do that for most of your income?
RM: Yeah, I like painting much more than tattooing.
RL: Where did most of your inspirations come from?
RM: Honestly now, like a lot of every day life stuff. I like painting wildlife and stuff like that. I like to do pretty much anything that catches my eye. I’ve been trying to keep a journal, so I’ve been painting stuff that if I’m watching TV and I’m watching a show about sharks, then I’ll paint a shark.
RL: Nice. So just to see if you can do it?
RM: Yeah just to constantly progress, and I time myself. I started out doing 30 minutes, and when I could do it consistently, I was like I have to cut it down to 15 minutes. Because it makes you pick and choose, and it forces you to be looser. But it also forces you to break things down into shapes, which helps you, when you want to go back and make stuff more detailed. You don’t have those human flaws in it, it looks more delivered. Which I do a lot, especially with watercolors, I tend to over do it. I paint it too much, because I constantly think it can get better when I should just leave it. So that forces you to just leave it.
RL: What do you suck at, as far as art?
RM: As far as art goes? Lots.
RL: What’s the thing you’re the worst at? Like you’ve tried it and were just like, “nope that’s not my thing.”
RM: I used to think that I always sucked at flowers, like roses, I struggled. I could not make them look okay, so when I was getting into tattooing I wanted to push myself and push my actual drawing abilities. So I started drawing roses like crazy, and now I draw and paint them a ton. So that was the biggest flaw, but now honestly I think, as far as that goes I would say just sketching in general. I finalize thing
s too much, that’s why I do the 15 minute things. I just try to draw the final product instead of loosely putting in shapes and kind of building the drawing from that, I always try and draw the end vision and it looks like a little kid did it.
RL: Did you draw anywhere near as much before you started tattooing?
RM: When I was younger I drew a ton, and then my junior or senior year I started getting away from it. And I only really drew for art class. But later in life I went back to it and it became an obsession.
RL: Who are the people you look up to the most in sketching, painting, or anything like that?
RM: Older guys I loved Alphonse Mucha, he’s like an art deco kind of guy, he’s painted a ton of women. And tattoo-wise, I follow tons of people and it changes weekly who I’m looking at. I mean I do have a mix of style in that, so it’s hard to narrow it down, but I also like Rembrandt, and all the old classics like the Impressionism, because I struggle with that where they’re just kind of making shapes and colors to make stuff. I love Rudolph Foca (sp?) he’s an Australian guy who does this painting called “Spontaneous Realism” and it’s a bunch of crazy colors but it looks super realistic.
RL: If I gave you on person’s style to paint or draw in for the rest of your life, who would that person be?
RM: Right now I love Disalvo Remanda, he’s a painter who lives out in California. Who I got that cardinal painting from, and I love everything he paints. And he paints acrylic, which is weird because most people wouldn’t, especially for the style he does. Most people would paint in oils, but it makes me happy because I hate oils. Acrylics dry super fast, and they can’t really be reworked at all. Where oils stay wet for days, and you can go back in blend and move them. People stretch that stuff out for months, but I’m too impatient, like it has to be done. If I paint, and have to go back to it, you might as well throw it away because I’m never going back to it. Personally I don’t know enough about it, it’s the only actual form of painting I’ve actually taken a class on and I still know nothing about it. There’s just so much that goes into it, with like thinning the paint out, then glazing and stuff. So I’ve gotten books on it, and I own probably close to $10,000 worth of oil painting stuff. And I’ll probably add to it some day. I haven’t narrowed it down to my style, I don’t have one. My painting could be like half super realistic, and the other half would be watercolor splatters all over the place and weird. And then the next paint I do 100% realistic with an element that shouldn’t be in there, you know like a design inside of the realism part. The next day I’ll paints like a Bob Ross style landscape, I’ll just do all kinds of weird stuff.
RL: Do you think that helps show more of your personality and mood at the time of painting them, versus having a specific style that you’re going for?
RM: Yeah, and I’m a strong believer in whether it’s tattooing or painting or woodworking or whatever. Just doing stuff that you may not like as far as art goes, all of that will make you better and doing the stuff you like. The different techniques apply to everything.
RL: What are the favorite things you’ve ever painted or drawn?
RM: That cardinal that I painted, it was like the third water color painting I ever did. Like the head and stuff is super realistic, and the butt fades the color. I feel like it changes a lot when I’m painting, because I feel like especially with how much I tattoo and draw, that artistically I progress on a daily basis. I’ve noticed at the end of the week that’s changed, and with all the time that I spend watching tutorials, and how to’s, and reading books, and watching videos of people tattooing or whatever. Whether it’s learning color theory, or whatever, I feel like on a weekly basis I progress. Say I look back like 6 months ago, I feel like it’s not even the same person doing this stuff.
RL: Would you say that tattooing has in any way hindered your other artistic endeavors like painting because you’re always drawing stuff like that, so that when you’re done you don’t want to? Or does it help because you’re always doing artistic-type stuff and it just keeps you in that mood?
RM: I feel like it hinders my painting, especially, not watercolor so much because I feel like I tattoo kind of like I watercolor almost for a lot of things like color blends and stuff like that. But acrylic painting, I feel like I don’t even know what I’m doing half the time when I’m doing it now. But it’s also like, when I tattoo, everything is really linear and I do lines and all kinds of stuff, and that’s how I express it. And with painting, I don’t do a whole lot of lines, so they’re like as far on opposite sides of the spectrum as they could possibly be. Tattooing has pushed my painting through the roof because my attention to detail and my overall composition…
RL: And patience I would think?
RM: Yeah, definitely patience. My compositions have gotten better, but because of the importance of tattooing and the permanence of it, it has forced me to slow down and think more and apply actual techniques. Whether it’s color theory, value, composition, you know all of the basics and really build that core up, that’s going to help anyone be a better artist.
RL: To kind of wrap it up here, what’s some advice you’d give to somebody starting out as an artist or wants to become one or draw better or paint better? What advice would you have?
RM: Learn the basics first, don’t try to get ahead of yourself, basic shape building and composition. Just draw, and draw some more, and when you’re done with that, draw some more, because that’ll make you much better.
RL: And do you think they should learn art history?
RM: Even if you’re looking at someone, and their style doesn’t really apply to you at all, you can still take parts from them.
RL: Okay we’re going to do some quick fire questions, so it’s this or that, and you have to pick.
Coke or Pepsi?
RL: Drawing or painting?
RL: Straight up rock n roll or straight up metal?
RM: Well rock then for sure.
RL: Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber?
RL: If could hot rod an old school car or a custom bike?
RM: Old truck