Interview with pop surreal artist Michael Ramstead

Michael Ramstead is an oil painter from Long Beach, CA. His work’s subject matter draws its inspiration from the paranormal, the supernatural, folklore, mythology, horror movies, and scary stories.  In terms of technique, he has been heavily influenced by the painters of the renaissance, baroque, neo-classical, and academic movements.  He has also been influenced by a new batch of illustrators and artists working in what has recently been called low brow or pop surrealism, which have encouraged him to embrace more whimsical and imaginative visuals.  He uses his classical technical influences as a way to try to create a realistic world for his more fantastical imagery to reside in.  On top of this, in his paintings he hopes to convey or capture some sort of emotion (usually a somber one), and hint at a narrative just enough that viewers are able to create their own stories in their minds as to what is happening in any one of his pictures.
Hello dear Michael, please, tell us how did you find the artist inside you? How long have you been doing art? Is art something that you always wanted to do?
I’ve been drawing all my life.  As a kid I would spend a lot of my time drawing my favorite cartoon, video game and comic book characters, as well as making up some characters of my own. For a while I thought I’d go into animation and took some animation classes in high school, but I wound up falling in love with painting my senior year and that has been my focus ever since.

What was / is your major influences? Other artists, books, movies, music or any other media....What inspires you to create your artworks?
My paintings mostly draw inspiration from the paranormal, the supernatural, mythology, folklore, horror movies, and scary stories.  As far as artists, I’ve been very influenced by the artists of the renaissance, baroque, neo-classical, and academic movements - really anything figurative.  Also, the rise of low brow or pop surrealist art really influenced me, with artists like Mark Ryden, Camille Rose Garcia, James Jean, and Alex Gross.  Two of my favorite artists are the photography duo Khan and Selesnick.  Music can also be a huge influence at times. Specific lyrics have inspired some of my paintings.

How does "a normal day of artist" in your life look like?
This changes depending on what I have to work on, obviously.   But when painting I usually get up, eat breakfast, look around the internet, then get started around 11 or 12.  I’ll work on my painting(s) for hours while listening to music, podcasts or watching a show out of the corner of my eye, taking breaks for food and what have you. Then it’s probably time for bed.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  If I don’t have a painting to work on, I keep busy by working on sketches and other creative ideas.
What’s your background? Are you self-taught artist or did you study art? Do you think an art education is important or imperitive for anybody wishing to be an artist? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages that you have encountered throughout your career with/without the formal training of the Art Academy?
I went to UC Davis and majored in art but when I was there most of the teachers were very hands off.  If you wanted help or advice they were there, but they didn’t instruct students on HOW to paint - allowing most students to do their own thing.  The benefits and drawbacks to this are pretty clear.  With this approach there’s no one telling you what kind of art to make and you are free to do whatever you want.  But there’s no one really teaching you how to do the things you want to do, so you have to be very self-motivated to figure all that out on your own.  And with no real direction, I’ve seen certain students struggle.  If you think you need someone to instruct you or give you assignments in order to grow as an artist then I would recommend you make sure you go to a school that could provide that for you.  Conversely, if you think you’re self motivated enough, it might be in your best interest to skip going to an art school and just figure things out on your own.  There’s a lot you can learn from the internet and books - for a lot less money.
What fascinates you the most about surrealism / pop surrealism / contemporary art / lowbrow art? How would you describe your style? What themes do you pursue, what surrealism mean to you and what do you hope the viewer will take away from your art?
The most fascinating thing about this art movement is the creativity and imagination that comes out of the artists.  It seems like this is the most liberally imaginative and fantastic art movement to exist, and that it could only exist at this time.  It’s easier than ever to be an artist and we live in a culture that is fascinated with pop culture, cartoons, comics, and illustration.  Artists are making art for themselves about things that they are interested in, much like the modern artists did.  But this time, instead of focusing on abstract, conceptual ideas, they’re mixing representational and fantastic elements - something that used to be reserved for illustration and cartoons - and raising it to the level of high art.
It’s always tricky to describe my style because sometimes it’s simply portraiture and sometimes very fantastical elements make their way in.  I use surrealism and fantasy to suggest some sort of story and while it may not always be explicitly clear what the story is, I hope that the viewers can come away with some narrative in their minds.

What do you love most about creating and being an artist? What does “being creative” mean to you?
The greatest thing about being an artist for me is seeing something that was just an idea become something real, tangible, and visible.
“Being creative” means using your mind to come up with unique and interesting ideas.  Alright, they don’t have to be THAT unique or interesting but it’s about putting in the effort and at least trying to create something.
Can you describe your typical workflow when you’re working on your art? What are your tools of trade? What medium do you most often use and why?
I mainly work with oil paint (I do some digital stuff too that’s more illustrative and cartoony).  I personally think an oil painting is the best looking of all the 2D physical media. (I’ve seen people do work just as good with acrylic but I haven’t practiced that as much.) I mostly use Winsor & Newton Artists’ Oil Colour paints and Winsor & Newton Linseed Oil and Liquin.  First I’ll sketch out a general idea for a painting.  Then I’ll get whatever photographic reference I need and compose the whole thing digitally using Photoshop.  Then I’ll draw the image on my canvas and paint the whole thing using just burnt umber and a fast drying white.  After it dries I’ll go over the whole thing in black and white painting all the lights and shadows to establish form.  The painting looks mostly done at this point, except it’s in black and white.  So next I go over the whole thing in mostly opaque color.  Despite being opaque, oil paint is generally pretty transparent unless it’s pretty thick, so the black and white underneath really helps to reinforce the form of the image.  I’ll do a few color layers to make sure the saturation is at the level I want it, and I’ll do transparent glazes and opaque scumbling that really add to the three dimensional feel of the painting.  And that’s about it.
Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?
Graphic novel, stop motion animation, and sculpture.
Tell us more about your workspace. What was the most funny or weird thing that happened to you in your studio? What is / was the most strange thing hiding in your studio?
My workspace is actually also my bedroom so a lot of funny and weird things happen in there and there are plenty of strange things hiding. Just kidding?
What toughest challenges have you faced as an artist during your art career? What is the biggest lesson you have learned so far?
I think one of the biggest challenges for me was coming out of college with a degree in Art Studio and then really not know what to do next.  I kind of lucked out the way I stumbled upon certain galleries that were interested in showing me, but it took me about a year to figure that all out.  I think I could have been smarter and more proactive about it.  If you’re interested in getting your work in galleries just look around online, look in magazines, and visit local art districts to find the galleries that show your type of work.  Check out their submission policy and approach them.  Make sure your portfolio is strong enough and easy for them to see, but don’t be afraid to make the first move.  That’s what I learned.
What’s the best and worst advice you ever received in your art career?
No bad advice comes to mind, if I’ve received any I must have forgotten or ignored it.  Or maybe I’m still listening to it and haven’t realized it’s bad advice yet, haha.  Good advice, that I still need to remind myself, is to stay open to all opportunities that come your way, and take any work you can get.  You don’t know what connection you’re going to make or what lesson or new skill you might learn.

What do you dislike about the art world? What is the hardest thing on being an artist? Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
I guess the thing that disappoints me about the art world the most is when I see really talented artists somewhat ignored or unable to find buyers for their work, while celebrity artists can produce kind of terrible work and sell for incredibly high prices.  I get it, but it sucks for sure.
The hardest thing for me is how difficult it is to be successful.  Even after a few great shows and producing work that I’m proud of I still feel like I have a ways to go before I feel like I’m successful and really making it.
I have a good group of friends that I hang out with every week.  I can be a bit of an introvert so spending a few days by myself and working feels natural to me.  Any longer than that though I can go a little stir crazy and I need to see people.
Where do you see yourself in the future? Professionally, what’s your goal?
I hope to have to continue to have a career as an artist, where I’m making work that I’m proud of and passionate about.  Basically, what I’m doing now, but better, and more financially stable.
Do you have any tips or inspiring words for others? Maybe advice for beginning artists out there?
The most important things for beginners is to get started as soon as you can.  It’s going to take a while to get good and then it’ll take a while to get noticed.  I’m still waving my hands in the air trying to get people to look at me.  Don’t be afraid of not being the best when you’re just starting, just get to work.  Put your work out there and keep producing consistently.
Your favorite art or life quote is ...
I’m not really one for favorites or quotes but here’s one: “Everything you can imagine is real.” - Picasso
What are you doing when you’re not creating? What (other) hobbies do you have?
I play a little guitar, watch tv shows and movies, hang out with friends.
Do you have an online portfolio or a blog where we can view your work?
Is there anything else you’d like to say? Is there any project you are working on right now or any ongoing event or exhibition you would like to share with our readers?
My next show is going to be a group show called “Other Worlds” curated by White Matter at the Hive Gallery in Los Angeles.
Thank you for the interview!
Thank you dear Michael, it was a honor to interview you, I wish you only the best for you and your art and already looking forward to see your new art works :)
By contributor Linda. Mar 2015. Find Oh, So Surreal on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google + or RSS.