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Art & Life with Scott Gustafson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Scott Gustafson.

Scott, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I grew up in a small town in northern Illinois, and came to Chicago to attend the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and later, Columbia College. Originally, I had aspirations of becoming an animator, but as things unfolded, I realized my temperament and abilities were better suited to illustration.

From the late seventies, when I started my freelance illustration career until the present, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the field, but have also had the opportunity to work with and for many interesting art directors and companies. I’ve done magazine work, ranging from The Saturday Evening Post to Playboy as well as commercial illustrations for Celestial Seasonings, Wurlitzer Piano and Nickelodeon, but whether I’m working on character designs for animation projects or full-scale oil paintings for books and prints, I’ve always considered myself an illustrator or visual storyteller.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I consider myself a visual storyteller so the majority of my work depicts characters involved in a narrative, and usually (but not always) with a whimsical bent. I love fairy tales and fantasy and the challenge of depicting a recognizable, fairly realistic world in which magical things can believably occur. Whether it’s a fox in 17th-century costume, a child reading a book to a dragon, or Santa and his elves, I try to capture a moment in time, and a place in the imagination where all of those elements could coexist.

Aside from fantasy, I am deeply inspired by the world around us, the way light filters through the leaves or the construction of a medieval church, these things amaze me with their character, form, color, and texture. It is these particular elements that I enjoy mixing with the less substantial elements of fantasy, thereby attempting to create a believable place – a place somewhere between the world we walk through and the land we dream in.

Throughout my career, I’ve experimented with many mediums from pastels and colored pencils to gouache, watercolor and acrylic paints. I also enjoy sculpting characters as reference for my paintings. But painting in oils has always been my preferred medium, and I’ve worked primarily with them for the last 20 years.

Given everything that is going on in the world today, do you think the role of artists has changed? How do local, national or international events and issues affect your art?
The role of the artist today is probably not that unlike the role of the artist through art history. Artists react to the world around them, either in a positive or negative way, politically or non-politically. The difference today is the pace at which an artist’s work can reach the public and the unbelievable speed in which images can circle the globe. This is unprecedented, but then so is the short attention span of the audience.

Because my artwork is not directly related to current events, it is somewhat removed from the world as seen through the screens on our devices – but maybe that’s a statement in itself, for nothing truly exists in a vacuum.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
Since I am not primarily a gallery artist, there aren’t really many brick-and-mortar places that I can point to where people can see my original oil paintings. However, since the bulk of my artistic output has been for books, your local bookstore might be a good place to find some examples of my work. Early on, I seem to have had an affinity for the traditional stories and have had the opportunity to illustrate a number of volumes including Classic Fairy Tales, Favorite Nursery Rhymes from Mother Goose, Classic Bedtime Stories and most recently, Classic Storybook Fables, all published by Artisan. I have also written and illustrated a novel for young readers entitled Eddie: The Lost Youth of Edgar Allan Poe, which was published by Simon & Schuster.

My wife, Patty and I work together in our home studio, and our website features a portfolio of my work as well as an online shop where folks can purchase personalized books and available original drawings, paintings and prints. Please visit for more details and to contact us.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

All images © Scott Gustafson. The Emperor Loved New Clothes, The Boy Meets the North Wind, The Frog Prince, The Gargoyle Keeper, Merlin and Arthur, Santa’s Treat, Little Sambha and the Tiger with the Beautiful Red Coat, Celestial Seasonings Panda.

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