We had the good fortune of connecting with Curt Merlo and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Curt, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I am learning that risk is on a spectrum of low-risk/low-reward on one side and high-risk/high-reward on the other. In art, as in life, you cannot gain anything without taking on some risk. Otherwise, everyone would do that easy thing. I continuously have to ask myself how much risk am I willing to take; everyone has to. Often, the answer is “none” because I am naturally a fraidy cat but every once in a while I put it all out there. Those are typically the images I am most proud of even if they weren’t well received. Failing is hard, but the regret of not trying is harder.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
During the day, I am an editorial illustrator but at night I make comics and other personal projects. I guess what sets me apart from other artists is the unique set of inspirations that inspire me. I love independent comics and draw heavily from them for my illustrations. My greatest muse is mid century commercial illustration. It isn’t uncommon to like these things, but I hope to be unique by combining these two aesthetics in interesting ways. I began my freelance illustration career after I lost my job as a graphic designer in the Great Recession. I have been doing freelance illustration ever since. I wouldn’t say illustration is hard per se, but it takes an incredible amount of focus and attention to get better and keep growing. Sometimes I get obsessed and can’t think about anything else. It’s probably not healthy. I know I am not the best artist out there (you just need to open instagram for one second to see that ), but I am dedicated and I don’t give up. I can’t predict how things will go, but I am in it for the long haul. My secret: there is no secret. The first thing I do when I wake up (before I even look at my phone) is to start drawing. I try to learn something new everyday and be consistent. This has helped me tremendously. I would say that the key to success in anything is to constantly improve. Can I plug something? Really? Great! I am working on a comic book with screenwriter and director J.R. Hughto that we will start publishing next year. I am really proud of it, mainly because J.R. is a genius. It will start as a web comic and eventually get to print when we are all done. Check it out, you wont regret it. That is the plan at least, that no one will regret seeing what we make. That is our entire business strategy.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Everyone must see the Huntington Library in San Marino at least once. It is incredible. Then on your way out, swing by the Gamble house in Pasadena for the most amazing architecture you have ever seen. Swing by the brand new Shake Shack there in town because who doesn’t love Shake Shack? The best comic book store in LA is Secret Headquarters. I think it is in Silverlake or some hipstery cool place like that. For more art, the Getty is incredible, especially for a free museum.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
This is a hard one, since there are so many people I could recognize in my career, but the constant is my wife, Rita. I consider her my biggest collaborator even though she isn’t a trained visual artist. Often her eyes are sharper and more creative than mine. She is involved in every piece I make and I most definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without her. Shoutout to you Rita! Also, we need milk next time you are out.