This past summer, I went to Chicago's Walker Stalker Con - a convention dedicated to fans of The Walking Dead TV series and comics for my second year in a row. Amidst the sea of celebrities and con-goers, what stood out to me almost immediately was an artist; an ambidextrous painter. Working with eyes closed and with two paint brushes gripped in hand, he was passionately painting on a canvas to the to the rhythm of the music blasting from the stereo beside him.
The artist was Rob Prior, a painter primarily, who I've had the joy of interviewing at the convention. Rob is a man who controls his own destiny by paving a path for himself, refusing to be blocked by any obstacle. You'll find out below that in addition to being a painter, he's also a director, working on both music videos and films. But most importantly, he's an overall amazing, funny, humble, and kind human being.
During the summer, I was struggling to overcome a serious creative slump. I felt discouraged because I was starting to feel burnt out and uninspired by things that I used to find enjoyable. When this happens, I normally try to take a break from working on projects and try to take up different hobbies until I overcome my slump, but that wasn't quite working out this time. I've always heard people say that you can find inspiration in the most unexpected places. I didn't know how true that statement could be until I met and talked with Rob - at a Walking Dead convention no less! As you read Rob's words, I'm hoping you will find a bit of inspiration as well.
Check out the interview below to get to know more about Rob, his creative process, his story of growth and success, and his advice for passionate dreamers that want to do it all.
Pearl: How did you first get started in art?
Rob Prior: My entire family is a family of artists, but none by profession. So before I was born, they sort of got together and was like “[He] can be an artist” and I didn’t have a choice. So I was being trained to be an artist since birth, literally, by putting crayons in my hands before I can walk [and] teaching me to draw circles. I grew up only really knowing art. My dad is an amazing artist and I wanted to emulate him as well.
P: How did you develop your unique style of painting?
R: There’s a two-part answer to this. And one of them wasn’t answered by me, it was answered by Picasso. It’s taken me most of my life to paint photorealistic [paintings], [but] it’s taken me a lifetime to learn how to paint like a child. I was doing photo-real book covers and stuff like that, very clean and crisp, not my [current] messy style. I was getting burnt out and my wife said to me, “Why don’t you let the world see how you really paint?” And I was like, “Nobody wants to see that!” But she convinced me to do it and I’ve never gone back. So probably about the last five years.
P: Were you always ambidextrous? Or was that a technique that you developed?
R: No. I was born right-handed. Since I was being trained to be an artist, when I got to be around 10 years old, I thought, “What if I lose my right hand?” Because every 10 year old thinks that... they don’t. So I switched my left hand to be my dominant hand for the next two years. When I was in school, my grades went down because I was trying to write and learn [with my left hand]. I was published very young so I had an international book cover due and math homework due when I was about 15. So I’ve been using both hands to do thing since 10. I just picked up two brushes and thought, “Oh, I could do this.” And then I realized that I can paint with one hand and do math problems with the other so I can get two things done at one time.
P: So what is your creative process like?
R: My creative process is to follow a couple of basic rules and make sure that I have a good layout. I follow the old masters. I follow the basics. And then I paint whatever the hell I feel like painting. As long as I fit it in a certain constraint, then that’s what I do.
P: Where do you draw inspiration from for your artwork?
R: Everywhere and everybody. You right now. I try to take a little [inspiration] from everybody that I shake hands with. Sometimes people suggest things. My greatest inspiration is my wife and kids though. They drive me to be a better painter, a better human, a better everything every day.
P: A lot of creative people tend to get inspired by music, but music seems to be ingrained as a very instrumental part of your process.
R: It’s the only way that I can paint. I have to have music or I cannot paint.
P: How did music first become a part of your process? Did you always have it playing in the background?
R: I think when I was very young, my family listened to a lot of music. So whenever they taught me, there was always music playing. And then I realized that I can get lost in music and not worry so much about what I’m painting. It’s a part of freeing my nature. So I think music just unleashes the beast.
P: Is that why you get so lost in the music?
R: I absolutely get lost in the music. You know, it’s funny. I don’t realize that I shut my eyes. In fact, I didn’t believe it until my wife took a picture of me doing it. But, it’s a part of that. I see the painting in [my mind]. So even with my eyes shut or my eyes open, the music guides me through everything.
|Rob painting Yoda from Star Wars|
P: So what songs make it onto your playlist?
R: The songs that I play [at conventions] aren’t necessarily songs that I play in my studio. I listen to Thelonious Monk and jazz so I switch it up. But if I played all that here, everybody would go to sleep. Everyone would be like “Yeah, this is great, but I’m going to go to sleep.” The faster the music, the faster I drive to paint. So that’s sort of how I’ll do it.
P: Do the songs differ depending on what you’re painting?
R: Yes. Yesterday I did a painting of Rick and Michonne and I was just in it to win it. I was just gone. And when I put the brushes down, I was just like “Oh my gosh, I have to go to sleep.” When I’m painting live, I paint with a lot of bands like Tech N9ne and Linkin Park. When I’m done with the stage painting, an hour and a half of just non-stop [painting], I’m about ready to pass out.
P: You paint a lot of characters from pop culture. Are there some characters that are your favorite?
R: I think I paint what the fans want me to paint. When I paint my private, gallery stuff, it’s not pop art at all. It’s all what I like to paint. I always feel like the fans give to me, so I like to give back to the fans. And I want to paint what they want. So that’s what I aim to do at shows. I don’t paint me at shows, I paint [the fans].
P: Are there any series that you really like right now?
R: I love Daredevil. Battlestar Galactica [is] my absolute, all-time favorite show ever. I watch Orphan Black and I love that. And of course, Game of Thrones. They brought [character's name] back.
P: Spoiler alert!
R: Anybody who didn’t know that, I’m sorry. Oops!
P: What are some upcoming projects that you’re working on?
R: I’m directing a movie for Insurgent Films called “Whisper.” The writer’s name is Ty Erskine. I’m [also] doing a music video for Flo-Rida, I’ve got a bunch of stuff that I’m doing for Atlantic Records, and I’ve created a bunch of TV shows. One of them is for Lifetime.
P: How did you get involved in TV and film when you originally started out as a painter?
R: I’ve always wanted to direct films. Ever since I was a kid. I knew I was going to be an artist, but I didn’t know if I would be able to direct. I do my own storyboard, everything. It was a natural progression for me. And I love challenging myself so that was another way of challenging myself.
|Rob with fans|
P: How do you keep your balance between all of these projects?
R: Very simply – stupidity. [A lot of times], I literally don’t know what is coming up. I know everything about two weeks out. If I started really thinking about it, I go down this rabbit hole and I don’t get anything done. I work a lot [and] luckily I work with two hands and can do two different things at one time so I can finish [my projects]. That’s really the big thing.
P: What advice do you have for people who also want to pursue multiple passions and get in the art business?
R: Repetition, repetition, repetition. All the time. A lot of artists who want to get established will send things in, get a rejection letter, and [try again] 20 or 30 times. Let me tell you, you might have to do it 100 times or 150 times. The more you do that, the more you have a chance to really succeed. The other thing is study. You can’t be a lazy artist. If you really want to be an artist, if you want to be the best, you have to sell your soul to art. You will just [have to] go, “This is what I’m going to do!” And you will sacrifice a lot, but that’s a choice you have to make. You can stop at any level, but it depends on where you want to go, how far [you’re willing to go], and what you’re willing to give up, and then do it. Because anybody can do what they want to do if they want to do it bad enough.
P: This is my last question, but what’s the story behind the chicken heads?
R: Gah! There was a publisher, that I won’t name at the moment, that had me do three different series. And he called me up and said, “Prior, I want you to make three different series, but if you hide anything [in the art], because I know you do, I’m gonna fire you”. And I was like, “What do you think that I’ll do? Hide a chicken head on every page?” So I did. In fact, I got so bold in the second issue that if you turned one of those pages completely sideways, it’s a giant chicken head. When the third issue came out, he called me at three in the morning and said, “You know I’d fire you right now, but I’m too busy looking for your f**king chicken heads”. Had I known that the chicken heads would stick with my fanbase, I would have picked something way cooler than a chicken head. Every live painting has a chicken head and every print has a chicken head. There’s not a painting I do that doesn’t have a chicken head.
|Rob and I!|
If you’d like to see more of Rob’s amazing work, check out his Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and website to see some videos of his incredible live performances and see his two-handed magic in action! If you happen to live near a major US city, you might get to see him paint live as well. Definitely check out where he’ll be painting next here.