Comic Cons stole my life!
Rob Prior is a special artist and our very own Linda White recently had the chance to meet him at one of the many comic con’s she attends on behalf of ComiConverse.
Artist Spotlight: Getting Real With Rob Prior
Comic conventions have become an integrated part of my life. It’s exciting to meet celebrities from your favorite TV series and movies, fun to interact with fellow fans and dissect the latest comic release, heartwarming to be in a place of no judgment, free to show your true self or become whomever you wish. Comic Cons are an invariable cosmos of creativity. I sometimes reflect though on what has drawn me in most, what has truly touched me on a level deeper than I ever anticipated… the artwork. Rob Prior was no exception.
Finding Your Passion
While I have an affinity for pieces that are dark and edgy with a unique style, I have an appreciation for all that is honest and reflects the artist’s true self. I am fascinated to hear the back-story of these talented and creative individuals; I make it a priority to connect with them. Whether describing how they began as an artist, how they manage life on the comic convention circuit or what they see in their future, let me assure you, these are some of the most hard-working, dedicated, yet often underrated people you will ever meet. As I document my journey though the convention world, I wish to give them visibility in a realm often overrun by celebrity. I begin my mission by introducing you to Rob Prior.
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Meeting Rob Prior
I had the pleasure of first seeing Rob in action earlier this year while attending Heroes and Villains Fan Fest (HVFF) in New Jersey. I was perusing the floor when I came across his area and stopped in my tracks. My first thought… What’s with all the mess? My second thought … That mess is pretty awesome! My third thought… Holy crap, he uses both hands to paint! I was definitely taken aback by what seemed to be a world of calculated chaos. I loved it. A week later I attended Walker Stalker Con (WSC) in New Jersey and was happy to see Rob’s name on the guest list. This time, I sought him out. I joined several fans standing nearby to watch Rob in action as he painted an impressive rendition of Carl grimes from The Walking Dead. Rob was lost in the music that enveloped him as the piece came together. In the midst of his creating, he encouraged a young fan to step in and help him out, even Chandler Riggs (Carl Grimes) made an appearance to add a couple brush strokes. I had never seen anything like it and wanted to learn more.
Knowing that Rob was to be a guest at the next WSC event held in Philadelphia, I decided to ask for an interview and was thrilled when I learn his acceptance. As I delved online to find out what makes Rob tick, I noted that his talents extended way beyond painting at comic conventions. His lengthy resume includes… story board artist, director of music videos and films, designer of video game and book covers, as well as sculpting and painting creatures for TV shows (just to name a few). He has done work for Marvel and DC and has even worked with some musical talents. A visit to Rob’s website or his IMDb will show you just how diverse his skills run.
How the heck does he do it all?
Knowing that I clearly could not expend all of Rob’s valuable time, I chose to focus my attention on his artwork as known through the comic convention circuit. I wanted to share his story as it pertains to ‘con life’ and maybe uncover things that I had not been able to find online. I cannot thank him enough for the time he spent speaking with me.
Starting Con Life
To make a living Rob began by doing photorealism artwork for comic books and t-shirt designs but quickly became burnt out and actually left the convention scene for 13 years. It was his wife that urged him to return, knowing he would have regrets if he didn’t. She encouraged him to function at the conventions in the same way he functioned at his home studio… freely. Rob does love the fans and talking to people but is extremely shy when it comes to showcasing himself. He never even wanted to share his ambidextrous capabilities which have become a large part of the lure that is Rob Prior. He remembered being at Wizard World in Philadelphia, sketching under the table with both hands because he didn’t want anyone to see it. Rob’s wife suggested he get out from under the table so people could witness his skills in action. Reluctantly, he did. While sitting there, completely absorbed in his work, Rob eventually looked up to see that a crowd had formed around to watch him work. It was then he realized that he could be true to himself and still be a successful artist.
Why Two Hands?
To see Rob painting with both hands equally and simultaneously is definitely a sight to behold. I have heard him speak during convention panels and explain how he developed that ability since he was actually born right-handed. He explains that he comes from a family of artists and had been trained to follow the same path at an early age. When only 10 years old he thought to himself, “What if I lost my right hand?” He then switched to make his left hand dominant for the next two years and soon realized that he could paint with one hand and do math problems with the other. Why not then pick up two brushes and paint with both hands, so it began.
The ‘drip style’ of painting Rob is best known for, on the convention circuit, came because he was sick of photorealism and wanted to see movement in his work. He also really seemed to want to tap into the looseness of creativity and not fear ‘screwing up’. He indicated that he was still unsure if he could bring that style to a convention because it was so, for lack of a better term, messy. Walker Stalker Con and Heroes and Villains Fan Fest became favorite conventions because they did allow him the freedom to be true to his style, mess and all. He considers them to be part of his family. Not all conventions are created equal and sadly some tend to “…block you from being the best you can be.” Celebrities are a wonderful attraction but there comes a point where the artists start becoming completely ignored. This not only hurts the creative mindset but it’s a shame that fans miss out on the experience of seeing how a true artist is able to interpret fandom passions. WSC and HVFF have seemingly been able to achieve a wonderful balance between fans, artists and celebrities.
Rob’s first time painting on stage with the band Tech N9ne (with whom he has collaborated for several years) resulted in his almost walking off. He became completely overwhelmed while looking out into the large audience after being told by the band that he would not be able to see any of them (audience). He looked over to his wife who simply stood there with her arms folded not allowing him any choice but to continue. Rob resigned himself to remaining in the spotlight and simply sunk into a world that is all his own. While he is never fully comfortable on stage, Rob can be found there now as a guest, putting his skills on display for all to see. I have been completely awe struck while watching him during panels at Heroes and Villains Fan Fest as well as Walker Stalker Con. When asked what he thinks about while painting, Rob’s reply was simple, “nothing”. He works to the rhythm of the music which has always been a key element in his ability to clear his head and just fully immerse himself into his artwork. Often times he closes his eyes, unbeknownst to him, while he is caught up in the midst of creating. Also, he invites fans and celebrities alike to paint with him. He gears himself toward exposing children to their artistic capabilities. He told me that putting a brush in someone’s hand, even just one person, with the thought of possibly changing their life is what makes him truly happy.
What’s with the Chicken Heads?
A publisher asked Rob to do work for three different series but specifically requested that Rob not ‘hide’ anything in his artwork as he was known to do. Rob facetiously replied “What do you think I’ll do? Hide a chicken head on each page?” That is exactly what Rob did, and it stuck. He had no idea that it would become such an attachment for his fan base. There is not a painting he does now that doesn’t have a hidden chicken head.
In his early 20’s Rob actually stopped doing artwork altogether for about a year and a half. He explains that he was an overall angry person that loved to fight and was very involved in martial arts. He took those two traits and became a bouncer. I must admit it was hard for me to imagine this low key guy that uses his hands to create such beautiful pieces as someone who used those same hands as any means of aggression. Any fan fortunate enough to meet Rob in person I am sure would agree.
Rob also when on to claim he was, in his exact words, “a real asshole”. He had been on a downward spiral before realizing that “life’s too short to be a dick” and that he had been abusing the gift he had been given. While Rob claims not to be a religious guy, he does have his own beliefs which is to say, “treat people how you want to be treated”. He took this time in his life to go back and apologize to all those he had treated poorly and it was then that he met his wife, and inspiration.
Just then, Rob received a video call from his wife and kids back at home in California. I observed first-hand how truly important his family is to him and his career and how genuinely happy they make him as a person. We took a pause so that he could focus on something a lot of us take for granted… the love and support from those that care about you the most.
Rob explained that he never tends to get creative blocks because he practices a Japanese though process of ‘no mind’. Meaning that, if you are concentrating too hard on anything, you will never gain full clarity.
I want to thank Rob personally for this piece of advice as I have now used it on several occasions with my writing. It has worked for me every time.
The reason he often works on different pieces simultaneously is that if he does get stuck on one piece he simply shifts to another which allows him to ‘let go’ of the first rather than trying to push through. He indicated that most often the answer to a previous piece’s issue comes while he is working on something else. He said it was all about freeing your mind from struggle and having the answer come to you by just ‘letting go’ of the tightly wound ball in your stomach.
We also spoke about ‘beating the demons’. He is in the honest opinion that holding onto angst is never good for your work because you are again holding onto something in your mind (and gut) and not truly allowing yourself to be free to create. I asked about artists that indicate it is the anger and chaos that drive their talent and Rob’s thought is that the work will always be better when you move past the negativity. This is not to say there will never be anger, frustration or chaos but you must be willing to free yourself from it during the creative process.
Honesty and Artwork
Over the past year I have met and spoken with several artists each with differing techniques. How these techniques are used and developed has become quite fascinating to me and I have unfortunately too often seen ‘artwork’ that is not quite truthful. I asked Rob his opinion on digital art and art theft? We first discussed the fact that there are indeed true digital artists on the convention scene. People that actually use their artistic skills in conjunction with technology to create something that is unique and all their own. The others, Rob refers to as ‘Photoshop button pushers’. He feels, as do I, that digital art filtering in NOT art. His response to those taking credit for artwork they did not truly create is, “I’m sorry you have to do this.” Rob feels that it is sad when one has no confidence in their own abilities and that they have to rely on the skills of someone else to make a living. One of the biggest reasons he paints live is to prove that he is not doing his work digitally and that it is indeed his own.
We also spoke about artists doing ‘real’ work, unique work, their own work and sadly how few there seem to be lately. I also mentioned how I see these artists having their work stolen, which has become quite prevalent on social media. Rob too has seen theft of his artwork, mostly people overseas thinking they won’t get caught. While an artist can send a cease and desist letter, sadly things like this will always occur, especially on the internet. I implore fans to ask questions about the artwork they purchase. A legitimate artist will be forthcoming with their process and some will even have photos or videos of themselves doing the work. Ask to see them, most are more than happy to share.
Thank You Rob!
Knowing that Rob needed to get back to work, I ended the interview and thanked him for his time in speaking with me. While Rob Prior is a well-know name on the convention circuit he is also one the most humble and approachable people you will ever meet. I especially appreciated his willingness to be open about some truths regarding himself and life on the convention circuit.It is refreshing to hear honesty and I want to give support to all the artists putting in the hard work to make the fans happy. I appreciate all of you. I hope this article will inspire more people to check out the work of the amazing artists on the comic con scene.
Special thanks to an incredible artist I met months ago… your work opened my eyes to this world.
Follow Rob on Twitter and Instagram: @prior2art
Keeping you Comic Con-nected!