Tell us about yourself.
My name is Stephen Procopio. I am an illustrator living in Queens and drawing all over the NYC area. I am married to a very talented artist named Ali and we have two children, Logan who is three and Audrey who is One. We also have a little 12 pound dog named Frank who sleeps almost all day, usually on my feet.
I was a full time illustrator at a church in Northern Virginia for 9 years and also used to work at The Art League where I taught sketchbook drawing classes and cartooning classes in the summer.
I have lived in and around a lot of major cities in the US including Detroit, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC. I studied renaissance art in Orvieto Italy for half a year and continue to return to Italy for inspiration as often as I can.
Describe your Instagram account.
I use Instagram as a way of showing what I am up to in my sketchbook. There is a great communal aspect to seeing how people draw and work and their process and find that Instagram makes the experience of sharing that process fun and rewarding. It is also very motivating – often I think we find excuses not to make art and having an account that I know people want to see updates on helps to keep me drawing no matter where I am. Marshal Arismann (a really talented and well known illustrator) often says drawing is magic. I completely agree. There is something about something appearing on what was once a blank page that is so exciting and enjoyable.
I see that you are currently attending graduate school at The School of Visual Arts in New York. Why did you decide to pursue a graduate program in illustration?
Graduate school is not for everyone, in fact, I bachelors degree way back in 2006. I received a Bachelor of Art from Messiah College with a concentration in drawing and painting. Ever since I graduated I found ways of working that incorporated art at the forefront. I designed brands and logos and illustrated images in Philadelphia before moving to Washington DC to work at The Art League. From there I continued to illustrate images and eventually created a job where drawing was most of my workload.
I wanted to pursue a masters in illustration for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to improve my drawing skills. Working on at a graduate level affords you the time to focus on you work and an amazing thing about drawing is that the more you do it the better you get at it. There is no plateau in drawing, only peaks and valleys. The more you work the higher you can climb in your own skills and interests and there are endless avenues to explore! This Brings me to the second reason I wanted to pursue an MFA in Illustration. With so many avenues to explore it is so valuable to have outside direction. A masters program connects you with other artists interested in the same thing you are and places you with the best living illustrators and artists so you have their influence and direction as you pursue your goals. The community aspect in art is hard. So often as an artist we find ourselves isolated and working in our own sandbox. Graduate school gives you the ability to have other people see your work and help you see the flaws you may have missed and also gives you the ability to be that help to others! The connections and friendships I have already made at this program I know will last for the rest of my life. Finally it allows you more freedom in the avenues you can pursue career-wise after you graduate. I loved teaching at the Art League (in fact I will be teaching there this summer). Teaching is a way of collaborating that is so unique in the art making process. Helping others see composition, line quality, color, shape as well as helping them evoke emotion and explain narrative in their work is an aspect of art that I love being a part of. Having a masters degree opens the doors of education in a way that having an undergraduate cannot.
SVA specifically has such a long history of producing incredible work and quality individuals from all over the world. Their MFA Illustration as a Visual Essay is such a unique program that helps first and foremost to tell stories in art. There really is no other program like it in academia and I am so honored and blessed to be part of it working side by side with amazing artists and educators. This program will help in my aspirations to tell stories in all forms of publications – comics, children’s books, editorial, digital, and illustrated journals. Story telling is at the forefront and i believe it has already made a huge impact on how I work.
What exercises or techniques do you do to improve your skill as an illustrator?
I run a lot and I also track my times and speeds during each mile. My first mile is usually not at pace. I am a little slower and my muscles are stiff. Drawing is very similar. I find that I draw about 4-5 hours a day but that most things I do in the first 30-40 minutes are nowhere near as good as the things I do in the second or third hour. This is because my brain is still waking up. I am not as clear at putting on paper what I am seeing.
Instead of worrying about how good or bad a drawing is I use the first hour of drawing to warm up. I play games like drawing without looking at the paper – putting my pen on the paper and following the contour of whatever I am seeing (whether it is a person on the train or my hand or my shoes or boxes of cereal – it doesn’t matter because all I am trying to do is connect my brain and my hand. Another thing I do is draw with my non-dominate hand. This sounds like a frustrating idea – and it can be unless you understand that the goal is not to have a great image when you are done – but to have a better connection between your hand, eye, and brain. This quickly improves your critical thinking which will instantly help you when you try to make more intentional finished images.
Since I live in Queens and am usually commuting around the city to a specific location, I know I will generally have 30-40 minutes on the train. I use that time to draw from life because I believe drawing from life is the quickest way to improve your drawing skills.
You have to commit to what you are actually seeing and make decisions on how you will translate that three dimensional vision onto a two dimensional page. Being on the train is like have endless free models and objects to draw plus most people like to watch – I find this added pressure of knowing that people are interacting with what I am making while i am making it causes me to make stronger decisions about where I am placing my lines on a page.
I also think its important to note that I keep saying PEN. I use a pen not because I dislike pencil but because it is something that I cannot erase. Pen lets you make stronger – permanent commitments. The marks that you do not like, you can learn from them for the next time. It is an endless education and learning process.
You’ve mentioned a project called a visual essay. Can you tell a little bit about what that entails?
At the moment I am pursuing a few projects. I have just completed the first part of a book illustrating medical students learning anatomy at Touro College in harlem. I will be continuing this with a second book this summer. I chose that project because I believe that understanding human anatomy helps improve your drawing of people and making things more and more believable. The masters did it and I want to follow in their footsteps. I have learned so much from working on that book and I am so grateful to the Doctors at the school for allowing me observe in their lab.
I am also in the middle of an illustrated book about a brewery in Brooklyn called Other Half Brewery. I have always loved process – whether it is making wine, coffee, bread, engines, or beer – anything that has moving parts and that multiple people collaborate on, I am interested. When I was tasked with making a “visual essay” I decided to learn about the process of making beer from one of the best breweries around. They have been amazing – allowing me access to their brewery while them make beer, can beer, and sell beer. This has given me so many fun things to draw. The whole process is so intricate and collaborative and the end result is something that makes so many people happy. This specific book will be finished in August and on display at the Gramercy Gallery in Manhatten. The entire book will have been illustrated on Bee Paper Super Deluxe Sketchbooks. The end goal is to have a book that illustrates the whole beer process and tells the story of Other Half Brewery. It is a very fun project and I am so honored to be working on it.
What is your go to Bee Paper sketchbook?
Bee Paper has a lot of great sketchbooks but my go to is the Super Deluxe Sketchbook. I like drawing big and they have some very large books. The paper can handle anything and since I mostly use dip pens and parallel pens to do my initial drawing it is ideal. it absorbs the ink quickly and without bleeding. It also is very story with a nice subtle texture that reacts to parallel pens very differently than most other books I’ve tried.
I often put water color, acrylic paint, and light washes down too. This paper can handle all of this without warping or curling. I have been so happy since I started using the super deluxe books and have gone through about a dozen of them since last August.
What projects are you currently working on?
The brewery book is front and center since It will be shown at the beginning of the next semester. I am also in the initial stages of my thesis book – a year long project what will be shown at the SVA chelsea gallery next may. The details for that book are still being finalized.
What inspired you to get into art? What do you feel is your purpose as an artist?
I can point to many specific moments in my life that caused me to determine that I wanted to be an illustrator. The people I have to highlight are Bill Watterson who drew and wrote Calvin and Hobbes – his drawing where effortless and amazing and I used to draw the characters all the time. Then I discovered Greg Capullo a comic book artist that at the time had just taken over Spawn from Todd McFarlane (another big inspiration). I was also obsessed with Disney art. When the trailer for the Lion King came out with the VHS of Aladdin, I paused it over and over and drew each frame. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I became a huge fan of Marvel, DC and Image comics, of all the newspaper comics, and then I discover more fine artists likeAndrew Wyeth, Alex Katz, Egon Schiele, Toulouse-Lautrec and Jean Micheal Basquiat. Once the well of fine art was opened to me I just dove in. I cannot express enough how important art history is. I love seeing what masters in the past have done and learning from them. There are just so many styles of art and ways of approaching an image. I think being open to the wealth of art available has been a constant source of inspiration and motivation for me to keep working.
There is no one answer to what an artists’ purpose is. Some tell stories like Kim Jung Gi or James Jean, Some evoke emotion like Mark Rothko, some tell sweeping narratives like Michelangelo and Raphael and some bring humor to the quiet moments like Charles Schultz. No matter if the end goal is to be on a gallery wall or framed in your grandmothers house – the pursuit of making is always admirable and inspiring.
We live in such a special time in history where we can not only share images with the world but can share process and technique! I am so honored and blessed to be part of this massive community of image makers and story tellers and cannot think of something I would like to do more.
FOLLOW STEPHEN AND HIS AMAZING DRAWINGS.