Interview by Jenkin Au
Words by Jenkin Au
Photography by Jenkin Au
Skyler Punnett is a very talent illustrator. His works features a variety of interesting characters with many different colours and this use of colours reinforces the strong image that he paints, creating an interesting setting for his characters to be in. Growing up in Penticton, Skyler was inspired by comics at a young age and he continued with art into Emily Carr where he graduated from recently. Skyler will be continuing his work in comics with spoken word performer Shane Koyczan, working on a graphic novel.
Please tell us about yourself.
I just graduated from Emily Carr, finishing their general fine arts program. I started off wanting to do comics mainly, but then I switched to illustration while still loving comics and influenced by comics. Before while in art school, I was doing a lot of freelance work, doing gig posters in Victoria and I was working on a self published comic called “The Life of Sky” which was a sketchbook diary. I started drawing because of my love for comics.
What comics did you read?
As a kid in the ‘90s, it was all this superhero stuff. That transformed into more graphic novels and right now I’m reading Craig Thompson’s stuff. I love some of the mainstream stuff like “Hellboy”.
How did you first get into art?
I always drew as a kid and then growing up as a teen, I loved comics. I was drawing comics like a total nerd and I ended up staying inside most of the time with a bunch of buddies. We used to have our own world and it was just a total avoidance of reality of how lame our school was.
Do you remember some of the themes for those comics you drew way back then?
We had one called “Virus 6” and it was about these mutants – it was like half X-Men, half Ninja Turtles – and this virus turned all these people into animals. It was an environmental theme.
What is it about comic books that have had your attention captured for so long?
It was escapism. I grew up in a small town and there was not a lot of culture there. Comics was a culture that was immediately available and that’s what I still like about it – the fact that it’s available to a lot of other people. At Emily Car there was a separation between the fine arts and the commercial arts, which is where comics falls into. I like the fact that comics and illustration are mediums that people are familiar with and don’t tend to get turned off when they walk into a gallery or a comic book store.
What small town did you grow up in?
I grew up in Penticton.
What do the kids usually do there?
The vast majority of them hang around and grow up buying a 4 x 4. They go riding through the woods and stuff like that. I grew up with the nerdier kids – we partied and everything but we tended to just draw and play D&D and use our imaginations to the fullest extent.
How do you think art has changed the way you think about life?
It is funny how there are so many different paths to that question. Your attitude changes when you choose to do it professionally or not, and your attitude changes again when you realize that you have to please many different people now. It’s not necessarily a bad thing because it then gets into collaborating and working it all out. I think the biggest thing for me is that it allows me to think outside of me about the world and think of it in a more concrete way.
You touched upon the professional side of comics. What are the main struggles you foresee while entering this industry, having just graduated from university?
Well, I’m sort of in between comics and illustration right now. It’s a hugely competitive environment. For me, it was figuring out where I wanted to fit in in that world. Monsters are great but I want to do more subtle stories and things that have some art to it. As far as the struggle goes, it’s deciding between being the writer or the artist. Giving up the writing side is good and now, I’m writing with Shane Koyczan, a spoken word performer who was in the Olympic Opening Ceremonies. We both grew up together in Penticton so we’ve known each other for a while. We’ve worked together on his show called “The Short Story Long”. It’s amazing how we just found his writing style and my drawing style go really well together and so doing work on a graphic novel is just going back to high school and drawing stuff.
Giving up the writing side, you have less control of the overall piece. Finding the right partner is significantly important. Was it hard to find this partnership?
It was fairly natural. I’ve known him for 10 or 12 years now and just the past year, we were hanging out more and talking more. We both know that we had similar paths and similar experiences in high school. The themes that he was writing about were themes that I wanted to explore. Handing over the reins of writing to him was actually had been more of a relief because he’s way better than I. It frees me up to play more freely with it all.
Drawing and illustration is less technical than maybe architecture or animation might be. Where do you lie with the technicalities?
Well, you still have to have your chops down. You have to know your composition and know how to make your eye move across a page. You can really tell someone who’s studied composition or form. Though Emily Carr is not a very formal school, I went to L.A. and spoke to an illustration man and it made me want to explore it more.
Entering the institutional art, was it hard for you to adjust when you first went to Emily Carr?
Yeah. Emily Carr has such a conceptual mandate and a de-scaled academic approach to art. At first, I really didn’t appreciate it because I wanted the technical aspect of it. At the same time, I’m really glad I went because it’s not just a straight program. I love my projects and research and it brings me to a whole new depth of what I am.
Looking at your art work, many of them are very out-worldly. Where do they come from?
A lot of them come from an appreciation of the natural world and the forms of nature – many of them are things that I see in the garden. What I tend to read a lot of are biology books and textbooks. To me, it’s just amazing that there are some levels of fantasy in my work but a majority of it is inspired by the actual wonder of the physical world that we take for granted. There are all these biological processes that are happening right underneath our noses and skins. There’s a picture that I did that was a fissure in the ground but it is actually layers of skin. There is the emotional level of things and then the real. It’s this dichotomy of the inner and the outer – the exterior world of nature and the interior world of emotion and thought and sort of trying to merge the two. That’s a thing that many people are trying to do – how do you relate the inside and the outside?
How do you feel about having political themes in your art?
I think it’s important to take a stance, especially in the times we’re living now. Every day, there is change, even in the illustration world. There’s that change and then there’s the information we receive on a daily basis. Finding a way forward and integrating with environmental organizations is going to be a goal of mine.
Do you find it’s hard to take a stance with the overload of information?
It’s huge. That’s just it. We’re so inundated with the apathy of the generation that we’re in right now that it’s very hard to take a firm stance. You take a look at things that are happening in Israel and Palestine, the media is filtering out so much. I have a friend who has a friend in the Israeli military and his stories are different from what you get on the news. I’ve actually been thinking a lot lately – we move around so much because we’ve become such an international culture but you need to have a sense of place where you know the issues, kind of like a home base. By doing that, you can become much more firm in your opinion but that takes a huge amount of time. Being political means putting your passion into action and sometimes, you just have to pick one thing and dive deeper into it.
Where is your art going in terms of destination?
I think what we were just talking about is hugely important to me. Having just graduated, I’m figuring out how to fit in the true context of the world.
Right now, we’re looking at your work, the one of the tree. Can you tell us about this one?
Right. It’s called “Branch Box” and I was experimenting with 3D objects that are still printed. Basically, this is a mail-able package and you can fold the whole thing up into one piece. It opens up and fans out.
How long did it take you to do this?
This is a three week project, from concept to finish.
Nice! Moving onto the “Flawed Palindrome”…
This is my grad piece. I’ve been working on this for the past few months. It’s a funny thing, actually. Whenever you’re working on a piece, you have your initial thoughts and maybe it’s a personal piece. By the time you’re finished, you’ve completely done something different.
How do these four boxes connect?
My intention was to connect this tableau of childhood and you’re born into this formless personality. The red lines represents the social structure that grows around you and becomes more and more rigid to a point where you become aware of it and then you start to break it down and figure out who you are. The playground is where that starts happening and then in high school, the teenagers are trying to get over the walls to the place, capturing the spirit of rebellion, and then it ends up with the one old man. I think the way that you get out of the quagmire of confusion is when you figure out your gift and what you can offer the world. The next one is a pelican vulning where it picks it own feathers to feed its young with its blood so it’s this idea of sacrifice.
This next one is for the cover for Tons of Fun University’s “Hard to Tell”. Tons of Fun is a spoken word and I did this for them.
The next one is “Katy Did Driddle” and it was completely free form. I was looking at a lot of these succulents, these desert plants, and this one was turned straight out of vegetation.
With “Panic vs Play”, this is the one where I was telling you about the layers of skin. I got the inspiration of the characters from Hayao Miyazaki, the creator of “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke”. His work is amazing and his animation is phenomenal. I really like the themes that he works with too.
What is HYPE?
I think HYPE is what our culture is in right now. Sometimes, you have to get through and get into the truth. There is a lot of static and wait until it settles down until the real comes out.