TRAVIS SIMPKINS INTERVIEW
Travis Simpkins is an American freelance artist and museum professional. Sherlock Holmes fans who visit museums regularly may recognize his name, because his works can be found in several European & American collections.
We came upon his awesome Conan Doyle portrait. Browsing his online gallery we noticed that he also drew Pharaoh Tutankhamun and Harry Houdini, both of whom we mention in our articles. He also has artworks of Sherlock Holmes and Benedict Cumberbatch, among many-many others. We became regular visitors of his website, where one can find amazing portrayals of Socrates, George Washington, the beautiful Nefertiti or drawings of Greek and Roman sculptures as well. We turned into the artist's fans, and we had the honour to be able to make an interview with him. His answers were just as sophisticated and delightful as his artworks.
Please tell some basic information about yourself to our readers (biographical data, interests, etc.)!
I was born in Massachusetts, but raised in Arizona. The area of the Southwest United States in which I grew up contains the ruins of many Native American cliff dwellings and settlements. Being surrounded by those ancient ruins kindled within me a lifelong fascination with and passion for history. As a child, I thought I might become an archaeologist. However, I soon learned that the day-to-day realities of archaeology are not quite as exciting as the adventures one sees in the Indiana Jones movies. I sort of fell into an artistic career as a sidestep. It turned out to be a good decision, though, as I've been able to foster and maintain historical connections within my artwork all along.
When did you start working as an illustrator?
I've been a professional artist since 1999. Even early on, most of the commissions I was getting were for portraits. So, by default, portraiture has pretty much been the focus of my career. As a drawing exercise to improve my portraits, I would often sketch ancient Greek and Roman marble statues. These sketches eventually caught the eye of a few museums and I found myself being hired to create sketches of various works in their collections. Those sketches were then presented by the museum as gifts to noteworthy recipients at events. After more than 20 years, I still get fulfillment from the work, so I suppose that's as good an outcome as I could've hoped for.
What are your sources of inspiration?
History has always been my primary inspiration. As a freelance artist, I work on commission, and do whatever I'm hired to do. However, I get the most enjoyment out of projects that are somehow tied into history.
What techniques do you use? Which is your favourite?
My focus is on drawing and painting. I don't necessarily view them as two separate things, but rather two ends of the same process. Each painting begins as a drawing and each drawing could end as a painting.
Would you name a few artists who had the biggest impact on you? Do you have role models?
My three favorite artists are probably Norman Rockwell, John Singer Sargent and Alphonse Mucha. My role models, the people I most admire, tend to not be visual artists. I can appreciate fellow painters, but I'm most impressed by those who possess talents that I lack... scientists like Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, inventors like Benjamin Franklin and Nikola Tesla, authors like William Shakespeare and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Which is the bigger challenge, to draw an artifact or a historical personality?
Portraits are much more difficult than sketching artifacts. The greatest challenges are portraits of living people, as there is a certain pressure to create an accurate likeness than can appease them and stand up to scrutiny. With historical portraits, the pressure is still there, but somewhat reduced. There is quite a bit more leeway when sketching inanimate objects.
What are the works that you are the most proud of, and why?
I'm most proud of the works I've done which are on permanent display in public buildings or housed in museum collections. Those works, in essence, represent my legacy. They will outlive me. Works in private hands can get lost or damaged within a generation or two, but works in institutions will likely still be there long after I'm gone.
Would you tell us something about your current project?
My wife is an artist as well and we recently accepted a project, a mural, that we can work on together.
Why have you decided to draw Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Benedict Cumberbatch?
The portrait of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a commission, made to order for a client. The portrait was intended to make note of Doyle's Masonic affiliation. I'm a Sherlock Holmes fan, in general, so I had added satisfaction in creating it. The Benedict Cumberbatch portrait was just done on a whim. I had, of course, seen and enjoyed his performance in the Sherlock series. At the time I made the portrait, he was filming a movie called "Black Mass" nearby in Boston, and he was appearing in a lot of the local newspapers. The portrait was a product of the moment.
Are you familiar with the Canon? Do you consider yourself a Sherlockian?
I'm familiar with the range of Sherlock Holmes stories, but I'm far from accomplishing the feat of reading them all. I'm just a novice. I have read a bunch of them, though.
Do you have a favourite Holmes story? Which one, and why?
The Hound of the Baskervilles is my favorite. I appreciate the foreboding feel and supernatural atmosphere it contains.
Do you have a favourite Holmes actor? Who is that, and why?
Basil Rathbone is my favorite. He had the look. When I try to envision Sherlock, his overall appearance and countenance best fits the archetype I have in the back of my mind.
Do you plan to make an illustration of the Great Detective in the future?
I've already made one. I was commissioned to make a rendition of "Sherlock Holmes in Deep Meditation" a few years ago. Perhaps more are on the horizon.
Travis! Thank you for this wonderful interview. We wish you lots of success to your recent and future projects.
Dear visitors! If you like beautiful paintings please have a look at the artist's website:
Travis Simpkins Portfolio
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Frederic Dorr Steele
Sherlock Holmes illustrators
Howard Carter and Conan Doyle
More Benedict Cumberbatch here: