SPD GUEST EDITOR
The Flip Side of Andy Rash
Andy Rash is the award-winning author and illustrator o fthe books Are You a Horse?, Ten Little Zombies: A Love Story, and the soon to be released Archie the Daredevil Penguin. He has also illustrated for lots of magazines and newspapers and created animations for TV. His illustration work typically looks like the image above, left.
But he has also developed a second artistic life with ingenious, low-res-looking characters he calls "iotacons." His iotacon portrait of Mr. Spock is above, right. And here is his iotacon portrait of Louis CK, below.
Andy took some time from his dueling illustration careers to talk about the origins of his new graphic creations.
WARD SUTTON: Where did your idea for the iotacons come from?
ANDY RASH: I had an Atari home computer back in the 80s with a program called Moviemaker. You could draw extremely low res images with a joystick and apply very rough animation and backgrounds. I spent hours creating Jabba-eating frogs and Mrs. Bates rocking in her upstairs window. They gave you only four colors to work with. I loved it. Twenty-some years later, I was working in a considerably more powerful graphics program and I zoomed all the way in to see how small I could make a character. The first thing I did was a group of characters from Star Wars. The costumes are so distinct, I didn't have to try very hard with the faces. I had a go-to iotacon face. When I moved on to the Presidents and the Senate, everyone wore pretty much the same thing, so heads got bigger and more specific. I started posting them on the web and got a very positive response, especially when Grant Imahara retweeted my iotacons of the cast of Mythbusters. The word "iotacon," by the way, is a portmanteau of icon and iota, as in, "Not one iota." No one ever asks me that, and I can't tell if the reason is that it's obvious, or that nobody cares.
WARD SUTTON: Your classic illustration style is very hand-drawn and organic-looking. What led you to branch out with this new style that has that retro-low-res, digital look?
ANDY RASH: I would love to pretend that it was a calculated move, or an intentional career choice, but the truth is I was goofing off and accidentally created something I liked, shared it, and found out that somehow it resonated with people. Hobbyists were sending me crafts based on my designs before I managed to get any of these things legitimately published. When magazines started using them, they were always attached to articles about old video games, savvy internet celebrities, or puzzles. It took a while before anyone started thinking of these things as simply another way to do a likeness. That's how I see them, but I'll admit I can't be very objective about it.
WARD SUTTON: Do you ever feel schizophrenic having two such distinctly different styles? Do you now prefer one style over another?
ANDY RASH: I don't, but I'm pretty sure it confuses art directors. I should have come up with a pseudonym or something.
WARD SUTTON: Your iotacons are on one hand quite simple, and yet they are so fun and embody such character. What is your process for creating them?
ANDY RASH: If the subject is an entertainer, I'll simply try to put them in their most iconic pose and costume, but I also like to do an entire cast from a movie, or even a series of movies. At that point, I can also organize and compose images by deciding who goes where in a grid. One of my favorite iotacons depicts the Back To The Future trilogy. The DeLorean is shown over and over, first as invented, then with the lightning hook, then with Mr. Fusion, then with the flight modification, then with the flag string, then with the rebuilt 1880s Flux Capacitor, and finally with railroad wheels. The cast is next to each iteration of the car and dressed as they were at that point in the movie. Weirdly, the plot of the trilogy ends up being depicted very briefly, so I think the plot managed to become an iotacon as well.
WARD SUTTON: Have there been any subjects that have been especially difficult to capture as an iotacon?
ANDY RASH: Yes: I apologize to all of the ladies I have depicted. Specifically, I apologize to your legs and feet.
WARD SUTTON: What do you think it is about boiling people down to very simple elements that engages viewers?
ANDY RASH: I think people love simplicity. It reduces stress. I love making iotacons because they are simple. Also, people like icons of pop culture that look like they would be very easy to cross-stitch.
WARD SUTTON: Where have your iotacons appeared, and are there any future plans for them that we should be aware of? A book collection, perhaps?
ANDY RASH: Iotacons have been in magazines and newspapers and on album covers. I illustrated the book Game Over, Pete Watson by Joe Schreiber with mostly iotacons (there were some pen doodles and collages in there too) for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I designed mosaics for the restrooms of a very popular pan-asian restaurant in Madison. A company in France has put out a line of vinyl wall sticker kits. Fans of iotacons have used my designs to create cross-stitches, fuse bead mosaics, 3-D printed sandstone models, crocheted blankets, hors d'oeuvre tray videos, kinetic pinwheel street art, shower mosaics, wooden cutting boards, quilts, leggings, and snow globes. The mosaic street artist Invader, who was featured in Banksy's film Exit Through the Gift Shop, attached my iotacon designs of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader to the outside of an East London car park. The figures look like they might be about 15 feet tall, and are easily Googled. Lately, I've been animating iotacons for channel identification bumpers for Nickelodeon. Book collections have been discussed with agents and publishers, but I haven't figured out exactly what form that project should take. But I'm working on it, and I'll try to keep it simple.
Details from an Andy Rash iotacon bathroom wall (photographs by Jennifer Rash)
Andy Rash Website
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