The Model Mayhem interview: Ronnie Werner
Ronnie Werner is a prolific pin-up and comic book artist. Utilizing his love for the classic comic artwork of Jack Kirby and George Tuska, Ronnie has been able to create a distinctive brand of pulp-fiction pin-up art that is truly his own. Ronnie’s artwork has been featured in Penthouse magazine, Heavy Metal magazine and Pin-up NYC magazine. His work has also been displayed at the Seattle Erotic Art Festival and the Echo Gallery in Chicago. SQP Inc. published a full-color book of his pin-up artwork in 2009 titled, “The Art of Ronnie Werner.”
— MM Edu
MM Edu: Tell us about your background, from how you got started to how you made it here.
Ronnie Werner: As a kid I was always doing creative things, mostly drawing. My parents were very supportive of my creativity. I was terrible at sports, so I really put my energy into art. My best friend Billy and I were always coming up with fun projects to keep ourselves busy. If we weren’t drawing monsters or comic books, we were doing haunted houses, making our own crazy guitars or building forts in Billy’s large, old house. We once turned Billy into a werewolf using spirit gum and fur that we cut off of Billy’s golden retriever, Sandy. Billy and I are still best friends after all these years.
When I was eleven, we moved to Oregon from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and I had a difficult time adjusting. I think my way of coping was to go deeper into art in my teen years. High school in Turner, Oregon was tough on a city kid. By my sophomore year, I had taken every art class offered. I spent the summer between my junior and senior years at The Art Institute of Chicago, which really opened my eyes to the art world. I came back to Oregon for my senior year of high school and graduated six months early so that I could take life-drawing classes at the community college. I attended the Pacific Northwest College for a year and a half, until the money ran out.
After that, I worked full-time jobs, always doing art on the side. I was a graphic designer for The Oregonian’s advertising department in the ’90s. I ended up not liking design work and began doing freelance illustration. When digital design took off, illustration suffered as a result of clip art and the wide availability of photography. I ended up taking work as an IT manager for Apple Macintosh users, still doing illustration on the side. I spent those years trying to break into comics. After years and years of submissions to Marvel, Dark Horse, DC and any other comic company I could find, I started doing pin-ups as an outlet for my frustration. My pin-ups garnered a lot more interest, and have been featured in a book and in several galleries and magazines.
MM Edu: Who inspired you to be an artist? When did your love of pin-ups and comic books begin?
Ronnie: Art was always something I was doing. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw. When I was about nine years old, my Uncle Steve gave me a huge stack of his old comic books. These were Marvel books from the 1960s: Spiderman, Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, Iron Man, and Captain America. I fell in love with Jack Kirby’s and George Tuska’s art, and I loved the characters. I have been a comic geek ever since. I discovered pin-ups when I found my dad’s stash of Playboys at around 11 or 12. Vargas was my first great pin-up inspiration. Elvgrin, Petty, and so many others came soon after.
“Art was always something I was doing. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw.”
MM Edu: At what point did you realize this could be a career? What challenges did you have to overcome?
Ronnie: Well, to be honest I haven’t been able to make drawing pin-ups a career. It certainly doesn’t pay the bills. I consider my work to be more of a compulsion than a career. If I go a few days without drawing, I get cranky; I’m simply a happier person when I’m creative. I have published a book of my work and I’m working on a second one. My work has been featured in Heavy Metal magazine, Gallery Provocateur in Chicago, the Seattle Erotic Art Show, and several other gallery showings. Recently, I did a couple of illustrations for a story in Penthouse magazine. I’ve had success and great fun doing pin-ups, but I couldn’t live on pin-up work alone.
Photographer: L A Lunoux
“I consider my work to be more of a compulsion than a career. If I go a few days without drawing, I get cranky; I’m simply a happier person when I’m creative.”
MM Edu: What do you enjoy most about being an artist? Also, what do you enjoy the least?
Ronnie: I enjoy the process very much, from working with pretty models to long hours drawing and coloring. It becomes a little like meditation, I sort of lose track of time when I’ve been making art for hours.
The thing I like the least is the self-promotion and marketing; it takes time away from making art. While I’m thinking about it, visit my website to see more of my work.
Model: Kellie Lou Who
MM Edu: What career achievements are you most proud of?
Ronnie: The first thing that comes to mind is my book, The Art of Ronnie Werner. It is a 48-page color pin-up book published by SQP in 2009. Before that, I was honored to have my work featured in a four-page spread in Heavy Metal magazine. It was also a thrill to be asked by Penthouse magazine to do two illustrations for one of their stories in the December 2011 issue. Each of the gallery shows featuring my work has been pretty exciting for me too. I am looking forward to showing again this year in the Seattle Erotic Art Festival, June 16 – 24.
MM Edu: If you could work with anyone, whom would you choose and why?
Ronnie: As far as models go, I’ve been fortunate to work with some extremely gorgeous and talented women, many through Model Mayhem. If I had to pick one dream model, I would probably say someone like Salma Hayek because she’s just so stunning and would be fascinating to draw. Of course, there are hundreds of MM models I’d love to work with.
Model: Cara Mia XO
MM Edu: I read that you draw everything on paper using photos for reference and then scan the drawing and finally add the color using Illustrator. Can you walk us through that process please?
Ronnie: It starts when I find a model or she finds me, and we arrange a shoot. Sometimes I have a pin-up concept in mind and I’m looking for a model with a specific look. Other times models have their own ideas for a pin-up shot. I have a decent Fuji digital camera and I spend an hour or so with the model getting a variety of shots. I don’t claim to be a photographer at all — there are so many people who are fantastic photographers. I just use a camera as a tool, because most models don’t have four to eight hours to sit while I draw them. Next, I look through the photos and find several that I really like and print them. From those two to five pictures, I develop a pencil drawing using a red or blue drafting pencil.
When I’m happy with that drawing, I make a pencil drawing, working out the details and getting things just right.
That drawing is then scanned onto my computer, and I do the color in Adobe Illustrator. I have developed many techniques over the years to get a comic book/cartoonish style with Illustrator. For example, I draw all the “line art” as shapes in Illustrator — it’s a very time consuming process but it gets the weight and feel that my style requires. I also have developed a color palette from scratch (including a wide array of skin tones) that took almost a year to create. A pin up — from photo shoot to final color — averages 25-60 hours of work.
“A pin up — from photo shoot to final color — averages 25-60 hours of work.”
MM Edu: How has technology evolved and changed what you do as an artist?
Ronnie: When I was in college in the mid-’80s, the school bought one of the original Macs. I thought it was a pile of crap; it was tiny, black and white, and all bitmapped. I thought to myself, “I’ll never use one of those.” I painted and used airbrush in my work until several years later when Macs finally caught up. Once the “undo” function and the program “freehand” (anyone remember that one?) came along, I dropped my airbrush and the mess of masks and the clean up for a Mac. These days, I use a Mac mini and a Wacom Cintiq for all my color work. I miss the painting, though, and I might like to dabble in the mess of it again sometime soon.
MM Edu: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Have a day job you like, or at least one you can tolerate. Art doesn’t always pay the bills. Count on going to your day job and working nights on your craft. Stick with it if you love it. Oh and please learn how to draw and paint analog. Put pencil to paper. I know so many artists who can’t draw, and it shows. The world does not need any more lazy art!
MM Edu: Finally, what does Model Mayhem mean to you?
Model Mayhem has been a huge resource for me. Most of the models I work with are MM members and most of them have been fantastic. I’ve made some great friends here and had several opportunities come up through MM. I’ve been a member since 2005 and Model Mayhem has been a great way to connect with many of the lovely ladies featured in my work.