Having worked for both Marvel and DC Comics it is only fitting for Tyson McAdoo to have an origin story straight out of a comic book. When not designing and art directing for Cartoon Network, the Atlanta based artist spends his time making amazing female figurative digital paintings, carefully balancing abstraction and realism to create powerful female forms. We spoke with Tyson about his art, the importance of the female form in his work and his superhero-esque origin story.
Hello Tyson, how are you? Can you tell us where your interest in art first began?
Hi Yume! I’m doing well, happy to be chatting with you guys. I always loved cartoons, but the original album cover of Appetite for Destruction in 1987 blew my mind! This amazing painting by Robert Williams always stuck with me. I don’t totally know why, but I think it’s because it had a boob in it… I was all of nine. Also, I had a difficult time in school and art was an area that I excelled in. I had some amazing and understanding teachers that would let me draw a picture about the book instead of writing a book report. Art is the only way I survived school.
Did you always want to be an artist growing up? When did you decide ‘this is what I want to do for a living’?
No, art was never the goal… I wanted to dance on Broadway! Fast forward 12 years to one fateful night during a performance of a well-known Christmas ballet when I dislocated both of my knees on stage. After they dragged me off of the stage, I sadly realised my dance career was over… now what the hell was I to do? I’ll become an artist! That’s easy, right? HA! I’m still very thankful for the days in dance class… they were preparing me to be an exotic artist the whole time. Spending my formative years standing behind girls in ballet class learning the finer lines of the female anatomy shows greatly in my work. Also, the clothing of ballet is strongly represented in my paintings and own personal fetishes: fishnets, binding shoes, nylons and body suits. Without a doubt the dramatic movement, grace and relationship between bodies that is used in dance is also used to tell the story in my art.
Your paintings evoke classic pinup imagery that is often cut up in interesting ways and juxtaposed with abstract shapes and colours. How would you describe your art and how did you come to this unique style?
Classic pin-ups were the starting line for me and I still have a true and deep affection for the original pin-up painters, but I wanted to leave that style to those masters of the past and create an image of women that reflect our current time. I felt I explored all the classic terrain of safe pretty girls sitting on round rugs and “bad” girls lying on hoods of cars and I was over it and wanted something new. It was a long and hard process of breaking from tradition. I would do a sketch or a painting and force myself to close my eyes and erase or spill paint on top, this process taught me to say “fuck it and let go.” My art has and still is focused on bringing to life the sensual and powerful energy of women but now I am exploring the balance between abstraction and realism and how it gives a voice to the unique and dynamic energy of the female form.
The female body is a major part of your work. What does the it mean to you and how do you look to represent this in your art?
To me the female form is everything… everything an artist could want or need in a subject. It’s powerful & delicate, it’s solid and supple, it’s straight lines and curves… it’s the giver of life and inspiration. The female form is a magical impression and I always treat it with high respect in my art.
Can you briefly describe your usual art process? How much of your work is digital and how much is traditional media?
Wow, this has always been a hard one for me to answer because I have a few different methods. Usually it starts with a glass of good whisky and by the time I reach the bottom an idea has developed. I get out my old school pencil and paper and sketch out whatever idea, theme or feeling comes to me until I have a solid idea for a story I want to tell. Then I begin to develop a reference image, my favorite way is to Frankenstein various photos together… I might work from the facial expression in one, the torque of a woman’s torso in another, pull from the lighting in yet another and finish it off with a set of heels from my imagination or a lingerie set I just bought my wife. Thus, creating a new thought and image inspired from a plethora of inspirations. From there I develop the line work for the final image using pencil and paper. Once I have a line drawing I’m happy with, I can scan it into the computer and work in Photoshop and ‘paint’ with my Wacom Cintiq monitor, for me it’s just like using a real paintbrush. I also use brush to paper painting to create textures and additives that I scan in and compile as I go. Yes, the work is classified as ‘Digital’ but I paint every stroke, and rendering can take up to 2-3 weeks to bring to life. I don’t just type in hot redhead and out she prints.
You’ve worked for both DC and Marvel Comics, the two biggest comic book companies ever. What sort of work did you do during your time there? And can I ask, do you have a favourite comic-book universe of the two?
I was an inker… better known as a tracer, thanks to the movie Chasing Amy. Working for DC and Marvel was a dream come true for me, but after four years of drawing big men in tights I had had enough. My pendulum swung wide, and now I draw girls in latex and lace. Everything that I know about composition, color theory, anatomy I learned out of a comic book. My foreshortening on high heels with long legs drawing back into an exaggerated torso with larger than life hair blowing in the wind is straight out of the funny pages. I would have to say I’m a Marvel man… they gave me my start.
Finally, what do you like to do to unwind, when you are not making art?
My wife and I have a great home deep in the woods with no neighbors in sight. That means you can find me unwinding by swimming in the creek, running through the woods and dancing around a campfire naked… I don’t like clothes!