Ryan Dosier – Today, The Muppet Mindset sits down with Stuart Reeves, illustrator. Stuart is a dedicated Muppet fan and has embarked on an incredible mission to design a hand illustrated, computer detailed piece of art depicting most of the classic Muppets from The Muppet Show and beyond. His amazing work of art is far from finished, but in his thread on Muppet Central Forum, his Flickr page, and his website, Stuart has been showing off unfinished designs of the characters to come.
I asked Stuart if he would be willing to do an interview with The Mindset, and he was very accepting.
RYAN: Stuart, thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to answer these questions.
STUART: No worries Ryan, I’m always happy to talk about my favourite subject – me, ONLY JOKING, the Muppets.
RYAN: First off, what made you decide you wanted to undertake this huge project? Boredom? Dedication? Obsessed fandom?
STUART: Stupidity!!! I think at the time I must have gotten bored of having any spare time, although my therapist thought it would be a good idea to help wean me off the internet porn (I’m kidding of course – I’m still looking at those sites :P)
RYAN: How long have you been working on this piece of art? Based on the date your thread was started on the forum, one would assume you’ve been working since before May.
STUART: That’s right, May 1989 – although it feels longer! Actually I started this image back in November last year. At the time I had no idea how on earth I was going to be able to nail the textures, so I spent several months creating digital brushes and figuring out how to achieve the desired results. It did go through some very scary phases but I think I’m finally getting it (closer) to look right! Funny story – I showed my partner my first attempt at Fozzie a few weeks ago and she laughed in my face (we are speaking again now though, so it’s all good!).
RYAN: Since this project isn’t your full-time job (though it definitely should be), where else can fans see your artwork?
STUART: At the moment I’m currently working on my website (www.stuartreeves.co.uk) and hopefully that will be fully designed and up around the end of the year and will feature my past work and future projects. The unveiling of the final Muppet piece will be on this website too which will hopefully coincide with the new site going live. The site currently has some Muppets on there but they just appear on black and it looks incredibly somber.
RYAN: Of the characters in the piece you’ve revealed so far, which one is your favorite?
STUART: That’s quite a tough one. The most challenging characters, usually the ones with feathers and/or fur, can turn out to be the most rewarding. I enjoyed creating Sweetums. His fur was exceptionally difficult to do but when I see him it does seem worth the hours of my life lost on him…kind of.
RYAN: On average, about how many hours would you say it takes you to finalize a character image?
STUART: That depends really, Kermit was done in maybe 8 hours whereas Fozzie took closer to 30 as I has to spend time figuring out exactly how to do him. I have also done several incarnations of certain characters because I wasn’t happy with their pose in the composition.
RYAN: How many characters will be present in the final piece? I believe in your thread you said around 40. Has that number changed?
STUART: This figure fluctuates dramatically depending on my mood!!! I keep thinking that I’ll wrap it up with a certain number, just to get the project out of my hair and then suddenly think to myself “wait – there’s ______ still to put in there, I can’t forget him”. I’m working to around 40 – 45. I originally started with a pencil sketch showing where all the characters would be but that has since gone out the window.
RYAN: You also mentioned in your thread that you were hesitant to include post-Jim Henson characters (e.g. Pepe, Clifford, Bobo). Have you had a change of heart since then? I know that I would absolutely love to see your take on Pepe.
STUART: I have hugely conflicting views on this one. I adore Pepé. He is one of the few reminders that the Muppets can remain fresh and funny in the more recent productions, often saving the productions completely. However, my heart remains with the Henson-era Muppets. They were so untamed, irreverent and unpredictable. I kind of saw this image as a tribute to the original Muppets and the people who performed them – almost as a “Thank-you” for the many happy memories they provided me growing up. In fact, the Jim, Frank and Jerry puppets all make an appearance in the final picture (exclusive for you there, Ryan!). I also used to think Wayne (of Wayne and Wand fame) resembled Richard Hunt quite a lot and have included him too.
RYAN: What are the chances of seeing Angus McGonagle the gargling argyle gargoyle?
STUART: If enough people wanna see him – we’ll see!
RYAN: Where do you draw your inspiration from? Are there any specific artists or Muppet projects that influence you?
STUART: Actually, I have an interesting story here. I grew up absolutely adoring the work of movie poster illustrator Drew Struzan. (Who did the original and best Muppet posters.) I even did my final art paper on his work which Mr Struzan kindly provided help with. Anyhoot, I sent him a sneak glimpse at some of the characters for some constructive criticism and he sent a lovely and exceptionally helpful email back with some very encouraging comments. He gave me an absolutely fascinating insight into how to “see” the Muppets which will hopefully be reflected in the final piece.
RYAN: If you had to give one piece of advice to aspiring artists, what would that be?
STUART: In all honesty, I would say practice and keep at it. I originally never wanted to be an Illustrator when I left school. I thought that with all the pressure of doing it commercially, the results would be compromised and I wouldn’t enjoy the thing I loved doing. The reality is, it’s up to the person. I take significant pride in the work I do and as such, although deadlines can be VERY annoying and restrictive, there are days when I feel suitably happy with the career I have chosen.
RYAN: Along with being an artist, you’re also an avid Muppet merchandise collector. What is your favorite piece of Muppet merchandise that you own?
STUART: Probably the Master Replicas posers. Although they all have their flaws when you look closely, they are the closest I will ever come to owning a real Muppet. I am also very fond of some of the books I’ve collected over the year, especially the Christopher Finch ones.
STUART: Ok…in order. My favourite Muppet production is…awwww man, this is hard. erm…probably The Great Muppet Caper. That is the Muppet production that makes me laugh the most and never fails to lighten my mood. That said, I have a huge fondness for The Muppet Christmas Carol for a very different reason. After Jim Henson’s passing I was worried that I would never get to see another Muppet movie (as worried as you can be at 14 years old!!!!). MCC made me realize the Muppets would live on. Favourite Muppeteer? Honest answer is I don’t have one. If pushed I would have to say Frank Oz but I personally prefer the dynamics between Muppeteers. Jim and Frank were absolutely amazing for all sorts of reasons. The comedy was great – everything about the two of them was pure magic to watch. The more recent duo of Dave Goelz and Steve Whitmire is also fantastic and I think Steve Whitmire is an incredible puppeteer. The dance number in Studio DC with Kermit and Ashley Tilsdale was absolutely spectacular (sadly the only good thing). Favourite Muppet? That changes daily. I love Gonzo and his off-the-wall nature is hugely endearing to me. I think he’s also the Muppet whom people would say was closest to my personality.
RYAN: What would it take for us ravenous fans to convince you to submit this amazing piece of art, once it’s finished, to the Muppet Studios? It’s too good not to. I know I’ll do whatever I can to get it there. Start a petition, start a mailing fund, send a carrier pigeon…
STUART: Is a monetary bribe out of the question? Actually, I intend to send a printed copy to Lylle Breier (Manager of Muppet Studios) when I have finished as I would love to have her feedback on the piece. Other than that, I really haven’t given much thought as to what to do with it once it is done. I have had numerous inquiries with regards to buying prints which unfortunately I would be prohibited to do without the blessing of the good folk at Disney so… who knows. I’m all ears if anyone has any ideas
STUART: Keep your eyes peeled!
Huge special thanks to the insanely talented Stuart Reeves! If you’d like to see Stuart’s work sent on to Muppets Studios, show your support for him on Muppet Central Forum and Twitter!