Beginning school in Los Angeles, Tracy Robinson found her calling as an artist. Museum work was fun, but she wanted more control over art. She enjoyed creating it herself, being on the other side of the museum, the contributing facet. After finding her true artistâ€™s voice with a combination of layering and computer art, sheâ€™s now doing projects for major motion pictures and thriving musicians. Tracy, a down-to-earth and vibrant woman, took a moment out of her busy work load to tell Format where sheâ€™s been and where sheâ€™s headed.
“I think Iâ€™m obsessed with trying to make things from the computer not look like the computer.”
Format: Your name is Tracy Robinson, where does Dusky Ward come in? Is this an alter ego?
Robinson: I think it started so long ago, so many years ago when I came up with the name, picking words for my website. My husband calls me Dusky. I was going through some names for some of my art pieces and right around the same time I was trying to set up my site. I literally wrote down favorite things, favorite music, favorite artists, and going through all [my] albums, and words I liked.
[The Dusky Ward website is] more of a showcase for my portfolio. Initially I started doing web design, then I played around on the computer more and did painting and drawing. I had so much fun doing it, posting stuff and sending it out, and people started responding.
Format: How much of your time is spent now doing work through Watson/DG, your visual communications company?
Robinson: Most of the work I do is coming out of there now. I basically run it with my husband; he started it and I kind of came on board. I was doing graphic and web design on my own, now I head the art directing team.
We do a lot of design stuff for film [and] artists. Iâ€™m used to dealing with clients personally. You get a feel for what theyâ€™re like, their interests. You want to make sure youâ€™re getting the info you need from them. Itâ€™s a lot of online marketing stuff, campaigns, some film stuff. Iâ€™m actually illustrating for a Mike Myers film, The Love Guru. Iâ€™m doing all these Indian motifs, background and things. Itâ€™s intricate work and fun for me; sometimes you donâ€™t have the time to do these things, itâ€™s a longer project. I draw things in watercolor, then I scan it in and then rework it in Photoshop. Some of the pieces look really layered. We just finished work with Cloverfield [the film], [making] the website for a Japanese company. With some of the stuff you have to build everything from scratch. Everybodyâ€™s comfortable buildings things from scratch [at this company].
Format: Your art seems to be steeped in music, do you find these music projects or do they find you?
Robinson: Itâ€™s funny, they all found me. A friend of mine, a creative director, said my illustration would work great for some of the articles he was working on, [and it] went from there. Sometimes I kind of have to scrounge around for photos of a particular person to get me started to do the illustration. Sometimes I [listen to their] music and Iâ€™m like, â€œIâ€™m loving this!â€
When I heard [Seu Jorgeâ€™s] music I said, â€œthis guy is hot;â€ he exuded something. When I went in to do the illustration that was in my mind, the combination of him, this sultry guy and this beautiful voice, I went in listening to that stuff when I did that piece. Sometimes you donâ€™t get the article, you just get the work to do the illustration.
Format: You studied at LMU in Los Angeles (Loyola Marymount University), tell me about your studies! Is this where you grew up?
Robinson: Iâ€™m from Houston, Texas. I came out here when I was 15 and went to high school, [then] LMU for studies for undergrad. I was just doing the fine arts program, painting and drawings, no computer stuff. I stuck with all of that because I was into figure drawing. When I got out of school, I did art history work but I wanted to have something where I could make some money. I think Iâ€™m obsessed with trying to make things from the computer not look like the computer. I love the computer and love working on it but love the fine art touch that looks hand made. I think people are doing more water color effects; everything has a pixel quality to it.
Format: What lead to you interning at the Getty Museum?
Robinson: I was interested in going to grad school. I took Asian studies in art history so I was big in that already. So when the opportunity came up to apply I did that for a summer, putting up shows, doing the publication and promotional stuff. I love old school art, when I say that I mean German expressionism. I think itâ€™s because I love the figure drawing. Then I realized grad school [wasnâ€™t] for me, I wanted to do my own thing. Then I started getting work out in Europe, [and it] just progressed from there.
Format: How different are mediums, t-shirts, print ads, etc?
Robinson: Yeah, the print stuff I enjoy the most because you get a hard copy at the end of the day. I also like to print it on different paper, fancy watercolor papers so you get the different media from that. I can always go back in and look at it. As far as clothing, itâ€™s nice to see the final things but there are still limitations to that. Some stuff you do for screen printing is one color or a couple of colors. I think I have to say the print is the most fun. When I do the broadcast thatâ€™s in pieces, youâ€™re always aware of whom else it has to go to. When itâ€™s just one piece, no one else has to look at it.
Format: Iâ€™m particularly drawn to your many pieces with birds on the horizon and as the focal point. Whatâ€™s their significance?
Robinson: I think [theyâ€™re] calming. The birds seem to symbolize the forms, the delicate quality to birds. I think thatâ€™s probably why they keep showing up.
Format: When do you feel you do your best work? What are your favorite conditions? Is there music played?
Robinson: Any time is fine as far as when the mood hits me. I definitely have to have music going. I play Jeff Buckley, Van Morrison, Erykah Badu, I have some set artists. I would have that stuff going while I was working, there was some music I knew that if I sat down long enough I would produce something, I would play off of it.
Format: What would the perfect assignment be?
Robinson: I think it would have to be an album cover, or a CD layout with several pieces. Erykah Badu comes to mind; sheâ€™s such a pretty girl. When I illustrate or paint you paint these visuals, girls and women and stuff, the female form. Wild, crazy afros, the natural element. Thatâ€™s something I could totally go off on, be inspired to work with, natural elements.
Format: Whatâ€™s in store for the future? Will there be any further exhibitions of your work?
Robinson: [That will] probably come a little later. Every so often Iâ€™ll get contacted to submit work to be in an art show around town, a piece or two. Some are themed or they know of a piece of mine [they want to] include in an art show.
It comes in waves, I had no idea of the reception that I would see but people seem to really dig it. As long as I try to do what I like! You want to make people happy [in the beginning] but sometimes you gotta do what you like to do, people come to you instead. You find your own rhythm.