Imitation Royalty: The Art of Brian Prince

Brian Prince is an illustrator from Atlanta, Georgia, with a focus on illustrative storytelling. He enjoys writing, drawing comics, and other doodley things, as well as being the world’s tallest parkour practitioner. So tall, in fact, that clouds vault him and the things that you think are accomplishments, he steps onto and crushes with his mighty stride. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration.

I’ve been doing parkour for about 6 years, 6 1/2 years at this point. May 2008. So whatever that was. Yeah, parkour, like most people would say, it’s definitely been a life-changing element for me.

Art-wise, I’ve been drawing since I was about 8 or so. I drew all the time, but I realized senior year that I have to plan my future, like that whole crap. Everybody was like, “You’re going to play basketball in college,” and I was like, man, I really don’t want to like I can’t even slam. Then I went to this school called Kennesaw State University for art. So I was a graphic design major for about 3 years, but I really wanted to draw more. So then I was into a drawing and painting major, but they were teaching us how to be like gallery artists, and I really didn’t want to be a gallery artist because the fine art world really just isn’t for me, I want to draw cartoons. I ended up transferring to Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, and I did about 3 years there, and I finished up. So now I’m here. It’s been about a year and a half since I graduated and I’m just trying to figure out what it is I’m doing. So…

So you said you started when you were eight, so I know when, but really how and what got you started in drawing?

I just drew on stuff, like paper, not like walls or anything. I did a lot of copying and anime was a huge influence for me. I would just watch cartoons all the time, that’s what I did, so I liked to draw the cartoons that I watched. Then I remember I started seeing anime since they started to play it on early morning stations sometimes and I remember seeing Sailor Moon. I was like, what is this? This looks cool! It looks different but cool! And I remember seeing Dragon Ball Z, and of course, everyone from parkour is going to say Dragon Ball Z. When I was in elementary and middle school, I would just copy characters. Like Sonic the Hedgehog from a game-box or I would get Nintendo Power issues and draw characters from those. So I just did a lot of copying. The copying definitely helped me realize somewhat of a foundation. Like I remember my friend, Will, in 7th grade, he gave me all these tips on how to draw eyes, how to draw noses and the way he did things and that was huge for me. That was the first time that I had actually tried to improve my work. I feel like those are the moments I can definitely remember the most, the ones that I actively thought, you know, like okay, I am crap, how do I get better?

Where do you draw your inspiration from other than cartoons and games? And pun absolutely intended.

As far as inspiration goes, I just see something, and I like it, and I just get into it. Lately, I’ve really liked Instagram for that. Their explore feature is really good for that. So for Instagram, I’m only following artists I like, in the realm that I like and then parkour athletes. So when I go to that explore feature, it’s just parkour videos and artwork. It’s cool, I always see an artist I’ve never seen before, and I’ll look through their portfolio and everything. But I draw my inspiration from animation. As I said, I watched a lot of anime when I was a kid and had a bunch of favorites like Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star. Then moving on from that, there is a lot of Disney movies and Dreamworks animated films I really like. Like right now, a lot of my favorite artists are animators who make comics on the side kind of thing.

I can definitely see some of that in your work, and I like how you were able to take things that inspired you and make it your own. Something I think that caught not only my attention, but I think everybody else’s attention was the fact that you started doing a bunch of portraits of parkour athletes. It didn’t catch my attention simply because it was parkour or I hadn’t paid attention to your other work, but what really stood out was the fact that the portraits were of people that I knew and respected and I assumed you were doing those because you were inspired by them or respected them yourself. Was there really any other reason behind the portraits than that?

So it’s kind of like a half and half. So for a little while, I would be like, I love these guys, like the Alex Schauer and Pedro Thomas ones. For me, I have a hard time practicing for the sake of practicing. Things are very objective-based for me. I still want to practice, but I needed to find something to do, and I love parkour, and I love parkour people even more. So, yeah, I’m gonna draw this guy because he’s cool, I’ve seen a video and it just kind of hit me. I did the one of Max, didn’t really think anything of it, but of course, I respect the hell out of Max. Then I did the one of Alex and it just kind of hit me and this might sound a little shallow, but I noticed people liked them. So I was like, I’m going to keep drawing parkour people. Of course, I don’t do it all of the time, but I sometimes do, and yeah, I’m usually hit with some sort of inspiration before I do it. Like I did one of Max and Benj Cave, and that’s because I saw the Cave Men video. It really just depends where I’m art artistically when I see something that inspires me.

So which is your favorite out of the parkour portraits you have done?

It might have been the Pedro Thomas one, I like that one a lot. I also like the one I did of Shay. Unlike the others, it was a spur of the moment thing. I wanted to draw something, so I just opened Instagram, and I saw a picture of Shay, and I was like, hey, I’m gonna draw that, I’m gonna draw a picture of Shay. Then I did, inked it and colored, and then he made it his Facebook profile photo. Really was just a fun exercise more than anything else. So one of those two probably. That or the comic, if that counts.

So let’s talk about this comic, and other than that, are there any other parkour-inspired illustrations or projects you have worked on?

So I did a six-page parkour comic. My friend put together a comics anthology, and a bunch of artists from our school all submitted entries for it. The comic was based around punk culture, and I really don’t have a huge background or experience with punk-rock. Then I got hit with an idea of doing a comic based on parkour cause I feel like the average parkour mindset is similar to a punk mindset, you know, we’re counter-culture, we’re kind of against people telling us the way we should be. So I did a six-page comic about having to grow up and get a real job because I was going through that at the time.

Other than that, I’ve been working on a bunch of independent story stuff, and I try to put parkour in my stories without putting parkour in my stories. I feel like whenever I’m watching a movie or a tv show and they actively include parkour, it comes off kind of corny, either because they don’t get it or they’re just trying really hard to incorporate it. But in movies or video games when parkour is involved and is just an aspect that’s in there, it just works really well. I have a story that I’m writing and the main character has parkour-like movements that he’ll do and he’ll have a parkour-like mindset but I don’t actively say, oh he does parkour. I just kind of put it in there, so people who do parkour will get it and people that don’t will be like, “Oh cool, he’s doing something neat.”

I feel it blends much better that way, you know, instead of having some ridiculously forced concept where we bring in traceurs to do whatever and it ends up being rat race with a bunch of dead people. But we won’t get into that.

Oh god, that was good. Other than that, I’m doing a more illustrative poster series for a select group of parkour videos that really inspired me. So that is going to be fun, I can’t wait to finish those.

It will be interesting to see which videos you pick, how those videos have inspired you and how that translates into the imagery. It definitely sounds like it will be a fun project for you, hopefully, a good challenge as well and something for the rest of us to look forward to. But for me as an artist, I know that this is often a hard question to answer but what is your absolute favorite piece that you have done? And if you have a hard time answering that, throw a couple at me.

I don’t think about it too often. My last sketchbook, I was really proud of, it sounds funny. Part of that was because of the Inktober challenge, where you do an ink drawing every day in October. I didn’t do it last year, but I really wanted to. So this year, I was really looking forward to it, and it’s one of those funny things, they remind me of parkour dailies actually. It’s kind of popular, a lot of people know about it, but then you have even more people who are like well, I don’t feel like doing it. You know, when people get defensive about not doing something but nobody is telling them that you have to do it? I was experiencing that because I was really on it. Like the first 12 days, I was like every day, boom, every day. It was a good experience for me because not only was I making myself do something every day, but at the same time, I was really trying to make them good. And of course after like 15, after halfway through, it was getting harder and harder, and I was just barely hanging on, but I still finished. Either way, I did that challenge, and I was really proud of myself because it was something that I knew was going to be hard and I didn’t know if I could finish it, but I tried and was really happy with the outcome of that.

I think a better answer though would be I that I did a 15-page comic earlier this year. It was like a preview to a bigger story that I’m working on, and it was a massive undertaking for me. This was the first one I put a lot of heart into. The first three pages were just me double-checking everything, but once I got past that point, I just started feeling myself getting more confident and making decisions because I wanted to make them. I just really got into it. The biggest goal was to see if I could draw action and it worked out really well, and it has some parkour stuff. It was really hard, and it took longer than I’d like to admit it did, but I definitely think that it was my favorite piece that I’ve done because a lot went into it, definitely more than anything I’ve worked on since. I made little books out of them and sold them at two conventions. People loved them, and that was even better because I know there’s always that chance you’ll put 120% effort into something, and people just don’t respond the way you’re hoping they do and that happens a lot, but it was kind of the opposite.

So as far as the actual creation of things goes, what are your tools of choice and do you have any recommendations?

So I really like paper and pencils and ink. A lot of people these days are doing more stuff digitally, and I think digital is awesome, and I don’t think anyone should not use digital. However, I grew up drawing on paper, and there is just a sense of comfortability that I have when I’m using paper that I do not have on the computer. I’ll use these red pencils by Prisma Color, so I sketch everything out like that. Then on top of that I use Kuretake brush pens, they look like microns, but they have more brush type tips. I used to use an actual brush, you know, dip it in ink and dip it in ink but the thing about using a real brush, hey, it looks great and feels better, but it takes so much time, and the brush is like $25 a brush. But it’s like, reality, I have to finish this thing fast, you know? I have a deadline, so I have this brush that is only 2 or 3 bucks, so I can just knock it out and throw them away when I’m done with them. Once I have everything inked, I scan it in, and then I color it, if I color it, in Adobe Photoshop with a drawing tablet. I try to get better at doing more things digitally just for the sake of time but, you know? If it were a perfect world, I would do everything by hand just because I prefer it more. But that’s just a personal preference, I don’t think it’s better in any way. any way.

I definitely think it’s good to be able to handle both traditional and digital mediums. I definitely have a connection with creating with traditional tools, maybe in part because they’re familiar but also because of the natural feel to their manipulation and the feeling of creating from raw material with your own two hands. On the flip-side, we are living in what is becoming a very digital world and keeping up with the times is essential, if only to keep up with competition within the market place and so our children don’t make fun of us for being old. If you are a working artist, you need to be able to keep up with the demands of your clients, and if a digital workflow helps speed up that process, get on it. I remember as a kid, professional photographers were just starting to switch from film to digital, not because digital was better, but because of evolution. Digital photography had to wait until the resolution, and dynamic range had caught up with film, so the only real benefit was a quicker workflow, especially now. I feel like I’ll always love the process of film more than digital, but with the rate at which I need to create for specific projects, it’s simply not always practical. So that being said, is there anything else about your creative process that you didn’t cover, whether it be for your own personal work or when working for a client?

I, unfortunately, am very much reliant on inspiration and motivation. If I’m not extremely driven by a project, it shows in the work, or if I am inspired by a project, it equally shows in the work. It’s definitely something I am trying to get better at. There’s this one artist I really like, Eric Canete, he’s a fantastic artist, and he has this thing he calls the C+ mentality. He basically talks about how you kind of need to make your C+ work, the work everyone recognizes as your really good work because chances are, you’re not always going to be feelin’ it, and when you’re not feelin’ it, you’re going to end up pumping out C+ work. So I feel that way too, where I’m like, I need to get better at the days that I’m not feelin’ it as much cuz the days that I’m feeling it, man, oh my god, like it’s awesome. I’m on fire, and I feel like I almost have these superpowers that I don’t understand. But then the contrast days, where I’m not feeling it are just awful. And I know you feel it. It’s just hard in the modern-day world where everything is really only based on time. In a perfect world, I’d be like, I will work on this next month when I feel better but sometimes you just gotta bust it out. With that being said, writing now is a more significant part of my process than ever before. I’ve recently fallen a lot more in love with writing. More on the side of constructing. So not just like technical writing but more of like constructing a story, building a narrative.

Speaking of inspiration, for aspiring illustrators out there, whether they be in the parkour community or outside the parkour community, what is some advice you could give them?

I think this is really relevant for parkour as well. When I was like 3 or 4 years into parkour, my friend Nam, who I was training with had only been training for like 2 years. Nam is just one of those guys who is just really good for no reason. I started recognizing that Nam was really, really good but I had this weird pride issue. Since I’ve been training longer than Nam, clearly I know better than him. You know? And when Nam would try to give me advice on things, I would listen, but up here, I wasn’t really listening. I was like, oh, what does he know. But I remember the day I was just like, screw it, Nam’s really good, and he’s better than me, I’m going to listen to every word he has to tell me. That was the day I started getting a lot better at parkour, and it’s entirely the same for art. It takes forever to get good at it, at least consistently good at it. I don’t even think I’m there. Besides being patient, you need to be able to look at your work and recognize how it could be better. Don’t look at it and say, “No, I’m awesome, this is great,” or “this just sucks, this is terrible,” you need to look at it from the middle, where you’re probably not happy with it and if you’re not happy with it, find out what you’re not happy about. Look at work you like and then look at your work. Really, really analyze why you like someone’s work better than yours and then try to bring that over. And that brings me to the other point. When you’re learning to draw, copy people. A lot of people don’t want to do this. No, dude, copy people. Don’t publish the work and say it’s yours, that’s stupid. But when you’re learning, look at the artists you like, and copy what they do. In doing that, you’re learning how to do it. Like in parkour, it’s the same way.

I really like the way some of the guys from GUP do their kong-pres, so you know, break it down and try it yourself. It’s the same thing, you’re just copying the work. You’re not taking credit for it, but you’re breaking it down your own way. There’s just not a lot of original things anymore, and it’s more about learning things and attributing it your own way. You can be the first one to do something but if it’s crappy everyone’s going to remember the second guy to do it that did it better. But that first one, don’t just look at your work and say it’s good or it’s bad. Objectively analyze it and figure out how you want to make it better and don’t be afraid to look that shit up.

I totally agree with that. I spend a minimal amount of time behind a camera, more time editing, twice as much time liking my work, more time absolutely hating it the next day and most of my time is spent analyzing my work on how I can make it better. But it’s a constant process because you’re always going to say that this is your best work, but then you wake up and realize that it needs to and can be better. There’s always that next step.

I’m glad you said that because I feel like those are traits of someone who is growing. If you continuously look at your work and you only see what’s good about it, then you’re not going to grow. But if the next day you look at it and you’re like, eh, it’s not as good, then you’re bound to make something better the next time. As you said, you need to take a step back and see how it could be better.

You can always be better. The day that you truly believe that there is nothing else you can learn, you’re finished. Game over. We should always be students. I think the student mentally is an essential mentality for life. Ask questions, fuck up, try again, and become better than you were the day before. I just don’t how anyone could be 100% content with who they are or what they do. There can always be a better you and better at what you do. Speaking of questions, we do have some questions from other people.

Brian, thank you for talking with me, and I would like to say fantastic work, once again. I’m always thoroughly thrilled with the things I see coming from you, and I’m continually following your stuff on Tumblr and Instagram. So I’m looking forward to all of the things you are working on now.

So this past week I’ve been on fire! So on the bright side, hopefully, I’ll have something for people soon.

Illustrations © Brian Prince

Follow Brian Prince on Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, his website.

Follow Andrew Obenreder on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and his website.

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