by Lindsey Howald
with permission of the Columbia Daily Tribune
Eric Seat is a different kind of illustrator.
In a career field increasingly populated by graphic designers toting Macbooks, he works with traditional media - acrylics, oils, board. He holds texture and stylistic exaggerations to be as important and inspiring as the meaning of the text his work is meant to highlight.
And while the great illustrator Norman Rockwell created warm and fuzzy family scenes, Seat's portraits are delightfully eerie.
"I would like to think of it as more of a fine art," Seat said of his work.
The 27-year-old earned his bachelor's degree in communication arts and design from Virginia Commonwealth University. After attending the Illustration Academy, a workshop that features, among others, Kansas City's Mark English, Seat came away inspired by illustrators who had moved the genre from magazine pages to art gallery walls.
That's why, when Seat moved to Columbia from Leesburg, Va., he landed in an art gallery. This is his fourth month in the city, and he recently joined Columbia Art League and staffs the gallery once a week.
His portrait of Michael Moore, the filmmaker who made a name bashing President George W. Bush in films like Fahrenheit 9/11, also appeared in CAL's "Politically Speaking" exhibition. "It was a little portrait I did for my portfolio," he said. Asked if it lends some insight into his own political leanings, Seat stepped around a firm answer.
"I don't necessarily do portraits of people I like," he said. "I just thought I'd do it for my portfolio since he's in the public eye a lot. I was definitely interested in having political beliefs" portrayed in my artwork "a while ago, but not so much now."
While he might be hopeful about linking illustration with fine art, Seat depends on assignments from publications. Therefore his portfolio is ultimately designed to market his drawing talents. Inspired by the exaggerated caricatures of Philip Burke and grotesque figures of Lucian Freud, Seat's portfolio contains recognizable subjects such as Moore, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kurt Vonnegut.
"For illustration work, it definitely needs to be an image that fits the needs for the publication," he said. He must be doing something right: His work has received awards from the Society of Illustrators, Communication Arts magazine and Print magazine.
He moved away from the busy sprawl of the Washington, D.C., bedroom community with his retired parents. Talented but shy, he's still struggling to find his footing.
"You know, finding work in illustration is certainly a slow progression for me," Seat said. In Virginia, he produced work for Military History magazine and taught occasional illustration workshops while working part time in a frame store. He's currently working on a series of illustrations for Read magazine, depicting George Orwell's Animal Farm for middle school-age readers.