An Interview with Bruce Rauffenbart

Way Art’s Bruce Rauffenbart,
He’s A Real Pro!

Bruce grew up around illustration. His father Thomas Rauffenbart was a successful illustrator in Philadelphia. At the Philadelphia College of Art, Bruce studied painting and earned a BFA. He received an MFA from the Tyler School of Art in Rome, Italy. He also studied at the Provincetown Workshop for 2 summers. After returning from Rome, Bruce had a successful one-man show at the Gross McCleaf Gallery in Philadelphia. Bruce moved to New York City from Philadelphia when he began to receive agency calls asking him to work on important campaigns. Since then he has worked with the top talent in the ad industry. He lives and works in Tribeca with his wife, graphic designer Suzanne Ketchoyian, and their 2 children.

Why do you think a solid foundation in drawing is so important to every aspect of visual arts?

Bruce Rauffenbart: Most creative ideas begin with a thumbnail sketch. Often the challenge is in retaining the essence and strength of what was in the first thumbnail sketch to the final art.

People may think that since so much work is being done digitally through photo comping etc. that the drawing is secondary. What is your take on this subject?

BR: It is a different approach than working up from a thumbnail sketch, but a sense of composition, perspective and depth of field are still important in photo-comping, as well as retouching skills to make it all hold together. I often do a rough photo-comp that I then draw from. When doing people I find a drawing has more life than a heavily retouched photo-comp. With storyboards, continuity is important both in terms of the subject and the style. On occasions when I use photos for backgrounds I try to make them look like art.

What do you love most about your job?

BR: Every job is different. Some are like solving a puzzle. I like working with art directors and that is why I am with Way Art because they encourage communication between artist and art director.

Why do you think your solid drawing skills are an asset when working from a script or written description instead of a layout?

BR: A written description can be interpreted visually in different ways. Sometimes I like the freedom to interpret the script and develop interesting camera angles but the AD’s intentions are what is important. I can put rough sketches together quickly in order to nail down the AD’s intent.

When do you draw from your head and when do you use reference or models?

BR: Usually a job combines both methods. I don’t have a formula for when I do either. Shooting my own reference is best. Sometimes I like the distortion in the photos other times I find a drawing works better if I just look at the reference and draw from it rather than trace.

Growing up with an accomplished illustrator for a father must have been very inspiring. How did this experience help shape your career?

BR: As a kid, I loved going to my dad’s studio in Philadelphia and to lunch at the Philadelphia Sketch Club where illustrators and art directors would meet, eat and tell stories in the Rathskeller and then play pool upstairs. Sometimes I would model for my dad while he snapped Polaroids (the kid pleading to Santa…that’s me). We always had the Illustrator Annuals in our house and we occasionally came to New York City to see the Illustrator Annual shows. It was thrilling to see original art for movie posters, ads and national magazine spreads.

How did you transition from being a painter to illustrating for advertising?

BR: The transition wasn’t easy because I was going from being an abstract painter to an illustrator using markers. I took over my dad’s studio after he died and worked on my portfolio for several months. At night I went to Fleisher, a free art school in south Philadelphia to draw the figure. I started looking for sketch work and it took almost a year to make a living as an illustrator.

Your coloring is rich, graphic and sometimes moody which is very striking. Describe how you achieve this.

BR: My painting background has definitely helped my color sensibility. I often think of the color as an enveloping light that creates a mood. Photoshop gives the artist an unlimited range of color & saturation possible. It is very liberating.

How do you continue to perfect your drawing skills?

BR: I go to Spring Studio or Atelier on Union Square to draw and paint from live models. There are many different approaches to drawing. I give myself the freedom to try them out. I also go to a lot of museum shows and crawl the Chelsea Galleries once a month. Artists need to have a visual curiosity and be challenged by the new and unfamiliar.

How has the computer changed your art?

BR: It has actually loosened me up. In addition to coloring, I can draw with a pencil, which I prefer, rather than the pens we used with markers. I can try out different approaches on the same piece by creating new files, the use of layers and the blessing of forgiveness, command Z.

Tell us about your experience working on site in advertising agencies and why your ability to draw makes you good at this.

BR: It usually means working without a lot of the resources we are used to. So drawing out of my head is what I usually need to rely on. It is also good to be face to face with art directors.

Your work always looks great no matter how tight the deadline is. How are you able to pull it off?

BR: Thank you. Experience has taught me to make fewer false moves. I just put my head down and get to work. Every job deserves my best effort.