Barry Orkin is a native Long Islander.
Art is my life. I started drawing at age six, mostly during school. I liked that the other students would come up to me in the classroom and watch what I was doing, or ask me for drawings. I was a very shy kid, but drawing helped me connect with kids and adults. I liked drawing monsters and superheroes from my imagination— I would rarely draw objects or people around me. In that respect, drawing has also been a way to withdraw. For me—and I’m sure for a lot of artists—it has been a calling, but perhaps a vice, since the earliest days. If I didn’t push my way through a shy tendency in those early years, I would have just stayed at home all day with my pencils, markers and drawing pads. As a teenager, I would draw even more, usually not in school. Even then, I stayed with what was in my head, and not from life. I recall a friend of mine watching me and saying, “Is that all coming out of your head?!” I just loved to draw, and I was so inspired by all of the great comic book illustrators, like Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, John Romita, Barry Smith, Gene Colan, Neil Adams and many others. I also love Frank Frazetta’s work. I tried to emulate my favorites as much as possible, and I knew that I would find my own voice eventually.
Later, I turned to the Pre-Raphaelites and the Golden Age illustrators. Among my favorite illustrators are Edward Burne-Jones, Howard Pyle, NC Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, Arthur Rackham, Joseph Clement Coll, J.C. Leyendecker, Dean Cornwell, Kay Nielsen, Albert Beardsley, W. T. Benda, Edmund Dulac, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer and many, many others.
Also among my favorites is Kuniyoshi—especially his warrior prints. I never cease to be dazzled by these images, though I’ve seen them hundreds of times. I was fortunate to see some of the original woodblock prints at the Japan Society in New York.
I will forever be inspired by the Hudson River School artists, and I enjoy landscape painting. Sometimes I paint deliberately. I’ll take several months to complete a detailed landscape. Other times I work quickly and spontaneously.
I started drawing from the model during high school, in a special program for aspiring fine art majors at C.W. Post (now part of Long Island University). Later I studied at Long Island University in Southampton, with the outrageous (and for me, inspiring) Robert Munford.
Now, my two muses are my beautiful Russian wife and son. I live on the north shore of Long Island, which is a great place for artists. The Long Island Sound and points east are beautiful and relaxing.
I love to draw my wife and son, and I love to experiment with different pencils and surfaces. When I draw from life, I try to be spontaneous and loose, and I often go for a mystical or dreamy quality. This is how I feel about both of my most important models. I try to convey what I’m feeling inside as I draw, and not just draw what I see.
Of course, I still love to draw from my head, combined with reference like costumes or weapons. Its still important to warm up—at least ten to fifteen minutes of scribbling, before I can really feel comfortable about what is forming on paper or canvas.
Each day gets better and better. I want to continue to grow and communicate through art, and I have two fantastic models and a great setting to help me.