Steve Cup: Concept is King

"That's nice. I draw pictures," says Queens-based ADC Member

Happy Leap Day! February has an extra day this year, and that means there’s one extra day of ADC’s Illustration Month! It’s been an incredible ride, showcasing so many talented illustrators in the ADC community, but you know what they say about ‘all good things’. Not to worry though; with March comes a brand new theme, with a new collection of ADC Members to feature!

Our second-to-last artist to be featured this month is a brand new ADC Member who has captured the spirit of German Expressionism and given it his own twist.


Astoria, NY



Just about every kid can draw, but not every kid is particularly gifted at it. Where did your childhood artistic inclinations come from?

I spent a lot of time drawing when I was young, and everyone was very supportive of my interest. However, I think the idea of making a career out of art was too foreign to those around me, so it was always assumed that I would pursue something normal like computers, or coal mining, or whatever was big in Pennsylvania back then.

When did you discover that “Hey, this could actually be a career”?

The whole cliché image of the starving artist desperately seeking buyers for their paintings was pretty much the only image of a career in the arts presented to me until pretty late in high school. One day I mentioned considering computer science and someone said to me, “You know, there’s a lot of money in doing logos, and stuff. They call it Graphic Design.” I had never heard it described so simply before, it was a big turning point for me.

How would you describe your illustrative style? Do you fight against having a particular style, or do you embrace your style as your “brand”?

I don’t hide that I’m heavily influenced in style by the German Expressionists. I fully embrace it and spend a great deal of time studying their work, but I also strive to put something of myself into my style as well.

Walk us through your usual creative process.

The concept is the king. The illustration, the colors, the type — everything needs to serve the king. I spend the most time just brainstorming, refining concepts and sketching. The actual process of creating the illustration after that is usually pretty quick. But if the idea stinks, it won’t communicate the message and no amount of pretty graphics and glitter will save it.

“…if the idea stinks, it won’t communicate the message and no amount of pretty graphics and glitter will save it.”

Tools of the trade: do you have any specific pens, pencils or other instruments that you swear by?

As a printmaker, I’m very fussy about my ink. I’ve found a great oil-based ink made by Caligo that is smooth and perfect, and has an additive that let’s it clean up with soap and water. I avoid working with anything else, and get really grumpy when I have to use water-based inks.

What is the most challenging thing about a career in illustration?

The most challenging part of being an illustrator is standing out among the sea of talent. It’s a very competitive field, and the people you’re up against are staggeringly good at what they do.

Is there a particular project of yours of which you’re especially proud?

Last year I illustrated and self-published a short historical-nonfiction book about the labor movement called Heroine of Labor. I wouldn’t call it a commercial success, but I got a phone call recently from a high school teacher telling me that she purchased the ebook to use in class, and that her students loved it. It was very gratifying the get that sort of feedback, and to see something you created functioning out in the real world.

Cocktail party talk: how do you describe what you do to someone who isn’t in a creative field, and what’s the typical response you get from them?

In New York I meet a lot of people on ego trips that drone on and on about how successful and powerful they are. And when they’re done, I simply look them in the eyes and say, “That’s nice. I draw pictures.” Most people are usually at a loss for response after that.

Where do you seek out creative inspiration?

Stepping away from the computer and getting out into the world is the best source of inspiration. I just got back from Ecuador where I was teaching relief printmaking, and I got to interact and learn from tons of amazing artists that I would otherwise have never come across.

Which professional illustrators do you look up to?

Oh, that’s a long list, but I’m always attracted to artists with a well-defined style, and really clever imagery. Eric Drooker, Peter Kuper, Randall Enos, Mark Bender, just to name a few.

At the end of the day, what do you love most about being an illustrator?

I like that I’m doing something I love. I’ve had a lot of different jobs over the years and many have left me feeling pretty down. Seeing a finished illustration, and the reaction of clients when a project is done, is immensely gratifying.

Illustration Month continues throughout January and February, and is open exclusively to ADC Members. Not yet a Member? Join today!