Illustrator and Entrepreneur Scott Gandell on the Tools of His Trades

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Scott Gandell is an illustrator and printmaker. He also co-owns and operates the South Pasadena Mercantile Co., which is packed with an eclectic assortment of home furnishings, folk art, books, original paintings, and other merchandise. I first met him when I was interviewing attendees at 2010’s ICON Conference in Pasadena for an Imprint story. He was promoting the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles in his capacity as president. I’ve since run into him at California comics conventions, where he diligently takes command of the SI-LA booth. And now we see each other at gallery openings in the back room of his new store.

Scott’s expressive artwork, which ranges from the colorfully decorative to the intensely agitated, has been exhibited in galleries and featured in magazines and newspapers. He’s also created exclusive drawings for Imprint, including the pieces that accompany this profile. Here, he talks about early beginnings, his innumerable day jobs, and the “radical fun” of being a freelancer and entrepreneur.

“The SI-LA booth is located in a central spot near all the major players on the SDCC convention floor; large aisles make for great photo opportunities with the cosplay fans. Scantly clad women are commonly seen and more often than not, I've witnessed the photographers focus their lenses in a peculiar fashion…”

On SI-LA and comics conventions:

In 2008, I was voted into the The Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles as president. My first order of business was establishing SI-LA’s presence at Comic-Con in San Diego. It made sense. Most of our local members attended as professionals or guests and there was no reason not to have a home base on the convention floor. We also initiated strategies for members branching out to display and/or sell their wares free of charge under the SI-LA banners at venues such as WonderCon, the U.S. Air Force Art Program, the CTN Animation Expo, and, of course, the ICON illustration conference.

Last year I was appointed to the newly formed Development Chair spot, where I continue to engage our audience at numerous events held throughout the year.

“The entrepreneurial spirit not only fuels my work, it's also a heritage that makes my experience even possible. Every feather takes part in the story.”

On his family:

An accomplished family history in the arts and creative fields includes most notably my third cousin, the photographer Richard Avedon. My aunt, Linda Gandell, was a professional musician, Broadway performer, and lifelong ballet dancer. My mom, a painter, painted a white rabbit with a basket of flowers on a green background to commemorate her pregnancy with me. It still hangs in the house today.

Of course, the first stack of 1970s superhero comics from grandma also played a significant role in my career track.

“One day at the shop, an inquisitive youngster and his father stopped in to visit. I had my drawing supplies out, so the little guy wanted to watch me draw a skeleton. His response: 'I'm not scared. I'm not scared of bugs either, but my sister hates spiders. Bye, sir.'”

On his youth:

Toys and the packaging they came in influenced my decision to become an artist. Bright colors, dynamic action poses, cool typography, and the different shapes and sizes led a child’s imagination to ponder the possibilities of action-less toys.

In grade school I won a couple of awards and had my drawings displayed as part of a show in the middle of the local indoor shopping mall. For a short story assignment I asked the teacher if I could draw pictures to help tell the story; she agreed and received a mini comic titled “Fat Boys in Fat Town where Everything is Round.”

In high school we were assigned 8- to 20-page book reports. In an effort to shorten the length of my papers, I offered to accompany my pages with drawings inspired by the text. It worked, and the drawings remained up in the classroom until the end of the semester.

“At the South Pasadena Mercantile Co., Anneline and I share a combined love of art and design. The showroom is a vessel of inspiration and a source for those that are seeking to express their individual personality and style.”

On his circuitous career:

I’ve held a wide variety of jobs, all the while pursuing my illustration career. My first was at 14, at a Snow White Donuts, where I spent an hour every day cleaning the shop to earn money to buy toys and comic books. At 16, I was unexpectedly hired at my favorite comic shop, North Coast Nostalgia in Ohio, while perusing the back-issue bins. While I was there I met influential comic artists including David Mack, before his first issue of Kabuki hit the stands. This area of Cleveland was a hotbed of the underground comics scene, with R. Crumb and Harvey Pekar. When I moved back to Los Angeles after high school I soon found myself behind the counter of another comic shop, House of Secrets in Burbank.

Gandell’s Furniture, the family business, was decades strong and I pitched in where possible. I tried my hand at construction demolition. I was manager at a large chain toy store, where I was held up at gunpoint and pistol-whipped within the first week. Then I sold insurance.

With Anneline De Croos, a partner that shares many of the same values and experiences, I just opened South Pasadena Mercantile Co. in January. It’s at once an interior design showroom, retail space, museum, and art gallery. The products we carry are hand-picked globally and carefully vetted to provide successful solutions to design conundrums. It’s a space
that’s meant to engage visitors and hold their attention.

“Gary Meyer, one of my mentors at Art Center College of Design, sat for me while I was a student back in 2002.”

On his mentors:

I had instructors at Art Center, Pasadena City College, and drawing workshops around Los Angeles who taught me the fundamentals of good design and solid drawing skills. They include Gary Meyer, Gayle Donahue, the Clayton Brothers, Glenn Vilppu, and master printmaker Carmen Schilaci.

My artistic influences range from the jazz trumpet of Lee Morgan to the printmaking of Leonard Baskin, Jacob Landau, and Warrington Colescott; the illustrations of Alan E. Cober, Ralph Steadman, and Robert Andrew Parker; the art of Ben Shahn, Saul Steinberg, Lyonel Feininger, and Paul Klee; drawings of David Stone Martin, Jose Luis Cuevas, and Horst Janssen; comic art of Alex Toth, Bob Burden, and Mike Allred; murals of Millard Sheets; the vast work of Noel Sickles and Victor Ambrus; the world of international folk art; and so on.

“At events with SI-LA, I'm usually the constant presence in the booth, so when I do get a chance to wander at Comic-Con, I head over to Lego. I tried to capture that feeling of moving through the crowd on a mission.”

On dealing with life:

It’s exhilarating to see your own work published; that never gets old for me. The feedback—good, bad, and otherwise—can sometimes weigh heavily, but that’s needed to generate growth.

The following quote by Gregory Weir-Quiton beautifully illustrates how I cope: “When I’m drawing, I’m not thinking about other things, I’m not thinking about life. I’m just involved with what I’m looking at and making a mark on the paper that has some meaning. It’s the greatest therapy.”

The South Pasadena Mercantile Co. during a recent opening. Photo by Joan Dooley

On the future:

Upcoming are two books featuring my art and printmaking. Locally, I’m looking to help establish a brick-and-mortar location for the local Society of Illustrators.

The life of a freelancer—and entrepreneur—means that every day is a chance for some radical fun.

Photo by Joan Dooley


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