"Even if some people hate your art, please understand that ultimately, your art is not for them at all, so their opinion of it does not matter."
Richie Montgomery (steelnoodle) has incredible patience. Sometimes it takes him a day of drawing to cover two inches on a page. So the man’s time is valuable. It’s not until you sit and soak up his stunningly detailed work that you truly appreciate how long it takes for him to create his vivid and strange pieces. He took some of his precious time to chat with us about his process, his pens, and how his past of abuse, addiction, and homelessness has informed his creativity and the development of his surreal, other-worldly style.
Read on for an illuminating and honest chat with a truly gifted artist.
Beth Caird: How did you come to find your interest in surreal noir and macabre drawings? Have you always drawn these things or has your interests and style changed over time?
Richie Montgomery: I have been drawing my entire life. The dark side of my art I would see as my expression of emotion. You have to know a little about me to understand my art a little more, I don’t get angry, mad, or frustrated very easily, the art is my expression of emotion, a literal view inside my head for a moment and I am mostly happy and strange. My style has changed a bit as I use more ink than pencil as I did as a kid, and I actually finish drawings now that I have tried to make a career of doing it. I have always drawn but never actually finished one to sell as a complete drawing until after I got sober. I have always had a fondness for the odd and surrealistic artists were my favorite, because I myself am an odd person, I am quite tall, 6’5″, I have a very long beard. I am very quiet most of the time, often deep in thought. I was a hardcore alcoholic most of my life and homeless off and on for well over 10 years. My life has been a roller coaster ride and in the words of the late Gerry Garcia “What a long strange trip its been.” That is where the “dark side” comes from.
BC: Could you tell us about which materials you use?
RM: I use Micron 01 art pens, art paper (many varieties but mostly 60-65 lb) that is 9×12, cut down to total size of 8.50×11.50. And whatever pencil that happens to be laying around. I most of the time (but not all the time) use rulers and drafting tools because I like the look of the nice crisp line.
BC: What about your process? Take us from an idea through to a finished piece. How long does each drawing take?
RM: I have spent up to 3 months on a few of my drawings but it mostly depends on the detail I put in, and how small that part is, and with how much detail it has. The smaller it is, the longer it takes, a 2 inch square can take up to a day sometimes, if it has tiny details. I can sketch out an idea in about an hour or so, then the time consuming ink goes on, and because I am a little obsessive compulsive with my art, and like every line and shadow correct, it takes a while. I love every minute of it!
BC: What was the most difficult, and the most rewarding part of training yourself as an artist? If you had any piece of advice for other Redbubblers who are out there self-training, what would it be?
RM: Well, honestly, the most difficult part I guess would be the beginning, when I was abused as a child . When I was in school I did nothing but draw or sleep, literally, I failed every grade except 6th (I think) and skipped a few grades, and got beat more for that, taken away by the state and put in the Church of God Home for Children for a good portion of my life. I hated school with a vengeance and still wonder why we force our children to go sit in cramped pens to learn useless information for 12 or more years of their lives.
I’d tell people who are self-training to love what you do above all else. In the end the art is only for yourself, I draw for myself, art that I would buy in my taste of art, and it just so happens other people like it too. Even if some people hate your art, please understand that ultimately, your art is not for them at all, so their opinion of it does not matter.
BC: Did you start drawing after you were homeless? You’ve mentioned on RB a woman you met who changed your life, how so and how did you begin drawing?
RM: Yes. I had been chasing beer and booze for most of my adult life; hitchhiking and homeless. Traveling around with the Rainbow Gathering off and on, and ended up coming to Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I hung around for a while. Then tried and failed to hitch out on 3 separate occasions and was prevented from doing so by cops and a complete lack of people willing to give me a ride. Spent the winter there, and early that spring while begging for money here sits down this woman and starts talking to me. We talked for a bit and she gave me $20 and went on her way. I didn’t think much of it until much, much later. She came by about once a week and gave me money or candy, or would buy me beer or liquor. She didn’t like me drinking cheap beer and insisted on getting me imported stuff, which I thought was hilarious.
Anyway, we got to know each other over the course of about a year or so and I had gotten a free phone through the homeless clinic I attended, and didn’t have any phone numbers to put in it. So she came back around again and I asked her for her number, we started talking a lot then, and we went on a date — kinda — we went to a movie and down to feed the ducks. I had been wanting to quit drinking before that off and on, and just decided to quit for good when I moved in with her. She didn’t judge me, she gave me the opportunity to make art my life instead of booze, and I took it. I completed a few drawings and framed them with some frames I found, and took them and sold them to try to make some money. I don’t have record of some of those first ones I sold, but they are out there somewhere. “Hands” was one of those first ones I actually got a scan of before it sold, I think it went for $35.
BC: You’ve been exiled to Alcatraz Prison and can only take three art supplies with you, what do you take?
RM: If it were the Alcatraz of old then I would have to say a rock (for carving or drawing in the dirt) one of those pencils made to last a lifetime (the lead in it is a soft metal alloy) and a piece of paper the size of the earth.