Dave Palumbo is a freelance illustrator and oil painter based in Philadelphia. Widely published, he has done editorial, concept, and promotional illustrations for publications ranging from Scientific American and The New Yorker to Lucasfilm, Heavy Metal, and Marvel. Palumbo’s work has been shown in galleries from New York to Paris and has earned him a Chesley award and three Spectrum medals. He can be found online at dvpalumbo.com.
How did you get started in the arts?
I come from a family of painters, actually. My mom, stepfather, brother, and some other extended family members are all in the same line of work. I believe that the biggest boost that gave was having so many role models present to reinforce that this is a completely viable career to pursue. It relieved me of the mystery and doubt that most aspiring artists struggle with. I think that I also had an early interest because my dad was really into comics and used to give them to me and my brother to read and draw from. So as a kid, I really enjoyed drawing and started taking it seriously in my teens. I didn’t start learning to paint until I went away to college, though, and I didn’t start doing illustration until a few years beyond that.
Can you name some of your influences?
Starting to make lists like that can get out of control really quickly. If I were to say who is influencing my current work the most, the top names that come to mind are Jeremy Geddes, Sam Weber, Antonio López García, and Alex Kanevsky. But there are so many others. I’m sure it would be a list as long as my arm of peers and contemporaries and then another twice as long of artists no longer with us who have either helped shape my aesthetic or even taught me directly, and I always hate leaving people out.
Do you draw ideas from fiction?
I don’t know that I pull ideas from casual reading so much, though I do enjoy it. Gene Wolfe has written some really terrific and visually rich stuff. I also like Neal Stephenson and William Gibson quite a bit, and then this is the old “all time favorites” list: Treasure Island, Dune, The Hobbit, etc. Again, I start making a list and am tempted to just go on and on.
What keeps you awake at night—what are your fears?
If we’re talking Fears, capital “F,” the sort which are terrifying however unlikely to actually occur, one of my very biggest is being adrift in the ocean with no vessel and no sight of land. At night. That is a really hard one to beat. In terms of themes which can work into paintings, I think the scariest stuff tends to be based around human cruelty. For example, I’ve been a zombie movie fan quite a long time. In particular I enjoy the 1970s era of zombies. If you put aside the often exploited psychological horror of being attacked by loved ones, though, they are not really that scary. Really, they are just animals with particularly ugly features and a vicious attitude. No scarier than a pride of hungry lions or a pack of wild dogs. And while I wouldn’t want to have a pack of wild dogs chase me down, it doesn’t terrify me. It doesn’t disturb me. Human beings are much more interesting. Humans have choice and complex thought. One of the best side-by-sides that I can make is to compare the farmhouse scene in The Road to just about any zombie movie and you tell me which one is more upsetting. Sadism and psychopathic impulse are really scary.
Also, not being able to trust your own mind. Unreliable memories, confusion, uncertainty if you are sane or not. That’s some pretty scary shit, too.
Do you have a life philosophy?
In general I believe that whatever it is that you spend your time doing, you should try to do it well. Do things the right way, not the easy way.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I love movies and photography. I don’t know what specifically I’d be doing, but cinematography seems like it would have been an interesting path to pursue.
What’s your dream illustration job?
There’s that old go-to answer: one that pays well and lets me do whatever I want. Realistically, there are so many things that I am a fan of and that inspired me to get involved in this line of work, and any opportunity that I get to touch those influences is a gift.
What are you working on right now?
Actually, I’m currently working on covers and other material for Dark Horse Comics’ Aliens reboot, which is absolutely a dream job. Of any existing property which I would be excited to be involved in, that is way at the top of the list.
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