Jeffrey Veregge is a Native artist hailing from Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, and has spent most of his life on the reservation locally known as Little Boston, located near Kingston, Washington. His creative mantra is best expressed, he says, through a phrase from his tribe’s language, “taʔčaʔx̣ʷéʔtəŋ,” meaning “get into trouble.” This sense of mischief and energy is easily seen in his work, which centers around characters from comics and sci-fi/fantasy TV and film, as are other strong Native influences.
Jeffrey is an honor graduate from the Art Institute of Seattle, and began his journey into Salish form-line design by studying with Tsimshian master carver David Boxley. For the last 10 years, he has been employed as Lead Designer/Studio Manager for a media agency that specializes in Non-Profits.
Austin: The first thing we at SPACES noticed about your work is how visually striking it is – your pieces look like modern iconography. How do you choose a single image of a character to turn into “an icon”?
Jeffrey: I wish I could tell you there a real process in how I choose, but honestly, it all it really depends on is my mood and interest at the time. I guess that is where I really haven’t changed much since I was a kid. I go see a movie, watch a TV show, read a book or comic and then make a mad dash to the toy box or now days to eBay. I actually create pieces to keep me in that world as long as possible or at least until my short attention span brings me to another.
Austin: Another aspect of your work that gives the images such a unique and resonant look is the Salish design aspect that reflects your native roots. How do you get down to making choices about how those elements will appear in your work? How do you see those design choices affecting the overall images?
Jeffrey: Well, it’s really about trusting my eye. My work is Salish influenced and some of the elements I use are used traditionally as feathers and such, and lend well to designs that feature capes, while other elements may simply be more pleasing to the overall flow of the graphic. I tend to go with my instincts on most of my designs. I do look at space, harmony, balance and contrast, proximity, color, etc., but a lot of the time, I want to capture a feeling or a mood and just have to look at each piece and determine if I like it and or if I need to push it further.
Austin: Can you tell us a little bit about studying the Salish form-line carving techniques and styles? How did learning in another medium enhance the one you usually use?
Jeffrey: About a year after I graduated art school, I was fortunate enough to study the basics of Salish Form-line design with Master Tsimshian carver David Boxley. David was a fantastic teacher, having me draw shapes over and over again, taking time to show me the techniques that helped him become the artist he was. Now he didn’t show me everything there was to know. He simply got me on my path. The greatest lessons I learned from him were the desire to continue to grow, to push myself with each piece, and to remember where I came from and the people I represent. Learning these lessons allowed me to channel the maturity I needed to move forward as professional artist.
Austin: Your color choices are so bold – even “The Bat,” which consists of greys, black and white, makes such a stark visual impression. How do you choose your colors?
Jeffrey: Color choice can depend greatly on the character chosen. I may take color from the character that I have chosen and simply adjust the hue depending on the mood I am trying to convey. What I have always loved about Salish art is the simplicity and singular use of color. You don’t overload the eyes with color explosion, but allow it to take in the shapes and forms.
Austin: Could you walk us through your process? Where do you begin?
Jeffrey: My process begins differently every time. Inspiration could come from a movie, a TV show, comic or the purchase of an action figure. Nostalgia too can set me on this path. Once I am inspired, I immerse myself in that world via everything that I can watch, read or buy. I build collages of the character I have chosen. Then I start composition thumbnails – there could be 20, 30 sketches at this point. After I have a composition I like, I then do a full size color rough. Once I find a palette I like, I start the final piece everyone else will see.
Austin: How does your personal taste play into what you choose to portray? Do you ever find yourself going back and forth between what would make a better image for public consumption versus what images you like best as a fan?
Jeffrey: The old me use to fret over what people would like, what would wow them or get them asking questions, what would sell. After doing that for years, I took a year off and decided to get back to that kid who went to art school to begin with, to find the magic and fun in a blank piece of paper, to create art that I want to see. Now, unless I am commissioned, I make every piece with the intent of pleasing me. I am trying to get back to that purity of creation that most artists experience as children. As long as I am happy, that is the most important part, and if people like it, want to buy it, it is icing on the cake.
Austin: What is it about superheroes, sci-fi characters and those that are “more than human” that inspires you?
Jeffrey: What I love about this genre is that it allows me to take part in a universe that is not bound by rules and the laws of science as we know them. You can go to places as bright or as dark as you wish, not worrying if you will make it out alive. I love the idea that good always wins, the hero gets the girl, and that the underdog who is often overlooked by society has the potential to rise up and be a champion. What also draws me in is that even the villains are often understood in their motivation. You may not like the means in which they operate, but once you learn their story, you can see how easily one who has the gifts to be a hero can turn into the villain.
Austin: I notice that some backgrounds in your work are single colors while others have somewhat of a scene going on – especially “Call Me Snake.” How do you choose which characters get that visual context and which do not?
Jeffrey: I really don’t know that until I get working on the character – only then will I decide. A lot of times it is determined in the thumbnail stage and then when I get to the color rough, I might add a little detail to see if I was right in my original thinking. It also depends on my mood, if am I feeling like I need to add or subtract, and the best way to convey what I am trying to say. “Call me Snake” was for a B-movie show and I went back and forth with this as it was for one of my favorite movies, Escape from New York. The struggle was putting in the Twin Towers. They were key to the story; he lands on them for crying out loud. But I had some people tell me it may seem disrespectful and to play it safe by just leaving them out. I wrestled with this, but in the end, I felt like it was both true to the movie, and that it would be disrespectful to the victims and families if I had left them out as if they never existed.
Austin: “There’s us and the dead” seems to have a few stylistic choices that differ from your other work – the tiny, detailed pattern on the closest figure, for example. What made this piece different? What about it or the characters made you want to express the visuals in a way that stands out among your other work?
Jeffrey: This is me trying to make sure I do not get locked into any one style. I love creating art; I love the genre in which I work, but I also have the attention span of a gnat and need to keep myself from getting bored. I decided that I would create a “Living Dead” series, and “There’s us and the dead” is the first in that series. I am huge Walking Dead fan. Rick Grimes is my favorite character, and I wanted to portray him as the heroic cowboy that I view him as. My intent was to create something Old West with a touch of pulp art. This will be a series in which I am guided by what I think will work best and will not incorporate any native elements.
Austin: If you could only create iconic images of a single sci-fi, horror, or comic book character for the rest of your career, who would you choose and why?
Jeffrey: Such a great question. Shit, this is tough. I have so many personal favorite characters that I am finding the choice difficult. But If I look at it objectively, I suppose the easy answer would be characters like Darth Vader, Batman or Superman. But with more thought, I think I would choose Nightwing. Here you have a character who has been a hero most of his life due to murderous circumstances, taken in and raised by Bruce Wayne, partners with Batman; as a teen he takes leadership of the Teen Titans, takes up his own persona as Nightwing, and eventually becomes Batman’s heir and replacement. To me that feels like you could have plenty to work with, with each stage of his life visually different from the last.
Austin: At SPACES we like to end on a light note, so who you think would win in a bare-fist brawl: Batman’s sidekick Robin (without his utility belt) or Hellboy’s fellow B.P.R.D. agent Abe Sapien?
Jeffrey: I guess it depends on which Robin it is: Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Blake or Damian Wayne. Being trained in high levels of various martial arts gives Robin the edge on paper and some Robins are better and more vicious than others, but Abe is a very old creature and has been in situations that Robin could only have nightmares about. I go with Abe Sapien, as experience and longevity triumphs youth here.
Austin: Thank you for speaking with us, Jeffery, we really appreciate it – and your work. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
Jeffrey: Thank you for having me, it is a real blast answering these types of questions. I am just warming up, with a million ideas swirling through my head.
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