Gary Custer

Through visual exploration I make a personal connection to each piece of art. My favorite subjects are figurative or portraits, but I do draw and paint a lot of landscapes.

Q&A with Gary Custer

How would you describe your background?

All over the place! Growing up I wanted to be an illustrator. Two illustrators I always admired were Norman Rockwell and Bob Peak. Everyone knows Rockwell. Peak illustrated a lot of movie posters from the early 1960s through the 1980s, including: My Fair Lady, several of the early Star Trek movies, Apocalypse NowThe Empire Strikes BackThe Spy Who Loved Me, and Enter the Dragon to name a few.

I thought the most logical path to become an illustrator was going to college and majoring in art. I graduated from Edinboro State College in Pennsylvania (now PennWest Edinboro) in 1977 with a BFA in drawing and a minor in graphic design. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make a living as an illustrator fresh out of college, so that’s why my minor was graphic design.

After graduating, I cleaned operating rooms for a year. I got my first art/design job as a layout artist for a mail-order clothing company in Warren, Pennsylvania. I worked there for a year then got a job as an art director at an advertising agency in Erie, Pennsylvania. Four years later I went out on my own and did freelance graphic design and some small illustration projects for about a year and a half then took a job as the art director/production manager for an advertising Agency in Keene, New Hampshire. I spent five years there then went out on my own again before being hired in-house as a marketing communications specialist at one of my freelance clients. I spent 11 years there, but was “downsized” and found myself freelancing again. In 2011 I was hired by a local nonprofit as their marketing manager before being laid off at the end of 2017, and again hit the freelance path for a year before being hired as a digital marketing specialist at a local manufacturing company. After three years there, in 2022, it was time to “retire” from real jobs.

Shortly before taking the digital marketing specialist position in 2018, I decided I wanted to get back into fine art and I began drawing and painting again after nearly 40 years of being away from it… and that brings us to today.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I was always interested in art. I was a shy kid growing up and I would be content spending my time coloring. My parents said I would spend hours with my coloring books and crayons. At the first Open House in first grade, the teacher told my mother that I was the only student who colored within the lines on worksheets and art class projects. Art was relaxing, and always made me happy.

What would surprise people to learn about you?

I am a certified track and field official. I officiate New Hampshire high school track meets, NCAA track meets, and USA Track & Field track meets throughout New England. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years.

How would you describe your art to someone who has never seen it?

The majority of my art is realistic in style. I use photos that I have taken or in some instances photos that have been provided by my clients. I try to capture and interpret a particular moment in time. Through visual exploration I make a personal connection to each piece of art. My favorite subjects are figurative or portraits, but I do draw and paint a lot of landscapes.

What achievements in the area of art are you proudest of?

A couple achievements that stand out for me are: 1) Getting my watercolor, “Harrisville Mill Pond” accepted into Exhibit New England ’23 in Gloucester, MA; and 2) Completing my “Portrait Project” where I completed 30 watercolor portraits in 30 days… reference photos were submitted and the 4” x 6” portraits were done in watercolor.

How would you describe your art process?

I almost exclusively work from photo references, either my own or ones supplied. Most of the time I use the grid method. I size and crop the photo in Photoshop, and add a grid layer. Since I generally work small, mostly 8” x 10” of smaller, I use a 1” grid but depending on the detail I may use a 1/2” grid. I’ll grid whatever substrate I’m using and sketch the subject mater onto the substrate… then away I go. I bounce around between watercolor, graphite, oils, and acrylics. I’m still trying to figure out whether to concentrate on on, or mix it up. I tend to like the options, and use whichever one I feel the artwork needs.

What is your usual studio/working day like?

I really don’t have a typical day. Being semi-retired I do my art whenever the mood strikes me. Sometimes I’ll spend hours a day working on something, and other days I’ll either do nothing or only spend 5 or 10 minutes working on something. A lot of the time, I’ll be watching TV at the same time I’m creating.

What is the most delightful part of your life outside of work?

Spending time with my family, playing pickle ball (a lot), and in the warmer weather I enjoy riding my bike.