Artist Spotlight: Travis "Sketch Junky" Elliot Catches the Essence of Pokemon
One of the greatest things about gaming — or any geek activity — is how it can inspire fans to creativity. All over the world, fans of video games, anime, comic books, sci-fi, and more are creating beautiful and amazing things around the properties they're most passionate about.
Recently, we came across one such creative on Reddit, where he'd posted several of his drawings under the name Sketch Junky. Most were Pokemon related, which is always going to catch our attention.
But there were also Legend of Zelda and Dragon Ball Z pieces as well, and all were done using markers and pens — nothing digital.
They were so well done that our editor, who first saw them, messaged me with the link just so I could see how fantastic they were. It only took us a few minutes of conversation to know we'd like to talk to the artist about highlighting his work on the site.
Who is Sketch Junky?
As it turned out, the artist going by Sketch Junky was a 30-year-old in Kentucky by the name of Travis Elliot. When I spoke to him, he told me he'd been drawing since he was a kid, having started by replicating Nintendo covers, such as the Ninja Turtles, as well as various comics. Both Marvel and DC were represented as he noted he'd replicate Spider-Man, Venom, and Batman, among others.
I spoke with Travis for a while about his art and inspirations and learned quite a bit. Of course, the interview was pretty free-form so this won't be a dry, word-for-word recount. That said, I hope you find it as interesting as I found speaking with him to be.
Getting Started and Inspiration
Just about every interview with a creative starts out with the interviewer asking them how they got started, who and what their inspirations were, and what kinds of things they hope to achieve. It's rote, but you have to start somewhere.
As a kid, I drew mostly for fun. I drew what I enjoyed. I wanted to be an artist, but I decided not to attend art school.
This decision wasn't made lightly. There are some definite benefits to obtaining formal schooling when it comes to art, but there are also some serious downsides, such as the cost, which in addition to what students pay just to attend college, is compounded by the number of materials and lab fees art students are required to dish out.
That isn't to say Travis thinks formal training is a bad idea for everyone, just that it wasn't for him.
One of the things Travis noted that influenced his decision was discovering art forums when he was about 19 or 20. There, budding artists shared their progress, showing that those who are willing to put in the work can do amazing things, even without formal education.
This thought process was solidified when he had a chance to peek at one of the sketchbooks owned by Dave Rapoza, an artist that Travis considers to be a major influence on his own work. Just seeing the book inspired him to apply himself, knowing that if he did, he'd do well.
You may notice, scrolling through this piece, that Travis really seems to like drawing Pokemon. Of course, he's also shared pieces inspired by other games and anime, such as The Legend of Zelda and Dragon Ball Z.
Since most of these properties have both video game and anime ties, I asked him which was his bigger influence.
As it turns out, while he does love video games, the anime aesthetic was the bigger influence here. But he didn't just want to copy what the artists were already doing. He wanted to re-imagine them in a more realistic illustration style.
We discussed the fact that this isn't the first time artists have made a run at designing "realistic" Pokemon or other anime characters. He agreed, he wasn't the first but noted that the others just didn't feel right to him.
The realistic versions I've seen neever really struck a cord. They were too literal — like Venosaur being an actual dinosaur.
This same thought process is applied to Dragon Ball characters. Even in his own work, Dragon Ball characters have been a challenge when it comes to the balance between achieving a realistic look and keeping the overall essence of the characters.
In the case of Dragon Ball, Travis notes that he's done over 20 different characters and only a few of them have come out the way he wants. One thing that he's learned with these attempts is that the hair is a big factor.
You can't be literal with the hair. You have to make concessions. Translating anime is a delicate balance.
The Joys and Pitfalls of 2D Animation
A lot of my conversation with Travis revolved around the art style in anime and animation styles that really struck a cord with him. As hit turns out, he has a lot of love for some of the older stuff; old 2D Disney movies are a huge influence. On the other hand, the newer 3D stuff doesn't work as well for him visually.
He says a similar thing about the Dragon Ball franchise when comparing the latest series to the older ones.
Dragon Ball Super feels flat. The original Dragon Ball and DBZ are more alive and energetic.
He added that in general, he wishes animators would mix it up more and offer more variety.
Of course, he doesn't dislike everything new. He has high praise for Your Name, an anime movie that came out two years ago. He felt the movie — which is the highest-grossing anime film of all time worldwide — demonstrated that a lot can be done with 2D that just hasn't been yet.
All Those Games
Of course, not all of his influences are anime — or games that happen to tie into anime. Travis actually has a short list of games that have had some influence on his work, including what he considers the "Golden Age" of Final Fantasy games — specifically Final Fantasy VII through Final Fantasy X. He noted that he really latched onto the visual art style of that period, noting that you just don't see as much of it now thanks to developers looking to make everything as realistic as possible.
Another Square Enix series he notes a fondness for is the Kingdom Hearts series. This is also because it's artistically unique among video games.
The Kingdom Hearts story doesn't hurt either. And it kept him coming back time an again to play Kingdom Hearts II, Chain of Memories, and Birth by Sleep. And of course, he even picked up Kingdom Hearts 3. Like a true fan, the game was in his hands at midnight when it released.
He did note a few concerns he had with KHIII, though, pointing to a lack of Final Fantasy characters and minimal post-game content. He also feels it lost some of its flair.
Square Enix doesn't have the same spark it used to.
And then there's his first love, old-school Nintendo games. Aside from featuring the covers he used to spend his time re-imagining, these games also taught him a very important lesson when it comes to gaming.
Video games don't have to be difficult to be fun.
East Meets West
When talking about Travis' influences, we did end up meandering a bit.
While anime and Eastern art styles are a major influence, he also looks to a few Western influences as well, particularly comic books artists and older Disney movies. He points to The Lion King as his first influential film, partially because of how the storytelling captured his imagination.
Then, of course, there are the comic books, which he discussed in relation to Japanese manga. He didn't list any big ones but did note that he kept some around.
However, when it came to art, he still prefers the Japanese styles, noting their more fantastic nature.
Western style comics and animation involve making tropes more realistic, while the Eastern style is about having more fun and not taking itself too seriously. It's like they're saying 'How can we make cool interesting?'
Supporting Himself While He Learns
To achieve his goal of becoming an artist, Travis obviously had to have some way to support himself. Eventually, he took on working in security, which allows him to put time into his art.
Of course, as he's grown as an artist, he also takes on the occasional commission and freelance work. Eventually, he does hope to make a living based on his art alone.
Thinking About the Future
Travis goes on to talk about what he'd like to do with his art in the future, discussing the struggle many artists have with deciding whether they want to be employed by companies, doing what they're told, or if they'd rather just do what they want to do and risk a less steady income.
While he's thinking about that, he is using his time to learn what of his work really resonates with people. He feels that his use of traditional media, particularly markers and ink, are why people gravitate to what he does.
It offers them more variety from all the digital and CGI works we've seen over the last several years.
That said, he is capable of working in more modern mediums, he just prefers not to. Additionally, Travis did add that he has plans to try his hand at some other franchises in the future, including Full Metal Alchemist, Deathnote, and Samurai X.
Pokemon: Sword and Shield, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu
Pokemon: Sword and Shield
When asked about the new game, he said that he likes that the environments seem more immersive, but that he's concerned by the title. He feels the battle theme seems to indicate the developers plan on taking the game in directions that could alienate older players.
When asked which of the three starters he had his eye on, the answer was quick and to the point:
One of the fun reactions Travis has gotten to his Pokemon art is that some people have actually asked him if he worked on the designs in the upcoming Pokemon movie. While he hasn't, he is pretty happy with the comparison.
He also noted that he's generally pleased with the direction the artists did take when creating the "real world" version of the Pokemon. He's happy you can tell who each of the characters are and adds that there would have been a real downside to making them too realistic.
If you're making Pokemon real, there's gonna be nightmare fuel. Also, if Pokemon were real, we'd live in a very dangerous world.
He added that he really wants to see how they handle Gengar. In fact, that's why he did his own version.
Where to Find Sketch Junky
If you're interested in checking out more of Travis' work or perhaps asking him about a commission or two, here's what you need to know:
We want to thanks Travis for taking the time to speak with us. If you know of other great artists that should be highlighted, let us know in the comments below.