We’re going to give today’s featured artist a big PopLurker AAAOOOOOOWWWW because it’s our buddy Al Santiago of Chrome Gear Illustration! I met Al the first time at Ronin-Expo 2018 and buying his prints has become a convention favorite of mine when our paths cross. Literally, I have an entire beam/pillar in my house devoted to his work.
Robot fans stick together, right?
Would you please introduce yourself for PopLurker readers? What is your name, where do you live, and what sort of art do you produce?
Hi! My name is Al. Most people on social media and on the convention circuit know me as “Chrome Gear” or “Chrome Gear Illustration”. I’m currently living (and have my small studio in) Laguna Niguel, Orange County.
I mainly produce mechanical illustrations. Either fan art, some original artwork with my design in it, or something weird and silly. Designing mecha has always been my passion. I didn’t know it back then, as I’d never been exposed much when I was a kid. After the internet got bigger and the designs got more complex, I’ve been slowly starting to get into it. There’s just something that excites me when I see a good and complex mecha illustration, or maybe it’s the small details and the complexity of it coming together.
My main mediums are pen and ink. I do use digital once in a while, but I never find it to be my main tools making an art. Just my opinion; digital art, no matter how nice and convenient it is, just cannot compare from traditional pen and ink (especially brush pens).
I feel a very raw connection to it. I used to do all digital art. It’s mind-blowing what digital art can do, specially some unique brushes and the amount of details I can make with it. In the end it just didn’t satisfy me, so I switch back to traditional art. I still make digital art, mainly to color my black and white ink drawings or when I’m adding a little font in the illustration.
What are some of your favorite things? Like, anything, really. Tell us about yourself!
I love mecha related stuff. It’s a huge turn-on for me! I already broke up a few relationships just because that person didn’t like mechas. I do love to sketch, but it has to be mecha related. Otherwise I’ll feel bored doing it.
I love playing video games when I’m taking a break from sketching and going to conventions. At the moment, I’m paying more attention to my Nintendo Switch. I just love the idea of taking it with me anywhere, especially when I’m going out of town for a convention, or just staying in at Starbucks to do some work.
I’m not a foodie, but I’m terribly addicted to takoyaki. It’s just so hard to pass it up. I do love ramen so much, but I need to watch out for my health
When did you know that a lifetime of art was in your inevitable future? Is this a hobby or a career? How do you make time for the things that you love?
I’ve been sketching as long as I can remember. I started to appreciate sketching mecha in high school. My friend and I would always hangout during lunchtime and talk mechas the whole time. It was awesome. He’d give me all these ideas and I would draw it for him. We are planning to make a book together, but being an adult gets in the way (laughing).
It started as a hobby, as I have a busy day job schedule in the healthcare industry, which usual takes up my whole day. After work, my usual routine is to have a quick and intense workout, followed by a meal and shower. After all that is done, I sit down on my drawing space, fire up my mp3 player and let my creative side take over. Although some people can’t believe I have time and energy when I told them my schedule. I just tell them that’s how much I love sketching and designing mechas. I do take a break from sketching sometimes to avoid burnout. Either I’m playing video games, catching up on animes (mecha genre, of course), updating my website/ blog, or uploading some content on my YouTube channel.
When did you decide to make the leap into Pop Culture art? What was the show or movie that really inspired that for you?
I never really though I’m doing Pop Culture Art. When I just started college (Riverside Community College to be exact), I saw Yoji Shinkawa’s art work of Metal Gear Ray. I just fell in love and started copying his style. Then I saw his work on Zone of the Enders and fell in love with his work even more. That’s when I started getting serious on my artwork. I focused on honing my skill for years and I just love the process. People says it looks difficult, but I make it look easy because I enjoy it and I guess I just have a passion for it.
As for the movie, it was a long time ago. The first movie I saw with mecha in it was Michael Jackson’s Moon Walker on VHS. There was this last part of the movie were Michael turns into a mech and just bombarded the crap out of the bad guys. Then he transformed into a jet and shoots a huge laser in the end. I thought that scene was so, so awesome. I replayed that scene more than a few times until I wore out the VCR and tape from rewinding and replaying. It’s like how people sometimes replay a scene in a movie where there is sex scene involved. For me that was my first sex/porn scene as a kid! I showed it to my childhood friends and they think I’m a little…well…slow or something. But I’m laughing internally!
Eventually, I started going to conventions (my first being Ronin-Expo 2017) and selling stuff in artist alley. I can’t believe I sold so much in my first convention. As time goes by, I’ve met more people with similar interests including PopLurker’s Loryn Stone, who’s been really awesome to give me a chance to do this interview. I’m doing this as a side hustle for now, but one of these days I’ll do this full time and join the leagues!!
What would you say are your biggest fandoms? The ones you enjoy most or consider yourself part of?
My Biggest fandoms?!?! I’ve just started getting myself out there, so I’m not really sure if I personally have any fans yet. I do have a few followers who genuinely enjoy my work style. I’ve already talked a bunch about mecha. I do organize a “Drink and Draw OC” meetup group, usually run by my awesome fellow artist friends in Irvine.
That’s pretty much it as I’m usually a lone wolf, not by a choice. I’m just really busy as I have all these design ideas running around my head. I just have to draw them otherwise I’ll go crazy! Facebook and Instagram help, but the algorithms there makes it really hard to get my work exposed.
What are some fandoms or hobbies that your own fans wouldn’t expect? Something that never makes an appearance in your art?
I do love Legos, especially the technique/Bionicle sets. I just enjoy buying multiple sets and just crafting entirely new designs. I do also enjoy watching different kinds of show from time to time like TV series, movies, anime, animation, etc.; I do not have any specifics. I just enjoy binge watching either just laying down or while sketching. Though I do not have any interest sketching them. It just doesn’t give me that satisfaction really like I’m sketching or designing mecha… unless I’m going to turn them into a mecha!
Where do you currently sell your pieces? Are you in the convention scene? How far do you travel to build your platform?
I sell my art piece mostly at conventions, as I get to interact with buyers. I love to talk with them about robot and mechas, and how stupid humans are! So far, I mostly do conventions in the LA area. I’ll be expanding soon like in San Francisco and San Diego, as I’m refreshing my inventory with new art style.
I just started my online store but so far, it’s been a pain in the ass to set up. There are different settings in every webstore, and I like my settings to be simple and straight-forward. I do tell people to DM and buy directly from me, cutting the middle man. I do sell some of my prints in metal canvas at Displate.com including my old work.
Is there anything new in the pipeline for you? Do you have any upcoming projects or secrets you want to share with us here at PopLurker?
I always have something new in my lineup. There’s just so many mecha and robots to draw. Being realistic, I don’t think I have a lifetime to draw them all, unless I’m doing this full time. Even if do get to draw them all, I’ll just design my own mecha. I do encourage people to follow me on social media, specially Instagram, to see my latest projects and time lapse videos.
At the time of this interview, I’m currently working on sketching and re-designing all the Metal Gears individually from the different Metal Gear Series. After I’m done with all of them, I’ll put them all in one canvas/ illustration. Other than that, I have so much in my list and a few requests. I’m also working on some mecha commission. In the future, I wanted to publish my artbook with all my creations in it. I’m working on my first volume which includes my work from previous work in it.
Do you have any social media or an online store? How can our readers find you and your awesome work? Plug yourself, your projects, and give me all your links!
I’m currently more active in Instagram. My YouTube channel is linked over there as well.
My website is “chromegearillustration.com” which I tried to keep it updated as possible as I can!
I also have my artwork available in metal canvas at Displate.com Artist: Al Santiago | metal posters – Displate.
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