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Artist Cory Smith: Penciling Portrait Perfection!

Cory Smith is conquering the comic con scene armed with skill, style, charisma and a #2 pencil. It was while attending my very first Walker Stalker Con (WSC) last year in New Jersey that Cory’s bold artwork display caught my attention. I had not previously been drawn to portrait artwork yet I was astonished by his realistic renditions of my favorite comic heroes. Cory enthusiastically welcomed me into his domain for a closer look.

Cory Smith, Tampa Bay Comic Con 2017
Cory Smith putting his skills to work at Tampa Bay Comic Con 2017. Credit: Cory Smith

As I perused his portfolio, Cory explained a bit about himself and his work. I gotta tell you, he does not hold back! Cory unapologetically, and often humorously, speaks his truth. He is not simply selling artwork, he is forming bonds. While I had no intention of purchasing artwork that day, I could not resist leaving without Cory’s Wonder Woman. The piece portrayed strength and beauty in perfect harmony, she was the first female I’ve ever taken home.

Cory Smith,Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot
Gal Gadot signing Wonder Woman artwork by Cory Smith. Credit: Cory Smith

Since our first meeting at WSC NJ, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Cory in action at several conventions. He is often surrounded by numerous fans patiently waiting to grab their own favorite fandom artwork. It is impressive to watch him animatedly engage his audience as he carefully customizes pieces on site. A smile on his face, a gleam in his eye, and an often snarky demeanor, Cory clearly loves life.

Cory Smith, Fan Fest Chicago 2017
Cory Smith engages fans at Fan Fest Chicago 2017. Credit: Linda Marie

It was shortly after crossing paths with Cory during Fan Fest Chicago earlier this year that I was accepted onto the Fan Fest News writing team. Most already know it is my mission to highlight the tremendous artistic talent I find at comic conventions and I was delighted that Cory agreed to part of my endeavors. Having followed his career over the past year, I obviously knew a bit about what made Cory tick. The biggest challenge was pinning him down for an official interview to dig a little deeper. Thankfully we were able to make that happen over the phone. It was an enlightening conversation, to say the least… some of which I can even share. 😉

Linda: How did your career as an artist begin?

Cory: Basically my grandmother raised me and I spent a lot of time alone. I taught myself to draw, I’m not one of those people that just could draw. I can’t, I didn’t, I didn’t know how. It was just a trial and error thing. To make a long story short… I was a house painter with my father, I did a work program for school and that is what I did for a living. Then I started working for my brother’s painting company and then I started doing conventions. I started doing the conventions with my friend Scott in San Diego. That was actually when I was sculpting and I would put my statues on his table and people would buy them and that’s kinda how I started in San Diego. Once I started doing these conventions I actually found out that people wanted to buy my art and I could actually make a living. I’ve been doing the convention thing for four years now and it’s my only job, my only income.

Cory Smith, Michonne, Danai Gurari, Rick Grimes, Andrew Lincoln, Zombie, Greg Nicotero
Cory Smith getting his artwork signed by Walking Dead celebrity guests. Denai Gurari, Andrew Lincoln, Greg Nicotero. Credit: Cory Smith

I suppose deep down inside I always wanted to be an artist but I didn’t know how to go about doing it because I didn’t go to college. I’ve been working since I’m 14 years old, I really didn’t even know what you could do with art. I would paint the occasional mural on my friend’s wall and I would draw the stuff because I needed to.

I dunno if it’s the other artists, but with me, it’s like if I didn’t do something artistic-wise, like sculpt a head or hands or draw something or create something, for lack of a better term, I’d feel like I didn’t get anything done. Like my whole day was pointless.

So yeah, once I found out that people wanted to buy my art and I could do this for a living  I told my brother Scott… “I’m not interested in doing this anymore [house painting]”.

There was a venue for artists and that seems to be these comic conventions. They kinda came outta nowhere. That’s what’s happening now, artists are coming out of the woodwork to come and do these conventions. That’s a good and a bad thing. I’ve established a fan base, I’ve been doing San Diego for 17 years, back when I was selling my statues. Once they started having other conventions around, I just started signing up. Baltimore, Emerald City, and so I’ve done and still do the largest conventions in the United States. My point is, if you’re just starting out now, you’re coming into a room filled with people who have been doing this for a long time.

Linda: When I walk into a convention, your artwork very is noticeable. Do you find it becoming more difficult to stand out?

Cory: That is the problem. Because I learned to draw from comic books, I mean I would just try and try and try to draw but I didn’t know how. I vividly remember laying on my grandmother’s bed and just around the bed was just crumpled up pieces of paper. My father, when I first started to ‘get it’, accused me of tracing. He said, “You’re never gonna get any better if you trace”.  I was like, “I didn’t trace it”.  And he literally held it over the drawing off the cereal box. Anything I could find that was kind of ‘comic-y’ is what I could draw. I did not know how to draw people, that came much later with just sheer trial and error. My whole youth was comics. Everything I would draw had a comic motif and in my early 20s, I started trying to do portraiture.

Cory Smith, Superman, Henry Cavill
Henry Cavill as Superman artwork by Cory Smith. Credit: Cory Smith

Back in San Diego, I didn’t notice anyone else doing portraiture. My friends ridiculed me because my art is just like, big heads. To me, I don’t need the whole body. Because if you did draw The Hulk on my size paper, his head would be like an inch, there’s no detail in that and then I would be doing the same thing that everybody else does. So, when I first started this, I was ridiculed by a lot of my artist friends. But, if you look around, these are not comic cons anymore, they’re pop culture shows. Because of the movies and TV shows, they’re driving these conventions. People are coming out of their house to venture forth and check out these comic cons. It’s evolved into a completely different thing. These conventions are 75% to 80% artists. To be noticed you have to have something that is completely different than everybody else’s. I respect the people that come to my table because you can buy anybody’s art, but you chose mine. I ask them how they choose… Is it the image? Is it the paper? I want the people to come to my table.

Linda: How did go about determining the size of your artwork. It is big.

Cory: It is big. I know a bunch of artists and I can’t really speak for everyone but we as people are wired differently than everybody else. When they talk about the left and right brain, that is an actual fact. I have a hard time focusing. I have the patience for my children and my art and that’s it. I notice a lot of other artist’s sketchbooks… it is always on small art paper and I believe what the problem is, they draw small so they can finish it and get on to the next one because they can’t stay focused to draw large. I really just love drawing highly detailed stuff, it takes a lot of time and what works for me is that drawing larger I feel makes me stay focused for whatever reason. I can spend hours drawing King Kong’s nose. Some of these things take like 70 hours, 80 hours.

Linda: I was going to ask you long it takes to complete a piece. How many new pieces do you create in a year?

Cory: That’s usually question three that I get at these conventions. I get questions like… Are you the artist? Did you draw all these? How long do they take? Anything good takes time. Do you have any Daredevil? Do you have any Punisher? Do you have any this [or that or whatever]? Because these take so long to create so I don’t have the newest character on my table because I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I average between 12 and 17 pieces a year. The problem is, everybody wants something different. No matter what I’ve got, they want something else. I could fill the room with drawings and not have everything everybody wants. It’s crazy. I’ve actually had to retire pieces because I just don’t have enough room on the table or the wall.

Cory Smith, Freddy Kruegar, Robert Englund
Robert Englund signs Freddy Krueger artwork by Cory Smith. Credit: Cory Smith

Linda: Is time your biggest challenge when it comes to creating?

Cory: Life gets in the way of life and that’s one of the problems with creating and doing artwork. Real artists actually have to sit down and do it… time is the most important thing for everybody. I mean if I drew small, I could have drawings like crazy. The problem is, when you draw large, you’ve got all that detail right there and you can shrink it to make smaller prints but, when you draw small and blow it up, there’s no detail. So there’s that. I always said if I could give up two things in life, I’d give up sleeping and eating. I could be doing so much more art. (laughs)

Linda: Aside from San Diego, you’ve been on the con circuit for four years. It sounds like you still enjoy it.

Cory: Oh I am! This is the cool thing about these conventions, people who come to these conventions, like myself, love comics and they love toys and they love the artwork and they love the celebrities. This is what everyone talks about being a geek is. I didn’t have hardly any friends, I was really very quiet, I was very shy and I just sat around and drew, by myself. Like all the time. When you come to these conventions, we all like the same things, everybody’s in a good mood. I’m selling you your favorite heroes. So there’s automatically a vibe in these conventions and it is fun for me. This isn’t work for me, I couldn’t be happier. I love my life, I draw all day. I draw about 6 hours an average per day. I appreciate the people, I put out a good product and I love these shows.

Cory Smith, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles artwork by Cory Smith. Credit: Cory Smith

Linda: What is your favorite?

Cory: I have a huge passion for superheroes. Basically, everything from me is all from comics, and I love movies. This is my life. This is what I eat, breathe and sleep. My favorite characters are Silver Surfer and The Flash, Batman, and Sub-Mariner, those are my four main guys. My art teacher hated my art. I used to get terrible grades in art because I would draw everything [that] had a comic book feel to it because that’s how I learned how to draw. It just is a style that I acquired because I don’t know any better. I didn’t go to college,  I draw with a #2 pencil because it’s all I had as a kid.

Cory Smith, The Flash, Grant Gustin
Grant Gustin as The Flash artwork by Cory Smith – original to colored. Credit: Cory Smith

On how his style began.

Cory: The first time I debuted my art was 2008 but I only had Christian Bale and Heath Ledger ’cause The Dark Knight was coming out so I only had those two images. I had the same size you see now, 18 X 24 but I also had a smaller size, 8 1/2 X 11. People were buying 4, 5, 6, 10 of the small sizes and 6, 7, 8 of the large sizes and I didn’t even know people liked my art! I had no idea. I would just draw the stuff, hang it up on the wall, people would walk by… “Oh, that’s really cool.” What triggered the whole thing (colorization) is I was sitting there coloring up a Heath Ledger Joker when a woman walked up and said, “How much is that?” I said, “I’m doing this for the art auction so I really don’t know what it’s going to go for”. I had no idea. She said, “Well, how much for just doing the Joker’s eyes?” And I said I would do it for free. And (suddenly) I couldn’t take people’s money fast enough. It was insane!

All my art is original, all the colored penciling. But that’s where it started from, it started from just doing eyes. And then, I found a better paper that allows me to do that with colored pencil. The whole thing just kinda turned left on me, it’s great! It’s so cool that you get what you want instead of me just offering a print. There’s no two alike. I’ve always been about original art and now that I do these conventions and I can actually provide original art for everybody.

This is a great time in my life, I couldn’t be happier. I’ve met so many great people. Everybody that buys from me, we become friends.

Cory Smith, Boston Comic Con 2017
Cory Smith engages fans at Boston Comic Con. Credit: Linda Marie

Linda: How did the celebrity signings come about?

Cory: My ’66 Batman set is all signed by the celebrities. So that’s where that started. The very first portrait I ever drew was Adam West. I’m a huge Batman fan. I grew up, every Wednesday and Thursday night in front of that TV watching 1966. I’ve been a fan of Batman forever, like huge. I always remember the one quote he says when commissioner Gordon is like, “You’re three hours early Batman.” [Batman’s response] “Better three hours early than a minute late.” That’s the way I’ve always lived my life. I don’t like people who waste my time. But meeting the celebrities was always a huge part even when I was younger. We would go and I met Adam West, I met Burt Ward, Caesar Romero… my Jokers [and] Riddlers signed. All these are signed so as soon as I started doing these portraits and going to these conventions, a lot of them were just at these conventions. I met Aaron Eckhart who played Two-Face in The Dark Knight and got his autograph. I got up on the stage at San Diego Comic Con and met Tom Hiddleston.

Cory Smith, Jason Momoa
Cory Smith with Jason Momoa. Credit: Cory Smith

Linda: Are all your signed pieces up for sale or are they just for you?

Cory: Well my ’66 Batman’s mine. You don’t have enough money to buy these. When people are like, What’s not for sale?… they are not for sale. Everything else has a price on it. Stan Lee has a picture of my Hulk. The close-up face that’s in Stan Lee’s house hanging, I’ve got a photo of that. Jason Momoa, Khal Drogo, actually requested one of the prints and they [Khal Drogo and Khaleesi] were sold as a set and so he gave Emilia Clarke the Khaleesi. I gave Stephen Amell the artist proof for Arrow so he’s got that hangin’ up in his hall. That’s kinda cool.

Cory Smith, Khal Drogo, Jason Momoa, Khaleesi, Emilia Clarke
Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo and Emilia Clarke as Khaleesi artwork by Cory Smith. Credit: Linda Marie

Linda:  Is there anything more you want people to know about you and/or your artwork?

Cory: I need to mention my very good friend Diosdado “Dodie” Mondero…he’s the main reason I can do these shows. Because my art is so large, there are no flat bed scanners anywhere in my area, so I have Dodie Photograph them, clean em up and add most of the backgrounds. Did I happen to mention he is, in my opinion, probably the finest artist I have ever met! There isn’t anything that men can’t do art wise as well as being a professional photographer. We met like 25 years ago at a Toys R Us store, we both collect toys and crap! He’s a great husband, father and friend….Super great and humble guy!

I’m a pretty open guy, I don’t hold too many secrets. I’m very passionate about what I do. I try to do the very best I can. Every now and then I’ll bring somebody in for an extra pair of eyes but for the most part, I’m an open book. I always encourage people to draw. How bad do you want it? This is what I do for a living. I love it.

Cory Smith, Arrow, Stephen Amell
Stephen Amell as Arrow artwork by Cory Smith. Credit: Cory Smith

On connecting with fans

Cory: I never keep my fans waiting. Even if I’ve got only one guy that shows up to see me, he came here to see me and I’m not gonna make him wait. It’s why I give away two originals every year. It all goes back to, you chose my art. Now you could choose any art out there but you came and bought mine, I appreciate that and because I can make a living out of doing these conventions, I decided to give something back. Most people can’t afford originals [artwork], I’m sure they would like that, I know I would like that. And they just can’t afford them so I decided at two different shows, I don’t tell anyone what show it is… they just happen to be the right person at the right time, say the right thing and as you hand me $25, I hand you a $5000 original, or whatever. It’s whatever you’re buying is what you get.

Cory Smith, Linda Marie, Boston Comic Con 2017 AB
Cory Smith and Linda Marie at Boston Comic Con. Credit: Linda Marie

Thank You Cory!

As always, I feel blessed to know talented artists like Cory Smith and look forward to checking out his latest projects. For those enticed to purchase some of his stunning portraits, be sure to stop by his next comic convention appearance. Sure, he has social media but you will not be able to purchase his work there or anywhere else online. It is his belief that attending a comic convention is part of the overall experience and he would much prefer to see his beloved customers in person. Thankfully Cory attends events throughout the year across the United States. Follow him online for news regarding upcoming convention appearances and to see all his latest artwork. DeviantArt: cjoefishsculpt Facebook: corysmithart Instagram: @corysmithart

Thank you again to the Fan Fest organization and Walker Stalker Con for providing the fans with such incredible talent. I wish Cory continued success in all future endeavors and I can’t wait to see him again real soon!

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