August 2019 cover artist: Cody Knepper, a Where’s Waldo-inspired illustrator

interview by Rosalie Murphy

Cody Knepper is a Kent-based illustrator and an art teacher at Stanton Middle School. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Tell me about your work.

My background is in illustration and cartooning. As I’ve gotten better and learned the tools of the trade, it’s evolved into these Martin Handford-inspired isometric drawings that take hundreds and hundreds of hours to do. In the end they turn into these image searches, like an I Spy sort of thing. I like to hide a lot of jokes, humor is a big part of my background, so it’s riddled with hundreds and hundreds of jokes, each piece. Planning takes a very long time, that’s the most important step, I spend around 100 hours planning out the whole project, loosely sketching everything, doing research, making sure my jokes are funny and not tasteless — so I do all that and then I start to do the final drawing process, clean everything up. 

What inspired you to do this type of illustration?

I have a few really big art inspirations. The first is Martin Handford, he created Where’s Waldo, and I remember being a little kid and looking at those books and thinking, “this is the most amazing thing ever,” just getting lost in the image. I like providing the viewer with that much detail, that they can kind of get lost and laugh. My big goal is to make people smile. Bill Watterson, an Ohio native artist who created Calvin and Hobbes, is like the funniest guy there’s ever been. Reading his comics made me see that art could bring this kind of joyful, happy element, just make you forget about your worries for a little bit.

What is your process?

It’s a traditional art-digital art hybrid. Everything starts in a sketchbook, on a big old piece of paper, and I sketch out my game plan, a very loose sketch that covers the whole thing. I take a photo of it with a camera, I put it into Photoshop, and I clean up all the lines and figure out where I’m going. At that point I can do two things. I can color it in Photoshop, which I don’t think looks as good. What I have been doing recently, and what I think I’m going to continue doing, is, I print out the poster, color it with watercolors and colored pencils and copic markers, and then I re-scan it into the computer, clean up all the line work, clean up all the colors and make sure they’re not too grainy, and then I have the final print. It’s a back-and-forth process and it takes a lot of time.

What do you do for work?

I’m a middle-school art teacher in Kent. The kids always like my stuff. They’re always critiquing me and giving me jokes, and I always try to credit them on the back… I did one that was a hodgepodge of pop culture underwater stuff. A kid said, “what if you had Ursula from The Little Mermaid crushing the Yellow Submarine with her tentacles?” I was like, “That’s funny.” Or there was another one, a blobfish crying into a vanity mirror, which is kind of dark, but middle-school kids can be like that. They’re incredibly helpful. They’re awesome. 

What do you want to do next? 

My next big goal — and I’ve planned out the whole thing, it’s going to be 40 pages — I’m creating my own image-search book, where you have to find hidden images in every page, similar to Where’s Waldo or I Spy, but I’m hoping bigger and with a lot more going on. People have definitely set the bar in the past, but I’m going to do my best to match it. Each page has a theme. I’m trying to get weird with it… I’m doing an alien rave; I’m going to do a shipwreck on a deserted island but mash that with New York City fashion week. I like to mash up unlike ideas. I always have a sketchbook with me and I’m always drawing or writing down something. The brainstorming process, coming up with all the ideas, takes a long time, and I really try to edit and critique and only put in the best stuff. 

What do you like about Kent? 

I was fortunate once I graduated, I got a job in Hudson, so I was able to stay in the Kent area and I was able to put down roots, meet some people and find some friends. At the time I didn’t really have a plan, I didn’t know where I was going to end up, I didn’t know if my friends were going to be around, but it all worked out. Thankfully the community has been so gracious to me, and I got my job in Kent and it’s been peachy since then. I love drawing, I’m excited to see what that career can turn into, but teaching is my passion and I don’t think I could ever stop doing it.

Follow Cody Knepper on Instagram at @the_very_average_artist.

Rosalie Murphy is Editor-in-Chief of The Devil Strip.