Finding something new every time: Scott McBee’s journey from eager beginner to accomplished professional



When you look at Scott McBee’s work, you can’t help but smile. His pieces are vibrant and colorful, evoking the sunny shores of exotic locales or bustling city streets. His talent extends beyond the surface of his drawings, though. With humorous touches and a thoughtul voice, Scott crafts engaging stories that encourage the viewer to take a second look. Learn how this advertising pro cut his teeth.

How did you get started as an artist? What drew you to advertising work in particular?
I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. I became a professional artist when I landed in NYC in the summer of 1989. I kept looking at other peoples artwork in those work books we had back then. My thought at the time was that this must be a great career, always drawing. Creating something new every day and getting paid for it. So I set my course to become a commercial artist.

What are your favorite subjects?
I loved drawing people and animals the most. When started out I was not very strong at either I had to make the commitment to get better and wean myself off of reference material. To pull the image from my head.

Where do you draw inspiration?
I draw my inspiration from just walking out the door everyday. I love to watch people, their hair cuts, the way they dress, how their clothes fold when they sit. I really enjoy going to the movies and watching how things are filmed, studying camera angles and lighting. Use of color and composition are also inspiring as well. Those two elements always stop me in my tracks.

What special interests do you feel passionate about and why?
One of my favorite passions is maritime architecture. I spend a lot of time studying and collecting old ocean liner and steam yacht plans. I paint them as well, inspired by the professional model makers of the early 1900’s who were in charge of executing large scale models for the owners of the shipping lines. I’ve always been fascinated with the subject matter of transatlantic ocean travel since childhood. It’s way of life and traveling that no longer exist in our time.

Your style is extremely versatile. How has that become your strength?
I became very versatile because I had no particular style when I started out. I was frustrated for a long time with the fact that I did not have a style that people would recognize as “Scott McBee’s”. I was always asked to copy a style or studying another artist technique and line work. Over time this allowed me to secure more projects. I became very good at assimilating other artists when they were not available for the job at hand. Being versitile became one of my strongest assets and it gave me the confidence to be able to execute whatever was needed. Getting there took along time and a lot of patience. I also tried to remember to have fun with whatever I was working on.

Though you have such a diverse style set, how did you settle on your signature look?
My signature style kind of blossomed over a long period of time. I did not try to apply this particular style to storyboarding or anything commercial when I began. I was just really enjoying myself and the tools I was using, a Sumi brush pen and Photoshop. It is a style I worked on at home in my private time and always had fun creating with. It just felt right; like an extension of myself.

Storyboarding and other advertising based work, has trained you to produce quickly. How has the need for speed and volume in this industry influenced your work and skill set?
I would say that need for speed has given me confidence knowing that I can always get the job done. Tight deadlines force you to work much quicker, learn where to make the short cuts and how to budget your time.

When you are working with an art director, how do you ensure the experience is positive?
To start I would say to go into the project with a good attitude. Listen and learn to ask questions. If your not sure about direction, ask. If you don’t you’re wasting your time and the AD’s. There have been times when I have had to work with difficult AD’s. Those are a challenge to any artist. My experiences over the years has taught me to keep a professional attitude even when the AD does not. You always come out feeling better about yourself at the end of the job if you do.

Do you have a moment in your career that stands out?
One very important moment is when I finally realized my art work and sketching abilities were good enough. The studio director I was working with in the beginning of my career always asked to see my work before it was delivered to the AD. One day I decided I should just go directly to the AD for their approval. I found it incredibly freeing and it gave me more confidence in my abilities.

Check out Scott’s profiles on Directory of Illustration and Workbook.