Rob Prior on NFTs, Working With DC and Marvel and Doing Shows With Tech N9ne

Rob Prior is an extremely versatile artist. He’s an illustrator, screenwriter, director, and storyboard artist, among many, many other things. His career spans over three decades in comics, television, film, and gaming.

Should I go through his resume? Fine, if you insist.

In the comic book industry, Rob has worked with all of the heavy-hitters: Marvel, D.C., Image Comics, and Todd McFarlane, among others. In TV and Film, his most notable works include Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Terminator, Deep Space 9, and Game of Thrones. 

And let’s not forget about his work in the gaming industry, Titleist and 2K. As an illustrator, his work can be seen on many tabletop adventures, including Dungeons and Dragons, Wizards of the Coasts, Battle Lords of the 23rd Century, and many others. 

Yes, Rob has a ton of nerd cred, however, that’s not what most people know him for.

He’s mainly known for live paintings. Rob has been a staple of the Comic-Con scene for years. It’s easy to find Rob at a convention. Just look for a large crowd of people watching a man in trans, painting with both hands – sometimes with his eyes closed. 

What would 8-year-old Rob think about himself today?

Let’s see. I think 8-year-old Rob would say, okay, cool, you’re on the right path. I think he would be glad to know that he became a full-time artist. I mean, at 8 years old, I was being trained by my parents to become a painter. 

I never had any other plans. That’s just it, I always thought that I’d become an artist and as luck would have it, I became one. 

Everyone in my family is an artist. My parents, grandparents, and the list goes on. However, nobody made it by profession. Mom and dad started working with me very early. By the time I was 7, I was spending an hour a day in the studio, painting and learning new things. 

When did you become a professional artist?

#24 forever, Rob Prior

Very, very early in my life. I began working locally when I was 12 or 13 years old. I spent my early days training so when the opportunity presented itself I was more than ready. Just before my first artwork got published, I decided this would be my calling.

When I was around 12, I remember my art teacher said, “we can’t teach you anything.” That’s all I needed to hear to gain confidence. I knew then, I needed to start working even harder if I wanted to accomplish something bigger. 

When did you start painting with both hands?

Okay, so I was born a righty. Things remained the same until I was 10. One day, I was sitting there with my grandmother. She lived with us at the time. 

So, I started crying, and my grandmother asked me what was wrong. Why was I upset all of a sudden? Well, I asked her what am I going to do if I lose my right hand? If I lose it, I won’t be able to paint or draw anymore. She told me that I might have to find something else to do. 

Yeah, that wasn’t an option. 

That week, I stopped using my right hand and started doing everything with my left. I wrote, played guitar, baseball, and ate with my left hand for the next six months.

My parents were annoyed. They would always ask me why am I not using my right hand? One day, I had math homework and an art assignment. I had to work fast to get both projects done. That’s when I took two brushes and started painting with both hands. 

You do some of the paintings with your eyes closed

Yup. That’s also something I do. However, that’s not something I worked on. It’s been like that through my entire life. If you ever saw me painting live on stage, you know with Tech N9ne or Linkin Park, you’d think it’s a choreographed performance. But it’s not. 

It’s pretty spontaneous, actually. There’s a lot of alcohol involved, so you know… 

Before I started seeing recordings of me on stage, I had no idea that I had kept my eyes closed for so long. That’s because, even when I shut my eyes, I can see the painting I’m doing. I got my spots memorized and I know where the paint needs to be applied. 

There’s a person out there, not going to tell you who, that wants to do this experiment of putting me in a sensory deprivation tank with strobing lights. He wants to have me in there for a short period, then let me out, and see what I can paint. 

Do some people label you as a performance artist?

They do, but what they fail to understand is that the way you see me paint live, that’s exactly how I paint when I’m all alone in my studio. There’s no difference. None.

My apprentices have to wear earplugs from time to time because, at times, I get so loud. I listen to loud music and I skip all around the studio, working on multiple paintings.  

I listen to heavy metal and loud rap when I’m working. I mean, it can be anything. My choice of music depends on the piece I’m working on. Sometimes, I listen to classical music. 

You have a few apprentices, correct?

I have three apprentices, four including my son. It’s great working with them, helping each one develop their distinctive style. But I have to admit, helping someone develop a style is hard. 

One thing that often happens is, one of them is working on a piece and I can see that they’re not expressing themselves, but channeling me. All of us emulate someone. When I was young, I used to emulate Larry Elmore, the famed Dungeons and Dragons artist. 

I completely understand them. However, it’s my job to tell them that they need to scrap something they’re working on if it looks too much like someone else’s work. 

Do you draw a lot of inspiration from pop culture?

Spider-Man Homecoming, Rob Prior

Yes and no. If you ask me what my favorite thing to paint is, I’d probably say abstract objects, believe it or not. Also, I love painting humans in motion. That’s end-all-be-all for me. 

As for pop culture, well, I’m a huge nerd. Yeah, I love it, but I paint most of my pieces for the fans. I do this ridiculous live stream every Wednesday. I listen to what the fans want to see and quickly, it devolves into stupidity. It does. 

We have guests like Alanis Morissette come by. I just sit there, listen to suggestions, and paint away. I like doing shows, but I don’t like painting the same things over and over again.

I painted Yoda way more times than I ever wanted to, you know?

How did you start doing live shows with musicians?

You can thank Tech N9ne and Strange Music for that. In 2014, I ended up doing an art book for one of his albums. Each one of the songs on the album had a piece of artwork and I have done all of the paintings live for Tech and his crew, in the studio. 

After some time, Tech would start calling me and asking me to join him on stage. He wanted me to draw on stage, while he’s performing. I said no, I’m good. That went on for months. 

Finally, he asked me what’s wrong? I said right away that I had stage fright. Horrible stage fright. He said, it’s ok, once I’m on stage, the lights will be in my eyes, and that I won’t see anything. I said yes. Came to the stage. And you know what? He fucking lied to my face. 

I could see everything and everyone from the stage. I was ready to leave, go in the corner, cry and drink a bottle of Jack. The only problem was, my wife was backstage. So I had a choice, go out there, face my fears and the crowd or go back and face my wife.

Wouldn’t you know it, I chose the crowd. 

What got you into directing?

A long time ago, I landed a job on a little movie called Dungeons and Dragons. If you know about it, you know that it’s not a good movie. They hired me to be the art director. I was working for another company. I quit that job and moved to Hollywood. 

I had no idea what I was doing. They kept asking me all kinds of questions and it was obvious that I was lost. I got fired pretty quickly. 

Since I was already in California, I decided to stay and learn everything I could about directing. Everyone was like, no, no, no, you shouldn’t do it, and I was like why not? I made a bunch of short films and eventually, I met the right producers who wanted to give me a shot. 

The result is Painted Beauty, my first movie starring Claire Holt and Clifton Collins Jr. It turned out good and it landed me several directing jobs. The movie is out for negative pickup. 

Painted Beauty, publicity still

How did you become a part of the NFT space?

While I heard about the NFTs at the pretty much same time as anyone else, I didn’t quite understand the concept at first. I’m still struggling with comprehending everything about the space, but still, A company called Mogul reached out to me to be on their board and whatnot. 

I like trying new things, so even though I didn’t understand a thing, I was like, yeah, sure, why not? Since then, I’ve been creating NFT art. I’m cooperating with other companies now, but I’m still with Mogul. They got me started in the game and our relationship is still great. 

I’m doing real-world paintings and digitizing them. The ones I’m doing for mogul, I’m going to burn once they’re digitized and minted. The point is to make a single, original version. And that’s going to be the NFT. 

What do you think about copyright and IP problems?

I look at NFTs as originals. You can always take them, input them into a computer, and mess around with them. And if you’re doing original art, you can paint whatever you want, in my opinion. No matter who owns the rights to the image featured in the art.

You can paint anything you want, as long as it’s one of one, you know?

As long as the NFT remains original within itself, it should remain your intellectual property. It came out of your mind, right? Now, if you plan on making prints, t-shirts, and other merch, that’s a different story, my friend. 

What’s next for Rob Prior?

Cobain, the 27 club, Rob Prior

NFTs I guess. Yeah, I’m going to finish the ones that I’m currently working on and I’m going to try some mobile-centric stuff too. I have a few surprise projects I’m working on at the moment. I’m still waiting for the pandemic to slow down. 

Once everything starts going back to normal, I’m going to set up a couple of gallery shows and do my next movie. During COVID-19, all I did was paint. That’s why I’m going to slow down in that area. No more doing 150 paintings a year for me. At least for now.  

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