Dave Nestler: Pin Up Artist

An interview with Dave Nestler: Modern Pin-up Artist and good Joe.

I first met Dave Nestler at a comic book convention in Dallas, Texas a few years ago.  I was there promoting my self-published comics and he was there promoting his incredible Pin-up Art.  By the end of the weekend we were swapping goofy convention stories and tips on how to talk with supermodels.

Dave and I have kept in touch over the years and I’m proud to own some of his original artwork.  He has since become known not only as a master pin-up painter, but also as a major influence on tattoo artists across the country.  What I love about Dave is that despite the fact that he has rapidly become one of the top Pin-up Artists in the nation, he will still hang out with you at the free cheese and crackers buffet at the convention hotel.  Dave Nestler is the embodiment of a good Joe.  He even let me interview him.

NH: Do you remember the day you couldn’t stop laughing because you realized you’d figured out a way to make a living by hanging out with hot women?  What was that like?

DN: I’m still laughing.  It has been an interesting career move, and my close circle of friends has gotten a lot prettier in the past 6 years.  But in the end it still comes down to “making a living” at Art.

NH: What jobs did you have before making art your career?

DN: Mostly working at gas stations and construction.  I financed my art school education by laying asphalt during the summer months and pumping gas in the evenings after school.

NH: What was your first Art job?

DN: My very first paid gig after school was a small black & white illustration for an upstart sci-fi magazine called Questar.  It was based in my home town of Pittsburgh.  We shared office with (make-up effects legend) Tom Savini, and Andy Warhol’s nephew, illustrator James Warhol.  The magazine only lasted a couple issues but eventually became Scream Queens magazine which I had a big presence in back in the late 90’s.

NH: Apart from the lovely gals…why Art?  Why not mechanics, sushi chef school, or something else?

DN: It’s all I’ve ever done.  There was a brief time in high school where I considered architecture and mechanical engineering as this was my father’s profession, but I was just too stupid in math.  Later in commercial art school one of my classes was “Architectural Rendering,” bspace with George Romero’s production offices where I routinely ran into not only George, but (Night of the Living Dead co-writer) John Russo efore CAD software.  To this day you can hand me a set of floor plans, a side and frontal elevation and a list of materials and I can illustrate that baby like nobody’s business.  But it wasn’t about just painting buildings.  I learned more about perspective and color theory than any other class.  It’s where I learned there was more to shadow than shades of black.  It was reflective and refractive light and so much more.

NH: Do you consider your work “Outsider Art?”  If not, what do you consider “Outsider Art?”

DN: I don’t consider an Art genre with a rich American history like pinup Outsider Art.  It’s only outside if it’s not understood.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a casual conversation with someone at a hotel bar, a party, wherever outside of my environment when the question “What do you do for a living?” comes up.  When I say I’m a pinup artist, 8 out of 10 times I have to explain myself, and usually have to go as far back as WWII nose art before anyone has a clue. I think the whole “Low Brow” and pop surrealism movement has a bit of an outsider tag to it because people don’t understand it.  Not me.  I get it.

NH: In martial arts they say “Even the masters have masters.”  Who are yours?

DN: Movie poster and magazine cover artists Drew Struzan and Richard Amsel were the two artists I looked up to.  It wasn’t so much for their technical prowess as it was how well they captured a subject’s likeness.  It’s something I strive for and it still gives me a boost when someone walks up to my table at a con, looks at a print and recognizes the model.  That’s when I know I’ve done my job.

NH: Is there anything you’re still learning to paint?  Is there a “holy grail” in your study of Art and technique?

DN: You never quit learning.  Any artist will tell you that.  But as a photo realist, there’s a line you try not to cross.  When a painting gets to the point that it’s mistaken for a photograph, you’ve crossed that line.  I’d like to get to the point where I’m dancing along it but never over it.

NH: When did you learn you were a rock star among Tattoo Artists?

DN: People have been tattooing my work for years, but it wasn’t until my first tattoo convention in Tampa 2006 that I realized how much of a presence I had in that market.  But it was a show in Calgary 2007 where I had my first sold out show.  When the doors closed at the end of the second day of a three day show, I was completely sold out of product.  I could have autographed my shoes and sold them to these people.  It was unbelievable.

NH: What’s the oddest tattoo version of your work you’ve seen?

DN: I have a painting called Angel Eyes.   It’s a ¾-length figure with wings that wrap around and stop right around the hips covering up her… well, you know.  Anyway… they took that figure, eliminated the wings, added devil horns and attached a cloven hoofed, four legged Minotaur type body underneath her.   It was unbelievable!

NH: How does music affect your work, if at all?

DN: I absolutely cannot work in silence.  I have to have the radio on.  Doesn’t really matter what’s on as long as there is background noise.  The television doesn’t work as it makes me want to turn my head and check out what’s on.  It’s gotta be the radio.


~ Nik Havert

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Nik Havert is a writer, DJ, harmonica player, martial arts instructor, comic book publisher, crime fighter,music lover, cult movie enthusiast, and modern day Renaissance man. He hopes to shark cage dive sometime in the next few years and enjoys travel and good natural root beer.

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