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18 Increasingly Irrelevant Questions for Robert Generette III

By Charles Purdy

Robert Generette III has become well known to users of Adobe mobile creative tools. We’re fans of his bold, expressive digital drawings, so when he’s not creating his own art or educating his students (“Mr. G,” as he is fondly known, teaches art to 10th, 11th, and 12th graders), he’s often helping us by demonstrating Adobe drawing tools. But how well do we know the man, really? We sat down with Robert Generette III and got to the heart of some things that matter to him—as well as some things that don’t.

Create: Our first question is kind of an existential one: Who is Robert Generette III?

Generette: Robert Generette III is an illustrator, an educator, and a vector art monster. He’s also the father of Bobby and Max, and Joneida’s husband. And Sanaia’s uncle, Mary’s son, and Del’s brother. And he’s everybody’s favorite art teacher.

Create: So is it Robert, Rob, Bob, or other?

Generette: It depends on the person.  Some people call me Rob; some people call me Robert. I’m mostly called Mr. G, because I’m a teacher.

Create: And you’re known as “Rob-Zilla”—where’d that “nom de stylus” come from?

Generette: That’s a very interesting story—some good material for you. I decided I was going to give freelancing a try, but I needed to establish a website first. So I started asking people what my URL should be—and whether it would be too long if it was something like “robertgeneretteiii.com.”           

And of course everybody was like, “Yes, that’s too long. I don’t feel like typing all that just to check out your work.” So a friend of mine said, “Why don’t you just use your initials?” Now, a funny thing about my initials: they’re RG3. I’m in the Washington, D.C., area, and the Washington football team—I’ll just call them that, since I don’t really support the name—had just drafted a quarterback who goes by the name RG3. So right when I settled on using my initials, I’m listening to sports radio, and I hear that the Washington team selected Robert Griffith III, referred to as RG3.

So I can’t use it. After that, I was trying to figure out what exactly I could use. I have two sons, and I refer to them as “Zillas” because they’re little creative-slash-destructive monsters. I always say, “Yes, these are my little monsters right here. But, they’re harmless—they’re my monsters.”

I was like, “All right. I already refer to my oldest as Bob-Zilla and my youngest as Max-Zilla.”  So I decided to call myself Rob-Zilla. I started throwing that up on social media and using it as a social media name, and it caught on from there.

The funny thing about creating something like that is when you go back in retrospect and try to justify it: So if you take the -Zilla and you flip is backwards, you get A-L-L-I-Z. And so far within the last couple of years, all that I dreamed has come true. So you got A-L-L, “all”; and I; and Z is the symbol for sleep, which kind of relates to dreams as well: All I dream started to happen, so it’s a funny two tales about the -Zilla thing.

Create: That’s a great story. So what are you working on right now? Is there a current project you’re really excited about?

Generette: Yes. I was picked to do a collaboration with Blurb and Adobe. We wanted to illustrate how you can go seamlessly from using Adobe desktop apps to creating your own book, using Blurb’s uploader.

And I’m doing a book called Eject, a book about cassette tapes. What I’m doing is illustrating all these different types of cassette tapes, but I’m also taking the film content out of the cassette tapes and making it look as though it’s spilling out and forming portraits of hip-hop people that I used to listen to back in high school.

It’s combining an analog sound with a digital way to do some art. And it’s a visual memoir—like a dedication to all the things that I held dear coming up.

Create: Sounds very cool. Next question: Can you describe a typical workday?

Generette: I have an early school, St. Charles High School [in Waldorf, Maryland], so I typically have to be there by seven o’clock. While I’m at work, I come up with all these ideas. And some of them I can’t execute right away because my primary responsibility is teaching the kids there black-and-white film photography or how to use a darkroom.

So we develop our own film and we take pictures. But every opportunity that I get, I’ll go through the process of doing these illustrations in my head—over and over and over again. And I try to take care of all the what-ifs in my head.

So when I finally get to the iPad, it’s like this big explosion, and I can work pretty fast when it comes to illustrating. It may be during a lunch break or during kids’ independent studies in class. But most of the time, I have to hold it throughout the entire workday. And ideas are just like urine: If you hold it long enough, it’ll make you dance—because you got to get that idea out of your head!

And then once I get the idea executed, it’ll be about three hours before I feel ready to go to sleep. 

Create: What is your greatest achievement?

Generette: That’s a good one. My greatest achievement could actually be looked at as a failure. I was contacted by this anonymous agency to do a project for Nike Baseball. At first I thought it was a joke because all of my email addresses had the same message from the same person. And it was one of those nights where I was working late, and I thought I was going delirious because I was still up.

So I woke my wife up, and I was like, “What does this email say?”  And she told me—it was a project for Nike Baseball. They wanted to celebrate a pitcher who was retiring, and they wanted me to illustrate it, in my style. So I get cracking, drawing this guy.

Like I said, I work the process out in my head at first, iron all the kinks out, but I work very fast. I’m pretty excited about this project because it was supposed to be on a billboard in New York—it was going be on the Today show and all these details like that.

And I sent the third draft into the company, and they were like, “We’ll get back in contact with you. We’re bumping heads with Nike about some of the details of the project.” So I got a little worried…. Finally, they sent me a message that said, “Well, the project was killed, but it had nothing to do with your illustration. We just bumped heads with our client based on some of the details of the project.”

So I didn’t get that opportunity to have that billboard or have my work exposed on the Today show and all this other stuff. But the kill fee was nice. And the experience kind of opened my eyes up to what could possibly happen with this illustrating thing. I started taking my drawing on the iPad a little more seriously at that point. That was a failure-slash-achievement.

Create: What’s a challenge you’re currently grappling with?

Generette: Finding that moment to draw. Along with working as a teacher, I also coach one son’s tee-ball team, and then there’s all of life’s obstacles—just finding that moment when I can finally sit down and turn on the iPad and draw. That’s one big challenge right there.

Create: Adobe has been turning to you for a lot of illustration work—you’re becoming one of our favorite illustrators. Who are some of your favorite illustrators?

Generette: Get ready for a long list: First I have to say Brian Yap, because if I’d never seen his video using Adobe Ideas, I would have never paid $9.99 to download Adobe Ideas. He helped me visualize a little bit more of how I wanted to use it.

Another illustrator would be Ken Taylor, from Australia—he’s super-dope. Then we have Hydro74James White, and Zombie Yeti. And I had a chance to meet all three of those gentlemen at Adobe MAX last year.  And we all were standing in one spot with Aaron Draplin. It was kind of dope. Can I consider Aaron an illustrator?

Create: I’m sure he’d be fine with that.

Generette: I got to put the big man in there. Just hung out with him in Atlanta, and he’s super cool. We really became friends. I have an illustration in his book, as a matter of fact…. And I’m missing people! All right, there’s a local artist named Tracie Ching; I’m really digging her work. And last but not least, Jenean Morrison. Some of her patterns are crazy.

Create: If you weren’t doing what you are doing, what other career might you have chosen?

Generette: I would say I would be teaching, but I would be teaching with a different mind-state. There’s an old proverb about how you can chain an elephant, and you can slowly reduce that chain down to the strength of dental floss but the elephant will still feel trapped.  I would be like that elephant.

Right now, I’m teaching under a different mind-state. I know that I’m not just stuck with teaching, that I got this other life going on. I feel like Clark Kent when I go to work because I know that after that, I’m going to run to this phone booth, put my cape on, and just go out there and save the world—so to speak.

Create: What’s a talent you wish you had?

Generette: A talent I don’t have but wish I had? Riding BMX bikes. If I could ride a bike like Nigel Sylvester, I think I would be in hog heaven. It just seems like he’s so free when he’s riding. But I know if I got my husky self on a BMX bike and tried some of the stuff that he does, it wouldn’t end up too nice.

Create: Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Generette: My guilty pleasure is potato chips…. I’m one of those carb-sensitive people. Not saying that I have diabetes or anything like that; it’s just the fact that I really pack pounds on if I snack like that, and for some odd reason I kind of fiend for potato chips. Hence my husky frame.

Create: The next question is the “deserted island” question. You’re going to be stuck on a deserted island, and you get to take one movie, one music CD, and one book. What are you going to take?

Generette: All right, for the movie, I’m going to take Snatch, by Guy Ritchie. That’s one of my favorite movies. I think the randomness of that movie will keep me entertained until help finally arrives.

Music CD? The Main Ingredient by Pete Rock and CL Smooth, because I can listen to that all the way through.

And for a book? How to Survive on a Deserted Island.

Create: Good choice. OK, so what’s your greatest vice or greatest virtue? You can answer both or either.

Generette: I kind of pride myself on my social media behavior. I try not to put something out there in the atmosphere that could shine a bad light on me in the future. There are two things I really think about. My mother’s on social media right now, so I try not to put anything out there that would make her ashamed. You get what I’m saying? I’m 42, but I still don’t curse around my mother.

The second thing is, I try not to put anything out there that my kids—let’s say if something, God forbid, happened to me right now. My kids go to look up their father’s name online, I don’t want them to find negative stuff. So those are two things.

I believe that if you release something negative like that, you’re going to get that energy back in some shape or form. And those are two safeguards to keep me on track for not releasing that negative energy. Like I said, cursing online, especially like Facebook—I don’t do that. I will put “insert expletive” inside of those fancy brackets.

Create: Do you have a good story about meeting a celebrity?

Generette: Sometimes I mention people I think are famous, and average folks are clueless.  They’re like, “What?” I’ve got a few of those. Let’s go back to Draplin: So AIGA D.C. was bringing Aaron Draplin to town to speak, and I was a member of AIGA D.C. so I got a ticket. A couple of nights before that, I was like, “What would be super cool is if I illustrate Draplin and then print out two copies”—because at the high school that I worked at, we had two large-format printers—“give him one, and keep one.” I thought that would be dope.

Needless to say, the day of the event is when I finally finished the files. And my chairperson, who has all the large-format printers, didn’t come to school that day, so I had no access to them. So I was even debating going to the event because I had my heart set on having that printed out.

Well, my wife talked to me. She used some harsh—she used some good tough love, and she said, “You need to go. If this is what you want to do, you need to go.” So I jump in my car, go to the Metro, hop on that train, and go to the event. While I was on the train, I was like, “Well, I’m just going to tweet out the picture I drew of Draplin.” So I tweeted out the picture and said where I was going, using all the proper hashtags and what have you.

I made it to the event, which was kind of loaded, and I had to sit in the back. But I took a photo of my view of the stage and tweeted, “I’m here. I finally made it. I get to listen to this big man speak.”

After the event, I went to the merch table where Draplin and his lovely girlfriend were working, and I pulled up the picture of him I’d drawn, on my phone. And when he said, “How are you doing?” I held up the picture. And then a firework show of expletives just flew all over the place. And he was mostly saying, “Holy [insert expletive].” He said that 15 times. And I’m holding my phone straight out and my arm’s getting tired, so I put my phone down. And he was like, “Holy ‘blank.’ Let me see that again. Holy ‘blank.’ You did this?” And I was like, “Yes.” So, he was like, “Hey, I’m going to tell you something right now, my man. Stay the eff out of Portland. I got enough competition at home, all right?”

And he asked me to send him a PDF of the image. I was at the merch table, and I wanted some things, like a hat and a pack of Field Notes. Draplin shoved so much merchandise on me and was like, “No, you get all this for free. You can pay for the hat, but you’re getting the rest of this stuff right here for free.”

That was the first time I met Draplin, and we became friends after that. It was pretty cool meeting somebody of his stature in that manner and making an impression.

Create: When’s the last time you laughed really hard?

Generette: I laughed hard today! At school, I’m that clown dude. And I think that’s why I have a great rapport with the kids, because I can find humor in some things and kind of ease their fears. If they have a fear of developing their film or a fear of drawing something, I can find something funny real quick.

When you work at a public school, the kids will make you laugh, but also the funniest thing on the planet to me is teachers who take themselves a little too seriously. I know there’s a job to do, but when you pick all these different battles, you always become the butt of jokes…. Yes, I’m that teacher who laughs at teachers with other teachers. So I laughed really hard at something today, but I can’t really release the details of that…. Yes, it was a colleague of mine.

Create: Fair enough—I won’t press for details. Do you have a personal motto? Words that you live by?

Generette: My motto is a question. And that question is “A creative human being or a human being creative?”

Create: What about a personal theme song—if your life were being made into a TV show, what would the theme song be?

Generette: For that, there’s a tie between two songs—both jazz songs. The first song is “Forty Days” by Billy Brooks. A Tribe Called Quest sampled that song in “Luck of Lucien.” The horns in that are just a driving force—I even tried once to listen to “Forty Days” for 40 days. The second song is “Aquarius” by Cal Tjader. It’s another sample that A Tribe Called Quest uses.

I think of both of them as matches: I’m a Pisces, so they match both that aggressive side and that calm side.

Create: Last question: How about them Nationals? 

Generette: I’m kind of liking my team this year. I’m loving the job that Dusty Baker is doing. One thing that I’m questioning is some of starting pitching. I don’t believe that we should have let loose Jordan Zimmermann because right now we could really use him. He was very strong; he gave us one of our first no-hitters. We should have fought to keep him.

He combined with Max Scherzer would have given us that strong presence that we need.  Because I think that—dang, I’m name dropping—but I think that Tanner Roark is a little damaged goods right now because of what our skipper from last year did to him by putting him as a relief pitcher. And don’t get me started on Gio Gonzales.

I love my Nats. Good or bad, I love my Nats. I got Nats plates on my Jeep right now. I’m a super Nats fan.

Robert Generette III was one of many creative luminaries who spoke at 2016’s Adobe MAX. Visit the MAX website to watch recorded keynote presentations and conference sessions.