by Jason Thibault
There was just something too crazed, twisted and fun about Aaron Crawford’s artwork to not ask him to do a Masters of Ink interview. I love talking to artists who work in the music biz and get a chance to generally be as wild and imaginitive as they want. Especially on art for more underground metal and hardcore bands who would typically seek Aaron out BECAUSE his art is so badass. Aaron and I connected on Twitter and put this together pretty quickly. I have thank him for supplying all of the technicolor eye candy. Let’s get to it.
What inspired you to first start drawing? Did you struggle in your formative years or did it come easy to you?
I can honestly say the first thing that inspired me to start drawing was my mom. She would paint these awesome landscapes that just blew me away, and it got me hyped to want to draw. The second thing would be horror movies and shows like Tales From the Crypt and Tales From the Dark Side. I’d see guts, contorted limbs, and eyeballs hanging out, and want to recreate those on paper my own way. Most of the drawings sucked I’m sure, but I guess you learn from your mistakes, right?
First professional work (piece / year) and maybe a quick story behind it.
Wow, never had that question before. I actually had to go back into the long lost files of my old harddrive to figure that out. Turns out it was a piece for a band called Darkened By Reason. They were a local metal band, and great friends. I think that’s honestly the very first shirt design I ever completed, and actually got to see printed back in 2003. The design was a pretty simple muscle diagram I went and redrew and added some stuff to. Nothing too crazy.
Were you self-taught or formally educated? (or mixture of both, mentors etc…)
I went to a tech school for graphic design for less than a quarter, and quit because there wasn’t anything inspiring about the course, nothing was pushing me. I gained more knowledge by sitting at home and fucking around on the computer and drawing pad and making my own mistakes, and learning from them. I’d just sit around and try and recreate Pushead art and old pictures from Fangoria magazines. I would never tell anyone to not attend an art school, but I think it’s overpriced, and that learning your own way to go about things is the best route, because you’ll probably make a ton of mistakes, and look back, and learn from them. It’s much more fun that way. Also, Persistence and patience, and an open mind.
Tools of the trade: Taking a quick glance over at your pens, brushes etc…what tools have you mainly been using over the last few years?
I mostly use inks, acrylics, and watercolors. For shirt designs, I illustrate on bristol board, then scan it, and do the coloring in Photoshop. A pretty basic method. As for paintings, I paint on whatever I can get my hands on. Everything from canvas, to wood, to old records, anything.
How has your toolbox evolved compared to when you first started out?
I’ve branched out and found other tools and supplies that I never imagined I’d be messing with. Just experiment with different stuff, that’s my best advice. You might find your niche in something you never thought you’d enjoy.
Favorite brand of ink:
I mostly use windsor newton, Higgins, and Faber-Castell stuff, but there’s a ton of different stuff out there that’s just as good.
Type of paper:
Mostly bristol board, but not really limited to that. I draw on everything. I’ll draw on your face if you want.
Which artists or creators do you return to for a quick boost of inspiration? Who are the masters of ink?
Lately if i get in a stale spot, all I need to do is go to http://www.theartofskinner.com and BAM, I’m on inspiration overload. There’s so many artists that keep me pumped up. Lately it’s been Skinner, Tastes Like Gold, Craola, David Choe, Neckface, my good friend Brian Mcgrath, and a ton of others.
Once a client has handed off an illustration job to you, how do you first tackle the job? Could you give us a quick overview of your process?
We’ll usually discuss concepts, maybe go over some lyrics, and then HOPEFULLY settle on something we’re both happy with. Then I start with sketches, and if the client approves those, then I go into inking, then coloring digitally. It’s all about communication, man.
How have digital tools affected your creative process over the past few years?
I don’t really try to depend on digital tools as much, but when it comes to shirt designs, you kind of have to depend on Photoshop for the coloring. I think it’s a good thing, but I don’t necesarrily like the way digital line work looks all the time. It almost looks too perfect and robotic, because, it kind of is. You can’t really recreate the style you get by using real ink and your pen / brush.
What would be your best and worst professional experience?
I really enjoy almost every single client I work with. of course, there’s concepts you might not be too stoked on, but you have to make the best of it, and you’ll at least gain something out of it. The worst experiences would have to be when there’s a massive lack of communication, waiting on payments from certain labels for weeks at a time, or just having to tamper with a design over and over to make the client happy, it just ruins the process of creating the actual art. It doesn’t happen very often though, which is good.
What was the best advice you’ve ever received but may not have listened to the first time out?
Something my mom would tell me when I’d draw something, and completley hate it. She would say “you might look at that and think it’s crappy, but in someone elses eyes, it might be beautiful” which is actually true. I’ve done paintings and looked at them and thought “wow, this is shit” but then a friend would come over, and fall in love with it. You never know.
What’s your vital daily ritual?
I wake up, maybe a bike ride, usually get food, then check emails and start sketching. Sometimes coffee and a redbull fits in there somewhere too. My schedule fluctuates so much. Being my own boss is great though. I pretty much make my own hours. It’s all about finding the balance between personal life and work.
What’s currently sitting in your mp3 / CD player / turntable?
I’ve been listening to alot of music by a band called Clinging To The Trees of A Forest Fire. I’m an avid music fan, so instead of lisiting every band because there’s about a million, I’d say just check out my last fm page @ http://www.last.fm/user/aaroncrawford
What’s hanging on your walls and what is your favorite piece of art that you own (not created by you)?
I recently bought an American Psycho print by an artist named Erik Jones. His work is beautiful and dark at the same time. Besides that, some random movie posters, and some creepy little characters my friend Tena painted. Besides that, just pictures of stuff that inspires me. Random cut outs from Fangoria and Rue-Morgue, and whatever else I find to be cool or fun.
What’s the last novel you read and last movie that you saw that you’d recommend? Which movies and books do you always return to?
I don’t read as much as I’d like to, but the last thing I read was Haunted by Chuck P. The story “GUTS” blew my mind. As for movies, I always end up returning to classics like Dawn of The Dead, Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc. I just went back and re-watched Planet Terror and Death Proof, and I can’t stress enough how much of a genius Tarantino is. I really love most of the stuff Eli Roth does as well.
Current and upcoming projects?
Where to start… hm. I’m working on a ton of new shirts for KITTIE, some shirts for WRETCHED, cd art for an upcoming full length for WITHIN THE RUINS ,and a limited edition print release collaboration type thing (that was a mouthful) with artist Scott Saw that’s going to be released in July at Comic Con! I also have a new urban art project called “THE BOX MONSTERS” that me and my friend (and rad artist) Brian Mcgrath started, where we hide little box monsters around different cities, and photo document them. Just taking another persons trash, and making something creepy and silly out of it. (Follow us on twitter: @theboxmonsters ) We’re also launching something in July, but I don’t want to sound cliché’ and say it’s a “clothing line” cause everyone seems to have those nowadays, but you MIGHT be able to wear it, If it turns out the way we plan. It’ll be fun! Just trying to stay busy. 🙂
What would you tell an aspiring artist who is working his ass off but still needs and wants to break through to the next level?
Just keep working at whatever you are doing, even if it gets frustrating, and most importantly, have fun with it. There will be times where you feel like everything you make is utter shit, but you have to just work through that, and not give up. Keep creating, no matter what medium or type of art you are doing. I’m terrible at giving advice. I hope that was ok.
What’s been the most effective means of marketing yourself both online and off?
The online revolution has been insane. Between the use of facebook, myspace, Twitter, and blogs, you’re able to now reach all around the world, and it’s giving artists a means of exposure that they never had before. I’m a HUGE fan of twitter, and I think it’s one of the best social networking sites to be in existence at the moment. It’s simple, and allows updates directly from the person’s mouth. (or finger tips I guess). It allows you to connect with some of the people that inspire you, and see into their lives like never before. As creepy as that sounds, it’s a great tool in promoting yourself as a brand / artist.