Artist David D’Andrea on the Melding of Art and Life

By Jason Thibault

David D’Andrea combines the draftsmanship of the poster artists and album cover designers of the 1960’s and 70’s with a raw detailed grittiness to create an organic pen and ink style that is unmistakably his own. His t-shirt designs, hand colored silk-screen prints and album covers are highly sought after and have won much praise and even more fans and admirers. He completely throws himself into his work and each new piece is an extension and evolution from the last one. David is a wandering soul and will probably continue to search and improve until the day he stops drawing.

What inspired you to first start drawing? Did you struggle in your formative years or did it come easy to you?

My earliest inspiration was most definitely MAD and Cracked magazine, Garbage Pail Kids, Wolverton, and 80’s cartoons and pop culture in general. My father’s LP collection was very influential. Album covers for Zeppelin, Cream, and Steppenwolf etc. grabbed me even before I took to the music, which of course happened shortly after.

I remember getting a hold of Kiss “Love Gun” for 25 cents at the public library. It was my first LP and I thought I had found the holy grail, the perfect melding of art and music.

I would say that the actual epiphany, the instance when I decided “this is what I do”, was when I saw the connection between art and skateboarding and the underground music and culture that went with it. Pushead’s “Puszone” in Thrasher Magazine, VCJ’s work for Powell Peralta, and soon after, the zines and flyers by my peers from around the country. I started a zine, made photocopied flyers, painted on endless griptape jobs…I was fanatical about it all.

It was the crucial period when I realized that rather than being a consumer/observer, I could BE it, a part of it all.

I wouldn’t say that I struggled with creating at this point. Looking back, it was the only aspect of life that I didn’t struggle with! School, girls, parents didn’t matter when I was totally nailing a copy of Pushead’s Exploited skull on my grip tape!

First professional work (piece / year) and maybe a quick story behind it.

My first published piece was an album insert for Oakland punk band “Fields of Shit”. This was a 10” album on the Life is Abuse label, 1995 I believe. This was just a natural progression from the xeroxed flyers I had been doing for the Oakland punk/metal/noise scene, so it’s hard to call it my first “professional” piece.
It has all happened pretty organically. I have always been the guy who does the zine or flyer or t-shirt. I was the guy who spent Friday night geeking out at Kinkos, working obsessively. The rest happened from there.

In the mid 90’s Oakland was an incredible place…inspiring and dangerous and fruitful. Places like the 40th St. warehouse (RIP) provided an impetus to get much of my early stuff out.

I reached a big milestone in 1999 with my first shirt for High on Fire. Matt Pike’s father-in-law printed us up a batch of two color shirts and we toured the US and Europe for 4 months with only my shirts and a demo cdr for sale.

Were you self-taught or formally educated? (or mixture of both, mentors etc…)

I decided to go to college once I was 27 years old. I had been reluctant to commit for a long time, but hit a wall and realized that formal schooling might help me make some sort of career of my work. I received my BFA in Illustration from The California College of the Arts in San Francisco.

My mentor there, one of the most important people I’ve ever met, is Barron Storey. His absolute devotion to the craft, his creed of total documentation via art, has set a huge example for me. Barron is without a doubt a “living legend” and simultaneously the most kind and supportive teacher and mentor on earth.

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?

108 nibs, a few liner brushes, .03 technical pencils, Strathmore 500 series Bristol…those are the basic tools at my drawing table. Once my drawings are done, I use the basic Abode suite on my Powermac for pre-press and/or color separations and layout etc.

The last few years have involved a lot of screen printing, so that’s a whole other set of tools. I am a part of Monolith Press, which was founded by my good friend and amazingly inspired label owner/printmaster/father, Mauz Parrillo. In fact, it was Mauz’s label “Life Is Abuse” who published that first poster insert!
At Monolith we use a semi-automated screen printing press, mainly Speedball inks, a large film output printer, etc. There’s a lot that goes into the screen printing process. I love it and am always trying to take it to the next level.

How has your toolbox evolved compared to when you first started out?

My toolbox is much more stripped down than it used to be. I think this is largely because of the screen printing work. With screen printing, my originals are always just black line with stippling on paper. The color seps are done later on the computer or sometimes by hand directly on the films.

Alternatively, when I do an album cover it allows me much more freedom, as anything can be printed digitally. Still, I don’t get too heavy on the materials. Sometimes I’ll use acrylic inks and watercolor and I like to use the masonite panels with a clay coating that allows me to sand/scratch the surface.

Favorite brand of ink:

Speedball Super Black India is the best and deepest black I’ve found. I keep it stirred and cut it with ammonia glass cleaner to keep it flowing.

Type of paper:

I usually draw on Strathmore 500 series Bristol. Occasionally I’ll use a plate surface illustration board or the masonite clay board if I want the ink to really sit on the surface and look as crisp as possible.

Which artists or creators do you return to for a quick boost of inspiration? Who are the masters of ink?

Roger Dean, Harry Clarke, Takato Yamamoto, Barron Storey, Rick Griffin, Alan Forbes, Arik Roper, Kiki Smith, Jim Dine

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?

I like to really push my research and preparation through lots of reading, image searching, and meditation of various kinds. I’m really fortunate to be able to work with a lot of musicians and collaborators who are directly inspirational to me. In these cases, the preliminary process just flows. My sketches are generally pretty “sketchy”, just to show my ideas and composition. My process is very heavy on the inking stage, as I often go light and loose on the pencil and freestyle the patterns and stippling.

So, the sketches sometimes go back and forth a few times, especially with album packaging, as I try to show a basic concept that spans the whole layout. It involves a certain amount of trust, which is sometimes there, sometimes not. My best work has been for clients who have the trust in my vision. The whole thing is a strange and (sometimes) difficult dance.

What’s currently sitting in your mp3 / CD player / turntable?

Lately: OM “God is Good”, Lord Vicar “Feel No Pain” , Makato Kawabata “Hosanna Mantra” , Astra “The Weirding”, Daniel Higgs “The Devotional Songs of…”, Jex Thoth “st”,Grouper “Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill”, Graveyard “st”, Buffalo Killers “Let It Ride”
Always: Hawkwind, Sabbath, Floyd, Roky, Saint Vitus, Pandit Pran Nath, Neil Young, Mahavishnu Orchestra…
I am way into collecting vinyl…vintage and contemporary psych, doom metal, classic rock gems. The cyclic/raga/trance-inducing stuff is my favorite to listen to while working. It lends itself to hours upon hours of inking.

What’s hanging on your walls and what is your favorite piece of art that you own (not created by you)?

I have the Takato Yamamoto “Secret Traces of Night” portfolio prints, a snow leopard by Dennis McNett, Alan Forbes’ Sleepy Sun, an original Hermann Rorschach card, Pushead’s Septic Death “Need So Much Attention” on newsprint, various odds and ends by Monica Canilao, photos by Paul Schiek. I also tend to fill my studio walls with tons of paper ephemera by anonymous or forgotten natural history or fantastical illustrators from years past.

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’m honestly not much of a movie fan. I do enjoy them very occasionally and when I do, the affect is to turn my creative mind off. I do read a lot. My favorite fiction writers of all time are Flannery O’Connor, Faulkner, Lovecraft, Carver. I also love natural history/science/paranormal studies. Henri Fabre “Life and Love of the Insect” is a masterpiece. My favorite thinkers/cultural engineers are Brion Gysin, Terrence McKenna, and Genesis P’Orridge.

I’m currently reading “2012 The Return of Quetzalcoatl” by Daniel Pinchbeck.

Current and upcoming projects?

On the table right now: OM/Lichens US tour poster, Fall Into Darkness Festival Portland, Black Heart Procession tour, Dinosaur Jr. and Jesus Lizard posters, and a public art project commissioned by the city of Emeryville, which is where my studio is located.

I have a lot of print projects lined up, including a series of art zines, a Sleep black light poster (based on the shirt design I recently completed), and an illustrated chapbook with Al Cisneros.

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?

I’ve come to see that it takes complete devotion, total immersion and a melding of art and life. I am hard pressed to explain what I mean. I feel that whatever IT is, I have it in me, like I’ll sacrifice whatever it takes, keep my head down, work my fingers to the bone, devote my life to the image….and I can only HOPE to break through.

If breaking through means sustaining via art, like paying the bills with art, well…I’m not certain! It’s a rough road with an (hopefully) overwhelming sense of freedom, poverty, hardships, and creative spirit.
“Breaking through” might be more attainable than that, depending on how you see it. It might mean to simply be a beacon, a creative force. This is not difficult. When a stranger flips through your sketchbook and feels a creative spark inside, that’s totally breaking through, in my eyes.

I have a signed piece of art by Barron Storey that will forever hang above my drawing table. Beneath the incredible surrealistic depiction of his studio he scrawled the E.E. Cummings quote,” I am a man, I am an artist. I am a failure and I must proceed”.

For more info on David D’Andrea and his work, head over to



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