Travis Smith: I Feel The Dark


Since the inception of MBA, there have been a few artists that have been requested over and over again. One of the most requested artists is Travis Smith. Quite simply his artwork output has been prolific in the metal art genre…

How did you get your first paying art job?
Technically, my first professional project was Psychotic Waltz’s ‘Bleeding’. We were long time friends at that point and had already worked together previously on flyers and shirts. The CD art started out being an experiment, trying things for the ideas and titles relating to the album around the same time that I was getting acquainted with doing artwork digitally. It grew from there into many things that were suitable to use on the album.

Who are your artistic influences?
The short list would include Dave McKean, Mike Clift, Derek Riggs, Away,  Stephen Gammell, and Hugh Syme.

What words best describe your artistic style?
I don’t know, I can’t think of any I think are 100% accurate, or that I feel comfortable with as a description. I’ve heard people call it many different things and I think some of those terms fit a lot of what I do, but not everything. One term I’ve heard was “photo illustration” which does apply to a lot of it, but not everything. It’s also been called things like “dark” and “introspective”. Again, I like those too, but some of it is, and some of it isn’t. Other people might be better at thinking up something than I am.

How do you create your work? Take us through the process from concept to final.
\What materials do you use? Do you do everything on the computer?
It really depends, as each project can vary and might have a completely different process from he one before it. For example…for a cd like Katatonia’s Last Fair Deal Gone Down, it used mainly treated photography that had very little (but some) manipulation. Most of the time on that was spend finding and exploring locations and taking the photos with (comparatively) little time in the studio at the desk. It was similar with Opeth’s Watershed, but that used a greater amount of manipulation. Some things like Blackwater Park, or Avenged Sevenfold’s Nightmare were made with a number of different things like photography, painting (digital and traditional), pencil drawings, etc… where after all the elements were collected, it was built completely on the computer.

Yes, The computer is where everything comes together and where most –if not all- of the work is done, but…the elements my start anywhere. A sketch, a rough painting, photography…

Take us through a typical day…
Wake up, make coffee, answer emails, work, eat if I have time, work, short break, errands if applicable, hang out with the kids, work until eyes blur, lie down and watch a bad movie on until I fall asleep, repeat…ha-ha.

What is your studio space like?
Nothing very romantic, really. A room in the house, which in addition to the workstation and equipment/materials, contains shelves of books (art, fiction, work reference, etc), Cds, magazines. and things like that. No stereo. I have all my music stored on the computer with a pretty good speaker setup to listen to while I work. I’ll buy an album and rip it to the hard drive, and then store it away for safekeeping. There’s a shelf reserved for my personal favorites, musically or visually, as well as some of my own finished things, just so they are at arms reach if I need them. There are things (drawing, ads, posters, etc) arbitrarily tacked to the walls here and there as well.

What bands have you done work for?
There’s been quite a few to this point that I cant really immediately recall every one for a list without going through my samples. I’ve done projects for  bands like Psychotic Waltz, Sadus, Suffocation and Skinlab, King Diamond, iced Earth, Death, and Solitude Aeturnus, SYL, Amorphis, Overkill, Zimmers Hole,  Avenged Sevenfold, Opeth, Katatonia, CKY, Cradle Of Filth, Anathema, God Forbid, All That Remains, and Devin Townsend, and several others.

What is your favorite project that you have done?
It’s hard to say if having to choose only one. As far as the project itself it could be for many reasons including the end result of the art itself as well as the experience and the people involved. As far as just the covers themselves, I’ve quite proud of and could probably choose any from a lot of my more recent works such as Opeth: Heritage, Bloodbath: Bloodbath Over Bloodstock, Death, The Sound Of Perseverance reissue, Katatonia: Night is the new Day Reissue as well as the new Amorphis, Avenged Sevenfold, CKY…

Do the bands give you any direction?
Sure. Sometimes they have a specific idea they want me to follow, and sometimes they might have a just a general idea that they might let me run with and want to see how I would interpret it. Sometimes they let me try my own things with it completely, and see what they like enough to keep pr develop further. Other times it might be a combination of all of the above.

Do you have an advice for artist’s who wish to do artwork for bands?
In a general sense like this, not really.  I don’t  feel like I have all the answers myself, and in addition a piece of advice that works for one person might be useless or  unproductive to another, so I generally don’t feel like it’s my place to do that. I try to answer questions the best way that I can when I’m asked on an individual basis, however.

What are you currently working on?
Some things I can’t talk about as the bands like to be the ones to announce it, but some recent finished projects include things for Opeth, Redemption, Katatonia, Devin Townsend, and Charred Walls Of The Damned.

Do you have any dream projects?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with some of my all time favorite bands, in some cases on my favorite albums of theirs, and they have been some of the best working experiences you could ask for and, in addition, I’m also currently working with some other very cool bands as I write this,  so I think I can honestly say that everything I’ve considered a dream project up to this point I already have done, and the only thing that could make that better would just be to work with them again next time. Of course  there are always other bands out there at any time that I am moved or inspired by that I might love to work with. I would like to do a Slayer cover, a few movie posters, or a Stephen King novel too sometime, too.

Who are your favorite bands of all time and what bands are you listening to right now?
The last three bands to pop up on the iTunes shuffle were Borknagar, OSI and Stuck Mojo. My favorite bands of all time include Katatonia, Opeth, Devin Townsend, Psychotic Waltz, King Diamond, Acid Bath, and Voivod, to name a few. I’ve been on a bit of an album buying spree of late though, and discovering and picking up a lot of great new (for me) albums lately; Fair To Midland, World Under Blood, Volbeat, Boil, and things like that. The new release from ICS Vortex is great. I’ve also been listening to the new Opeth and it’s beautiful.

You are one of the most requested artists on MBA…Do you realize how many fans you have?
Thank you, that’s a big compliment. I assume the question is rhetorical, but nonetheless, I suppose there’s a few out there – I get messages from time to time from people on email and social networks, and I appreciate every single one, but I couldn’t guess at a specific number, no. ha-ha.

Who would you like to see featured on MBA?
No one specific is immediately coming to mind – I’d likely enjoy a feature on most anyone doing this sort of thing if I liked their work, and even if I didn’t, really. The Derek Riggs interview you did before was a good read, I thought.

About Vertebrae33

Through hard work and dedication, Vertebrae33 has established himself as one of the most prolific and exciting illustrators on the scene today.  He has received much acclaim as of late for his innovative designs, attention to detail, and wholly unique, raw style.