John Dyer Baizley: The Sweetest Curse

John Dyer Baizley is currently one of the hottest artists in the metal art scene. He has an elaborate mesmerizing style that transports the viewer to a dark yet enlightening world. He has done artwork for his own band, the amazing Baroness as well as numerous other bands such as Pig Destroyer, Kvelertak and Black Tusk.

Have you always worked in your current style and if not how did you work before?
I have been making art my entire life. Throughout my development, I have probably toyed around with a variety of styles, methods and media in order to find the most accurate means of expression. Though I have stylistic and media preferences, i have never felt particularly tied down to any one thing. If I can figure out a way to get materials cheap or free, I will spend the time to figure out what style or method suits them best. Opportunistic pragmatism suits the modern artist well; art supplies are grossly overpriced and artists are grossly undervalued. I used to dumpster dive outside art school dormitories for end-of-semester garbage can finds. One year I accumulated thousands of dollars worth of oil paints. That was the year i painted in oils. More recently, I have been working primarily with inks and watercolors. That’s what most people would call my style or method. Style is tough beast to tangle with though, lest anyone become immovably glued to a particular style from which there is no room to move or progress. At some point, I have tried almost every traditional medium: paining, sculpture, printmaking, drawing, etc. I am a real mess, and it can be impractical for me to work on album art with certain materials. There has been a long process of trial and error. I get bored pretty easily, and change the way I do things to give myself some real work. I am sure at some point i’ll stop using the watercolors in favour of something I am less familiar with. Repetition kills creativity.

What are the main themes of your art?
The themes I am interested in portraying are subtle, personal and universal themes. I respond the most directly to evocative and provocative art; and my aim is to create work that satisfies either one or the other. The themes I prefer dealing with tend to point towards the darker side of human nature and our sociology; our shared, yet personal lusts and longings and how they drive us; our triumphs and failures as they play out through the course of our lifetime. I have often to depicted fantastic, highly adorned scenes, where each image acts as a clue to an obscure narrative. Its not my intention to relay anything in a an overt or direct manner. that’s just not the way I see things. It is more rewarding to wonder endlessly than to understand instantly.  I don’t even think of the figures in my work as individuals, nor do I try to let any person place or thing have a distinct reality-based personality. My imagery is often the sum of parts. On the most superficial level, I create images that are meant to have initial visual appeal. Further inside, the scenes are all part of some ritual that unfolds itself a bit more with each subsequent work. Much of the imagery is culled from my past or my dreams; the combination is the key to understanding them. I enjoy analyzing each painting when its through. Honestly, that type of analytic thinking and self-critique is only a recent and retrospective thing. It feels a little pretentious to discuss meaning and intent, but I do have consider why I make artwork in the first place. Its easy to say that “it’s just something i have to do”, as much truth as there is in that. It’s a much more nuanced question when you ask yourself “why?” In some ways, I am making art whose purpose it is to help identify and sell records, but that isn’t a fulfilling position for me. as a result, I need to put as much energy and thought into my pieces as the musicians I am working with put into the music. I shun and resist any submitting to the inherent commercial aspects of the art that I make, and I prefer to take the stance that, at the core, I am making art in tandem with the musicians. Thematically, its important to constantly challenge. Death, fire and sex are always going to get the job done, but I want to stray as far from those cliches as possible. They are simple concepts, and audiences don’t enjoy being treated like children.

Who are your artistic influences?
My initial interest in art was definitely on the classical side of things. Early on, I was exposed to the old masters, who still inspire much of my art. However, when I was teenager, I was pulled headlong into punk and ultimately metal, where show fliers, 7″s, tshirts and album covers informed much of what I was into. Since then, I have been trying to straddle the two worlds simultaneously, as treacherous a move as that is. In the past decade, I have begun to seek inspiration from as wide a variety of sources as possible, including films, literature, and the natural world. More to the point, I can find something to inform or influence my art just about anywhere, it’s a big world. Where would any of us be without artists like Caravaggio or pushead?

What words best describe your artistic style?
Neurotic, obsessive and sloppy. I have an almost counter-productive dedication to my process.

Tell us about your studio space?
My current studio is pretty homely. a couple of desks, and a mess of drawing/painting implements, papers, inks, garbage, spent coffee cups photos, reference materials. My dog is always with me while I work. I am oblivious when working. I never really look up, or think about anything other than the artwork. I need reminders to eat and sleep. I’d love to have a big open studio at some point, but until then, I work in whatever room in my house most suits me. I am really not too picky about my work environment, other than privacy. I put on headphones and work, what else do you really need?

How do you balance Baroness with your art career?
As well as I can. . . . I can’t really participate fully in both at once, except when Baroness is recording, and I need to make our album covers. I am either on tour with baroness, or at home making art. Both require an immense amount of creative energy, so I have had to learn how to compartmentalize it as best I can. As obsessive as I can be, it becomes really difficult to switch gears. fortunately, when I run out of steam for one thing, the other is always waiting in the wings for me. The most difficult thing has been figuring out how NOT to blur the lines between the two. On a good day, I tend to think of the visual and the sonic stuff as two parts of a big lifelong project; but too much of that thinking and I get lost in some bizarre character I have created. grounding is important, lest I forget who I am in favour of some artistic goal I’ve set out. a cornerstone of my art and my music deals in the communicative properties of both media. if I would stop relating to people, I would be creating art purely for my ego, and that would be completely pointless art.

When you create art for a band…Do you listen to their music during the process?
As much as possible until the art is done. If the band only has one album out, I’ll have to pace myself. I normally ask for some version of the record to listen to as I make the art, whether its demos or rough mixes. I always listen to some type of music while I am working. The type of music flavours the art, so its pretty important for me to be thoroughly intimate with each band as I am creating their imagery.

Take us through a typical day.
I wake up around 7, drink coffee for an hour, and start working. I rarely break and frequently, I work until 1 or 2 in the morning. i am always on, and as I mentioned earlier, I need frequent reminders to take breaks, for my own sanity and the sanity of those around me. My head is a real mess when I work, and bounce back and forth from one thing to the next. As I have gotten older, my energy level has increased, and I find it odd nowadays that I never seem to get tired. I like to spend about an hour or two a day engaged in intense physical exercise, which has a calming and leveling effect on the mind.

How do you create your work? Take us through the process from concept to final.
I start every project with research. A solid, well-thought-out concept has always been important to me when I work with inks and watercolors. the medium itself is so permanent and precise, I like to maintain an even split between pre-conception and intuition. Using inks and watercolors the way I do is a battle for spontaneity, and a good idea to base my art on is important. When my concept is solid, I sketch; everything from simple doodles on napkins to full renderings. it is critically important to do that type of preplanning. when I don’t, my drawings become too blunt and/or lifeless. I have a number of different techniques once i have my sketches together. The most fulfilling way recently has been to create a full size, completely rendered pencil-sketch, as if it were the finished piece. I use a really porta-trace light-box, and create a black and white version directly over the pencil drawing. The imagery has a tendency to undergo slight change during this process. The objective is to create an ink version of my drawing that has as much liveliness as the sketch, which is quite challenging. India ink is an unforgiving medium, and there’s no way to erase mistakes, you have to live with whatever you do. As I said before, I am a scatterbrain, and ink is the medium I am probably least suited to work in, but I like it. Once the black and white is finished, I add watercolor; layering the paint until I like what I see. I use watercolor like glazing, and the process is really lengthy; but the actual process is the reward.

What materials do you use? How much if any is done on the computer?
I use very traditional media. pencils, brushes, pens, watercolors and inks. Whatever I can find on sale at art supply stores, or beg/borrow/steal from any source possible. Art supplies are unreasonably expensive, and I will find a way to use whatever is cheap, as long as its archival. The only computer work I do is layout. There is a physical version of every piece I have ever done. I don’t hate computers as tools, I’m just not very good with them.

Do you use reference materials or does all of it come from your head?
In the past few years, I have been trying to use exclusively real reference materials, and when i cannot reference material in my studio, I will go out and shoot photographs to use. When I started making art, I pulled a lot from my head, but my more recent method requires that I use real reference material whenever possible.

Do the bands give you any direction?
When I am working with a band, I ask for broad and very general direction. I am infamously bad with outside concepts, art directors and deadlines. I do send proofs to bands, but only occasionally. The way I work demands a lot of trust on the bands’ behalf, and i am very up-front about that. The end result is always a surprise for the band, and that method  has worked out well. I can be very secretive and obsessive with my artwork, and that’s why I do so much work on the front end of a project. The more the band and I see eye to eye, the better the end result. obviously, its not my place to tell anyone else what to do, but any of the bands I work with understand the way I work from the start; mutual respect ensures that everyone is happy with the direction.

Do you have an advice for artist’s who wish to do artwork for bands?
Do something interesting. Start out by working for little/nothing for bands who you love and respect. At the core we, as artists, love what we do. Its a passion long before its a profession. When I began, I basically gave all my friends’ bands designs, knowing they would be out on tour, and my art would be out with them. The underground music community is tight-knit and expansive, so the work gets out there quickly, and after a fairly short time, you begin to meet people. When you start to charge, be reasonable. Bands on bigger labels have bigger budgets, and will use your artwork in a higher capacity than a smaller band, who generally work non-musical jobs to support their bands. Remember, most bands are going through the same struggles to put out their music as you are, putting out your art. That said, if you are ever working for a band on a major label/big indie. . . gouge away! Keep yourself interested in what you do, do NOT design artwork to be seen in itunes at 1′x1″. Design it BIG, lets bring back great looking LP art. There are no rules you need to adhere to. Finally, ALWAYS RETAIN THE RIGHTS TO YOUR ARTWORK. The industry is designed to screw you and the band over, so be forceful and assertive about retaining your rights. There’s no stability in this profession, and we are all working as hard as we can. It’s not easy, it’s not supposed to be. Please try to make better artwork than I do, we all need to be outdone.

What are you currently working on?
New Baroness record.
Just started a site of my own:
Just started doing a line of no-band-logo shirts:
Just finished an album for Tiger!Tiger! form atlanta.
Putting some Black Tusk poster-art out very soon.
Putting together a series for a gallery show.

Do you have any dream projects?
Honestly, as long as I am happy working on what i do, this IS the dream project.

What are your favorite bands of all time and what bands are you listening to right now?
Ugh. loaded question.

You are one of the people that tons of people have asked to see on MBA. What artists would you like to see profiled on the site?
Doug Johnson. Roger Dean(not metal enough???). Whomever puts those deathspell omega packages together, they are all mindblowing.

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.