Dave McKean: Burn My Eyes


Since MBA began in June, there have been a ton of interviews form artists of all levels. But in the back of my mind there was always of wishlist of people that I thought were needed on the site to make it the best site dedicated to metal art. One of the people in my top five was the amazing Dave McKean. He has done a ridiculous amount of mind blowing artwork for bands and of course he the artist behind the illuminating Sandman comic covers for DC Comics. Ladies and Gentleman…spend some time with one of my favorite artists of all time and the illustrative legend…Dave McKean.

How did you get your first paying art job?
I actually can’t remember which one was first, but they were all while I was in art school, and they were mostly from my lecturers who were practicing designers as well. I did a record cover for Isao Tomita, bank brochure illustrations for TSB and some interior illustrations for a strange gaming book which I won’t mention because it’s not very good. This last one came from having written and illustrated four self published comics in college with a couple of friends.

Who are your artistic influences?
So many. At school I liked sci-fi and horror stuff, and comics. I loved slick, realistic illustration, but I was intrigued by a few odd influences that have stayed with me – silent film stills, surrealism, abstract textures.

At art school my eyes were opened, and I left literal realism behind, and explored expressionism and semiotics. The door openers were Ralph Steadman, Jim Dine, Francis Bacon, Egon Schiele and many others.

Since then, I’ve discovered so many creators from around the world. I hope they don’t sit on the surface of my work like they used to, but mulch down into it, and add a colour here, or a mark or texture there. Big names; Matt Mahurin, Brad Holland, Marshal Arisman, Lorenzo Mattotti, Joel Peter Witkin, Jean Cocteau, Duane Michals, Franciszek Starowieyski, Roland Topor… the end is listless.
And film makers; Woody Allen, Tarkovsky, Murnau, Dreyer, Quays, Svankmajer, Bergman, Angelopolous, Gilliam, Fosse, again too many to list.

What is your studio space like?
I work at home, or rather, in a barn opposite home. Downstairs is drawing and painting, and photography when I need it. Also music, a piano and drum-kit, and library. Upstairs is mostly computers, my wife’s office space, and storage, lots of bits and bobs in little compartments. Polish posters everywhere.

Take us through a day in the life of Dave McKean.
The very best thing about doing this for a living is that every day is different, and I have no real idea what I’ll be doing in 2 months time.
If I’m drawing, then I usually get up around 10am. Check email, look over what I did yesterday, make some plans, look through mail. Lunch. Then work through till around 11pm-12midnight. Occasional breaks to play piano or drums or badminton or read or see family. Watch a film until 2am. Read. Sleep.
Shooting a film is completely different, occasionally travelling, setting up exhibitions, visiting locations etc. are all very nice, but get in the way of my work routine. I’m happiest at home drawing, painting, writing or editing.

Who are your favorite bands of all time?
I like all kinds of music, from orchestral to folk to jazz to electronic to tango to just about anything. Not keen on country, opera or the huge bland middle of the road blot that is represented by pop – boy bands, x-factor, chart stuff. I like all the quirky, personal, spikey, awkward, real stuff around the edges.
So most of the music I like isn’t really about the bands, it’s individual writers, singers, musicians. Having said that, bands I like are Weather Report, King Crimson, Bellowhead, Sigur Rós, Rage Against the Machine, Delightful Precipice, Farmers Market, Tin Hat Trio…

How important is music for you during the creative process?
Very. I play every day, listen to music while I work, always try to listen to the cd before doing a cover, always try to find the right soundtrack for a story before illustrating it, always edit film using temp score to create the mood and rhythm of the cut.

What was the creation process like for the “ Demanufacture” cover? How much of the concept came from the band?
My memory of this one was that I offered a bunch of roughs, maybe six? They chose this one. It was very simple and decisive, and I think they got a good cover out of it. After this success it became an increasingly long winded process.

Do you listen to a band as you work on their cover?
If possible. Sometimes the music’s not ready, but I’ll always try and get something to listen to. The mood informs the cover and artwork more than literal titles and lyrics.

I know it is not Metal Band related…but I need to know. Will you have anything to do with the The Sandman in the future?
Almost certainly not. I don’t really work at DC any more, I don’t know anyone there, it’s all changed so much in the last few years. I think Sandman was of its time, and Neil and I have moved on. I think a few Sandman fans wondered why I’d stopped designing new covers for rereleases of the Sandman graphic novels. It’s really because I designed that series of covers about 7 times, not including the initial comics series, and I just thought DC were milking the fans to the point of abuse. I just didn’t think it was fair to keep asking fans to poney up for the same old stuff.

Will you be working with Neil Gaiman on any upcoming projects?
I hope so. We’ve struggled to find something that is exciting to both of us, a new challenge, and fits into our schedules. I think we’ve both got a huge amount out of working with others, so I think that when we do something else together it really should be something that uses all those experiences. We have a couple of projects on the table.

What projects are you currently working on?
Books; The Magic of Reality with Richard Dawkins is just out. Mouse, Bird, Snake, Wolf with David Almond; Smoke and Mirrors special edition with Neil Gaiman; Nitrate (paintings and drawings inspired by silent cinema); Postcards from Bilbao, Perugia, Prague (travel sketchbooks); Caligaro (graphic novel); Pictures that Tick 2 (short comix).
Films; Luna (feature film, currently starting up again after hiatus – post production) and The Gospel of Us, a film version of Michael Sheen’s Passion of Port Talbot three day theatre event. I’m editing and doing post at the moment.

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.