Matt Cavotta: Land of Sunshine

Time for MBA to spend some time with the super-talented Matt Cavotta….

How did you get your first paying art job?
I had a friend in the 3rd grade who had a button maker.  I drew pictures of a cartoon character (some awkward combination of a dog and a hippo) named Treebark.  We made buttons out of them and sold them for a quarter each–fat cash for a 9-year-old in 1979.

Have you always worked in your current style and if not how did you work before?
I tried out a completely new process for All Tomorrow’s Funerals.  I wanted to go with something stripped down to just black, red, and some toothy mark-making.  Usually I paint in acrylics or do full-color, painterly work in Photoshop.  This time, I approached it more like a comic book process – pencil, then finished inks, then added color–but with more time to massage the details.

Who are your artistic influences?
I see new ones every day.  With artists and artwork being so readily available on the internet, one doesn’t have to wait for printed books, records, or magazines to see something inspiring.  It used to be that only the lucky (albeit, talented) few were seen by the rest of the world.  Now we get to see all the up-n-comers and out-of-nowhere ass-kickers that we’d have had no chance to see in the past.  (Still, I have always had a soft spot for Sargent, Vouillard, Frazetta, Klimt, Dali, and many others.)

Tell us about your studio space?
I moved recently and had to pare down my studio drastically.  Currently, all of my work (including All Tomorrow’s Funerals) is done on my iMac in the corner of my bedroom.  Not sexy at all.  Before that, I had the whole 3rd floor of my house all to myself–room for an easel, drawing table, 2 computers, and a full bathroom.

How do you create your work? Take us through the process from concept to final.
The way I approach my album cover work is different than other sorts.  When representing music, I start by opening up a line of communication with the band.  The genre of music determines quite a bit about the vibe of the art, but it’s this conversation with the members of the band that really helps discover the meaning behind the songs.  So far, I’ve been very lucky to work with bands like Autopsy, Soulless, Thanatopsis, and Somnus–all of whom allowed me to dig into the lyrics of all the songs to find the imagery that bubbled up in my imagination.  None of them came to the table with preconceived ideas.  From the conversation and the all-important interpretation of lyrics an image is born.  That gets scribbled down rough and simple, and is honed and tightened over a series of sketches.  Once it’s tight enough to convey where it’s going, the band is brought in to take a peek and give feedback and the blessing.    After that, it’s just a matter of putting in the hours to give the final art all the solidity, grit, and power needed to properly represent the music.

What materials do you use? How much if any is done on the computer?
These days, it’s almost all pushing pixels.  Occasionally, I’ll use pencil or ink drawings and scan them in before painting, but even that is rare anymore.

Do you use reference materials or does all of it come from your head?
I try to look at reference for inspiration, or to absorb the information into my head and hand.  But then I just plow straight into the art without referring back too often.  This way, all of the elements have the same flavor of artistic sauce.  I am bothered by artwork in which it’s clear which parts were imagined and which were drawn from reference.  There is no artistic consistency there.  If I can get by without any reference at all, then I feel like the work is more likely to be exactly how I wanted it to be, rather than sort of how it looked in the only reference I could dig up.

Do the bands give you any direction?
The direction I’ve had in the past has been in the bands’ reaction to early sketches.  My goal as an artist is to create imagery that makes the client giddy and makes me proud to claim it as my own.  If I show something that doesn’t elicit squeals of joy, I get back to the drawing board to find another answer.  Usually, this process takes me somewhere I would not have gone on my own, and it delivers the band something that pleases them in a way that is unexpected.

Do you listen the band’s music when you work on their project?
Not often.  I tend to listen to talk radio or less mentally-demanding music while working.  Metal, for me, requires my attention, and it gets me tap-tapping with my hands (I used to be a drummer).  Neither of these things is good for concentration or precision mark-making.

Do you have any advice for artist’s who wish to do artwork for bands?
Start small – with your friends’ bands.  Or make up a band–whatever you need to do to give yourself some proof in-hand that you can make powerful imagery to support music.  Talk goes nowhere in the art world.  It’s a show-me industry.

What are you currently working on?
I’ve got no album work in the pipeline currently.  My creative energy is focused on my day job as a creative director for the card game, Magic the Gathering (like album covers, a fertile ground for awesome artwork.)

Have you ever turned down a project?
Yes.  If the client wants something that does not fulfill part two of my goal (create imagery that I am proud to claim as my own) I don’t bother.  You can’t pay me enough to paint Thomas Kinkade cottages, or cheesy high fantasy armored bikini warriors.  I leave that stuff to other artists.

Do you have any dream projects?
I’d almost be willing to off a man for the opportunity to design the logo and uniforms for an NFL football team.  Not exactly related to album cover artwork, but there it is. . .

What are your favorite bands of all time and what bands are you listening to right now?
My connection to music like Autopsy is made more through the sights than the sounds.  Truly heavy music has no taboos, no nightmares that are too creepy to see played out.  This is a realm where imagination is not shackled.  The themes of the music often touch upon darker, angrier subjects like oppression, war, myth, and nightmares–all of which coincide with my edgy fantasy art fandom.That being said, some all-time faves are Faith No More, Iron Maiden, Metallica, and Pantera.

Who would you like to see featured on MBA?
I’d love to see the albums and artwork of bands and artists nobody knows about . . . yet.  MBA is a great place to give budding talent a little shot in the arm.  Because the internet is so saturated with artwork, a vote of confidence like a feature on MBA could do a lot of good for guys (and gals) trying to make a go at the tough business of making a living through art.

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.