Time to enter the gnarly mind of Anthony Roberts…
How did you get your first paying art job?
My first paying art job was doing line art illustrations for advertising in Ardmore Oklahoma. I was probably in my early teens, my Dad worked in advertising for our local newspaper. At the time, at least in Ardmore, even black and white photography was uncommon this newspaper “display” advertisiing. So Dad hooked me up doing ink illustrations of clothing, jewelry, and whatever else local businesses needed. I was pretty industrious at this point, I had my business cards and my little portfolio…I had all kinds of cartooning and odd art jobs lined up.
Have you always worked in your current style and if not how did you work before?
I’m not sure I know what my current style is…? Working with black ink has been a constant. I’ve always had the same interests and been inspired by the same kinds of things. I’ve always made art that was about the bad, or grotesque, it’s what comes naturally to me for whatever reason. I cringe thinking about some of the art I’ve given as gifts to family over the years!
Who are your artistic influences?
Early on I was shaped by horror and Sci-Fi …the Warren Magazines like Eerie and Creepy, Star Wars, Planet of the Apes, the Sinbad films, the Ray Harryhausen and Japanese monster stuff. I went through a Pushead worship phase, there’s a lot to be learned from him. The same goes for H.R. Giger, not from the same technical or craft angle as from a conceptual one, his vision is unique and out of nowhere. The esoteric and psychedelic traditions are always inspiring, Austin Osman Spare’s automatic drawings and sigilization, Wilfred Satty’s collages, Hans Bellmer’s Dolls and photography, Chris Foss, Moebius, the list goes on forever.
Tell us about your studio space?
I’m fortunate to have a room dedicated to working, it’s not huge but it doesn’t need to be. I try to keep it pretty simple, with just the necessities….low lights, a couple of tables, a computer, a bunch of records, some guitars and music gear.
Take us through a typical day.
I like to work on Inking while I’m fresh out of bed. It’s very focused, almost like meditation. I’ll do inking from 5:45 or so in the morning until 7ish when I gear up for work. I do design work in publishing as my “day job” so that’s the next 8 or so hours. After work I’ll come home and try to catch up with my family, I’ve got a 4 year old son so I spend most evenings playing hard with him. Once he’s in bed for the night I’ll go for round two and work on sketches and concepts until 11-11:30 or until I’m totally out of gas. I wouldn’t survive doing that every single day, so I try to get in 4 days a week. With this schedule projects tend to enlongate, which is a bummer.
How do you create your work? Take us through the process from concept to final.
If I’m working with a band I’m not familiar with the first thing I do is try to understand the aesthetic they have established, for better or worse that’s where I’m starting. Sometimes it’s something that’s easy to improve other times it’s heavy enough to be intimidating. Then I’ll do a lot of research looking at lots of different images, reading lyrics, whatever, groping around until I find a spark (or it finds me). The concept stage is the most important for me and takes the longest. I want there to be something that can understood in an image. Once I’ve got my head around a concept or two I’ll start sketching, doing as many as I can as fully formed as I can stand to make them. I try to make the sketches as finished as possible and not leave much to chance at the inking stage. Time is short and ink does not forgive so it’s best for me to have a good idea of where it’s going. Once I’ve got a few I like, I’ll narrow it down to what I think is the strongest and send it to the band. If they’re cool with what i’ve done it moves to inking. I use a lightbox to transfer the sketch to board with ink, after a few sessions on the lightbox the illustration is ready to go into a layout, separations for shirts or whatever.
What materials do you use? How much if any is done on the computer?
A Moleskine sketchbook, I like the 140lb paper because I need to erase. A lot. A 2mm drafting lead holder. Hot press smooth finish Bristol board. Various sizes of PIgma Micron pens, A lightbox.
Everything I do ends up scanned in at some point so there is some cleanup processing I do in Photoshop, occasionally I’ll do digital coloring. I also really like collage and I used to do a lot of it, but lately it’s just been for personal work. It’s a nice break from the unforgiving ink.
Do you use reference materials or does all of it come from your head?
At some point it comes from my head. I don’t draw directly from existing photos or art but I’ll use anything I can find for basic reference. If I’m trying to draw something from reality…like a motorcycle, there are details that need to be there for it to read correctly. I’ll dig and find as many different images as I can stand to sift through and try to synthesize from there.
Do the bands give you any direction?
I always ask early on what ideas or direction a band has in mind, that’s where I like to start. Sometimes it’s vague, other times the subject matter is quite specific. I try to capture some of the basic essence of their ideas while letting the art go wherever it wants to go.
Do you listen the band’s music when you work on their project?
If I can, I do. I like to get into their trip, read lyrics, play the records to the point where I’m familiar with them. I want their music to influence what I’m doing as much as possible. I come at it from a design/communication angle, I see as problem solving: trying to find something to say about the music or finding a visual context for the sound. The execution of the illustration in ink is also problem solving, I learn something new in every one.
Do you have an advice for artist’s who wish to do artwork for bands?
Be willing to work cheaply for what you love, but don’t give it away. Don’t track your time. Be patient, don’t stop working.
What are you currently working on?
I just finished up a couple of Tattoo designs and an LP design for Slomatics. Cover art for a black metal band called Dominium, is still forming in the void. Next is a Ramlord/Welkin Dusk split 7in. I’m always working on stuff for the Conan universe and for Urfaust. Those guys are great to work with…totally different subject matter but they just turn me loose.
Do you have any dream projects?
My dream project would involve a band that blows me away completely and a concept that comes to me instantly, inks easily, and satisfies me intensely.
What are your favorite bands of all time and what bands are you listening to right now?
Favorite bands of all time is a tough one, and I have to be careful not to make a gigantic list that no one will read. All time favorites would include Black Sabbath, The Legendary Pink Dots, Samhain/Misfits, Coil, Voivod, Metallica, Black Flag, Sisters of Mercy. These are bands I’ve listened to for years and years and can always come back to.
Right now I’ve been playing a lot of electronic stuff, Aphex Twin, Salem, Mater Suspiria Vision. Old and new psychedelic stuff, I just today heard Peaking Lights and thought they were great. The Howling Wind “of Babalon” is a record I did some art for that put me through the floor, I recommend it to anyone who’ll listen to me. Those two Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats records are amazing and have been played a lot recently. There’s so much to be heard.
Who would you like to see featured on MBA?
Simon Fowler does some incredible stuff, I’d be interested to hear from him. I’d also like to hear Ken Kelly’s take on working for Kiss on the Love Gun and Destroyer covers.