Brian Allen: Threshold of Transformation

Bassic Boston T-Shirt Design

I love when an artist comes out of nowhere for me and just grabs me right away! That is what the work of Brian Allen did…Let’s spend a little time with him…

How did you get your first paying art job?

After school I was lucky enough to land a job with a graphics decal place working with dirt bikes and ATVs.  I was way out of my league, but I learned a lot.  I spent the day drawing skulls, dragons, and chicks without clothes on.

Have you always worked in your current style and if not how did you work before?

Since the beginning, I’ve always enjoyed drawing dark, creepy things, but I try to keep a bit of humor in them.  To keep the bills paid, I’ve had to do work in a lot of other styles (cartooning, logo design, even children’s books).  The ironic thing is that now that my work is improving, being a Jack-of-all-trades isn’t really important anymore – in fact, sometimes it gets in the way.

Who are your artistic influences?

I spend my days pretty much in constant awe of the talent out there.

One of my earliest inspirations, oddly enough, was the cover of Black Sabbath’s Dehumanizer by Wil Rees, which was also probably the first metal album I ever picked up (at a yardsale, I think).  The cover had this skeletal robot wearing a cloak hovering over a dude ripping open his skin and exposing a metal skeleton underneath.  To this day, I’m still heavily influenced by the crazy amount of detail packed into the image.

Other early influences:
HR Giger, airbrush artist who created the creature designs for the Aliens movies.
Luis Royo, fantasy painter.
Derek Riggs, the classic Iron Maiden covers

Artists that inspire me now:
Zombie Yeti
Angry Blue
Joshua Belanger
Mark Riddick
Dane Henry Jr.

Illustration of zombie eating itself

Tell us about your studio space?

I finished my basement and built a 200 sq ft. studio space where I spend most of my time.  I’ve got an ancient drafting table, my iMac, my Wacom Cintiq, and a sweet Looney Tunes Pachinko machine.

Take us through a typical day.

Honestly, since I started freelancing, no day is typical.  I literally never know who’s going to call me or what kind of crazy idea or project I’ll get pitched.  It’s what I love about it the most – the unpredictability – because I get bored of routines very quickly.

How do you create your work? Take us through the process from concept to final.

I try to get a really good feel for what the client is looking for.  I ask a ton of questions before we even begin.
Once I have a pretty good idea of what the client wants, I sketch up several really rough ideas based on their instructions, and a few ideas that are completely my own.  I do most of this digitally on my Cintiq, using a drawing program called Manga Studio 5.
After I get the client’s feedback on the sketches, I go back in and spend a lot of time redrawing a black and white rendering of the design.
I show the line art drawing to the client again, get their feedback, and then add the color and finishing touches.

Take Out

What materials do you use? How much if any is done on the computer?

I grew up drawing with pencil and ink on paper – but switched to a completely digital workflow years ago.  The technology now is just incredible – drawing on the computer feels just like drawing on paper, and I don’t have to worry about spilling ink on my clothes.

Do you use reference materials or does all of it come from your head?

When I first start sketching ideas, I try not to use my reference and just let ideas flow.  Once we get a direction down, and I start working on the detailed artwork, I try to use a lot of reference and inspiration to pump some uniqueness and accuracy into the design.

Do the bands give you any direction?

It varies a lot – some bands have a very specific idea, right down to tiny symbolic elements that have to be included, while others give me free reign.  There’s nothing wrong with either approach, but I think you typically get a better result when you let things just happen.

T-Shirt illustration of a sketleton dagger through a realistic looking heart

Do you listen the band’s music when you work on their project?

Always – sometimes I loop it so much that by the time I’m done I’m totally sick of it, lol.

Do you have an advice for artist’s who wish to do artwork for bands?

Remember that bands are artists too, and they often face the same challenges you do (fierce competition, tight budgets, erratic schedules).  You may have to be flexible – but I’ve found bands are more likely than any client to help cross-promote you.

What are you currently working on?

I just finished a line of shirts for Hard Rock Cafe for some of their major cities.  This month I’m working on a cool grim reaper logo for a racing company in Australia, some zombie T-Shirt designs for a saloon in Texas, and a mascot design for an e-cigarette company.

One project I’m super-pumped about is a cover for a sampler by Listenable that will be distributed at an Iron Maiden concert in Europe later in March.  We’re doing a really sweet parody of the Killers cover art.

I’m also working on a series of promotional stickers to sell at comic conventions and give away in contests.

Cheech and Chong Zombies

Have you ever turned down a project?

In the early days, I was a total art-whore.  I would do any project to pay the bills, and I did some heinous, heinous shit.  But over the last few years, I’ve grown enough as an artist that I’m able to pick and choose what I want to work on.  My work is a lot better now because of that, and I’m a lot happier in general.  Sometimes turning down something you know you’re going to hate is the smartest move in the long run.

Do you have any dream projects?

It’s going to sound like bullshit, but I’m kind of living my dream right now. I’m a humble guy, and to be honest didn’t ever think I’d have what it takes to be running my own show.  At the moment, I just feel like I’m in a competition with myself – trying to be better than I was yesterday is something I obsess over.

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

Favorite bands of all time:

Iron Maiden
Coheed & Cambria

Bands that I’m listening to now:

The Sword
Colour Haze

Zombie Golfer Album Cover

Who would you like to see featured on MBA?

Honestly, you’ve covered so many of the artists I look up to:  Angry Blue, God Machine, Joshua A. Bellanger, Riddick, Skinner…

You should check out Zombie Yeti – he’s got an amazingly unique graphic style.  And he also takes a lot of time out to help other artists.

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.