Most MBA readers are probably familiar with the art Blake Armstrong has created for In Flames.. But you might not have known his name…Time to pull back the curtain and spend a little time with the very talented Blake Armstrong…
How did you get your first paying art job?
When I was twelve I painted a landscape with a lighthouse and my father’s co-worker bought it for $50. That was the first time I got money for painting. Through the years I would get the occasional commissions to paint a children’s room with random stuff, (I did one awesome room with all Dr. Seuss characters) or paint portraits of people’s family members. Stuff like that. Art was always happening in my life even when it wasn’t paying all of the bills. My first paying job in the professional arena would have to be when I completed The Jester’s Curse, my comic book with In Flames.
Have you always worked in your current style and if not how did you work before?
Style is so weird. I think my strength over the years, whether it was in my current run of work, or pitching different properties in the past, has been my ability to adapt to various styles. I don’t have just one. I’ve done art that looks like Adventure Time, or Drew Struzan or Pulp magazine styles. It varies depending on the project and what I want to accomplish. My preference, (on the rare occasions that I can get it) is to paint loose and leave little bits to the imagination. Fantasy concept art was a big influence on me. There is a lot of that in my personal work. On the new in Flames record, I went for a more charcoal and graphite feel. Totally different direction than the comic stuff or my personal work.
Who are your artistic influences?
Drew Struzan, Dave Rapoza, Richard Amsel and several others. Movie posters played a huge part in my wanting to pursue art. Drew Struzan changed my entire concept of what art could be. Stephen Gammel ended up being a tremendous influence on the work I did for Siren Charms. His art is absolutely top notch.
Tell us about your studio space?
It’s small and filled with action figures! I work from my home in Burbank and I work digitally for the majority of my projects so my “studio” is really just my office. I keep it filled with inspiring things, my favorite of which is my picture with Dario Argento that I keep framed next to my monitor.
Take us through a typical day.
As you know, there is an ebb and flow to freelance – and things can really vary week-to-week. The last few months have been very busy because of the completion of the new In Flames record and the accompanying booklet art. That was very demanding but incredibly satisfying. I’m very proud of the work. On top of that, I have a gallery showcase on June 7th of all personal work and I’ve been preparing for that. On top of THAT I get random commissions for storyboards and reference panels from a lot of my friends in the entertainment industry. So it can be very busy with a lot of varied projects.
How do you create your work? Take us through the process from concept to final.
It always starts with question: What am I trying to accomplish? From there my most typical/ tried and true method is do a very rough cut-and-paste Photoshop composite of reference images or my sketches. This way I can see a composition and shapes and I can start experimenting with color grades. Once I feel the composition is sound and that I have a road map I start refining on top of those layers. I usually lay in my outlines; paint in gray scale and then do my color work on separate composite layers.
What materials do you use? How much if any is done on the computer?
The majority of my professional work is digital. It’s just easier and faster and infinitely forgiving. All of the work I’ve done for In Flames has been digital. But I’m really trying to push my digital in a way that has the tactile feeling of traditional media. This new record really showcases that. As for my gear, I have a Mac Pro, Photoshop CC and a Wacom Intuos 4. There are, though, some occasions where paint must touch canvas. It does something wonderful for the soul. Unfortunately, I’m very clumsy and my girlfriend is tired of paint stains on the carpet. So digital is preferred.
Do you use reference materials or does all of it come from your head?
Both. For instance, a lot of my anatomical figures in The Jester’s Curse, I will pose generic 3D models in the position I require, export a reference image and then paint over it. But the composition comes from somewhere in my head. I’ll use just about anything to get the pictures out of my head and onto the page.
What is like to work for In Flames?
It’s been amazing – and that’s not a bullshit political answer – both they and their management have been immensely kind and generous for the entire time I’ve worked with them. They all have great taste in art and music and are just overall great creative people. A little anecdote that relates: several weeks ago I sent their management a piece of art for approval for the new record, I get a call 2 minutes later from Stockholm and its Bjorn and Anders — they both personally commended me on the artwork. This doesn’t happen very often with bands of that size. It was incredibly kind and makes the long hours worth it.
Do you listen the band’s music when you work on their project?
Absolutely. Like I said, I’m a fan. So when I want to make a book about Lunar Strain or start new album art I love listening to the record. I was lucky that I got to hear Siren Charms before the first brush stroke. I feel like allowed the music to seep into the work and will make the art that much more special this go around.
Do you have an advice for artist’s who wish to do artwork for bands?
My advice to young artists would be to find the band you love, draw or paint whatever their music makes you see and send it to them. In this day and age with Facebook and Twitter, we have access to everything and everyone. If the work is good and you act professional, there is a good chance someone will see it. There is literally nothing stopping you.
Tell me all about Spaceboy comics.
Space Boy Comics is my company. I started it when The Jester’s Curse was created to have a professional platform. Now it serves as my banner – SBC represents my art and me. Not just comic books.
I love the fantasy art on your site…What fantasy artists are you into?
Thank you! I love Frazetta and Syd Mead.
What are you currently working on?
Right now I have some freelance projects on my plate and some additional In Flames work on the horizon. This includes the second installment of The Jester’s Curse. I’m also about to start work on a documentary.
Have you ever turned down a project?
Absolutely. I think it’s important to know which projects you are right for and which you aren’t and when to put your foot down and not be taken advantage of. I think some people assume that because you draw for a living it’s fun, so you shouldn’t have to get paid like a normal working person – I’ve turned down several jobs because of that assumption. It usually comes down to money or when people ask for things way outside of my ability. “Oh you’re an artist! Can you make me a portrait of my mom out of beer cans and this old shoe?” “No.”
Do you have any dream projects?
In Flames has been my dream project. Truly. They trust me and I can do work I feel strongly about and it makes everyone look good. I want to be able to keep making art based on the things love and hopefully pay bills at the same time. I would love to keep going in this direction. There are a couple of other bands I’d like to hook up with though – Ghost and At The Gates are two big ones.
What are your favorite bands of all time and what bands are you listening to right now?
Megadeth, In Flames and Children of Bodom are always on shuffle someplace. As I write this I’m listening to Bloodbath and Deicide.
Who would you like to see featured on MBA?
Denis Forkas – the painter who did Behemoth’s The Satanist. He does some of the best work I’ve seen in years.