Paul McCarroll says he is from Northern Ireland but it seems more like he was born out of fire in some dark, surreal plane of existence. He has done a ton of work for bands such as Scald, Revile and a prolific amount of work for Primordial. He is a true illustrator working in numerous styles as he creates genuine works of art.

How did you get your first paying art job?
Back in school painting logo’s and metal covers onto school bags and denim jackets. It’s a bit of blur after that, I basically just did anything I could to make a few quid. Signs, murals, tattoo designs etc. Then I started selling my own stuff, not much though. My first proper release on a label was Adorior’s ‘Like Cutting The Sleeping’ album on Head Not Found back in 97′. I did a couple of paintings for that. Then for a few years it was just my own band Scald’s CD’s – DIY releases, until around 01 when it got regular.

Have you always worked in your current style and if not how did you work before?
I work in different styles according to what will work best. I started out drawing and painting, then in the early 90′s I started doing airbrush paintings and moved on to computers around 2000. It was a few years into that that I really got into the straight digital painting style that I guess is my own. But more and more I’m incorporating more analogue drawing and painting elements into the work. Whatever works really. Just bought some charcoal, never used that before.

Who are your artistic influences?
Many artists, early ones are Bosch, Petagno, Ken Kelly, Frazetta, Dali, Munch, Klimt, whoever was drawing 2000ad or making good lp sleeves, Giger, Helnwein, old masters, anything really, I come from a pre-internet age, so whatever I could find in books. These days I’m seeing so much amazing artwork everyday online it’s quite humbling. My favourite artist is Beksinski.

What words best describe your artistic style?
Visceral, detail obsessed, moralistic, reflective, contradictory, cynical, metaphorical and quite possibly full of mad dog shit.

Tell us about your studio space?
I used to work in a beige box room with a desk and about 1sq metre of floor, that was claustrophobic and depressing. For the past couple of years since moving it’s a nice downstairs room with red walls and lots of black. It’s not a big room but I have space to stand back and look at things. I think it’s important to have a real workspace that you feel comfortable in. My mental health would not do well in a corner of a bedroom. One side of the room is taken up with my computer stuff, wacom etc. Some shelves above that with things that make me comfortable, skulls, teeth, framed insects, anatomy stuff etc on the facing side of the room I have a large industrial drawing board / table that’s either covered in sketches or up flat to do framing, wrapping mail order stuff etc.
Another wall has a bunch of shelves with books, all the CD’s and things I’ve worked on, a stereo and all my painting stuff and an antique writing bureau, facing that is a window with a pillow under it for my dog to lie on when I’m in here and my CD collection. Other little weird models, lamps, gas masks around the place with my prints and anatomy posters on the walls. It’s my little art cocoon.

When you create art for a band…Do you listen to their music during the process?
Ideally it’s good to have some music before even thinking about the ideas. Lyrics too. I think the art should be true to the music, but it’s not always possible to get music in advance. Sometimes I get the full album after starting the ideas stage and it completely changes my track. I’ll listen to the band on and off in the early stages, but really I just drift off to my own music after a while. Generally on shuffle in the day or quieter stuff or silence at night or when I need to concentrate more on details.

Take us through a typical day.
I get up about 6.45 let the dog out for a piss and have a smoke. Make coffee and spend some time trying to wake up watching the news. At 8.30 I take my son to the school bus stop and take the dog for a walk. Get home, clear up a bit, do emails and whatnot, make food and do stuff around the house or go out if we need something. If I’m home I’ll maybe get a few hours in the studio before I pick my son up again. After dinner I’m out again with the dog on the beach and later I’ll do more work. I might hang out with the Mrs and watch TV or my son for a break until they go to bed. I’ll then either relax a bit with some Team slayer on Halo3 or TV or if I have a lot on and I have a bit of energy I’ll get back to work till 1.30-2am.

How do you create your work? Take us through the process from concept to final.
If I’m making my own artwork it’s pretty basic I just paint with the wacom and see what happens, or try working one of my sketchbook ideas. If it’s a CD job then I work in all manner of ways and combinations. It could be a digitally enhanced drawing, photo-manipulation, digital painting or a mixture of whatever seems like the right thing to do. Let’s say for argument, I’m doing the last Killface CD ‘Faceless’. (I’ll supply the cover of this for illustration)They came to me with a rough concept of a guy ripping off his own face, with the request that it should be very bloody. OK, so that’s already in place, that stage could take a couple of weeks with some bands. We agree that it should look painted and not be a photo-manipulated gore piece. So then I start trying to imagine the look and the composition, it’s to be a digipak so it has more width. I do a lot of sketches which don’t seem to work so we focus on a close up of face and hand’s. It seems more immediate. I’ve then got to figure out how to do it. In photoshop I mess around scrawling in shapes until I think I have the right perspective. I have no reference material so I decide to photograph my own face and hands to use as such. I set up a tripod and coerce my son into clicking the shutter for me. We take about 100 photos of the face in the up position for eyes and mouth position, down for the torn off face, and mouth pulled open for the exposed teeth. I select the usable parts and make a photo montage of the parts I need. Of course it looks shit but its just a reference. I then paint in the shapes in a layer above, sampling colours from the skin etc. on the photographic layers. Then I roughly paint, in the suit and hair, which I make different to mine and I leave out my beard. I now have a rough painting and I build on this working in the skin stretches and inner stringy bits etc, there’s a lot of artistic licence in that. I’m not going for photorealism but I want it to be believable so I concentrate  on making the eyes and teeth fairly real looking, then I add shitloads of blood. I’ve only used paint brushes, smudge brush and dodge and burn brushes. The background is made from a photo of wallpaper, blurred a bit with some painted colour layers over. The artwork is approved by the band and I go on to the design.  I make up the backgrounds for the whole digipak with the wallpaper and some blood layers. Edit and work in the in the band photo and set up the whole paper part as one big tiff. Import it into illustrator and do the text layout and add the logo which I’d made for them previously. After a few weeks its all done. Sometimes it’s not that complicated, sometimes more so. If it’s not so specific I can usually go straight into photoshop from scratch or scan in a pencil sketch as a guide to start with.

What materials do you use?
Anything that I think will work, photo’s, scans, drawings, stains, painted parts but mostly electricity.

How much if any is done on the computer?
Can be 100% after sketches. Occasionally not very much, but usually about 70-80% I’d say.
Do you use reference materials or does all of it come from your head?
Depends what I need, if I’m just making up some madness then I go with the flow, if specifics are required then I’ll look things up or take photos.

Do the bands give you any direction?
Mostly they like to have a hand in, it’s good to get a vibe off them, to see how they picture things, even if we end up doing something completely different it’s good to have a starting point. Sometimes they give me a title and just ask me to come up with something. I like having freedom to do whatever I want but you’ve got to remember who’s paying and it should be relevant so I give a rough sketch and explanation to make sure we’re on the same page then usually they don’t see it till it’s finished. It can be a real mistake to show in progress work sometimes, it can cause all kinds of complications.

Do you have an advice for artist’s who wish to do artwork for bands?
Value your own work, price it accordingly and do the best you can with everything you hope to put your name on. Don’t work for free, you won’t be valued. Get a deposit, I ask for a third up front with people I haven’t worked with. There are good reasons for this. The band has now made an investment and placed their trust in you and it’s pretty sure they’re not playing you off against another or even multiple artists with the view of just paying one. It happens. Agree to be paid the remainder on approval of the finished work and upload it when paid. Amazing how forgetful people are when they have what they want already. Do take on board what the band says, show respect like you expect respect, but sometimes it’s obvious that they’re interfering to have some sort intellectual input for their own ego rather than improve the work. Oh and agree to deal with one member of the band so you’re not being bombarded with different shit that everyone wants included. Let them argue among themselves rather than drag you into lengthy email discussions when you should be working on the art. You’ll find that most bands are OK to deal with if you know how and it’s only the very small minority that you’ll end up wanting to kill, dismember and feed to their parents for spawning such fuckwits onto the planet.

What are you currently working on?
Just finishing up on the new Atheos CD, it’ll be a while before that’s out, they’re looking for a good deal for it. And so they should it’s a great album. That’s maybe the most detailed thing I’ve done for a band yet, I hope someday it’ll be on a 12”. I won’t reveal it yet, I always wait until the band is ready to show it themselves. Next up I think is the new Killface album, they’re recording now, we’ll start when they’re done. Apart from that some other bits and pieces and trying to find more time to create a conceptual body of work more for gallery showing. Who knows though, the next album cover usually appears before I finish what I’m on.

Do you have any dream projects?
Doesn’t everyone? I’d love to have a whack at a Motorhead sleeve. Just to be able to work with Petagno’s great icon would be an honour. I’d treat it with more respect than the crap sleeve on their last album. I’ve always wanted to do a Slayer cover. If I could go back in time and change the covers for Sabotage and Paranoid I would, pointless now because they’re iconic,  but awful compared to the rest in the untouchable first 6 albums.

What are your favorite bands of all time and what bands are you listening to right now?
Of all time, Black Sabbath (with Ozzy), King Crimson, Slayer, Napalm Death, Godflesh, Motorhead, Voivod, Neurosis, Naked City, Pink Floyd, old Alice Cooper, Dead Kennedys, Tool, Masters Of reality….you can see this would be a long list so I’ll stop.
Today I’ve been into Entombed, Lard, Portishead, Frank Zappa and Danzig and whatever has been on shuffle….right now Christbait Rising by Godflesh. Haven’t really been getting into anything new lately, except the latest Primordial, which really blew me away. I worked on it for months with only a couple of rough tracks but the finished album was even better than I expected.

What artists would you like to see on MBA?
Orion Landau would be a good one I reckon. Might have a different perspective as an in house designer / artist (Relapse). Glyn Smyth is really on the up these days, producing some great stuff. Of course the older guard of the likes of Ken Kelly, Repka, Seagrave etc, it’s all good.

Check out more of Paul’s work at:

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.