Dungeons and Drawings with Bodie Hartley

originally posted on July 19, 2017

Bodie Hartley

One of my favourite Instagram accounts is the frequently updated page of illustrator, graphic designer, zinester, dungeon master and all around good dude Bodie Hartley. Unlike most of the art accounts I follow, the text in Bodie’s posts is essential when it comes to character drawings, as each character is accompanied by a delightful description or micro narrative.

Bodie Hartley

CW: Hi Bodie! A while ago I overheard you say that it was much harder to gather likes from posts that are not populated by characters. I apologize for being part of the character focused part of your audience, always waiting for new wizards and creatures to appear on my feed – even though the wonderful aesthetics of your dungeons or landscapes are definitely not lost on me. The way that each new character comes with a short description appeals to me greatly. There is a hint of story every time, a potential for a greater narrative. As somebody who has been playing D&D for a long time and draws their inspiration from the high fantasy genre, is this something that just automatically happens in your head with each character you draw?

BH: I don’t usually plan a story out or any kind of background info for a creature or character before drawing. As I’m drawing I usually form a bit of an idea of where they are and what they’re doing, they’re not usually just floating in space even if I haven’t drawn a background (unless it’s some sort of magical void beast). So when I get to the end and am posting the drawing, I’ll have a bit of a situation or a placement for the character in my mind which I draw upon to come up with a silly little mini story. The meat of the stories is definitely an after-thought.

Bodie Hartley

Has any character or creature you’ve created like this ever found their way into any of your RPG adventures?

Not too often, it has happened before when I take a real liking to a character and want to explore them more. One of these was Magic Strauss, the wizard with a bookshelf on his back, I just really enjoyed the concept and thought it’d be fun to have the players in my D&D game come across him, he was taking some wizards in training on an excursion to a giant eagle’s nest. I found it really easy to present him in the game, I think because I’d spent a decent amount of time drawing him and thinking about who he is.

Bodie Hartley

Your characters can sometimes easily be placed in the high fantasy genre, but sometimes they go beyond that. What are your main influences when it comes to character building?

The biggest influence other than D&D and fantasy novels would be video games. Games like Diablo, Minecraft, Fallout, Zelda. Horror to a lesser degree but I definitely draw on ideas and themes from the Lovecraft Mythos. I’m also pretty into podcasts about folklore and old stories, Myths and Legends and Lore are the two main ones, they definitely influence my creativity.

Bodie Hartley

Is gaming your main outlet for storytelling or have you ever dedicated more time to a character in the form of writing or maybe a comic?

I have tried to write more typical stories before, there are a few things I come back to and work on every now and then, it’s just not my main passion or focus. My preference is presenting worlds and platforms for people to find their own stories in. My love for this kind of work came from the Dinotopia books (I think), the big ones which were presented kind of like a travel journal of a guy who washed up on an island inhabited by ancient civilisations and dinosaurs.

Bodie Hartley

Which reminds me: I haven’t yet mentioned Slowquest, your Choose Your Own Adventure zine, in which of course the reader self-inserts as the main character. Are you working on Quest 2 yet?

Yes! I was about to press print on it this weekend actually but I decided to re-write the ending. So I just need to have it proof-read and I’ll be setting up the old zine production line (comprised of my family and friends). And Quest 3 is written as well actually. I’m headed off to a zine-fair over east next month (ZICS in Brisbane), it’d be super cool to have the third finished for that but it’ll be quite a feat to have it done that quickly.

I’m very much looking forward to these upcoming quests! Do you have any other projects in mind/in production that you would like to mention?

Probably just BO-MART, a zine vending machine currently located at Paper Mountain in Perth. It’s been going really well so far, I’m just sourcing a bunch of new zines after selling out of the current lineup. I’m really excited to get more locally made work in there.

Bodie Hartley

Top 5 artists at the moment?

Top 5 songs/albums/podcasts to listen to while working?

Another Top 5 of your own choice?

Top 5 currently running or recent TV shows according to me:

Bodie Hartley

Questiontime with Jon Burgerman

originally posted on June 5, 2012

 © Jon Burgerman

© Jon Burgerman

If you have an interest in doodles, character art and anything in, around and beyond this general area you might already be familiar with British artist and illustrator Jon Burgerman. Like a constantly evolving and expanding wallpaper, Jon Burgerman’s art seems suited to cover just about anything, from canvas and walls to sneakers, books, video game worlds and people. Did I mention he also plays in Anxieteam with Jim Avignon? Well, he does.
Let’s see what he is up to today, shall we?

CW: Hello, Jon Burgerman. Where in the world are you right now, and are there any interesting sandwiches around?

JB: I’m sat in Brooklyn, NYC. There are no sandwiches around but my friend Jim ate a huge mexican sandwich today at the waterside park.

Would you be able to show us your latest drawing or is it a secret?

Erm… I’m not sure what my latest drawing is, oh wait, here’s one:

 © Jon Burgerman

© Jon Burgerman

It’s of the singer from Radiohead.

What do you spend the most of your time on these days, your commercial work or your own projects and exhibitions?

Exhibitions and my own projects. I’m doing the least amount of commercial work I’ve done in many years now. Sadly I still find that most of my time is still spent in front of a computer.

You have designed a multitude of products and packaging for various companies – do you ever have to turn down a job due to lack of time or interest?

Sure – I only have so much time and people forget that some of that time needs to be spent not working! There’s no point working on a job you don’t like – the work will suffer and then you’ll like the work even less.

 © Jon Burgerman

© Jon Burgerman

Your reputation is that of an extremely prolific artist. You have drawn on just about any kind of surface, worked in plenty of different media and collaborated with many different artists. What’s on your to do list – objects to design? A medium you haven’t yet tried? An artist you would like to work with?

I’d like to do more live work – more experiences that are strange, unique and special. After you’ve made a lot of ‘things’ the experience gets a little hollow, seeing as most of it is driven by commercial forces. I want to make less but nicer things, paint more, travel more, eat more and perform more.

 © Jon Burgerman

© Jon Burgerman

While the central aspects of some of your larger drawings seem to be shape and colour, they generally feature characters or character elements in more or less abstract form. Are these characters usually there for purely aesthetic reasons?

Not really – they are the anchor points to the compositions and a way ‘in’ to the pieces. They represent, loosely, both myself and the viewer. We are lost amongst ourselves, entangled in a mess of our own making. The crooked hands, at broken angles and uncomfortable degrees are my hands as I draw the pieces. The pieces are self documenting their creation.

 © Jon Burgerman

© Jon Burgerman

In an interview I read you mentioned that your drawings sometimes are visual diary entries. Do they contain some form of narrative or are they made up of fragments of what you experienced in no specific order?

They are not storyboards or comic stripes but do follow a narrative. As mentioned above, sometimes the narrative is the struggle of making the work itself. Sometimes it’s about finding the perfect sandwich. Stories drive all my works. Without a story to tell I’d have nothing to draw (write, sing, blog, scribble) about.

When you draw individual characters that are not part of a larger image, do you imagine a narrative for them, or are they ever based on real life people?

Yes, they are sometimes based on people I’ve met or know. I sometimes draw in a more figurative sense and then cook them down into my simplified character form. They don’t all instantly have backstories. Sometimes a character will be forgotten about and sometimes they will stick around, and reappear in my work. This is part of the process of developing them. Over time they get personalities, names, dreams and fears. It’s at this point when they become characters, as opposed to just a drawing of a character.

 © Jon Burgerman

© Jon Burgerman

Top 5 artists at the moment?

hmmm I dunno, I’m not good with these sorts of things. Here’s the first 5 artists I can think of:

Top 5 songs/records to listen to while working?

according to my last FM account it is currently

  • Slugabed
  • Teenage Fanclub
  • Toots and the Maytals
  • Grimes
  • Jam City

Another Top 5 of your own choice?

Top 5 things I’m going to do tonight

  • Eat veggie steamed dumpling at M Noodle
  • Watch Lena Dunham’s TV show GIRLS
  • Drink a beer
  • Take my socks off
  • Go to bed and read some pages of IQ84
 © Jon Burgerman

© Jon Burgerman

Zoé Byland: The Good, the Bad and the Batgirl

originally posted on January 22, 2012

 © Zoé Byland

© Zoé Byland

Zoé Byland was the artist who first introduced me to the possibility of character design as a legitimate art form. We met when she moved to Vienna from her native Switzerland to join the “contextual painting” class I was attending at the time. Zoé still primarily lives in Vienna, teaching, studying and practicing art. Her paintings and sculptures are regular guests in galleries around Europe and abroad.

CW: I remember around a decade ago, when you first started working and exhibiting around Vienna, character design in its own context was not quite recognised as an art form yet. Despite the absence of sequential narratives curators tended to file your work under “Comics”, comic artists would then on occasion complain about this misrepresentation of their genre, and you didn’t quite seem to fit in with the more traditional painters at the academy either. Would you say a lot has changed since then?

ZB: I’ve not really been in that type of situation in a while. I’ve also been completely free of that pressure to constantly justify my work that academy students are usually under. I presume a lot has changed too, there are more graffiti artists attending art school now for example. A term that I encounter a lot these days is “street art”, which is ok with me because it is open to various types of styles.
It still feels weird when curators and others talk about my work using terminology and categorizations that I personally find unnecessary. I think that need to categorize and explain art will always be there though.
Character design, graphic design, comics, animation, illustration and traditional art techniques are equally inspiring to me. I love combinations and variety and I don’t want to restrict my own work using classifications of any kind.
Lately several people have written great texts about my work in which I managed to actually find myself, I was really pleased with that. When I’m communicating with the collectors who buy my work I also don’t feel forced to offer explanations, I usually leave it up to the viewer to find meaning or stories in my paintings.
I still don’t fit into a lot of concepts. But that’s ok, it means I am more autonomous from expectations in general.

In recent years you have started teaching character design at an art college. What are your students’ main interests these days – do they aspire to create toys, draw graphic novels, design games, become animators, graphic designers or even advertisers?

They come up with a lot of ideas for characters, they like doodling, they’re very playful in their approach and don’t yet work with any future professions in mind. Creating art at college is quite different from earning a living…
My students’ major influences are the Internet, games and TV. They have a much more relaxed attitude towards working with computers & the new media than my generation, digital design is a natural part of their work.

Who are the most important/inspiring artists that you use as examples in your classes?

Teaching character design to animation students, Pictoplasma are always a good reference/source of inspiration because of the variety of positions they represent.
We try to give our students space to develop their own style and the courage not to be perfect, to “fail” even. That’s where brilliant new ideas often come from. We don’t want them to just imitate a style because it’s popular at the moment – they bring in their own idols: mangas, Pokemon, Ugly Dolls, games, fantasy… we try to show them a wide variety of examples to draw inspiration from, or sometimes no examples at all – depending on the project they are working on.

 © Zoé Byland

© Zoé Byland

The first character of yours I ever saw was Paulinchen, a starey-eyed little girl whose favourite pastime seemed to be swinging a dead cat by the tail. You generally appeared to be quite fascinated with somewhat dark and threatening children. Was there any particular inspiration for this, and is this fascination still there?

Paulinchen is a kind of mean alter ego. She’s like, totally unimpressed.
What looks cute at first side has the potential to deal with much deeper themes at second sight. This and the fascination for inscrutable, mysterious characters, humans or animals, is still part of my work. These humans and animals wear masks and sometimes have super powers – their identities are secret.
I was always fascinated by the evil and dark characters in fairy tales which I loved as a child, they were much more interesting than the nice ones.
Today my inspirations are graphic novels, comics, literature, art history, tattoos, film noir, illustration, street art, mexican wrestlers, low brow, old sci-fi movies, super heroes, vintage pin-ups, art toys and graphic design.

 © Zoé Byland

© Zoé Byland

In recent years your style has changed quite a bit, from what used to be so frequently mislabeled as comics to iconic portraits of humans and animals sporting wrestling masks, tattoos, fishbowl helmets and other accessories – art remixes so to speak. How did this change come about?

I always wanted to improve my painting skills, so I started translating my “comic” style into a traditional painting technique.
I’m very interested in historical paintings, their drama and secrets, the fact that they still move people today. My characters often are masked or have super powers. They are the lead actors in a world between idealism and trash, populated by wrestlers, tattooed movie divas, animals and super heroines. I am interested in combining opposites – old and new, disguise and revelation, timeless forms of representation and attributes like dramaturgy and staging, identity and the dismantling and undermining of viewers’ expectations.
My work is of a narrative nature – I want the “story” to continue in the head of the viewer. I think this style of painting best serves this purpose.

 © Zoé Byland

© Zoé Byland

This technique you mentioned is a refined mixture combining painting and airbrushing. Could you describe how this works, or is it your trade secret?

Thank you! The whole secret is acrylic paint and then softening the transitions by airbrushing them at the end…

What projects are you working on at the moment?

I just painted “King of the woods“, a big tattooed deer. I would love to do a few smaller collaborations beside my painting work in the near future and show more work abroad.

 © Zoé Byland

© Zoé Byland

Top 5 artists at the moment?

Top 5 songs/records/artists to listen to while working?

  • Audiobooks! All sorts of vintage detective stories work good: Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Francis Durbridge, also Terry Pratchett.
  • Aesop rock
  • The Kills
  • Nick Cave
  • Josephine Baker

Another Top 5 of your choice!

  • Tapas & mexican boleros
  • Hercule Poirot
  • Trees
  • Papercraft design and art with paper books
  • Art toys
 © Zoé Byland

© Zoé Byland

 © Zoé Byland

© Zoé Byland

The hills are alive… an interview with mikrotom

originally posted on December 18, 2011

axolotl

A few years ago, while searching for street art photography on flickr, I happened upon a set of amazing images that contained streets, art and photography, but in a different order. mikrotom, a graphic designer living and working in Austria, takes photos and then populates them with his haunting vector creations. Insects, robots, animals, ghosts and other fantastic creatures appear in urban and natural scenes or interiors, sometimes creepy or disturbing, sometimes very calm and quite settled in their surroundings.

CW: The settings you’ve selected for your characters are beautiful in many different ways – there are snowy forests, dilapidated buildings, old-fashioned trams and strange empty urban spaces – where were these photos taken?

mikrotom: Mostly in Vienna/eastern Austria. Where The Hills Are Alive…

Your characters fit their environment perfectly, as if you found them dwelling in their natural habitat. How do they find their way into the image – do you take your photos with their future inhabitants in mind?

I love off-spaces. You know, those places where “nothing happens”. Like parking lots, the back of shops, abandoned gardens, empty restaurants or playgrounds in Winter. (Funny, when I think about it … given how cramped my flat is.) So I always take plenty of photos in these kinds of places.

One day I discovered (in a Pictoplasma book) some photos with characters in them. That was my kick start. When I take photos now I keep in mind that one day a creature may end up sitting or walking around in them.

 “Grünmarkt”/”Blue” © mikrotom 2008

“Grünmarkt”/”Blue” © mikrotom 2008

The “Grünmarkt” picture was that kind of off-space. There was nothing there, yet it had the potential to host a large green character, which I saw first when I was short-listing my Belgrade photos for flickr. The fact that it was green was a coincidence and that there is something like a “Grünmarkt” (It’s a market for fruits and vegetables, I guess it’s an Austrian word) [was] too. I did not think about it until the moment when I had to name it. It all fell into place. Also the blue guy. That he’s blue wasn’t planned. I took the photo on a freezing cold day in a public bath in Vienna and I knew someone hat to sit there. What colour or mood was not fixed. It simply happened while I worked on it. So as soon as I saw it I thought: Perfect! He IS blue.

The night vision pictures are an exception – I knew exactly how I wanted them to look, so I searched for places in Vienna to take photos.

Could you explain how you created that wonderful grainy night vision effect or is it a trade secret?

It’s not a secret at all. The photos for the night vision images are usually taken at dusk, so I have a little natural light left. I use the noise filter to add graininess, I also add a green layer and then multiply or darken it. I also play with the brightness/contrast settings a lot.

 “Nightvision” © mikrotom 2008

“Nightvision” © mikrotom 2008

Have you considered using this kind of character art to create animations?

I hear that a lot. Funny thing is: I have never thought about it myself. To me the still image is much more powerful than the moving image. Dunno why.

How about street art – have you ever thought about going the opposite way and physically placing a character somewhere before taking the photo?

Yeah, I thought about that sometimes. But since I’m such a lazy ass I never managed to do that. Yet.

Which artists, people, things, places, concepts, feelings or people inspire you?

Pictoplasma (as mentioned before) inspires me a lot. The one [Pictoplasma] conference I attended really sucked, though.

I read a lot, and love Sci-Fi and Alternative-History-Novels. Children’s books are also great. And, though it sounds corny, nature is my biggest source. Looking at insects or deep sea creatures is even more exiting than reading about a policeman in a fascist 1950s Britain.

Also Plants. Plants are great. They can kill you without moving a single leaf. Isn’t that amazing?!? For example: There are those huge trees in Australia. When you touch them it can sting for the rest of your life. You change your whole existence for the worse by simply touching a plant. Absolutely breath-taking.

 “White” © mikrotom 2010

“White” © mikrotom 2010

Are you planning on publishing or exhibiting your designs in any form other than on the internet? Personally I would love to have a thick, heavy picture book full of these creatures – I can imagine myself just staring at them for hours.

I am planning to have postcards made. I’ve even designed the reverse side already, but I still have to find out how to finance the printing (I don’t want any logos on them). Maybe I’ll organize an exhibition one day. There are plenty of galleries in Vienna, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Do you work in any media other than photography and vector graphics?

I draw with ballpoint pens a lot, but recently it’s been vector graphics I enjoy. I do however think a lot about doin’ my pictures in oils or tempera. Something like that. Like the old masters. I love the craft aspect. Somehow it seems to me that this would bring the whole character thing to a new level. I guess I’m rather conservative in that aspect.

 “Dragon”/”Red” © mikrotom 2008

“Dragon”/”Red” © mikrotom 2008

Top 5 artists at the moment?

Top 5 songs/records to listen to while working?

  • I’m very fond of mix-tapes. So I listen to my hit list when doin’ the illustrations.
  • In 2011 this top of the pops included:
  • The Go!Team – Buy Nothing Day
  • Low – Especially Me
  • Florence & The Machine – What The Water Gave Me
  • The Black Keys – Lonely Boy
  • The Kills – Satellite
  • The Wild Beasts – Bed Of Nails
  • Battles – Sweetie & Shag (Featuring Kazu Makino)
  • Ladytron – White Elephant
  • Zola Jesus – Vessel
  • Yann Tiersen – Fuck Me
  • Noah And The Whale – Give It All Back
  • Planningtorock – The One
  • Lady Gaga – Born This Way
  • Gus Gus – Within You
  • Fever Ray is also always a source of inspiration.

Another Top 5 of your own choice?

Highly esteemed directors I can’t stand:

  • Stanley Kubrick
  • David Lynch
  • Pedro Almodovar
  • Terence Malik
  • Martin Scorsese
 “Occurence” © mikrotom 2009

“Occurence” © mikrotom 2009

 “Bug”/”Ghost” © mikrotom 2008/2009

“Bug”/”Ghost” © mikrotom 2008/2009

 “Robot Attack” ©mikrotom 2009

“Robot Attack” ©mikrotom 2009

Paint & Puns with Fieldey

originally posted on December 3, 2011

 “Miss Minotaur 1977” © Fieldey 2011

“Miss Minotaur 1977” © Fieldey 2011

Since I first met Fieldey a few years back her art has taken a remarkable journey via design, illustration, painting, photography and bobbing about on surfboards, merging into a distinctive self-branded style that has recently seen its first appearance on a gigantic custom-made wave riding device – the motherboard, so to speak, of all that is to come.

CW: The reason that I wanted to interview you for this blog is that your recent work has been very character based. Your creations appear to have escaped from a particularly silly tattoo parlour. What brought about The Fish Wife, The Amazing Prawn Star and all the other characters that have appeared in your artwork this year?

Fieldey: Well, I have this thing where I’m slightly obsessed with naming inanimate objects and it was a natural progression upon taking up surfing to start naming my surfboards. The Fish Wife was my first ‘proper’ surfboard and the character was a way of turning the mermaid cliche on its head with a reverse mermaid and the name is a bad pun – because the type of board is known as a ‘fish’. The others are either puns (oh how I love a bad pun!) or they’re taking cliched icons and making them slightly weird in some way. It’s all about giving the surfboard a personality and life of its own… the character personifies the surfboard in a way.

 “The Fish Wife” © Fieldey 2011

“The Fish Wife” © Fieldey 2011

The first illustrations of yours I ever saw were, if i am not mistaken, a series of amusing farm animal portraits – along with their names and short character descriptions as part of the artwork. You’ve obviously always had a thing for characters rather than abstract art and design. Is there a reason for this you could pin down?

I think it’s because I hate drawing landscapes? I mean… trees – so difficult! But seriously, I find it more enjoyable and interesting to  concentrate on a single figure and tell a story about that particular character than having a whole bunch of crap going on… Also it gives you more of a chance to make people laugh, and if people are surprised or find it funny I’m happy too.

Could you ever imagine having your characters appear in a narrative instead of these iconic depictions?

I thought I had to get out a bit more when I was starting to weave together complex narratives about them… one of the characters Mr Mussel, who is a sort of overweight tattooed circus merman, has a tattoo of the Fish Wife on his bicep and in my head I was imagining that she was his girlfriend… so I see connections between them but not as them all co-existing in a world together or anything.

 “Mr Mussel” © Fieldey 2011

“Mr Mussel” © Fieldey 2011

At this point in your career, do you see yourself more in a design or an art context?

After so many years as a designer, design certainly has informed a lot of what I do now, especially in terms of composition and colour, but I see myself and the direction I’m going in as more of an art journey. Not least of all because it doesn’t involve clients or mining companies… arghh!

What are your favourite materials to work with at the moment and why?

Surfboards, spray paint and my Golden Acrylics. I’m totally down with the utilitarian aspect of surfboards and their iconic shape… I like the idea of art that is portable and useful, it doesn’t just hang on your wall, it can do gnarly stuff too, oh and they’re big. I love big. In fact they’re so big and I’m so lazy, I use the spray paint for insta-background and the acrylics because they’re bright and sassy and dry fast.

 Captain Kook & The Amazing Prawn Star © Fieldey 2011

Captain Kook & The Amazing Prawn Star © Fieldey 2011

What can we expect to see emerging from the Fieldey universe in the near future?

Total world domination. And if providence smiles upon me, an art exhibition with a range of sexed-up Fieldey Custom Surfboards and a rad range of Tshirts. Ooh and I also want to buy a car and completely pimp (paint) it.

Top 5 artists at the moment?

 Top 5 songs to listen to while working?

Another top 5 (or more!) of your own choice! (Read on if you dare…)

Top 5 Wilbur Smith descriptive cliches:

  • “Every nerve in his body came up taut as a fishing line struck by a heavy marlin deep in the blue waters of the Pemba Channel”
  • “She could imagine him sitting at the centre of his web, gazing hungrily across the river at them, a fanatic with a quenchless thirst for human blood”
  • “…he gave the impression of being stockily built, but this was an illusion fostered by the breadth of his shoulders and the girth of his upper arms, muscled by heavy work.”
  • “She was almost as tall as him, but he could have easily encircled her waist with his hands. Her bust was boyish and her carriage imperious. Her eye was steely, and as penetrating rapier, and her features were hard and sharp as a whipsaw.”
  • “When Graf Otto placed one large freckled hand on Eva’s tiny waist and drew her closer to him, and she smiled up into his face, Leon hated him with a bitter relish that tasted like burned gunpowder in the back of his throat.”
  • “Badger, oh, Badger! I know that the road we must travel together will be long and hard. So many snares and pitfalls stand in our way. But I know with equal certainty that together we can win through to the summit of our mountain.”
  • “She was helpless in the circle of his arms… She pressed her firm round buttocks into him, felt him swelling and hardening… She stopped struggling, sank to her knees and lifted high the twin half-moons of her buttocks. She wriggled her thighs apart so that the nest of pink curls peeked out between them. ‘I hate you!’ she said.”
  • “…her waist was fluted, like the neck of a Grecian vase, curving into the swell of her hips. The skin of her belly was nacreous and unblemished. Her thighs were strong and shapely and between them nestled a womanly bush, dark and curling luxuriantly in its marvelous profusion.”
 Lady Luck © Fieldey 2011

Lady Luck © Fieldey 2011