While I spend a lot of time talking to the people behind the music, I’ve been trying to branch out recently and there’s a lot more to an album than just the music to me. In fact, if you’ve known me longer than five minutes you’ve likely even heard me say exactly that. An album obviously includes packaging, and rock ‘n’ roll, psychedelic music in particular, has always been intrinsically linked to certain visuals, styles and aesthetics that seem to scream out to you from the shelves as you’re wandering around the record shop, “I get you. I’m on the same wavelength. Give me a shot, give me a listen”. However much these visuals are tied to the music or our perception of it, it’s rare to have the opportunity to meet or talk to the people, who are not only responsible for those visuals, but for your first real experience with the music as you visually lay eyes on the record for the first time. Working from behind a hazy veil of secrecy, illustrative artists and graphic designers have finally begun to get a small modicum of the respect that they deserve, not only as artists, but as the ones responsible for conveying the general idea of a band, their music and their aesthetic instantaneously from a single look, which more often than not, they’re not even necessarily involved in creating! It’s a difficult and often thankless job, but it’s one that I’ve been deeply intrigued with my entire life, and the farther down the rabbit’s hole I head with music, the more these enigmatic figures behind the pictures have begun to capture my imagination. A while back I chatted with Jose Bernal from Bionic Cavemen (Interview here) and he happened to suggest that I check out some stuff from the guy who had designed the cover art to their album Predator, Scott Miller. After talking to Scott for a bit, I decided he was going to be my guinea pig for a new type of interview for all you lucky readers! I’m going to be lifting the afore mentioned veil a bit and giving you all a peek into the creation and work processes of some of the world’s most interesting illustrative artists and graphic designers, and I couldn’t think of a nicer, or more talented dude, to start with than Scott Miller. I’m going to stick tons of links and images in here, but make sure to check out his Facebook and tumblr pages for tons of killer work and, of course, contact information should you ever find yourself in need of his services. I’ve said it before, but this time I’ll say it like I really mean it, dig on this our fearless readers, ‘cause this is truly psychedelic baby!
Wanna see some art? https://www.facebook.com/ScottRMillerIllustrationDesign
So how old are you and where are you originally from?
I’m thirty one, from Freeport, Illinois.
What was the local music scene like where you grew up? Did you see a lot of shows and stuff when you were growing up? Do you feel like that part of your life, that culture, has played a large role in shaping your artwork and love for working in the field of musical illustration?
There were a handful of local bands and different incarnations of an all ages venue, it’s a relatively small town in the northwest corner of the state. It wasn’t like a creative hotbed or anything, but I went to local punk type shows sometimes. My big interests in those days were skateboarding, trying to score beer, and finding a safe place to drink that beer. Art and music were on the radar, but were secondary to those things. It was an important time for shaping some of my interests in different subcultures. Skateboard culture of that time had more influence on me than anything homegrown in rural Illinois. A lot of time was spent obsessing over graphics in skate catalogs, watching skate videos, and reading magazines like Thrasher and Big Brother.
What was your home like when you were growing up? Were your parents really into art or music or anything like that?
I was pretty much raised on Taco Bell and Belushi movies. My parents were not artsy and weren’t all that into music. One of my earliest memories along those lines is of my dad having an 8-track copy of Billy Joel’s The Stranger. I was deeply haunted by the cover image. It had nothing to do with the music on that tape, because I had no way of playing it, just the image itself was so mysterious and disturbing to me as a kid.
How did you originally get into illustration and stuff?
I drew a lot as a kid. I liked comic book art, and cartoons. I’ve always gravitated toward illustrative things.
Are you self taught or did you attend any kind of school for the arts?
I went to school for graphic design. I’m pretty much self-taught as far as illustration goes, but I do have a solid foundation in design that has been helping me along the way. I’m still always learning and trying to figure new things out.
When did you decide that you wanted to start actually doing graphic design and illustration as a profession? What brought that decision about for you? What was your first work and when would that have been?
After high school I was still in my hometown with no plans. I was taking some general courses at a community college and working third shift in a factory. I had the urge to get the hell out of town. I took a gamble on this art school in the suburbs. The crushing debt from art school is what made me want to do graphic design professionally. My first (semi) professional illustration work was a handful of vector illustrations for an adult gift booklet called White Trash Sex Coupons. That was in 2005, while I was an intern at a small publishing house.
Was there any one event, or experience, or piece of art that you had or saw where you thought, “Yeah, I can do that. In fact, I’m going to do that”?
Not really. My experience was more general. I was interested in art on album covers, skateboards, and posters. I made a connection that there were probably people creating this art and that I wanted to attempt to be one of them. I’m still attempting to be one of them. Some artists that grabbed my attention early were Ray Pettibon, Winston Smith, and Pushead. I’m not going to pretend like I was cool enough to know who these guys were by name when I was a teenager, but their work definitely left a lasting impression on me.
Can you walk us through a typical creation process for a piece? Do you have any tricks for conjuring ideas from you head or anything? How long does it usually take you do to an average color piece?
If it’s for a band or client, I’ll work with them in the conceptual stages to flesh out imagery. From there, I do image research, collecting images for reference. I do thumbnails in pencil to work out a composition. Once I have a solid idea for the placement of elements, I do a refined sketch to show the band/client. After the image has their approval, I move on to inking the refined sketch. For color pieces, I scan the ink drawing and color it digitally. An average color piece takes around a month.
Do you do a lot of preliminary sketching, or is it more of a situation where you get an idea in your head and try to get that down on paper in as much detail as you can before it disappears?
I never start a project without doing thumbnails and sketches. Nailing down the idea and composition is important to how I work.
What mediums do you prefer do your art? Are you a pencil, pen and ink kind of person or do you utilize a bunch of different techniques when it comes to drawing/painting?
I sketch with pencils and ink with Micron or Copic pens. So far, every color piece I’ve done has been colored digitally in Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator.
I hear the term Lowbrow Art attached to a lot of the graphic and illustrative artwork that’s closely associated with “rock art” and the whole poster artist scene, and I see where they’re coming from but I don’t necessarily agree with the connotations that the term Lowbrow Art summons to the mind. How do you feel about the term and how would you label or define what you do?
I don’t mind the term. For me, it brings to mind a lot of people whose work I enjoy and am inspired by. I don’t consider myself a fine artist by any means. I’m an illustrator/designer, and I’m just attempting to create visually interesting images.
What are some of your favorite pieces that you’ve gotten to work on so far? I personally loved your cover for the Bionic Cavemen Predator LP (Interview here) that you did a while back, which is actually how I got introduced to you via Jose.
Thank you. Jose and Andy from Bionic Cavemen are great guys and have been really good to me. That was the first project in this stretch of art I’ve been doing, about two years ago. Before that, I had kind of given up on doing illustration. I’d done very little drawing for around four or five years. Andy was convinced I drew all the time and could do album art, but he’d never seen anything I’d done! He was so blindly confident in me I started thinking, “Maybe I can do this”. That is one of my favorite projects, mostly because of the experience of it all, the learning part of it. It got me moving. It was also a thrill that this was the first album cover I did and it was pressed on vinyl thanks to Jose. The other big project to me personally, was a design I did for my good friend Mike McPadden, who’s a writer. He asked me to sort of rebrand his website, so I did this personalized illustrated web banner for him. A variation of this ended up getting printed in the Intro/About the Author page of his incredible book, Heavy Metal Movies. That was a crazy experience. I got to trade a few emails with Ian Christe, who runs Bazillion Points and is the author of an essential heavy metal history book, Sound of the Beast. That all probably makes me sound like a big name-dropping fan-boy, but I don’t care. That shit was a big deal for me. The whole experience was awesome! Mike has been a huge influence on me and was really an important figure in getting me to pursue the type of art I’m doing.
I know you recently did the cover for Exorcist’s Animism album as well as the cover for Mike McBeardo McPadden’s Trauma Zine #1 Valentine’s Day issue a while back as well, do you have anything that you’re working on at this point you can tell us about?
I’m working on some art for Trauma Zine #2 and juggling a handful of other projects at the moment. I’ll be starting in on the art for the second Bionic Cavemen album cover pretty soon.
Are there any major plans or goals that you’re looking to accomplish in the rest of 2014 or in 2015?
I’d like to learn how to screen print and do more show poster art, more album art. I’d also like to explore some more traditional mediums for coloring.
Other than picking up the Bionic Cavemen, Rival Knives, and Exorcist albums is there any way for interested readers to score your art? I was looking at some of the amazing pieces that you have up on your Facebook and tumblr pages and didn’t know if you had prints or shirts of anything available or anything?
That’s why I want to learn to screen print. I’d like to get into selling prints and posters, maybe shirts; just not there yet. If anyone is interested in the original art or high quality framed digital prints of any of my work, by all means feel free to get a hold of me directly on my Facebook page!
Obviously you do freelance and commission work, where’s the best place for interested parties to get in touch with you about that kind of thing, or is there some place for them to read up on how to do that?
Anyone interested in commission work can certainly reach me directly at my Facebook art page or send me an email at email@example.com.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me. It was cool as hell getting a glimpse at how you create your art and your background. Hopefully you had a little fun yourself and I'll be hearing your name a lot in the near future. In the meantime though, I'd like to open the floor up to you at this point. Is there anything that I might have missed or that you'd just like to take this opportunity to talk to me or the readers about Scott?
Thanks for asking me to do this. I don’t have too much more to say, other than I love to create and I love to work. If anyone who reads this is interested in working with me, definitely get in touch. Thanks again.
Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
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