Sometimes you just see something and are instantly hooked, that was the case when I saw Charles Degeyter’s designs for his Desertfest 2014 poster. There’s something about his work that’s otherworldly, hyper-detailed and ultra-textured, yet not cartoony or utilizing over the top colors like so many Lowbrow artists rely on to catch your eyes these days. Dealing mostly with nature and the themes and designs therein, there’s something about Degeyter’s work that feels like he’s harnessing the power and majesty of nature itself and channeling it directly into hand drawn, designed and screen printed posters to provide concert goers with a one-of-a-kind memento of the evening in a tightly capped cardboard tube. With designs popping up all over the place on my radar and evocative images never ceasing to snag my attention, I knew that Degeyter was going to be the next artist I talked to, all I had to do was wait for him to finish up his amazing Desertfest posters… Now that the storm has blown over and Desertfest has come and gone, Charles has thankfully taken time to talk with us lucky folks about his background, history, and evolution as an artist as well as giving us a glimpse behind the curtain and discussing his creative as well as printing processes. You seriously have to read on, I almost didn’t believe him when he told me how old he was, and considering the people that he’s already worked with in the short time he’s been working in the industry, I would say that Degeyter’s got one hell of a bright future in front of him. So, relax, kick back with a cup of coffee, and take in some eye candy, ‘cause things are about to get psychedelic baby!
Look at some pretty pictures: https://www.facebook.com/CharlesDegeyterArt/
Now, just for the record, how old are you and where are you originally from? I have to admit I almost didn’t believe you when you originally told me how old you were!
Most people are surprised when I tell them my age. I’ll just blame it on the beard, ha-ha! I’m nineteen years old and from Bruges, a very old, medieval and beautiful city in Belgium where I still live today.
What was the local music scene like where you grew up? Did you see a lot of shows or get very involved in that scene, or anything? Do you feel like that scene played a large or pivotal role in your exposure to or interest in working in the rock art or ‘Lowbrow’ graphic design and illustration field?
If you were to ask me this question in ten to twenty years, I’d reply that it’s all relative to the phase I’m in at the moment, you see? I’m still growing up! So, I’ll answer this question in the present time. It would be a little bit weird to talk about growing up and getting into the “music scene’ when I only started getting into the “music scene” two or three years ago. To be honest, there isn’t that much of a local music scene here in Bruges. There’re some cool local bands that I support and a cool local radio show with all psychedelic/stoner/70’s rock, but those are just a handful of people; very good friends though. You’ll find more of a music scene in other big cities in Belgium. They have cool small venues such as The Pit’s in Kortrijk and Magasin4 in Brussels. I’m trying to discover as much local bands as possible though, I like to support young blood like myself, but Heartbreaktunes, the booking promoter I do a lot of posters for, organize a lot of great shows all over Belgium. Shows like Radio Moscow, Elder, John Garcia, Dead Meadow; the more established psychedelic/stoner bands. So, I try to check out as many concerts as I’m able to!
What about your home when you were growing up? Were either your parents or any of your close relatives artists or musicians or maybe just extremely interested in either of those things?
A lot of my family is very artistic in some kind of way or another. Both of my grandfathers, my dad, my uncle and a nephew are architects, so creativity is kind of a family thing. My brother is a musician and graphic designer/illustrator, and my mom’s very interested in art. I learned a lot from them. Especially very fundamental things, such as color use, proportion, perception of beauty… All those things come kind of naturally to me, while to most people, they do not. My parents have a good eye for aesthetics and art. I love having conversations about certain artists, or going to exhibitions with them. I’m very grateful for the education they gave me when it comes to art and design!
What do you consider your first real exposure to art?
Nature. Nature and biology have interested me since I was a little kid. To me, there’s nothing more beautiful than trees, frogs, creepy crawlers, etcetera. Nature is pure art. My very first drawings were images of jellyfish! I’ve loved nature documentaries since I was a little kiddo, and I still love them today, especially the BBC documentaries with David Attenborough! Art moves people with beauty, and I think nature was one of the first things to really do that to me. That’s also why I incorporate a lot of natural elements in my posters. But my first real exposure to art must’ve been my mom taking me to exhibitions of Miro and Matisse and such when I was around seven or eight. I wasn’t a big fan of art exhibitions at that time. I found them a tad boring. Now, I realize how important this was to me and what a big influence it had on me.
How did you originally get into art to begin with? Was there a moment, or maybe a moment where you saw an image and thought to yourself, “Yeah, I can do that” and just went from there? Or is your ‘Lowbrow’ work more of just a logical extension of a natural need to express yourself and create things whenever you have that opportunity?
I don’t believe anyone gets into “art” from one day to the next, and if they do they must be very shitty at it, ha-ha. For me, it started when I did my first jellyfish drawing when I was a little kid and I’m still continuing today. It’s had its ups and downs, but I’m glad I finally found a specific direction that I love and that satisfies me, but above all, motivates me to draw more. It’s like you said, “a natural need to express myself” and a motivation to get better and better at it. I believe posters are the ideal medium. I get a lot of freedom working on them, but it’s always a challenge to integrate a band’s atmosphere or other certain aspects into it. That’s what I like about it. The only fundamental thing that’s changed since my first drawings are the techniques and mediums I use. I really got into screen printing ‘cause I collected prints from shows I went to. After a while, I thought to myself, ‘Screen printed posters are so fucking sick! I want to learn how to make my own prints”. So, I gave it a go.
Can you tell us about who some the major artistic influences on your work are? I know you’re also involved in designing skateboards, and as a kid that grew up in the 80’s I know how large a role that skate imagery and board art played in my life and I was curious to hear how influenced you were by that kind of thing? Most of the people that I talk to who are into psychedelic imagery levitate to a large extent to guys like Ed Roth, Dirty Donnie and R. Crumb.
I didn’t really grow up with skateboarding. I never skated myself, but some of my best friends did. I love the atmosphere around skateboarding, seeing young skaters shred pools. My buddy Roy Denys, a passionate skater, told me that he was starting his very own brand called Frantic Skateboards and I immediately replied I was up to designing some boards! Skate imagery didn’t really influence my work, though. As I mentioned before, my main artistic influence is Mother Nature. I get a lot of inspiration from nature; life cycles, interesting animals and plants, death… I lived in a house in the middle of a forest for years in my youth and nature was my playground. I’m also a big fan of natural history prints, like the ones in 17th-19th century biology books. The print I did for the band Red Fang was inspired by such drawings of blood coral. Around the age of eight I discovered a series of early 19th century books on my Grandma’s book shelves. They were home to some of the coolest animal drawings I have ever seen! I was blown away by it! Whales looking like dragons and such. She gave them to me when I was a little it older, one of the best presents I ever got. Of course, I’m also influenced by great poster artists such as Alan Forbes, Aaron Horkey, Emek, and poster artists from the ‘psychedelic’ music scene of the 60s and 70s such as Lee Conklin, Stanley Mouse, Rick Griffin, and Alton Kelly. Art-nouveau’s also something I really like. When it comes to art-nouveau posters, I’m a big fan of Mucha and Toulouse Lautrec. I’d like to design some more posters with art-nouveau elements.
Do psychoactive or hallucinogenic drugs play a large or important role in the conception or illustration processes for your artwork? I don’t mean that in a negative respect in the least, by the way. People have been tapping into the mind altering mind states that drugs produce for the purposes of creating art for thousands of years and I’m simply curious about its usage and application when it comes to the art that I personally enjoy and consume.
Ha-ha, although I tried a couple of them, I don’t think it would work well in combination with drawing. I think my concentration is at its peak when I’m working on a drawing or designing imagery for a poster. When I’m working on a design for more than an hour straight in high concentration, you evidently get into a weird state of mind. You lose track of everything around you except the lines you’re drawing. It’s an ultra-focused state of mind. I think hallucinogens might reduce my productivity, but I haven’t really tried it out while drawing, so who am I to say!?! Maybe they’d reduce my productivity, but enhance my creativity…
When did you decide that you were actually going to make a go at working in the graphic design/illustration field and what brought that decision about for you?
Well, it’s never been my intention to make a living of the work I do. I study industrial design, so that will definitely become my main source for making a living, but I became aware that I would never be able to fully express myself through industrial design. At a certain moment in time, my nephew asked me to draw flyers for a small, filthy, cultish punk venue called The Pit’s. I did a couple of those, but at that time I was also collecting some screen printed posters. That’s why I pushed myself to make the leap to screen printed posters. I really don’t consider designing posters and illustration as “work” though. I love it with all my heart. The day it becomes “work” is the day I’d probably reconsider why I’m doing it or head in a different direction.
What was your first “professional” job in the rock art/’Lowbrow’ art medium? Was that a fun, pleasurable experience for you or more of a nerve-wracking, difficult proposition at the time?
I’ve never really had a “professional” job in the rock art medium, I don’t think. I do some commission work sometimes, but I never do work for bands or people that I don’t feel a connection with. I don’t really consider it a job, quite the contrary.
Are you self-taught when it comes to art or do you have any sort of formal education or background in the subject?
I think my main education, or background, in art comes from the environment I grew up in. My artistic family definitely reflected their passion for art onto me. But as for technique, I’m mostly self-taught. I never took art lessons or anything like that, I learn a lot from looking at other posters/art, and try new techniques I see in them. I have a good friend Maarten de With, AKA stonebridge99, who’s also a local poster designer. He taught me a lot about screen-printing itself and I occasionally print in his cellar! He has a lot more experience in the screen-printing field than me. Whenever I have a question, I know I can discuss it with him. I’m lucky to know somebody like him.
Do you do a lot of preliminary layouts where you’ll do a bunch of thumbnails or roughs and really work out the design of the image, or do you just get an image in your head and then get to work on it as quickly as you can so you can most accurately translate that image from your mind to the paper?
Usually, I do a couple of small sketches but not too many; two to three max. I like to start as quickly as possible. I’d start with a rough sketch and then add details, change some things here and there, add things or omit other things. The finished piece never looks like the image I had in mind before I started working on it. I like the inspiration of the moment, I’m not afraid to take a different path during the creation if it means I get better results. The only thing that stays the same, more or less, is the composition and imagery. Techniques, colors, patterns and such, are all decided at the moment. I think it’s very important for artists to take risks in order to reinvent themselves.
What mediums do you prefer when you’re doing your illustrations? Are you a pen and pencil kind of guy, or do you like to mix it up? How much, or little, is the computer involved in your work? A lot of people these days do their layout by hand and then color on the computer and I was curious how you approach that angle of things?
I like to draw with pencils, but pens lend themselves better to screen-printing as every layer you print only contains one color, no gray-scale. But yeah, I’m your typical pen and pencil kid. I don’t see myself drawing entire images on a Wacom tablet or anything like that. I like the analog technique of screen-printing, and that’s why I like to do as much as possible by hand. As you mentioned, there is some computer work involved. The coloring process, the addition of some textures and the rasterization of the images are all done using the computer, but I’d like to experiment with drawing straight onto the foils to lighten the screens, instead of printing my design on the foils. That way I could skip the computer part. You also lose some details when using the computer, but it is very useful to quickly change something. It’s all about experimenting! Who knows what I’ll try next?
Can you walk us through the typical creation process for a piece of art? Are there any specials tricks that you use to conjure images up or anything like that? How long does it usually take for you to do a full color piece?
I keep a database on my computer with images I like, but I also have some beautiful photo books of insects, reptiles and such. Recently, I did a poster for the doom band Yob, containing the image of a catacomb saint. This piece was inspired by the book Heavenly Bodies, which I found in London. I’m always on the lookout for interesting things I can use for my work, and when I stumble upon something as awesome as the catacomb saints, I can’t resist using it for a poster. However, I’m also always on the lookout for beautiful color combinations as well. With the Yob poster, I used gold and a kind of turquoise/green. A color combo I saw in Deyrolle, a beautiful old natural history store in Paris. Mostly, I reflect on images from my youth, or things that interested me as a child and still interest me today. I caught a lot of butterflies and frogs when I was a child and their life cycles always interested me; hence the imagery for my Colour Haze poster. As for creating the drawing, I usually do the font on a different sheet than the drawing. That way, I can easily position it in Photoshop and I can adjust the proportions. I also use a lot of textures in my work. I’m in love with marbled paper which was used for the inner covers of old books. They’re also very psychedelic. Now, you can print the marble texture onto the paper, but it doesn’t give you the same feeling when screen-printing the texture, as opposed to the real deal. I’d love to experiment making my own marbled paper! Like I mentioned before, I like to experiment a lot by doing something unforeseen. Recently, I was gumming out the pencil lines on my Desertfest ink drawing. I was about to wipe off the gum residue, until I noticed it added a very cool texture to the background. So, I took photos of it instead of scanning it. That gave me the idea to make natural gradients using gum residue and herbs! As for the time it takes me to create a print from start to finish, I never really timed it, but I usually work for around three months on one poster. Not fulltime or anything of course!
I hear the term Lowbrow Art attached to the illustrative and graphic design fields that happen to operate inside the confines of the music industry or display certain types of imagery but I don’t necessarily agree with or appreciate the idea that term can conjure to mind. How do you feel about the term and how would you label or describe the type of art that you make?
Hmmm, difficult question. I try to avoid labels, but if I did label my work, I wouldn’t label it as Lowbrow Art. Lowbrow art is often funny or cartoony in a way, whereas I try to avoid that, or I’m not trying to be ‘in your face’ funny or cartoony. I like to do that in a subtle manner. I think people just tend to label things to make a quick differentiation, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You sometimes see similarities in peoples work and it’s easy to put a stamp on someone’s style in order to make a quick distinction. But you have to evaluate art artist by artist. If I had to give a quick description of what I make, I’d say I make posters with a lot of natural and psychedelic influences. Natural history, meets psychedelics, meets heavy rock.
Do you accept commissions at all? If so, what’s the best way for interested parties to get a hold of you?
Yes, I definitely accept commissions. The easiest way is to send me an email at email@example.com. I’m looking forward to doing more commission work.
In addition to your rock art, I know you’re involved in doing work for skateboards as well. What all are you involved in at this point? Do you do a lot of rock art or is it just something that you do when you’re not busy with other stuff? I know you’re relatively new to the field and I didn’t know if you just worked with bands that interested you or you were looking to really get into the field.
Like you said, I’m very involved in Frantic Skateboards, a skate brand I recently started with some friends at the moment. We focus on old-school filthy skateboarding fused with rock art. But I can’t get involved in too many things, you know. School, Frantic Skateboards and my poster/music work are my main focuses right now. I have to manage my spare time well, but I’m always thinking what I could do next. To answer your second question, I started by contacting some bands I really liked. I asked if I could do a poster for a local show. Most bands, even the slightly bigger ones, were very cool with this and were psyched with the result. After I did a couple of posters, things started to roll! And now here I am, doing an interview for an awesome magazine!
When I was talking with you not long ago at all, you were talking about how you were doing a series of designs for Desertfest which included and incredibly sick Earthless poster that just had me drooling! What all do you have going on at this point? Do you have any other stuff coming up that you can share or tell us about? I love your stuff and I’m stoked to see where you’re headed from here!
Thanks man! I’ll be doing some commission work first, some shirt designs and maybe some cover artwork for upcoming bands. As for Frantic Skateboards, I’m currently working on some new graphics involving shitloads of mushrooms, ha-ha! A friend of mine’s also working on an old masters/Rubens inspired deck design, so I’m really looking forward to releasing those two decks! Other than that, I’ll be doing some posters here and there. I’m stoked to see where I’m headed from here too man! It’s been an unbelievable journey so far…
Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you’ve had a chance to do pieces with, maybe images that you particularly enjoyed doing or bands where you just clicked with their imagery and message?
I really like Radio Moscow, their vibe is amazing; especially live. I’ve seen them four times and have already done two designs for them. I’d love to do even more posters for them! If I could, I’d do a poster for every gig they play in Belgium! Their music and vibe is amazing live. I can’t stop shaking my ass when listening to them. So much talent… Another piece I really liked doing was the Red Fang/The Shrine/Lord Dying poster. The Shrine are some of the coolest down to earth guys I’ve ever met, and their music is killer! I’m also positive Earthless will be in my list of favorite bands after I’ve met them! Looking forward to hanging with them. To be honest, all of the bands I’ve done posters for are personal favorites, and I enjoy every piece I’m doing as much, if not more, than the previous one. Each print is different and leads its own life.
We’ve talked a lot about your art and your process, and I know that you just started a Facebook page for your stuff the other day. Is there any way for people to purchase your stuff? I always try and provide our readers with a chance to pick up some of the sweet art that we get to show off when we talk to artists like yourself, ha-ha!
I just got my Etsy web shop up, so people can order their poster there and you can keep an eye for upcoming posters and appearances at my Facebook page. Thanks for the support man!
Do you have any major plans or goals that you’re looking to accomplish in the last of 2014 or in 2015?
My plans are to experiment a lot using different techniques and developing my own style further. I also want to make a lot more designs and I’d love to do a series of posters for Desertfest again, that was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had so far! One of my major goals is to make my own workspace in which I can experiment and screen-print on my own, but I don’t really like to plan ahead. I’ll see what crosses my path and make the best out of it.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. It was awesome to get an insight into how you work and talk a little bit about your process! I don’t have anything else to toss at you at this point but as you were so generous with your time I’d like to open the floor up to you at this point. Is there anything that I could have possibly missed or that you might just want to take this opportunity to talk to me or the readers about?
Thanks for the interview man! I want to thank you for your interest in small upcoming artists and I’m looking forward to reading more articles from you. It was my fucking pleasure to talk to the readers about my passion! I hope I got some of it across to them.
KEEP THE POSTER SCENE ALIVE AND BUY PRINTS FROM YOUR LOCAL UP AND COMING ARTISTS!!!
Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
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