Interview with Illustrator Mike Lawrence
It’s not often we get to talk to artists and illustrators here at Toilet Ov Hell, since we’re normally focused on endless, tireless research to bring you the best new and/or obscure music we can find. But every so often we’ll run across someone who kicks us in the eyeballs so hard we simply have to know more about what they do and how they do it so well. Enter Mike Lawrence of Atlanta, GA.
Mike’s oeuvre reads like an ultimate how-to handbook for everything a metal band could want in its album, shirt or poster art: bones, skulls, smoke, rotting flesh, pentagrams, candle flames and dusky woods – all swimming in a sea of black and rendered in stark, highly-detailed monochrome. The lack of (or extremely rare use of) color lends his pieces that timeless black & white quality. Much of Mike’s work would look as perfectly at home on a modern, Kurt Ballou-produced black metal album as it would on a long-defunct thrash band’s cassette demo from 1987.
Having seen his work for the better part of a year (and lusting after many of the items in his store), I reached out to Mike via Facebook to ask about his creative process, his recent playlists and his transition to illustrating full time. Here’s what he had to say.
How long have you been illustrating, and what got you started?
I’ve been drawing since I can remember, I have always enjoyed it. My mother is a printmaker and art teacher so I have always been surrounded by art, my parents saw how much I enjoyed it and encouraged me to pursue it. In terms of professional illustration, that has been going for a little over three years.
How did you arrive at the style and techniques you use today?
I only work in B&W because I am color blind, I don’t see in grayscale or any shit like that but I have a hard time differentiating between colors that have a similar hue and value. For example I have a hard time telling the difference between dark red and purple. I only found out when I was 20 that I was color blind, but I have been working in mainly B&W since I was a kid because that’s what I feel most comfortable with. Most of the artwork I was attracted to as a kid was etchings, woodcuts and of course comics, I like all things accurate so naturally I’m inclined to work with tools that are easily controlled, like technical ink pens. I mainly use stippling technique when working because of it’s subtlety and ability to create soft edges and transparency easily. Recently I have been trying to vary my mark-making more and use linework instead of only dots to create more movement and contrast throughout the image.
What is the biggest challenge of doing what you do?
Commitment and patience. If you can’t be your own boss then don’t bother with freelance, it can be a tough gig at times and if you battle to motivate yourself to get working then it may not be for you.
What’s the biggest reward?
The final product, I almost pissed my pants I was so happy when I got a copy of my first vinyl record cover. It’s hard to believe at times that there are real life products out there with my shit on it. Working with bands is always one of my favourite things to do, it’s pretty killer going to a show and seeing my shirt design up on the wall next to a bunch of other insane artwork! I always feel honored.
You were recently approved for your greencard, purchased a house and quit your job to illustrate full time. Congrats! How has this busy time helped or hindered your creative process?
Thanks! Well the past few weeks haven’t been my most productive illustration wise as there is so much shit to get done when buying a house. Also moving my entire studio including screenprinting equipment was quite a fucker, I still haven’t gotten everything the way it needs to be! But now we are at least settled so house stuff can generally wait until the weekends. However even with the move, I have noticed how much more I can get done in a day with an extra four hours. I have many plans for those extra hours, improvements all round!
Where does inspiration come from when you begin an original piece?
Anywhere and everywhere, sometimes ideas just come to me randomly or something triggers an idea. Music, movies and other artwork are probably what generates most of them whether it’s conscious or not. I’m always thinking of ideas for drawings or projects and jotting them down in my sketchbook, sometimes it’s a little thumbnail sketch others I just write down some words to remind me. It’s very rare for me to be working on a project and not already be thinking about what I am going to do next.
Do you listen to music while working? If so, what have you been listening to lately?
Yes, most of the time I listen to music or certain podcasts. In terms of music I have kind of been all over the place recently, so I will just list the albums I have really been enjoying over the past few weeks:
Malevolent Creation – Dead Man’s Path
Black Breath – Slaves Beyond Death
Grave – Out of Respect for the Dead
Lord Dying – Poisoned Altars
Battle Master – Battlehungry and Swordsworn
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
First 4 Led Zeppelin albums
Acid King – Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere
MF Doom – Special Herbs, Vol 3 + 4
Vektor – Black Future
Unrest – Grindcore
Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
Podcasts can be cool, too. My two favorites are:
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History (all about war history and super cool shit)
Adventures In Design (awesome daily podcast featuring interviews with amazing artists)
What are some bands or artists you’ve worked with recently?
Bands: Pallbearer, Mastodon, In The Company of Serpents, Night Viper, Mortals, Inter Arma. Brands: Dirtbag Coffin, Creature Skateboards, Death Co.
What artists would you like to work with in the future?
Any band that I am a fan of! It’s a dream of mine to work with Cannibal Corpse, loved that band since I was 12.
What do you for fun do when you’re not working?
Hang out with my wife, we go camping and hiking pretty often. Watch shitty horror movies and drink with friends. I’m pretty nerdy with certain stuff and I love building/flying remote controlled models like planes etc. Also beer and pizza.
Anything else you’d like to mention to our readers?
When in doubt, circle pit.