When did you start to draw and
to paint ? Very young, were you certain that you’d become an artist, or
is there anything else you wanted to do and/or to become ?
I guess I was about 8 when it occurred to me that I might be more
interested in making art than most other kids, but I really wanted to
play drums. I didn’t get a kit until I was 13, so I got a late start
and practiced like mad. But about 2 years into that, I broke a couple
bones skateboarding and couldn’t play for a while, and that’s when I
got more focused on the idea of art as a way to entertain people, and
spent a ton of time drawing. My parents, to their credit, enforced a
rather strict work ethic, and us kids always had to have after school
and summer jobs, so I got the idea pretty quick that I’d need to make
money to survive. Well, by 17 I had started making some dough with
illustration, and sold some of my own work through shows and galleries
in the area, and that pretty much sealed it. I moved out when I turned
19, and went straight to work.
When you arrived in Los
Angeles, you showed your early works to art directors : what were their
reactions, and what was the result ?
Well, I was a
long-haired freak teenager from the woods of Santa Cruz, CA., wearing
mostly army surplus, with this clumsy lap-full of original pieces, and
nothing remotely resembling an actual presentation. So as you might
imagine, the reviews were somewhat mixed. Those looking for the slick,
just-out-of-Art-Center type of portfolio usually told me to come back
when I was "ready". But many others could see that I was
self-determined and were very supportive, and actually liked that I
hadn’t been through the standard training. I made plenty of mistakes,
but I was super motivated, and began getting regular work. But it was a
mixed bag of stuff, and I did many different types of work as an artist
before getting more established as an illustrator.
You specifically worked for
the cinema industry ; how was that experience, and which movies did you
enjoy working for and why ? Are you still working sometimes in that
domain, or would you like to do it again ?
Oh, shoot, I
don’t know. That's also a mixed bag, given the many ways to work as an
artist for that industry. I started as a sculptor for a make-up effects
studio. But the owner figured out I could draw, and had me start coming
up with design concepts for creatures. During that time, I did a bunch
of designs as part of a proposal for Jacob’s Ladder,
and that was kind of a turning point for me, because I learned how much
more fun it is to draw directly from my imagination, around a story,
than it is to illustrate for ad agencies selling products, which I had
done for many years before. And yes, I’m still very much involved in
that sort of work, primarily for the 3D CGI film effects, animation and
interactive industries. I really enjoy it, because I get to do so many
different types of creative work, from preproduction concept design and
storyboarding, all the way through production, doing visual development
and sculpting, right up to the end doing graphic interfaces for
interactive projects. But really, I just work to support my family and
my own personal projects, so I haven’t kept track of the shows I’ve
worked on too well.
You and Adam Jones worked
together then. How did you meet each other, and in what terms did he
start talking about his band to you ?
Adam and I met
during the time I was working at the make-up effects shop. He was
already working there when I arrived. We shared many of the same
influences, had similar aesthetics, and we got along and hung out a
lot. That was about 3 or 4 years before Tool formed, and prior to that
Adam and I played together in a band briefly. It was fun, but I
couldn’t commit to something like that, and Adam moved on from there as
well. It was just a short time later though that Adam mentioned Tool
was forming, and he asked me to draw the very Freudian, and now
somewhat iconic "wrench", back around 1991. I guess that set things in
motion, because I worked on most of what followed for the next decade.
Indeed you created most of Tool artwork from the first demo to Salival. What was the process : did Adam have specific requests, did you put forward your own ideas ?
Plenty of both. Adam has a ton of ideas, and voluminous sketchbooks.
But it wasn't uncommon for him to go through old sketchbooks of mine
and say "Hey, let’s develop this.", or in at least one instance he saw
something I was working on in my studio, and just told me to hurry and
finish it up. But there were lots of late nights spent sitting at
diners, or wherever dreaming stuff up. We’d talk about it, and I’d go
off and work up various drawings. Usually, it was a process of picking
bits and pieces from various iterations, and reassembling them for the
final design, painting or whatever.
Can you say more about the origin, the idea behind some specific artworks which are emblematic for Tool fans, like :
- the "wrench"
Definitely Adam’s idea. This was the first piece of art I did for them,
and I used pen and ink so it'd Xerox easily for the promotional flyers
they were doing in the very beginning. But this led to the look of a
fairly large number of T-shirts I designed for them as well.
- the Opiate priest
This was based on a drawing I had done a few years before of a snarling
old man with huge eyes, and irises that squirmed around like amoebas.
Adam liked it, added the 6 arms in a praying position and made him a
catholic priest. That thing was really hard to do. I had been working
round the clock on the sculpted parts, along with all the other package
layout, design and artwork to get it ready for press, and Adam was
busting ass recording the album and keeping track of everything, as
well as putting together that wonderful box-full-o-memories that was
used on the inner liner. We had it photographed by a friend of mine,
and had to have it done that night. Both Adam and I were completely
exhausted ; I don’t know how we got it done.
- the "Smokebox"
The "SmokeBox" was something I had already done, and Adam saw it and
felt like it'd work well as an image to play on a big screen at their
live shows. I think that was the first time they had done this sort of
thing. I was surprised at how powerful it was, projected that large.
After that, Adam had the idea to use the lenticular jewel-case to
animate it on the cover of Ænima.
"Gnats" was the first digital painting I did using an organic approach
; basically, just using brushes in Photoshop to paint the whole image
one stroke at a time. I was about 2/3 done with it, and Adam came by
the studio and asked if I could be done in two days for the Ænima package press date.
- "Ocular Orifice"
In addition to "Gnats", Adam wanted something for the back cover of the
CD, and he liked the eye treatment I had done for the demon in the
"Gnats" image ; it had two irises in one eyeball. So he asked if I’d do
a large version based on just that part, so I had to get that together
really quick as well. I really rushed it for the album deadline, but a
few years later I reworked it, thereafter referring to it as "Ocular
- the Salival figure
Adam had the idea of a figure that wrapped its arms around the DVD
package, and had done some schematics. He, Chet Zar and I got together
and discussed it. Adam wanted these strings coming out of the hands and
back, Chet suggested a color treatment for where the strings hit the
spine, and I did a quick sketch of what became the basic figure ; it
was pretty collaborative. I then went back and did the painting, and
then took that to Chet who had made a Lightwave model of the back of
the figure, which we then mapped, using the painting as a texture. I
made an alpha, basically a digital stencil, to break up the light that
cast across the figure, and the final render of that is what you see on
the cover of the Salival package.
You also did a lot on most of Tool videos ; can you tell us about your involvement there ?
Yeah, I did a bunch of concept drawings and visual development work,
designing characters to be sculpted as puppets for stop-motion
animation, or possible staging and sets, particularly those seen in the
"Schism" video. And in a couple instances, I worked some very lengthy
hours on set doing full body painting of people performing in those
videos using live action. These were also based on designs I had done
just prior to going into production.
What's your opinion about the other artists working with Tool ? (Chet Zar, Spiral Eyes, Osseus Labyrint, Alex Grey…)
They are all great, of course. Chet is a terrific artist who works
equally well in many different mediums. I haven’t seen too much of what
Spiral Eyes is working on, but what I've seen is always inspired, and
inspiring. Osseus Labyrint are two of the most dedicated artists I've
ever met, and possess otherworldly skill and creativity. Working on the
"Schism" video, I spent more than 20 straight hours painting their
bodies, while they stood naked on a cold cement floor, and neither of
them uttered a single complaint. Once finished, they then went
immediately out on set and performed magnificently. And the astounding
Alex Grey certainly doesn’t need to hear me gush about his amazing
abilities. Not that any of them need to hear it from me, but I have
enormous respect for all of these gifted artists.
If you don’t mind, can you tell us more about what happened for this great combination to cease ?
Well, I appreciate your interest and concern about that, and I’m sure
it’s coming from a good place, but I don’t think there are enough who
actually care, to warrant spending much time on it. But I’ll just say
in more than 10 years of working together, I contributed as much as I
could, and I love Adam like a brother. Working with him was always a
meaningful challenge, and I appreciate the experience. But they’re
clearly in good hands with the list of super talented artists you
mentioned so I don’t assume they have any particular need of me, and I
have way more projects of my own than I can possibly manage.
You make CGI like Chet Zar,
and added some sounds to them thanks to Lustmord : is it important for
you to give more dimensions to your art ? Is there more you’d like to
do in that way ?
Well, I wouldn’t say I actually make CGI,
but I do work in a variety of digital mediums, and do a lot of design
work for the CGI community, as I mentioned. I did put together a short
animated clip to enhance the Carbon Core
CD of Lustmord’s always deliciously chilling soundscapes that he put
together as part of the Happy Pencil project. That may be what you’re
referring to. But again, I do want the things I make to entertain the
viewer in some way, and I don’t necessarily want to limit the way I go
about that. And yes, there's always more that I want to do in that way,
and many others.
You must have been approached
by many bands with the proposition to work with them ? Would you be
interested in doing more artworks and videos ? Do you have other
projects or wishes ?
Yeah, sure, but like I said my time
is all messed up. I have so many other things in the works, and more to
get started, and I’ve had to become a lot more selfish with my time
now. I’m still wired to want to help, and it’s really hard for me to
say no. But I guess I’m just saying yes to my own personal projects
more often these days. But I love music, and there are certainly bands
out there that I’d jump at the chance to work with : Mats/Morgan Band,
Porcupine Tree, Karnivool, and bunch of others.
Like Chet Zar, I think you
should be a lot more famous than you already are, but you told in an
interview that you’re "self-promotionally retarded". Is there a part of
you who don’t want too much exposure ?
Well, thanks so
much for that. I appreciate the notion I might be better recognized,
but I readily admit I suffer from a, shall we say, "diminished"
self-opinion. This causes some confusion and conflict in the area of
self-promotion, which I know is critically important to getting your
work out there. This is why I started the Happy Pencil project in the
first place. It was a way to treat my own work as a third party, so I
don’t have to feel like I’m actively engaged in a game of "Hey,
everybody, look at me !" It makes perfect sense if you’re stuck inside
my head, but it’s an aberrant approach promotionally speaking, because
there’s an obvious disconnect between the art and the artist. I guess
I’m hoping that folks will be sufficiently entertained to look closely
enough to discover me on their own, but I realize that’s an unfair
expectation. I’m trying to realign my thinking lately, and I
rationalize it this way : I love live music, and I’m always grateful
that musicians have the nerves to get out there and share their work in
person. Granted, making art can be a much more solitary endeavor, but
I’ve been inspired by the musicians I admire to take a more personal
responsibility for its display.