Maybe it’s a West Coast thing…or maybe it’s a hipster thing…or maybe it’s just plain punk rock! But one thing is certain – tattoos are one of our FAVE accessories! We love their artistic merit – if you think it, they ink it. In the spirit of the honorable tattoo, we present the rock n’ roll illustrations by San Francisco artist Jeremy Forson. With a rather unconventional process (he starts his pieces by hand-drawing 2×3 inch thumbnails), he crafts eye-catching colorful pieces on wood. And they’ve got spunk! We sat down with the elusive Forson to chat about what makes him tick. Check it out:
LF: What makes you tick / what initiates your creative process?
JF: I’m afflicted with the mind of an artist. I have to create! The urge is always there and it cannot be satiated. It’s a chronic condition, really.
LF: You paint hot chicks w tattoos. What is your tattoo fetish?
JF: Tattoos are attractive to me, as well a being visually pleasing. They have to be well done though. It’s better to have no tattoos than bad ones. I only have a few myself though. Being an artist and a pretty good draftsman myself makes it hard to get more tattoos. I don’t want to draw them because I know I won’t like it in a couple months, so I need to hire someone really good to draw a tattoo I’ll be happy with. There’s a bunch of talented people in the tattoo world these days, but I don’t make enough money to hire them. One of those things I just have to put off until my financial situation improves. Some unsolicited advice about tattoos: Hire a good artist, listen to what they say because they know what will look good, and don’t try to low-ball them. Tattoos are not the place to pinch pennies. Also, go big! Dante’s inferno doesn’t work in a 2 inch square, make your tattoo fill the space.
LF: Tell us a little about your process…your favorite materials… your favorite tools…
JF: I draw lots of little thumbnails of and idea I’m envisioning. When I think I have a composition I like I make another thumbnail that’s about 2×3 inches and tighten it up. Then I scan it, blow it up, and print it in light blue on 8.5 x 11 paper and draw over it. I usually work this sketch for a long time to make sure the idea, composition, and values are all working. Then I scan that and play with colors and values in Photoshop until I get a pretty resolved color rough. Then I blow that up again to the size of the wood panel, print it out in however many pieces it takes, tile them together, and do a graphite transfer onto a sanded and sealed wood panel. At that point I just paint what I established in the color rough in acrylics. I don’t like surprises in the painting stage, and by now I’ve drawn it so many times that I’ve screened out unnecessary details or funny kinks in the drawing. Wood panels are my favorite surface, liner brushes are my best friend, and Liquitex soft body acrylic is my paint of choice.
LF: Would you call your work “hipster”?
JF: I don’t think anyone refers to themselves, or anything they do, as hipster. It’s more of a derogatory term. Some people might call my work hipster if they want to bag on it. Seems like that word has come to encapsulate a lot of different cliques. In my mind I painted a bunch of metal girls, and that’s how I’d like to see it.
LF: Your paintings are very portrait driven. What is it in the human condition that drives you?
JF: The human condition? I’m not that kind of artist.
LF: A few of your pieces are very San Francisco – like Night Life 1. How have your experiences in the city influenced your work?
JF: I draw a lot of influence from the city. It’s a fantastic place to live, and I find new and interesting things every time I leave the house. There’s something about the unbelievably diverse cross section of people and cultures, foggy micro-climate, old harbor town toughness, and Victorian architecture all packed into 7 square miles that makes SF so amazing. I could never get bored here.
LF: Are the portraits based in real people – perhaps your friends?
JF: No. Actually, I don’t have any friends that look like this. I’m very introverted, and to be honest, I don’t think I’m cool enough to hang out with people like that! For example, I love Mike Giant’s work, but when I go to his exhibitions, I just feel uncomfortable and out of place. I’ll just be around town, at a gallery, a coffee shop, walking, or riding my bike, and I see women like this all the time. I love their tattoos, sharp haircuts, heavy eyeshadow, and on-point clothing. They’re sexy and tough at the same time. There’s a femme fatale mystique about girls like that. I find them fascinating aesthetically, so they became incorporated into my art. Much like the Victorian houses, I don’t live in one, but I like the way they look.
LF: There is a ghoulish theme in some of your pieces. What is your interest in death?
JF: I don’t like death as much as strange life. I can’t really explain it, but dark subjects just seem to flow naturally from my hand. I try to draw nice things, but it feels like I’m going against the grain, whereas a demon or pile of heads just flies onto the paper! I’ve stopped trying to fight my strengths. I’m good at drawing skeletons and monsters, it is what it is. I don’t know how I’ll ever make a living at it, but whatever, I love it.
LF: Do you have a dark side?
I don’t think I do, but somehow everything I make becomes twisted. I’m basically a nice guy, I’m not really a horror fan, and I love comedy. I used to joke that my right hand was haunted. Maybe I’m actually evil, and it finds it’s way out when I’m drawing. Dark passenger.
LF: Talk a little bit about your illustrations about popular culture – like lipstick.
That illustration was based on a radio program I listened to about Phthalates, which are a chemical they put into plastics to make them flexible. It also happens to be in many cosmetic products, like makeup. It was shown to cause a specific type of birth defect where the children were born between genders. This is a tough subject to make a painting about, and naturally I wanted to stay away from drawing baby genitals. Sometimes real life can be so strange that it inspires me to make a painting about it.
LF: When did you first realize you wanted to be a painter?
JF: I love painting, but I also love printmaking, drawing, making digital work…you name it. I just love to create things. I always knew I wanted to be an artist, but painting is just one of the ways I enjoy making pictures.
LF: What do you want to be when you grow up, or would you already consider yourself grown up?
JF: Sadly, I’m a grown up already. I think I became a grown up a little too early. When I was 20 I was in a gun robbery that was very traumatic, and it changed the course of my life. I’ve had a hard time going outside at night ever since, and I don’t handle crowds well. It’s gotten much better, but I’ve been all work and no play for about 7 years. I am already what I wanted to be when I grew up, only not as successful so far. Like a lot of artists, the economy is fucking me up right now.
LF: What’s currently on your playlist?
JF: I listen to a lot of Converge, and Robyn. I don’t even know how to explain that. Also the new Arcade Fire is getting a lot of play.
LF: You do a lot of CD covers. How has your experience been collaborating with musicians?
It can be great, or terrible. It’s nice because I usually get to do whatever I want, I have met a lot of nice people, and deadlines are usually loose. It can be bad when bands don’t pay you, jobs drag on for way too long, and you are paid very little. These days when I do a record cover, I just do the cover, not the whole layout. Designing the entire layout ends up being a huge job with lyric books, logos, etc. I did the math and I ended up making $.50 an hour. I definitely didn’t have enough fun doing it to get paid that amount. Record covers are just something I do for fun. I don’t think you can make a living doing them anymore. The music industry is not at all what it used to be, and the cover is not nearly as important these days.
LF: Are you rock n’ roll?
I’d say so, but I’m less rock n’ roll every day. I used to be really into punk. I played in bands, went to tons of shows, had the clothes and records; the whole thing. When I moved here I fell out of love with the punk scene. There’s a lot of shitty kids in the bay that care more about playing the role of a punk than thinking for themselves, or being good people. Punk is still part of my outlook on life, my art, and I have a strong DIY sensibility, but I shower daily. It would be fun to be in a band again someday, but I got rid of my bass set-up a couple years ago. One of the many projects I would like to start but don’t have the time or money to do.
LF: How do you LIVE FAST?
When I hear LIVE FAST, I think of sex, drugs, parties, trashing a hotel room, joyriding a rental car; stuff you might see in a Pantera video. I live slow compared to that. My version of LIVE FAST is to be as productive as you can stand without getting burnt out. Lots of work, and little rest. I enjoy tattoos, kickboxing, and I have a motorcycle… those might qualify as LIVE FAST, but for the most part I like to be at home, working hard on whatever project has caught my attention.
LF: Art talk: what inspires you? Favorite artist or work?
Most of my favorite artists work, or have worked, in comics. James Jean, Phil Hale, Travis Charest, Mike Mignola, Ashley Wood, Kent Williams. These guys were a big part of my college years. Guys that are in the comics world, but more artistic than others I guess you could say. They put something extra in their work that made it cross boundaries. I never read comics avidly. I have a collection, but what I buy is always about the art. Aside from the aforementioned, Mucha, Sam Weber, JC Leyendecker, John K., Nick Blinko was huge for me for a while, Takato Yamamoto, Evan Hecox, Mike Giant, Harry Clarke, McBess is really coming up and I think his stuff is amazing, same with Andrew Hem. Recently I’ve been into Nic Klein and Ghostshrimp. Friends from college were influential as well, Monica Canilao, David D’Andrea, and Ogi probably had the most impact on my work and work ethic. My childhood friend Josh Hardy always pushed me to be better. I’m forgetting some people I’m sure. I guess an artist is the sum of their influences, so those are mine.
LF: Fashion talk: How would you classify your style? What is your favorite trend?
JF: I dress like a graphic designer, basically. Glasses, plaid shirt, hoodie, jeans, sneakers. I keep it classic for the most part, and I’m not one to jump on trends. Ben Sherman is my favorite brand. I like to look clean and professional, but not resemble a tool in a cubicle. I feel like I can dress pretty conservatively without being mistaken for a republican because I have stretched ears. My favorite trend in fashion is the retro military look. Brown leather bomber jackets lined with sheep fur, pea coats, desert boots. I also like denim shirts.
LF: Sex talk: What gets you off? Literally or figuratively.
JF: Literally: Mostly pretty men. Nice tattoos a plus but not a requirement. Figuratively: Glowing eyes, arrows, armor, cyberpunk anything, science, nice line work, muted palettes, folklore, Isabey Kolinsky sables.
LF: Travel talk: Favorite destination or travel stories you want to share?
Tokyo is my favorite place to visit, but I can only handle it for about a week. It can start to feel like the “It’s a small world” ride at Disneyland, but you can’t get off. It’s very clean and safe, and cuteness is ever-present. They have the best clothes and art supplies there, hands down. It’s great for slim men who are tired of unimaginative American clothes that are cut for heavy men. The food is tasty, although I have no idea what’s in it, and the portions are small and expensive. I’d like to make Tokyo a yearly trip where I just go and come back with as much clothing and supplies as I can. Someday, when I’m a baller.