“I am transported to wonderland. I walk in streets where gold is dirt, and I have no desire to gather it. I wonder whether it is worth while to explore the canals of Mars, or rock myself on the rings of Saturn, but before I can decide, a thousand other fancies enter my excited brain.”
An Essay on Hasheesh – Victor Robinson (1912)
Damp Earth and Golden Spires
It’s October 7 and our new collection, which is the culmination of 10 months of hard work, has just been released. There is so much planning and preparation with each new illustration I create, that working on an interlinking and visually cohesive series, can become an all-consuming task. Now it’s done, I can finally breathe out.
The concept behind Strange New Heavens came from the ashes of Revelations, our last collection, and in some ways, it’s a natural follow-up. Where Revelations studied the ideas behind epiphany and the Earthly struggles between birth and death, Strange New Heavens looks upwards and explores the ritual use of intoxicants to unlock new layers of consciousness and mystical other worlds.
This series takes its cue from those artists, poets and shamans that, throughout history, have used powerful, now-forbidden drugs to ascend the staircase to the stars.
“Daucas-Carota was seated astride the clock, and made appalling grimaces at me.
The hands did not move.
‘Wretch! You have stopped the pendulum,’ I cried, drunk with rage. ‘Not at all–it’s going back and forth as usual, but suns will crumble into dust before this steel arrow has advanced a millionth of a millimetre.’”
Le Club des Hachichins – Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier (1846)
I have always been fascinated by the many artistic and literary references which exist, that detail the experience of using drugs to gain access to new realms of thought. The idea of taking a forbidden shortcut to enlightenment is, in itself, intoxicating. There is no shortage of places to look in order to find lurid descriptions of chemical transcendence, and the downfall that invariably follows, but I wanted to describe a more mystic event.
Engravings from alchemical/emblem books.
Like the engraved prints in early alchemical and emblem books, I intended to create a series of illustrations that would describe the very process of absolute intoxication. This was the starting point of what would become Strange New Heavens.
Setting out The Journey
The initial stage of design involved dividing the whole experience into pieces, and assigning each piece its own written description, much like choosing which pages of a book to illustrate. At first, I decided on seven levels of transcendence, but soon felt that this left too many gaps in the process. I then settled on 14 levels and split them across two collections (a clue as to what you can expect in 2019!), with the mid-point being the threshold between this world and the journey to enlightenment. The point at which reality ceases to exist.
The images in this collection do not represent the effects of a specific drug, but roll into one all the experiences I have looked into regarding the ritual and historical use of opium, hashish, as well as many types of hallucinogens and dissociatives.
The Seven Levels of Intoxication – Parallels with Alchemy
Symbolism is the art of changing or shrouding the meaning of a message by representing it in another less obvious, or completely unrelated way. This was an extremely useful tool used by alchemists, who wanted the chemical processes they were working on in secret to be understood only by a chosen few.
Their complicated diagrams and maps could only be followed when viewed in the right order, and by those people who already knew the codes and symbols used. The green lion, the old dying king, the white queen and various pieces of apparatus, which appear in many alchemical prints, were all used to symbolism different processes and reactions. Different alchemists used the same symbols to mean different things, or different symbols to mean the same thing, hoping to obscure their secret work.
The Unseeing, The Thief, The Conspirer and The Ritual. The first four parts of Strange New Heavens.
This way of thinking has had a profound effect on my own art, and I now find myself interlocking different sets of symbols and settings to explore my own secret world.
The pomegranate, the flaming sun ray, the hand and dagger, the burning castle, and countless other icons, fit together in this new series, and describe a story and a process which can’t be fully described with words.
The stages of the transformation are as follows:
- Unseeing: Blindness and chaos with no awareness of any higher realm. A cold and logical place.
- The Thief: An awareness of something other than the present. The idea that the key to the next stage is forbidden and must be taken without consent.
- The Conspirer: With the key in hand, the first thoughts of what it means to leave this Earth and head for the uncertainty of the unknown.
- The Ritual: Taking the raw materials and, following careful instruction, forging them into something useful and powerful.
- The Initiated: The poison has been consumed and the point of no return has arrived. A feeling of intense, overwhelming trepidation.
This week sees the release of the first in a series of limited edition art prints featuring the illustrations from our Revelations collection. We chose Unrequited as the first piece to print, and with it’s macabre outlook on abandoned love and revenge, it’s very much rooted in the darker side of what we do. Read on to find out how this illustration came to be.
Unrequited was the fifth piece I created for the Revelations collection, and at the time I was looking for, and not seeing, any small starting point on which to base the image. Unrequited love is a very emotive subject, and I wanted to choose a central image that would be bold and threatening.
After much searching, the answer eventually came in the form of a quote from a book called The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark.
“...unrequited love does not die; it's only beaten down to a secret place where it hides, curled and wounded. For some unfortunates, it turns bitter and mean, and those who come after pay the price for the hurt done by the one who came before.”
This conjured up visions of black sea monsters and stricken ships, like those written about by H. P. Lovecraft. The octopus was based on a number of vintage engravings featuring giant beasts dragging sailors down into the deep, and the illustration was completed by the addition of a large Portuguese galleon about to meet a similar fate.
The print is part of a limited edition of 25, and each one comes signed a numbered. I chose Platinum Etching 285, a beautiful soft-white, heavy fine art paper, for this print run as the soft tone and the slight texture look beautiful with the heavy black areas of the design.
There will be several further prints released that have been designed to sit next to this one.
Prints go on sale at 12pm GMT on Saturday 31 March. If you would like to own one, click the link below.
UPDATE: All prints have now sold out.
I’m not one for getting things done early. With each new collection being released in late autumn, it’s not unusual to see me falling to pieces around September, after realising I am way off track. I never seem to learn!
Well, this year I decided to switch it up in the studio and start things in January, and with our Revelations collection being our most popular yet, I really wanted to step things up again. It’s never good to stay still too long.
A Visual Album
I’ve approached this series like it’s an album. You know when you hear a collection of songs that just fit together perfectly? When you feel like you are unlocking something unknown. That is a feeing that I want carried across in this set of illustrations.
I have spent the past couple of months working on the theme and breaking the story down into parts. To begin with there is a tangle of ideas that need to be pulled apart, put in order and approached separately. This has to be done before the drawing starts. There were many weeks of scouring through reference images and scribbling in notebooks before I started work on the first piece.
Black Smoke and Golden Stars
As I write this post, the first few pencil drawings are complete and the piece above was the second to be finished. There is a strong Eastern flavour, with elements of Byzantine iconography, as well as a psychedelic touch. I’m starting to explore new directions, outside the typical ‘death art’ scene.
This will be the first series I have worked on that will feature multi-coloured designs. Each pencil drawing will be inked by hand to form the black layer, with most of the main detail and shading. After that, the new inked artwork is pinned under tracing paper and all the areas that will print gold are inked. This is repeated for each colour. It’s a time-consuming process but it gives that warm, hand-drawn feel that I’m always looking for.
This series also includes another first. There will be a hidden visual language that runs through the whole collection. Little messages and clues which relate to each other and tell a secret story of their own. When each piece is released, you’ll be able to put them side-by-side and try to decode what is actually happening.
The collection will be released around the beginning of September, and as well as our clothing range, there will be some large limited-edition, hand-printed posters available.
Most of the time, I hate what I do.
Not the end product, or even the rising excitement that comes before I start work on something new. Just the way it never goes as it should. Spending hours, days and weeks drawing tiny dots and lines, one next to the other, with no idea if the vision that was in my head will translate to the finished piece. It is a long and torturous process.
Finding ideas is worse! Each one seems to drift like vapour out of a locked vault in my head. When I am really in need of a graphic starting point, and am looking for that spark to get things moving forward, ideas either never arrive, or are so fleeting that I can barely pull them down onto paper.
Revelations was different. The ideas came so fast that I barely had time to make scribbled notes.
For a while, I’d been wanting to explore the subject of epiphanies and how much of a lasting effect they can have. The first time you act on feelings of lust, or read about the infinity of space, are moments that shape you and stay with you. These are milestones in human development and, because of the unexpected and powerful way in which they appear, they are something that fascinates me as an artist.
Bringing it back to earth
Revelations, the title I chose for what would become the new collection, was dreamed up before I had even thought about any individual designs. The word alone seemed to ignite so many possibilities and, with the obvious Biblical reference (although there would be no direct religious iconography depicted), it carries weight and an otherworldly, haunting familiarity. This was to be the first collection that truly centred around a single word.
I decided that each of the seven or eight pieces that would make up the series, would be based inside a frame that would give the whole collection a stained glass window style, similar to the image below.
Even more importantly, each piece would lock together with the next, making a set of drawings that, when viewed in a certain order, would make up a larger design. I’d not done anything like this before, so didn’t really have a clear starting point, but I was feeling good about things at this point. I may have given up, had I known what was to come.
Setting the ideas alight
It was my girlfriend, Lucy, who sat with me and drafted the first group of ideas, and her input helped steer the project and push it forward quicker than I could have done it alone. I have spent years drawing death and everything to do with it, so I was looking forward to adding something new to this. Maybe I could research other areas of art that I had not explored before. Maybe I could look back at what started my love affair with graphic poster art and throw some of that fuel back on the fire. I wanted this collection to burn hot with detail and concepts.
Below are the notes we both made during that first conversation. The ideas would later transform into the final concepts.
- Science: Arts | Intellect | Knowledge
- Morality: Heaven and Hell | Justice | Scales | Ethics
- Manipulation: Bending things to your will
- Unrequited Love: Despair | Suicide | Madness
- Hunger: Gratification | Feasts | Fruits | Adam and Eve
- Lust: Perversion
- Mortality: Death | Tombs | Gardens
- Space: Infinity | Our place in the Universe | Planets (Astrology and Astronomy)
From the outset, this collection seemed to be pulling in a different direction from usual. I had a framework for each piece in mind, but needed the whole set of designs to work as one, when placed side by side. This would mean bleeding certain, carefully chosen elements from one piece to the next. The sunlight that illuminated the whole sky of Lust, would then flow into Death and disappear behind the mounted knight. The intricate plates of coral, which would rise up beneath the galleon in Unrequited, would then shift across and appear at the bottom of Morality.
As well as this jigsaw puzzle of symbols and icons, I wanted to work an almost psychedelic, or art nouveau element into certain designs, to break up the rectangular borders. Soon, the whole thing became a kind of graphic riddle, with constant shifting and changing to make sure everything flowed as it should.
By now, Revelations seemed to be taking on a life of its own. The more I tried to calculate the right approach, the more I got lost amongst the layers of smoke, the decaying skulls and the silent landscapes. There seemed no right place to start drawing . As always, I prepared no sketches first, and moved straight into the final pencil artwork. This is by no means an easy route, but I’ve found it to be the only way in which I can get the immediacy of my ideas across. If i sketch an idea, more often than not, I lose interest in it.
I spent hours sifting through reference images, pulling things out, and trying to change and add to the imagery that I often use. Skeletal, Egyptian-style dancing women, wooden warships and underwater seascapes sat beside my more familiar icons, like skulls, ribbons of smoke and flowers.
This was fast becoming a demanding, and all-consuming graphic project and as it...
September is always my favourite month. It's when we finish our main collection each year, it's when we pack up and head off to the London Tattoo Convention, and it's usually the time when we see each year's work start to really pay off.
This September there has been an extra treat for us to get excited about. In late 2015 I was asked by The Book of Skulls author, Faye Dowling, to be involved with her new book, The Book of Black. At first I was asked to submit work for the inner pages, but later in the process, I was given the opportunity to submit a design for the front cover.
After many months of hard work by Faye and the publishing team, The Book of Black has now hit the shelves and we have a limited number of copies for sale in the La Mort store. First, take a look at what's inside!
The book is split in to three parts: Gods & Monsters, The Kingdom of Darkness, and Dark Arts/Higher Powers. Each part showcases a different area of occult graphic art, a works include painting, drawing, photography and sculpture. Each page is beautifully laid out, with crisp graphics on lovely uncoated paper. As well as being full of interesting examples of previously unpublished work, it's a lovely book to hold in your hands. Below are some examples of what you can expect.
Much like her previous work, Faye has created a book that is a must-have for anyone interested in the occult graphic arts, and I'd like to thank her for inviting me to be involved.
I won't give any more away about what's inside, as I hope you'll all have the opportunity to pick yourselves up a copy. I have signed a limited number of books and listed them in out store, so click below to get yours.
On one of my late night sessions in the studio, when I was looking to avoid doing any more work, I headed over to Bandcamp to waste some time. I was hoping to edit another La Mort Youtube video the next day, and I needed an epic soundtrack. Harder to come by than you may think. Anyway... in went the usual search term, desert rock, and out came a thousand bands that have bought a fuzz pedal and don't know when to shut up. It was 3am and things were not looking good.
That is, until I stumbled upon the page of Stonerror. What in the fuck is this? Finally a band doing desert rock for real. Grinding overdriven guitars and oily basslines rolling over the most hypnotic drums since the QOTSA debut album. No pointless jamming, and everything unnecessary stripped out. By the time I contacted the band and asked to use their music, I had been listening to The Wolf, a track from their first album, on repeat. It has the most infectious groove. As well as absolutely killing it in the studio, they turned out to be a modest, down to earth and friendly group.
Read this interview and you'll understand why I am trying to spread the word about this wicked group.
With the stoner/desert rock sound starting out in America, it's great to see that it’s going strong in your home country of Poland. What is the rock music scene like in Kraków?
There are many stoner/desert and doom bands in Poland now. Some of them are really good and also doing well abroad. We also have a couple of growing stoner/doom festivals (like Soulstone Gathering or Red Smoke Festival) with international headliners. So yeah, things are happening. In Kraków, there are also some bands in the genre, but the local underground rock scene covers a much wider spectrum – from punk rock, to alternative rock, hard rock, and all kinds of metal. For us, as Stonerror, it is important not to remain within a particular, constricted circle or genre. We like to play with different bands, so our music can reach new audiences, who wouldn’t otherwise listen to stoner/desert rock. Music should have no boundaries, it’s all about connecting people.
You have an epic, hypnotic sound that reminds me of QOTSA and Kyuss. How do you get that vintage tone? Is that down to the way you write/play songs or the equipment you use?
Thanks for the accolade, we love Kyuss and QOTSA. You know, the sound of our recordings and live performances is vital to us. The tone we’re trying to achieve is a combination of both factors you’ve mentioned, and even more. The way we write music is quite organic: it’s the output of four guys rocking together, when ideas and emotions are blended into a powerful and meaningful whole. Equipment-wise, the band uses vintage guitars, drum kits, and valve amps. After some experimentation we settled upon our present gear: classic Gretsch, Gibson, and Fender guitars, paired with old-school Marshall, Vox, and Fender amps. But there’s yet another key factor: the way we record and mix the music. That’s where all the desert space and the epic flavour are created.
Do you go digital or analogue/tape when you record in the studio?
We like to keep it old-school. The album was recorded live in the studio, on a 16-track tape recorder, and then mixed on a vintage analogue console in real time. So what comes out of the drums, amps and mics, goes directly to tape, there’s no digital tricks or gimmicks. Only the mastering was performed digitally. We tried to achieve this ‘60s/’70s warm, airy multi-dimensional sound. Of course, with analogue recording techniques there’s no room for track edition, so the songs must be played tightly at once, but on the other hand you get all the live energy and dynamics of a real band playing together. You get the momentary creative moment caught on tape. And this is what rock music should be about – actual emotions and the interplay of band members are much more important than insensate perfection.
What pedals do you guys use to get those beautiful fuzz tones?
The funny thing is that most musicians nowadays like to experiment with huge, expanded pedalboards, searching for the Holy Grail of fuzz and distortion. We’ve actually chosen the opposite way, trying to keep it as simple as possible. Nothing beats the natural overdrive of a cranked up old valve amp. Our basic guitar sound is just a 50-year old Gretsch plugged into a valve Marshall amp through a Moog Minifooger Drive pedal. The bass guitar is just plugged into a 45-year old Fender Bassman, with no pedals at all. The rest comes from the way we play the instruments. No technology can replace the authentic dynamics you create with your own hands.
To date, you have released the EP Rattlesnake Moan and the album Stonerror. Are you planning any more releases, or are you concentrating on your live performances right now? What are we going to see from you guys in the next year?
The EP was recorded during one of Stonerror’s first gigs. We listened to it and realized: “hey, we can actually play as a band, how cool, let’s do it”. The album took more preparations and deliberations, but it was recorded in a week or so. Right now we are working on new material: we have two or three new songs ready, so there’s still a lot to do. The plan is to enter the studio sometime in the winter of 2017/2018. We’re working with the same producer, Maciek Cieślak, so we already know each other very well (he’s a brilliant musician and composer himself, and he even performs with us on selected occasions as an additional guitarist). Whether it’s gonna be another full album or an EP – well, it depends on...
At La Mort, we always seem to be as busy as ever, but every now and then, it seems, I have the time to try something new. I first experimented with timelapse videos several years ago, but for various reasons, including filming equipment, and my drawing style, things never quite worked out as I had planned.
As more people asked about the techniques that I use to create our artwork, I decided it was time to give it another go, so now, after many years of waiting, I'd like to introduce you to our Youtube channel.
The above video shows the process I used to ink a logo commissioned by Artem Mortis, a fantastic occult company from the US. I hope to add many more videos to our channel, including tutorials, reviews and interviews with our favourite artists.
To subscribe to our channel and see our latest videos, please click here.
I recently started looking through some of my old sketch books to see how my work has been shaped over time. It's a strange feeling to see sketches from years ago and to remember exactly where I was when I drew them.
One of the most significant milestones for me, has been the founding of La Mort Clothing. I had been thinking about starting a clothing brand for many years, but after an exhibition in Summer 2011, I actually put pen to paper, and started working on ideas, names and designs.
Below are the first two designs that I drew, which I worked on to help create a style for further illustrations. The pages beneath them show the chaotic and impulsive process behind finalising a composition.
I hope to post more pages soon, to give you an insight into my working processes.
Pestilence has to be one of my favourite designs that we have released so far. It came out as part of the London Pharaohs Collection last September and is, perhaps, the design that most typifies the style that we are into; classic death iconography.
When we first decided on the subject matter for London Pharaohs, it was because we needed one theme that could run across, and tie together, a series of designs that would be featuring in the collection. In the past, we have looked at the Major Arcana cards of the tarot deck, as well as the deadly sins, but this time round, the plagues of Egypt seemed like a great fit.
As I would be drawing all the artwork for this collection myself, I decided that I would approach them one at a time and not in the order that the plagues were supposed to have happened. Pestilence was the fourth or fifth design that I started work on, though it's actually the sixth plague.
The main idea came from an engraving used on the book cover of Babble by Charles Satchi. I'd seen it a while back, and always liked the idea of using a huge open mouth in a picture. The hands emerging from the sea, clutching stone tablets, came from a sketch I drew in 2008 for a piece I never started. Strange how things become useful a lot later on!
This collection had to be designed to strict deadlines, to make sure everything was available to print at the right time. This meant that I only completed a couple of very quick gesture sketches before I began drawing the final piece. The original drawing was going to feature a huge tree in the middle, but this didn't work so I switched it to a mouth and the design headed off in a new direction.
As so many of the designs centred around the same grid, I designed one in Adobe Indesign and printed out copies on Bristol Board. I drew each design over the grid. I would usual draw the grid by hand with ruler and compass. Above is the finished pencil artwork after it has been turned to blue (cyan) in Photoshop. This step helps later when scanning in inked artwork. I also find inking over a cyan print less distracting than a grey one.
I inked this piece in the usual way, using two of my favourite techniques. Areas are first drawn with black ink over the cyan print. Edges are feathered to create shadows, like those on the underside of the hands, and stippling is used to create texture on areas like the stone blocks and arches. The inked waves feature in nearly every piece I design and have become a kind of signature.
The next step is painting back over the black areas with dots of white Tippex. I used this technique a lot on the underside of the lips and the highlights on the vipers. Working black on white and then white on black adds an extra layer of depth to each piece and opens up a lot of new possibilities.
Once the design was finished it was screen printed onto our usual heavy ringspun cotton shirts. They accept the ink very well and hold all of the detail from the design, which is very important when there is a lot of fine detail involved.
We'll be doing a spotlight on each design in the collection in the upcoming months, so check back. Which design would you like us to blog about next? Leave comments below. If you liked this post please share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.
It's always good to have a break from the drawing board. I can only handle a few hours before it starts messing with my head! So, now seems like a good time to start one of those projects I have been thinking about for a while. It also seems more productive than spending the afternoon on Youtube...again.
Over the the past four or five years, we have worked to develop a visual language and artistic style that is recognisably ours. I want to dig a little deeper into the art that has influenced us, and introduce you to some of the artists that have a played a part in steering the direction of the La Mort Clothing brand.
I won't be mentioning too much about the lives of the artists (you can check them out on Google if you're interested), as I'll be focussing more on their techniques and the visual impact their work makes.
Let's kick things off by taking a look at one of history's most amazing printmakers; Hans Holbein.
TOTENTANZ (DANSE MACABRE)
Hans Holbein the Younger, was a German painter and printmaker who was active in the first half of the 16th century. As with most well-known artists from that period, he seems to have been amazing at everything. He was an excellent draftsman and painter, as well as being a print maker. It is this last part that we're interested in.
In 1526, Holbein completed his first drawings for a series of prints known as The Dance of Death. It was his take on a common allegory of the time, which pushed the idea that Death is coming for you, no matter who you are. There was some seriously dark shit going on during the Renaissance.
The series of prints totalled 41, with six shown below, and it was over 12 years after their creation that they were first published in book form.
TECHNIQUE AND INFLUENCE
Wood cut printing, which was the technique used to produce these prints, relies on a drawing being transferred to a wooden block, before areas are cut away to produce a raised design. When the block has been carved or 'cut', ink is rolled onto the raised areas before the block is pressed onto a sheet of paper to make a print.
The process means that the artist who draws the initial design does not always cut their own blocks. In the case of this series, the blocks were cut by an excellent printmaker called Hans Lützelburger. It's as much the style of block cutting, as it is the designs, that interests us.
The style, in general, produces bold black lines, much like inking with a pen, and this series in particular highlights the insane amount of work that goes into producing art in this way. I absolutely love the intensity of this work and we are often asked if our work is wood cut printed. Sadly, as it's so time consuming, I've not started to get into it yet. One day I'll get the chance.
When one of us is working on a piece and we are struggling with how to approach a certain area, we usually find an old book of prints for inspiration. More often than not, the answer lays in the work of others. Over time, we have looked at so many artists that we have absorbed different styles, and now work in our own way.
Which artists do you think we should be looking at next? Let us know in the comments below.