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.
Well, 2015 came and went and I was so busy that I barely even noticed. This was not what I had in mind for life as an adult.
When I was 15, I left school confidently declaring that I was going to paint pictures of tanks for a living. Well, it turns out that’s not actually a job, and it’s certainly not what I have spent the last four years doing. Similarly, Faye has not spent the last four years being a witch. Luckily her seven-year-old self will never find out.
As I sit here surrounded by paperwork, designs in progress, and half-full sketchbooks, I realise that we seem to have started a death art clothing brand by accident. Strange that.
Why Death Art?
As our brand grows, we often get asked how it all began. The about section of our website explains who we are and gives a little insight into how we operate, but it doesn’t quite capture the whole truth, which is that La Mort Clothing is the result of a long line of coincidences and unlikely opportunities.
We never sat down and decided to draw death art and neither of us planned to make skull t-shirts. It has been a long process that has lead up to this, and we’ve had insane amounts of fun along the way. Really, we’re just getting started
A Psychedelic Start: Schooling in Design
Faye and I met at art school and at the time we had wildly different styles and interests. We were never really involved in each other’s projects. I had started 2005 painting on large canvases and she was involved with performance art and bizarre little drawings. We both lacked direction, but also felt like something was brewing and that an amazing idea was just around the corner.
The real beginnings of La Mort started on the day I found an old sketchbook of mine with a pen and ink drawing in it. Until that point I had completely forgotten about the strong graphic style I used to love, and the mind blowing psychedelic poster artists that I used to try and copy.
After giving up on painting, I decided that art school wasn’t for me and spent the rest of the year designing free posters for bands, while my lecturers despaired. It was while drawing these posters that I learned traditional drafting skills, and how to ink my drawings the right way.
Skulls in Ink: Learning to Print
Our time at art school came to an end and while I spent more and more time designing posters at home, Faye went to University and, through a chance encounter with another student, was introduced to print-making. Within a few weeks, her macabre little drawings were being transformed into oily-black death prints.
It was around this time, in 2007, that I started visiting the London Print Club in Dalston, to learn how to screen print. It seemed the next logical step if I was to take over the world with my posters. This printing process, which is still used to make all our clothing, cemented my drawing style and allowed me to focus on line work and solid black. It also became the foundation of everything we made for La Mort.
We began living with each in September 2007 and, though our drawing styles were still very different, we began to exchange ideas and swap sketches. I drifted away from the psychedelic art I had been drawing and became interested in gothic art and the posters of the Viennese Secession.
An Unlikely Collaboration
By 2009, Faye and I had rid our artwork of nearly all colour, and were almost always drawing in black and white. It would still be another year of working separately before we would come together and decide to curate a group art show. We named our partnership The Mourning Press and began producing limited runs of death prints.
Our first show, Memento Mori, opened in September 2010 and featured the work of artists whose pieces dealt, in some way, with death, decay and loss. It was the first time either of us had sold our work and it became a starting point for what was to come next. I stopped creating posters and we both settled on the idea of becoming fine art printmakers. It seemed simple enough at the time.
Our second show, The Affliction, opened in June 2011 and it was these few days that changed everything. After the opening night, we spent the rest of the week sitting at the back of the gallery drinking all the leftover wine and wondering about the public’s lack of interest in Death art. Something had to change.
While we were planning our next move, a guy walked into the gallery and started looking at our prints. He said ‘You should put these pictures on T-shirts’, and then he left.
That was the answer we were waiting for. We continued drinking wine.
Days in the cold
Our next step? Camden. For those of you that haven’t been there, Camden Market attracts some of the best (and worst) alternative and hand made art and fashion. It seemed like the best place to start. We needed a name and after many days of discussion, Faye suggested “La Mort Market”. It may have been the same day that we both decided to adopt the name for our new T-shirt label. La Mort Clothing was born. We spent several months printing posters and greetings cards and, for the first time, headed to Dalston to...
I am beyond excited to anounce the release of London Pharaohs; our first full collection. It has been eight months since we started preparing to create our new set of designs and it feels great to finally have everything up in store. We had a couple of really fun photo shoots in and around London, with pro photographer Rhian Cox and the results are now pasted across this season's catalogue. At the beginning of September, we'll be showing London Pharaohs to buyers at the London Edge show in Angel. If the past few months are anything to go by, things are about to get real for La Mort!Thank you to everyone how has been involved in the making of this collection. Eight months of hard work have now paid off.
With the first Rammstein design all finished (click here to see it), it was time to start the second.As with previous pieces, I started this one by blowing up the small-scale sketch and using a lightbox to transfer elements to a larger sheet. Using a blue lead pencil I then tightened up all the lines, added more detail and supporting elements, and re-drew the deer's head. Initially, the eyeballs on the deer's antlers were looking in the same direction as the deer. I re-drew them facing forward as it gave more of a hypnotic effect. The draped cloth was a late addition to the sketch, as it was needed to provide an area for the lyrics.By now, I had started using our new 'white on black' technique, which involves using a special opaque white paint over black areas. This method is perfect for adding highlights, like highlights on the sword handles and the deer's nose. When painting larger elements back in, I draw them in ballpoint pen on large black areas or marker pen, so I can see where I am painting. On the above image you can see an eye drawn in this way, to the left of the deer.As always, it is a pleasure working with Rammstein and the feedback we received was great. I will post the third design soon!
With our visual style borrowing heavily from Art Nouveau, psychedelic design and the darker side of Romanticism, there is one shadowy and mysterious group of writers and artists that we find fascinating. This group of men shut themselves away in a run-down hotel in Paris and regularly took part in long drug-induced reveries, with the intention of shedding some light on the effects of hashish on the intellectual mind. Their story is bizarre and incredible. All the more so as it took place in the 1840s.
Having been introduced to hashish in the Orient, sometime between 1836 and 1840, French psychiatrist Jacques-Joseph Moreau became interested in its effects and their similarity to psychosis. To further his understanding in this area, he gathered some of the leading French painters, poets and playwrights of the day with the intention of observing them while they were under the influence of the drug. It was 1844 and ‘Le Club des Hashischins’ was born.
The group would regularly gather at the Pimodan House on the Ile Saint-Louis and, once in their gothic inner sanctum, would consume quantities of dawamesk, a green paste of orange juice, herbs, spices and hashish. What followed would later inspire poet Charles Baudelaire to write ‘Le Fleurs du Mal’ and move Theophile Gautier to publish an essay ('Le Club des Hashischins’), which describes the whole fantastical scene. A few excerpts are below.
“To enter was to step two centuries back; time, which passes so fast, seemed not to have elapsed in this house, and like a clock negligently left unwound, its hands showed the same date always.
The walls, paneled in white-painted wood, were half-covered with darkened canvases that bore the stamp of the period. On a gigantic mantelpiece rose a statue that one might suppose to have been pilfered from the Versailles gardens.
On the ceiling, which arched into a dome, writhed a sprawling allegory painted with broad strokes, in the manner of Lemoine, which might have been by that painter.”
“The doctor’s face beamed with enthusiasm, his eyes sparkled his cheeks reddened, the veins in his temples stood out and his dilated nostrils drew in the air with force.
“This will be subtracted from your share in Paradise,” said he, handing me my allotted dose.
When each had eaten his portion, coffee was served in the Arab manner, that is, with the grounds and without sugar.”
“One, with a pale face in a black beard, was in peals of laughter before some unseen spectacle; another made unbelievable efforts to carry his glass to his lips, while his contortions to achieve his purpose produced a roar of jeers.
Another, in nervous agitation, twiddled his thumbs with incredible agility; yet another, thrown back in his chair, with dreamy eyes and lifeless arms, voluptuously let himself glide into the bottomless sea of oblivion.”
“The marble is gaining ground! The marble is gaining ground!”
To be sure, I could feel my limbs petrifying, and the marble enveloping me to the waist like the Tuileries’ Daphne; I was a statue halfway up, like the enchanted princes in the Arabian Nights. My hardened heels rang out formidably against the floor; I could have played the Commander in Don Giovanni.
By this time I had reached the head of the stairs, which I undertook to descend; they were half-lit, and through my dream they took on Cyclopean, gigantic proportions. Their two ends, bathed in shadow, seemed to plunge into heaven and hell, both of them abysses; raising my head, I indistinctly discerned, in a prodigious perspective, countless superposed landings, ramps leading up as to the top of the tower of Lylacq; looking down, I felt the presence of abysses of steps, whorls of spirals, dazzling circumvolutions.
This staircase must pierce the earth through and through, said I to myself as I continued my mechanical walking. I shall reach the bottom the day after Judgement Day.”
At the beginning of October 2013, we received an email asking if we would be able to produce a series of merchandise designs for a globally recognised band. That band was Rammstein and this is the first of those designs.
Initially, Faye and I set about familiarising ourselves with their existing merchandise, videos of their live performances and their lyrics. With any band project, it is usually a mix of all these things that will give us a starting point. We were given completely free reign in terms of subject matter and the final aesthetic of the design, so we just went mad with this. Gathering all of our ideas together, we settled on the concept for this first piece, before sourcing photographic reference for the animals and the open-mouthed skull. Then the real fun began.
We usually create all of our designs with no prior sketches, going straight to final artwork. This is ideal for turning work around quickly for our own clothing, but for any big client, there will be a concept/amendment/approval process before final artwork can begin. The sketches for these designs were created ¼ size and we used pencil/ballpoint pen and diluted ink to block in large areas. We tried to pack as much death in to this one piece as we could! It was a real turn around for us in terms of technique and it actually changed the way we work in general.
The words and smoke were added to the sketch after the first amendments were made. Why don’t you see if you can find out what they mean? A lot of the elements for the final piece were resized and shifted around, and detail was added at the inking stage. This was one of my favourite drawings to work on for one of my favourite clients. Wait until you see the next design!
Today, with all the talk of 3d visual technology, it may be easy to forget that the fascination with bringing flat images to life, started well before our own century. Now, this sort of thing doesn’t usually interest me, but mention Hell, skeletons and death and you have my attention!
In the 1860’s a series of Stereoscopic images was published in France that, in their own satirical style, represented life in Hell. Created by at least three different artists, these images borrowed heavily from the political goings on of the day. Scenes, depicting all manner of debauchery, were meticulously crafted in clay and then and photographed for viewing through a stereoscope.
Stereoscopic images comprise a pair of identical pictures printed side by side which, when viewed through a special viewer or stereoscope, appear to fuse together into one three dimensional image. Honestly, it’s mind-blowing!
It appears, from the gestures of the many skeletons represented in Les Diableries, that these works of art were at least partly influenced by the 1538 ‘Danse Macabre’ woodcuts by artist Hans Holbein, as well as similar prints by other artists. Both the earlier prints and the later clay models sit comfortably within a long tradition of showing Death and skeletons as comedic characters.
For further information on these ghoulish creations, there is a fantastic book entitled ‘Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell’ by authors Brian May, Denis Pellerin and Paula Richardson Fleming. It can be found on Amazon and I highly recommend it.
With this year’s London International Tattoo Convention over, we have a hard week ahead of us sorting through all of our stock and packing away our stand equipment. The fun is over! We couldn’t let this one pass, though, without telling you all about some of the great things that went on.
The show this year marked the LITC’s tenth anniversary and as always, the organisers did a fantastic job in bringing the world’s best tattoo artists and traders down to Tobacco Dock. We had a lot of help this year on the stand so I managed to get away for an hour or so to check out what was going on.
For those of you who haven’t been to this show before, it is split across two levels, with the artists working on the top floor and all of the jewellery and clothing brands etc. set up in the vaults beneath. It really is one of the best venues you could pick for a tattoo show. So, with camera in hand, I went for a wander around the upper level to see some of the artists at work. Some of the highlights are below.
I finally got to see Lal Hardy, of New Wave Tattoo, at work. He owns the longest running tattoo studio in North London. Google him.
Chris Crooks, of White Dragon Tattoo in Belfast, was also there working on a skull piece. Awesome artist. Check out his website here.
Italian artist Marco Galdo, is an absolute master at geometric dot work, and when I saw him he was working on some brave guy’s inner arm. Looked painful. Check him out here.
Alice of The Dead was there tattooing a beautiful black and red Kali on a girl’s leg. She works at Divine Canvas on Caledonian Road and you should check her out. Her website can be found here.
Some of the guys from Skin and Bone were there working the traditional way. Fantastic to see.
Got to meet up with Diana Jay, a local artist from Camden who I’ve chatted with before. She’s a wicked girl and works at East Side Tattoo Studio on Brick Lane. Go and see her!
I can’t believe we have to wait a whole year before the next show.
I have tried to credit everyone correctly. If there are any mistakes, then send us an email and I will update information.
An excellent concept is perhaps the most important part of any design. If a drawing or painting is created using an unclear or incomplete idea, then no amount of technique or compositional changes can save it. As well as having very clear rules on our technical approach, we also pay very close attention to the way in which we come up with our ideas. We have spent many hours reading books to gain an understanding of structure and form, but the subject and vision of each of our designs usually comes to us in an instant after reading a particular phrase or seeing a strange image.
Distilling an initial concept into a successful, clear plan for a drawing can be very difficult. It involves many thumbnail sketches and mock-ups, and we even scrap ideas for months, returning to them when we know how to make them work. This process is certainly not for the impatient. Once we have settled on a theme, and made our initial small-scale sketches, we will find reference material to help us construct the final drawing. This can be hard if we are drawing a fantastical subject. A good example of this is our drawing Youngblood. We needed reference shots for a pair of cherubs flying and fighting. After much searching, we found underwater photographs of babies swimming, that were in the right ethereal poses.
Many of our ideas don’t even make it to final designs, but the ones that do then go through a process of refining before we start gridding up the final piece.
We have been working hard to get our new designs finished and it has resulted in a slight shift in style. We have been looking at the work of E M Lilien and, in particular, his use of solid black areas. This all lead to some exciting experimentation in the studio and it's a very creative time for us. We are also excited to reveal our first two mandalas. There will be more to come.
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