Let´s talk art | Heavy Metal: career Kick-Starter for illustrator Luke Preece
Welcome to the third part of the Let’s Talk Art series. In this interview, we chat with Luke Preece, a UK based artist and designer who has worked on some really exciting projects during his career. We’ll be discussing Luke’s inspirations, goals for his career and his unique, instantly recognisable style, as well as his relatively new ventures into alternative poster art.
The aim of this series is to explore what it means to be an artist and to find out how artists have developed their craft over the years. Throughout the series, Jack Woodhams will be chatting with artists from countries all over the world, many of whom have worked for incredible brands such as Disney, Marvel, BBC, 20th Century Fox, Empire Magazine and more!
So let´s talk art…
You often create artwork for popular rock bands such as Killswitch Engage, Danzig and Alice Cooper to name a few. Is music a primary driver in your creative process?
I’ve always enjoyed drawing and painting, but before fully committing to art/ graphic design as a career choice, I played the electric guitar… A LOT. I was obsessed with it, from the age of 11 and I took lessons for about 4 years. At this time, it was the early 90’s and most of the music I listened to (and still do) were heavy metal bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Faith No More, Pantera, Sepultura, Rage Against The Machine, Down, and Corrosion Of Conformity. Basically, if it was crazy and heavy on the guitar I would learn it. I liked the challenge and found it very rewarding.
These were the days before the internet took off, so if I wanted to learn how to do something I’d watch my favourite band´s music videos and live concerts on VHS and work out what these guys were playing by pausing the tape. The other cool thing about this genre was the artwork for the album covers and the band merchandise. I suppose you could say that without realising, this aspect was seeping into my subconscious and would eventually come out through my artwork in later in life.
Naturally, I wanted to start my own band. So I’d jam with a bunch of like-minded friends after school, and during weekends, playing covers. When I reached my 20’s I thought I could do this as a career. Unfortunately, I learned the very hard lesson that trying to make it in a band is probably one of the hardest ventures ever.
For the last couple of bands, I played in, we put in a lot of work and pplayas many shows as we could supporting bigger acts, all over the UK. I did all this whilst trying to hold down a day-job as a Graphic Designer as well.
One positive thing that came from this were the relationships I’d built up working with people in the music industry. Which would play a bigger part in my future.
The band stuff came to an end, but I was still creating artwork and graphic design. As long as I was being creative in some way, all was good.
What’s your favourite gig poster that you’ve created, and why?
Whenever I’m asked this question I normally end up saying the latest thing I’ve worked on – which would be DEEP PURPLE + ALICE COOPER.
However, on this occasion, I’d have to say I really enjoyed creating THE KILLTHRAX TOUR poster I did for KILLSWITCH ENGAGE + ANTHRAX. Firstly, because I’m a big fan of both bands, but especially because I love Killswitch Engage. Being able to work with bands is one thing, but working with the one’s you really admire is another.
The whole thing came together quite naturally. Killswitch Engage did a cover version of Dio’s track ‘Holy Diver’. The song features lyrics like “Jump on the tiger” and “like the eyes of a cat in the black and blue” amongst others. I thought I could make use of a tiger for the imagery. Anthrax tends to use a pentagram alongside their logo. So if I could somehow mould a tiger and a pentagram together that might work.
Also, I should say that I hardly ever sketch out these ideas at this stage. They normally just sit in my head for a week or so before I actually pick up a pencil or grab the Cintiq. It sounds kind of stupid but just coming up with the idea takes longer than actually creating the artwork itself.
Once I’m happy with the direction, I grab as much reference as possible. Pinterest is great for this kind of thing.
Sometimes, I do the mock-ups straight into Photoshop on the Wacom Cintiq but on this occasion, I created a rough sketch in my sketchbook with pencils and a brush-pen. Luckily, this got approved by Garageland straight away.
I scanned in my ink drawing, downed the opacity to around 10% and painted over the top on a separate layer in Adobe Photoshop. Once the black line work was done, I then removed the mock-up and decided to have its mouth covered in blood with it dripping into the band logo’s. I originally had the Anthrax Pentagram on the beast’s forehead but decided to swap this out for an inverted cross instead because I felt it looked better.
We decided to do 2 versions in the end. One against a white background and the other against black. These screen-prints will be 18” x 24” and are being sold by Garageland at the show at The Marquee, Tempe, AZ on March 20th. They will also be available online on the same date.
Besides your obvious love of heavy metal music, you’re also influenced by film and TV. What do you find yourself being drawn to most in pop culture?
Being a child of the 80’s and 90’s I find myself being drawn to a lot to the films of that time. Also, this was arguably the best era for film, in my opinion.
I remember seeing the original Star Wars for the first time – the one they later renamed A New Hope. It totally blew my mind as a kid. I’d never seen anything like it. I wasn’t around in 1977 as I was born in 1980, but I had an older brother who I’d watch this stuff with on VHS.
British television during the Christmas break was the best too, because they’d show loads of classics like Indiana Jones, all the Star Wars films, Robocop, The Goonies, Terminator 1 and 2, Aliens, Flight of The Navigator, Tron, The Last Starfighter… I could go on. I would record these on VHS and watch them again and again.
As far as TV shows, I’d watch lots of cartoons like Mask, Transformers, Thundercats, Teenage Mutant Hero (Ninja) Turtles and Transformers. Live action stuff like Streethawk, Knight Rider, Airwolf, Blue Thunder, The Amazing Spiderman series from the 70’s, The A-Team, and more.
I should probably also mention that I enjoyed comics like The Dandy, The Beano and 2000 AD as well.
I also have fond memories of going to the local video shop to rent films with my step-dad. It may have smelled of damp carpets, cigarette smoke and the plastic video cases, but it was so exciting to me. I’d just stare up at the shelves looking at the art on the video boxes being completely mesmerised. It would be like “let’s get this one because this guy is wearing a leather jacket, shades and has one glowing red eye. He looks awesome”. I’m talking about the film ‘The Terminator’ obviously.
I remember seeing Aliens when I was way too young to watch it at a friend’s house. It gave nightmares for weeks. What a film though!
Obviously, all this stuff is massively nostalgic to me but there have been some fantastic movies lately as well. I’m really enjoying what they’re doing with the new Star Wars films. Also, Mad Max was brilliant! I recently watched the Arrival and I thought that was great! These kinds of movies I’m sure all inspire what I work on and hope to work on in the future.
Your artwork features lots of heavy black line art and vivid colours. Is this a style that you’ve had for a long time?
It’s not really a conscious thing. I just draw stuff how I draw stuff. I pretty much always work in black and white when doing my mock-ups. It’s normally quite loose at that stage. I then submit this as a proof to whoever I’m working with.
Sometimes, it’s drawn straight into my sketchbook and other times in Adobe Photoshop on my Wacom Cintiq. If needed, I can make changes at this stage before I render the art out fully. After this is approved I get to work on the black line work, going into as much detail as possible. I like to make sure the whole thing works in tone first.
Colour is the last thing I work with. Also, the beauty of working digitally is that I can do a few variations on colour choices. Sometimes when doing screen-prints we might choose more than one variation so this works really well. It’s not until you take a step back to look at your portfolio and you realise you have a certain way of doing things. Also, I’m definitely my worst critic. I look back at something I did 6 months ago and ask myself “what was I thinking?! This is terrible”. I’m my own worst enemy sometimes. However, I do think it’s important to question ‘does this work?’ or ‘should I change this or that?’. If you don’t, how would you ever improve or evolve?
There’s been an increase of interest in your work recently, how does that make you feel?
It always feels great when people say nice things. It’s definitely a more recent thing though. I spent a few years creating artwork and having it go nowhere. It was more a case of me not knowing where to get noticed or who to approach.
It wasn’t until I started seeking advice by talking to other artists I admire and reaching out to various galleries when things started to change. I started pushing things online a little more as well. Instagram is a great tool for this and it’s where I get the most traffic online. Developing a website also helped. I created a few pieces of Star Wars fan art and that was the starting point for when it all went a little crazy.
After that PosterSpy approached me. Then I received an email from Garageland asking if I’d be interested in working with bands on some official gig posters in the US. Obviously, I jumped at the chance! I’ve more recently started working with Hero Complex Gallery which has been really exciting.
A lot of artists worry whether their style will be appreciated. Do you think about this or do you prefer to create without thinking about the public reaction?
I try not to think about it too much. Not everyone is going to be into my style. But if people like my stuff and they want to pick up a print, or whatever, then that’s great.
The one thing I struggled with for years was trying to come up with a style that was consistent and my own. I’m influenced by a lot of other artists… Pushead, Mike McMahon, Steve Dillon, John Baizley to name a few… and I didn’t want to unintentionally rip anyone off, I guess.
I didn’t want to be a poor man’s version of ‘insert name here’ kind of thing. I’d like to think I’ve found a nice balance between illustration and graphic design and managed to make that my own. Saying that, I’m not ashamed to wear my influences on my sleeve either.
Based on your experience, is there anything you recommend for artists trying to get their work seen?
First, make sure you have a really strong portfolio of work and a nicely designed website that represents your best stuff. Less is more… don’t fill it with clutter. As long as the work is your strongest, you stand a better chance of getting noticed. I used to have a blog, which served a purpose for a while but it didn’t look that great. It can make things confusing when people are trying to look at your work for the first time. You can build your own website quite easily nowadays with web services like Squarespace. I built mine that way and they offer slick templates that you build upon and cater them to your needs.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to ask for advice from other artists and the people you want to work with. You’d be surprised at the number of nice people who are willing to help and offer encouragement. Not everyone will respond though – some will just tell you that they don’t like your work or you might even get ignored. Don’t let this discourage you though. I still get dismissive emails even now. Ignore it, it doesn’t matter. For every negative, there will be a positive.
Thirdly, try to attend events when you can. Face to face networking with people you want to work with. If your work is good and you make a good impression something might come of it.
Finally, don’t expect these things to happen overnight. I know it’s frustrating as hell but be patient. If your work is good something WILL happen. It took me a while to learn that. I still haven’t achieved half the things I want to do.
If you ever find yourself struggling for ideas, how do you overcome the ‘block’?
I have an awesome wife, 2 great children and a weird cat. Those guys definitely help me to relax and unwind. I go to the gym when I can and I’ve always got my guitars and music. Me and a couple of friends get together to jam from time to time. We normally just play Black Sabbath covers REALLY loud at a local rehearsal studio.
Sometimes, just watching a movie or listening to music helps spark an idea. Especially when I’m working with a band on something. I’ll listen to a load of their stuff and a lyric in one of the songs might stand out to me. That can sometimes help relieve the ‘block’ as you say.
As well as using a Wacom tablet for your work, you also use a traditional sketchpad to jot down initial ideas. Do you find this is essential to your workflow?
I carry 2 sketchbooks with me most days. One A4 and one A5, plus a mixture of brush pens, graphical pens, pencils and other stuff. I love using my Cintiq… I mean, it’s where I create the majority of my artwork, but sometimes I just need to draw on paper to get an idea down. It’s also great if I’m away from the studio. So, in answer to the question… I’d say yes, it’s essential.
You’ve been a long time user of Wacom products, 12 years almost. At home, you use a Wacom Cintiq. Can you tell us about how important this tool is to your work?
By day I work as a Senior Concept Artist/ Graphic Designer for a video game developer. There, I use a Wacom Cintiq 22HD and it’s a fantastic bit of kit. The screen feels so natural when creating artwork. At home, I use an older model, the Cintiq 21” DTZ 2100 with an iMac. Again, this a great screen. Yes, it’s an older model but it really is a testament to Wacom that this screen is still going strong after all these years.
The way I look at it is this – just because you own the latest kit and have the latest software doesn’t make you an expert at what you do. That takes commitment, effort and experience. It works great for me and I don’t have any reason to update it right now. That doesn’t mean I won’t be looking to upgrade in the future. The latest Cintiq Pro models do look great.
Before this, I used Wacom pen tablets. I still have an Intuos 3 in fact. However, once I started playing around with the Cintiq, I couldn’t go back to a regular tablet. Drawing straight onto the screen feels so much more natural to me. I know people that have tried cheaper brands and models, but they are never as good as the line of Wacom products available right now. They are simply the best at what they do.
You’re going to be taking part in an art show at the Hero Complex Gallery on May 19th in Los Angeles. What do you gain from taking part in collaborative exhibits?
Most people will probably know how respected HCG are. So, when I got invited to take part in an exhibition I was extremely flattered and excited. I’m hoping this will bring my work to a larger audience too. They work with some of the best creatives from around the globe so being asked is truly awesome. Unfortunately, I can’t discuss what I’ve been working on just yet. What I can say is that it’s probably one of my most ambitious pieces to date. I can also say that they will be transforming the gallery for a one-of-a-kind experience for this show.
HCG are an absolute pleasure to work with too and give really constructive feedback. The problem working on your own sometimes is that you don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off. Adam at HCG has been great for this. Really positive and encouraging throughout the entire process.
My screen prints have been produced by the guys over at Seizure Palace. Chances are if you’ve bought a really nice screen print recently, it was probably printed by them. They’ve done an outstanding job. They came out great!
So, if you’re in the LA area from May 19th be sure to head over to the Hero Complex Gallery and check out what I’ve been up to.
I think the show is lasting for 3 weeks and I know that they have some other fantastic artists involved as well. I’m in really good company. For more information on the show head over to www.hcgart.com.
How does it feel being involved in the official The Thing art book created for Printed in Blood? The book features hundreds of posters created by artists all sharing their love for the John Carpenter classic.
Being asked to create exclusive artwork for an ‘art of’ book is a first for me. So, when Printed in Blood asked if I’d like to contribute to The Art Of The Thing Book to celebrate its 35th anniversary, obviously I jumped at the chance. The other thing that makes this so cool is that John Carpenter and Eli Roth are both involved in the project.
I’ll be honest, I was way too young to watch this movie when it was originally released in 1982. I didn’t watch it until the late 90’s when I at a friend’s house. I do remember thinking how awesome and grotesque all the imagery and effects were. The practical effects are just stunning. It really is a masterpiece of the horror genre. Also, Kurt Russell is a total dude in the film.
The book is a weighty hardback made up of 400 pages and is absolutely crammed full of fantastic artwork by some of the best artists ever. I saw the list of creatives involved and I’ll admit it was hard not feel slightly intimidated. The book is being released in early July by Printed in Blood and you can pre-order your copy online.
Also, as an extra bonus, I’ll be exhibiting my artwork with Creature Features Art Gallery in Burbank, California on April 8th, 2017 along with a load more artists from the book. I’ll also be selling a limited run of x 10 giclee prints. These are being printed at A2 and will be available to purchase at the show. All information can be found at Creature Features Facebook page.
Do you have any personal goals that you’d like to achieve, regarding your work?
Obviously, there are a few more licenses and bands I’d like to work for in the future. Star Wars and Metallica are definitely at the top of that list. Also, there are more galleries I’d love to work with like Bottleneck, Dark Ink and Mondo to name a few.
For now, I’ll just keep on plugging away as I am. I’ve already accomplished so much in such a short amount of time and I’m excited to see what the future brings.
For some time, you worked at 2000 AD on some projects for Judge Dredd. This is a dream job for many artists. How did it feel working on such a huge cult title?
Back in 2004, I’d been made redundant from a job and bumped into my long-time friend creative Pye Parr in our local pub. He was already working in The Nerve Centre for The Mighty Tharg as a Graphic Designer. It came up in conversation that they were looking for someone to help design an entire line of Graphic Novels. I went for the interview at Rebellion, in Oxford, and got the job the same day! Maybe I just got lucky, who knows…
Whilst working there I got to work on some pretty awesome stuff. Like designing the now famous Judge Dredd Case Files series, creating cover art for Alan Moore’s Future Shocks, plus a whole line of graphic novels and merchandise. I also helped designing the weekly comic 2000 AD and The Judge Dredd Megazine.
The other great thing about that job was, I got to meet a lot of amazing people who have shaped the world of comics that we know today. Pat Mills, Dave Gibbons, Jock, Henry Flint, Simon Davis, Alec Worley, Boo Cook to name a few. Some of us still keep in touch which is great. I have a lot of respect for their commitment and amazing talent.
I worked at 2000 AD for 9 years, but in the end, I’d got to the point where I felt couldn’t really do any more from a graphic design perspective. It was time for me to move on. I wanted to experience new challenges and take what I’d learnt and put it into something else. Little did I know that in years to come I would be the one getting commissioned by Tharg (Editor Matt Smith) to create covers for the weekly comic. I’ve recently started working on another Judge Dredd prog cover which will be unveiled later this year.
At the time I never really gave it much thought. I needed a job and it just so happened to be at the Galaxies Greatest Comic. I’d read 2000 AD over the years and I knew how cherished it was by a lot of people all over the world. It wasn’t until I left that I realised how awesome it was. I look back on that experience extremely fondly now. I’m very proud to have been and continue to be a part of something larger than little old me.
How often do you draw per week and do you feel consistency is important?
I draw everyday mostly as it’s how I make a living. It pays the bills and supports my family, so for me it’s a necessity. I tend to take a break at weekends but if I’ve got a deadline to meet then I’ll put in extra hours in the evenin
gs and weekends. It does help that I love my job so I have no problem with being creative all the time. I am very lucky!
Currently, you’re working on some Topps cards for Star Wars: Rogue One and Lucasfilm. How did you first get into this and was it difficult designing the cards?
Last year, I reached out to Topps to see if they had any illustration work that I might be able to work on for the Star Wars license. They got back to me and said they liked my work and asked if I’d like to do a set of sketch cards. I chose to do 110 cards, 10 of those I would get to keep as artist proofs which I could sell to collectors. I did have to go through the approval process with Lucas Film and luckily all my cards made the cut apart from a couple of spoiler cards.
I’ve actually finished my set for Rogue One and another set for the 40th Anniversary of Star Wars this year. I will admit that as fun as it is drawing official Star Wars imagery on tiny cards, it can become a bit of a grind getting them finished. Especially when you have to create 4 duplicates of every card to make up the full set.
Sketch cards will probably be something I’ll dip into every so often in the future maybe. I love the franchise but it won’t be the primary focus. I’d rather have the opportunity to create a one-off piece for Star Wars which is officially licensed in the form of an art print.
You’re working more on poster designs for movies. Was there a reason you decided to do that or just a natural progression?
I guess it was a case of taking what I’d learned over the years as a graphic designer and seeing if I could marry that with my illustration work. A lot of other creatives, galleries and websites like PosterSpy opened my eyes to this way of working. I found it really inspiring and enjoyed the challenge.
Creating gig posters, for example, was a great way of taking the two things I love (music and art) and putting them together in the form of a poster. Also, the idea of someone wanting to own my creations felt very rewarding. It’s also kind of replicates that feeling I’d get from when I used to play in bands and people would enjoy the music you’d created. You can’t beat that feeling, it’s awesome!
Finally, what advice would you give artists looking to improve their work?
Work hard, be good at what you do and NEVER give up. It took years for me to get to where I am now. The best thing is I’m just getting started.
Hopefully, you enjoyed reading the interview.
That’s the end of this month’s Let’s Talk Art Instalment with Luke Preece. It was great to chat about Luke’s influences, style and plans for the future regarding his work. Big thank you to artist Luke Preece for taking the time to chat, follow him on the social media to discover more of his artwork:
Twitter – Instagram – Website