Following on from part one, we continue to look at what makes Dan Seagrave tick…
Being a novice myself when it comes to art, is there a particular method of painting that you stick to when doing cover art or does it depend on what a band wants can influence the style of painting you do?
I think there is a consistency in my work if you look at all my record covers. I do have another way of painting that is completely different from that detailed method that can be seen in my Bodywork series. What’s not on my website is a series I had when I had an art show in April of this year with the show called Becoming a Ghost, that’s a similar loose style of painting, more primitive and working on a more instinctive plot level. The only two paintings that I did that resembled that style of painting was a skull which was a cover for Devil Wears Prada and Becoming The Archetype. In a way they were kind of drawn on canvas and loosely painted on a 30-inch square and sit together as a two piece.
Everything else is done on a much more design orientated style. I don’t like using the word style because if you are just doing something from the mind’s eye and you’re working in detail, the style is incidental and you just see it happening. The way it looks now has shifted since the late 80s. I used to work with gouache paint in the late 80s and now use acrylic paint. Gouache paint allows you to paint in a super high level of detail where you can work on a small scale but a ridiculously high level of rendering. With acrylic, you can still work in high detail but it just doesn’t allow you to blend on the board with acrylic. With gouache, you can put your paint down and wet your brush and blend it and that is the key to getting that super fine detail.
Following on from that, when you have completed a painting, what size would it be and what size do the band and record label receive?
I do a bunch of sketches and then narrow it down and I may want to mix and match the drawings. I literally go into the cafe and sketch in my sketchbook and scan the sketches in then use Photoshop where you can do line work around your sketches where you can go to another design level with Photoshop. After that, once I have a concept, I print that out and then draw over it again and make a line sketch which is just line, very clean no shading. So that you have the structure of the image and then if I have got time, I will scan the line image and shade it in Photoshop again just using brushes in Photoshop and you can come up with different lighting versions on how you are going to light the image.
Again if I have time I will do a colour version which makes things easier when you do the painting. So you have a shade version a line version and a colour version that’s your painting, so you can kind of just, you’re not making it up when you go, whereas in the past, I didn’t do that many sketches. For example, let’s take a picture like Benediction’s Transcend the Rubicon. That’s a 30cm painting which is only 12 inches square. I don’t even remember if I’d done any sketches for that, I’d probably done a couple. I literally drew it onto the board I was working on and then just painted it without any references or anything. Nowadays I work about 15 inches square and don’t usually go beyond 17. The painting that I am doing just now is the sequel to Dismembers Like An Ever Flowing Stream which is 20 inches square. In the past I worked in centimetres in England and something like Entombed Clandestine was 42cm and something like Suffocation Effigy Of The Forgotten was 52 cm.
This explanation clearly shows that it is not just a simple case of doing a painting for cover art. It’s absolutely frightening the work that you have to do, especially with deadlines that you have sometimes.
Even though I was given six weeks for Effigy Of The Forgotten, after week two, I also had to paint Dismember Like An Ever Flowing Stream within two weeks and then I want back to Effigy Of The Forgotten which took about four weeks in total. I think they were the same scale but if you look at those two paintings, Effigy is obviously jam packed in every crevice with detail and it’s probably the most detailed and unnecessarily detailed cover that I did. Bearing in mind because gouache allows so much refinement and detail, which when you are working on a scale like that, it’s going to take a long time, which is why I really needed to scale down the size of my images with that paint medium. So in the following year in ’92, I scaled down my paintings a little bit to 12 inches square mostly.
Then what I do is take the original painting to the photography studio and they photograph it professionally and in the old days that would be a five-inch by four-inch film and then you are going to have to get the film scanned. You then send the record label a copy of the film or you send them a scan of the film. Now I literally take the painting into the lab called Toronto Image Works, which is run by a photographer where he has a dark room where they shoot it and you literally get a file back and that’s it.
Have you ever been taken aback when you get negative feedback from the label or the band stating that the cover art is not what they wanted?
That hasn’t happened so much. With Pestilence’s Spheres the band didn’t my original artwork submitted, l so I had to do it again. That was fine in 1993 as they had seen no sketch. So after feedback from the band, they wanted the same sphere design from 1991s Testimony record for the Spheres album to have visual consistency. The title of the album is obviously Spheres but I hadn’t thought they’d wanted the exact same sphere. So in my mind, when I heard that title and thought it was a great title for an album and that it suggested to me that there are more of these astrolabe things and that they exist in different forms and different designs and out there. So I came up with one that is more spider-like which had these kind of spikes that curve around and kind of become this spherical science fiction objects flying through space. The original design I made was a bit darker in tone, and I was sent a photo afterwards to work from, which had the very star like system that you then see in my second rendering, which is more colourful, and sci fi. I am pleased with both of those paintings either way.
Another one I did for Dan Swano and Edge of Sanity with Spectral Sorrows and they gave me a photo. When you look at that painting, there is a waterfall in that painting, so what they did was give me a photo of that waterfall which I think is a real place in Sweden. They said they wanted something that has that as a reference which of course was fine. I used the waterfall and used my imagination to create a world around that waterfall which was a surrealistic world. So I sent the artwork in and the band didn’t like my approach. But in those days with a lack of emails and lack of time, they had to use my painting as we didn’t have time to redo it with something else. If they weren’t happy I don’t take it personally nor does it drive me insane. It has to be said that with lack of emails equals a lack of communication which made it a bit of a gamble. I think they do like it now.
Dan Swano and his wife contacted me more recently to use the art as a t-shirt, so all is fine.
Looking at your cover history, there must be an overwhelming sense of pride when you have completed cover art for a band that when they are due to release their next album, they approach you once again for that next album.
Yeah I mean that doesn’t always happen but I have had that run with a few bands. With Pestilence I did three for them. More recently with Memoriam I have done a couple with them and they want me to do the next one, which I would like to do but I don’t know if they want to do it this year. Yeah, it’s definitely nice to be asked to continue the journey with the band absolutely but part of me really doesn’t understand why people would come back! That’s all I have done is paint pictures and to me that’s very normal, so I am very fortunate to have some sort of a career at this point and hopefully it will continue.
What’s next for Dan Seagrave? Do you have any live exhibitions coming up?
Yeah, I have a group show coming up but I am not allowed to say what gallery it is and whose in it but this show is going to be a really big deal. There is going to be a lot of top LA artists and famous artists and the theme is more dark which suits my art which will take place in January. I have actually had an interesting time in the last three months with some really great offers which I would never have turned down but the painting I have to do for this art show was originally going to be quite big but I have now halved the scale of it which takes up a lot of time. So really I will be working on this one painting until January and unfortunately all the other jobs I had to turn down. Sometimes it’s important to work on your own projects now and again and taking time off from work that pays!
Final question. Do you work like a Monday to Friday 9 to 5 on a painting or could you be 9 until 1am?
I switch it around a little bit but I do clock my hours and I set a timer, so even if I take a coffee break I stop the timer so that I know exactly how long it’s going to take me to paint a picture. If you keep a log of all your paintings, you can know how long a painting is going to take pretty much to the square inch. You can then use this information when you have a deadline and especially with paintings that require a lot of detail, so you can measure how many hours a day you will need to do in order to meet this deadline.
There we have it. I urge you to look at his official website below at his vast collection of paintings, where you are able to purchase prints in all their glory. Thank you once again Dan and I will look forward to our next chat.