Dark Art & Craft recently had a chance to ask the artist and print-maker Dylan Garrett Smith a few questions about his life and artwork. Dylan creates his works in a wide array of mediums informed by ecology, occultism, and darker themed subjects.
For those that don’t know your work, can we have a brief intro and what type of Art you produce?
Dylan Garrett Smith: I create images inspired and informed by ecology, occultism, and humanity's relationship with - and the continually growing distance from - the natural world, using ashes, chalk-lead, and ink on black cotton-rag paper. I also create screenprints, murals, paintings, fragrances, and designs for shirts and album art for bands and brands with darker aesthetics, as well as having two bands - KVØID (experimental metal with my friend, David S. Fylstra) and Low Spirits (depressive surf-punk).
What art or style are you currently working in?
DGS: Regardless of the medium, I've always had a more tight, illustrative style, but over the last few years I've been focusing on light, texture, composition, and narrative. I think my style and the artist's hand is always present, but to me, focusing on these aspects of art have been important to me. Being that working on black paper using lighter media (rather than darker media on white paper) makes more sense to by brain, I think that's also another way that my style stands apart from a lot other people creating work with similar ideas or themes.
"Face the Unknown" for Mastodon, image via Dylan Garrett Smith
Do you have any favorite clients who you’ve produced work for? We noticed recent work from Mastodon and Baroness.
DGS: Working on designs for Mastodon, Baroness, and APMD was an absolute blast. Those three bands always got heavy rotation in my studio, so it was exciting to work with them. I just love working on different projects, so whether I'm hearing a band for the first time after they contact me or if it's one of my favorite bands like Mastodon, Baroness, and APMD, I'm looking forward to getting to work. Ultimately, I love any client that contacts me and says "we love what you do - check out our album and go wild." That's how I have the most fun and that's how you get my best work.
Your work at times relates to the music community. What musicians do you draw inspiration from if any?
DGS: Aside from the bands I just mentioned, I'm constantly listening to Woods of Desolation, Addaura, Rudimentary Peni, and Neurosis. All of them have different, unique sounds, but the similar thread among them that I love is how they create atmosphere, mood, and emotion. I get lost in the images they put in my head and how it makes me feel.
"A New Seed is Sown," image via Dylan Garrett Smith
Many of your works include occult or dark themes, do you consider these central to your work?
DGS: Absolutely. My study of and interest in occultism is also tied to my interest in ecology and they both inform each other. To me, their connection (and my connection to them) is very personal and important to my creative process and the images I make. It's much more and deeper than the use of someone else's sigils to make something look "dark" or "evil," which I purposefully stay away from. I'm more interested in creating a narrative based off of a concept and allowing the viewer to put the story together for themselves.
What kind of creative patterns, routines, or rituals do you have?
DGS: Rituals and routines are very important to me creatively. Meditation helps me shift into the mindset I need to be in to work and dreams have always been important to my creative process. I've created pieces in dreams from ideation to completion, which then informed the images and techniques I've used. Scent also plays a critical role in my studio practice. There are certain incense I only burn in my studio so it's easier for me to shift into a creative mindset. Associating scent with my work practice and mediation has been helpful and if you have issues calming your mind enough to create, I suggest giving it a try.
"Rise and Fall," image via Dylan Garrett Smith
What tools and process do you use to create?
DGS: For visual art and design, I always sketch ideas first, sometimes multiple times, to finalize composition, work out issues, edit, etc. From there, I transfer the sketch to my black paper. I primarily use ashes, chalk-lead, and ink on black cotton-rag paper. I use ashes and a cotton chamois that I made from an old shirt to tone areas where I want a more medium grey and I use white chalk-lead and black ink to push and pull light and shadow, build texture, and add detail. Once the piece is finished, I scan or photograph it (depending on how large it is) and prepare the files digitally for whatever application they'll be used for.
What is the climate of the art community in Lehigh Valley or Pennsylvania in general? Has being located here helped or hindered your output?
DGS: My fingers are very far from the pulse of the art community in the Lehigh Valley and have only shown there two or three times in the seven years I've lived here, but I'm often associated with the artist scene in Philadelphia since I show my work with a lot of my friends from there (and it's only an hour from where I currently live). Philly's artist scene is absolutely fantastic and dark art is thriving there. But for me, personally, I prefer living outside of cities, and visiting for exhibitions, shows, to see friends, etc. Being closer to nature is important to my creative process and living in Brooklyn and Philly wasn't helpful to my creative output or my overall mental health. Being able to spend time in the woods whenever I want or need to is a never-ending source of inspiration.
"Summoning the Ancient Gods," image via Dylan Garrett Smith
Is your work inspired by your locale?
DGS: Absolutely. I try to spend as much time in nature as I can. My experiences are always informing my art, but even when I lived in cities where this wasn't always an option, I was pulling from past experiences and my study of occultism and the natural world. I also tend to illustrate plants and animals that are native to Pennsylvania or the northeast since that's where I grew up and still live.
What role do you feel the artist has in society?
DGS: Over the years, I've thought about this a lot and I believe, ultimately, the role the artist plays in society - or the role the artist should play in society - is to make the audience think about something they haven't thought about before. This doesn't necessarily have to be a political or sociological message; it can provoke an emotional response or force the audience to think about a narrative they haven't ever considered before, but they're thinking about it and it's new to them. And this is very different from my feelings on the role designers play in society.
"Beast from the Void", image via Dylan Garrett Smith
Do you consider darker themed art cathartic or a tool for challenging the viewer? Or something else completely?
DGS: I think darker art can be both cathartic and challenging for the artist and the audience. A lot of people have natural curiosities about the darker aspects of life (and death), which can make darker art not only comforting for them, but also challenge their own ideas or beliefs about the unknown - and I feel this applies to both the artist and the audience. Through the artist's exploration of ideas, the audience is also able to go on that journey and ask themselves those questions.
What are you doing when you’re not creating or working on art? What (other) interests do you have?
DGS: Aside from creating visual art, I love spending time in the natural world, watching films, finding new music, reading books on occultism, ecology, and anarchism, as well as weird and horror fiction. I also enjoy writing for a few projects I'm working on with friends and creating fragrances. It began as a hobby that I wanted to learn after I started having issues with my eyes as a result of myasthenia gravis and now I'm planning on releasing a number of fragrances for Autumn and Winter of this year.
No above, no below. Baphomet for my friends at @thesatanictemple
Do you admire any artists or photographers, whether they're dark-themed or not? What work inspires you? Who should we be checking out?
DGS: I have so many favorite artists - I'm always finding new, creative people that are doing such incredible things. My partner, Crystal Lee Lucas, is a fantastic photographer and I'm always in love with the images she creates. Paul Romano, Jeremy Hush, Jeanne D'Angelo, Michael Bukowski, John Dyer Baizley, Seldon Hunt, Justin Bartlett, Jamie Winn, Bonethrower, Skinner, Florian Bertmer, Randy Ortiz, and Stephen Kasner are some of my favorite artists, many of which I've developed friendships with over the years through art and exhibitions.
[Inspiration, artwork created by Jeanne D'Angelo]
Thank you for your time. Where else can we find you?
DGS: The two best places to find me are on my website, dylangarrettsmith.com, and on Instagram at @dylanxvx! If you're reading this and my aesthetic fits your band or brand and you'd like to work with me, feel free to email me through my site or at email@example.com!
"The Blind Worms Sting," image via Dylan Garrett Smith