Artist Interview: Justin Erickson

[Author’s Note: This interview was originally printed, in German, in a 2014 edition of Virus Magazine. As with all of my interviews, instead of bombarding the reader with images, I prefer providing links to the artist’s website and social media, so that the reader can view and follow the work via the appropriate channels. Justin Erickson’s official website is www.justin-erickson.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.]

At what point in your life did you feel an inclination to create dark art, and was there a particular inspiration for that?

I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember, and have been attracted to the darker aspects of art/life just as long. I think it started with seeing movies like Star Wars, Krull, and too many horror films very young. Usually in film the evil characters are infinitely more interesting and visually appealing. That’s where it all started.

When you began to create darker art, how was it received by your family and friends? Were your gifts encouraged?

My parents were always very encouraging of my interest in the arts. To this day they’re still some of my biggest supporters. Some other family members don’t really understand why I’m more interested in drawing ghouls and monsters than drawing a dog or flowers, though. Initially my family wasn’t sure it was something I could make a living at professionally, but it’s working out okay so far.

What do you feel distinguishes your style from others?

I’m not really sure my style is really that different from others, but that could be because I can see all of my influences in my art when I look at it! I try my best to put my personal spin on pieces since oftentimes I’m working on something that’s been drawn to death by hundreds of other artists. The goal is to find a somewhat unique way of spinning or representing something old.

How long does an average project take, and do you prefer to work digitally or manually?

It really depends on the type of project, and sometimes the style of a piece is determined solely by the deadline. If I have a lot of lead time I can get really into the detail but that rarely (read: never) happens. A poster can take anywhere from 3-7 days from concept to completion. Music packaging can take longer simply because there’s more art to create. Comic covers usually take around 2-5 days. Since my industry is ruled by deadlines I work digitally for the most part, but I still try to work with real media as much as possible. If I’m not working on a digital illustration I try to sketch something for fun.

Do you listen to music while you’re working? Do you have any favorite songs?

I listen to music rarely when I work, actually. For the most part I listen to movies (usually appropriate to the project I’m working on) or TV shows (like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel or Supernatural), but what listen to while I work most often are horror radio shows. My favourites are Arch Oboler’s Lights Out, Inner Sanctum and my absolute favourite is a Canadian radio show that aired on CBC Radio called Nightfall. It came out in the late 80s so it married a lot of the best things of classic horror radio with the horror stylings contemporary of the time. I highly recommend tracking them all down especially if you’re a fan of the classic horror actors such as Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre as they were frequent guests on classic horror radio shows. Others of note are Suspense, The Shadow, Vanishing Point and so many more.

Are there any artists out there who inspire you? Do you have a favorite?

I’m finding new artists that inspire me daily! While I don’t have one favourite, some of my favourites are Frank Frazetta, Martin Ansin, Mike Mignola, Gary Pullin, Jason Edmiston, Olly Moss, Alex Maleev, Greg Capullo, Drew Stuzan, Reynold Brown and so many many many more.

Which piece do you feel was the one that earned you the most recognition?

I’m not really sure, but the pieces I get the most emails about are my Mondo poster for The Burning, Back to the Future trilogy, and Halloween vinyl OST. I’ve also won four silver Hollywood Reporter Key Art Awards for my posters for The Cabin in the Woods and Godzilla.

Of your whole gallery, which piece is your favorite?

I don’t have any favourites, but when I look at my portfolio I’m drawn to the ones that have a story behind them. Such as if the project was extremely difficult or I experimented with a new technique. With the projects that were more difficult than others, you feel like you really accomplished something and put a lot of yourself into it. An example would be Godzilla because the client stated that they didn’t actually want to see Godzilla. The challenge was to figure out a way to show the big guy without actually seeing him. Once a concept was approved the turnaround time was incredibly quick. I pretty much lived at my drawing desk for 4 days to get it completed on time.

Disqualifying commissions, are there any factors that influence how you choose your next art piece?

It’s mostly based on my schedule, if I can do something interesting with the project and who the client is. Budget comes into it of course because I have bills to pay, but it’s not the most important factor. If the project doesn’t interest me artistically then I’ll often pass. Working with the right clients makes the job infinitely more enjoyable and rewarding. In that I’ve been very lucky and have worked with and continue to work with amazing clients.

Could you tell us about how you got the job as art director at Rue Morgue, what your experiences there were like, and what you’ve been up to since then.

Before getting the Art Director job at Rue Morgue, I was the graphic designer for 5 years under the founding art director, Gary Pullin. Those years are some of my fondest because Gary is a incredibly talented art director and the family atmosphere at the magazine. Gary eventually left the magazine to pursue freelance and I stepped up into the role. Working at a magazine like Rue Morgue really fine tuned my eye for different visual styles of horror and my ability to work within the all important deadline.

Could you tell us a little about how Phantom City Creative came about?

I’ve always been a movie nut, and more importantly a huge fan of movie poster art. It made sense to combine my need to do art and produce movie posters. The company was founded in 2010 with my girlfriend Paige Renyolds who is a fine artist and visual effects artist. One dark and stormy night we decided to start a company geared entirely towards producing art and design for film, television and music.

Could you tell us a little about your work on the Halloween soundtrack?

John Carpenter’s score for Halloween is one of the most recognizable and influential soundtracks in film history. Getting to design the the packaging for the vinyl release was incredibly exciting and terrifying at the same time. Earlier I talked about having to come up with new ways to portray something that’s been drawn to death? Michael Myers. He’s been drawn by every horror artist out there and a million ways. I nearly went crazy trying to come up with something unique and went through something like 30 concepts before one stuck. Something that’s different about creating packaging for a film score versus a poster for the film is you need to capture the feel of the music over what happens in the movie. With that in mind I tried to make the art very dark and minimal to match John Carpenter’s subdued score.

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