With a moniker like GODSTEETH, you should know what you're getting into. The North Wales-based illustrator and printmaker is fascinated with death. And kittens. His artistic formula is simple yet effective: black and grey illustrations often with a poetic sentence below. Drawings of tree creatures, skeletons, wolves, the moon, and Death himself (herself?). Along with prints, shirts, and stickers, he recently wrapped up a Kickstarter campaign for an upcoming children's book that received almost three times the proposed amount. I spoke with the prolific artist about his book, his routine, and the long road to finding his voice.
How has 2018 been treating you so far?
Pretty hectic to be fair. I not long came back from a trip overseas as I was in the States visiting my girlfriend. My landlord decided he was selling my home whilst I was away so I've just been powering through the fallout from that since getting back. I recently moved in to my new place...so slowly getting back on my feet. Feeling ready to start making some new things.
Most of your pieces contain a few words or a sentence below the drawing. Does the literature arrive before or after you finish the drawing(s)?
This depends on the pieces. I often work with reference to something, and in most cases like that then the words are very much a starting point for the visuals. Something to focus or build on. I'll sometimes work directly from the gut and it's usually these pieces that are driven primarily by the feeling and then I might apply a line or two of text that just pops in my head as I'm going along. I think it's best not to over think my work a lot of the time. Sometimes I think the text carries the work further. I fight with that sometimes. It's not always needed.
Do you create every day or does it come in waves?
For nearly 3 years I was creating every day. Just pushing through. Of late I've found myself getting busier with life things and I've had some noticeable (to me at least) lapses in productivity. On the odd occasion I've sat thinking I should be doing something artistically productive and I'll hate myself for 'failing'. These days I think it's best to just take something else in if you're at that 'dry' point. I'll pick up a book or try to find some new music.
How long have you been illustrating / how long have you been printmaking?
In a professional capacity I would think it's about 3 years now. I've been drawing and painting since I was a kid though. My mother likes to remind me how I was basically a mute once I started getting absorbed in painting from an early age. Nothing's changed there.
What are some studio essentials? (pens, programs, music, caffeine, etc.)
I always have music playing. All kinds. I always feel there's too much stuff out there and I often feel sad that I can't consume it all. One can try I suppose. Right now I'm really getting in to Heron Oblivion and I listen to Dirty Three a lot. My girlfriend draws with movies playing and I have no idea how she manages that.
Caffeine by way of mugs and mugs of tea. I'll drink coffee, but I'm a tea guy through and through. I can go through about 40 cups a day. Yorkshire Tea is my preference. Strong with no sugar.
As far as tools go, I am always in possession of my trusted Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Brush Pens. I only use the Brush ones as I feel they're more expressive. Beyond that I usually have a Posca Brush marker and a pencil to hand (no brand allegiances there, I only ever use them for really loose prelim sketches). I mostly work on Daler-Rowney Bristol Board because it has a lovely smooth finish.
When it comes to printmaking it's screen printing that I do but I've barely had chance to do any printing this year. I have about 30 aluminum framed screens and literally one squeegee that's been riding with me for nearly 4 years. That thing must have printed thousands of tees by now. I use eco-friendly water-based inks and about 1 year ago I switched to Continental brand clothing because it's of a high quality and the workers are paid properly.
On that print making note, I intend to start playing about with some woodblock printing soon. I have the extra space now so I'm looking in to that.
What's the art/literary scene like in your neck of the woods?
I initially wrote non-existent, but I don't think that's quite true. I barely ever leave my house so I suppose I'm just pretty ignorant or clueless to most of it. Where I live is by no means a hive of artistic activity though. If I was trying to work exclusively on a local basis I would most certainly be homeless by now. There is a theater that houses local art...often very impressive stuff too. Maybe I should go out more? I tend to visit galleries and shows when visiting cities.
Outside of your own work, what artists/books/comics have you been enjoying as of late?
These questions are always the most difficult I feel because I'm always taking in a lot of stuff. Here's some recent/off the top of my head stuff...
I have an art crush on Warwick Johnson-Cadwell. I'm sure he knows this by now as I'm always trying to buy pieces off him.
I picked up Thornhill by Pam Smy recently but I haven't read it all yet. I think I found her work through Jeff. It's a gorgeous book.
I often go back to my David Shrigley books when I get chance. I like the humour in his art.
I found myself staring at a lot of work by Beksinski last night.
Can you talk a bit about your upcoming children's book? How are you managing to juggle dark subject matter with something for kids? Will this be your first book?
I can indeed! The Journey of Teddy and Marla was inspired partly by me coming across old photos of my cats. Got them feels rushing back, the memories, y'know? I feel pretty confident about juggling the darker stuff with the light. The worst things can often be the funniest. I think kids understand that more than adults sometimes. It's not proper grim though so it should be fine, it's all quite ambiguous. It's my first proper book (as in it follows a narrative structure). I wanted to approach publishers with the idea initially but changed my mind in the end and launched it via crowdfunding. That probably says more about me and my lack of confidence. I doubt I'd have people jumping at me to go through the usual channels to be honest.
Your pieces are detailed and intricate, but contain a great deal of open space, appearing a bit minimalistic somehow. Did it take a while for you to find your style/voice?
I believe so. I also believe I'm still kind of finding my voice. I think how I draw (most of the time) is dictated by the printing processes I used to follow. Making something that might work well on a t-shirt, that kind of thing. It's strange because I don't really analyze the journey. But sometimes you might reflect on things and then it becomes glaringly obvious. ''I used to be shit'.' ''I'm still kind of shit.'' ''I could be less shit so I better keep going'.'
What's the rest of the year looking like for you?
I have a few personal projects that have been bugging me, so I'd like to make a start on some of them once I've wrapped up the children's book. Hopefully try to connect with more creatives like I used to. I feel a bit disconnected from people these days. Looking forward to catching up with some friends at things like Thought Bubble and maybe try to do a few other small events here and there.
Do you have any advice for artists working on their craft?
I feel like I'm in no position to offer advice but here goes...
Draw (or paint or print or sculpt etc.) as often as you can. Don't put it off. You'll feel better in yourself for trying or experimenting with something new. And that feeling is ALWAYS better than the one you'd get if you just sat and watched a movie or something. Not knocking the intake of other creative forms, but I always feel better if I'm creating. I've never really seen creating as a chore (unless I'm having to print hundreds of sweaters or something) but I'm aware that a lot of people struggle with that fight every day. I would say to those people that they should quit...hah! Don't quit, just find your muse, whatever it may be. You'll know when you do.
Any final thoughts / words of wisdom?
Take risks. Be happy or at least try to be. Don't try to print your own t-shirts if you have numerous creative aspirations. Be weary of anyone that loves you unconditionally that isn't your own mother. Read more. Don't do anything ''for the exposure''. Don't be afraid to do things on your own.