Cavity Colors is not a band. It's an art company run by graphic artist Aaron Crawford, who designs t-shirts and other memorabilia for hardcore/metal bands. And they usually tend to be the kind of eerie characters that you could only find on Elm Street.
How many cavities do you really have? Be honest.
All of my teeth are cavities. Just kidding. Probably just average. I had a lot when I was a kid but I don't have bunch of them. I just have normal teeth [laughs]. But what made me come up with the name Cavity Colors is that I was trying to think of a name that stuck. It sounded really cool. There wasn't any real reason. I needed to put myself out there and I was thinking of going by Aaron Crawford. But I needed a name and I didn't want it a shirt to say "Designed by Aaron Crawford", you know?
What many people may not realize is that you aren't just any self-representing artist who sells prints, but the vast majority of your clients are hardcore punk and metal bands. What inspired you to take that unique route, and what have been the perks of this journey?
Basically, I went to a tech school and was studying as a graphic designer and it sucked. So I quit, and around the time when Myspace was still popping off, I drew some stuff for a couple of bands and friends started to notice it. I then decided to throw things together and it probably looked really awful. But people loved it and I started selling it. Bands started to pick me up, such as Suicide Silence. Plus, I used to play in bands a lot so I had networked and met a bunch of cool people that way. It's cool because I get to learn a lot of stuff about the music industry inside and out.
You don't have to tell us all your secrets, but maybe a few. What procedures go into making your art, from start to finish?
It really depends. I'll sit around with a pen and come up with some thumbnails. Then I'll make those into sketches and make them larger. I use mostly brushes and ink, scan the piece to an 11x14, then it goes into Photoshop. With paintings I'll pretty much use transfer paper. It's pretty straightforward.
You were recently featured in Juxtapoz, a high-profile magazine that caters to a range of starving artists and nutty creatives like yourself. How did this engagement come about?
They have an illustration section. And Hannah Stoufer, an illustrator who works there, was contacted by a friend and she saw my stuff on Facebook. She e-mailed me and asked to feature my work. Since then we've become cohorts and she tries to occasionally post my art if she's not too busy and it really stands out.
Apparently, Kanye West is a self-identified synthesist; he claims that he "sees music as colors". As someone whose job deals with musicians and intricate color schemes on a daily basis, how would you describe your relationship/perception of music?
When I do work for bands, I'll listen to their music and have them send me lyrics. It just depends, if it's darker…you know, sometimes the really heavy bands will want darker subject matter. But you know, I like to use more colors. I don't like to use a bunch of grays and browns. It makes it look really bleak. I like to make it bright so that when you look at it you say "Cool!" I mean, it may be grotesque or whatever, but it's appealing to the eye. Especially for merchandise and marketing. More people are into that kind of thing now, and it's good for the bands as well. But anyway, certain bands I listen to, I try to imagine what I would paint or draw as I'm listening to music. Usually I listen to old hip hop stuff like Kool Keith, it really helps me to concentrate when I do.
Instead of asking you 'When zombies invade the Earth, how will you survive?' I'll aim for 'If the most terrifying nightmare became a reality on Earth, how would you escape it'?
Mitt Romney? [laughs]
Sure, is that your final answer?
You mean, if one of my drawings came to life? That would be like that Tales of the Crypt episode where there's this crazy wife and her husband draws for this one magazine or comic book. As he does, all the characters come alive and are vengeful. I dunno, I think that would be sort of cool! I guess it would depend on what the monster was. I'd probably have to kill it with fire or acid. Probably fire.
How much of your designs for musicians are your brainchild, and how much is creative input from the musicians themselves?
80% of the time they will leave it up to me. They may have a rough idea of what they want, but it usually goes: "Whatever you want to do, do it." Which, you know, that's just cool because I can just take it and run with it completely, manipulate it, and change it. It might not be the same concept in the end, but it's still something they like. And sometimes I'll do it and they may not like it, but that's when I ask them what concept they feel I should be working on. It's kind of up in the air sometimes, but usually they'll just come up to me and say: "Hey man, we love your art. Work with us."
What's the most outlandish piece you've been asked to make?
I don't really know...I'll have to think about it for a minute. That's because I usually draw pretty gory and shocking stuff anyway; I tend to find that kind of subject matter really comical. I've gotten a request for either women or women's genitalia being ripped open with a chainsaw, so those were probably the most bizarre.
Which bands have been the most pleasing to work with on a regular basis or in the past?
Working with Into Eternity was really cool, because they just praised my art and were like: "Do something metal, really cold, and icy looking." Acacia Strain, same thing. "Just do whatever you want. And do something really crazy." But you know, now I work for select bands. I don't really do any art for larger label bands anymore. I used to do that a lot and it would mess with my school time and job. So I've kind of stayed away from that, stuck to fine art, and making a living off of doing that. When musicians come to me, if I like them, then I can choose to take them on if I want to. It's nice to be able to do that now.
As most creatives do, they network and recommend other artists to check out. Who should we be watching and why?
There are a few that are kind of doing the same thing that I'm doing too, and we've been in the same industry of band work. Josh Belanger. Insane renderings of warriors and wizards. GODMACHINE, from the UK. We all used to be on this website together, but it went down. So now we just kick it on Twitter. And there's this guy called N.C. Winters. His stuff is just super inspiring. I can't draw people very well, and he just makes it look so easy. You say to yourself that you can do it, but then you draw it up and compare and you're like: "Actually, that's really hard." [laughs] There's so many names out there though, like Mark Riddick, who you may already be familiar with. He designs the goriest stuff…zombies and more, merch for bands. It's always in black and white, though. Never in color.
I lived in Kentucky at one point in my life. Are you familiar with AngryBlue? Really talented. He's based out of Louisville. I have no idea what he's up to now.
Oh yeah! That's the other guy I was trying to think of, actually. He draws some really awesome stuff. I found out about him when he was getting into art design back in the day and he was already doing crazy stuff. Like, I'd see his work and I'd be like: "Woah, how did he do that? How did he get it to look like 'this' or 'that'?" And then I started following him on Instagram. We've chatted and yeah. His stuff is amazing. He's started to get into what I'm doing now, too. I think he still does a lot of posters for bands, but he has a shirt company now and they put out all his stuff. I'm glad you mentioned him.
Yeah, for sure. And he used to have these battles between himself and other artists and post them up on his website. Remember those? He'd make a random graphic, then another artist would throw his or her touch onto it, then they would just pass it back and forth.
I totally remember those. That was a really long time ago. It was a cool concept where they would go back and forth and overlap their styles to see what would happen in the end. It was really cool.
Any final words of advice for those who may be trying to break into the business of making art for bands?
Um…Well, prepare yourself to not sleep very much. [laughs] Honestly, though, you won't sleep very much. But if you want to get into that kind of stuff, you just have to do it. There are so many ways to show your art to the world now. There used to be no Internet, so the challenge was getting people to look at your art in general. But nowadays we have Twitter, Tumblr, and all these social networking sites where you can just get through to anybody, you know? You can network with people, talk to them, and interact with them. Don't feel discouraged, because you're going to have to deal with people who don't like your art. But just ignore all of that, or rather, just take it all in and do it…just keep doing what you're doing. I always stress that and to always have fun, because anything that you devote yourself to and will make you lose sleep, you have to enjoy doing it.