Printmaking, Illustration & Design by Glyn Smyth
Belfast-borne Glyn Smyth is an illustrator and printmaker. Lured by the Hardcore and Punk movements, a childhood love of art developed into a predilection for the entire anarchic scene. Playing in underground punk bands, a need for DIY promotional posters and tees birthed a career in commercial design. After years in the business, Glyn has ditched the rat-race and opted to focus on his own projects. With influences coming from far and wide, and an interest in folklore and magick, the new Stag and Serpent banner promises to deliver a compelling body of work.
HMA: I wanted to start with the usual query… how did it all begin?
Glyn Smyth: In terms of producing band related artwork, I suspect my story is very similar to a lot of other illustrators in this field. I’d been drawn to DIY hc/punk culture in my teens and a lot of my activities from that point onwards tended to be related to this. I played in a variety of punk and hardcore bands over the years, and was also involved with collectives that organised underground gigs and ran DIY venues. So there always a gig or event happening and if nobody else wanted to make a poster I ended up offering to do it just for fun. A lot of my early design tended to be lo-fi, cut & paste styled efforts designed to be photocopied and wet pasted on walls. I also did a little basic t-shirt printing and would make my own shirt designs around this time. As time went on and I got a little more proficient, more and more people started to ask me to design for them, whether it was posters for gigs or record covers. At some point in the early 2000’s I was doing enough work for other people that it seemed a good idea to pursue it more fully. At the outs tI definitely was envisioning myself as more of a “graphic designer” than “illustrator” – this personal perspective has shifted over time as I started to utilise more and more hand drawn elements in my work.
HMA: Did you receive any formal art education or training?
Glyn Smyth: Nothing past secondary school. I had never enjoyed the school environment – despite having keen interests and a hunger to learn in my personal life. The allure of the DIY/HC punk scene was far stronger than any desire to commit to a higher education. It seemed to offer more opportunity in terms of personal growth and self-expression for me at that time.
It’s probably important to note that I drifted away from the act of drawing for many years in my late teens, mainly due to a deep dissatisfaction with the artwork that I was producing. I simply didn’t have the patience or focus to hone my efforts further at this point. It was only years later when I started to embrace the idea of design as a career that I tentatively started drawing (and enjoying it) again.
HMA: What came first Heavy Metal or the passion for the arts?
Glyn Smyth: Definitely the arts. From a young age my favorite pastimes tended to be drawing pictures or writing stories. I grew up as an only child and tended to spend a lot of time on my own and these activities suited that. I think I always had a strong sense of a very personal, internal world, which I had the urge to express in some way.
The music came later in my-mid teens when I started skateboarding, which was very much intertwined with a HC/punk/metal aesthetic at that time. It just all clicked with me that point – the sound, aesthetics and values made sense to me where previously little else had.
HMA: Symbolism, religious and occult imagery are in abundance in your illustrations. Do you have personal interests in these topics?
Glyn Smyth: From a very young age, the worlds of folklore and myth seemed very relevant to me. Even though I was brought up in a secular environment (I never went to church for example), religious thought and iconography had definitely made an impression on me, though I found myself more disturbed by the trappings of organised religion than attracted to it. There was an overall interest in the paranormal and a preoccupation with the implications of certain phenomena, partly fuelled by certain vivid experiences as a child.
So there’s all always been an interest in symbolism and more esoteric schools of thought, and this interest has intensified in recent years partly in response to me wanting to incorporate it effectively.
HMA: Would you say that this particular knowledge and sensitivity sets you apart from other artists?
Glyn Smyth: Absolutely not. If anything, I feel I’m only starting to figure out how to translate my ideas into imagery into a way that’s effective for me personally. I think most of the artists that appeal to me have a highly personal approach to symbology and art – recurring motifs and approaches to composition that are the end result of quite abstract internal processes. I think developing a more intuitive approach in this regard is now my main priority on an artistic level.
HMA: Poster art for “The Secret + Tombs” is one of your piece that cough my eye. How much work is involved in something so detailed and elegant?
Glyn Smyth: In this instance, I was pretty much left to my own devices as to the nature of the imagery – it just needed to be in keeping with the existing aesthetic of each band. This piece is called “Mother Of Dark Light”, and was inspired by a lot of reading I was doing at the time into early Gnostic thought – in the absence of a specific brief I always tend to give myself a concrete concept in order to keep things focused. All in all this took about 10 days from conception to finish and I refrained from any major revisions as I was on a tight schedule if I recall. The main figure composition was sketched out quickly and then it was a case of slowly building up the shading. I quite like this approach of a relatively simple composition with a lot of dense shading…it can be quite meditative when it goes to plan.
HMA: From my side of the line, I would say that your work holds references to Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts and medieval lithography?
Glyn Smyth: You’d be correct. A lot of antique illustration – late 19th and early 20th century artists would be amongst my all time favorites… Harry Clarke, Aubrey Beardsley, Arthur Rackham and many other of their contemporaries. Fantasy and comic artists like Jeff Jones and Virgil Finlay. Vintage Polish post art (especially Franciszek Starowieyski). Vienna Secession art and design, Klimt and Koloman Moser. Symbolist painters & printmakers such as Jean Delville, Franz von Stuck, Munch and Odilon Redon. Occult artists such as Austin Spare and Lady Frieda Harris, William Blake and Jakob Bohme. Japanese printmaking. Cave paintings. A lot of different influences, but I sense a similar energy from all of them.
HMA: Do you have an art hero?
Glyn Smyth: I have many! In addition to the influences above, I don’t think there’s any shortage of great artists and illustrators right now. Some contemporary artists whose work I enjoy a lot would be: Denis Forkas Kostromitin, Takato Yamamoto, Joao Ruas, Vania Zouravliov, Aaron Horkey, David D’Andrea, Thomas Hooper. I could make this list a lot longer… I’m constantly discovering new artists that impress me. I think the common element here is that they all draw from long standing traditions but channel these into approaches that are very much their own.
HMA: Could you talk about some of your work process and step-by-step?
Glyn Smyth: A while back I decided to get hold of a Wacom Cintiq – basically a screen you draw on – to help streamline the artwork process a bit as I was scanning sketches and inked artwork then tending to play around a lot with it digitally anyway. But I still tend to stick to a process that involves a rough sketch, then a cleaner sketch with inks and colour added last, whether I’m working digitally or not. However, I still crave the tactile and handmade nature of artwork so I tend to view this as just part of the preparatory process for making a print. The A/P, or “artist proof” is now my physical “original” so to speak, and I still get the opportunity to get my hands dirty by mixing inks and hand pulling the prints.
HMA: A great piece is “Year of no Light – Altar of Plagues”.
Glyn Smyth: Thanks. The inscriptions on the monument are derived from deconstructions of the band names and song titles, and reassembled in glyph like forms. The basic themes here were inspired by certain Mesopotamian myth. Offerings to the goddess of the underworld in the west and to the god of plagues in the east. This type of dualism – or polarity – is a recurring theme in my artwork though it took me a while to become consciously aware of it.
HMA: …and also “Cough – Ritual Abuse”. The one that instigated me to find out who is master at work.
Glyn Smyth: A lot of people tell me they like that cover. It was a tight deadline and I had to charge through with that and the inner illustration very fast without stopping to analyse it too much.
HMA: What would be that one illustration that defines your signature style and why?
Glyn Smyth: A difficult question for me as I’m not sure what my signature style is as yet – it seems to change. Stylistically, my work jumps around a bit and I suspect the reason for this is that all my work is commissioned illustration work as opposed to personal work. I approach each commission individually and the end result tends to be a response to that particular band, client or material. Although the bands all may be metal, there are differences in tone and aesthetic that always sees me coming at it from a different direction. I also tend to like a variety of artistic approaches on a personal level so this also seems to filter through. Stylistically, I’m most comfortable with my recent cover illustrations for Zozobra “Savage Masters” and SubRosa “More Constant Than The Gods” – I feel these are closest in achieving the “feel” I am keen to achieve at this time.
HMA: I believe you just went to some kind of rebrand from “Scrawled Design” to now “Stag & Serpent”?
Glyn Smyth: “Scrawled Design” was started in 2005 when I was starting out and when my services were much more geared towards design and layout than centered around original illustration. I’d produced a lot of commercial work under that name (branding for bars, brochure design, mainstream music etc) which bears no relation to the type of work I do now and I’d wanted to bury it and “rebrand” for a while. I felt a desire to experiment with new techniques and approaches rather than necessarily have expectations tied to work I’ve created in the past.
Stag & Serpent represents a change of pace and approach in many respects. In the future I will be focusing much more intently on self-initiated projects and building up a new body of work related to my interests in myth, folklore and ritual. Concentrating on printmaking and working towards exhibiting and selling my own work is the main goal right now.
HMA: What other projects and plans do you have?
Glyn Smyth: I’m still busy with numerous band related projects (black metal and folk bands) for the rest of 2013, all of which I’m excited about – there’s some strong concepts and symbolism to get my teeth into! Some book illustration in the works… but I tend not to talk about things until they’re done and dusted as a rule. I have a lot of ideas for new print work which I will be exploring in 2014… but intent on keeping busy regardless!
HMA: Thanks so much Glyn for your interest in Heavy Music Artwork and we will surely be checking your work and please do keep us updated!
Glyn Smyth: Thanks a lot for the interest and support Alex – nice to know that there are people out there appreciating the work! Best of luck with the site!
www.stagandserpent.com is still in the works but I can also be found at: