You might have caught that we recently rolled out a new, retro-futuristic look and feel for our website, featuring illustrations by artist and illustrator Arik Roper.
Arik is well known in the metal community for his rich, psychedelic posters and album covers for legendary bands. He lives with his family in Brooklyn, and like successful people across professions, he’s developed a set of tricks and routines to wring as many hours of creative flow out of the day as possible. We were lucky enough to get to chat with him about his process, productivity hacks, and why he’s excited for the future.
Laurel: Hey Arik, so great to get to talk. We’re obviously huge fans over here, and looking forward to learning more about you and your process. I’d love to kick off by learning about your background—who or what do you consider influencers and inspirations of your work?
Arik: I have a lot of old art books, of illustrators going back hundreds of years. I like a lot of classic illustration, from the golden age of illustration and artists like John Bauer and Arthur Rackham (turn of the century to last century).
I reference a lot from commercial art from the past 40-50 years as well. Futurists like Syd Mead and John Berkey, or illustrators like David Pelham, Bob Pepper, Leo and Diane Dillon. Commercial art got very experimental in the 60s and 70s, and that stuff has always been especially interesting. A lot of advertising art in the 60s and 70s from, was in my opinion on par with any other art.
I also love mythology, religion, and science, and I read a lot.
L: You’ve been doing this for a long time, so you must have some hacks for getting into the creative mindset (and we’re obsessed with productivity). People have their special music or meditation; what techniques do you use to get into the right frame of mind?
A: That’s something I’m always trying to perfect, because tapping into that flow of ideas is for me the longest part of the process. It takes me longer to come up with an idea than to execute it.
Walks in nature are really effective because they clear my mind and allow me to think without much outside input. Going to museums and libraries also, not so much because of what I see but by putting myself into a space where it’s quiet, something happens where I can hear a different part of my thinking. The space itself is charged with creativity – it’s not necessarily about what I’m seeing as much as being in the space.
Sitting down and closing my eyes and spending some time in that mindset where I let my mind settle down also works. That’s something that I forget sometimes! I’ve been trying to do that more and more because it really works, and I’ve gotten more into it as I’ve gotten older.
L: Do you have special spaces that you like here in New York?
A: For the museums, fortunately we have a lot. The Whitney Museum is great, and the Metropolitan Museum. Something about the modern art museums like the MoMA, the Whitney, the Guggenheim— the clean minimalism of those spaces is visually quiet. The Met can almost be too baroque and too much going on sometimes, even though I love it.
And I live next to Prospect Park so that’s about as wild as I can get in NYC.
L: We also think a lot about process, and part of that includes choosing the right tool for a given job. How do you think about, for example, choosing to work in watercolor vs digitally?
A: The process is a huge part of every job or piece of art I do because they’re so different. If I’m working digitally, I’m obviously working in Photoshop on a tablet. I’m using some of the same techniques as if I were painting in terms of building colors, shadows, and light, but it’s completely different in that there’s no tactile experience (which to me is really important). I have less control, I don’t feel as connected to what I’m doing, but it’s extremely easy in other ways; the amount of flexibility in being able to start over and change things leads to different forms and makes me create differently.
So I work more quickly in digital, and I can make far more mechanical looking easily stuff, but I can’t draw digitally nearly as well.
And then working in watercolor or ink is just so much different since I have to set up everything at my work desk. Working in layers takes much longer and the approach is different because I can’t just put it down, I have to put layers down in order and plan it in a way that it’ll work with different mediums on top of eachother.
Then there’s a combination approach that I take sometimes like when I’m doing screenprint poster design. I’ll draw, scan it into Photoshop, and then do colors there to make a compilation of digital technique and hand drawn. So a lot of times I’m switching between all these things depending on the project, and sometimes I use techniques two at a time on the same day.
L: How do you keep tech from distracting you, especially if you’re working in a digital medium?
A: It takes some discipline, but it’s not so hard to put up those barriers for yourself if you choose to. It’s not to say that I don’t get mildly distracted here and there, but sometimes I just have to turn off everything and only use Photoshop, not checking my email. I can listen to music or podcasts, those don’t distract me to the point where I stop working, but to avoid temptations of looking something up online, sometimes I just turn off everything. I also try to keep notifications out of my face if possible.
L: Do you see yourself using the same technology for creating in the future? How do you anticipate your job will change?
A: I think I’ll use more technology. I dont think I’ll ever abandon doing pen drawing or painting because it’s very therapeutic. Those really feel raw like nothing else, the way people have been doing it for years. It feels right and I can express myself best that way. But I want to get more into motion and graphics, and that’s clearly all about learning more digital technology. I‘m quite open to that, would love to have the time to get into it. I want to move that direction while combining it with the traditional.
L: Being an artist means you have a pretty informal work environment, and I assume inspiration doesn’t strike only during the 9 to 5. How do you balance your creative work with other commitments like family?
A: My life is especially busy these past years, I have a 7-year-old daughter. Ever since that my schedule is no longer flexible, I can’t work anytime I want. For example, I can’t stay up late, or I’ll pay for it the next day.
When it comes to doing actual work that could potentially be finalized like sitting down and drawing, I try to keep within the scheduled hours. Ideally, I work during the day when no one’s home and get stuff done without distraction. If I have an idea that’s really a breakthrough when I’m not working, I can write it down, I can draw it, I can come back to it. Sometimes that’s when ideas happen, but I’m able to capture them and go back later.
There are natural rhythms to creativity, everything from your stress level to your biology to what’s going on around you can affect it, and trying to force it can be really frustrating. That’s just part of the job. It can be stressful when you’ve got a deadline and you’re just not coming up with something you think is strong. It always happens in the end, but it can be stressful. I try to keep my mind open and in a creative mindset so I can let myself be receptive to ideas even when I’m not working.
L: Any upcoming projects you’re excited for?
A: A couple other artists and I are trying to do an full length animated film. We’d have to raise funding, which is a huge hurdle, but we’re gonna give it a shot. It’s the first animated work of my own that I’d be doing.
The film is three separate stories tied together by a being who lives in the universe and judges the lives of dead souls when they tell him their life story, kind of like in ancient Egyptian mythology. That’s the thread that goes through the film, these three characters telling their stories, like the stories we tell about ourselves.
L: What are you excited about for the future?
A: I’m excited about space exploration – how quickly we’re discovering new planets and how many we’re finding that seem suitable for what we know of as life. It’s happening really rapidly, faster than I expected. I’m curious to see what direction that takes and if we can eventually detect some sort of life. I’m pretty optimistic. Barring natural catastrophe, I think things are generally two steps forward and one step back. We progress.
There’s a lot that I think will get better, and we’re just having a lot of growing pains. Humans have only been working with technology for 100 years since the industrial revolution, and we didn’t have enough foresight to realize we shouldn’t have made things that don’t disappear like plastic – that was a stupid idea. But it’s not the end of the world, if we find a new way towards sustainability. We just started this endeavor of really serious technological progress!
Science fiction is really important actually, and I also think the world needs new stories of optimistic science fiction. Right now, you’ve got two choices for the future: Blade Runner or Mad Max, techo-dystopia or collapse. And that’s been the model for 35 years! There used to be really optimistic science fiction, where the future seemed open, like when Star Trek was very popular.
I think we need narratives that inspire people to do something else, we need those myths to strive for. If all you have are negative stories about the future, they might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I get it, it’s lurid, there’s a lot of anxiety, and people fear things that they probably don’t need to fear. But it doesn’t mean that other options aren’t still on the table.
We won’t get it right right away, let’s just hope we do get it right eventually.