How Bodega Cats Came to be: The E True Hollywood Story

Greetings all! As usual it's been way too long since I've done one of these blogposts. I hope your holidays were filled with family, friends, fun and food (the latter most importantly). 2016 was a weird year where I learned just how dumb the world really was but elections, police shootings and dead celebrities aside I've enjoyed the ride. I have learned extremely important lessons that drastically influence the way I approach Illustration. Do what makes you happy and everything else is secondary.

Early character designs for Gunny Washington, a Bodega Cats main character.

 

After you graduate art school (which I did back in good ole 2012) you get pressured on two sides. The non-artistic world wonders what you're going to do with this useless degree and when you're going to pay off those darn student loans and make something of yourself. The artistic world mostly consists of your friends who went to art school but are also (surprise surprise) broke. They ask, " Hey, what are you up to?" Which is code for "Are you getting any jobs man?". These queries are perfectly fine and reasonable but I have to admit they put a lot of pressure on me. I responded by working myself like a madman. I became goal oriented to a fault, setting myself to impossible standards and tearing myself to pieces mentally when I failed. Illustration wasn't fun anymore it became a vehicle to success; basically  just another job. I really hit rock bottom when I started drawing things just because they were trending. Eventually no sleep + being unhappy with art became being unhappy full time. (My bad for getting so dark so early into the blog)

Isabelle Farro, Bodega Cats main character.

 

I was living in my Grandmother's basement, coming up with daily game plans to make money... which is not the best way to combat depression. Illustration is often a lonely endeavor, where questions like, "is this worth it" or "what if I never make it" go unanswered and unaddressed. Furthermore if you're in a traditional job and the clock strikes 5, you're done and you never have to think of your job until it's time to go back, but wart which eats at your soul all day. What was a poor fella to do? Luckily, my best friend came to visit from Savannah and that marked a turning point. He was also trying to get his Illustration career off the ground, and as I gave him advice I realized I never did any of the things I was suggesting. Now I'd like to tell you all that after this conversation I picked myself up by my bootstraps and learned to love art again; riding off into the sunset with my hat pulled low and a pencil tucked behind my ear, but not so. The reality of the situation was that I took some cough, cough* recreational drugs and we just drew all night. I drew things I didn't intend to share on Instagram. I drew things not thinking how many likes I would get, what it would do for my career or how I could send it in a postcard to art directors. I drew for no particular reason except for the fact that it was interesting. At the end of this impromptu creative bender I realized I was subconsciously creating a narrative. 

Bodega Cats sketch

 

Sometimes we focus so much on the details, that we overlook how simple the answer could be. From early childhood the things that always inspired me to draw were narratives like Dragonball Z, drawing fake Yugioh cards with my friends to later falling in love with book covers and French comic books. Imaginative storylines were what got me in the game baby! So without further rambling I'd like to share a brief synopsis of a personal project I've been working on for about 2 years now. A project that has me waking up early everyday and going to bed late every night. I find myself not focused on the successes I've had or will have. In 2017 I'm really happy with just drawing everyday, and drawing Bodega Cats.

 

Isabelle in Oracle Mode.

Bodega Cats is a narrative written and illustrated by yours truly. The main topic of this tale is religion, but you can bet your sweet ass there will be no preaching. The story follows Reggie, Isabelle and Gunny, three homeless individuals brought together by unfortunate circumstances. They find themselves thrust in the middle of a religious war between the various Olympian Religions. The Olympian Religions are various churches that worship a particular Greek God. When a disciple is faithful and deemed worthy in the eyes of their chosen God, a blessing is bestowed. These blessings take the form of the most powerful attributes of Greek Mythology, Ex. A disciple in the church of Zeus worships devoutly and one day gains the power to throw lightning bolts. Stay tuned for Greek mayhem, witty insults and fantastic illustrations (if I do say so myself) and it all takes place in modern day NYC, so expect a few delayed subway trains. 

 

Bodega Cats is tentatively set for release in Summer, 2017. Stand clear for the closing doors.

Praying Hands: A process of Chaos and Creativity

When the Wave God shoots you an email for artwork you answer, no questions asked. Remember these words and the universe will bless you with untold riches, exotic monkeys and hot steak. OK maybe not exotic monkeys because I live in New York and my apartment isn't even big enough for me. Nevertheless when the Wave God a.k.a Musical Savant Andrew Sarrion (better known as A.Sarr) emails you for a commission it's gonna be good times.

Here's the quick rundown, A.Sarr was getting ready to release a single online as a precursor to his upcoming E.P. He asked yours truly to collaborate on the accompanying artwork and I gladly obliged. Thus began my terrible downward spiral into the creative process, classic mistakes and an astonishing lack of sleep. Let's get it:

Hard Work and Diligence sometimes equals pure Crap

The song was about two people who essentially were forced together by unforeseen circumstances. I listened to the song briefly and decided not to read too much into it early on. With other projects I'd made the mistake of paying too close attention to the material and not relying on my creativity. I knew the concept and got straight to work, focusing on different circumstances where two people were forced together. Specifically, circumstances where the very phenomenon that could destroy you eventually forced something beautiful into existence. Several word lists, dictionary definitions of symbiosis and a French press of coffee later I had absolutely nothing. Nothing I was happy with anyways. 

These concepts are now locked in a box labeled "Donald Trump's baby pictures", so I know not to open them.

These concepts are now locked in a box labeled "Donald Trump's baby pictures", so I know not to open them.

What do you do in this situation? Panic? Adopt a new my identity? Grow a beard, change my name to Seth? Neither. Those of you that know me personally understand my complete inability to grow a beard anyways. Instead I stopped trying to think so much, I focused on simple details. I looked over my notes and noticed the song was called Praying Hands. Boom! I had my subject matter. Seth is a dumb name anyways.

Keep it simple, stupid.

Simplifying things and deciding to just focus on the hands was key. From there all my decisions came fast and easy. Smooth sailing all the way to the finish line, right? Wrong. Initially I was under the impression that this was just another cool sounding song, but after listening to how heavy the song was I had a change of heart. This was a man bearing his soul, and here I was drawing a pair of hands. So I switched it up. I wanted a wild atmosphere to go with the song's deep sound, the hands were a solid concept and had to stay in the piece but there needed to be more. The thorns were added as an element of adversity so I came up with the idea of expanding on that to complement the rich textures that were in the song.

Initial sketch of the cover.

Initial sketch of the cover.

Friends are really just free reference models when you think about it.

Friends are really just free reference models when you think about it.

 

Planning for a simple illustration with no real background vs a complicated illustration filled with flowers is a big difference time wise. Not to mention I also had other commissions and projects going at the time. Did I mention that I also had a vacation to Savannah, Georgia planned in a few days? Hello all nighters.

Kids, don't try this at home.

In the end I finished the painting at the last possible second. I mean LITERALLY the last possible second, my Uber driver waited for five minutes while I scanned the illustration. From there I went to the airport and barely made my plane to Savannah. I added the finishing digital touches while on vacation and the rest is history. It might not have been the smartest decision to give myself more work, and stay up for a couple nights straight but in the end it was worth it. Just like the song suggests adversity resulting in something great , I worked through the problems to make this piece happen. I hope you all like it. Stay tuned for the next post about my upcoming personal project "Bodega Cats".

If you wanna change your life for the better, listen to the A. Sarr's song and story. K Bye.

 

Ecstasy: A quickie with Aphrodite

I know its been a while since the last blog post (four months, but who's counting?) but with the coming months I hope to rectify that with more frequent activity and a butt load of new pieces . Half-assed apology aside let's get down to business. (Are these butt related adjectives doing anything other than making me sound like an 8 year old?)

Earlier this month I was approached by some very talented individuals on illustrating a band poster for advertising. The collaboration was actually really simple, a few friends invited me to a New York music venue where my good friend and performing artist A.Sarr was performing along with Russell Elliot and Andrew Nye on guitar. After having my socks thoroughly knocked off (people still say that right?) by their amazing musical talent, I brought up the idea of using my illustrations to advertise their shows. Turns out proposing projects is as good of a self promotion method as any other, because within the week we were in talks to work together.

                                                                                Formless scribbles of early concepts.

 

Right off the bat, the initial problem was deadline. I was to illustrate a poster for their May 30th show at The Flat in Brooklyn which meant having the work done and finalized by the 20th at the latest. Did I mention that I was officially commissioned on the 14th?

Excitement for the project, coffee and a little dark magic was what got me through the next 6 days. For many illustrators a day job is essential for a steady income, which means balancing work and .... more work with sometimes little to no sleep sprinkled in. I couldn't take the normal approach of frequent communication and many preliminaries on this project for obvious reasons so A.Sarr (formally known as Andrew Sarrion aka shampooknuckles) who served as acting Art Director had to deal with my taking quick drastic steps through the course of 6 days.

The poster's  concept was simple, from what I've heard from listening to both Russell Elliot and A.Sarr, their music has a flowing R&B style mixed with a mellow trance and new age experimentation. I decided to go with a powerful emotion invoked in many of their songs, lust. From there my thought process looked a little like this:

Lust-Sex?-Who's Sexy?-Jennifer Lawrence-Love-Cupid-Pink-Aphrodite

New Age?-Future-Robot-Metal-Wires-Android

The music is gonna be really textural. You know how you listen to some music and it just hits you in the face? Well our music is gonna wrap around you.
— A.Sarr

After tinkering with concepts for a while both A.Sarr, Andrew Nye and myself came up with a working final image, I gave Aphrodite some soul by portraying her as a sort of Afro Punk version and the rest is history.



In the end thankfully things worked out with little to no miscommunication and the poster was delivered on time. Quick turnarounds are just part of the business of being a professional Illustrator and often times I find the best work is produced when there isn't too much time to over think concepts. It is also important to note that pushing past your limits is essential to growth as an artist or any other career path for that matter. I had a surprising amount of creative freedom on this project and would love to do more in the future.

If any of you reading are near Brooklyn May, 30th come stop by The Flat to hear some soulful music from New York's emerging talents. If you recognize me there feel free to buy me a beer because I WILL be your best friend.

Real Reads Process Work

Some time last year I was commissioned by the U.K publishing house Real Reads to illustrate one of their new books, The Awakening. They'd seen the work I did for James Caskey's Haunted History of New Orleans: Ghosts of the French Quarter which included a series of illustrations taking place in a setting similar to that of The Awakening. Suddenly I had a flashback to my time as a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design, "Draw what you'd like to get hired for" my professors said. Anyways, this intro is getting a little too long for my liking so here's my process:

Scribbles that eventually turn into thumbnails.

Sometimes you draw like crap, be honest with yourself!

At this point my only thought should have been composition, the more defined sketches are just me getting ahead of myself. I get overly excited and often draw ahead past the important steps which in the end can give you more work than needed, if that failed drawing in the upper left is any indication.  Next step, finding my references, I'm still extremely young in my career so I can't afford to hire models just yet (although I can't wait for the day I can) so my alternative? Suckers... I mean friends.

Online sites with royalty free images make a big difference too.

I kept my sketches looser than usual because I was wary of copying the reference a little too much, I wanted the finals to be lighter and more stylized taking into consideration that the audience was a younger one, but once they were all drawn and approved I could go to the big show, final illustrations.

All in all I had a pretty fun ride with this commission. All together I did about 26 Illustrations that went into the book, it felt like a lot more. Feel free see the rest of Real Read's collection at: http://realreads.co.uk/ .

Thanks for Reading, Stephen Davis Illustration.

30 Day Sketch Challenge

Me (Stephen Davis)

You (Everyone with functioning hands)

30 (or so) Days of themed sketching.

 

Drawing other people's ideas is cool and all, especially when they give you money, but it does wear on illustrators. I'm looking to shake things up a bit, my workload since moving to New York has gotten considerably heavier (As have my bills) and while commissions pile up a change of creative pace is much needed. Hence, 30 Day Sketch Challenge, I stumbled across this particular list while doing one of my frequent tumblr procrastinations, I thought it was a good Idea so I thought: Why not bring everyone in on this action? Find me on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook or even Instagram and share your sketches, you can use the 30 Day list to keep up with me or do it at your own pace. Things are always easier in groups (except maybe solitaire) so join in the fun!

Thanks for reading!

Stephen Davis Illustration.

"Look At The Recluse": My Creative Reset Button

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 I felt great! I had quit my job and dedicated myself to illustration full time and was on my way to becoming a well established illustrator. Now, I know what you're thinking (I really don't): But Stephen, all these changes are great but once the newness of your situation wears off what's to keep you from slipping back to your old lazy ways? Well that's where "Look at The Recluse" comes in. It's a series I started on Snapchat (bear with me) that goes hand in hand with an experimental lifestyle I'm putting myself through for 30 days. I've become a recluse of sorts... well comparatively at least, to my constant drunk, girl crazy. illustration hobbyist days in Savannah. I don't go out much, I've severely cut back on my drinking and except for the occasional visit to the grocery store my human contact is limited. 17 days down and this is turning out to be one of my few good ideas, I illustrate and sketch every single day without struggle and maintain a focus previously unheard of within myself.

For those of you who don't follow my every move, like a dog's eyes when you're eating, shame on you, I'm really quite fucking amazing. All pompous jokes aside though, I have made several changes to my life to (for the most part) better my Illustration career. For starters, I've made the same decision that countless other young Illustrators have made (with varying results) which is to relocate to New York, Brooklyn to be precise. It's only been about a month or so, but I know without a doubt that I've made the right decision. Don't get me  wrong, there was nothing wrong with good ole' Savannah Georgia, with it's slack public drinking laws, vibrant art scene and abundance of Ghost Tours, but I really needed a change. I had a comfortable high paying job, countless friends and a seasoned lay of the land. It just so happens that these three things stunted my Illustration growth severely. Being comfortable is the downfall to ambition, somebody wise probably said that but just pretend I just dropped some Mr. Miyagi knowledge on ya bitch ass. Once I relocated to New York I had to deal with the dramatic increase in cost of living, next to no close friends, and homeless people that always choose to sit next to you on the subway.

Sometimes I do go out, but I always draw stuff.

Sometimes I do go out, but I always draw stuff.

Everyday opens with one of these.

Everyday opens with one of these.

The Snapchat series documents my art during this 30 day time period, chronicling (for 24 hours at a time) my journey to meeting deadlines and becoming a more streamlined illustrator. I reveal my thought process, triumphs and frustrations as well as my illustration process, and it is refreshing. Snapchat's features lend themselves to the recluse series beautifully, my series is easily accessible (as long as you have a smart phone) and all my snapshots delete themselves after 24 hours keeping the work fresh and playful. I also get daily Snapchats from followers asking certain things, which I'm always glad to answer, I'm not the most experienced Illustrator in the world, but I'm not a moron either so I do have things to contribute (lol). Above all, knowing that people are watching me work keeps me showing up early and leaving late to the studio. 27 Days makes a habit, so I'm doing thirty just to seem cool, and after this is done I believe I can keep the same pace without the series and maybe go out with friends and reacquaint myself with sunlight. At the end of the day it really just comes down to finding fun ways to becoming a better Illustrator and artist, yes I could have just gone back to art school (my wallet says no) or picked the brain of a mentor but it's 2014 sooo.... Snapchat. Who knows, whenever I do get burnt out or stray from the path (and it will happen) I might just put myself through another creative experiment for shits and giggles, as people that thrive on creativity and a little spontaneity... why not? 


Holla @ me on Snapchat- stephensnaps90

p.s I promise I am in no way sponsored by Snapchat.

Summer x Chance the Rapper

Earlier this year I was commissioned by the good folks of R.A.B, a small book publishing company based in the U.K to collaborate on their Hip Hop Art Collective. The task was a simple one, come up with a kick ass illustration based on a quote or lyric from a musician, the illustration would have to visually portray the quote as well as hold up well on its own.I worked with the talented Ramsey Mullaney as my Art Director, and together we discussed a good subject matter for my contribution. After a little brainstorming we settled on working on (one of my all time favorite musicians) Chance The Rapper's - Pusha Man/Paranoia. Working with Ramsey was one of the better experiences I've had with Art Directors, particularly because he trusted me from the beginning and gave me a ton of creative freedom while still checking in and steering me in the right direction.

Pencil thumbnail

Pencil thumbnail

I chose one of the more somber lyrics from Pusha Man/Paranoia off of Chance's "Acid Rap" mixtape.

Final Drawing in progress.

Final Drawing in progress.

After coming up with countless concepts based off the line "I heard everyone dies in the summer" I took a step back and decided to simplify my approach. I decided I wanted to do a portrait style illustration, and after that applying my concept was simple.

Chance x Summer Final Illustration

Chance x Summer Final Illustration

Having Chance the Rapper as a part of my work was ridiculously fun, hopefully I can do more commissions along these lines in the future. You can purchase a copy of the prints as well as read more about why I chose the lyrics here @ hiphopartproject.com

-- Stephen Davis Illustration.

Announcement: Instagram

Finally, I've obtained a smartphone and will have an Instagram up and ready on Monday.

This may come as a shock to you all but, I hate technology. O.k hate is a strong word, and I realize I've started this post sounding like a hipster (they hate almost everything) so let me start over. I don't hate technology... but I'm not very used to it. I grew up on the small island of Jamaica with parents that believed the hard way was the right path, so in a nutshell, hard way + poor upbringing= no technology. Obviously I'm adapting, but old habits die hard so my integration of Illustration with modern technology is coming along at a snail's pace. I hardly use any Photoshop on my Illustrations and when I do it's minimal. Monday (the 24th) will mark another step in my attempt to broaden my exposure as an Illustrator. INSTAGRAM HERE I COME!

Stephen Davis.

All the Buzz

So Buzz Feed just featured one of my illustrations in their “10 Crucial Things New Orleans Had First” article. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this latest development, on one hand I’m extremely flattered that they chose my illustration to best depict voodoo in Louisiana but they also pulled it from this very blog without my permission. If anyone has any thoughts on this feel free to message me, in the meantime the article is actually a good one and worth taking a gander at, you can do so here.

Stephen Davis Illustration.