Interview with Samuel Araya

First of all, let's get the obvious questions out of the way: Can you tell us a little about yourself--where you're from, a bit of an autobiography, et cetera?

Heya Socar and readers! My name is Carlos Samuel Araya, but people just call me Sam, because every male in my family is named Carlos. Anyhoo, I was freed from the womb on the fifth of March, 1980. Much to my grief, I landed in Paraguay, the most boring place on Earth, and for extra points of woe I still inhabit this crap hole, where my social phobias can flourish and frolic with the South American fauna and flora. As for the et cetera part, I make a living drawing corpses, I've got books that I never ever read, I like Hello Kitty, metal music, and my favorite method of body disposal is acid bath.

What got you into art in the first place? Who were your early influences?

The usual crap, you know?--drawing since I was a child, crayons over the wall and all that. My father is somehow an architect and my mother is a decorative painter, so I grew up in a environment where everyone just, well...drew. When I was 10 or something, my mother brought me the "Escape from Tenopia" and "Escape from Frome" books, which were illustrated by Dave Perry, and I was really touched by his style, not to mention how he managed to sneak a satanic pentagram into a book meant for children and young adults. I grew fond of the inked stuff, but somehow never actually cared that much for the superhero comics everyone was buying at the time. A couple of years later I discovered RPG's, namely Vampire: The Masquerade, and it was a whole new deal. I looked at the work of Ken Meyer Jr., John Cobb, Tim Bradstreet, Joshua Gabriel Timbrook and the rest of the White Wolf art team, and it was the Twilight of the Gods, as Luetke would have said. But the real thing was Christopher Shy. When I looked at his work, I just had to close the book and said, "That's it--this guy is doing everything I have ever dreamt of. He is taking all different media into account, and as a plus he is not doing that crappy fantasy art that everyone is doing." So there you go, blame Shy for my existence in the art world.

Your art has a highly individual style--lots of texture, elements of various different media--do you have a particular process you usually use, or do you vary your technique depending on the feel of the individual image? Can you tell us something about some of your methods?

Well, I don't think my work stands out as very individual: I think I wear my influences on my forehead, but hey! thanks a lot! I'm working on it! I don't have a formula. Sometimes, I just take a photo and paint over it, sometimes I paint and put a photo over it, sometimes I work in grayscale and add color later, sometimes, well you get the idea. I think it's very important to clarify that I work mostly with photography--I'm in love with the camera, and I couldn't care less what the detractors have to say. Lately, I've been returning to my inks. Ben Templesmith and Chinese art made me do it. I'm also printing the pictures, then overpainting them with pastels or gouache. I really hate to settle down with a formula; I need the experimental factor, otherwise I will bore myself to death.

Who are your favorite authors--and do you read a lot of horror books?

Paraguay is a crappy place for any reader: you can't get books so easily, so I don't have a really long list. I read mostly Lovecraft--I love the moods--can't help it. I'm a sucker for it. Clive Barker, Steve Niles and Neil Gaiman are personal favorites too, especially "The Thief of Always", and there was this horror author from the U.K., Richard Wright. He is really good, too! Oriental writers got my attention lately, especially old, weird stories from China and Japan. It's very refreshing to be confronted with a perspective where the supernatural isn't ruined by lame explanations, so I guess I like the ambiguity a lot in these stories. Apart from that, I love the writings by Ursula K. LeGuin (loved the Earthsea series) Baudelaire, Lewis Caroll, Jonas Selb and Monica Valdovinos, and I'm fortunate enough to know the latter two!

How about your favorite artists--who are they?

Thousands! Apart from those already mentioned, I would like to add Joachim Luetke, whose work really set a new standard for me. I can't say enough good words about his work. Dave McKean--who doesn't like Dave McKean? It's obligatory!!! Hahahaha! Enki Bilal rocks, too. I discovered his work thanks to Christopher Shy (Shy being probably my prime influence. I have just seen his work for "Victorian Age Vampire", and I'm blown into pieces). Ben Templesmith, for the energy and vitality on his work, and Jon Hodgson! Jon is probably one of the best RPG artists out there--interview him instead of me! It's really a long list, so I'll just drop names: all Oriental art, Naoko Takeuchi, Monet, Klimt, Schielle, Bosch, Durer, Eric Lacombe, Vincent Locke, Phil Hale, Edmund Sullivan Joyce Tenneson (photographer), Herge (Tin Tin, hurray!), Joel Peter Witkin (photographer), Robert Howlett (photographer) , Jason Felix, Axel Widen, Hive, Jonas Selb, Ripe from Routa.net, J.K. Potter, Leanne Buckley, Niklas Sundin, Perkele, Guy Davies, Jon Foster, Ashley Wood, Larry McDougall, Kent Willians, Mondrian, Jasper Johns, Greg Spalenka, Beksinki, Giger, and also, don't forget the regulars at the Epilogue chat room: Ken McCracken, John Shannon, William Hollingworth, and, of course, Cameron Roberts! A final special mention goes to Stephen Kasner. Your work, Mr. Kasner, has touched deep upon my thoughts, and I simply cannot help but love them, for these are some of the most beautiful images created in this age of utter madness.

Most of your art features very dark and ghoulish themes--what is it that you find so appealing about that kind of imagery?

It's all about how horror works on different levels--I'm a sucker for the nature of fear, and somehow I feel the need to touch its visceral part. But I don't find them dark. I think they are quite nice actually. It's like when you turn to face the monster in your nightmares, and finally shake hands and settle the score. I guess it boils down to how screwed I am: I'm at the point where I can only find good company among my own monsters. Maybe it's because I attended a Christian School, and I didn't kill anyone during all these years of pain. Go figure.

You've stated on various public forums that you don't subscribe to a lot of the myths and pretensions surrounding the creation of art--inspiration among them. What does art in general and your art in particular mean to you?

Yes, I think that inspiration is a myth. To me, every day is like a frigging Rorschach (I'm sure I misspelled that one), where everything has a deeper meaning. It's like a never-ending caravan of mental images--I can't help it, and I just can't imagine that people actually sit and wait for some magical inspiration to come. Seems like death due to sensory overload to me. Art? Well, I never really had the time to sit down and think about what art is. I'll go with Donald Judd and say that instead of judging if something is art or not, I'd rather judge if the results are interesting or not. For my personal enjoyment, art is my outlet to get things out of my system that just don't compute, or things that I like. My art is also ephemeral, and whatever deeper emotion it touches in me is lost, eventually. Art is also a paycheck.

How did you break into the professional art world? Got any tips for aspiring freelancers?

Hive and some other people started a site called "The Ronin Project" where they discussed several topics regarding freelancing. I annoyed every person I knew, trying to figure out things about making money with art and, well, I assembled a portfolio and just met the right people, very kind companies who had confidence in my work and my choices. From that point, the whole thing just suddenly exploded. My tip? This is the part where I'm supposed to say that you should never give up, follow your instincts, contact your inner child and blah blah, right?

What advice would you give to new artists who are just beginning to develop their talents?

Don't have any gods. That's the biggest problem with artists: they think their favorite artists are gods, and that's just pathetic! Give me a break--learn to be critical and stop being a fan boy. Respect your own work to recognize what crits you should pay attention to, and which you should ignore. And, no, using photo reference or tracing will not make your reproductive system fall off. Go, my son, go!

What do you think the most important thing is for an artist to learn, technically speaking?

I don't know. Does diversity count as something technical? If I were to go to art school, I would never pick Illustration, for example. It misses the big picture--I'd rather follow something regarding multimedia, or even (puke) Graphic Design. Especially if you are living in the U.S.A., you might want to look down at that $32,000 (per year or so) and rethink whether you want to spend that on something so overly specific as, hum, Illustration, only to end working in your local supermarket as the guy who puts things in the bag.

What formal art education have you had, and what role did it play in your artistic development?

I spent two years in Graphic Design. I don't know how I managed to pass every course on a regular basis: art history is a mystery to me, and I swear I passed an exam about composition without having any idea what it was. But I did learn some valuable things, like typography, color theory, and how I'd rather put a bullet in my head than work in Graphic Design in Paraguay. At some point, I became so bored I just had to quit it. I can't say it was a complete waste, but let's just say that I would have the same results if I'd read the books they recommended instead of getting my carcass into class every day. Also, I'm pretty sure Graphic Design courses in other countries are actually more interesting.

Your compositions are always very strong--do you do a lot of sketching to get them right, or just dive right in?

I hate to sketch--I just do it, the quicker the better. I do spend some time thinking about the piece before I start, sketching in my head, and once I get a loose idea I do play around a lot with the drawing/photo. At some point, it just pushes the right button. It isn't a purely intuitive process: I gotta give credit to some books whose names I won't mention.

What do you do when you're not working? Got any interesting hobbies?

I listen to lots of metal and electronic music! Dissection, Kreator (Love Endorama), Samael, The Kovenant, Godspeed you Black Emperor, A Silver Mount Zion, Elend, Dark Throne, Bathory, Return to the Sabbat, Old Skyclad, Dark Tranquillity, Sentenced, Cradle of Filth, Anathema, Katatonia, Zimmers Hole, Front Line Assembly, Jesus Martyr, Rotting Christ, The Haunted, Die Krupps, In Flames, Hipocrisy, Subway to Sally, Moonspell... and lots more. I sing/bark a lot, albeit I need to actually learn to hit some notes. Still, I think I have a Thrash/Death metal band or two...I just need to actually go to the rehearsals. I teach Drawing and Photography--that's something for free. I want to be able to REALLY teach someday, so everyone who is willing to be used as test subjects is accepted into my courses! And RPG's--I play every RPG I illustrate. It's some sort of personal ritual: naturally, I wouldn't illustrate an RPG I wouldn't play anyway.

What's the future looking like for you, art-wise? Any interesting projects on the horizon?

I got the whole graphics deal of a card game called "Abuse: The Final Insult", and the some full color pics for "Cthulhu Tech" for Eos Press. Got four or five book covers from Eden Studios coming any time soon, art for the Wild Talents RPG by Dennis Detwiller, and, well, lots of things, can't bore you all with each one, gotta keep some surprises. I'm working on a script and art direction for a short movie, and a music video clip that we should have started three months ago, but it's not my fault, really. Also looking forward to see you and Rafal [ed's note: Hrynkiewicz](sorry man, I really tried to spell your last name, I really did) on the Fleshrot comic!

If you could work with absolutely anyone (artists, companies, writers--anyone at all) on a project, who would it be?

I would die to do some art for the Army of Darkness RPG (hear me George!) and "Vampire: The Masquerade". Come to think of it, I would do anything for White Wolf. If I had the chance I'd resurrect Wraith! Comics Pin-ups for Ashley Woods Popbot, or anything by Gaiman or Steve Niles. Absolutely anything for a book by Clive Barker or Lovecraft. I'm pedantic enough to say, my own art book! But it will be a really controversial thing, and I really doubt anyone would have the guts to publish what I have in mind. That or a movie--I always wanted to do "Beyond the Mountains of Madness". And of course, the bands, I love to do album covers. I long to work for Katatonia, Return to the Sabbat, Kreator, well, read the above list for the details--special mention goes to Dissection, whose new album I await impatiently--go go go Jon and Faust!

Got anything else you're dying to say to the good folks at Epilogue, which wasn't covered by any of the above questions?

Thank you, Socar, and the rest of the Epilogue team, for this opportunity to exercise my ego. Jessie, you suck. Worship the antichrist, 'cause if I were god, people would die more often.

And, the obligatory final question: what cartoons did you watch as a kid?

Transformers, G.I. Joe, I loved the character designs of the Cobra guys, but the plot sucked, also Mazinger and the AWESOME Count Duckula.

Art at its best.