Updated: Apr 20, 2020
Dylan Garrett-Smith was one of the first artists that I really remember noticing as I began exploring the Philadelphia art scene a couple of years ago. The detail of his work is fascinating as he typically builds his imagery with white on black and creates detail with negative space in white shapes. It’s a really interesting effect because I think if you inverted the colors a lot of the depth in the work might fall away, so while the white on black is visually enticing it’s also deliberate. Another thing that makes the stylings of Garrett-Smith’s work so striking is that he can apply it to macabre and brutal imagery or soft and delicate imagery and place details in a way that plays to both. When an artist can develop a style that’s not only visually exciting but can be manipulated to work with a range of imagery it’s truly impressive and always leaves the viewer wanting more.
Needless to say, over the years I’ve become a big fan of Garrett-Smith’s work. Whether it’s the hooded characters shrouded in roots and bones or the owls soaring with a quiet beauty, I’ve always been impressed by his body of work. So, I was thrilled to get to do an interview with him to get to hear about his process, development of work, and so much more. He gave great answers and an all around engaging interview that I can’t thank him enough for. We hope you enjoy!
1. So to start, I always like to ask about people's beginnings in art. What got you into art? Any Schooling? What got you started and developed you into the artist you are today?
When I was a young kid growing up in the DIY punk scene, I wasn’t very good at playing guitar or being in bands, (even though I tried) but I started designing for bands that my friends, my brother, and I were in. Eventually, I went to Pratt Institute of Art in Brooklyn, NY and graduated in 2010 with my BFA in printmaking.
2. You've got a very specific style, a lot of dark and macabre imagery, what are some of the big inspirations that developed your style?
Visually, the biggest and earliest inspirations for me were Pushead, Alan Forbes, friends like Paul Romano and Jeremy Hush, and punk, but as the years have gone on, the French Symbolists of the 19th century like Odilon Redon and Austin Osman Spare have been incredibly inspirational.
3. Staying on that subject, what inspires your imagery? Your work features a lot of recurring subjects (bones, roots, crows, etc.) so how do you decide how these images relate to one another in each piece?
I have an internal visual dictionary where every object is a metaphor that means something specific to me. Sometimes they’re easy to articulate, but other times, they’re too personal for me to be able to describe, or the emotions might not yet have names in the language I know. Everything is very personal and narrative-driven; and on occasion, the meanings behind pieces evolve over time as a result of my experiences, my distance from those experiences, or the things time allows you to learn about your past experiences.
4. You work with an extremely limited color palette, mostly black and gray, what made you want to stick with this aesthetic? And what inspires, or deserves the small splashes of color that you do include?
I get incredibly excited about how colors play with each other and how deceitful they can be. A lot can hide in and behind color, but there is something raw and unforgiving about black and white; that’s where I like to explore and experiment with texture, light, etc. Occasionally, a piece will ask for color, so we take that journey together, but not everything needs color to convey what I want or how I feel.
5. I'm interested to hear about your process? How does each piece start and develop to finish?
I write a lot, some of which I choose to publish like in my last book, “All is Equal in the Eyes of Dirt”, but I often translate those emotions, narratives, and experiences through that internal visual dictionary and begin telling a story through those metaphors. I take a lot of notes, I create thumbnail sketches, then I’ll make a finished sketch, transfer the image to black paper, and begin creating the final piece before scanning, editing, and getting it ready for print. Once I have it ready for print, I can either send the image off to my client or if it’s a personal piece, I have transparent films made, and I get to my basement where I can burn my screens and print everything up.
6. Your work has spanned many surfaces, so continuing on the subject of process how does your process differ when just making a print as opposed to a shirt or banner? Does it differ at all?
The only difference is the surface I’m printing on. The illustration and editing process is the exact same, but some images would rather be shirts, some banners, etc.
7. You've created an array of promotional work for events, bands, etc. How does working with a client alter your creative experience? Do you go back and forth with them a lot or do you like to just do what you do with what they give you? Or does it vary?
I’m very honest with clients as far as ideas and concepts go: sometimes they are too close to the material to make the best decisions for the project. They might tell me what they want, but I’m able to show them what they need. And having that creative freedom is going to provide the best outcome for the project while allowing for my best work to be created. When you’re hiring an artist, you’re not just hiring a pair of hands. You need to trust their mind, their process, their vision – that’s what you hired them for. Let them do what they do best. After working with over 120 bands, brands, record labels, etc. it’s a rare occasion that a client isn’t willing to put their trust in me, but that’s also because I don’t work with people that aren’t willing to give me the creative freedom to make my best work.
8. You've done a lot of work outside of your illustrations (design, photography, film, etc.) and there are sprinklings of it in your feeds here or there, but not a lot. Could you tell me a little bit about your experiences in the other creative fields you've ventured in? And how (if at all) they impacted your illustration work?
I don’t think we should think of ourselves as illustrators or painters or designers; we’re artists. And sometimes an idea for a piece needs to be an illustration, sometimes it asks to be portrayed photographically, or through film, or sculpture, or whatever. I want to make my work however it needs to be made.
9. Any new adventures or avenues that you're planning on heading down with your work?
This year, I want to focus a lot more on writing and film projects. I released my first short film this year at two film festivals and have plans on doing more. Again, some concepts and ideas ask to be made in different ways, and the narratives I’ve been writing and thinking about just wouldn’t translate as a single illustrated image. And if any venues are willing to give me full freedom to get wild in their space, I’d love to create more immersive, experiential exhibitions/installations.
10. PLUGS! Tell us where people can find you! Any events coming up? Anything and everything, share it all!
I’m keeping events to a minimum this year so I can focus more on my work rather than on traveling, since the last few years have been nonstop. But I’ll still be releasing new prints monthly through my friends at Deathwish Inc., next month, I’ll be releasing my second poetry collection, “Sad Fuck”, along with some new prints and things, and I have a lot of other fun projects planned for the future. Keep an eye (or two, if you’re so lucky) on my instagram (@dylanxvx) and my website (dylangarrettsmith.com) to see what I’m up to! And if you have a band, venue, record label, brand, vegan restaurant, etc. and would like to work with me, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I wish the best for everyone in the new year!