Posts tagged spiritual
Image: Todd Bates Creative / Interview: Sarah Hazlehurst   

Image: Todd Bates Creative / Interview: Sarah Hazlehurst



What was the first album you purchased? Can you tell us the story behind it?
Oh, you’re really going to embarrass me with this one! I grew up in a religious household where I was obligated to attend church at least twice a week and slog through private Christian school up until 9th grade, where I was pumped full of weird ideas about how all popular music was Satanic and would send me down a path of eternal hellfire. I remember that I used to buy terrible Christian rap tapes in middle school that just ripped off other groups and added their corny, religious messages and twisted takes on reality. I think the first tape that I bought in the 90’s was unfortunately by a group of weirdo’s called DC Talk.

What’s your favourite album of all time and why?
I’m not a person who likes to pick favorites, as I am constantly moving through genres based on moods and instinct, but I’ll go with Faith No More, King for a Day, Fool For a Lifetime. I remember blasting that album in high school while driving around with friends, signing at the top of our lungs and when I listen to it now it still stands the test of time.

 Can you describe how your designs connect with people?
My work often finds it’s roots in world culture, mythology and inner worlds that may be familiar to people. I use illustration as a way to visually work out concepts and ideas that I can’t fully grasp or communicate with words and I think the wiliness to go where the idea takes me resonates with people who are also on a path of seeking and finding for personal meaning in the images and world around them.

 If you could be reborn into any time/place/realm, where would it be and why?
I really can’t think of a more strange, thrilling, psychologically terrifying and interesting time in human history than right now. I think that this point in time (as unsettling as it is) is also incredibly fascinating and alive with possibilities. Being a digital artist, I am completely in awe of all of the infinite ways in which I can bring my ideas to life and share them with larger audiences than ever before. As physical reality becomes more and more distorted, digital concepts like virtual reality, 3D printing of products and the integration of A.I. into everything imaginable are becoming more and more prevalent. But at the same time, we are seeing a resurgence of ancient spiritual practices, meditation and shamanic influences across the globe that offer hope in the midst of the chaos. I constantly feel like I’m living inside of a super complex sci-fi novel, full of masterminds, heroes, villains, cyborgs and sorcerers.


Can you describe what it’s like designing for music? Tell us about your process.
I love the level of creative freedom that comes with creating artwork for gig posters. It’s the perfect balance for the way that I like to work. I’ve done some album artwork pieces, but for me the gig poster is ideal. My process is similar to the way that I create personal work for galleries, but with the added benefit of having a soundscape in mind to get my imagination going. I always start my process with a series of visualisation and meditation techniques. I pretend that I am a television receiver and I explore the visions and ideas that start to appear and I imagine how I will draw them. I like to give the ideas time to marinate and develop naturally. After the time is up, I head to my desk, open up Photoshop and quickly start piecing together reference images and sketches on my Wacom Cintiq that resemble what I was exploring in my imagination.

How long have you been screen-printing and why is that your chosen print method for posters?
There’s just something beautiful about the tactile feel of a screen print that resonates with designers and collectors. I got my professional illustration start by creating screen-printed T-shirt artwork for my good friend’s, Surf and Skate Shop back in 2004. The surf/skate shop work led to creating t-shirt designs for a range of counter culture and action sports brands. I’ve always been drawn to the bold, graphic style of screen-printed skateboard decks and gig posters. That was what got me into wanting to make art in the first place and that style just feels most fitting for my personality.

 Who are your biggest influences in digital and fine art?
I often get my influence from the infinite combinations of unrelated artwork that I’m always filling my brain with. My studio space is filled with prints, masks, toys art books and I love traveling to see various art shows, religious relics, street cultures, tattoo shops, museum exhibits, ancient temples, antique shops, and live performances. All of this, combined with technology, audio books, podcasts, meditation, cannabis and psychedelics is what influences my work. I allow any and all elements, light and dark, old and new to merge with my personal preferences and experiences to shape my aesthetic and visual message that is always in flux.

 Who are some of the most memorable musicians you’ve worked with, and why?
Jacob Bannon of Converge was the most thrilling for me. I got to create a poster and t-shirt illustration for their recent tour with At The Gates. I grew up listening to Converge heavily, going to their shows and collecting their merch’. It is a huge honor to be among the incredible lineup of artists who have created work for them over the years and I’m not gonna’ lie, I was definitely a bit nervous talking to Jacob about my concepts for the project.

Do the musicians usually have an idea what they want, or do they give you free reign in coming up with an idea/concept?
The great thing about creating gig posters is that I generally just get a list of elements that the band doesn’t want to see and the rest is up to me to create something that I think they will dig. I work best when I’m free to explore my imagination and having the built-in collector fan base of the band, combined with my audience actually allows me to experiment and try wilder concepts that I might not have attempted otherwise.

Do you believe cover art is imperative to the success of an album and poster art to the success of an event/ tour?
No matter what you are selling, the artwork and the way something it is marketed is always important. Just speaking for myself, the album cover visuals always affects my perception of the band. The artwork is usually what is experienced first before I hear the band or go to the show and whether I want it to or not, it makes me cast a quick judgement or feel one way or another. When the album art is good, I want to like the band, so I tend to give it more of a chance. If I don’t like the artwork, I’m quicker to write it off. 

Has any one particular album, song or artist inspired your creative life path or helped to shape you into the person you are today?
I have never felt driven by any one band, artist, style or point of view. I think the thing that has most shaped my personality is my innate hunger for varied perspectives and novelty.

Stuart Smythe

Stuart Smythe, a New Zealand-born artist who now calls Bali home, takes No Cure on a journey of mind, body, soul and great design.


“At the end of the day it’s our hands that record our thoughts and if it’s through a machine there are too many channels for it to lose purity.” 

This commitment to analogue creation is a pillar of Smythe’s work. Favouring pencil, ink and acrylic wherever possible, his abstinence from digital tools is an interesting decision for someone trained in graphic design. 

“You can’t replicate the energy and feeling of a hand-drawn line digitally. It just doesn’t translate,” Smythe explains.

His work permeates authenticity as a result. Many pieces in his portfolio sit as easily as contemporary illustrations as they do tribal sketches, an aesthetic directly related to Smythe’s affinity and experience with the environment. 

“Process for me is about feeling. Life is process, that’s all we have. Every thing is in constant motion; the places I visit and ideas for art come from that. Ideas mostly come what’s reflecting in my world or the change I’d like to see. Sometimes it’s direct, other times not.”

More often than not these ideas make their way into a concept pad. These books are the lifeblood of Smythe’s creativity, housing sketches, words, random thoughts and everything in between. They are a safe place for him to catalogue lightbulb moments. 

Where these books differ from those of many other creatives is ideas aren’t simply dumped and left to die. Rather than allowing them to become graveyards of untapped potential, Smythe leverages them when inspiration is scarce.

It is very much a dual process of immediate response to stimuli and slow-burn thinking to connect the dots, yet the work maintains stylistic consistency. He attributes this to growing up among the surf culture of Waihi Beach, a beach community to the south of Auckland. Even after moving to Sydney to study and eventually taking off to see the world, surfing remained a stable piece of his identity. 

“There has been times in my life where I have felt more comfortable in the ocean surfing solo than being on land havingto deal with rules and responsibilities,” Smythe says.

“I’ve lost more than one job because of surfing, but in the ocean there is no responsibility except being a good human.”

While that youthful abandon has since being replaced with a balance of oceanic escapism and human reality, one thing remains true; Smythe and surf culture are inseparable.

Purity is a concept that continues to emerge in his outputs, a trend that really gained momentum after relocating to Bali. Prior to this, Smythe was working heavily with graphites, a medium he found pulled him into a time consuming pursuit of perfection. The distinction between perfect and pure is important, in that one is orchestrated and the other is raw. 

Smythe recognised this and began to view imperfection as a more suitable vessel for representing the world – creation without consequence, as he puts it. 

“The only constant is change, and perfection doesn’t exist. We live in a chaotic world and I feel that working quickly portrays that energy in a simple piece and message,” he says.

Consciously separating himself from the rigid control design taught him would have been difficult in the western world, but Bali proved ideal for tapping into the more visceral depths of creation.

“Being in a third world country allows you to get away from preconceptions of what every body else is doing. It allows you to escape the saturation of corporate pollution and visual culture, instead being submerged in a dirty paradise of trash and beauty. A contrasting environment that constantly evolves in a much different way than a planned city, where people are surviving using their primal skills and not collecting material spam to impress peers. The tropics allow my work and mind to be free.”

It’s a perspective soaked in shrewd self-insight, but having being in Bali for three years now, Smythe is shifting his focus from introspection to focus more intently on what’s happening externally. 

“I have been enjoying trying to tell a story and set a scenario with natural elements and symbols. I almost see them as landscapes or a moment in a wondrous place. There is more out there than our eye can see and I try to feel that and put that into my art. I try to get in touch with what else might be out there,” he explains.

Ultimately, the questions his work addresses are existential in nature. How sustainable is our current consumption rate? Will this have an impact on us in the future? What is being done? Huge questions by any measure. Smythe doesn’t claim to have all the answers, either; he is much more concerned with subtle promotion of environmental awareness through use of natural elements. 

What’s most remarkable about Smythe is his willingness to neglect ego in favour of accepting he is part of a much bigger picture, poetically observing, “The world starts to look really beautiful when you see the details as a creation of something much larger than we are.”