Slim is best known as a commercials director for Egg Films. But under another skeletal moniker, Skraal, he also creates gloriously dark art. Over the last 20 years Slim has focused on developing his directing career, which pushed his illustration passion to the back-burner where it’s been simmering away quietly, only being fired up late at night, while travelling, before work or over coffee. Now, Slim is firing up his artisanal creativity and holding on for the ride.
We usually start interviews off by asking how you got into doing what you do – but in your case, it’s more a question of asking how you got out of what you’re now in the process of finding your way back to?
I studied graphic design after school and wasn’t really sure where to go with that or what I really wanted to do. I was offered a job at an ad agency (Net#work BBDO) as an art director, not knowing what the hell that even was and just took it. I had a lot of fun in the agency, working my way up and it didn’t really feel like a job in the early years. I did a quick stint overseas at Leo Burnett in Prague which reassured me that I needed a career change and decided to get into directing TV ads – mostly cos it was the process I most enjoyed and kept me challenged with learning something new all the time while in the agency.
So we (my wife and I) returned to SA and got into a production house and spent a coupla years in research and shadowing directors until I managed to start off on my own.
In a nutshell, I kinda got fortuitously sidetracked by advertising for the last 18 years or so. I love doing what I do but I have had this constant gnawing at my soul for the need to get back to the hands-on craft of creating something personal. I feel like I’ve lost touch with my more artisanal/artistic side. Deep man.
Which artists’/illustrators’ work do you admire and why?
Sheeyt, don’t really know where to begin with this. I am constantly influenced by artists, illustrators, designers, sculptors, tattoo artists, product designers, photographers, directors and cinematographers and always have been. I’m like an Internet magpie, collecting anything I find beautiful and creating libraries of all these varied fields of art.
If I had to look back to the guys who’ve had the most profound impact on me – it probably started with the graphic novels of Simon Bisley, Dave McKean and Ashley Wood. The graphic style and typography of Hydro74 and the street art of Bom.K has always blown me away – especially their principles of just doing what the hell they love first and monetising later. I love the old school painterly techniques of artists like Nicola Samori, Phil Hale, Christian Rex van Minnen, Zdzislaw Beksinski, Alex Grey – man, I could go on for days. I’ve always had a thing for tattoo art and love some of the guys out there who are primarily fine artists who tattoo cos of their mad skills – Jeff Gogue, Nikko Hurtado, Mr Dist, Scott Campbell, Jun Cha, etc.
I suppose I’ve always been attracted to artists like this because of the warped imagery or often deeply/darkly psychological, subversive and absurdist ideas behind and in their work. I can see their ongoing mental process over time and I am always questioning their imagery, ideas and styles rather than just looking at it as a pretty picture on a canvas. This questioning intrigues me.
Where do you look for daily inspiration?
Everywhere – it’s all around us every day. But lately my inspiration has come from Instagram. Sounds stupid, but I’ve started following the most amazing people/artists. The ability to follow your favourite musician or artist has totally opened my head. It has shown me the insanely amazing work going on out there in all forms and manners but more importantly it has inspired me as you constantly get a glimpse into these people’s lives and their work processes and the fact that they are human: they all struggle, they all hustle, they all work their asses off, constantly – even the most famous of them. I suppose Instagram has made creating art more tangible for me – an understanding that it takes serious time and discipline – that it doesn’t just “happen” for some lucky few. Basically I’ve realised that I’ve been lazy and expectant and Instagram has become a constant reminder to me to pull my finger out my ass.
What are some of your favourite things to draw and why?
To be honest, I’m still figuring this one out. Suppose it’s part of the process of doing what I’m doing – to learn about myself. All I know is that when I’m drawing, and I get a definite feeling of excitement and start giggling quietly to myself – then I know I’m doing something that I’m happy with. Doesn’t happen so often though.
Please can you take us through your creative process…
I think my process at this point comes down to finding a gap in my usually ridiculous work schedule and then forcing myself to sit and try to overcome my mortal fear of the empty page, eventually laying down some brushstrokes and realising that it’s way too late at night and I have an early meeting in the morning. Then I repeat this process as often as possible, sometimes without much success.
Your Fingerpainting series is stylistically distinct from your other work. Is it a style you will be working in and developing further, or was it just for this project?
It’s kinda weird, but this series came about as the most “functional” way for me to force myself to start drawing again and relearn a painting technique. I started dabbling with drawing apps on my phone as I could do the odd doodle while waiting for a flight or having a coffee. When I eventually got the app on my iPad, things just clicked and I loved the process and ease of working digitally, the ability to return to something even months later and rework it – all while watching True Detective. The series is black and white as colour would take way too long to finish in my erratic schedule and I was going through a black and white photographic portraiture binge at the time. It’s become a bit of an ongoing series as I try to achieve something different with each illustration.
I suppose I could’ve actually just started sketching with pencil and paper but that totally freaks me out as there’s no “undo” button in the analogue world.
The other work I’ve got has been me trying to find something that stands out as a path to pursue, as well as trying different techniques to see what I enjoy the most. Problem is I love it all – the carving stuff, pen work, oils, digital, whatever – as long as it’s by my hand I seem to be happy.
What about the gothic, macabre and the bizarre interests and appeals to you?
Don’t really know. My mom keeps asking me the same thing all the time, but with more concern in her voice. Could be a lot of things: the fact that I’m built like a walking skeleton and have always been infatuated with human anatomy and death? It’s kinda an inherent feature built into my being, along with my love for horror movies, sci-fi and bizarro novels. Maybe it’s cos my brother dropped me on my head when I was an infant or because I love fucking with myself mentally and hope to do the same to others with my art one day.
There’s a quote that I keep as my screensaver as it has always just made complete and utter sense to me: “Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed”.
What are you looking at on the Internet right now and what are you listening to?
The usual trawling of sites like fffound.com and Pinterest to find new artists whose work inspires me.
Got the iTunes library on shuffle going through mandatory heavy playlist – stuff like Deftones / Otep / Hed P.E. / Sepultura / Ill Nino / Slipknot / Letlive keeps me going. When I need to zone out while working, Tool becomes pretty imperative to my process.
Jump forwards say 5 years –what are you doing creatively?
No idea. Not sure where I’m going to be next week. I’ve kinda made a career of just rolling with the punches and going with what interests me or feels like a challenge. Think this return to my roots may lead somewhere interesting, just gonna ride it out for now.
Does your work as a commercials director influence your illustration work, and vice versa?
Very definitely. I have learnt so much about concept and narrative as a director that I find it necessary for my images to have some idea or story behind them – no matter how vague – the audience should look at an image and question how, who, why or what? More technical elements like the art of lighting (in film) have become important for me to learn to try and capture and something that will definitely become a never ending journey of learning. It’s always amazed me how the most successful cinematographers have always referenced and utilised the lighting techniques of the great masters – Caravaggio / Michelangelo, etc in their films to create mood and emotional narrative.
I’ve also started viewing the directing process in a similar way of approaching painting – starting with the underpainting and building more and more layers of detail until the finished product reveals itself. Each layer of directing involves different people and techniques but ends up in the same finished product. Sorry, more deepness.
What’s next for you and your illustration work?
Right now I just want to keep on trucking – producing whatever I can, whenever I can – it’s not about becoming a commercial illustrator or artist – it’s my personal outlet at the moment and I don’t want to limit my exploration by trying to make a living out of it. I gotta believe that it’s for a reason, even if its only purpose is to scatter the crumbs that feed my soul when I need it most.