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Graphic Content #2: Randy Ortiz

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This is the second in a series of interviews with artists who work with metal bands, conducted by IO resident photographer and artist Caroline Harrison.

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Artist Randy Ortiz is probably really cold right now. He lives in Winnipeg, Canada (home to the brothers Matthewson of KEN mode), where temperatures dipped below those on Mars this winter. The upside of all of this is that the self-taught artist doesn’t go outside much, so he works a LOT.

I got a chance to speak with Ortiz about his work, working relationships with clients, and why artists should really insist on being paid.

You can see more of his work here, and you can buy prints of his work here.

— Caroline Harrison

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How did you get involved in the metal scene?

I guess it’s kind of corny, but in high school I got picked on a lot. When that happens I think you naturally gravitate to more aggressive music, and the local scene here in Winnipeg — it still is pretty good — at the time was fucking awesome. I would just go down to check out shows and stuff. I listened to a lot of nu-metal in high school, all that awful music. But then just from going to shows and stuff and making friends in the scene and stuff like that, I started listening to better music I guess.

What are you listening to these days?

Mostly it consists of a lot of more ambient noise because I like to work while listening to music. I listen to a lot of jazz now, a lot of classical, more obscure bossa nova shit sometimes. Not so much metal anymore actually.

What’s the process of working with bands like for you?

I find the work that I get now though is when bands come to me, now that I have more of an established career and my work is out there more. When they come to me it gives me that bit of power to be like, hey, you’re coming to me for my work because you like my work, so let me do my own thing. Let me listen to your music and I’ll come up with ideas. If you have ideas yourself that’s cool too; just let me know. More than likely I will not use them because they usually suck — from my experience anyway, but I’ll make my own suggestions and they usually go for it. And like I said, they come to me for my ideas, right? And that’s what they’re hiring me for so I feel I have a say in that matter.

Is there work from earlier in your career that you’re maybe not as happy with because you didn’t have as much creative control?

I’m not gonna name specific ones because I don’t wanna fuck anyone, but if you look at my stuff back in 2010-ish, stuff that I was doing then was a huge pain in the ass the majority of the time. A lot of people had their own opinions as to what should be done. Because I was starting at the bottom I kind of felt like I had no say, even though they were hiring me. But I think you just have to do that at that stage in your career. You gotta push through and just see how well you do in those situations. It’s a bummer, but I just think it hardens you as an artist to be put in that position. If you come out of it and you do good work, that’s one thing you can add to your résumé, and then it shows that you could work with other bands. But hopefully when your career progresses, at some point you can start calling the shots a lot more. That’s when it starts to get a bit more fun.

Anyone who’s ever seen KEN mode live is familiar with all the work you’ve done for them — you’ve done most of their t-shirts and some tour posters.

The majority of my band work is for KEN mode. From the beginning Jesse (Matthewson) has been incredibly easy to work with, mostly because he just trusts what I do. He just lets me do whatever the fuck I want—to a certain extent. I think there were a few things that he turned down because they were just too wacky. But like, 99% of the time he’s like, “that is awesome, let’s do it.” Because he trusts me and we both know each other, we both know exactly what we like, and I think their music paired with my art is kind of a perfect pairing. It just looks like their music, I think. And vice versa. I always show them roughs of what I plan to do but they’re pretty supportive, and because of that it’s a joy to work with them. I don’t work with that many bands because I just don’t trust them, but with KEN mode it’s just a symbiotic trust.

You produced a t-shirt for their most recent tour that was in the style of your recent personal charcoal drawings, and pretty different from your previous commercial work — how does your personal work influence your commercial stuff?

A lot of my work that I’ve kind of been known for is the more detailed hand drawing that’s crazy line work and stuff. I kind of grew out of that style. I’ve been doing that for so long, and after a while it just gets kind of boring and I don’t feel like I’m challenging myself anymore. As an artist I think you gotta progress in your style, sometimes even change it up completely. If you’ve plateaued then that’s a really depressing thing. I think artists need to grow constantly. That’s why I’ve been exploring other mediums like oil painting and charcoal and stuff like that. I find that it motivates me and makes me happy, so I’m thinking, why not incorporate this into more commercial work and get paid for doing something that I love, you know? I can incorporate stuff that I have fun with into my commercial side of things—be paid to do something that I love doing every day. That’s why you’re going to be seeing that charcoal stuff in a lot more of my commercial work now — I think, anyway. We’ll see how it works.

Has sharing images of work in progress online helped you or hindered you as an artist and professional?

I feel like people just like to be involved in the progress. It gives the piece more meaning if the person watches it grow. Although sometimes I feel it kind of lessens the impact of the final result instead of, you know, if you just all of a sudden BAM, here’s the thing I drew today, completed. Sometimes I feel like I should not do progress shots and just show it when it’s finished, but I dunno, I just like to get people involved.

It’s winter and it’s fucking cold in Winnipeg and I’ve just been huddled in my bed under the covers ‘cause it’s warmer there, but then when I see other artists working on shit, it makes me just want to get the fuck out of the bed and just be like, “okay let’s show up these other artists and show ‘em how it’s done.” It gets me want to get off my ass. I’m competitive like that, I guess. But it’s inspiring to see, and I hope that me doing that will inspire other artists.

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Is there anything in particular that’s inspired the recent charcoal work you’ve been doing?

This whole winter I’ve been doing these charcoal drawings. They’re pretty dark, I think that reflects on how I’ve been feeling these days — I wouldn’t say depressed, but I just fucking hate this city and how cold it is and being cooped up in my house. Then again my work has always been dark. I just feel more like I gravitate naturally to the more gloomy dark images. I mean I’ve done stuff that isn’t — my latest stuff that I did for Bottleneck Gallery where it’s just like, super saturated vibrant colors. I mean, I had a lot of fun doing that.

But even with that work, there’s a very deliberate juxtaposition of cheery colors and supremely fucked up images.

Like my Unihalvaus one where the chick’s in bed and she’s having sleep paralysis, and this dark figure is looming over her and about to eat her or something—and it’s just like bright, beautiful candy colors. It’s like, that’s fucked up, but I wanna eat this poster because it probably tastes like Jolly Ranchers. I had a lot of fun doing that. I feel like I should incorporate more of that into my work. Who knows. Maybe I should take these charcoal drawings into Photoshop and color them all crazy and shit. I kind of like having those saturated colors with gloomy images. Might be my new thing. Who knows?

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Are there any trends you’re tired of in metal art?

I don’t wanna name any artists, but there’s a certain artist or two that have seemed to spawn a whole army of duplicate artists that just do the same fucking shit over and over again. I mean, I’m influenced by a lot of artists as well. If you’re going to use the same techniques, go for it, but create something new, you know? Something refreshing. Maybe it’s ‘cause these bands, that’s all they want. They want it to look like this other artist.

I think a lot of artists, especially when they’re starting out, they don’t realize that you have the option to do your own thing, to be your own creative thing. You don’t have to copy other people to be successful. But I feel that’s what a lot of people are doing, they’re just copying and riding the coattails of these other artists who were first doing it in the beginning, you know? I just wish people would just be more creative. I dunno. Maybe I’m just an asshole but that’s just how I feel.

Is there anything you can think of that bucks this trend?

Mastodon, oh what the hell was the guy’s name —

Sculpture? AJ Fosik?

Shit like that is like, wow, that’s refreshing. I wanted to do something in the same vein when I did the cover for Intronaut’s album, the Milk Leg EP. And I dunno if you know the guy Tycho, he does his own album packaging and I just looked at it today and it’s fucking breathtaking. I’d love to see more album artwork like that where it’s not just artwork but the packaging itself is just amazing.

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Any parting thoughts?

Always have a contract when you’re working with bands, no matter how small they are. Artists in their early career get taken advantage of a lot. And you know, a lot of bands just don’t get enough money from their labels or whatever, but at the same time that’s like, well, it’s like you’re doing the same thing that’s happening to you. Why not stand up for yourself so you can start paying artists properly?

And then there’s just bands that can’t pay you, which is fine, but you should pick your battles. Pick who you do your artwork for. If it’s for your family or something, or if it’s your friend’s band who’s struggling just like you are, then okay, maybe help each other out. But if a majorish band approaches you and you cutthroat other artists just to get the job, even though you’re undercutting yourself like a thousand bucks or something, that sucks. You’re ruining the industry by doing that, and I just feel people should be more aware of what they’re doing.

I brought this up once on my Facebook page and a lot of people took offense to it. Like, oh, you’ve gotta start somewhere, you’ve gotta do shit for free. No, the reason why people ask for shit for free is because they expect that they shouldn’t pay you properly for some reason. That whole starving-artist thing doesn’t have to be true; it’s true because you’re doing shit for free and you’re just completely, you know, constantly making this statement true by doing that. There are a lot of people out there that are going to be willing to pay you. You just gotta put your foot down and be like, “I’m worth this amount of money, and pay me if you want more artwork done by me.” If you’re constantly just doing shit for free, it’s kind of insulting to other artists, you know?

A lot of people use this to pay the bills. This is my only job. Why would I do this if I’m not making any money? I still get emails from people who don’t wanna pay me right. Like, “We’ll give you exposure.” I don’t need that shit. Exposure doesn’t pay for my cat’s cat food, or my heating. And my heating bills are fucking whack this year.

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