Tony Koehl, a film and music illustrator, speaks about his music artworks based on his love for metal, and about making viewers feel something beyond visuals.
While Tony Koehl has been illustrating for films such as Van Helsing and Pirates of the Caribbean, and for TV shows like Charmed, a lot of his work has been in the music scene. Particularly in the genre of ‘metal’, a metal lover himself.
You cover the significant creative ground between art, music, and leather-working. Tell us about your upbringing and how you picked up these skills.
Tony Koehl: I was born and raised in Southern California and have been drawing my entire life. I always loved music and got a chance to play drums with one of my oldest friends back in 2007. As for leather-working, my father is a taxidermist, so I was exposed to it at an early age.
What kind of work did you do on your feature film and TV projects?
Tony Koehl: I did conceptual designs.
How do you approach concept development on your personal projects?
Tony Koehl: For my personal work, it’s all about what I’m going through (emotionally) at the time. Art is my therapy, it has got me through the worst times. I want to make art that people feel, not just look at. So if I can feel something when I do it, I’m confident the viewer will as well.
Having created album art for over 20 years, has there been a shift in the way musicians represent themselves? Does the trend resonate in other creative mediums?
Tony Koehl: I’ve noticed that art plays an important role in promoting the band’s music. From merchandise to even singles, now that we have printed on demand, a lot of bands are taking advantage of the new technology.
Describe the experience of live art at an event like the Las Vegas Death Fest or Building Temples from Death. What led you to try it?
Tony Koehl: When I attended concerts, gigs, and shows, I would always have a sketchbook. Over time, I got the idea to do live art, so I could give back to my community. I’d seen no other artist working particularly in the genre of metal. Since I was going to be at the show, I thought I might as well paint and show off my art. This approach also allows me to showcase my work for bands and has helped me over the years to gain clients.
How would you describe your art style? What mediums do you prefer working in?
Tony Koehl: I think my style is a mix of horror, fantasy, and spiritual. I prefer to work in photoshop when dealing with clients because it is easier to make changes. It also has to be in a digital format, so they can reproduce the image. I love watercolors, graphite, oils, and acrylic.
Tell us about the 3rd Eye Enigma series.
Tony Koehl: It is a series that I have been working on since 2003. I wanted something that more people can relate to and it’s my way of working out what I’m personally going through at the time.
What is Art Temple and what prompted you to start it?
Tony Koehl: It was a way where all of us can do live art under one roof, so to speak. The politics at festivals are, well, just that – politics. We wanted an umbrella where other artists and people have a safe place to express themselves. We provide free art supplies, demos, workshops and each one of us can display our work. Strength is greater in numbers and artists don’t get the love and support as we should, so we just did it ourselves.
What is your process for commissioned work? What kind of thought process goes into mixing your style with the client’s request?
Tony Koehl: 1. Idea 2. Deadline 3. Budget. Once all of those questions are answered I work within those limitations and give my clients a few thumbnails to pick, so we are all on the same page. The next round is color comps, after which I will render it until it is about 90% finished so that in the last part I can make adjustments if and when needed. That’s about it, I try to make it as simple as possible.
What piece of art/pop culture would you like to recreate in your style?
Tony Koehl: There are some women in hip-hop that I would love to adopt into my style. I love to paint afro girls when I do live art; at other events, I would like to adopt them into my paintings.
Bonus – What’s the most metal thing you’ve ever seen?
Tony Koehl: A couple getting married at the Las Vegas Death fest…That was ultra metal in my book.