It’s October, so things are just a little… darker. A little… spookier. A little more creative. And for a quick Artist Spotlight this busy NYCC week, we have just the person to talk to.
CJ Draden, known for his edgy glass paintings of superheroes and live light-box demonstrations has a new debut graphic novel this fall, The Wooden Heart: A Pinocchio Story and new project Atlas he’ll be bringing to this fall/winter convention circuit. We were able to briefly talk to him about his unique craft and a get a glimpse into the story behind his work.
Glass painting is such a unique medium, you certainly don’t hear of too many people doing that. What brought to you to this medium versus other mediums?
CJ: I was traditionally trained in the arts at Ringling College of Art and Design, there I was exposed to traditional media and ways of creating images. What turned me on to glass is somewhat of a philosophical answer. It’s a reflection of myself . There’s a notion of how artists create their work, viewers and artists alike talk about the “feeling” when they see an amazing piece of art or hear a beautiful piece of music. That’s pretty much it.
I wasn’t able to successfully communicate my vision of reality with standard ways of painting and drawing, traditional media. There was this major block from head to hand, everything felt forced. I went back to the drawing board and started building a brand new process and step-by-step kept implementing a technique that felt right. I can say that my journey of building and communicating through my art hasn’t been easy, but if you can visualize… you can manifest. Everything I do is purely based on instinct and not traditional training. I believe that’s the feeling people get when they view my work. Nothing technical, just instinct.
What is it like using this medium for multimedia projects such as for print work for your graphic novel? I’d imagine it’s a bit different.
CJ: I don’t feel art is a matter of trying to fit into a paradigm of projects. It’s more about doing what’s right for you. If it feels right, do it, if it doesn’t feel right, adjust your thought process to make it feel right or project perimeters to make it feel right. When I began writing and illustrating ‘The Wooden Heart,’ I struggled with this because the way I work doesn’t fit the status quo of comics in terms of panels and pages. I was highly critical of myself, and the work I was producing for the book. I had never made a comic or graphic novel before so I didn’t really know what I was doing except that I had a vision for the story and a drive to get it done.
After 4 years of working on it, I was ready to abandon the project. I didn’t feel like it was acceptable. Then I came to understand I needed to apply the same instinct I felt for discovering myself in my glass paintings into finishing ‘The Wooden Heart.’ It’s a major growing pain as an artist, developing the skills to execute to vision you have for creating images and creating stories, but you have to have a vision. If you don’t have a vision then you have no subconscious goal of knowing what you are personally doing that could be better. It’s something that can’t be explained, only felt. Therefore it doesn’t matter how I think my work is going to translate, I have zero control over how people are going to be affected by my work. I’m just a messenger bringing artifacts from a world that exists only to me and placing them in this reality for everyone to see.
Most people are only familiar with Pinocchio as a story from Disney and are unaware the original story is quite a bit more dark and disturbing. What drew you to Pinocchio for adaptation?
CJ: Like all artists, I have experienced my own dark times and struggles. There were probably three primary reasons why I like Pinocchio and decided to write ‘The Wooden Heart.’ The first was that I wanted to deal with my problems in a way that wasn’t as self destructive as the problems I was struggling to overcome at the time. The second was that I never had a father, but I always loved reading stories about men that lost their mind to the notion that they could create a child to love them unconditionally. A father that wanted a son, like Dr. Frankenstein and Gepetto. The third, I generally don’t talk about. I’ll keep that as a personal story for now.
You’re somewhat of a performer too in a way with your live demonstrations. That’s pretty unique in the comic world. Do you consider yourself a performer?
CJ: Absolutely. I love painting live. I love blues music, and play blues guitar as a hobby. I’m too shy to perform as a musician onstage so I guess I get my shyness out as a performer through my live painting demonstrations at the Comic-Cons.
Can you tell us a little more about “Atlas”?
CJ: Well… there’s a lot to tell about Atlas. But I’ll just say this. I mentioned previously that part of the growing pains of an artist is vision execution. After everything I’ve learned from completing ‘The Wooden Heart’ I started building projects that reflected the things in life I love to learn about – philosophy, anthropology and science. This project is just the next step in developing my narrative/artistic skills and goals.
Final question! What’s your dream comic? What characters or team would you love to illustrate?
CJ: Sandman. The Endless be my dream team. No pun intended, haha.
Thanks to CJ for letting us ask some questions. For those going to NYCC this week you can catch him at his both, Booth 519 at The Block to check out his work and live demo!
Have you seen any amazing unconventional artists at conventions or online that deserve a single out artist spotlight or feature? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us at @Sub_Cultured and at @maxlikescomics.