Inside the Work of Brent Elliott White
By: Ken McGrath
Some of White's recent works...
While the name may be unfamiliar to most, itís going to be a rare metal fan who hasnít drooled over some piece of Brent Elliott Whiteís in the past few months. The artistís work has graced the records and t-shirts, of among others Trivium, Death Angel, Whitechapel and Carnifex. Most familiar though will probably be the new Arch Enemy slab Khaos Legions, Job For A Cowboyís Ruination full-length and their recent Gloom EP.
Originally hailing from the West Coast Brent currently living in NYC, where he attended the School of Visual Arts. In a bid to get behind the music Blistering.com caught up with the man himself to find out just what inspires his imaginative and, more often than not, quite dark work.
Blistering.com: What would you say are the trademarks of your style?
Brent Elliot White: I think besides being detailed quasi-realistic work, it is narrative and allegorical. I try to make each piece sort of timeless.
Blistering.com: What is your background in art? Where did you study and how long have you been working as an artist/graphic designer?
White: I always wanted to be some kind of an artist. I loved comic books, was raised on video games and have always been a closet sci-fi geek. I started taking classes in high school and continued at RCC in Riverside, CA. It was a strong class and several of my old class mates at that JC have gone on to become successful artists. We all had a great teacher, Dana Mason. Competition is a good thing though humbling. From there I moved to NYC to go to SVA and studied traditional illustration and fine art. That was 10 years ago. Itís only been in the last two years that Iíve been working freelance full time. The first eight years were filled with lots of trial and error in various fields of illustration.
Blistering.com: What tools do you use when creating a piece? Do you prefer to use traditional methods or computers?
White: Itís a mix. I always start off analog, sketching and drawing. From there, I paint it digitally using a tablet mostly in Corel Painter. My preference is a mix of the two. Digital painting, while similar in many ways to traditional methods has its own strengths (and weaknesses) one of which is the ability to edit.
Blistering.com: So how did you get into working with bands?
White: I became acquainted with the manager of Trivium. He liked the work Iíd done on a graphic novel and wanted me to do a merch piece. That led to work with Roadrunner Records and other bands. At about the same time, an old friend of mine who was tour managing for JFAC suggested I get in contact with their manager. We did some merch work and then they commissioned me to do Ruination. Thatís pretty much how it started.
Blistering.com: Do you get the music to listen to as you work and see what you come up and let that guide you, or are you working deaf? Whatís your preference, a vague idea of what somethingís about or full immersion?
White: With covers, most of the time the music has yet to be recorded when I start a project. Weíll go by track listings, lyrics and concept notes. Even if the music isnít recorded, Iíll listen to the bandís previous albums and tracks to get a feel for what theyíre all about. So I guess I tend towards full immersion.
Blistering.com: Do you prefer if someone gives you a firm idea what to do (being given a strong brief) or do you prefer being given free reign?
White: Iíd say both. Itís great being given free reign and I enjoy coming up with concepts and compositions based on what the musicianís vision is for the album. Working with a firm idea has its own challenges as Iím basically being contracted to visualize their ideas. Like anything, some kind of mix of the two extremes is probably the best for me.
Blistering.com: Obviously, since you work with a lot of metal bands, your images are often violent or disturbing. What inspires this or draws you to this type of imagery?
White: Well the lyrics to these songs for one. The genre itself is very visual in a lyrical sense. I mean, these guys (and girls) really paint a picture. Itís hard not to imagine some macabre subjects when you listen to and read the lyrics. Other than that, lots of movies.
Blistering.com: What are the classic metal elements you like to bring into you work?
White: You canít do anything metal without knowing how to render a skull [laughs]. I donít feel Iím a traditional metal artist though, sometimes I find myself struggling with the visual language. I can render the skull but Iím always asking myself what it means. I guess as far as classic elements Iíd say I have a preference towards old metal objects. Rusted and aged. That shows up a lot in my work.
Blistering.com: The artwork for Whitechapel (New Era Of Corruption) seems to have something of a sci-fi twist to it. Do you enjoy mixing these elements into a typical horror-style scene?
White: Yes, I love it. Like I said Iím a bit of a sci-fi geek. Iíve always been into the dark future and what that has to say about today.
Blistering.com: Musically, metal bands have branched out from the confines of the genre, introducing other elements into their sounds. Do you think itís fair to say this should be reflected in the artwork too? That it shouldnít just be your typical metal-head skulls and flames?
White: God I hope so. I hope that Iím going in that direction with them. There are so many different kinds of metal I canít keep up with some of the subgenres. Skulls and flames, I wish it were that easy! I guess times are changing
Blistering.com: Do you ever feel confined in this genre? Are there any colours or images you canít use that you would like to bring into your work or do you have another outlet for these sides?
White: Honestly sometimes yes. I feel that with metal itís best to stay gritty and dark. Iím always trying to do something different and I get into trouble when I try something subtle. But at the same time every genre is confining by definition. If I were doing sci-fi covers or comics Iíd probably be asked to sex things up, for every killer cyborg thereís some scantily clad (or not clad at all) girl posing for some unknown reason.
Blistering.com: Do you need to balance things out with something else? Do you have any other outlets?
White: Yes, I do. Iím working on illustrations for two graphic novels (slowly). One actually has a teenage metal band in it and the other is dark future that definitely has metal elements to it. I guess I canít totally get away from it. So yeah, itís more about balance rather than doing totally different things.