The Bone Reader Interviews Santos Illustration

The Bone Reader interviews Santos Illustration

TBR: What was the first album cover you saw that really blew your mind?

Santos: My dad had Rick James’ “Bustin’ Out Of L7” and I remember loving the cover of that album. He read Conan books when Frazetta was painting the jackets and the Rick James cover was in sort of the same vein and gained my interest right away.

TBR: Going back even futher, what is the first interesting visual image that you remember? 

Santos: My aunt is a really good artist and had painted characters from The Beatles “The Yellow Submarine” on her bedroom walls. A huge yellow submarine, a Blue Meanie, and my favorite was the Love Glove. The Love Glove wrapped around 2 walls and was so colorful that I would stare at it for long periods of time when I would go in there.

TBR: Do you prefer to work within any specific genre or sub-genre of music?  

Santos: Not really. It just so happens that I end up doing most of my work for metal/punk/grind bands. I would like to work with bands from other genres anytime, i just need them to get a hold of me.


TBR: What was the first job you were offered for making a) any sort of band-related artwork (eg. flyer, cassette cover) b) What was the first album cover you were commissioned for?

Santos: The first job was in 9th grade making a flyer for a house party/metal show featuring my friends’ band Remorseful Aggression. I drew a demon and they loved it, even though it wasn’t that great at all.

Album cover is the FANATICS “Beating up Bankers” 7″ (Fun Addict Records) in 1994. They were my roommates and still are good friends. I always wish that I could go back and redo the cover, but it stands as a mark of where I come from.

TBR: To the best of your knowledge, has any of your work ever “offended” anyone or landed you in some sort of trouble?  (either as a kid or as a working artist — open question)

Santos: I used to scream in a band called Sistema Nervioso and the shirts that I drew up for tour were of a hoofed cop nailed to a cross. I don’t know anyone that it offended anyone that I knew nor did I get in trouble for it. I did have a friend get arrested two different times while wearing it. I don’t think that the cops were very amused.

TBR: Who is your favourite artist currently working in the scene today?  Why?

Santos: Aaron Horkey. The man is a brilliant artist who boggles my mind with his illustrations. I love his intricate detail and how it’s perfectly executed. His line work and fonts are top notch, too.


TBR: Give us a few of your favourite album covers of all time and the names of the artists, if possible.

Santos: My #1 is probably Iron Maiden’s “Aces High” 12″ cover by Derek Riggs. Hell, EVERY Maiden cover up to “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son” by Riggs.

Septic Death’s “Now That I have The Attention, What Do I Do With It” by Pushead
High On Fire “Death Is This Communion” by Arik Roper
Sleep “Holy Mountain” by Robert Klemm
Buzzov*en “Sore” by Craig Lima
Rudimentary Peni “Death Church” by Nik Blinko
Napalm Death “Scum” by Jeff Walker
Ludichrist “Powertrip” by Robert Williams
The Accüsed “Martha Splatterheads: Maddest Stories Ever Told” by Jeff Gaither
Word Salad – “Death March 2000” by R.K.Sloane and Leo Gonzales

TBR: Give us a short list of either a) terrible cliches that must be avoided or b) list of “thou shalt not’s” when it comes to designing an album cover.

Santos: This is one of those questions that was hard for me since everyone has their own idea of what art is. The only other thing I could add would be “thou shall not bite other artists work”. Just be original.

TBR: Give us a couple of the WORST album covers you’ve ever seen (design-wise, nothing based on photography).

Santos: I can’t really nail down any because I look back at the level of art I was at when I did my first cover and it might be among the “worst” nowadays. Every artist has a design they’d like to bury and not look back on. I DO have one in mind, but it was a friend’s band, so I’d rather keep it to myself.

TBR: Who was the first band or couple of bands that commissioned you to where you you shit your pants and could not believe your good fortune?  How did the experience turn out, in the end?

Santos: High On Fire was the first band that I was amped about working with. I was a huge Sleep fan and getting the chance to work with Pike was awesome. They got my art out to so many people in so many countries and also helped me to land my next big chance to do work for Kylesa. Both of those bands were a big step for me have and helped to get to get my art into the world. They ended up being some of my best friends through the years and I’ve even tour managed Kylesa and slung merch for High On Fire on a few tours.

keys to battle

TBR: Which of your designs are you most proud of and why?

Santos: The High On Fire “Keys To Battle” design. It was the first design that I had inked for HOF and it’s ended up being one of their biggest sellers and opened me up to making a career out of art. It was also the most intricate piece that I had done up to then. I threw my all into that design and it showed. I drew that piece in 47 hours with Neurosis’ “A Sun That Never Sets” on repeat, laying on my side, while on the couch, too.

TBR: What area of your skills would you most like to improve/develop?

Santos: My computer skills need a definite shot in the arm. I have to stop resisting technology and take a few classes to brush up on illustrator and whatnot. Also, would like to get back to painting and doing watercolors like I used to. I’ve always liked watercolors and want to start coloring my pieces in that medium.

TBR: Have you ever had to refuse work or cut a client off for an interesting reason or out of principle?  What’s the story?

Santos: I didn’t take a job doing illustrations for some Affliction Clothing related shirts because I couldn’t see my art on a sparkly shiny shirt worn by some douche bag. No amount of money is worth that.

TBR: List three bands – past or current – that you’d like to work with but haven’t yet.  Any particular reason, other than you like their music?

Santos: Neurosis because they’ve been my favorite band since “Pain Of Mind”. Having worked with Scott and Jason on a few designs for their other projects, I know what they’re looking for and we have a great line of communication when working up a concept.

Popul Vuh would be so amazing as their multi faceted and gorgeous arrangements often push me as I’m working at the art table.

Iron Maiden because they’re a huge part of my childhood.

TBR: Do you prefer to work with bands who really have a clear vision about what they want or perfer to have freedom to do whatever you like?  

Santos: Of course I love to do my own thing, it’s freeing. But lately I’ve been having a good time being able to work with bands on their designs. Sometimes you can work with a client who has an idea with no leeway and that’s when I can feel a bit stifled. That doesn’t happen often as I’m pretty easy to work with no matter what path is chosen.


TBR: Who are a couple of visual artists – living or dead – outside of the metal scene that you most enjoy. Painters, sculptors, writers, whatver.  What about their work do you appreciate?  

Santos: Gustave Dore – His work on the illustrations contained within Dante’s Divine Comedy are brilliant. I remember staring at his work and it just blowing my mind because of the realism and sheer amount of lines contained within one panel. His technique, subject matter, patience, and execution made him a master and someone to look up to.

Michael Manning – His style is a huge influence on me. His solid line work, detail, and the organic flow in his pieces are beautifully laid out. I had a chance to see one of his pieces at a friend’s house and I think that I spent a couple of hours staring at it and and taking in every line.

TBR: If you could ask that artist a one question, what would it be?

Santos: Gustave Dore – How was he able to perfect and master his technique to get to the level that it took to create his work for Dante?

TBR: Give me a couple questions you’d like to ask Derrick Riggs.

Santos: Seeing as the origins of Eddie Maiden lie with you, how was it to let go of the reigns and have other artists tackle creating an Eddie Maiden piece?

What was the earliest professional piece that you had done for a band that maybe one might not know that you created?

TBR: Please give one question you’d like to ask any one artist out of this group. 

Glyn Smyth – Your pieces contain a lot of esoteric imagery and many symbols. How do you meld your knowledge of the occult, folk tales, and such with the ideas or themes given to you by a band your’re working with or doing a poster for? Do bands ever contest certain symbols meanings?


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Meghan MacRae grew up in Vancouver, Canada, but spent many years living in the remote woods. Living in the shadow of grizzly bears, cougars and the other predators of the wilderness taught her about the dark side of nature, and taught her to accept her place in nature's order as their prey. She is co-founder of CVLT Nation webzine and clothing.