Can you tell us about your journey as an artist, from your early experiences in the publishing and film industries to your current exploration of NFTs and web3?
I had always wanted to be an illustrator, for as long as I can remember. But it wasn’t until 2008 (in my late 20s) that I quit a media career in London to move back home to Ireland and try to make the dream a reality.
My work in publishing and film came later, as for the first few years you will do any job that pays you to draw! But books & films are among my primary passions and so a combination of gearing my work towards those industries (I’ve always enjoyed typography as well as art, and so naturally fell into poster & cover design) & plenty of luck & perseverance eventually lead to them becoming my main source of commissions.
Alongside the dream of making art for a living was always a love of storytelling & writing. In 2015 that bucket list item was ticked with the publication of my debut novel (A Cage of Roots) which was followed up by two more to complete the trilogy (2016’s Storm Weaver & 2017’s The Spiral Path).
In 2017 A Cage of Roots won a children’s book award here in Ireland & I knew I wanted to tell more stories. But I didn’t want to limit it to novels. I wanted to try and break new ground for myself, using all of the media I could learn & combining all my passions (not just art & writing, but music, animation etc). I had no idea how I could deliver a project like this until I learned about web3 and digital ownership. I found the perfect home for it.
The result is theendlingsaga.io .
How did you first discover NFTs, and what drew you to the world of blockchain technology and digital art?
I’ve always been into digital art and multimedia creation. I love to draw, but just as much I love to experiment with 3D, animation – anything I can possibly learn. I’m slow but I enjoy it!
I have a brother who works in the tech industry. One day we were having a few beers and he suggested I use blockchain tech to authenticate & create provenance for my digital art. I thought it was interesting, but I couldn’t get my head around it so forgot about it.
That was around 2017. So I could have been very early had I listened to him…
Eventually in 2020 a couple of artist friends (James White aka Signalnoise & Gavin Strange aka Jamfactory) got involved and when I saw their tweets about ‘crypto art’ (no one really called them NFTs then) I DM’d to ask what it was all about. James told me I should get involved, put me in touch with David at KnownOrigin and on October 8 2020 I minted my genesis. I haven’t looked back since…
Your body of work spans various mediums, including illustration, writing, and animation. How do these different forms of expression influence and inspire each other in your creative process?
Yes as mentioned I love to create in anything I can get my hands on. I’m just as happy noodling on the guitar as I am splashing ink and water on a page or messing around in Blender. Some of it comes more naturally to me, like drawing and writing, while some of it is a battle. But I love it all…
How they influence & inspire each other is a really interesting question. I think for me it all comes down to storytelling. So I use the medium that best informs whatever story I’m trying to tell, if that makes sense.
Nostalgia plays a huge part in my work too. My main project (The Endling Saga) is very much a love letter to all of the things that have inspired me as a creative person, not just visually but philosophically, personally.. everything. This is the result of 4 decades of life-input getting churned up in my brain and coming back out through what I believe is the one unique thing I have – my filter.
So I try to reconstitute these loves and inspirations and life-experiences, putting them back out into the world in any way that feels right. I create illustrations and music and animation so the output takes all of these forms.
Could you share with us some of your favourite projects or collaborations you’ve had the opportunity to work on with renowned clients such as Disney, Lucasfilm, Warner Bros, and Universal?
Yes I’ve been very lucky to work with clients like that. I’ve done a couple of jobs for Lucasfilm publishing and seeing the Star Wars logo on something you’ve drawn is very special. I recently made it into a Star Wars ‘Art of’ book so that’s another bucket list item ticked.
My work for Disney was also for their publishing wing, while for Warner Bros I did the merchandising art for 2017’s remake of ‘It’ (although I have to admit I don’t like the art I made!) and some poster work.
I’ve had some crazy experiences, like finding out Steven Spielberg & Robert Zemeckis approved (& loved) my poster for ‘Back to the Future’ (made for the 40th anniversary), meeting Brad Bird (he insisted I get in a tiny lift with him and his entourage.. my butt kept hitting the emergency button.. thankfully he didn’t mind too much) and seeing people like Kyle MacLachlan, Guillermo Del Toro & Rebecca Ferguson share my work.
The work I’m probably best known for now though is on the Deluxe Editions of Frank Herbert’s Dune series (Penguin / Ace Roc Books). I also do the covers for the new books by Brian Herbert & Kevin Anderson so Dune has become a huge part of my career (another lifelong dream fulfilled).
What motivated you to shift your focus toward world-building and storytelling through NFTs? How does this new medium allow you to explore and expand upon your creative vision?
Well as mentioned, I had this urge to find a new way of telling a story long before I got into NFTs.
The idea was inspired by ‘Sandbox IPs’ – like Star Wars. The premise of Star Wars – ‘long ago in a galaxy far, far away… cool stuff happened’ – means that limitless stories can be extracted from it (it’s a whole galaxy after all, over eons of time) and delivered in any medium. It can be told to you in films, cartoons & books or told with your input (games) or told by you (eg toys).
I found this idea of a inexhaustible well of stories, consumed in a multitude of ways, very exciting.
However, I also needed to express myself artistically. I didn’t just want to create an IP with the potential for traditional output. I needed to express these passions and ideas in a kind of abstract way too.
As the great OgiWorlds put it, this is ‘IP-as-an-art-project’.
As a side-note, I love reading about physics. I don’t understand it, I definitely can’t retain any knowledge of it. But I find it very inspiring & can definitely mine it for a good story.
That love helped my come up with a premise for my story and I got to work. As for the subject – I thought what better subject than stories themselves.
My first idea was to combine traditional storytelling with experiential art. So I might host an exhibition of backlit* art in a room where part of the story is also delivered via music and a short film playing on old 4:3 tv’s and viewers could also pick up a novella and a graphic novel. The central thing was the more they consumed (eg listened to the music, looked at the art, read the books) the more of the story was revealed to them. Those who consumed it all would see how it all connects more & be rewarded with a more complete view of the whole.
*backlit! I hadn’t even thought of screens back then. Kinda embarrassing 😀
It was a pipe-dream and I put it mostly to one side in favour of earning a living with commercial art. Creating art for the project was what I did in my own time, purely out of passion.
Then crypto art came into my life. A suite of tools and an eco-system where multimedia experiences are totally natural. I wouldn’t have to rent a gallery out – I could create this experience virtually. I could play with ownership, gamification and most of all: explore and experiment with the warm feeling that I hadn’t even scratched the surface of possibilities for the project. Ways of doing it I hadn’t come close to thinking of were out there.
I could also fund it. Selling NFTs meant I could forgo commercial commissions & focus on what I see as fulfilling my true potential as a creator.
I felt like I had found my home.
So, nearly 3 years later, this is where I am. Everything I’ve created so far is now neatly ordered on theendlingsga.io . But I feel I’m still just getting started, and there is so much undiscovered country out there to wander through.
Sorry that was a long answer. Clearly this kind of question gets my blood flowing 😀
As an artist who has successfully established yourself in traditional industries, what challenges or exciting possibilities do you find in the emerging NFT space? How do you navigate the transition from physical to digital art?
Well the transition from physical to digital was easy for me in a technical sense as I’ve nearly always worked digitally. From a selling-art perspective though, it was certainly an adjustment. Despite working digitally I come from a world of physical results (posters, prints, books etc) so that took some getting used to. But like I say, it felt like home so it didn’t take me long to embrace it.
In terms of establishing, that initially was a rude awakening. I’ll be totally honest and say that there may have been some ego coming into the scene. I will admit that I thought my past work and client list would have a positive effect on my standing in crypto art.
No one gave a f***.
And that was definitely a net positive, both for me and the wider scene in general.
For me – I had to learn to abandon any ego I had (and I don’t have a large one!). The climb to a decent freelance career was incredibly gruelling & the thought of doing it all over again was unnerving. But it did me the world of good from a personal pov. I am not full of myself! But maybe I needed a bit of a kick in the arse.
For the wider scene, to me it simply means a level playing field. It didn’t matter whether you came from an established career or from no where – all that mattered was the art.
Now.. that’s the utopian view. We all know there are so many factors at play and often art (or maybe craft) is the least of them. But aside from all the issues the scene (that any burgeoning scene) is suffering from, leaving ego at the door is definitely a good one.
It should only be about the work, imo.
Who are some of your favorite artists, both within the NFT community and from other disciplines, who have inspired you or influenced your artistic style?
There are so many.
As mentioned, nostalgia is a big part of my work. Artists like Roger Dean, John Harris, Moebius, Druillet, Syd Mead, Ralph Bakshi… I could go on and on.
Within the scene, there are just as many. I don’t like making lists though, because I’ve become friends with so many and hate the thought of leaving anyone out.
The inspiration may not just be in a style sense but also in the ways they are using these new tools. I am always full of awe at those artists who use coding, contracts etc as part of the art piece. I’d love to weave that kind of thing into my project.
Can you tell us about your creative process when conceptualizing and creating NFT artworks? How do you balance the technical aspects of digital art with your artistic vision and storytelling goals?
Well regardless of whether they’ll end up as NFTs, my process tends to be like this:
An idea pops into my head. I set about trying to make the idea. The end result bears no resemblance whatsoever to the original idea.
I’ve learned over the years just to go with the flow. In fact, my best work always tends to come when I abandon any hopes of making something good and just make.
Technically I don’t have any issues finding balance. The two things (concept and technicality) are interwoven. But, often I don’t actually have the ability to create what I want to (eg a complex 3D scene that’s beyond my skillset) .. so I try to learn how to do it, fail, and end up with something different based on what I did actually learn how to do 😀
Collaborations help with this. If you can, work with people who can actually do the stuff you can’t…
Many of your projects showcase a fusion of genres and media. What drives your interest in combining different artistic elements, and how does this contribute to the unique storytelling experiences you aim to create?
The answer is almost in the question! I want to create unique storytelling experiences, and using combinations of different artistic elements helps to achieve this.
As mentioned, this is (like all art) a jumbled up reconstruction of a lifetime’s worth of input. This is all the books and anime and movies I consumed to escape reality (reality has never been my strong suit).. this is growing up in a country where the ancient is all around you, where folklore is woven into our shared consciousness, where church and state were inextricably linked and in a family that loves conversation around matters of theology and philosophy. This is a passion for making music and processing a fear of sharing it publicly. This is all of me, moulded into a love-letter to pop-culture and prog-rock…
So it comes out in all media, just like it went in 🙂
Looking ahead, what are your future aspirations as an NFT artist? Are there any specific themes, narratives, or collaborations you hope to explore in your upcoming projects?
My aspirations are mostly about bringing more people to the project, hoping that they find some of it interesting at one end of the scale, and getting completely lost in the rabbit-hole at the other.
I would like to use the tools and the tech to try and really break new ground. I haven’t done anything particularly new yet, but the fact that I’m here in the space and exploring is part of the process and part of the art. I’m in the right place for it (it’s just a tough time! :D)
The themes and narratives so far have been limited to fantasy and sci-fi. But the project allows for any genre, so it won’t always be specific to those. Sometimes, in weaker moments, I worry that people see a comic-style image of a knight with a sword & think of it as lacking depth. Or see an unfinished story and see the entire thing as incomplete and therefore some kind of failure. This is what my inner voice tells me when it’s being as asshole.
When I think like this though, I always remind myself that this is an art project. That themes and styles and subjects are there for a reason and are not a limitation. They are an expression of my inner-life.
The project is unfinished because – I am unfinished (thankfully)! And actually I hope that it’s the type of project that has life after I’ve shaken this mortal coil and becomes someone else’s story.
I’ve made some amazing friends in the space and been lucky to collaborate with them – incredible artists all. Artists like Eclectic Method on a couple of pieces, including ‘A Walk with War Dog’ [SuperRare]), and in-the-works with Victor Duarte, The Hiena and more. Watch this space 🙂