From pen and paper to real-life replicas, fans of comics and superheroes have explored the boundaries of art with their favorite characters serving as bountiful muses. Artist and novelist CJ Draden's spin on your everyday fan art elevates iconic characters in new ways with the element of glass, and with his new graphic novel -- The Wooden Heart: A Pinocchio Story -- on the horizon, I jumped at the opportunity to catch up with the artist and pick his brain.
Your style is so unique, but it also reminds me of the flair some of my favorite Japanese video game artists possess. How do you create your style of sketch?
CJ: That’s a great question. When I'm asked how I create my work, my knee jerk reaction is to say it’s instinctual. Most days I consider what I do more of a vision than a style –this way I can adapt and evolve as an artist. Although I am formally trained, I have found that relying on my senses have generally got me further. I don't speak for all artists, but I believe training gets in the way of innovation sometimes. I do believe that inspiration is universal, and inspiration gives smalls keys to open small doors in the mind’s eye to unlock a personal vision.
So I think it’s kinda interesting you say I remind you of Japanese artists because my absolute favorite of contemporary artist is Yoshitaka Amano. His work gave me a give boost in unlocking my potential. It isa dream, goal and a prayer that I maybe able to combine minds and collaborate with that brilliant artist one day.
What made you gravitate toward glass painting and using light for your pieces? What parts of the process are unique, or possibly even more challenging, than paper?
CJ: When people talk about media, we think about the tangible matter of media that we can purchase in an art store. Media is more than tangible matter. Media is the mind. The mind is the source of all creativity, ideas, innovation, imagination, knowledge and intellect. Surfaces and media are entirely irrelevant in the act of communicating with a viewer. What is most important to communicate a vision is knowledge, the information you feed your brain.
Artists need experiences and knowledge to extract ideas and visions, good information to build imagination. An unexamined life is a life not worth living, my art is purely a self-reflective process and the glass is my portal.
The more books I read on a subject I enjoy learning, the more cultures I expose myself to when I travel abroad every Christmas and New Years, the more I work on my process, the better I get at opening my portal. Glass is the best way to share my implicate world to an explicate audience.
Are there any other mediums you enjoying experimenting with? How?
CJ: I like all tangible media, but I rarely use any other media further than inspiration. I've spent many hours in the studio developing a personal process that opens my portal, so that's what I do.
Who is your favorite superhero/villain to draw?
CJ: Easy, it is Sandman.
Let's go all the way back to your early beginnings and get the geekiest question out of the way: what was your first "fan" art?
CJ: The first one? It has to be Spawn.
What attracted you to telling the story of Pinocchio? Can you share more on what it's about?
CJ: ‘The Wooden Heart’ book was a process of emotional rehabilitation. Like all artists, we go through good and bad times. For me, I needed something to carry me out of the darker times. The story of Pinocchio had some part to play with that. I had never built a comic or graphic novel before so I was a little lost when I started. But I knew the story I wanted to tell so I used the experience I was dealing with to construct the book.
The project actually started off the page, and with me building a real-life version of the Pinocchio puppet from scraps I had found, and once I did that, I found I didn't want to be finished with the project. There was more I wanted to say, so that's how the book got started. I got to study the best way of telling my story and slowly began to map out the graphic novel. It was a desire to spill my heart out and share it to the world.
If you could develop a superpower based on your art (or your natural talent for it), what would you be able to do?
CJ: Let me have a think… Well, I think the process of “creating art” itself is a superpower and like any skill it needs to be honed and mastered. The people of our ancient past wrote about magic and the use of psychedelics and shamanic practices to bridge worlds and realities, meaning, to predict the future, speak with their gods and tap into a higher knowledge of the universe and use that knowledge to build their societies.
These shamans transposed that knowledge into images to enlighten the rest of their culture. If we think about this... entire societies like the Ancient Egyptians and Maya (who we believe have extensive ancient knowledge of the cosmos) have been built around images and the merging of the senses to bring visions into this reality.
The power of images and symbols can start a revolution, build a brand, sell a product, control a populace and empower a dictator. These images hide deep in the psyche of human beings and most are completely unaware they are influenced by this power.
Creating images from deep thought and vision is a form of magic. So, I would say the superpower of art.