Interview: Graham Allen

Today we’re joined by Graham Allen. Graham is an extraordinary visual artist who does amazing things in a very minimalist style. He specializes in drawing landscapes and spaceships. There’s an incredible amount of detail in his work, reflecting the simple beauty of nature. He’s an amazingly talented and passionate artist, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to him for taking the time to participate in this interview.

butte
Butte

WORK

Please, tell us about your art.

Lately, I’ve been drawing in black pen in a moleskine notebook that I got when I moved across the country. Some drawings are just pen and paper, while others include a neutral gray copic marker for shading or other tones.

What I choose to draw varies based on the day, but the majority of it lately can be classified into landscapes or spaceships, sometimes both. When I’m drawing, I find that I will keep adding detail until I run up against the lower limits of the details my pen can distinguish. Because of this, I try not to draw large pictures, for fear of how long it would take to fill up the page. This has led me to do a series of what I call “Tiny Landscapes” which are generally around 6 square inches in size.

When I draw landscapes or spaceships, it’s usually without any reference. References are extremely helpful and can teach you a lot about a whole manner of things, but I personally find it most rewarding when I am able to draw something that I enjoy without using any references.

What inspires you?

Personally, my friends are a constant source of inspiration for me, and I try to let them know that as often as it naturally fits into our conversations. They make me want to be a better person, a better artist, and a better friend every day.

Artistically, I find inspiration in many places. To name a few: my immediate surroundings, art from people I follow online, and art I imagine as I’m reading, watching, or otherwise consuming fiction. I live in a city, and it’s easy to spend every bus ride staring at Twitter and listening to a podcast on my phone. When I first starting using Twitter, I followed a bunch of artists whose work I liked and gradually have added more and more thanks to various promotional hashtags. Between fanart, concept art, and sketches, my timeline is full of really inspiring work that I am constantly learning from. That said, I sometimes make the conscious effort to keep social media in my pocket and just zone out during my commute. As I stare out the bus window at the distant skyline, I often find inspiration in observing the ways that the silhouettes of the buildings overlap. My city isn’t built on a perfect grid, and the buildings themselves aren’t always rectangular, so the perspective lines can sometimes become really interesting in places. Finally, I am someone who imagines storyboards unfolding as I listen to podcasts or read books. When I find a new favorite storyteller, the act of enjoying their work — even on the second or third time through — inspires me to the point where I want to pick up a pen.

fly-over
Fly Over

What got you interested in your field?  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

I’ve been drawing since as long as I can remember.

In first grade, my art teacher taught us a formula for making branching trees: extend each outside part of a given branch outward like a Y and then in between the two outer edges, draw a V for the inner edges of the branches. In doing so, you’ll go from having one big branch to two smaller branches. I must have followed that formula as many times as I could until the branches were too small to draw anymore, at which point I boxed them off because I didn’t know what else to do. This following the rule got my artwork featured in our elementary school art show, and ever since, my family and friends have been supporting me and telling me that I’m an artist.

Later in elementary school, when prompted to explain what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would regularly answer, “A video game art designer.” To this day, my family doesn’t know where that answer came from. Sure, I played video games as a kid and I was told I was an artist, but I didn’t know or know of any art designers, and Google didn’t exist back then, so it’s still a bit of a mystery as to how I found out that that job title even existed.

In middle school, I discovered flash animation on Newgrounds. I joined the Brackenwood forums, hosted by Adam Phillips, and was in awe of some aspiring artists and animators there. People like Rubberninja and Egoraptor before they became the Game Grumps, among others in the community were hugely supportive of everyone, regardless of skill level. It made me believe for a brief number of years that I wanted to do digital art and animation. Having never done animation before, I did not understand just how difficult and time consuming it was until I had access to flash animation later in middle school. I spent hours trying to animate stick figures and sandbags, but eventually gave up on the whole thing because “art takes too long and I don’t like how it comes out.”

In high-school, I took a couple elective drawing classes because I had artistic friends and the courses sounded fun and interesting. Around the same time, I began doodling in non-art classes as a way to keep myself focused. Usually, the drawings would be of dumb puns or misinterpretations of what the teacher had said during class.

This sort of cartoon doodling kept up throughout college, and then I moved out West for a software engineering job after graduating. Having unpacked and built my bed — the only piece of furniture in the apartment — and having no internet for the week following that, my first purchase with my own money in the new city was a moleskine notebook to draw in as a way to pass the time.

These days, I draw when I have free time and want to relax. I find the act of drawing to be a deeply meditative one, and I find that I like the drawings that I do while in a meditative flow state a lot more than the alternative.

Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?

None at the moment

What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

Draw often, and be willing to accept feedback from teachers, mentors, artists, etc. Learn about how your ability to draw and your ability to critique work oscillate and how that affects the lens through which you view your work. There are so many free resources online that can help, and so many artists that want you to succeed and have compiled these into helpful threads or lists on social media. Also, draw often. Even a five-minutes-a-day prompt every day for a month can make a huge improvement because it trains you to make time to make art, which is often where I personally fall short as an artist.

hillside cave
Hillside Cave

ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum do you identify?

On the asexuality spectrum, I identify as demi-ace.

Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

I’m extremely privileged as a creator. I went to a pretty well-off suburban public school that had enough money to fund multiple art elective classes each year. I went to a private liberal arts college that had art studios whose opportunities I squandered. Now I live in one of the most progressive cities in the US and have more queer friends than straight friends, especially among friends who also do art. I have been straight-passing all my life and didn’t even consider introspecting queer parts of my identity until after college. Because of all of this, almost everyone who I have come out to is extraordinarily supportive and inclusive of my identity, and I can’t say that I’ve experienced any prejudice or ignorance in my field.

What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

In my experience, the most common misconception people make is when they think asexual means “against sex” or “zero sex”. It’s ok to identify as asexual and enjoy sex, have sexual thoughts, and like sexy things. As with many other parts of identity expression, asexuality is an umbrella term, and there’s no one way to define every asexual person in terms of their asexual identity. In addition to the spectra for “is not interested in sex” to “is very interested in sex” and “is not interested in romance” to “is very interested in romance”, asexuality can define the speed and manner in which you progress through stages of sexual relationships, and I’m constantly learning, so I’m sure there’s more than just what I’ve said, too.

What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?

It’s OK not to know how you identify, and it’s OK for your identity to change over time. You’re constantly growing and changing and learning and adapting. There are other people out there that are asexual, and there are other people out there that aren’t. You’re valid, no matter how you identify. There’s no right or wrong way to be asexual. It’s a word that people use to express an idea about part of their identity.

Finally, where can people find out more about your work?

You can follow me on Twitter at iamgrahamallen or on behance at https://behance.net/iamgrahamallen.

new growth
New Growth

Thank you, Graham, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.

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