Dan McPharlin – Interview

Dan McPharlin - Spilling Over Every Side

Dan McPharlin - Glowing In The Darkest Night

Dan McPharlin - New Age Outlaws

Dan McPharlin - The Sword

Dan McPharlin -Year One

Dovetailing neatly into our 300th post (thanks for all the orders so far!) we have another special feature; an exclusive in depth interview with Australian artist/designer and Sci-Fi-O-Rama logo creator Dan McPharlin. Before I start that I’ll quickly add some notes on the selected imagery…

Top: “Pretty Lights – Spilling Over Every Side” Cover art for 6 Track CD / Download. An excellent example of Dan’s powerful blending of Sci-Fi elements and the geometric surreal – as with all of his work much of the feel is down to the warm painterly textures. I’m not sure whether intentional (I forgot to ask) but this reminds me somewhat of artistic themes featured in cult French/American 80’s animated kids show “Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors“. Check the track here at prettylightsmusic.com

2nd Top: “Pretty Lights – Glowing in The Darkest Night” Cover art for 5 Track CD / Download. A brand new piece from Dan, great mood and composition with a strong echo of the legendary lates 70’s Illustrated “Terran Trade Authority” series of SF books. Again you can check the music here: Check the track here at prettylightsmusic.com

3rd Top: “Dylan Ettinger – New Age Outlaws” Artwork for 6 Track 12″ released on Not Not Fun Records 2010. Where to start with this one? absolutely love it, deceptively simple yet extremely evocative – harks back to the very best of 70’s sleeve art, and IMHO could easily slide into the Hipgnosis portfolio.

4th Top: “The Sword -Tears of Fire / Farstar” Kemado Records 2010, Formats: Hexagonal-shaped picture disc. Art for Texan-based metal band The Sword, James White ran a feature on this set over a little earlier in the year over at blog.signalnoise.com

Bottom: “Year One” A superb post apocalyptic ‘dustscape’ Produced for the Life in 2050 exhibition,  curated by Transmission as part of the 9th Sci-Fi London Film Festival 22 April – 4 May 2010. More details here: www.life-in-2050.com

** Interview **

Q: What’s been the creative highlights for you over the last year ?

A: There have been a few but I think the cover artwork I produced for The Sword was probably a highlight for me. Warp Riders was essentially a concept album depicting an epic space opera meets meets post-apocalyptic Western, somewhere between Dune, Asimov and the films of Rene Laloux. I really enjoy producing these elaborate illustrated gatefolds but there’s always a lot of work involved.

I definitely slowed down a bit this year. Things were happening just a bit too fast and I felt I didn’t feel I was really allowing my ideas to ‘breathe’. Its very easy to end up in a bit of a creative holding pattern when you’re constantly chasing deadlines and I thought it was important to pull back from that a bit.

I intend to focus on a few personal projects over the next year. I have a sketchbook of ideas I’m itching to explore. I’ll hopefully focus on my music a bit more too.

Q: What part of the Design/Illustration Process to you enjoy the most?

A: Adding that final stroke to a picture is always very satisfying but I also enjoy the sketching process so its hard to say. There’s always a great moment where you start to hit your stride when producing a painting; suddenly you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it takes the pressure off a bit!

Often when I finish a piece of work I like to throw it randomly into a slideshow with other work that I admire, just to see if it holds up. I’m also constantly checking my artwork at different sizes; these days people are more likely to first see the artwork as a 250 pixel wide thumbnail on the web than a 12″ on the record store shelf, so the artwork has to stand out at various sizes.

Q: What’s the one creative tool you couldn’t do with out?

Probably my Wacom drawing tablet. I’ve almost worn a hole in that thing.

Q: Is there a particular visual style/genre of Sci-Fi you identify with more than others? (ie Cyberpunk, Post Apocalyptic, Surrealist?)

Surrealism has always been an influence and I suppose my work also draws heavily on what I consider the ‘golden age’ of sci-fi art. The artwork that is the most exciting to me was what I grew up with; lavish paperback covers, record sleeves and game boxes by Roger Dean, illustrated speculative fiction like the Terran Trade series, art books published by Dragon’s Dream, Paper Tiger (exactly the kind of thing you feature on Sci-fi-O-Rama in fact!) I remember a handful of tattered school library books that I would borrow over and over. I think there was one called Space Wars that I just kept re-borrowing for a whole year; my name was probably the only one on the library slip!

A lot of the newer genres I know very little about. While I find a lot of contemporary work technically impressive, I often have a hard time connecting to it emotionally. For me mood and atmosphere always trumps technical verisimilitude so thats what I try to bring to my work.

Q: I know you are very much into classic Synths, how intrinsic/influential is creating and listening to Music/Audio with your artwork?

A: Music is very important. I feel a bit like I’m losing my soul if I’m not creating music regularly. The things I’m drawn to in music are similar to those I’m drawn to in visual art; form, space, atmosphere. I love music that evokes strange worlds, sound environments that seem more like natural phenomena than anything created by human or machine. I’m always listening to something while I work on my art; there are a handful of artists that tend to inspire the right mood while I’m creating; Gyorgy Ligeti, Arvo Part, Klaus Schulze, Jeff Mills, Basic Channel, Toru Takemitsu are a few names that come to mind.

Q: Like myself you grew up as big Commodore Amiga User, what’s your most treasured 16 bit memories?

A: Well the Amiga was such a brilliant machine. It carried on the DIY spirit of the C64 but the graphics and sound were just light years ahead of its time. Such a pity Commodore dropped the ball with marketing etc. As for memories, well I probably spent more time with Deluxe Paint 2 than any other program; zoomed right in and painting each pixel by hand. It took forever! I would love to dig up some of those early 32 colour creations to show you (many are similar to the work I’m doing now), but I fear most of my 3.5″ floppies have rotted away by now. Such is the fate of a lot of old digital work; I still have all of these disks somewhere but I dread to think what state they’re in.

Octamed was another program I loved. It was one of those vertical music trackers, favoured by game musicians at the time. It worked in hexadecimal but once you got the hang of it it was just so quick to come up with compositions. Its really encouraging to see the old trackers coming back; I’ve been using Renoise on the Mac for a year or so now and loving it.

Q: What’s the best piece of Sci-Fi related material you’ve come across and been impressed by recently (book, film, artist)

A: I’ve actually been really impressed with a couple of recent films. Moon and District 9 are both terrific examples of a return to serious ideas-driven science fiction, not unlike classics of the genre; Solaris, 2001, Blade Runner. Apparently they used real models for the effects shots in Moon (embellished slightly with digital effects) which is just fantastic. I’m a big fan of model work; I think when you put real objects occupying real physical space on film it just looks so much better (I’ll settle for a second rate practical effect over a second rate digital effect any day) But beyond that, I think science fiction is the ultimate playground for ideas, and I wish more film makers would realise this!

Q: Finally a follow on to the last question, any classic Sci-Fi material (book, film, artist) you could recommend you think reader’s might not know of or have overlooked?

A: Well I’m not sure if you could really classify his artwork as sci-fi, but a recent joy for me has been discovering the work of Polish artist Zdzislaw Beksinski. His quiet, ghostly paintings, particularly those of his fantastic realist period (which were all untitled) are quite remarkable. Beksinski’s landscapes and architecture have an epic, timeless quality; cathedrals and trees are constructed from a spindly lattice of bones, abandoned car wrecks are layered with sediment and melt into the landscape. Unfortunately his biography is a tragic story, culminating in his untimely death in 2005.

I’m also a bit of a fan of Tony Roberts sci-fi art, particularly his late 70s period. I think he’s often overlooked next to the heavyweights of that era but I’ve always been a fan of his style which adorned many paperbacks of the day (he also contributed to the Terran Trade series). There’s something about his earthy colour palettes and his airbrushed seed-pod like ships plastered with alien graphics, that draws me in.

Many Thanks Dan!


…You can check out past Sci-Fi-O-Rama posts featuring Dan’s Work here or better yet for all the latest examples check his Flickr feed: http://www.flickr.com/photos/danmcp/

18 thoughts on “Dan McPharlin – Interview”

  1. Awesome! I found Pretty Lights through this blog and they are getting a LOT of play on my itunes. I’d love to hear Dan McPharlin’s music! If its even half as good as his art I’ll probably listen to it countless times!

  2. Absolutely gob-smackingly brilliant. I just wish Dan worked in traditional media so I could try to score an original : / I also wish he sold T-Shirts : )

    Also wholly agree in relation to Tony Roberts. He is unfortunately one of those artists where reproductions don’t show the full extent of his genius. His brushwork is excellent, his pallette is very, very, subtle – most of which seems to be lost when the works are reproduced.

  3. Great article! I’ve been admiring Dan’s work ever since I saw it here. One thing I had been wondering, and you answered in a round about way, is what medium Dan works in. I’d be keen on some insight into his process.

    Another thing I was wonder was if any of Dan’s work is available to purchase as art prints? I know I can get The Sword album/poster set, and Pretty Lights has his work on a tee, but that’s not quite the same as a good quality print.

    Thanks for the interview Kieran & Dan.

  4. Thanks for the post and thanks guys for the encouraging comments. Its always a thrill to see my work featured here.

    Kie – I hope this doesn’t destroy my cred but I had never heard of ‘Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors’. Might have to look into that one.

    Ed – I’ve only seen Tony’s work as reproductions, but now you’ve made me want to get up close to an original. I think it would be super interesting to chat to all of those guys who worked for the Young Artists illustration agency in the 1970s. Might even be enough in there for a future documentary.

    Matt – The medium is generally a combination gouache, ink and digital, more so the latter. Re prints, I want to make sure the quality is top-notch before I make anything available, but I assure you they’re coming.

  5. Hi Dan, – I’m pretty much a one-man Young Artists fan club and I agree, a book or a documentary on them would be wicked. Most of the artists seem very friendly, so if you’re ever in the UK I suspect that (particularly as you are a hugely talented professonal artist) many of them would be more than happy to show you through some of their back-catalog, show off their studios and/or consent to an interview. Alison Eldred who seemed to manage most of them when they were with YA also seems super enthusiastic, and would likely be helpful resource.

    Or, if you’re ever in Auckland NZ, drop in for a coffee and I can at least show you some 70’s sf original works by Peter Andrew Jones, Chris Moore, Tim White, Jim Burns, Bruce Pennington, Colin Hay, Melvyn Grant, Josh Kirby, Fred Gambino, Peter Elson, Joe Petangno, John Harris, Vincent Di Fate, Geoff Taylor and a few others. Just wish I had more money because there is so much great classic original SF work still available, at least from the UK artists : /

    I’ve only got three works by Tony, – ” Plague of Oblivion”, “Opener of the Way” and “Before the Golden Age Vol. 2”

  6. Ed – If there’s room in the fan club for one more count me in. All of those artists were (and are) huge influences.

    Regarding your kind offer, I was just in NZ earlier this year but when I’m there next you’ve got a deal. I would love to get a first hand look at some originals. I’m extremely envious by the way!

  7. Dan – Your art is fantastic! I love your colour palette. Also great cardboard models.

    Is there a fan club for this? if there is I want in as well.

    Ed – Wow that is so awesome. How did you get the originals? I would Looove to see these.
    Do you travel much? I’m also in NZ just not Auckland :(
    Maybe we could meet…

  8. Hi Draw, – I don’t get out of Auckland much, – but if you can get up here anytime just give me a bell and come round to check the artwork out -I’ll send you some contact details. I don’t have a huge collection compared to the likes of the US collectors, but even so… I think it’s pretty awesome : ) Most I’ve acquired directly from the artists, and a small smattering from Jane Frank, or Heritage Auctions, or professional dealers, all with the small side effect of hammering my mortgage : /

  9. I loved the cover for “Glowing in the Darkest Night”, because it reminded me of the Terran Trade books… cool to see that it was absolutely intentional :)

  10. Great interview. I am a big fan of Dan McPharlin’s Sci-fi illustration. They are a perfect reinterpretation of all these fantastic 70’s sci-fi/ progressive rock paintings

  11. Dan McPharlin is fantastic, alas we haven’t heard from him for a long time – If anyone out there knows what Dan is up to please let me know…. Dan I hope you are well wherever you are :)

  12. Absolutely blown away by Dan’s work. I’ve spent the entire afternoon enthralled by it (and his influences, thanks to this interview). I also haven’t been able to find anything he’s been up to recently though. Does someone have a contact so they can give him a prod check he’s ok? :/

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