Interview

David Paul Seymour

Insight from the prolific illustrator on why good art should be important to bands, plus advice on approaching artists for work and maintaining a high level of productivity.

If you’re involved in the doom or stoner scene, you’re probably familiar with the work of Minnesota-based artist, David Paul Seymour as his work has been quite popular with the weedian set for the last few years. At dank, dimly lit shows overrun with faded prints on black tshirts, a typical DPS design — loose, energetic, graphic and bright — practically jumps off the merch table. They sell, too. One senses that he learned a few important lessons during his time playing bass in punk bands.

Art by David Paul Seymour
Art by David Paul Seymour.

David’s also done work for non-musical endeavors, like commissioned illustrations for Burial Beer Co., his comic books, and his collaboration with fellow artist Tim Granda on the animated film project, The Planet of Doom. He also does regular old art that you can go buy for your wall right now.

I first worked with David a few years ago on a shirt design for Witchcryer and the experience was as professional as any I’ve had with anyone, in any industry. Great piece (we still sell it regularly), but also clear communication, fast turnaround, strict adherence to deadlines, and absolutely zero bullshit. Since then, I’ve gone back to him twice for more work and had the exact same experience. This very interview was returned fully answered 3 hours and 10 minutes after I sent it because, “It was on my calendar for today.” David’s art is great, but his efficiency is next level.

Other sites have covered David’s story and extensive work as an artist (we link to a couple good interviews below), so we got straight to business.


David Paul Seymour's art for Hearserider
David Paul Seymour’s piece for Hearserider

Why is art a worthy investment for a band?

As anyone in a band knows, very little income is generated from touring in and of itself. It’s actually a suckhole. That’s where the funding power of the merch table comes into play. I’ve talked with so many bands over the years and it’s clear to me that all it takes is one crazy good shirt design or eye-catching album cover to put cash in a band’s pocket over and over again, both on the road and off.

I’m glad you referred to it as an investment. That’s exactly what that is. Yes, it’s going to cost you some coin on the front end, between paying an artist like me, and then the printer too, but once the tax is paid, if you’re smart in how you market it, it’s an incredible source of cash for years to come.

Logos are also and important thing to bands in this day and age. Bands are essentially brands. A great band logo should be the first and most important thing a band focuses on. And should be willing to pay more for [a logo] than an album cover, even.

What should a band have ready before they approach an artist?

I’m sure I’m not just speaking for myself here, but have a fully fleshed out idea. The assumption is that all artists want to just draw whatever they want, and for some artists this may be true, but unless the artist is a pretentious diva type, we want to make you (the band, client) happy with what you’re getting. In my case, I can say given the volume of commissions I do each year, some days I’m just not firing on all cylinders when it comes to brainstorming the next great concept. Plus, I’ve found through pairing the band’s idea with my own, we achieve such a cool collaborative synthesis of minds. That’s the sweet spot.

David Paul Seymour's art for Slayer's show at Gas Monkey Live in Dallas, Texas
David Paul Seymour’s poster art for Slayer’s show at Gas Monkey Live in Dallas, TX

Also, money. Please don’t approach artists of any decent caliber with the mindset of getting something on the cheap. We understand you guys need to turn a profit and the whole point, as I mentioned earlier, is to make money. Band merch is essentially constant fundraising. But know that on the flip side of that, we have to eat and pay our bills, too. This stuff doesn’t draw itself! I find it funny that a guy in a band will easily pay his tattoo artist 2-3x what it is I’m asking for, but can’t see the value in paying me for my time. And four dudes can’t pool together what us artists ask as compensation? I doubt it. Now, this is the exception, not the rule. The vast majority of bands who approach me are very easy to deal with this in this regard.

And when it comes time to pay the bill, don’t have us bust our ass then ask if you can pay us in two weeks when it’s handy for you. Have the cash set aside before you pull the trigger. We’re no different than your barber, tattoo artist or a waitress in a restaurant: if you’re climbing in the chair, be ready to pay the man when he’s done.

The third and final thing is professionalism. Elect one point-person to approach and deal with the artist. We get that you guys make decisions by committee, but don’t have us navigate through four guys’ rambling ideas! Also, be diligent about returning our emails in a timely manner. We’re working hard for you…don’t sluff us off.

What should a band do or not do when they work with an artist?

I probably covered some of this already, but I would add don’t put your artist through the ringer with dozens of nit-picky revision requests. Hire an artist you trust. Give him your concepts, show him/her some references maybe, share your lyrics and bigger vision with us, then get the fuck out of the way. Hire an artist whose work you have loved seeing time and again, then put your trust in that person to create something that’s going to kick ass. 

What mistakes do you see bands make with regards to art?

Probably the biggest thing I see happen a lot is just general cheapness. I can’t understand how a band can invest so much time and energy into their craft and their band and then clearly cheap out with some low-ball budget or worse, occasionally low-ball quality artwork. When I see that, I always assume the band doesn’t really care that much. It’s very reflective. Invest in yourselves if you want to be taken seriously. 

When you create art for yourself, how do you know when a piece is done?

"Where I Keep Your Heart" by David Paul Seymour
“Where I Keep Your Heart” by David Paul Seymour. Buy here

I’m not a big putzy guy. I’m not a tortured artist. I don’t die on the vine every time I do a piece. I had a great mentor along my path who taught me to create something great and put my everything into it, but to just know instinctively when to put the pen down and close the deal. I dunno…like I said, I guess it’s instinct. And a trust in myself. Hard to teach, and very hard to learn. I suppose if art is still your hobby, who cares how long it takes, right? But if you’re like me and it’s your craft and your profession, you have to learn how to balance the two worlds of being and artist as well as a business person.

You’re incredibly productive. Do you rely on any systems, tools or techniques to maintain that?

Absolutely. Yes. While there’s no realistic way I can get around having to hit the drawing board from scratch each time for every client, I’ve found a way to standardize and boilerplate everything else more or less. Boilerplate formatted emails, keyword-triggered autofill responses on my phone, standardized pricing and a “SHOP RULES” document I give to everyone that I do work for, that I never deviate from, to name a few things.

As far as the actual work, I draw everything with the same set of pens, same kind of and size of paper, computer templates for layouts, and I’ve even gotten my color palate down from a bazillion colors ten years ago to like 20 now.

Have you dealt with writers block or periods of feeling uninspired?

Of course. I’d like to meet a creative mind that hasn’t. I guess I’m glad (as I mentioned earlier) that I feel great about letting the client drive the boat as far as the concepts for the projects go, because it’s saved me from a lot of that. That’s kind of my go-to for ensuring writer’s block isn’t something I generally have to contend with. Of course I have to still distill that data into a great composition, but that’s far easier on my brain than having to pull the whole thing down out of my own ether.

Have you dealt with burnout? Not necessarily uninspired, just overworked. 

Constantly dealing with that. It’s human nature for it to happen in creative work — especially in creative production work; and especially at the high level myself and my peers operate at. It’s a lot of volume. And repetition. A recent adage goes, “Eventually even porn stars get bored of banging hot chicks.” It’s humorous but true. We as humans really weren’t built generally for repetitive tasking. So, I guess the saving grace for me, and I suspect for a lot of artists, is to allow yourself to go off on side projects from time to time that keep the excitement level up. I’m also always striving to steer the artform in new and different directions that keep things fresh and inspiring. These phases pass pretty quickly when you look around at your own accomplishments and get recharged that way. Burnout generally doesn’t really come from not liking what I’m doing so much as a feeling of personal stagnation. But it’s up to me to remedy that ailment.

What does it really mean to commit to a creative life? Is “living the dream” all it’s cracked up to be?

David Paul Seymour's art for Freyr
David Paul Seymour’s art for Freyr

It is most definitely all that it seems. And also sometimes unfortunately things that you wouldn’t think it is. When you work at a day job, whether you like it or not, you at least don’t have to dwell on if work will be waiting for you the next week. You can pretty much clock in and just tune the fuck out if you like, you’re probably gonna get a paycheck no matter what. I don’t have that luxury. I also get fucked hard if I have “sick days” or god forbid want to take a few days off and travel. That’s almost entirely unthinkable for me, which really sucks. Also, in my case, my operation isn’t scaleable. I can’t hire employees to do what I do. And probably if I could, my clients would have a fucking fit. haha. My hand has to touch everything from start to finish, so I’m kinda fucked there, too. I never have the luxury of “leaving work at the office.” I’m always on call, always attached to my phone, and always having to focus on keeping myself out there and relevant so the well never dries. That would be homelessness for me and my wife and three kids. They depend on me to provide solely now, which is a tremendous amount of pressure on me every day.

But, that all being said, I’ve never once — not once — thought for a second about returning to a job where I sit in some cubicle again working with people I fucking hate and taking orders from some a-hole who’s telling me when I can come and go and when and for how long I can go eat food. No thanks.


Posted by Jason Muxlow

Founder of this here publication and guitarist for Witchcryer (Ripple Music) and The Living Fields (Candlelight Records). Also ex-Earthen Grave (Ripple) and Wintering (RIP, little death metal band). Michigan born, Chicago aged, and currently residing just outside of Austin, TX.

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