Close

What the Heck Is Grime Art, and Why Are People Making It?

Skip to entry content

grime art

We get a thrill digging through an infinite scroll of user-made art on Instagram, and over time we’re able to spot trends both large and small and identify users who are particularly good at one style. But sometimes the art people make puzzles or even divides us. Today, I’d like to opine about a particularly contentious style of art among the SketchBook team that I can’t stand but that has grudgingly won a little bit of my respect — “grime” art. I’m going to explain why I think grime art is horrible but necessary, and then we’re going to show you how to make good grime art using SketchBook Pro.

Nobody on our team knows who first spotted a grime art drawing on Instagram made with SketchBook. Someone pointed out a drawn-upon photo of a fashion model with a zombie-like, droopy, melting face. Nearly everyone on our team responded with their own version of, “Ewww. Gross.” Except one person. Kyle. He knew what #grimeart was, and he defended it as a legitimate style of art. I had to admit that, yes, the appreciation of all art is subjective. It’s wrong to completely dismiss art out of hand. At the very least, we should try to understand this strange art style and why a sliver of people who use our app are making it.

The appreciation of all art is subjective. It’s wrong to completely dismiss art out of hand. At the very least, we should try to understand this strange art style and why a sliver of people who use our app are making it.

What Is Grime Art, Exactly?

Not to be confused with Grime the musical sub-genre, grime art is, first and foremost, digital art. It’s made by taking an existing photo or video still, importing it into an app, and drawing on top of it. Grime is almost exclusively focused on portraiture. It’s about subverting the original image by depicting the subject with cartoonish, drooping skin. It’s in your face with its grossness. Grime isn’t very high-minded or subtle, so it’s not surprising that the typical response to a #grimeart post on Instagram is, “Suh dude — sick grime.” Because it “steals” the original image and subverts it, grime has a definite strut to it and an insider appeal. If you don’t get it, you’re just not cool enough.

A look at the #grimeart hashtag shows plenty of examples of good and bad grime art.
A look at the #grimeart hashtag shows plenty of examples of well-made grime art. Clockwise from top left: @franqo_art, @kaambbo, @tryan_senpai, and @idiot_rdn.

But is it good art? That’s where I sometimes take issue with grime art. As a style, it’s not very deep. It seems to be telling the same one-note story over and over again. It’s druggy, weird, gross-out art, but most grime art I’ve seen doesn’t have the depth of drawings by R. Crumb, to whom grime is ultimately indebted. Grime is an Internet phenomenon that pretty much only exists on Instagram and Tumblr, so by nature it is transitory. Dashed off with seemingly little effort, a typical grime drawing lives for a few days, collects a few dozen Likes, and falls away into the dustbin of Internet history, to be found again only by its most ardent fans.

When the subject of grime art is someone beautiful or something famous, it can work. Donald Trump as grime. The Statue of Liberty as grime. Marilyn Monroe as grime. All of these would work as a grime drawing because grime works best when it is degrading something iconic.

And yet… When the subject of grime art is someone beautiful or something famous, it can work. Donald Trump as grime. The Statue of Liberty as grime. Marilyn Monroe as grime. All of these would work as a grime drawing because grime works best when it is degrading something iconic. Grime’s only commentary may be that every cultural icon can (and should?) be destroyed. That’s a legitimate viewpoint. If it deserved a Ph.D. dissertation (which it doesn’t), grime’s cultural influence would probably fall somewhere between Goosebumps books and Garbage Pail Kids — which is to say it has very little real influence but plenty of actual fans.

Who Deserves Credit/Blame?

It’s hard to trace a definitive origin for grime art, but a quick glance at Google Trends shows when people really started sharing (or more to the point, searching) for this kind of art. Most of the credit/blame points to the September 2015 release of DJ Getter’s video for his song Head Splitter. The real credit may fall on the illustrator Richie Velazguez (@deladeso on Instagram) who drew the hallucinatory animations for this dubstep video. IMHO, his illustration work in this video is the most talented example of grime art, and the team of people who worked on this video deserve a lot of credit for creating an innovative, expertly edited video.

Ultimately, grime (like dubstep) may be little more than a fad. But then again, fads can be fun. Everyone who loves art has their own pet style that lives in a teeny, tiny niche. So if you enjoy grime art, enjoy it like Kyle does — wholeheartedly and without too much reflection. Enjoy it as you would a perfect peach in Spring — let its oozing, delicious messiness drip down and cover you. And then please wash up and go eat a balanced diet.

Grime: It’s Just Grotesque

Ultimately, my aversion to grime (and it is a strong one, can you tell?) is rooted in my own fear of the grotesque. That’s what this art style really is: a sub-sub-sub-genre of the grotesque. Grotesque art has been around for many hundreds of years, and this is just one more modern iteration of it. If you, like me, detest horror movies and zit-popping videos, you probably won’t like grime art. But, to be truthful, my inability to recognize and appreciate the power of the grotesque is probably a failing of mine. You have to be pretty open-minded to enjoy the dark side of our bodies that grotesque art celebrates. I can’t get over my strong negative response because I am made of flesh and blood. I feel a physical discomfort when I see these fleshy, grimey, zombie figures decomposing. Whenever I view grime art, I’m reminded that I am, sadly, not as open-minded as I thought I was. I am too easily repulsed.

Credit/blame for grime points to the dubstep DJ Getter and Velazguez.
Credit/blame for grime probably dates back to a video by EDM DJ Getter (top right), although the actual illustrations may come from artist Richie Velazquez (@deladeso).

How to Make Good Grime Art

That said, I have found a way to appreciate well-made grime art. Our incredibly talented staff artist Kyle, who draws most of the sleek cars and bad-ass Ninja Turtles you see on our blog, also has skills drawing grotesque, graffiti-like, pustule-laden grime portraits. Kudos to Kyle for not only defending grime art but for digging in and recording an excellent and entertaining video to show people how to make it. Kyle details how to section off skin by drawing on the image of a bearded hipster, whose only crime was posing for a stock photo. Most grime art is hastily done and could stand to be a little more carefully crafted. Kyle takes his time shows you how to make not just grime art, but better grime art.

Grime
Take that, hipster beard guy. You just got grimed.