Cave Darr is a vis-dev artist, children’s book illustrator, and clothing designer. He calls himself a “prehistoric concept artist and illustrator.” We love this idea. It’s as if he’s focused on drawing creatures from a long, long time ago that never existed. His characters are often animals with sometimes surprising and stylized details. A bear sporting a pince nez who looks like he just stepped out of a Russian tea room. A dandy raccoon who could be a 17th-Century courtier posing for a painted portrait. A shambling tree-trunk giant out for a stroll in the forest. Cave’s drawings and paintings are infused with quirk and fun and a little bit of of the surreal.
We wanted to know more about his process for creating art, so we commissioned him to create something special for us using SketchBook. Once he was done making a lovely piece of a team of hamster muses helping guide him through his commission, we asked him a few questions.
How did you get started?
Like most kids, I always liked to doodle. And my parents were like most parents. They said, “Art is a great hobby, but not a great career. Engineering… now that’s a great job.” So I studied hard, got an engineering degree from the University of Michigan, and finally a career in the automotive industry. Still, I was always looking for a creative outlet.
How did you find your path?
After college, my friends returned from art school, and they were starting a studio. I was just starting to wonder if there might be a better option than spending the next 30 years sitting behind a desk. My very first job with them was designing a label for a local brewery. I screwed up every possible aspect of that job. I took the job even though it was spec work, I had no contract, and I made revisions every night for a month — all for free. Afterward, when I did finally get paid, I calculated that I worked for approximately $1.73/hr. Despite all that, I was hooked the first time I saw my work on a store shelf.
That was quite a while ago. Since then, I’ve started my own studio, Cave People Studios, and I work under the pseudonym “Cave Darr,” who is a my fictional cave man alter ego. I thought, if I’m going to quit my serious adult job, I’d better have as much fun as I can.
What was your hamster workflow like?
First, I spend a few hours just thinking about the story or the joke of the piece. During this phase, I’m considering the feeling that I want to evoke, the possible character to character interactions, textures that I might use, and sometimes the lighting setup that would communicate my intended message. Then I’ll draw many 1×1 inch thumbnails — something like 50 thumbnails. During this stage, I’m thinking about the distribution of light and dark on the page and how to guide the viewer’s eye. Then, I’ll do some relevant studies. For this painting, I’m trying to understand the hamster’s anatomy. What makes a hamster look like a hamster? As well as how to paint fur that looks short and soft.
Next, I’ll do a fairly tight pencil sketch based off the thumbnails. In this case, since I did this on paper, I scanned the sketch into SketchBook using Scan Sketch, and I paint it in black and white. This helps because I can limit my focus to values and getting the volumes to feel well constructed. After working in this way for awhile, it feels more like I’m sculpting than painting. Lastly, I’ll do color washes over the black and white underpainting. I’ll paint in the special material properties such as sub-surface scattering and specular highlights.
Any advice for aspiring artists?
Hmm, I can only tell you what has made the biggest difference for me. In my natural state, I tend to stay in and work from the studio. You could call me a home body. I worked for years this way and made very little headway getting new clients or social media exposure. It was only once I started going to conventions and workshops that I started to meet more people, get bigger jobs, and feel an overall growth in my brand as an artist. So, I’d advise getting out of your comfort zone, whatever it is. Paint and draw the stuff that feel a little too difficult. Try the personal project that seems a little too daunting. Strap on a smile, and put yourself out there. Go be Cave People!