Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Interview: Joe Dragt

Joe Dragt, digital, 'Self Portrait'
Arizona based artist and designer, Joe Dragt, has recently attracted a lot of attention with his circuit board paintings series. However, with years of professional design experience, and a natural creative talent, his work is much more varied than that. Horror Shock Lolipop recently had the opportunity to interview Dragt about his creations, his beginning in art and much more...

- First of all, thank you for doing this interview.
Could you introduce yourself for people who aren't familiar with your work?

My name is Joe Dragt. I am an Arizona based professional graphic & web designer as well as an artist that works in several different mediums.Widely known for my on-going painted circuit board series.

- You've said before that you've been drawing since you "could pick up a crayon", but when did you first realise you wanted to be a professional artist/designer?

Very good question. Focusing on art really didn't come until recently. From an early age I knew that it's hard to make a living just being an artist and I needed to find an avenue to make a living. My fall back in life was going to be construction. My father is a master wood worker and owns his own construction company in Michigan. I knew that if I couldn't figure out what I wanted to do with my life, that I would always have a spot working for my dad and that the company could eventually be mine sometime if that's what I wanted.

After working a few summers and some winters with him during high school, I knew that I would not like that as a career. I actually enjoyed it, but did not enjoy some of the harsh conditions such as hot humid summers or cold as hell winters. During my sophomore year of high school, I took a trip to Vo-Tech (extracurricular skill center giving high school credits and and college credits in some cases) and toured the commercial art class. I guess I would say that is exactly when I knew that this was going to be my career. 

Pastel, 'The Devil Inside You'
As for art, I dabbled a bit at a very young age. My earliest memory was when I got kicked out of church. My family growing up definitely wasn't very religious, which my grandmother on my fathers side did not like one
bit. She would bribe taking us to the fair or the circus if we went to church with them. It was around Halloween when I was about 8-10 years old when the last time I went to church. I was too young to attend regular service so I forced into the bible school. 

They gave me a coloring book featuring biblical characters. I was in the Halloween spirit when I started coloring in the little baby Jesus. However, being creative at such a young age, I decided to give the holly one a pitch fork, cape and tail. I was then dragged out by my ear and kicked out of church. I mean really...I was 8 years old, a kid, around Halloween time, get a grip...I was just being a kid. 

Later, around the fourth grade, I had a great teacher named Mr. Conklin who taught us about proportion and perspective and my interest started to peak even more in art. But my true inspiration for art came from Mr. Carey VanderVeen ( I had him for a teacher almost every year of high school. Its teachers like him that can really inspire someone, by making class fun and recognizing and rewarding talent and initiative (he allowed the students who tried or had talent/passion access to the loft and so I did not have to do the regular classroom courses...He recognized the students who wanted to do art, and
those who wanted the easy A). 

Charcoals, 'Salvador Dali'
Now let's fast forward, college, career, life in general etc, put off my art for several years. It wasn't until last year did I really start to get off my butt and start actively creating. It took me being drunk at an art bar in Phoenix (The Lost Leaf) one night and asking them what it took to be shown there. Their reply..."you got to be a kick ass artist". Being humble I wasn't sure if I was or not, I showed them my work, and before I knew it I had a month long showing there. That got me producing a lot more work. 

My friends who have nagged me for years to get back into helped with that too. At some point this year I told myself by the time I'm 40 (32 now), I want to be great; love me or hate me, I want to be a recognizable name nation wide in the world of art. That's when I started to super actively create and market far, it's going great!

- You've previously done portraits of the artists Salvador Dali and H.R. Giger; has their work influenced/inspired you? What/who else inspires you when you're creating something?

I really don't know what inspires me to be honest. Those two are some of my all-time favorite artists, and I don't think I really draw/paint in their style. Maybe a little bit of Dali when I get in a surrealism mood, and maybe Giger inspires my anatomical work, but I really don't think of them or reference them when I create.

- Many of your works have seemingly macabre themes and/or utilise anatomical drawings. Is there a reason for that, or is it purely an aesthetic choice?

Charcoals, 'Anatomy of a Schizophrenic'
Sure is a reason for that. All my life I have been a horror nut. Started off when I was at a very young age. Though we always had a house, food, fun, etc., I grew up kinda poor (No slam on my father, he's a great dad and has always done what it takes to provide for his family). My next door neighbor, Dotti I think her name was, was like a grandma to me. She had cable TV and we didn't. She would always invite me over to her place to watch Nightmare on Elm street, Night of Living Dead, Halloween, etc. We'd pop up some pop corn, turn the lights off, and get scared out of our was a blast....and yes my mother was ok with that, she is one of Stephen Kings biggest fans and almost has all of his books in hard back. 

I still love horror to this day...especially Rob Zombies latest movies. I also think just being an artist, we all have a dark side. Even the lovable Dr. Seuss had some pretty darn dark artwork, you should check it out sometime.

As far as anatomical stuff goes, and this will sound a little morbid, I would love to have access to a cadaver. I think it would be so awesome to study and draw what I saw, dissecting the layers. I have always been fascinated with the old anatomy color plates from the 1800's. Seeing that I definitely don't have access to one, and it's been done already, I enjoy putting twists on them, like the Heart on Your Sleeve piece or the Anatomy of a Schizophrenic.

- You have created artworks on items such as saws, circuit boards and vinyl records. How did you come up with the idea to paint on something other than a traditional canvas?

Oils on circuit board, 'Memory'
Saws have been done before by many artists and they all have some classic country scene painted on them (which I personally think is boring). I was at my neighbors house and they have a decent sized antique handsaw hanging on the wall  and the idea just hit me to do a "bone saw" series combining my interest for anatomical work and the neat look of the saw unframed hanging on the wall. I currently only have two done, with a third one in progress with many more to come, just needed a break from them (that's when the circuit board paintings kinda started). 

After painting on the saws, I found harder and smoother substrates are more enjoyable to paint on, easier to blend, don't absorb the paint, colors are more vivid, and drys a heck of a lot faster (I work with oils and they can take quite a while to dry). After that, I was trolling thrift stores looking for ordinary objects that could be painted on and made extraordinary. Saws and records have been done before, I don't think circuit boards have...if they have, they have not marketed themselves because I can't find anything on the net. Not only is it more fun, but it saves items from the landfill, and in this day in age, it saves to be green. To read more about my circuit board paintings, visit my website (

Oils on circuit board, 'Viral Worm'
- Do the features of these items (grooves of the records, raised areas of the circuit boards etc) make painting on them more difficult?

Absolutely, I have to paint a lot slower and in thinner layers. The grooves from the records caused me to have to paint the image twice essentially fore the first layer just filled in the grooves. Circuit boards go fairly easily until you get to the areas where the ram and video cards are soldered in; then I have to go really slowly and getting a straight line can be hard at times too.

- Do you use such items only as surfaces on which to paint art, or have you considered using a medium that would still allow them to be used for their original purposes as well?

Not really. I think some skate decks and snowboards would be fun, but for me, once it's turned into a piece of art, it needs to be displayed for others to enjoy.

- Are there any items that you havent yet painted on, which you think would make unusual and interesting surfaces/backdrops?

Maybe, but that is my secret. In the art world, you either need to have some good contacts, or an original idea to get on the map. I got on the map with my circuit boards, that is exactly how you guys found me. Before my circuit boards got a lot of press, I was only getting 5-10 unique visitors a day to my website, now I am getting 700+ a day. It is slowly dying down, so if I come up with another great idea, I want to do it before anyone else does to help keep myself in the public eye. 

However, I am starting to build a fan base, so hopefully they will keep me going strong, and I want to thank my fans, for without you, I am back to just painting for the heck of and overstocking my house with my own art. I would love for all my originals to be out of my house, so that I have room for my own collection from other artists.

- Do you always plan out your pieces, or do you sometimes change and develop them as you work?

Typically I have a pretty good idea in my head before I start working, every once in a while I will sit down and go 100% free style.

- Which medium (oil paint or digital painting for example) is your favourite to work with and why?

Oils on saw, ' Just Jack'
Tough question. Just like how my mood may change on what I create, so does the medium. I mainly only work with charcoals, pastels, and oil paints. Lately I have been on a big oil painting spurt. And if you go back through my archives by year, you can see how evident it is...all charcoal, then to pastels, then to oil. My next thing I am going to try working with is invisible UV black light paint. All the colors look white until under the black light, which means of course, I have to paint in black light, and I have to condition my mind a little differently, such as white paint is actually black when laid down using UV paint.

- When you work on a commercial project, is it hard to spend so much time on something, especially when you may not necessarily like the finished outcome?

That is something that I got over a long time ago. It was really tough at first. I would design a web site or a printed piece, show it to my friends or co-workers and they all love it! Then the client comes back and says they basically want it to look just like any other website out on the net and I took it could so many people love it and they hate it. You just have to remember that they are the client. A client can be like a child sometimes. A parent can give you all the best advice in the world, but does the child often take it? Typically no, they go against the advice and learn the hard way...but isn't that what life is about? Learning from your mistakes?

- How does website design differ from other art & design projects?

I hate it honestly. I really do not enjoy web work many items to contend with. With art and graphic design, what you see is what you get for the most part. In order to get that result with a website you have to make sure it looks good and works properly on a Mac, a PC, in Internet Explorer (which is the devil), Safari, Firefox, etc. And just when you have it locked down, they come out with a different browser version, whether better or worse than the previous, which you then have to go back and dig in the code and fix stuff. 

Now smart phones with internet are all over the I need to make sure it looks good on it, do I have to have a different "mobile" version of my website? Too much of a pain for me and it's not fun anymore. So if I agree to do a website for are either a really really good friend, or I desperately need the money.

- Are there any projects you would refuse to work on?

Besides websites lately, no. I would never refuse to work on logo design, but I really don't like doing it....You get a lot of "I know I want but don't know how to describe it" you waste a lot of time trying to figure out what they want when they give you no real direction and they ultimately don't know what  they want.

Pastels, 'The Monster Inside Me'
- What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the world of art & design?

Never quit, and keep going. The biggest mistake I made was taking several years off, or 6 months here or 6 months  there. I felt like I was constantly re-teaching myself techniques that I already was like taking two steps forward, one step back.

- Could you give a message to fans of your work?

Thanks! You guys rock! Sign up for my newsletter on my website (currently located on my circuit board page) to keep up-to-date with everything. As a subscriber to my newsletter, you will get at minimum a two day first crack at new originals, and occasionally discounts on older originals or on prints.

Pastels, 'Shhhh'

Many thanks to Joe Dragt.


  1. I am running for RAW artist of the year, please go to the following link, register, and vote for me! After registering, you will have to click on a city, please choose Phoenix, then a category, please choose visual artist. Look for my name (Joe Dragt), click my photo, then click vote! Seems like a lengthy process, I wish that after registering to vote, they would spit you back to my voting page, but that would make too easy on everyone!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...