Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Mysterious Darkness of Dean Kuhta

Occasionally I like to add the odd bit of artwork to sell in the shop. Sometimes I find new artists randomly, and sometimes I go in search of them. On a recent troll through the varied waters of Etsy in search of new Lovecraftian art, I found the prints of Dean Kuhta of Twisted Oak Press (

Windowpane by Dean Kuhta
While Dean's most eyecatching work is his collection of colorful, fairytale-like landscapes, what really caught my attention was his shadowy monochromatic work. It reminded me of the layered black and white chalk art of Jean Francois Millet and Georges Seurat, which I was obsessed with in art school, while at the same time hinting at the shifting horror of M.R. James' ghost stories, or the isolated terror of H.P. Lovecraft's dreamlike weird fiction. My favorite pieces are his "Stage I," etc., series, and his drawing "Windowpane," which makes me think of some of the most poignant imagery in Lovecraft's story "The Thing on the Doorstep."

Long story short, I contacted Dean and obtained a selection of his black and white 8" x 10" prints which are now available in the shop. Short story long, being a fellow art geek, I decided I also wanted to interview Dean about his work to introduce you all to it. Enjoy!

Q: What size are the original pieces from which you produce your prints?
Since most of my artwork is disturbingly detailed, I tend to work small. Otherwise, it would take me many months to finish anything. It also depends on the medium I'm working with. Ink, colored pencil, charcoal, and pencil illustrations are generally 8-inch by 10-inch, but I did recently draw a bigger, Lovecraft inspired, ink drawing called "The Pyramids of R'Lyeh" that is 18" x 14".

Q: What materials are you using to capture the subtle shading in these pieces?
I'm very stubborn and I've used the same drawing materials virtually my whole life. Derwent drawing pencils, General's kneaded erasers, tortillons (or blending stubs), Micron ink pens, and General's charcoal pencils. The combination of the kneaded eraser and the tortillon are what I think generate the subtle shading.

Q: What is your favorite size to work in?
I love to work big, but because of the amount of detail I tend to cram into a drawing, it usually comes down to time and resources. So, smaller drawings are usually the case. My oil paintings, on the other hand, range from 1-foot by 2-foot to 3-foot by 4-foot and are always a fun break from the small-scale, crosshatching madness.

Stage I: Departure by Dean Kuhta
Q: What are your favorite materials? Do you find working in black and white focuses your attention differently on a piece than when you work in bright colors? How does this affect your translation of a piece onto paper?
Hard question! I have to say I love working in all the traditional mediums. It sounds lame, but it's true. Each one has it's own technical issues that need to be overcome to truly bring to life an idea and put it on paper. For example, I always get pencil smudges all over the paper throughout the life of a drawing, but at the same time it seems to be an easier medium to achieve dynamic shading. Ink, by contrast, is a really clean drawing experience (no graphite all over the sides of my hands), but is extremely difficult and time consuming when shading. I don't even want to talk about charcoal shading! :P

Detail of Farmers Market by Dean Kuhta
Black and white drawings, as opposed to color, I believe, are "easier" to achieve values and contrast. Color is a whole different beast, and for me, much more difficult to successfully use to render lighting and shades. To overcome this, I've redrawn a lot of my black and white work in color. It's fascinating to me to see how a black and white drawing can possess an entirely different mood when re-drawn in color. My colors seem to be on the whimsical side, so that affects the mood as well.

Q: Are there materials that you haven’t yet experimented with that you would like to explore in the near future?
I've used all of the traditional mediums (oil, acrylic, watercolor, ink, pencil, charcoal, etc.) and I love using all of them. I definitely have my favorites that I gravitate around like ink, pencil, and oil. I've recently discovered Prismacolor art markers. They are super fun to color with and it almost feels like painting with a brush.

Q: What are your literary influences, and how do you find yourself responding to them through these pieces? I know I often start out with a literal depiction in mind, but then wind up choosing a more mysterious, oblique image for the illustration – your pieces seem to follow this idea of using suggestive imagery instead of telling a story word for word.
Great questions. I have a ton of literary influences and they're all mangled together in my head when I'm working on a new idea. Lovecraft, Tolkien, Clive Barker, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells to name a few. I'm sure that each of their influences have found their way into my drawings in some form or another. Lovecraft's dark, supernatural environments, Barker's bizarre fantasy, and Verne's epic adventures. I try to incorporate all of these aspects into my work. During my art shows, I'm regularly asked what the stories are behind my drawings. Where once I would shrug at the question, I can say now that my goal is not to tell a literal story, but to achieve an overwhelming mood through the drawing, whether it be a dark, haunting mood, or a fantastical, storybook one.

She Was Swathed in Sorrow by Dean Kuhta
Q: What elements in your pieces do people seem to respond to the most?
It depends. Some people are attracted to the style and technique, like the ink crosshatching or the pencil shading. Others are drawn in by the mood. One of my drawings, in particular, always seems to generate a dramatic response. "She Was Swathed in Sorrow" is a collaborative piece I did with a friend of mine years ago. I think the combination of the dark, surreal imagery and the creepy ink crosshatching style, combined with whatever the viewer has going on in his or her life, really has an effect and it's the one piece that consistently draws out emotion.

Q: What elements are you most pleased with?
I'm most pleased with the ability to take an idea from my imagination and successfully translate that onto a piece of paper. More specifically, a good composition is a pleasing element, as well as other artsy things like movement and balance. Designing a quality composition is no small task, and is an immensely satisfying accomplishment when achieved.

Q: What are your artistic influences in general? Which artistic influences found a particular connection with you through these pieces?
As I mentioned, books have played a big role in my artistic growth. My biggest influence, however, is without a doubt other artists. Masters like Gustave Dore and M.C. Escher, as well as contemporary artists like Alex Grey and Clive Barker (yes I mentioned him in my author list, but he's a nasty artist too!). I've always been infatuated with the work of Dore. His elaborate and complex compositions combined with an insane amount of detail are characteristics that I'm always striving to reach.

Detail from Mushroom Castle by Dean Kuhta
Q: How long do you work on one of your black and white pieces, typically? Do you work progressively on more than one at a time, or do you prefer to focus on each piece individually until it is complete?
Most everything I work on, whether black and white or color, takes me a fair amount of time. Typically a few weeks, but sometimes a month or two. The medium plays a major role in how long a drawing/painting will take. Ink is usually the quickest and easiest, whereas, colored pencil and oil are always the most difficult and time consuming. My technique with colored pencil is to start with a soft layer of color for the entire drawing and progressively build upon that until the final layer is intensely rich with contrast and thick with colored pencil. I do work on more than one piece at a time, but that's because I have a lot of other projects and commissions going on at the same time. Regardless of how many jobs I have going, I try to have a personal piece to work on a little each day.

Q: When you envision a piece prior to making it, do you draw inspiration from existing photos or art? What are the most useful to you in finishing the details and structure in a piece – photos, other artwork, or objects and scenery in the real world around you?
I'd like to think that the majority of my work has originated from my imagination. Of course, all of the influences I've mentioned always play a role, but for the most part I try very hard to come up with my own new ideas. That said, I certainly integrate elements that I see all around me into the overall idea I've conjured up. I normally don't draw from photographs, but I have to admit to using Google as a reference from time to time. I'm sorry if my squirrel anatomy skills are lacking! :P

Q: Do you have any projects you are looking forward to working on this year?
Indeed! I'm working on a huge, collaborative book project at the moment (Editor's note: a new edition of 3D Space Mazes) that will span several editions and many many illustrations. It's keeping me very busy at the moment! Additionally, I was just filmed for an upcoming episode of "House Hunters." The episode will feature a giant print of the drawing I mentioned earlier, "She Was Swathed in Sorrow." I'm very excited to see what kind of response that will generate and the opportunities it may provide. I also have five or six more art shows to do this year.

Visit Dean Kuhta online at!

No comments:

Post a Comment