To read this interview, one should first put on The Downward Spiral album by Nine Inch Nails. When I approached CJ Draden at his booth at New York Comic Con, he was lost in his artwork, skillfully applying ink, a brush, and blade to a piece of glass to create artwork in his own unique and dark style. His art work is stark and angular, often featuring mostly black and white shading with the occasional splash of a dark color. His art can be startling, but always has elements of coming through a dream or sometimes a nightmare. He kindly spent time answering some of our questions at New York Comic Con about his artwork, his process, and his book The Wooden Heart.
FGN: First of all, why Nine Inch Nails?
CJ Draden: Why Nine Inch Nails? Because I’m an angry mother f**ker.
FGN: As far as your artwork, what got you started with your very signature style?
CJ Draden: That’s an easy question, but it’s also a difficult question to answer. It’s easy because I know why, but it’s difficult to explain why. The way that I rationalize when I try to tell someone this is that I don’t consider it a particular style. I consider what I do a vision, a place I go to that no one else can see but me. The act of painting and creating things from that place is like transcending an artifact from that world to this world. So, I guess how I do it, is trying to stay as true to communicating in that fashion. It’s the designs of that world. I know it’s very weird and philosophical but that’s the best way I know how to explain it.
FGN: So you have a new book that’s come out called The Wooden Heart. Can you tell us more about the book and your process in working on it?
CJ Draden: The book is a period piece. It represents a period in my life that I was going through and trying to deal with as well as, let’s put it this way, my personal life and my art life. This project was an amalgamation of pretty much everything I was dealing with. And, what’s unique about that project kind of relates to the last question; the style, the way I do things. Trying to figure that out, I put a lot of that into the book. How to tell a story the way I want to tell a story, and the kind of artwork I want to do and illustrate the story including building the Pinocchio doll. That project is a great example of just understanding how to transcend from idea space to channel it all through your body, through your hand, and into this world. It’s the best example of that. So it’s a period piece.
I’m getting to the point of being able to do what I do. It was such a struggle to build that book.
FGN: Was there a reason you chose the Pinocchio mythos?
CJ Draden: Absolutely. Pinocchio, without getting into too much detail, resonated with me with the things I was going through. I wouldn’t say it’s a remake; it’s a reimagining of how I see this character, creating this life. And I’ve always been obsessed with characters that kind of go off the deep end mentally, to think that they can turn inanimate objects into living breathing conscious biological creatures. It’s kind of insane to think you can turn a piece of wood into a boy. So, I just kind of went that direction and put the things I was dealing with into that. It just stood out to me among other things. If I’m going to get good at story telling, I do this first. I do what I know, I do what I’m thinking and feeling. I’ll let Pinocchio serve as a vessel to communicate this message.
FGN: Why glass for painting?
CJ Draden: Glass is a portal. I think every artist’s easel, every artist’s canvas is a portal. How you open up that portal is based on the types of mediums, types of services, types of thoughts that you have. And my portal is glass. It’s the best way that I can show the observer, and the observer created reality we live in; to show the observer the type of world I’m living in. Glass, slicing things up, getting things dirty, getting in there; it’s what opened up the circuit to be able to mold these things. The only way that I can do that and allow people into this world is through glass. It doesn’t work with anything else. Every artist has a portal, your choices of how you go about creating art will dictate how successful you are at showing the world who you are in your medium. Glass opened the circuit to allow the ideas and visions to flow.
FGN: After The Wooden Heart, do you have any upcoming projects that you’re working on that you can tell us about?
CJ Draden: Yes. I have a new graphic novel heavily influenced in Greek mythology and philosophy and psychology and science. These are the things I’m personally into, anthropology. I’m using the things that I have taken from my travels around the world and putting it into it. We talked about Pinocchio and The Wooden Heart being this period piece in my life. I did what I needed to do. It allowed me to branch off and allowed me to find what storytelling was all about. At that point, I had never created a book and now I have a piece of experience under my belt, dealing with how to communicate as an artist, dealing with how to open the portal; dealing with how to tell a story. I went through 10 years of that woe, so going into this new project I feel it’s going to be so much more enjoyable and successful. The work I’m creating clearly shows the portal opening up in an experienced way.