Okay, this is a first. Just when I thought I’d seen it all when it comes to creative ways to use a Sharpie, along comes Mike Peyton of Katy, Texas with his Sharpie snake art. I love when people push the envelope of artistic creation — and I love when somebody discovers a completely new way to use Sharpies in their work. MIke’s work definitely qualifies and is absolutely amazing.
As you can imagine, it takes Mike a lot of time and attention to detail to craft these special “snake gourds.” Mike says he thinks he is the only Sharpie snake artist out there (give me a jingle if you know of others). Read on to learn more about how Mike crafts these amazing works of art:
How did you get started as a “snake” artist?
Originally, I started making snakes, lizards and other critters out of scrap wood that I got from a friend that builds custom homes. The purpose of these initial creations was to fill-in empty spots on my walls where hanging “traditional” paintings was impossible (for example, that spot above the door or arch). Then one day (a little over a year ago) while shopping on ebay for supplies (porcupine quills, beads, etc) I stumbled across an auction for snake gourds. I thought that they would make an interesting medium to work on; so, I bought 3 and now they are my “canvas” of choice.
Tell us a little about your genre. Are there lots of artists who do what you do? Where are they concentrated? What makes your work stand out from the rest?
My genre? I would say that it is definitely southwest/American Indian. I have had a huge fascination with southwest art for many years and have a fairly extensive collection of paintings, prints, sculptures, etc. This is my influence; I live in it and draw from it every day. Originally, I started with just one “series” of snakes; Anasazi, which translates to “Ancient Ones” (the polite translation) or “Ancient Enemies” (the more literal translation). However, recently I have developed other “series” such as Yakuza and Shaman to allow for more “possibilities”. Essentially, they all share a common theme, that of simple geometric design. I like the simplicity of positive and negative space and find the use of simple individual geometric designs grouped together (and supplemented with highlights of color and minimal embellishments) allow the simple “geometry” to appear more complicated but still flow. Honestly, I have no idea if there are many other artists using snake gourds to create “snake art”. I have searched the internet looking for kindred spirits but so far have been unsuccessful.
I think what makes my work stand out (if not from the rest, then at least in general) is the “detail”. Many people who have seen my work typically comment on the level of detail and wonder how one could be so patient to work for hours to create the final outcome. For me, it is therapy.
How would you describe your style?
Simple geometrical expressionism; is that a style? Can I make it a style? Or, where you asking about my personal style, of which I have none (or so I have been told!). Call it whatever you like; you won’t hurt my feeling. (editor’s note: it is what you say it is!)
How did you come to use Sharpie markers in your work?
Originally, I was using paint/brushes; then I tried paint pens before finally discovering the Sharpie. I tested them out on a sample gourd and was really pleased with level of detail that I could achieve and their quick-drying properties.
What about Sharpie markers makes them your medium of choice? Is it the variety of tip sizes, colors, other? Please describe how you use Sharpie as an art tool.
My “canvas” is not flat (obviously) and I ink a full 360 degrees on the gourds so I am constantly repositioning the gourd in order to achieve my designs. The quick drying time is essential for me to accomplish what I do (without it having to take a lifetime!). I have tried other Sharpie-wanna-be products but was completely dissatisfied with them; the tips don’t last, the colors aren’t as deep and they aren’t any less expensive. I definitely like the choice of tip sizes and colors that Sharpie has to offer but for the most part I only use the Fine and Ultra Fine tips and black and red colors.
Tell us about some of your own favorite work. What seems to get the most attention or is most coveted by others? Why do you think people are drawn to your work?
My favorite work? Hmmm, that’s a hard one because I really like all of the pieces that I have made so far. However, based on the fact that I do have 2 pieces that will never be offered for sale (while I’m still kickin’ and breathin’), I would say that my first piece (which I gave to my parents) titled “Anasazi” and “Samurai at the Ready” (which I have at home and is the piece displayed on the home page of my website) are my two favorites. I love “Anasazi” because it was the first time that a piece came out pretty much exactly as I had envisioned it in my “mind’s eye. “Samurai at the Ready” is just a great piece; the gourd is definitely odd-shaped, the design is nice and its overall appearance pretty much captures the intent of the “Anasazi”Series (a formidable opponent worthy of being respected and feared).
I think the subject matter, Snakes, initially draws people to my work because of the traditional attitudes and beliefs about snakes. Once they get over these unfounded fears people are typically blown-away by the detail of my work. I have been pleasantly surprised that even somebody who doesn’t like the work (that is to say they wouldn’t have one in their house) still appreciates what was involved with creating the work. I really believe that the use of geometrical design makes it “easier” for people to understand the effort required to create one of my pieces. They see the creativity without questioning the methodology used to achieve it.
Can you describe the process you go through to create your work? How many hours does it take? Is it a free-hand approach or do you create a template in advance?
The process involved in creating one of my snakes starts with the gourd itself. After the first purchase on ebay, I researched the availability of snake gourds and was only able to find one gourd farm that had an ample supply. So, about every other month I give them a call and order 10 snake gourds. I typically don’t “dictate” what I get sent; I let them pick them out and then I have to deal with the ramifications of their choices (so far, I’ve had nothing but good luck). The gourds have already been dried but they do require cleaning; so they get soaked for about an hour in a tub of water/chlorine to allow for removal (by brass scrub brush) of the skin. After they have been cleaned and re-dried I choose one to work on (I only work one snake at a time) and it sits in my living room (next to my chair) for up to one week so that it can “reveal” its final design. I won’t start a piece until I have envisioned the end product. Then the process of drawing and coloring the designs begins. I typically start with the head so that the piece has a personality right from the beginning. Once the detail design work is completed I add whatever embellishments (colors, quills, claws, etc) are necessary and finish the piece with several coats of clear finish to protect the ink/paint. All of my work is free-hand and it usually takes me somewhere between 30 and 40 hours to complete one snake.
Without a doubt my main inspiration comes from the Southwest and Native American art that I love so much; in particular the Anasazi and their pottery’s geometrical designs. Also, I have had a life-long fascination with reptiles; in particular snakes, and even raised them as a child and have had several during my lifetime. Unfortunately, snakes get a bad rap and are typically associated with the “darker” side of things. They are just another one of Mother Nature’s creations that should be appreciated.What statement are you trying to make, if any? What do you want people take from your art? There are no deep political, religious or philosophical statements involved with my work; there are too many people out there trying to sell you on what they believe. It’s just art; an original expression of one’s creativity. I don’t want it to be complicated; just enjoyed.
Sharpie’s tagline is “Write Out Loud!” Does this apply to your work and if so, how?
“Write Out Loud!”, “Live Out Loud”, “Work Out Loud”; they all work for me. I don’t think I would ever be described as anything other than “LOUD”. I think given my choice of medium and subject matter that “LOUD” would describe my work. It fits me and my personality.