Curtis Allen Chats About His Art And Inspiration Behind His Steampunk Greetings Cards

Big top architecture and, circus costumes, carnival-style lettering, and the contrast between the smooth, seemingly effortless performances onstage, and the hard-work and rushing and barely-ordered chaos and often just cramped and less than glamorous conditions backstage fascinates me and has started creeping into my work.

The one thing we all know about fans of science fiction is that we are all a very creative and industrious group of people.

Over the years have met lots of people at science fiction and comics conventions and bumped into cos players who have dressed as characters from steampunk stories, but we have never really featured any of these people until now.

Curtis Allen is first and foremost a fan like anyone of us. He’s a fan of both music and science fiction and he has been working hard of late to bring his creativity to the fold in a new range of greetings card, which you are not very likely to see on the high street.

I was lucky recently to be able to talk with Curtis via e-mail to find out more about these fantastic looking works of art, which he as for sale on his website.

SFP: From the little you have told me about yourself. It seems you have pretty much had a fair few adventures at both music and science fiction events.How would you say all your experiences at music events and conventions have shaped your creativity in terms of some of the visual stuff you have seen over the years that has snuck into your art work?

Curtis Allen: I have worked for years as a DJ doing mostly rock and metal nights, and as a stiltwalker and performer at events like Hard Rock Hell Festival, Download Festival, Glastonbury, club nights and London Edge alternative fashion show. I’ve performed in costumes like animatronic Yeti costumes, Giger’s Aliens, alien autopsy scientist, zombie, Storm Trooper, mad Steampunk inventor and all sorts of weird monsters and creations. I’ve seen some awesome costumes and creature creations, particularly from Area 51, the events company I do stilt gigs with, but I’ve also worked with all sorts of performers like jugglers, burlesque artists, acrobats, sword swallowers,contortionists, bubble manipulators, magicians, and more.

I’ve also seen some great sets and decor being created. Glade Festival, and Shangri La at Glastonbury are particularly memorable. Glade’s decor was very soft and beautiful and suggestive of natural shapes – bubbles, flower flutes, toadstools and so on. Shangri La was, at the time, a dystopia-themed area of the festival with broken down futuristic alleyways recreated and unusual and unconventional performance areas set-up. Since then, the area has evolved as successive years have seen the story incorporate rebel uprisings and ravaging diseases. Industrial landscapes and dirty, grubby, un-sleek technology and aesthetics really appeal to me. I think they are so much more interesting than the sleek, smooth, contoured, sophisticated technology in vogue now.

Having spent quite a bit of time around vaguely circussy folk and sets has given me a love for that sort of aesthetic as well. Big top architecture and, circus costumes, carnival-style lettering, and the contrast between the smooth, seemingly effortless performances onstage, and the hard-work and rushing and barely-ordered chaos and often just cramped and less than glamorous conditions backstage fascinates me and has started creeping into my work.

While all I’ve mentioned doesn’t necessarily get used directly in my art, parts will at times. Sometimes, just an element of a performance will end up in there: a pose, a costume, a stage setting, a concept. Watch this space because it’s all up there in my head, clamouring to get out! I like when performances are combined with an aspect of storytelling to be genuinely moving as well as impressive. I see what I do as a form of storytelling too. It is these aspects I look for in shows and try to recall and reshape them in my illustrations. Helping to create some of these creations has also given me some practical skills I’m hoping to use in some of my future artistic endeavors.

SFP: As an illustrator you get to work with a lot of colours, paints, textures and such. What are you favourite colours and paints to work with and is there a particular theme that you like to work in more than others?

Curtis Allen: I’ve worked with a variety of mediums over the years. At the moment most of what I’m doing is digital painting. It started as an experiment a couple of years ago and is something I’ve stuck with as it is clean, easily portable, and importantly, doesn’t need a vast amount of room. I would love to have a studio where I could go back to getting good and messy but I have very little space, and not much time so to keep setting up and cleaning down before and after a session on the kitchen table I share with my housemate (and cat, no matter how many times I shoo him off it!) would use valuable creating time! Oils are something I think would suit the more steampunk themed work I’m doing now. I used to paint a lot in oils when I was younger and I miss them.

At the moment I’m enjoying the sort of palettes you get associated a lot with steampunk – muted, quite autumnal colours like browns, oranges, creams, and brass and copper. I’ve noticed that I seem drawn to dark green and cream and have to make a concious effort to not use too much of them in my work. Right now, I’m enjoying working on smaller more intimate moments than bigger, more bombastic scenes. It’s nice to try to convey a personal moment with static visuals. I’m also enjoying experimenting with suggesting 3D forms, with limited and fairly flat colours and shading, mixed with textures as opposed to more lifelike blendings of shades and tones.

SFP: Who out of other well known artists out there would you say have had the most impact on you and your particular approach to art?

Curtis Allen: Aiden Hughes, or BRUTE! as he’s sometimes known, has had quite an influence on some of my work, since first seeing his artwork around 15 years ago on the cover of albums by the German Industrial group, KMFDM. I would say that in turn, he has obviously been consciously referencing Soviet and Socialist propaganda images and using that as a reference to create his own form of pop art. I’ve always loved that sort of style of propaganda art, and recently the sort of flat and clearly defined colour areas with restricted palettes they often use are something I’ve been enjoying using in my art.

I’ve also always liked the look of Japanese woodblock prints such as those by Utagawa Kunisada. With my Coggingtons Valentines card, I had an idea of that in my head, and this, again, led to me going for a flatter, printed look.

Finally, it’s also got to be comic book artists here. I’ve drawn ever since I was old enough to hold a pencil but I don’t remember my earliest drawings (I’m told it was of things broken which I think was my way of exploring what made things work inside). The earliest ones I do remember are me copying Superman comics I had at the time, and then inventing my own Superman stories to draw. John Byre was illustrating the comics I got at the time and I still love Byrne’s work. It’s clean and very fitting for an overgrown boy-scout like Superman. Steve Ditko, John Romita Sr., Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, and J. Scott Campbell have all had an impact on my drawing too. I’ve spent hours studying their comic panels and trying to analyse exactly what it is about them I like so much to try to encapsulate some of it in my own work.

SFP: Many of the cards and designs are steampunk by design. Why is Steampunk so interesting for you to work with when compared to many of the other sub genres out there?

Curtis Allen: Partly because of my fascination for gears and machinery. I find the way movement is transferred around the components of a machine fascinating. I worked at MAD Museum of Mechanical Art and Design in Stratford for a while and that was great because most of the exhibits are strange Heath Robinson-looking machines, and while I’m not replicating that in the Steampunk work I’ve done thus far, I like the suggestion of it. I like the scope for drawing dusty little cramped workshops, and tinkerers, and grubby industry hard at work.

Also, I really love the idea of technology having evolved in a different direction and seeing fantastic machines where electricity is not the dominant power, but steam. There is a real scope for invention here but grounded within familiar and recognisable technologies, materials and forms. I love that within the Steampunk community, there is a focus on repurposing items, whilst maintaining the Victorian aesthetic. Things were not disposable, but build to last back then. Functional objects were build not only to serve a purpose, but to be robust and look good as they did it because they were expected to be around for longer than until the next version comes out.

Also, I love the clothing – gents being dapper not comfy, and ladies also being dapper and feminine without necessarily being explicit. For a long time before I discovered Steampunk, “Stand and Deliver” by Adam & the Ants has been one of my favourite songs because it’s lyrics are about just that!

Robot

SFP: A card you have done that really caught my eye is the Birthday Card with the giant red robot. Its kind of put me in mind of a slightly more sinister take on The Iron Giant, which is an animated film from the 90s that I really enjoyed and often go back too. What was your inspiration for that particular work of art?

Curtis Allen: Would you believe I’ve never read the Iron Man or seen The Iron Giant?! I have been remiss and have been meaning to rectify both of these things for years! If there is anything that was more an inspiration for that robot, it was the mute robot guardian in Studio Ghibli’s film “Castle in the Sky”.

I had couple of ideas about this card. I knew I wanted to use the idea of a hot air balloon being a birthday balloon because the idea amused me, but didn’t know whether I wanted to have a Coggington in the balloon, or interacting with it some way else. When Izzy (my housemate and friend) suggested having him holding onto the balloon, it sounded perfect and I liked the idea of it yanking him off his feet which went on to lend itself to the caption inside of “Don’t Get Carried Away!”

SFP: At present you only have the steampunk greeting cards on sale in your store. Are there any plans to sell prints of your other artwork?

Curtis Allen: There are! Nothing solid yet, but a few people have suggested or shown an interest in me doing prints. I would like to do some new pieces specifically for prints, but the current problem is finding the time to do them. As illustration is not my full-time job, it has to compete with my other jobs and this is something I’m finding frustrating. But if anyone has any ideas of something that would work as a print in my style, please do let me know!

SFP: Are you likely to be selling any of your work at conventions in 2015. If so where can people expect to meet you?

Curtis Allen: Not as of yet. That said, I am hoping to get the illustration side of my life off the ground a bit more in 2015 so will be looking at more ways to branch out and get my name about so we’ll see. There’s a chance I’ll end up performing at the Sci-Fi Weekender in London and if that happens, I’ll definitely bring some of my artwork with me!

SFP: Ever had any thoughts about illustrating for comics or any plans to?

Curtis Allen: As I have mentioned, that is where my love of illustration started and I love the storytelling aspect of illustration so I would love to do this. I am in need of a good story to tell. I have several ideas swirling about in my head regarding the future, cybernetics, digital networking, and how biology and technology have and will converge. Once I have figured out the details of that story, I hope to start serialising it into a graphic novel, or a prose/graphic novel hybrid.

I’m also hoping to write and illustrate a story for the Coggingtons characters who feature in my greetings cards in the near future, and maybe even create a stop-motion puppet or two to animate.

Watch this space!
SFP: Finally where can people expect to find your work on the worldwide web?

Curtis Allen: www.curtisallen.co.uk, www.facebook.com/CurtisAllenIllustrator, and www.etsy.com/shop/capndred primarily. Thank you for your time!

Ian Cullen is the founder of scifipulse.net and has been a fan of science fiction and fantasy from birth. In the past few years he has written for 'Star Trek' Magazine as well as interviewed numerous comics writers, television producers and actors for the SFP-NOW podcast at: www.scifipulseradio.com When he is not writing for scifipulse.net Ian enjoys playing his guitar, studying music, watching movies and reading his comics. Ian is both the founder and owner of scifipulse.net You can contact ian at: ian@scifipulse.net
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