Dave Mahan is a talented Boston based illustrator. In 2013 he conducted a very unique research project on witchcraft, paganism, and the occult at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. As a result of this thesis project, Dave gave life to several of creations ranging from illustrations to gallery pieces on wood panels. I had the pleasure of trading art prints with Dave months ago and I was amazed by the beauty and depth of his artwork. For this reason I have decided to show some of his work. In the text below, the artist talks about the research project that precedes the act of creation, its aims, outcomes and limitation and also about future projects. I personally want to thank Dave Mahan for sharing his thoughts with me and for accepting the invitation to talk about his artwork in this blog. It is a real honour to start a series of short articles about emerging and established artists with Dave Mahan.
“The Wild Hunt” (April 2014) 12″x18″ mixed media and photoshop
To start off, my yearlong thesis project on witchcraft, paganism, and the occult was part of the illustration department curriculum at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. When I took the course the structure of the class involved a couple of weeks to figure out a topic, 2-3 months to research the subject, and another 9 months to produce a body of work and a book collecting all of the imagery. Since it was an illustration related project, the output and media choice had to reflect on the markets that we wanted to pursue a career in after graduation.
My biggest inspirations are classic movie/band posters, book covers, and comics so I wanted a subject where I could work with a strong narrative sense to connect to these markets. I’m sort of obsessive when it comes to my work, and this did not seem like a sufficient amount of time to devote to such an extensive project. I knew that any subject I went with would merely be an introduction to the topic.
When it was all said and done I produced close to 30 illustrations ranging from 2”x2” spot illustrations to 24”x36” gallery pieces on wood panels. Now, the downside to working on a project like that is you sort of have to jump in head first and sometimes even produce illustrations before the research is 100% sorted out.
I had a number of false starts where pieces I was working on didn’t really make sense as I dug deeper into my research. To be perfectly honest, I was not even sure what exactly I was researching in the beginning. I had set out to do my entire thesis on witchcraft, but a lot of the subjects that I wanted to explore were better described as relating to paganism or the occult. I eventually expanded the area of research and everything started to flow a little easier. I also had a few issues with media choice before I found a fitting medium for the subject matter. I believe I finished and discarded 3 fully realized illustrations and 2 supplemental pieces before things started to come together naturally.
“London 1: Pharaoh” (April 2014) 10″x16″ Mixed Media and Digital
This became sort of a blessing in disguise since the body of work I ended up producing was better informed and allowed me to experiment with new techniques that I use in my current work. I should also state that as far as subject matter was concerned I was a total novice (I still am, but I’m learning). I knew a little bit about Gardnerian Witchcraft and Neopaganism from some of my friends who grew up with the traditions, but I had never really thought about how any of their beliefs connected to my life.
The more I interviewed people who practiced witchcraft, had experience with ceremonial magic, or simply expressed beliefs in the old gods, I started to see some similarities with life choices that I had made. By the time I finished my thesis project I felt like I had just scratched the surface of a very intriguing subject. I have continued to read as much about witchcraft, paganism, and the occult as I can. I’m still sorting out how it all fits into my life, but I have already taken a lot away from the information I have discovered.
Most of my artistic background comes from experimenting with mixed media techniques. In the illustration department at MassART we are supposed to select a media choice early on and stick with it to eventually build up a consistent portfolio. I experimented with a number of different techniques (screen printing, watercolor, acrylic, pen and ink with digital color, etc…), but nothing felt like it blended with my vision of what I wanted the project to look like. I took an experimental illustration class with an incredible artist named Robert Maloney (he was also the instructor for my thesis project). In this class we experimented with a number of mixed media techniques. I was eventually exposed to acrylic medium transfers and a wide array of possibilities opened up from there.
By using acrylic transfers I could achieve a pseudo printmaking feel without the trappings of screen printing. After much trial and error I sorted out a process where I would hand draw a number of different elements, Xerox them and collage all the elements together, scan these collages and add digital color, and finally transfer the colorized images on to birch panels. In some cases I would collage on larger elements at the end to further push the mixing of media. The whole process (from concept to finished piece) would take anywhere from 5 hours for a small illustration to 20-30 hours for larger ones.
The finished product has a weathered feel similar to an old forgotten piece of parchment. Incidental marks are inevitable, and were sometimes enhanced by sanding away entire sections of the composition. The compositions themselves were mostly based around panel oriented pages similar to a comic. My original plan was to overlay narrative text over these pieces, but I grew to love the plain sequential illustrations where an entire story could be told over a single page without any text. Overall the project was received quite well.
There were some people who were put off by the subject matter, but I did not take it personally. I had some faculty members advise me to remove the thesis material from my portfolio out of fear that some markets would shy away from working with me. I also had some very positive reviews from industry professionals who boosted my confidence in the body of work as a whole.
I am proud of the amount of work that I produced, the new techniques that I learned, the wonderful people I met while researching the project, and the unbelievable amount of support that I received by sharing the work online. I met so many talented artists willing to share their opinions on my work and made some great friends in the process. I have a number of issues with the illustration department at MassART, but I do not regret any part of my thesis project whatsoever. I am currently working on a black and white book collecting most of the imagery from my thesis along with some new illustrations. I have sketchbooks full of ideas leftover from when I was researching the project, so expect to see more work revolving around witchcraft, paganism, and the occult very soon.
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