Arik Moonhawk Roper may be stoner-metal's definitive visual artist, having painted album covers and T-shirt and poster designs for heavy bong-hitters from Sleep to Weedeater to Windhand. The Brooklyn-based artist studied at New York's School of Visual Arts in the early Nineties, specializing in cartooning, illustration and screen printing, then cut his teeth creating imagery for bands like Buzzoven and Nebula. It was his work with Sleep that really put him on the map, however, and set the stage for a longstanding creative association with the group's guitarist Matt Pike, whose follow-up band High on Fire has also used many pieces of Roper's art. We caught up with Roper to get the lowdown on his process and vision.
What is your artistic background?
I've been drawing since I was a young kid. In school I studied cartooning and screen-printing, and starting do freelance around age 18. I did work for bands, storyboards for ad agencies and animation companies, all types of illustration. I later started focusing on the music-related work, which happened to be less lucrative but more interesting to me.
What was your first album cover?
The first cover I did was for Buzzoven's The Gospel According II... That was 1996 or '97. I had done shirts and flyers before that.
What materials do you use?
At this point I use waterproof ink, watercolor/liquid inks, gouache, and acrylic paints. I usually use heavy-weight cotton watercolor paper.
Do you approve of using computers?
I don't disapprove of it on principle, but I don't prefer it for creating the type of work I usually do. It depends on your goal. It's obviously an extremely useful tool for many types of layout and typesetting, or making vector graphics etc. but I don't like the synthetic look that one gets from trying to replicate an organic process digitally.
How long does it take you to complete a piece?
If the concept is entirely up to me, then the brainstorming process is usually the longest step. Once I have a solid idea, I can move pretty fast on it. I often have to do work in stages where I'll lay down the background and let it dry thoroughly, then start on the other elements. I may have to let these other elements dry in different steps before I can proceed. Generally a few long days of working will produce a cover, but it varies.
What sort of things do you use for inspiration?
I have a lot of old art and photography books and magazines I look through when I'm thinking. And being in different physical spaces gives me ideas, so I might go to a museum or a cathedral and just being there allows my mind to access new ideas. New perspectives, that's the key. Being in nature is always vital, but living in New York City doesn't allow me as much time with that as I'd like—I'm trying to change that.
How much input do you have into the ideas behind the work?
I almost always do the conceptualizing and ideas myself then present it to the client.
What musicians have you worked with in the past?
I've made cover art for High on Fire, Sleep, Earth, the Black Crowes, Howlin Rain, Buzzoven, Weedeater, Astra, Grand Magus and others.
Who is left that you would love to create for?
My own solo album…which I have yet to make.
Which other artists do you admire in your field?
There are some contemporary artists who I admire. A few are really masterful, but I don't want to get into naming them. The best ones are those who are not only great draftsmen or painters but have a sense of how to compose and design. Like I said before, if you can have control over the art and presentation it makes for a more solid piece of work. I see more examples of this outside the heavy music, metal field.
What piece are you most proud of and why?
A couple of things I did for the latest High on Fire release I thought came out pretty well, but in the end they weren't used for the final so they'll remain unpublished for now.