Interview: Michael Bukowski – freelance Illustrator rooted in monsters, mythology, folklore and modern horror fiction

Inspiration of an illustrator

A short but insightful Q&A session with Michael Bukowski, an illustrator who has worked for numerous clients across the globe and even rode alongside several bands on tour across Europe and beyond.

Michael Bukowski - freelance illustrator

Mythology meets Mysticism – image by Michael Bukowski – All Rights Reserved

DJR: Hello Michael Bukowski. Thanks for taking time out to pen some words here.  You come across as a prolific creator and talented illustrator.  Do you consider yourself successful?  And how would you define yourself, in terms of being a creative?

Hey David! Thanks for the interviewing me. This is a bit of a hard question to answer because I’m not successful in the traditional sense of a freelance illustrator. I have to keep a part-time job at a gallery to stay afloat. I also prefer to work with mostly DIY bands and labels which limits your “success”. However, I have done artwork for over 300 clients on five different continents AND managed to get myself on 4 US tours, a European tour and an Asia/Australian tour with bands I’ve done work for….So, I’m successful in that respect? I don’t know if that answered anything.

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DJR: What are you currently working on?

I just finished up a poster design for a promoter in Arizona and I’ve been going back and forth on creature design for a movie. I also do work for a lot of group shows in Philadelphia and the surrounding area but mostly I’ve been working on my blog, which is probably what most of your readers will be familiar with.

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Michael Bukowski - freelance illustrator with occult and cthulhu mythos themes

Michael Bukowski – All Rights Reserved

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DJR: Linking into the above. What theme captures your artistic temperament and sees most creative output? What truly inspires you and gives you a tingle of delight to craft within? And conversely, what makes you want to pull your hair out. What concepts are your biggest challenge?

I love monsters, mythology, folklore and modern horror fiction. I think all of that stuff kinda rattles around in my brain together and then it spills out in some combination or another. In many ways I’m like that creepy horror nerd from an 80s movie (ie the kid from Deadly Spawn or Friday the 13th IV). I love the macabre and the morbid. So, when I’m asked to make art that’s always what I lean towards. I don’t have too many concepts that make me cringe. I’ve done work that I wasn’t too personally invested in but saw it as a challenge as an illustrator to make it interesting. There are some things that I simply won’t do and it says so in my contact information on my website. I will not do racist, sexist or homophobic artwork or work for bands that are racist sexist or homophobic.

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DJR: Where did you come from, physically, artistically and how did you reach this point in your life?  Any anecdotes you’d like to share with other creatives who are treading the same path?

I was born in Northern New Jersey and lived in various places in that area (Essex County specifically, think Sopranos) until I left to study at University Of the Arts in Philadelphia in 1997. I’ve been here ever since. I think both places have deeply affected my work. Both are super industrialized and urban, with little magic or nature. So, it’s not really a surprise that I retreated into books and movies that focus on the fantastic as a sort of escape. Don’t get me wrong, I had a good childhood, but as far as environment goes, it wasn’t too pretty.

My mother was always into horror literature. She read a lot of Stephen King, and as a result I read a bunch (probably when I was way too young) and got sucked in. My father (not a very good dad) would get me for the weekends and would let me rent two of whatever movie I wanted, then plop me in front of the TV for the next 24 hours. He seriously let me rent ANYTHING. I was twelve years old and watching things like Burial Ground and House By the Cemetery. It all made me the creep I am today.

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Michael Bukowski - freelance illustrator with occult and cthulhu mythos themes

Michael Bukowski – All Rights Reserved

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DJR: Any more strings to your bow?

Not really haha. I mean I love to travel and I do that a lot and I love horror movies and literature, but as far as an applicable skill that I could apply to the real world? Nope this is it. Which is fine with me because I love art. I can’t stop. I will continue to make art until I’m unable. Even if commissions dry up, I’ll still be plugging away at this blog/zine. And once that’s over, I’ll move on to other author’s work or a new project completely, but I won’t ever stop.

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DJR: Do you see the Cthulhu Mythos seeping further into mainstream awareness through cinema and fiction? Do you think this would be a good thing or a bad thing?  A validation of Lovecraft’s work after nearly a century of relegation to a “freakish” sub-genre – or an erosion of deliciously obscure niche that the Mythos sits within?

I tend to think that HPL’s influence on popular culture has peaked and will probably plateau. I can’t see his ideas and themes going out of fashion but I also can’t imagine anything more than the occasional reference in movies and television. Like, it’s great that season five of Buffy has a human embodiment of a universal gate as a character (not to mention the Dagon Sphere) but as far as actually seeing his bleak atheist ideas in popular culture…I can’t imagine it.

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Michael Bukowski - freelance illustrator with occult and cthulhu mythos themes

Michael Bukowski – All Rights Reserved

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DJR: How do you see the Occult and the Cthulhu Mythos side by side. Two entirely disparate systems or…. ?

Oh I think they’re entwined but that doesn’t bother me. I feel like I view the occult very similarly to Lovecraft himself. It’s all full of really intriguing concepts and imagery but in the end it’s all bunk. So I can understand him using some of a made up set of beliefs to cull together his own made up set of beliefs. Does that make sense?

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DJR: What’s your favourite source of inspiration (artist or otherwise)?

Aside from HPL and his circle,  I like looking at nature a lot. Pictures of fish, arthropods, weird plants.  I also love horror movies and horror fiction. I read all four Laird Barron books this summer as well as catching up on Clive Barker’s Books Of Blood Vol 1-6. World folklore and mythology as well. I don’t know how a lot of that seeps into my work but I think fractions of disparate sources congeal together in one piece. I also love The Key Of Solomon and it’s demon descriptions. I’ve totally directly interpreted a few of those.

In terms of artists, there are a ton. Geof Darrow, Charles Burns, Guy Davis, Mike Mignola, Dan Seagrave, Ed Repka, and then a bunch of local and lesser known artists. Jeanne D’Angelo, Trevor Henderson, Sam Heimer, Dylan Garrett Smith, Justin Gray,

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DJR: What’s coming up in your world that you’d like to shout about? Any links, events, promos you would like to share with the folks who look at this blog every month?

I have a piece coming up in Puffed Shoggoths (an HPL themed illustration zine) and I just finished a piece for a benefit group show called Countdown to (en)Danger here in Philly (for the World Wildlife Fund). Most important though, Volume III of Illustro Obscurum will be ready for Christmas (blasphemous!). Keep an eye on my blog for that. I also have a weeks worth of really obscure HPL deities ready to post in the week of October.

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