Interview: Skinner on creating Mastodon's psychedelic new cover art

The artist tells us that his four-panel artwork is for Once More Round The Sun is 'probably the best shit I've ever done'.

The artwork of California-based Skinner sits on that same meeting point of horror and psychedelia as British artist/illustrator as Godmachine and Dan Mumford, though his work is noticeably more 'out there' than those Brits. His work has found a lot of favour in heavy metal and skate cultures, and one of his latest projects is a four panel artwork for the vinyl and CD releases of the highly anticipated new album by rockers Mastodon, Once More Round The Sun.

The album's not out til June 24, but the artwork's already on show and has been garnering a lot of attention in both art and metal blogs, so I caught up with Skinner to find out more about the project.

NB: How would you describe yourself and your artwork?

S: "An experimentation in discovery, gods, discipline, risk and strange beasts. A mythology of psychedelic Jungian symbology. A Joseph Campbell search for my own myth and to understand the world I have created."

NB: So calling you a ‘metal/skate artist' is a bit restrictive?

S: "Well that is restrictive because it's a super generalized and marginal label. Not that I take it personally, it's just that I do anything I want to as a way of exercising my creative being and those are two of many many things that I do."

NB: What do you love most about working in your style?

S: "That it changes, that people like it, that it makes me feel good and that I can actually continue to live this life as a privilege and not a ditch digger.

"I'm extremely lucky and I love to work all the time and just like anything in this life: love, work, relationships, dreams – The more you put in, the more you get out."

Right: The panel that's being used as the CD cover for Mastodon's Once More Round The Sun (below, alongside the vinyl release).

Use the slideshow controls above and right to see the rest of the panels, and the artwork as a whole.

NB: How did you get the Mastodon gig?

S: "I became friends with Brann, the drummer. He asked me if I wanted to do it over coffee one morning when we were at his house last October. It was a great thing to wake up to.

"He went on to talk about this insane/spiritual concept that encompassed the nature of life and death in the universe in a way – surrounding the concept of travelling around the Sun: another day, another year; once more 'round the Sun; life goes on; it ends and begins.

"He's absolutely one of my favorite people. I see him as this creative being that uses every bit of his creative spirit, his pain, his life in all facets and puts it in his art. That's a pure thing. That's a good thing and real.

NB: Was there much of a brief beyond listening to the album?

S: "Brann and I talked several times, [but] he really let me be the creative interpreter he saw in me. It was incredibly encouraging to have him believe in me."

NB: What was your reaction the music and how did it seep its way into the artwork?

S: "I loved it. I listened to the rough mixes as I painted.

"I've been a huge Mastodon album for years. It's crazy because I have invested a lot into loving the music and now that I know them and work with them, it's just really surreal. To be a friend and a fan – it's hard. But they make it so easy for me. I just want to do right by them.

NB: Tell us a bit about the creative process from idea to sketch to working up the final piece?

S: "Well I just sort of started sketching with a pencil and kept Brann involved in what I was doing and he was just thumbs up all the way. He sent me photos of plants he liked and I incorporated them.. It was honestly the best creative experience I have ever had and honestly it's probably the best shit I've ever done."

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NB: What feedback have you had from the band about it?

S: "They love it and I'm their favorite guy and they all cut off their ears and mailed them to me. I'm making a sweet necklace out of the ears but my cats keep getting to it so a few of them are half eaten – but it still looks cool."

NB: The artwork’s gonna look amazing on the vinyl sleeve, but did you have to consider how it would work as an iTunes thumbnail too?

S: "Oh man, I never considered that. Fuck, that sucks that we have to think about that but it is kinda funny. This artwork was made specifically with the idea that it would be an experience for collectors, [a way of experiencing music that's been around] since the 70's: Smoke weed, turn it on and look at the art – you know what I mean?"

Right: The panel that's used on the front cover of the vinyl version of Mastodon's Once More Round The Sun.

NB: What’s next?

S: "A bunch of weird shit. Right now I'm at an airport waiting to go to LA to talk about the logistics of a cartoon with Titmouse Animation Studios [creators of cult animated TV shows for Adult Swim such as Venture Bros and Metalocalypse].

"Blake Anderson from [US Comedy Central sitcom] Workaholics asked me to do a cartoon with him so I'm gonna see how rad it could be. I'm really excited to see where that goes.

"Besides that I have a weird children's book coming out on Last Gasp, some new vinyl toys, a show in November at Cotton Candy Machine with Arik Roper and a show in February in the Philippines. My company Critical Hit always has new weird shirts and prints on it too.

Right: The full artwork.