steven rhodes art
Brisbane illustrator steven rhodes makes art that’s nostalgic and a little bit wrong.
Hi Steven! Tell us a bit about yourself. Hey! I’m an illustrator based in Brisbane, and I specialise in retro-inspired design with an emphasis on dark humour and the occult.
How did you get started in the art-making business? I was interested in art from a young age, but wasn’t sure I could make a living from it. So, I studied and started work as a landscape architect, while drawing and designing in my spare time. One day, coming home from work on the peak-hour train, I saw a middleaged man who looked utterly defeated by the world. I didn’t want to end up like that guy, so I quit my job and studied graphic design. Around that time, I discovered Threadless, an online apparel company where artists can showcase their designs. I started sharing my work and collaborating with other artists, and that was the first step towards what I do now.
What’s the concept behind your Sinister ’70s collection? What if, sometime in the 1970s, an obscure publisher had released a whole bunch of wildly inappropriate kids’ books? That’s the basic idea. I’ve always liked the look of graphics from the ’70s and ’80s – the colours, the swash-heavy fonts, those kitschy curved borders. I made a couple of designs in that style, mainly for my own amusement, and they really resonated with people, so I continued adding to the collection!
Where do you find inspiration for your designs? There’s a handful of really good antique stores and op shops in Brisbane, where I’m always on the hunt for books, board games, activity sets, toys or anything from the ’70s that inspires me. Little Golden Books, Choose Your Own Adventure novels, Atari videogame covers and old VHS artwork are some good reference points. Conceptually, though, lots of my ideas come from old horror comics, trashy paperbacks, Dungeons & Dragons and occult themes.
How do people react to your dark humour? Most people are fans of the horror genre or share my warped sense of humour and love of the source material, so it’s generally a very positive response. I do get the occasional hate message, though – some people miss the satire or parody aspect of my work and assume I have some sort of satanic agenda.
Can you talk us through your creative process? The best ideas come to me randomly (usually in the shower or at 3am). I keep a long list of design concepts that I develop further when I’m feeling inspired. Often I’m replicating a very specific genre, so I start by looking at lots of reference material from that era. Then it’s sketching time. I always start with a sketch on paper, which I then ink with a brush pen. From there, I scan the artwork and complete the colouring and typography digitally on the computer. I use a lot of half-tones, trying to replicate some of the misalignment effects you see in old comics.
Any favourite horror or sci-fi films? You can’t go past the classics: Halloween, The Thing, Friday the 13th, Poltergeist, Evil Dead, The Gate and The Exorcist. More recently, I liked It Follows, The Witch, Get Out and Suspiria (2018).
What’s the creepiest thing that’s happened to you? My wife Claire and I were staying in a cabin in the woods (where all creepy stories start). It was a pretty remote area and really quiet at night. Out of nowhere, we started hearing one of those really slow, old-fashioned air-raid sirens in the distance, like it was winding through the mountain roads. It lasted about 10 minutes, then stopped. It was pretty unsettling.
One thing we should know about you? I’m a massive introvert. When I was a kid, Mum asked if I was ready to go to school next year and I ran and hid in a cardboard box. I still feel about the same.
Where can we see more of your work? stevenrhodes.threadless.com or on Instagram at @stevenrhodesart.