Several days ago, I met with Michelle Dugan at Charlie’s Kitchen in Cambridge, MA. I wanted to speak to her about her amazing artwork and considering we both live local to each other, why not grab some grub? While we stuffed our faces, we got into detail about how she got started, what she is working on, and her involvement in secret art society cults. Dugan is also forming a new hardcore band, featuring some of the areas best musicians, an outcome from where she lived catching on fire last year. Balancing art school, work, multiple art projects, and a band, but still has time to mow down and chat. Rad.
So when did you first start drawing and illustrating?
I’ve been drawing since I was in diapers. I don’t remember much about my past but I was always told that. I was always the kid inside, I was never an outdoors kid. I was always inside with Price Is Right on and drawing. It’s all I’ve done, since I can remember. That’s how it started.
When did you realize it was more of a passion and wanted to do more with it [illustrating]?
The entire time growing up, I never bothered or even thinking about doing anything else. Like shit, what am I going to do about money, eventually it kept building and building. Like oh, maybe I can do this forever. So far it’s working out decent.
Decent? Explain decent.
Well, when I graduated high school I had the opportunity to start tattooing, it was at a low key shop I was in, so it gave me a taste of how I can make money with what I do. Since then, I have been putting my art out there. This lead to me coming to Boston, going to Mass Art for illustration and screen-printing and then reaching out to the music community I’ve been a part of. Started with flyers and more flyers, that lead to artwork. I haven’t been without freelance work in almost two years now.
What is Ghostshrimp? I know they’re behind cartoon series, Adventure Time, on Cartoon Network. What’s the deal with this, I tried doing looking around and I not sure what to make of it. It’s like a collective, but it’s…
[Getting really excited] Ya, it might be a cult. But we’re not sure yet. Essentially, this guy and a good friend Dan Bandit, who was from Massachusetts originally, and did kinda the same thing. Started hitting up bands and stuff and it lead to, going to L.A. to work for Cartoon Network doing Adventure Time. With the money he made from that, he bought 25 acres of woods in Vermont. His whole dream is building an art community. So every year he invites eight artists from around the world to come hang out. Half the day we’re building, cutting trees, digging trenches, and stuff like that. The other half, we’re all drawing together, illustrators, animators, fine artists, painters and we just have different influences, artistically and culturally. So now we have this little community, we keep in touch online too. So any time we’re like “We need feedback on this” we have like 25 artists all around the world [providing feedback]. It’s a really cool community.
How long have you been a part of this… “cult?”
I became a Ghostscout in… It’s a secret society of Ghostscouts and I became a Ghostscout in 2013 and I’ve been going every summer since. It’s not always a reoccurring, like you don’t have to go back, but I was invited back and do the same thing. Build more and draw more.
You trade… Building for him not only gives you the feedback, and friends, and all the benefits with that, but also if I ever fell like I want to be in isolation for a few months, I can go live in a cabin in the woods. So I’m going to go stay there for a few weeks and completely isolate myself and work on a bunch of illustrations. This [year, 2015] will be my third summer.
Do you recall what initially inspired you towards your style? Bob Barker?
[Laughs] I’d say, my style is still definitely developing, but I’ve always been drawn to darker stuff, for sure, as long as I can remember. I’d say the biggest motivator is meeting an artist or encountering an artist who’s style just blows me away, like “Crap, I’m so far behind from where they are.” What can I do to amp up my style, I’ll draw influence from a bunch of artists I admire and take what I love and make it my own.
Who have you been looking at more recently as inspiration?
Recently, it’s been a lot of old school classical print makers. So a lot of Albrecht Dürer, a lot of Gustave Doré. Other than that, contemporary, Skinner from California does super trippy, deathy, LCD based monsters, AJ Fosik does similarly really weird, colorful sculptures of demons and monsters. Then we got Anthony Lucero from Cult Leader, we’re working on a collaboration, super excited on that. And then Sin Eater, I don’t even know his real name, and then another internet friend, I love his work. He goes by Medusawolf, his name is Alan Brown, he does this super archaic painting style of knights, and wizards, and cult work like that, I love it.
Speaking of collaborations, you are teaming up with the infamous Nick Wolf for his fourth, fifth, twentieth band and Alex Garcia-Rivera to form Ascend/Descend, what the deal on this new band?
[Laughs] Nick was actually my first client for art in Boston, which was sick and we’ve become best friends since. But Ascend/Descend is a result of my house burning down last year. We had joked about starting a hardcore band, but he’s in a million bands, and works and tours so it wasn’t going to work. Then my house burnt down and I was like “I really need to yell. I really need to do this.” And he was like “Alright.” It started as, like a studio project, like “we’ll get in, you can yell, get like a four song EP out there, maybe it will lead you to another band.” This is how I met Alex, then the more we played together, we just [with excitement] “Are we doing this?” Everyone’s been pumped, the three of us have been working every week, we have recordings, and getting ready to release a four song EP just to get people acquainted with us.
Interesting, neat little collective forming.
Hell of a lineup and it’s my first band, little embarrassing to say. I’ve been practicing yelling into my pillow, making sure my vocal chords don’t get all lazy on me. It’s been great and I’m super excited to show people what we’ve been working on.
Aside from all this, anything else you’re working on?
Ya. [laughs] I’m working with a lot of local Boston bands, which is what I love most. A lot more metal lately. I’ve been doing a lot of work with Lord Almighty. I go to more hardcore shows, but I do more metal artwork, which is kinda weird. Lord Almighty has been around for a little while, I think they’re great. I’ve been doing artwork for them for about two years now. Working on a new album cover and t-shirt for them. I just did a t-shirt for Allston Diner. I’m doing a new project with Alex Garcia-Rivera for his solo project called Chrome Over Brass, he’s getting ready to go on tour and release, so I’m doing artwork for him, which is really cool.