It's not often you come across a talent who is prolific in both visual arts and the written word--not to mention various forms of visual media. But Ash Arceneaux is one of those talents. I was pleased to recently come across her work at deviantART, and even more pleased that she consented to discuss it for a bit on The Vault of Horror.
In addition to being an artist, you're also a writer of supernatural thrillers, among other things, under the pen name Adra Steia. What led you to this? Is the writing what eventually led you to the visual arts?
I’ve been a writer since I figured out how to hold a pencil. My mom still has bedsheets I scribbled my ‘story’ on when I was a toddler! I’ve always had a fascination with the darker side of things, although it was more of an interest in human reaction to these horrible things than in the monsters or murders or whatever. As for the writing leading me to art, mainly no, but a little bit yes. Just as I’ve been writing since I was a kid, I’ve been drawing. Both are ingrained parts of me, and I couldn’t be who I am without one or the other.
What is more difficult in your opinion?
Writing. With art, you can just go on a whim and turn a mistake into part of the picture. You can visually show your emotions, your themes, your ideas, without having to worry about grammar and technical stuff and the bane of a writer’s existence: ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’. And I can turn out a new art piece in a day or so, and it takes months to write a book, weeks to edit it, years to sell it, and years to see the financial investment!
I find it interesting that you've done both illustration and photo-based work. Was that a conscious decision? Which do you prefer?
Before I discovered digital media about four years ago, the only way I knew how to do any sort of artwork was with a pencil. A friend of mine introduced me to a graphics program, and I was hooked. I love both traditional and digital, but I have to say I prefer Photoshop to a pencil. My skills with pens and pencils and paints are so limited in comparison to what I can do with Photoshop!
I ask this question of everyone, but what led you to want to explore these more visually disturbing themes in your work? Why not just paint happy trees and mountains like Bob Ross?
Twisted childhood, of course. Lots of issues with abandonment and rejection, and my upbringing in a pastor’s household. I fully embrace my religious beliefs, but I like to explore those taboo boundaries of death, evil and sin. In fiction, there’s something about imagining the emotional responses during a situation where a person has no control, little hope, and little chance of survival. In art, it’s like peeling off the masks of our happy little lives and showing what’s truly underneath. Each of my latest pieces has a theme behind it.
Who are some of your inspirations?
Edvard Munch, Dali, Van Gogh, and so many artists on deviantART: Decreptitude, Grandeombre, Vyrl, Bill Tackett, and the list grows every day.
I notice you've designed some book covers and jackets. How did you get into that, and how would you describe it as an outlet for visual artists now, as compared to in the past?
It is an extremely relevant art form, and outlet, for visual artists. In many ways, digital art and digital art design is the future of art. We’re quickly becoming a paperless society. While traditional media will always have a place, the ability to create art digitally will soon be a necessity.
When my first novel, Swamp Baby, was in queue for design, a friend of mine happened to get the assignment. She involved me in the entire design process (which authors rarely get much say in). Until then, I had no idea [of the technical process of] how a book got its cover. I started playing with digital production, and as soon as I was confident in my skills, I started applying with small presses and magazines. It’s a job I absolutely love.
You've also created designs that have appeared on bags, as jewelry, and even in tattoo form. Tell me a little about that.
I’m manic about creating. I get the urge to make something, and I use what I have at hand. I love painting on clothes, bags, and shoes. I don’t have the organizational and planning skills required for jewelry making, so that was a one-time thing. As for tattoo art, tattoos are my third passion. I absolutely love a well-done tattoo, and I’ve been thrilled to design art for friends and the occasional complete stranger.
Of what work are you most proud, and why?
This is a hard question to answer! While I can say I’m most proud of my cover art, I can’t really narrow it down to just one cover, although the ones I’ve done for Damnation Books are very high on my list of favorites. I’ve done some that make me want to hide under a table somewhere and cry from shame (in my defense, it’s what the author wanted, and when a newbie author has their heart set on *insert crap here* then that’s what they’ll get). I can honestly say I feel like I’m good enough at my job to turn just about any outrageous request into a decent cover (ex: http://asharceneaux.deviantart.com/art/ruling-Eden-cover-139138725).
Are you still studying art at the moment? How would you describe that experience, and how has it altered your work compared to what it would be like without the formal training?
I’m a horrible student. Hence the reason I’m a four-time college dropout. I dropped out of art school last year after failing math (math? For an art degree? Ugh…) and enrolled in my local community college. While I learned a lot in three years of art school, I think I’ve learned twice as much in the art program I’m in now, in just a fraction of the time. I never thought an artist needed to go to school to learn what comes naturally, but now that I’ve done it, I see the marked improvements in my work. If anything, a professor challenging your self-taught methods and showing you their techniques opens your mind to new ways.
When it comes to horror themes in art, do you feel that women bring a different perspective to the work than men, and if so, how? Or is that too much of a generalization?
It is a little bit of a generalization, but one I think I can answer. I think art is one of the few areas where men and women are on fairly equal footing. An artist can feasibly remain gender-anonymous until they choose to reveal themselves. I managed to hide my gender identity for the first two years of my art career. I didn’t really promote a lot of my artwork and I conducted most of my business via the Internet. It wasn’t until I ‘came out’ at a convention that people (who didn’t know me personally) put a woman’s face to 'ash’s' work.
Women bring something new to the table in regards to horror art. Women aren’t scared of blood and the emotional aspects of horror. I can’t speak for every female artist, but the female artists I respect and admire aren’t afraid to dig deep into the emotional viscera of art, and sometimes what they unearth can be deeply disturbing.
What are some upcoming projects people can look forward to? Any more fiction on the horizon?
As for art, I’m working on a bunch of new pieces, all fitting into either my feminism themes or my ‘gothic romance’ theme. I expect to have them in my gallery over the next few weeks, and for sale by summer. I’ve got a couple of new projects just getting off the ground. I’ll be attending the Romantic Times Convention at the end of April in Columbus, Ohio, CONtext in Columbus in August, and Authors After Dark convention in New Jersey in September. I’ll have dealer tables at the August and September conventions, so check me out, and if you’re in the area, come see me!
"QUITE SIMPLY, THE BEST HORROR-THEMED BLOG ON THE NET." -- Joe Maddrey, Nightmares in Red White & Blue
**Find The Vault of Horror on Facebook and Twitter, or download the new mobile app!**
**Check out my other blogs, Standard of the Day, Proof of a Benevolent God and Lots of Pulp!**