Gris Grimly (Illustrator)

Gris Grimly: An Interview with Gris Grimly


To introduce Gris Grimly almost seems premature given this man's notoriety as an ingenious artist exceeds anything I could possible write about him. If you are reading this article, you most likely already know Gris Grimly's works and the many talents he possesses.

Children, including my own, love the unexplained and hold a fascination for it despite the fear and apprehension it may bring. Gris Grimly employs an innovative way of mixing in elements which convey childhood fantasies ripe with awe and magic with that of more "adult-like" gothic elements. It is only in this day and age that we finally realize children too are fascinated by the darker and more complex parts of life, and that restricting this draw to the unknown does nothing for quelling childrens' rampant imaginations. We once too were children - how quickly we forget.

Macabre elements in children's books, novels, and toys are presently becoming more mainstream. We are slowly catching up to a world Grimly envisioned when creating his artwork years ago. Gris Grimly, his monstrous artwork, and his picture books were (and still are) way ahead of our time.

Are you a fan of Gris' work? Discover more Macabre Artists.

What inspires you?

I find inspiration in everything. But it seems like a good book is where most of my ideas stem from.

How and when did you first get started as an artist?

This is a bit of a long story. I was living here in Los Angeles, working as a barista at a coffee house and picking up freelance work here and there. Through one of my employers at Universal Studios, I was introduced to my first creative agency, Shannon Associates, who picked me up. Simultaneously, I started creating small cautionary tales that were sold at a local children's book store and gallery. These books were my first venture into anything in the picture book format, since up to this point, my ambitions were to become a comic book illustrator. Those books were used by my agency to show my potential as a children's book illustrator. Shortly after that, I picked up my first gig illustration Monster Museum for Hyperion.

I've never understood a critique based on the authenticity of a mythical, fantastical or fictional creature. Imagination should never be stifled by preconceived notions.

What is the hardest part about creating your artwork?

Never being completely content with the final outcome.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I've kept many things private. Now that I have become a father, I've developed an attachment to my roots and have recently been disclosing some of that information. For instance, I grew up a farm boy in rural Nebraska. THAT, I'm sure will come as a surprise to many.

Can you tell me a bit more about The Dangerous Alphabet.

The Dangerous Alphabet was fun. I had the privilege of working with one of my literary icons, Neil Gaiman. This is the only book where I worked closely with the writer. If you read the story, there is very little as far as a narrative. So that needed to be developed. When Neil launched me he fervidly explained that it was a story about some kids in the London Underground with monsters and pirates. That was about it. So we would chat every week about ideas and then I would make the picture to go along with the stories we discussed on the phone. It was an experience like no other.

How has your practice changed over time? (or has it?)

We've seen the changes the digital medium has brought. But there are still the masters who pick up a paint brush and work in tangible forms.

Favourite or most inspirational place where you live?

I find roadside attractions, unique lodging, and manmade folk museums a huge source of inspiration. I have to travel to be in their healing power, but it's worth it. I guess I'm nomadic in my hunt for inspiration.

What's the best piece of advice you've been given?

It was my own advice: Figure out who you are and what you want to achieve and stick with it. Don't stray. I didn't listen to my own advice for years.

Most interesting critique you have ever received regarding your works?

I've never understood a critique based on the authenticity of a mythical, fantastical or fictional creature. Imagination should never be stifled by preconceived notions.

When you think of the concept of 'the artist's ego', what comes to mind?


Most difficult part about being an artist?

Living in my head.

Why do you think there is a growing interest in macabre and grotesque art?

I think we are becoming slowly desensitized, generation after generation. Just to give you an idea. When I was working with Hot Topic in 2000, I presented them with a baby onsie that had a skeleton rib cage printed on it. They turned down the design because it was too morbid and they didn't think mothers would want their babies in something reflecting death. Now, you can buy these and other mortality symbolic garments everywhere, including Baby Gap. Which, in the 90s, Gap was considered prep clothes.

How do you balance fatherhood with being an artist?

I'm still working on that. A child is a very distracting piece of flesh.

Best novel you have ever read?

That's a tough one. One of my favorite books (and inspirational as well) is Geek Love by Katherine Dunn.

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