Raw emotional art flows from Derek Hess

Erika Kreider

Cleveland artist makes nationally renowned album covers, posters

Derek Hess of Cleveland has been designing album covers, posters, and fine art for 15 years for national and local bands.

Credit: Erika Kreider

Derek Hess is a music artist in every sense of the word. A self-built, Cleveland-based artist, Hess draws album covers, band fliers and fine art, just to name a few of his talents. After giving up his job booking bands at clubs, Hess slid his way into the art scene about a decade ago. Bands he has drawn for include Pink Floyd, Thursday and The Deftones. He now owns a clothing line, called Strhessclothing, started his own music festival, StrhessFest and sells original art. Here are a few questions that bare the personality behind the raw and emotional drawings this man presents to the world:

Erika Kreider: How would you describe your art to someone who’s never seen it before, either emotionally or the art itself?

Derek Hess: Well the art itself is — it’s mainly figurative, and it’s raw. I’m trying to really capture the essence of certain emotions and feelings. I like to do that by doing things more minimal and keeping it loose and fresh. I like to imply things, rather than lay it all out graphically. Draw the viewer in and let them read into it.

Did people support you in becoming an artist or did they try to sell you idea of “the starving artist?”

I didn’t run into either. I did comic books. I was doing those awhile and shows I was booking, so it really wasn’t like, ‘Oh, you’re a starving artist,’ or even, ‘You’ll not be able to make it.’ It just kind of evolved from there, and it became obvious that it was working. I never got negative feedback from people.

What medium do you use to draw?

I use black Gelly-Roll pens. They cost like a buck each. The things I color these days (are) with acrylic. It’s not much, it basically accents the drawing.

Have you always linked your art with music?

Well, a lot of it is. When I started getting noticed, it definitely was the main link because it was concert posters. I’m at a point now where I think there’s separation, but you can always connect my art to music. I’m doing a lot of stuff now that’s not music-oriented. Music is there, but not every piece is about it.

What part of music inspires you? The lyrics or the instruments or the whole package?

The whole package. Lyrics are really important, especially if they’re good. But there’s certain bands that write better than other ones as far as lyrics. Other times, it’s just the music and the feel that’s created. Those are two motivating factors, always. There’s where that part of my inspiration comes from. The other part comes from bad relationships and different social climates.

What do you mean by social climates?

I’m not a political artist. But things going on politically — I think a lot of my work is politically influenced and an end product of how it makes me feel.

When did you start drawing the style you draw now?

Well, I’ve always (drawn) very, very, very loose. That’s how it started — that’s how I learned to draw. For a while, there I was tightening up to a certain degree. After awhile, I got to a point where I liked the end result, but I liked the beginning sketch better. It was more fresh, more loose. I’ve been going in that direction lately. I’ve been doing it for the past five years. Right now, I’m in between. I do some things loose and tighten some stuff up.

None? You just sit down and you’re like, “I’m going to draw?”

I’m gonna draw. I’m going to draw right now. It’s drawing time. Sometimes, I draw with the TV on, I’ll sit down and do a sketch. There’s no set formula.

What art have you done that you’re most proud of?

I definitely get more satisfaction from doing fine art print than doing the concert posters or the CD covers. It’s a core kind of feeling. It leaves me more vulnerable, obviously, because this is what’s up, this is me, this is my art, this is how I feel. I can’t put my finger on a specific one though. I know the Valentine piece, a lot of people connected with that. I see a lot of tattoos of that piece. It’s very flattering someone actually tattooed my art on them.

If someone lived a day in your shoes, would any habit of yours surprise them?

Probably not. I’m not an eccentric artist. There’d be a lot of coffee consumption … there would be some dog walking. Nothing out of the ordinary.

— Portions of this interview have been paraphrased for clarity.

Contact pop arts reporter Erika Kreider at [email protected].