Monster drawing is making a comeback, and we’re gobbling up the kooky designs of these 6 artists.
Most people who grew up anytime after 1971 are familiar with Jon Stone’s beloved bedtime story The Monster at the End of This Book. And for some, listening to that book time after time, night after night, that lovable Grover monster drawing just may have gotten into their heads. And remained there.
Grover and his other monster friends are partly to blame for Christopher McMahon’s monster obsession. Well, Sesame Street, along with Star Wars, Gremlins, Hayao Miyazaki comic books, video games and Saturday morning cartoons. You could say the ’70s and ’80s were ripe for producing artists destined for monster drawing and creating other monster-themed crafts.
“There’s a mishmash of art and pop culture in some corner of my brain that I probably draw from, mostly stuff that was burned into my psyche as a child in the ’80s,” says McMahon, an artist in Iowa City, Iowa, who likes to take thrift store paintings and incorporate his own monster drawing into each work.
It all started when he would come across abandoned or low-cost paintings, and he realized he could get a low-cost canvas. One day, McMahon came across a canvas at a yard sale, a scene of a lake and some mountains, available for a dollar.
“I was almost hypnotized by the wide-open space left in the center of the painting. My brain insisted that something should be in the lake,” McMahon says. “So I thought, ‘What would I put in the lake?’ And of course, my response was, ‘Sea monster.’ And I painted a sea monster in that lake, and everything was now right with the world.”
Now McMahon regularly shops in thrift stores for paintings that are less than $10 and sketches out a monster drawing based on the landscape of the painting. He references animals for anatomy with the landscape and then sketches the monster in black or white charcoal on the canvas, sands the canvas in the interior of the drawing to remove texture and then paints in oil or acrylic to match the original painting.
There’s a reason McMahon adds a monster drawing to each thrift store painting. “It’s because there’s an endless supply of them,” he says. “Reality is vast, but our brains can come up with an infinite number of variations on the things we’ve seen in reality.”
Justin Hillgrove, an artist based just outside of Seattle, also enjoys monster drawing for that reason. He says he loves the fact that he can have so much freedom with monsters.
“You’re not worried about proportions or colors or trying to make it look like anything specific,” he says. “You have free rein — it’s not anything that’s human or animal, so you get to make it up as you go, and you get to make a new character each time.”
In Hillgrove’s art, he likes to take very human situations but switches each subject out for a monster drawing. In doing this, he says, it’s easy for everyone and anyone to empathize with the characters.
For example, as a 40-year-old man with a beard, it would be difficult for Hillgrove to relate to a young red-haired freckled girl in a piece of art. But replace that girl with a monster with a sad face, and Hillgrove could see himself in the monster.
“I could say, ‘I feel where that monster has been,’” he says. “And there’s a monster for everyone. Some people are dog people, some people are cat people, but most people are monster people.”
In fact, there are so many monster lovers that Hillgrove is able to make his entire living just selling monster paintings online, in galleries around the country and in art shows.
Megan Rath, an artist in Bloomington, Illinois, says the reason there’s a monster for everyone is that they come in all shapes and sizes. She says as long as you have an imagination, you can create your own special monster. “Monsters can be anything you want them to be, as there is no limit to what you can do with them,” says Rath, who creates monster sculptures with paper clay. She starts with a blank shape and slaps on some beaded eyes. From there, her mind takes over, and she adds anything and everything until she feels like her monster is done.
Jasper St Aubyn West, a monster artist based in Adelaide, South Australia, takes a completely different approach to monster drawing. He works professionally as an animator / motion designer and as an art / creative director for film and television, so 90 percent of his work is in the digital realm, but he says his first and real love is in traditional illustration and painting.
West always traveled for work and wanted to quickly inject a little personality into his travel photos. As a child, he was obsessed with Jim Henson’s work, along with Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion creatures and horror films spanning the ’80s and ’90s. So he began placing a monster drawing in each of his own photos, and the images immediately went viral.
“It was a fun way of turning fairly mundane scenes into something a bit more interesting, and I also enjoyed the idea of using them to encourage people to look at the world around them from a slightly different angle,” West says. “Sure, I could communicate the dissatisfaction that many feel toward the daily commute in a portrait of a worn-down shift worker, but the visual metaphor of an entire subway train being swallowed whole by a monster seems to encapsulate those emotions in a bolder, more interesting way.”
Plus, he says, monsters are fun to draw.
Others take a more sinister view of their monster creations.
Andrea Falaschi, an Italian artist who lives near Pisa, says he loves to fuse his monster art, and he’s been enjoying mixing sculpture and painting, bringing the 3D out of a 2D piece of art.
It sounds tricky, but Falaschi says he has some hidden artistic talent: “Probably I’m a monster. I go out of my house mainly at night and only to have gigs with my horror metal band, Deathless Legacy. I hide from the sun in the darkness of my studio.”
Other artists may not be monsters, per se, but they are still attracted to the dark side of the subject. Monster artist Toni Margerum, from Altoona, Pennsylvania, says she prefers drawing and painting scary monsters.
“People love something that scares them. That’s one reason why I love horror,” Margerum says.
Regardless of the type and style of monster that these artists are creating, one thing’s for sure: monsters are trending big time, which is a huge plus for their creators.
“I have noticed monsters picking up steam lately, and I believe this is partly due to the weird cartoons you will find on television, such as Adventure Time, Regular Show, Uncle Grandpa along with many more, all of which have some form of monsters in them regularly,” Rath says. “With children and adults alike making these shows and video games more popular, it is understandable why monsters are making a comeback.”