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Derek Ercolano: Strange Vegetation

Work / Illustration

Illustrator Derek Ercolano’s transition to the dark side

When we last wrote about Derek Ercolano’s work, his portfolio was filled to the brim with weird and colourful characters set among a 70s sci-fi landscape and psychedelic hues. He’s still hitting the mark with the exceptionally strange and surreal figures, but lately he’s taken a different angle. The artist has transitioned into an experimentation with darker tones and simplifying his technique. We caught up with Derek to find out more about this transition to the darker side. 


Tell us about your transition: what have you learnt from this phase of work?

I have always been a bit uncomfortable with ‘shading’ my work. Growing up, I was never into drawing with a pencil — it was the spontaneity and immediateness of drawing with a pen that felt exciting to me. I think the most exciting part of approaching images in this way is the feeling of not quite being sure of how things will turn out in the end. That said, over time this approach has given my work a sort of graphic quality that eventually I felt a bit too comfortable with. So, I decided to start exploring tone and value in my work to see if it would be something that would allow me to experiment with things in a new way. I would say that doing things in this way over the last year has made me become a bit more mindful of my compositions which I feel has benefitted my work.

Run us through this “experiment with tone and value”. How do you achieve this and how does this tie in with your colour images?

The first few images I made while experimenting with this technique were actually in colour and they were fantastically bad. So after doing some thinking, I decided that if took colour out of the equation I would make myself focus on the bare essentials. Originally, I intended to add colour to the images after completing them, but I found something really refreshing about keeping the images in black and white. There was this darker, sort of cosmic feeling that I got from them and I decided I wanted to continue to explore it. Although the work doesn’t have the bright colours I usually gravitate towards, I feel that the images have a new level of detail that makes them bold in a different way.

Since we last featured you, has there been any notable changes in the way you create art or graphics?

I would say one big difference is that I am planning things out a bit more in the sketch phase and doing small tests with different light source options on paper, before then moving on to create the final image. While this makes things a bit more planned out in the beginning, the process of adding the shadows at the end feels very freeing for me and I am always surprised by how the final result turns out.

Were you given a brief with your latest work? How did you approach it?

With regards to the two posters, they are part of a running series for a club concept here in Oslo called Cosmic Oslo, where I collaborate with a graphic designer friend. In the posters we are asked to create images that channel the spirit of the cosmic disco being played. The inherent sci-fi themes and sounds from a lot of the records being played at these club nights give us a pretty big universe to play in that feels right at home with me. When coming up with ideas for the posters, I often try to sift through campy sci-fi concepts that I can twist in a new direction. 

Is there a particular message you’re trying to convey? 

I am often playing around with ideas based around reality, consciousness and identity framed through the lens of some sort of character in a surreal situation. This is more of an unconscious thing that I can identify while looking back, rather than a predetermined choice. I guess I have my high school years to thank for colouring my approach, as I was obsessed with Rene Laloux and Moebius.

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Derek Ercolano & Bendik Høibraaten: Cosmic Oslo Spring 2017

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Derek Ercolano & Bendik Høibraaten: Cosmic Oslo Winter 2017

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Derek Ercolano: Janus

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Derek Ercolano: Pangram

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Derek Ercolano: Space is the Place

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Derek Ercolano: Molt Habit 12"