Art of the Dark and Divine: An Interview with Devin Forst
In a world where darkness often overshadows light, artist Devin Forst embraces the murky corners to illuminate the beauty in the macabre. Raised on a cinematic diet of ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘The Dark Crystal,’ Devin’s journey takes us through the realms of folklore, horror, and myths, converging on an art form that possesses “gothic grit,” and breathes life into the enigmatic, fantastical, and the monstrous through digital media. Prepare to delve into a mind that sees not just the horror in the world, but also the magical potential lurking within the shadows.
GeekPost: What was your first creation involving horror elements?
Devin: I’m honestly not sure how to answer this one, since the dark side of things has always crept into my work, even in the early days. Even as a younger artist in high school I was often sketching sinister and melancholic characters, or dark fairytales. But I can say towards the end of 2019 was really when my work took a much darker, gothic turn (for the better, I’d say!)
GeekPost: What were your influences when you began your journey as an artist?
Devin: So many things! Dark fantasy was always my preferred world to live in ever since I was a kid. My mother was a child of the 80s, so I was raised on movies like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. I was obsessed with Lord of the Rings, and anything dealing with magic and mythical creatures. And as I grew and matured, that love of the mysterious and magical grew naturally into more complicated and detailed influences from folklore and world myths. Stories of creatures, spirits, witches, & monsters kept my creative fire going. After I graduated college with my illustration degree, I really dove headfirst into the kind of art that I felt most aligned with my inner self and my inspirations, and it became much darker and more horror based. Though the funny thing is, even though I spend so much time in a darker space in my creative brain, I never really find these things frightening. I think there’s a really alluring beauty in the gothic, monstrous, and macabre. There is a power and confidence that comes from the wicked things in the world, and that’s what I’m trying to celebrate with my work. Other “bigger” artists and creators that inspire me in this way are people like Guillermo Del Toro or Gerald Brom. They have this really incredible ability to take mythology and folklore, filter it through their creative minds, and create such beautiful and terrifying art and stories from it, and that’s what I strive for with my work as well.
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GeekPost: Could you tell us a bit about your illustration process, whether it be for a magazine article or poem?
Devin: I’ve described my process before like “summoning a spirit” (cheesy, I know ha-ha). But it’s true. Whether I have a client brief to work off of, or if I’m just drawing from my imagination, I often start with a wild mess of scratchy lines or a smoky blob or silhouette. And I’ll slowly start carving away at it, pulling parts away, adding a line here, or more shadow there, until a face or a form appears that starts to feel right. I am also a huge fan of a limited color palette. Maybe it’s because color is intimidating – or simply because I just like being moody – but I’ll often work with a very small number of colors, even sometimes working just in black & white and putting a few color overlays on top. I wouldn’t say that my art is overly complicated, on the contrary, it’s often fairly simple in its makeup and composition. But I’m always trying to go for something haunting or striking, even in the simplicity. Sort of like a gothic, pagan version of religious iconography. A simple scene, but a momentary capture of something intense, strange, and mysterious. In a way, a lot of my pieces are inspired by European/American folk-art paintings, because I’ve always loved how striking and almost eerie, they can be, even with the simplicity in their form and composition.
GeekPost: In your artwork, what is your preferred medium?
Devin: It seems to often come as a surprise to people when they happen across my work, but it’s all digital! Which honestly sometimes comes as a surprise to me as well, because when I first started my art studies, I had never considered that I’d work exclusively with digital art. I had the hardest time teaching myself to go from pen & paper to Photoshop years ago, but I made it work. Then when I learned about Procreate on the iPad Pro, I decided to give it a go, and I’ve never looked back. I just love the portability of digital mediums (also, no mess), and I’m a notoriously indecisive person, so being able to make quick changes on the fly is very helpful.
Also, something I really try to keep in mind as I’m working is keeping a textural, hand-drawn, or painted feeling to my pieces. I am always cautious not to have too much of a plastic “digital art” appearance in my illustrations. I use a lot of paper textures, along with gritty, toothy, pencil and pastel-type brushes when I work in order to maintain the sort of roughness that I’ve always loved in physical artwork. Someone once described my art as “gothic grit” and that’s stuck with me ever since. If I could give a quick shoutout, the amazing folks over at True Grit Texture Supply have made such incredible textures and brushes for artists to utilize in different ways, and they’ve been so pivotal in me finding my artistic voice (throughout my many, many style changes). So if you’re a digital artist, check them out!
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GeekPost: You mentioned your work aims to inspire others to celebrate magic in everyday life. Can you share an example where you’ve seen this happen?
Devin: So many of my pieces, as creepy or mystical as they may be, are often inspired by very simple real-life things. An animal or insect that I saw, a poem or piece of folklore that I read, a dream I had. But it all runs through the artist filter in my brain and comes out as something mysterious and strange. And that’s what I really want others to feel. As humans, I think it’s such a gift to be able to look at the world and see it through a lens of childlike wonder, in whatever form that takes. And as an artist, being able to take that nugget of wonder, and create something from nothing, is like having a magic power. Some of my favorite comments that I’ve gotten on social media in regards to my work are ones where people say “Your work perfectly portrays how I prefer to view the world” or “This piece speaks to a part of me that I never knew how to put into words.” Every day I’m reminded that there are other weird people like me out there who keep their imagination alive by finding something magical in the mundane. And that makes me happier than anything.
GeekPost: What advice would you give to aspiring artists who want to explore dark and mystical themes in their work?
Devin: To start, I’d say look to the past! There is a treasure trove of stories, fairy tales, folklore, mythology, artworks, traditions, etc. that have been handed down through centuries and through various cultures for you to draw from (pun intended). So many classic and well-known tales have much stranger and more sinister origins and outcomes than many people even realize – *cough* Brothers Grimm *cough*. Read them and write down the parts that really light a fire inside you. Watch horror movies or read horror novels! A lot of horror, especially supernatural horror, has magic & folklore woven into it in some form. And above all, it’s always helpful to look at what other artists and creatives are doing. Sometimes seeing how another artist interprets these themes can help you form your own artistic language. Seek out those things that make your heart jump and excite you. Those moments when you see a really cool creature in a film or read an especially haunting paragraph in a story. Collect these things like talismans and use them to conjure and create your art. Inspiration is everywhere.
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GeekPost: Your project, “Witches through History,” is a boxed oracle set and 160-page guide. What was your inspiration for this endeavor?
Devin: Ever since I was a child, I’ve been interested in witches and their history. Even today, witchcraft is a big inspiration and guiding force in my work and life. The stories from centuries past of witch hunts, spirits, and spells are at times both mesmerizing and tragic. They offer us a glimpse into the superstition and hysteria of society all those years ago, and how it’s influenced us today. I had actually done a short series of drawings on my Instagram page in 2018 called “A Brief Account of Wytches” where I would post a simple portrait of an accused witch from history and give a short description about each of them. This eventually became the spark of inspiration for what later became Witches Through History. Telling the stories of these wise & wicked women, the trials and tragedy they endured, but also the real-life magic that has been practiced by folk through time. What I really wanted to do with Witches was create something that could be both entertaining and informative. Both historical and mystical. And I think we accomplished that!
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GeekPost: Can you tell us about your research process, in creating a comprehensive guide to witches and their history?
Devin: While I wouldn’t say it’s entirely comprehensive (you could fill a whole bookshelf with the history of witches and their craft), I did try to offer a sort of primer to those interested in how we “got here” in terms of what we think when we hear about witchcraft, at least in a western world context. The book itself is a brief deep dive into the various themes of witchcraft, witch hunts & accusations, the use of magic, various witching spirits, and craft tools. A few specific women both from folklore and real-life records are given a spotlight in each section. There are also a few examples of simple magical practices that can be performed today, inspired by the witchcraft that was said to be taking place centuries ago. The project walks a line between magic and the fantastical, and the real-life tragedy and persecution of these women.
Apart from a few history books, scholarly journals, and mythologies, I referenced a lot of actual trial records, treatises, and witchcraft pamphlets during the making of Witches Through History. A lot of them are readily available to read and reference from online archives like Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, Early English Books Online, etc. While I wanted the project to be engaging and magical in its own right, I also wanted to make sure I was using real life verified records and pieces of history to inform what I was writing. I also wanted to really drive home the seriousness of these tales, however otherworldly they may seem from the outside.
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GeekPost: The oracle card set includes iconic characters, deities, and items from witchcraft history. How did you decide which elements to include?
Devin: Since it is a relatively small deck – 25 cards – I knew when I started brainstorming that I wanted to split it up into elemental “suits” (earth, water, fire, air, spirit). I also wanted to make sure that everything I put on the cards were things that were mentioned at least once in the book itself, to tie in with the historical aspect of things. So, it was really just a process of going through my list of characters and themes and seeing how the stories and folklore behind each of them would fit into a certain elemental symbolism. How does the story of Mother Shipton fit into the suit of Water, how does the symbolism of the Owl fit into the Spirit suit? Things like that. In a way, aside from divination purposes, the cards could act sort of like witch history flashcards since each of them is tied to a real and recognized story or symbology. If I can combine a bit of learning into a magical practice, that is a win-win for me!
GeekPost: Finally, what do you hope people take away from your art and writing?
Devin: I want people to find beauty in strangeness. I want them to rethink the way they feel about things that are often maligned and misunderstood. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my few short years as a professional illustrator, and now author, it’s that there is a surprising beauty that can be found in the dark. A magic that permeates the macabre. If I went back in time and told my younger self that my art and career would flourish once I made the choice to create much creepier, gothic artwork, I doubt he would believe me. But that’s exactly what happened, and I’m so grateful for it. My Instagram bio says that I’m “a friend of boogeymen,” and I mean that in the most literal sense possible. I have made it my mission to shine a light on the wicked things and give them the respect they deserve. I have never felt happier than I do here in the shadows. And I hope people come join us, even if it’s just for a moment. We don’t bite…much.
Thank you to Devin Forst for a fascinating conversation, as well as a glimpse into the mind of an artist who masterfully blends the mystical with the historical. Devin’s work serves as a compelling reminder that there’s magic lurking in the shadows, waiting to be uncovered. Thanks to visionaries like Devin, we are all invited to explore that hidden world.
Make sure to follow Devin, and check out his website.
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