Interview with Gyula Havancsák
Hello! Tell us a bit about yourself and where you are from!
Hi! My name is Gyula Havancsák, I live in Budapest and I am a graphic designer. I used to work for a computer game development company creating textures, designing and making matte painting for 12 years, but my main profile is designing CD and book covers. I have been working for tons of metal bands, many of which I really like. I have been drawing since I was a child and I’ve been playing the bass since the 6th grade. I have been a member of the band Bornholm for six years now, but I also have a side project which I am doing on my own.
Do you have any formal training in art?
I was taking private lessons as a child and then after finishing high school I was studying keying and inbetweening at Pannónia Studios. This was really interesting and also very useful from the drawing aspect, but I left the job after one day, because it was extremely monotonous. After that I was studying computer graphics in the Eventus School of Arts in Eger and that’s also when I first came across Photoshop around 1999. I spent an awful lot of time working with the computer after the manual drawing courses, trying to make all the things which I could later bring with myself to job interviews.
Do you have a favourite medium to work in? Do you exclusively work in digital?
Previously, graphite pencil was my favourite tool and I also painted once in a while, but I definitely preferred to draw. Now I mostly work on the computer with a Wacom tablet. Sometimes I still draw with graphite, but I rather paint in Photoshop or merge photo references with drawing or paint on the tablet. However, this is important also from the aspect of the given project, since I work for lots of clients and they often want to change this and that. Furthermore, this method speeds up the whole process.
Tell us a bit about your studio and routine! Do your work early, or late? Is it hard to get inspired at times?
My studio is in my flat, one part of the room is separated with shelves full of books and CDs. As I mentioned above, I use a Wacom digital drawing tablet and I work on an iMac. Most of the time I have to get up around 7:00-7:30 a.m. since I have a soon-to-be three-year-old son. If I take him to the kindergarten in the morning, I can start working around 9. However, I try to play with him as much as possible and he often wants me to draw something for him. Actually, I prefer working at night when everything goes silent. If I’m not too productive during the day, I work even during the night, but it could also happen if I am productive during daytime, but I still feel motivated. However, burning the midnight oil is not really my cup of tea anymore, so I usually pass out around 2:00 a.m. I also work in a computer game developer team, although lately I only work there one or sometimes two days a week. Also, we usually have two rehearsals per week with Bornholm. Actually, the mastermind behind the band is my ex-colleague Péter Sallai who also designs CD and book covers and made the recent Sabaton covers, just to name an example. In the evenings I try to spend some time with my instruments either as practicing my own music or writing new songs. Unfortunately, I get ahead really slowly with music due to the fact that my schedule is full all the time. However, I get inspiration constantly. I have tons of art albums and literature of all sorts here at home which come really handy during work. I can get inspired anywhere and anytime, even if I use the public transport or I take a walk in the park with my son. I try to grab every occasion. It often happens that I have time to think about certain art-related issues while I’m putting my son to sleep as then there’s silence and darkness. When he falls asleep, I can start working with a clear mind after I went through all necessary details of the artwork in question.
What kind of Metal (if any) do you listen to when working on a piece? Do you listen to the band you are working with?
Lately I’ve been listening to the new Marty Friedman album and the latest Wardruna the most. Also, I frequently listen to the new Triptykon album, the two latest Ulver records and Lord Time, which is my cousin’s project. I often listen to soundtracks and I find lots of stuff to my liking, even though I’m mostly into metal music. It can easily happen that I switch to Björk after Limbonic Art. I often listen to bands that I work with. For example, currently I’m working on some t-shirt designs for Accept. They were one of the first bands that got me into the genre. Annihilator is one of my favourite bands since my childhood, but I also love Nightingale or Destruction. If I get preliminary materials from them to work on the design, I always listen to them while working.
What was your first commissioned piece of art for a Heavy Metal band?
I made the first real cover for the Hungarian band Evensong back when I was still studying in Eger. When I finished the art school, I moved to Budapest and tried to send my references to international bands, too. This wasn’t a difficult thing to do even in the early 2000s when I could already use the Internet and it got even easier for today. I had made covers for lots of Hungarian bands until I decided to come up with a few designs and send them to Jeff Waters for example. Of course, I was totally stunned when he replied that he was interested in working with me on the artwork of their full-length “All for you”. Back when I was a kid, I also dreamed of getting to an Annihilator gig once, but making 5 album and 2 EP covers for them was way above my expectations for sure.
Can you make a living doing art?
Luckily, I can. I have tons of commissions and I also design book covers on the side. Previously, I used to have a day job doing the graphical part of computer game development projects, but now I make a living only out of CD covers and an increasing number of bands contact me to design their t-shirts, too.
How long does it take you to finish an average album cover?
It depends on lots of things. For example, there was a cover that took 40 minutes to make and I still consider it one of my better works. It also happens that the band or the label contacts me one year before the final deadline. As a matter of course, this does not mean that I work on this job for an entire year since I usually work with multiple bands at a time and I never have less than 4-5 deadlines. Also, I often don’t have any proper idea for the given album title and then I have to wait until something comes up while time is passing by. If the band contacts me with a specific concept, I still have to build it up in my head before I can sit down to start making the artwork… and if I don’t have this image in my head or if the cover I’m making is “not working” for some reason, then the whole thing comes to a halt for a while. Also, I usually have a last-minute idea shortly before the deadline and then everything snaps in place just fine, sometimes resulting in even a completely new cover.
Do you have any album covers that you are especially proud of?
I do, but I sometimes find some mistake in the cover later or realize that I forgot something to add or did not do properly only when I hold the cover of the complimentary copy in my hands. Usually, this feeling haunts me and keeps me from actually liking the cover. However, there are quite some that I like, such as the newest Grave Digger or the new Annihilator. I also like the covers of “Valkyrja” and “Lay of Thrym” from TYR. Destruction’s “Day of Reckoning” or Memory Garden’s “Doomain” are also my better-than-average works. By the way, I’ve just finished working on the new Stratovarius cover which I think is very strong.
Do you have a lot of creative input with the band or label or do they basically tell you what they want?
As a matter of course, I get instructions all the time. Instructions can be useful, but they often turn out to be a Gordian knot. When I work on a Destruction cover, I always talk to Schmier on Skype. He presents his ideas and I present mine and then I send him sketches or versions… Once the front cover is finished, he leaves all the illustrations to me. For example, he told me before their previous album that he wanted something simpler. Then we had so many modifications that by the time it was finished, it was one of my most complex covers (Day of Reckoning). It is the most difficult case if someone sticks to a very bad idea. Also it happens that the person has no specific idea and agrees to a concept I outline to him… and when I make the draft, it turns out that he had something completely different in mind, even though the cover works very well.
To give you a different example, Jeff Waters really wanted this zombie concept to be present on Annihilator covers, even though I was a bit afraid of the whole thing because I thought people might find it boring, despite the fact that I like to work on such designs very much. So I made the cover and people seemed to like it a lot, because I went to their gig in Austria during the Feast on Europe tour and almost all fans had t-shirts on with that design:)
Who are some of your inspirations in the art world?
This would be a very long list, but I could mention lots of classical painters, such as Bosch, Bueghel, Caravaggio, Da Vinci, Dore and also famous Hungarian artists, including Mihály Zichy, Gyula Benczúr, Viktor Madarász and Bertalan Székely. My most notable contemporary influences are Giger, Beksinski, John Howe, Burian, Wayne Barlow, Howard Terpning and Normann Rockwell.
More specifically who are some of your favourite Heavy Metal album cover artists working these days?
I really like the artworks done by Hugh Syme, Travis Smith, Dave McKean, Andreas Marschall, Eliran Kantor, Seth Siro and Wes Benscoter.
Many Metal artists, Riggs, Verwimp, Petango, Benscoter and more have their own books. Have you thought about publishing a coffee table book of your art?
Actually, it is halfway done. I already printed a prototype, but I am still editing and extending it. However, I’m afraid I don’t know when it will be finished.
One of your most recent works Grave Digger’s Return Of The Reaper is one of the most beautiful pieces of art on a Metal album I have seen in a long time. How did you come up with the design?
This is very nice of you, thanks a lot The idea came from Chris. He always has a very specific concept and it was especially true for this cover from the foreground to the background, he was very specific on every detail. Actually, I imagined the gates of Hell in the background differently at the beginning; therefore, I had to start over working on the background based on his instructions. I wanted to avoid this cover from becoming too much like the cover of King Diamond’s Abigail. However, the coffin was difficult to be placed in a way to be well visible and not to be covered by the reaper. Also, I had to think for a while about where and how to put the gates in the background due to the slight bottom view. Will there be enough space? Other than that, the cover was put together pretty easily.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists in the field?
Practice and work a lot… but not as a job!
To learn more about Gyula Havancsák visit www.hjules.com