I first became aware of DRUID’s work as recently as three or four years ago while paying regular attention to the Sketch A Day May graffiti sketching competition on Instagram. I always found it remarkable that some of the entrants were able to keep up with the daily regime, while still pumping out cool sketches.
As 31 calendar squares quickly filled up, DRUID’s funky letters (traditional with a twist) and colour schemes always stood out to me and I would keenly await his daily devotion to the blackbook gawds. Although some of my favourites were simple and letters only, when he blessed us with some comic characters and soaked every inch of white paper with background elements, it made me wonder what kind of bionic being was on the other end of those markers.
Turns out, that ink master was in-fact human – DRUID81, a Dutch Cambodian from the southern Netherlands, and member of Million Dollar Boys, creative thinktank Crash and Burn, and Napolitano super crew Wild Boys. He started painting graffiti 23 years ago, has a bachelor’s in fine arts, a healthy obsession with comic books AND video games – “I’ve got a Steam account with a lot of games I’ve bought in sales and haven’t played yet.”
On his motivation for painting these days, he feels he has to “give back to graffiti lovers worldwide after consuming it for so many years.” We caught DRUID on his way out the door for a grocery run, getting a snapshot of his current thoughts and feelings. Oh, and after some good discounts, he broke us off a quick-and-dope Artillery sketch with clever connections to boot. Stoked!
You’ve been interested in graffiti from a really young age. What age did you actually pick up a spray can and do your first piece? What was it about graffiti that sparked your imagination?
I’m actually not sure which age exactly, however, I do remember going to a bar/disco where you had to be 16, and I was 15 at the time. I had some spray cans in my backpack, and after the party, I did some ugly throw-ups on an underpass while biking home. My first decent piece I did at 16 years old.
Graffiti was something I didn’t understand but was fascinated by. It was colorful and it seemed to change daily.
I find it interesting that you were filling in blackbooks at age 11, and nowadays you’re pretty nice on the sketchbook action. How important is sketching for you? How does it differ to ‘real world’ paint-to-concrete piecing?
In the beginning years, sketching would be something I’d do because I didn’t have the option of going out to paint. Because of skill, or lack of material. As I got older, the sketches got less elaborate and finished, and turned more into a ‘making a blueprint’ process. Later, I turned back to the elaborate blackbook sketching again because I realised you could make graffiti drawings that could be kept for the archives.
Graffiti is transitory in its essence. It might get buffed out, crossed out, or just wither away because of nature. By having a blackbook sketch, it’s like you can keep a part of graffiti’s essence – an ideal image of it, as it were, for the archives.
The biggest difference is that graffiti painting is an activity that uses all of your body and senses. Moving around in space, spatial awareness, pressure sensitivity etc. While sketching is mainly an activity where one uses wrist movements and has a complete oversight over the composition at all times.
You’re from Oss, a small city in the Netherlands. Are you still living there? Or did you leave for the big smoke?
I’ve had small stints of living elsewhere but I’ve always returned. I guess I’m just someone who enjoys his peace and quiet.
Best spot to chill in your city?
At one of the many Cambodian backyard BBQs in the summertime.
What are the benefits (or disadvantages) of coming up in a small community vs a bigger city like Amsterdam?
Holland is quite small, and cities are nearby. Coming from a small town, travelling from one town to another, to check out the graff, was easy. You could meet up and connect with people easily. I guess when you’re based in Amsterdam, there’s less need to venture out of the city because all you need is right there. One big disadvantage of living in a smaller town is the lack of culinary variety for sure. We’re a city of chippy eaters so finding a good banh mi or Hainanese chicken is almost non-existent.
How has this shaped your graffiti style?
It has always forced me to travel outside of my town. Finding spots, taking pictures, and connecting with people. By seeing and experiencing different styles it raised the bar.
Tell us something we might not know about your upbringing?
In my youth I attended a lot of Cambodian cultural celebrations. I wasn’t always feeling like going when I was younger, but now I realize the importance of tradition and heritage.
Comics & Manga influences: what’s a comic that has inspired you that we won’t have heard of? Tell us something about it.
I think most graff artists have been inspired by the same artists in general? Kirby and Bodé are kings for sure. I used to be a big comic book nerd, as I had an account at the local comic book store. I used to collect Spawn and other Image Comics. Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, is another great artist. We can’t forget about Osamu Tezuka, the god of manga!
As for a current title, I’d recommend Head Lopper by Andrew MacLean. It’s about a barbarian who lops off heads. If you like fantasy and the use of heavy blacks, you’ll love this.
Graffiti-wise, who is doing interesting stuff right now that you’re feeling? Tell us what you dig about their work.
@keo_xmen – A classical style that never gets old. Lots of surprising connections. Great ability to tell stories. Master of the small lettering and use of characters.
@vary.one – Lots of interesting connections. Natural flow and clear color schemes.
@the_next_episode82 – Effective and intricate balanced lettering. Good eye for detail. Consistent quality on every surface he decides to paint on.
Describe your ideal painting situation.
It’s a sunny day. Before we head to the wall, we pick up some sandwiches and beers. The wall is bare concrete in the middle of nowhere. I got a sketch with me I’m feeling good about. Me and my friends are in good health and happy and we just chill and paint. Afterwards we go for some nice Korean food.
Your all-time favourite colour scheme for a piece?
Pieces always look fresh in chrome and black!
In graffiti, we all form special bonds with other humans who share our outlooks. How important are crews to you these days? Why?
I’ve had many times where I wasn’t feeling up to painting. I went anyway just to chill with my friends. Bounce off ideas, see what works, what doesn’t, get feedback. People who I trust to back me up when things go wrong and have the ability to give honest feedback on my work because they know who I am and where I came from.
When you’re lurking around places you shouldn’t be, it’s inevitable to run into interesting characters or some kind of trouble. Tell me a story of something ridiculous that’s happened to you while painting, over the years.
One time we were painting this abandoned spot and a guy on a bike rolled up on us. Fuck, I thought, it’s the cops. Turns out it was a copper thief and he had brought his climbing harness. He asked if we sold any drugs and then continued to climb up into the ceiling to pull out copper wires from the roof. He was making so much noise I was afraid he would attract unwanted attention.
Another time when we were painting in another bando, a part of the ceiling came down across the room. It’s the reality of painting these kinds of spots. So, take care and be safe.
What did you have for breakfast?
Two tangerines and a coffee.
What podcasts have you been listening to? Anything we need to check out?
TFW2005 – it’s a Transformers podcast. Who doesn’t like transforming robots right? Also, it helps pass cardio.
F24 Podcast by @rarekindldn – Getting insights into your favourite writer’s mind.
What about music? Favourite tunes lately?
I’ve been listening to a lot of 90s R&B and Soul music.
Books and movies?
I’ve got a backlog of science fiction books to go through my friend gifted me.
I watched Avatar for the first time a few months ago. Science fiction in general is always good.
One Punch Man is good anime as well if you like stories about training, getting stronger, and going grocery shopping for good discounts.
We’ve heard you’re into nature. Do you have spots you go to relax and rewind?
Walks are always relaxing! Anywhere really. But if I had the option, I’d go for a city walk in Edinburgh, or a nice hike in the Scottish Highlands.
Life outside of graffiti – Any hobbies or bad habits?
I’ve had too many hobbies, some go and some stay. From collecting mechanical keyboards to collecting vintage North Face jackets. I love lifting weights! Forever bulking lifestyle ha!
Would you punch an alien?
Nah man. I’d ask them to take me to their secret base on the dark side of the moon.
Being more productive and making more YouTube videos!
Follow DRUID on Instagram: @druid81
Interview and introduction by Luke Shirlaw
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