Bren Luke is a Ballarat-based bedroom artisan who finds inky inspiration in the streets of Melbourne
Can you walk us through your usual technique?
No matter what the subject matter is that I'm drawing, I tend to do as much research as possible. This usually means scouring through books, images on the internet, watching films and taking my own reference photographs. I probably don't spend as much time working on preliminary sketches as I should; I tend to jump headfirst into pencilling what ideas I have straight onto what is hopefully the final page. Once I'm happy with what's sketched out, the inking process begins. I use a very fine nibbed rapidograph pen, which I adore using. I try not to rush the inking process too much, I guess partly due to the enjoyment I get from drawing with ink. This can be problematic though if I have a tight deadline and sometimes knowing exactly when a drawing's finished poses some dilemmas. Looking back at some drawings, I cringe at how overworked they are.
You've done a lot of cityscapes. Where are your favourite places to draw?
Osaka and Tokyo, Japan were amazing places to draw. There's just so much detail and activity happening in those scenes and they seem to be conducive to my drawing style. My favourite places here are Melbourne's historic buildings such as the State Library of Victoria. I've also had commission work to draw scenes of Canning Street in Carlton, Sydney Road in Brunswick and the platform of Melbourne Central train station. Generally, if the architecture of a building/s is interesting then I'll enjoy drawing it.
There are elements of noir, milk bar Australiana and comic strip art in your work. What are your influences?
Most definitely film noir, modernist photography and comics/illustration. The ’60s underground comics artists such as Robert Crumb, Kim Deitch and Jay Lynch, right up to their contemporaries: Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, John Porcelino... I could go on and on. Melbourne has some fantastic artists. I really like the comics of Sam Wallman, Mandy Ord and Oslo Davis and painters Mia Schoen, Toby Dutton and Ben Butcher. Influences can come from unexpected places also – passages of writing or music can inspire particular moods and scenes. My late father was and still is the greatest influence on my work. He was an amateur cartoonist in his spare time.
You were commissioned to provide sleeve art for All India Radio’s new album. How did that come to happen?
I've known Martin Kennedy from the band for some time now; we used to work together at Shock Records in Northcote. He's been a terrific supporter of my work, buying some original drawings and in general, providing me with lots of encouragement. I was asked to work on the art for All India Radio's new album with Martin's particular aesthetic sense in mind. I know he's a huge fan of science fiction and futuristic space-age images, so it was relatively easy to tap into what he and the band wanted. To date, it's probably been the most enjoyable commission to work on and the reaction to what I've served up has been super positive. They're such a great band, really lovely guys. I can't wait to hear and see the finished album!
How much do you tend to sell for, and can you make a living from it?
At this stage in my "career" I still need to supplement my art income with other work. Having said that, I treat illustrating as my full-time job. I spend huge amounts of time drawing much to the detriment of my sleeping and eating patterns. My original drawing can range anywhere from $20 for a small sketch to $500 for a finished work. I also sell giclee prints of drawings for between $40 and $80.
Can you describe your studio?
Well, my studio is basically my bedroom. I have two-and-a-half metres to travel between my bed and the drawing table, which is a large wooden trestle table. My walls are filled with paintings and drawings which I've collected from fellow artists and there's shelves full of books, comics and vinyl records. I have an old Braun turntable from Germany, which helps provide some working soundtracks and a laptop computer, which is rarely switched off. There are also lots of old tins filled with pens, pencils and brushes and a few comics related vinyl toys, which look down at me from the bookshelves. It's all very nice and cosy, and being a virgo, I usually keep it fairly tidy.
What training have you had?
From a very early age I was observing my dad drawing, so that was my initial training, I guess. I studied art and graphic design in high school, which were my strongest subjects, and then I went to university in my hometown of Ballarat to take on a BA in Fine Art. I studied painting and printmaking there, but I think drawing was always my strong point and what I was eventually going to pursue foremost. I'm extremely grateful for having the chance to study what I love doing. I find it very disturbing when training institutions have their funding cut or are closed down completely. Without artists, designers, musicians, writers and filmmakers, life would be dull and unbearable.