An artist sitting next to his drawing of a vampire drinking a slurpee.
With a portfolio of his work and stickers he had made, artist Joe Oliver at his booth at the 2023 Colorado Festival of Horror. In between talking with guests, he had a sketch pad in front of him and continued to draw. Credit: Haley Lena

Whether it’s putting a personalized spin on a classic character or creating brand-new monsters and ghouls, artists in the horror genre find endless possibilities when it comes to their artwork and how they choose to express themselves. 

“The genre of horror is the most expansive,” said Xander Smith, a concept artist in the entertainment industry. “You can do anything with it… you can go to the deepest depths of the human psyche.”

Among his many titles, Smith is also a digital sculptor and 3D modeler, where he has worked on shows like “American Horror Story” and “Scream Queens” as well as blockbuster movies like “Godzilla vs. Kong.” 

Smith was one of dozens of artists state and nationwide who joined local artists at the Colorado Festival of Horror in Lone Tree from Sept. 15 to 17 to share their love for art and horror. 

Many of these artists were inspired by a memory of their childhood that they had with a family member either watching horror and sci-fi movies, reading comic books or looking at magazines. 

Sources of inspiration

A man speaks to a guest about his artwork laying on the table.
Creator and artist Barry McClain speaks to a guest at the Colorado Festival of Horror about his artwork and comics as the guest flips through McClain’s portfolio. Credit: Haley Lena

Creator and artist Barry McClain said he was drawn into horror because of his mom, and he couldn’t be more grateful. 

While growing up, McClain’s mom used to tell him about the makeup in horror movies, like when an actor would bite on a blood bag to make blood come out their mouth. She also read Fangoria Magazine on a regular basis. 

”I used to look through this Fangoria Magazine all the time and I was just enamored with all the blood and guts,” McClain said. 

Along with reading various horror comics and watching “Tales from the Crypt,” McClain started to draw monsters. 

As an adult, McClain now draws horror posters and works for Troma Entertainment

Part of his drawing process includes watching horror movies and using the references as accuracy to inspire his own work, McClain starts by drawing with pencil and ink before scanning it onto the computer, where he then colors it in on Photoshop. 

Although he does artwork for the sci-fi and action-adventure genres, McClain said that the horror genre is his favorite because it’s more fun and also, the subject matter, storytelling and messaging is so broad. 

It may be hard to believe, but there are always positive messages in horror movies, he added. These types of movies tend to involve some kind of comeuppance and stories often teach moral values, which is what gravitates McClain to the genre. 

McClain has reflected that in his own comic book, “Billy the Kit.” It’s a horror Western story about faith and how the main character’s world is bigger than what his “bubble of faith” is, which he learns as he gains his power. 

Additionally, McClain likes to teach other artists how to market themselves. He said it’s not about marketing sexuality or race, it’s about entertainment. 

“I want to be seen as an artist, not a Black artist,” McClain said. 

For Joe Oliver, an artist in Littleton, creating horror-themed pieces is cathodic to express and speaks to primal instincts. 

“I think it’s the most honest expression of emotions that connects with people,”Oliver said. “Everything can be horror and I think a lot of the time because we’ve experienced sadness and horror, it allows us to appreciate the good as well.” 

In addition to doing artwork for comic books, Oliver has also worked for Fangoria Magazine, Alamo Drafthouse and Macaulay Culkin. 

He said the easiest way to create something unique is to create stuff you want to see. Using pencil, pen and digital, Oliver creates everything from cartoon to graphic images and uses different effects to express those pieces. 

“I love different techniques and I try to do different styles based on what I’m feeling and how best to express that idea,” Oliver said. 

Dee Nurmi of DC Custom Creations LLC uses glow-in-the-dark paint to add a playful yet haunting effect to her paintings. 

Painting characters from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Courage the Cowardly Dog,” Numri said she is a cartoonist at heart and has always had her own weird style. 

“I’m able to kind of translate that into my pictures and warp some things to make them look a little bit different, or more dynamic, interesting or scary,” she said.

Although she didn’t start showing her art until last year, Numri said she has found the most supportive and amazing friends in the horror community. 

An artist sits behind her glow-in-the-dark paintings.
Artist Dee Nurmi poses with her glow in the dark paintings of characters from films and cartoons. She also brought stickers and smaller pieces of artwork. Credit: Haley Lena

Different forms of art

From scriptwriting to video editing, from costume design to building a prop, art is in every aspect of the horror genre. 

Daniel Crosier, mixed media artist and co-founder of Colorado Festival of Horrors said whether it’s traditional sketching or digital art, there will be people who love it and people who are put off by it. 

After using 3D programming to create costumes and props with the costume department for “American Horror Story,” Xander Smith is currently working with Artificial Intelligence. 

“Even though the market is flooded with machine-made imagery, humans tend to value it less,” Smith said. 

As a professional artist with experience in Hollywood, Smith said that he is seeing a lot of support for traditional artists, however, only time will tell. 

While thinking about what to draw in front of a room full of people, Smith was inspired by the fashion design as it is often difficult to combine creepy and elegant. 

Smith was not the only artist who likes to dabble with fashion, Colleen Cole uses her artistic talent to create costumes and clothing items, specifically hand-sewn skirts with pockets. 

She combines her love for horror and sewing by making made-to-order skirts with designs found online, including a glow-in-the-dark fang design.

Cole is also the owner of Commanding Cosplay LLC, a cosplayer, designer and model. She makes her own costumes and does makeup herself and creates amazing images. 

“I’ve always enjoyed Halloween,” said Cole. “Making costumes as characters that I either love the aesthetic or the character itself, is a lot of fun for me.”

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