On April 17, 2014 by Evan Senn


Ken Garduno is a strange and fascinating subject of complex and obsessive artistry. A scruffy, quiet and neurotic illustrator and painter, Garduno works tirelessly in his studio in East L.A., creating dozens upon dozens of creatures, portraits, narratives, experiments and  explorations from his psyche. Predominantly working on paper, Garduno works relatively small, and pumps out these masterful creations with such ease it is maddening to witness. He attended Art Center for his traditional education in illustration, but since then, his hardcore work ethic and his “say yes” policy for art has taken him on a road of success. He has been exhibited in great galleries across the globe and has been featured in magazines and blogs such as Slow Culture, Soul Pancake, Supersonic Electronic, The Design View, Beautiful Decay, BLDGWLF, Hi-Fructose, Arrested Motion, The Rattling Wall, Fecal Face, Juxtapoz and more.

What are you working on now?

I’m actually working on some character design for a movie. It’s kind of top secret. It’s the first time I’ve ever done something like this; I’m pretty excited about it . . . It’s not something I’ve ever done, but it’s cool.

You’ve been picking up steam. How did that happen?

I’ve been at this since I graduated Art Center, in 2006. It’s been a very slow build, I would say. It’s not much of a living, for a long time. So I’d say it’s been about 2 years since its been going in a better direction . . . I sometimes don’t even know how people find my work. I guess now that I’ve got more exposure because of the magazines and stuff like that, now I understand why there’s a little bit more trickling in.

What magazines have you been featured in recently?

Well I had the Hi-Fructose feature last year, before that there were some random magazines from different countries, I can’t remember the names. A lot of online magazines too, I don’t know if that’s a trend right now or not. I tend to stay away, too many distractions online. It’s a double-edged sword, because I need it to promote my art, social media is huge, to kind of help me put my work out there.

Can you tell me a little bit about your process?

It’s really intuitive, like it just comes out. I work really hard at practicing likenesses, and by the time I finish getting a likeness down, I don’t want to render out anything else. So, I think that’s just how it ended up.

How long does it take you to do an average-sized piece?

Maybe a few hours. I usually just wing it. I think the work I do is kind of the result of being lazy, like not wanting to fully render out a full person, like going to Art Center and having to work on one painting for like 2 weeks or something–okay, maybe not lazy, maybe lazy’s not the right word. It’s just not me, to want to sit down and slowly paint something. I was always attracted to things, art wise, and they were always sketchy, like it was done quickly. You can make something look good and still do it quickly–it doesn’t have to be worked on for ages. I think because over the years I’d wanted to be quick but I didn’t want to compromise the integrity of the work just by going too fast or making it too sloppy. So I had to figure out a way for it to make it look like it took a decent amount of time, without actually making it take a long time.

What materials do you use?

It’s a combination of markers, ink pens, ink brushes and anything else I can get my hands on. I get really excited when I go to buy art materials, I love them.

Do you have your work photographed? There is so much!

I scan them if I sell them. I used to be a lot better about making sure I had everything cataloged, but now that I’m so busy with all these other projects, I only scan the ones I sell, or if someone contacts me about a certain piece and wants an image.

Where do you find your inspiration?

I have had a lot of sleep issues throughout my life, and I feel that a lot of that comes through in the work I make. It really does just flow out of me, and I rarely show my mom or my parents my work, and sometimes people have a hard time understanding how you can pull that stuff out of your brain so easily, but it is completely natural for me.

Do you title your pieces?

I do. But I tend to, because there are so many pieces, I tend to forget about them and stuff, because I don’t have a connection to them. I think it would be impossible for me to look at a piece and remember what it’s called. I usually have to reference somewhere else, where I wrote it down.

Do you work from life? Are your models real people you draw from?

Not usually. For portraits, I usually use a face I found online, to the point where sometimes it’s recognizable and sometimes it’s just like my take on that. As far from drawing from life, we actually just started that, here, in the communal studio. We have models starting to come in, and we draw together. I used to draw from friends, but I guess it’s just easier when you’re in the moment. It just happens that way. There’s actually no reason why I stopped using my friends. There’s a friend of mine who I used to use her as a model a lot, like at Art Center, and to this day, people will still look at those drawings and say, ‘Oh that’s Lauren.’ It definitely wasn’t meant to be Lauren; I guess I just used her a lot when I was still learning how to draw a face, and so it’s probably always going to look a little like Lauren. [laughs]

Do you think it’s weird to draw your friends in the work?

No, I wouldn’t have a problem with it at all. I guess it would just have to be a face that I was drawn to.

Do you have a gallery that represents you?

I did. Not really right now. Part of that is just because the gallery world is exhausting. And unless you find a gallery that is really going to push your stuff, and promote you, to me, it almost doesn’t seem worth it anymore. I’ve been doing okay just selling directly to people, because it’s affordable for them, I enjoy doing what I want to do and not being art directed in some way, so this exchange has been a lot more beneficial than putting my stuff in a gallery and worrying about if it’s gonna sell–putting that much investment in something. This way, I can just draw and if someone wants something they can just come to me.

Do you put images of your work on your website, and that’s how people find you?

I started putting my work on my Instagram, my tumblr, and on my Facebook, so it gets plenty of exposure. It’s a nice way to supplement my income on top of doing everything else. It’s like a nice added bonus to have a drawing sell.

What do you do for normal employment?

Random things. Contract stuff. Like, I painted a mural at a modeling agency in Culver City–that’s cool. I always have something new. Like I have a small book that just came out, The Rattling Wall, that I illustrated. It’s like a collection of short stories, and one artist is featured through the whole issue. So, they’ll do the cover and all the artwork inside of it. I really enjoy what I do. It’s never the same project twice.

So what’s on the horizon for you?

I have commissions and stuff that I’m a little backed up on, but I don’t know. I’m pretty much always open to new and exciting projects.


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