The Artist Series: 20 Songs For Painting By Craola + Q&A

Greg “CRAOLA” Simkins is an established Los Angeles-based fine artist known for his intricate and inspiring paintings, drawings, & wall graffiti, most of which can be best categorized as Escapism. After noticing his wall art in various places around town, Ones To Watch approached Craola for more insight into his creative process. 

What we ended up with is a playlist of Craola’s top “20 Songs For Painting,” as well as more details on where he draws influence for his work. This The Artist Series piece is meant as a muse for those seeking inspiration in either art or music, because as we all know, they go flawlessly hand in hand.

Listen to the playlist & read our Q&A with Craola below.

Do you feel that your musical preferences generally correlate with your artwork style? How would you say you your unique art style developed originally and has since evolved and did your music tastes follow a similar pattern?

It’s very hard to pin point whether my music tastes correlate with my artwork. At times, I fall into patterns of listening to old classics like Cliff Edwards (he played Jimmy Cricket) and Burl Ives for the nostalgic feel they give me. That kind of music reminds me of spending time at my grandparents’ house growing up, and I believe a lot of the imagery from their antiques and aesthetic tastes have filtered into my work. 

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The music that grabbed me when I was younger was a lot faster and more aggressive, though. In the early 90’s it was Punk Rock and hard core music that drove me, and I spent many years going to shows and working on artwork for various bands and even sang in a short lived garage band for a year or so. The Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Descendants, The Minute Men, Deviates, Pennywise and many more are all bands from the area I grew up in. The South Bay of Los Angeles introduced me to many bands and just hanging out at Go Boys Records in Redondo beach after being at the beach all day with my friends was one of our everyday routines. It was the atmosphere of the record shop, the flyers by the door, the new music CD rack, the T-Shirts and sticker displays, all of it was our getaway. Conversations at the record shop helped shape me to be more open to other music than just punk rock, and I got reacquainted with older favorites like The Smiths, The Cure, Tears For Fears, and all the great ones from the 80’s and up. Discovering bands like Jawbreaker, Cursive, and Alkaline Trio who demonstrated great writing skills really became influential as their words created pictures in my head as I sketched. The song “Driftwood” by Cursive played a large roll in my piece “Puppet’s Pathos” which is a sad tale of a Pinnochio type puppet being eaten by a whale. 

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These days, as I paint, many times I choose to document the process by videotaping the process and figuring out what song would best suit it. A lot of times, it’s a haunting background. Sometimes I’ll search out hunting children’s choirs and find a gem of a song like “In the Grass the Grasshopper Sat” by the Russian’s Children choir. I guess it comes down to different paintings have different moods.

As you pointed out, 4 of your song selections are by The Dead Ships. How did you initially discover them and how has their music influenced your artwork/perspectives in general?

I discovered The Dead Ships about three or four years ago at a music festival called Tar Fest. Tar Fest is held at the La Brea Tar Pits, and every year they have a big party that celebrates music and art. The last five years, I have been privileged to be a featured artist painting live large scale pieces during the event. It was at one of these events that I forced myself to actually walk away from the eight-foot piece I was painting (I generally stick at it all day long painting feverishly in the hot sun to get done by nightfall) to watch the band that was wailing out one great song after another. It was early in the day which made me wonder, “Why is the headliner playing the beginning of the event?" 

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Their energy on stage and bluesy rock with emotional twists hit me, and I wrote the name of the band down on a scrap piece of paper and went back to painting when they were done. I made sure to look them up when I got home and have been a fan of them ever since. I tracked them down via Twitter a year or so ago just to tell them I enjoyed their music and actually struck up a little friendship with the band and have done a couple images for them. It feels good to have the same enthusiasm for music that I did back when I was hanging out at the Record Shop in Redondo beach. The internet has made music so much more accessible, but it has taken a lot of that personal attachment away at the same time. Hearing a band live, seeking out their music and stories, and keeping up to date with them was a thing of the past I thought…maybe that’s more because I have gotten older with kids and listening to the opening theme song for Barney has fried my brain. 

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I have really enjoyed everything that The Dead Ships has released, especially their new album CITYCIDE, and Devlin Mccluskey is a great lyricist and singer. I have been painting large pieces while listening to their music, “The Canyon” in particular, and have found myself keeping rhythm with my brush as I speed through sections of the painting. It is great to get lost while you are creating and music is helpful to find that place where you don’t even notice you are painting anymore.

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Who are 3 artists you listen to when you sit down to create and why?

It is really hard to nail it down to 3 artists. I look back over the history of me painting as a career and working with galleries, which is going on 12 years now, and there have been standouts. Obviously The Dead Ships as stated above. In the past, "Cursive” was a big one, “Braid” way back in the day, any of the bands that I have already mentioned. I love Alexandre Desplat, whom you might be acquainted with from many Wes Anderson movies. Sherri Dupree and her family from the band Eisley with their haunting voices and excellent song writing has been very influential. Their album “Room Noises” is still one of my favorites plus everything they have put out since.

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There is also a Playlist that I have put together over the years on Spotify called CRAOLATV which is my version of “The Kids are All Right” from KXLU and Dr. Demento. It is a collection of old children songs and cartoon soundtracks and old ballads that I can listen to for hours and brings some real old nostalgic feelings back as I work. Music has become an accelerator which speeds me up and slows me down depending on the selection for the day.

Any advice for aspiring artists?

The best advice I could give is the advice I have gotten over the years. Work hard and diligently to make your work the best you could possibly do. Keep learning and hone your craft. Be respectful and kind to others and always remember that you aren’t curing cancer so keep your ego in check. Oh, and drink more Ovaltine.

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