Bo Bradshaw was born and raised in Florida. While he has always loved art, it took him a while to realize that he could make a career out of it. Bo does a lot of commissioned work for bands but luckily for us, he enjoys designing pop culture t-shirts too.
Bo is a little obsessed with art and spends a lot of time studying other artists. He has a wide variety of tastes and is always looking for ideas that he can add to his repertoire and help him grow as an artist. As you can see, his art is incredibly detailed and clearly time-consuming. His advice for other artists is to just do it and stop striving for perfectionism but this is something that he clearly struggles with himself. Well, perhaps he adheres to the Nike slogan work ethic but considering the time and effort he puts into his work, perfectionism is his goal.
Bo Bradshaw Interview
Where did the nickname SteelPengu come from?
It’s an old moniker from DeviantArt. I am often called a penguin and I like heavy metal so: SteelPengu. I’ve been distancing myself from it as a professional label because most people just know me by my real name and I don’t especially care about complete anonymity. I’ve written to TeeFury in the past about changing my profile to BoBradshaw, but never got a response.
I see on Facebook that you are based in Orlando, Florida. Born and raised?
Born and raised! I popped out at Florida Hospital, even. But I also grew up on a ranch outside of the city before moving into it as I got older.
What do you like most about where you live?
It’s a remarkably active and progressive city despite the state it’s in. There’s a lot of arts and entertainment industry traffic down here. I like Florida’s swampiness too. Thunderstorms are awesome, and alligators rule.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Depends. I watch a lot of movies since movies are where I got my start. Video games are a great place to recharge and help manage my anxiety. But my main thing is my family. I will always prioritize time with my wife and my girlfriend. You only get to do this life thing once. Love the people who love you.
I believe your main work is design work for metal bands. Can you tell us how that came about and what it entails?
Storytime! Fun fact: I was a film and television guy before I was an illustrator. I was doing a behind the scenes video for a band whose drummer I met at a friend’s Street Fighter IV tournament and they didn’t have anyone doing their art so I kind of bullied my way into doing it for them because they had no idea I could. After that my art became more in demand than my video services and I quit video to do art as my main gig.
As far as what it entails? Uh… at this point bands usually give a broad idea or direction and I just run with it. I’ve got enough of a portfolio and reputation that even new clients feel comfortable letting me do my thing without too much micromanaging. I rarely advertise myself. Word of mouth brings clients to me pretty reliably. I can be a slow artist due to a variety of personal health issues so a trickle can be better than a flood even if it’s a dry month or two.
About the Artist
When did you start creating art?
Ever since I was a kid. Always drawing. I drew monsters and villains a lot. They were always way cooler than heroes, haha. I loved the art in my old NES instruction manuals, especially Ninja Gaiden 2. Everyone thought I would be an artist when I grew up but I didn’t take it seriously till mid-college, and even then it wouldn’t be a career for me for another seven or eight years.
Do you have a formal art education or are you self-taught?
A little of column A, a lot of column B. I am, foremost, self-taught, but I have had schooling in art. I went to SCAD and even though my BFA is in film and television I took a lot of sequential and illustration electives for my own curiosity. But even still, the work I’m doing now I taught myself based on watching other shirt artists and using my understanding of printmaking from art history classes.
Could you give us the tl;dr for Brilliant Engine?
Brilliant Engine was the umbrella company for my video and photo work, but it’s pretty much defunct now and only gets name-dropped if I’m acting as an art director/agent on a project for another artist. I don’t update its Facebook anymore and have considered closing it since my main presence is just me now. I may revive it in the future, but I’m not in a hurry.
Were you influenced by any particular artist or style?
Tons of different ones. I studied the hell out of Yoshitaka Amano in high school. I have a lot of Bernie Wrightson and Barry Windsor-Smith in my line art and taste for detail. Frazetta and Brom show up a lot in my compositions and poses and costuming. Gustave Dore is another big influence. I consume art books like crazy. I love all kinds of artists and I’m always seeing how I can incorporate styles and ideas from new ones into my work to better myself and grow my vision.
Could you describe your typical design process from concept to completion?
It’s pretty straight forward. I do thumbnail sketches for real in my sketchbook, usually very small, along with gestures and warm-ups. I used to scan those in and blow them up in Photoshop and then print them out and work over them, but not anymore. Now I snap a photo with my iPad Pro and import it directly into the Procreate app where I use an Apple Pencil and do further compositional work directly over the photo of my sketch.
Once it gets approval from the client I do all of my tight drawing in Procreate as well as my inking. I’ll then send a PSD or a PNG to my email, download it to my computer and bring the inked line art into Illustrator and do a quick vector trace of it. Save it as a PDF, bring it into Photoshop and then begin coloring.
My coloring process is lots and lots of layers because I’m anal retentive about being able to make quick adjustments based client feedback. There’s no formula to it, really. I aim to use colored shadows as much as possible and focus on color contrasts. I have a hard time letting go and doing straight spot colors and calling it a day. I end up with lots of cell shading style halftones.
A lot of your work is very intricate. Is it very time-consuming?
I think so? I’ve been told I’m fast by some clients, but I think I’m really slow. I prefer to take my time and get it right than rush through it. Also, a lot of additional drawing happens towards the end of the process. I’ll be unhappy with the level of detail or how some part of it looks and completely redo it or draw in more jewelry or armor designs or belts or hair. I often figure out my backgrounds last, haha. I’m all about my figures. If I’m operating at peak efficiency I can knock out a piece in a week or two easy, barring delays in feedback. But that’s rare these days.
About the T-Shirts
How did you first hear about t-shirt sites like Design by Humans and TeeFury?
My friend Sherry, who I was dating at the time. She used to look at them a lot and made me aware of them. I wasn’t doing art full time yet either.
Do you remember your first print at TeeFury? If so, what was it and how did you feel?
I’ve only had, like, three prints at Teefury. So yeah, I remember. It’s “The Bonus Situation” and I felt a sense of irony, haha. I had submitted the piece to them a year prior and never got a response. Not even a rejection, haha! And then I open up my Teepublic store in the wake of the exposure I was getting for placing in the official Mad Max Fury Road art contest. One of the first designs I added to it was my Alien piece and within a month I had a curator at Teefury contact me about it independent of my submission a year prior. I ended up putting a bunch of extra work into redrawing Ripley at their request (it was a really fast cartoony piece originally, didn’t dwell on likeness too much).
The experience spurred me to make my second design for them “Power & Courage,” a Frazetta/ Katsuya Terada influenced Zelda piece. I wanted to do something that showcased my love of dense, detailed designs with lots of bright colors and a heavy metal grit. Plus Zelda is more of a house name and I felt it would do better than Alien, which it did. It’s one of my best selling shirts. “The Bonus Situation” has also been a really strong seller in the ensuing years. Every so often it hits the right audience and has a good a week or two.
You sell your designs on TeePublic, RedBubble, and Design by Humans.
Which performs best for you?
Okay, loaded questions because they’re functionally very different for me, career-wise. TeePublic houses all of my pop culture work, Design by Humans has all of my original work. Teepublic has more of an anything-goes approach, while Design by Humans has official stores for pop culture merchandise and focuses on promoting original content. RedBubble is literally there for coverage. I try not to have too many stores because I like quality control, but a lot of people buy from RedBubble so I like to keep it sort of up-to-date every few months.
Which is easiest to work with?
They all fundamentally follow the same formulas for uploading and storefront management so I can’t say any is easier than another. I rarely deal directly with any staff so I’m basing ease to work with off of just their user interface.
Of the t-shirts that you designed, which one is your favorite?
Tough question. I do have favorites, if not explicitly a favorite. I put a lot into “The Bloody Meadow” for Seven Kingdoms and it’s the only shirt I’ve done that could be called a landscape, I think. I do really love my Stannis shirt for Principium. The print job on it is phenomenal too. I did two shirts last year that I wear all the time that I call my “smurf girl” shirts, haha. One was for Unleash the Archers and the other is a Pretty Deadly inspired design for Seven Kingdoms, but both have women with blue skin with magenta hair. I love them because they’re just so loud and pop out at you across a room. It’s easier for me to pick out least favorites than favorites, haha. I’m usually really happy with my work.
Do you wear t-shirts that you have designed?
All the damn time. I am a whore for myself. And it saves me money on clothes since they’re complimentary from my clients!
Have you seen somebody wearing one of your t-shirts in the real world?
Yes! Several times! Just recently as Spooky Empire, an Orlando-based horror convention, I ran into a dude wearing a shirt I designed for wrestler Su Yung. It was rad! I see my band work, especially the local ones, every so often too.
Photoshop or Illustrator?
Photoshop. Because my working method is so not compatible with Illustrator’s workflow.
About the World
What is the most exotic location you have been to?
Uh… I’ve been to some pretty exotic public bathrooms.
Where would you most like to visit? Why?
Japan. I have a deep love for its history and culture and its complex social etiquette. Many artists who have been influential to me are Japanese. Katsuya Terada, Amano, Noriyoshi Ohrai, Junji Ito, Yoshiki Takaya, Keita Amemiya… those are just the obvious ones. I would really like to meet Keita Amemiya. A huge inspiration to me as a filmmaker and artist.
About Other Designers
Which t-shirt designer(s) do you admire the most?
Arguably my art bro, Beastwreck (AKA Beastpop AKA Jared Moraitis). He’s a real genuine guy and his work ethic is incredible to me. I love the animation in his lines and the volume his art has. It’s so expressive and fluid and fun. I get comparisons to Mumford, but I’ve actually studied and learned from Beastpop more. I don’t really look inward to the shirt design community for my inspiration so I actually don’t know that many shirt designers! Mumford is obviously an inspiration but I admire the hell out of Kerbcrawler Ghost and Godmachine.
Who would you like to see interviewed on the Shirt List next?
I mean, wouldn’t this be who I admire most? Definitely Beastwreck.
Any advice for new designers/artists?
Shut up and do it. Stop fussing over getting your lines right. Stop worrying about accuracy. Stop slowing yourself down. Get out of your own way and commit to your drawing. The number one thing I see discouraging young artists is their own perfectionism driven by their insecurity as an amateur. If you want to do this professionally then do the work because it challenges you and teaches you more about yourself. If a project doesn’t speak to you, find a way to make it. Every piece is a challenge. It is an opportunity to step up and adapt and grow.
What are you watching on TV at the moment?
My tv is off at the moment.
What’s the last movie you saw in the cinema/movie theater?
I saw Alien: Covenant opening night with my gf and we’re both bathing in the salty tears of upset fans. We very much enjoyed it.