November 7th, 2018
Jesse Gussow


With inktober fresh in every one’s minds, this is a good time to talk about artist Shawn Coss who, for the past few years, has been doing “Inkotber Illness” bringing awareness to mental illness through his artwork. If you are looking for dark, twisted art, then Shawn Coss is incredibly skilled in that regard. His shading and tight thin line-work are perfect for his subject matter. Macabre characters that reach deep down into your psyche immediately fill you with uncomfortable feelings. He’s used this skill to bring the discussion of mental illness out from the shadows and to the forefront of his art. It’s dark, it’s creepy and it’s also very relatable for people who don’t know how to describe what they are feeling. Shawn is able to put it in art and give an image that people can relate to. It’s just beautiful.


Where are you from?

Originally born in the United Kingdom, I now reside in Ohio.


How did you get your start in art?

I've been creating art for as long as I can remember but the defining moment for me is stumbling across my Dad's old sketches from when he was in the military and seeing something created from nothing.


Where do you find your inspiration?

I find my inspiration in everything around me.  N.C. Winters [American visual artist living in San Diego, California] put it best that everyone's inspiration is triggered by various events/sounds/objects. I can never really explain how I'll come up with ideas. My brain works on a different process than the next persons.


How did you come up with the Inktober Illness series?

It was suggested by a fan in 2016, and with my medical background [Ed note: Shawn possesses a degree in Nursing] it seemed like a perfect fit. It also forced me to come to grips and realization of my own battles with depression.


Mental health is a strong component of a lot of your work. Why is that?

As stated before, I have my own personal battles with mental health but I feel it's something that needs to be talked about more openly. It's still considered a taboo subject to even state that you feel depressed and are automatically labeled as "crazy" or "imbalanced”. I think it's important for people to know that sometimes it's ok not to be ok but to know where to go or who to reach out to when we find ourselves in the darkness.


Which band would you love to do some album art for?

Man, I'd love to do something for anything of Maynard James Keenan, let it be Tool, A Perfect Circle, or Puscifer.


If you could take three different animals and combine them to make a new super animal, what animals would you use and what would you call your creation?

I'd combine a Giraffe, Grizzly Bear, and an Elephant. I'd call it "You're Dead Fucker"


What does your studio space look like? Chaotic or utopia?

It's a bit of a chaotic disorder.


How did you get involved with the web comic Cyanide & Happiness?

I was reached out to by creator Kris Wilson through Myspace through our shared love of darker imagery. We became friends over the years and eventually I was invited into the company.


What does your artwork say about you?

I’ll leave that up to the viewer's interpretation.


How do you want people to respond when they see your work?

I want them to feel something. Whether it's pure joy of connecting with my work or anger and concern. We live in such a sterile world that feeling anything at all is a gift.


How would you describe your art style?

The best way I could describe it is pure darkness with a hint of light. And within that light is the hope and path to a better understanding.


What can we do to fight the stigma associated with mental health?

Keep talking about it. Letting the world know it’s ok not to be ok and to withhold judgement on those who have a harder time controlling their illness.


How has creating the Inktober Illness series impacted your views on different mental illnesses?

I've always had an understanding and compassion for mental illness. But being able to connect my art with mental health is important to me.



How have you grown as an artists from when you first started to now?

I've learned that not everyone will appreciate or understand my work and the artist of 5 years ago would've had a hard time understanding and comprehending that. It's now something I embrace.


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