Killer Acid is an Brooklyn-based illustrator originally from Delaware. He has a history of drawing trippy stuff for VICE and other like-minded outlets, and he's generally known for talking about the drug he shares a name with, LSD. We were chatting with the artist when he said, "I don't do drugs recreationally anymore. I just smoke weed and work."
For 4/20, we delved into the dank depths of marijuana use and his art, and he told us about how his relationship with the drug relates to his artistic practice. Louis Armstrong once called weed "an assistant," and below, Killer Acid explores that facet of the drug in his own work.
The Creators Project: Tell me about how weed factors into the order of things when you're making something. Do you pick a task, smoke, and then create? Or do you smoke and then let yourself do whatever you want?
Killer Acid: I go through extreme periods of smoking, followed by months of just not having it. Usually this changes with the seasons. Right now happens to be one of those rich golden harvest times, when the bowl overflows. Weed is a great catalyst for testing out ideas, but I don't draw final inks or try to screen print after puffing a blunt. I get a bit worse at those more technical things, and find that coffee is much better instead. Weed is best for sketching in pencil— hammering out a rapid succession of freeform ideas, some of which I may return to later, some of which will be relegated to the 'stoopid' drawer. Some of my most popular designs came through this process, including High Functioning, which is a drawing of a pot leaf working at an iMac. It's basically a self portrait-- getting high and working on a little doodle about getting high and working, in a highly functional way. Maybe smoking a bunch before trying to do this interview was a bad idea...
Do you prefer bowls, blunts, bongs, joints, edibles? Do you have any rituals?
I definitely prefer joints. They are way more mellow on the lungs, and you have a better sense of how high you’ll get based on taking a few puffs versus hitting a 6 foot bong, or inhaling too much butane from smoking bowls. I prefer the slow and steady approach over getting so super high all at once that it’s impossible to really function. I’ve definitely had a few of these ’way too fucking high’ moments from eating edibles. One time I made some disastrous weed tea by mixing kind bud with chamomile flowers, not realizing that cooking the mix in heavy cream would also exaggerate the potency of the chamomile. An hour later I was standing in a cold shower, trying like crazy to keep awake, calling my dealer like ‘what the fuck is wrong with this herb!!’ Needless to say, he wasn’t psyched haha.
Lots of artists have spoken on the creativity-aiding effects of weed, from Bob Dylan and Bob Marley to Louis Armstrong. Carl Sagan has also spoken to its benefits. For some people it helps to foster creativity. Why do you think that is, based on your own experiences?
Weed definitely helped guide my hand to paper, and made me rediscover the sheer joy of doodling. The first few times I smoked I was absolutely compelled to grab a marker and start wildly scrawling in my notebook—all these thoughts and impressions that had been bottled up inside of my head were now flowing out. Weed was the lubrication that helped get the creative gears in motion. I would agree that all the people you mentioned are extremely creative, or would be considered genius with or without weed, but maybe weed did give them a slight edge. Maybe it gave Dylan a little animal snarl, or a slightly heightened level of cosmic indifference. Maybe it gave Bob Marley extra lion vibes, or made him play guitar better, though I think Bob Marley was really great at collaborating, and that was his real strength. I can’t even imagine what Carl Sagan was thinking about high, or otherwise. That guy is on an extreme higher plane. But ask yourself—what did weed do for Charles Manson?
When did you notice you'd begun to use weed to work more than to play?
I’ve never liked weed so much as a social thing. I feel like it’s better to smoke and sit around and draw, or to zone out on aSunday afternoon. I’m happiest hanging out with a few friends who are all doing something simultaneously creative, collaborative or not— maybe just joking around and giving each other ideas. I'm currently sitting in my studio at Secret Project Robot, an artist driven gallery space in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I have the studio door open to the yard— a wild tangle of plants, wooden constructions, cat hideouts, and rusted metal. This place is an urban oasis, the kind of underground bohemian lair that exists only in New York art fantasies, or in Detroit. I find this place to be the perfect backdrop, where work and play sort of become the same thing, kind of like stoned and not stoned. The transitions are fuzzy, less jarring, everything is dreamy here. I guess what I am getting at is that I can’t really tell the difference anymore. I worked super hard at office jobs for 15 years, slowly working towards the goal of being able to play.
Have you ever used weed to fight creative block? Can you show me a piece that benefited from this?
I sometimes wish that I could just sit down and forget everything I know about drawing, and start over back in Delaware, sitting in the park with my notebook. I used to sit down and just draw without any kind of preconceived ideas, maybe with just a rough concept. I would try and see everything as one continuous line, that was flowing over every part of the page. This Troll Submarine print is a good example of that. Kind of an ever-expanding doodle. I would definitely be more ok with happy accidents, where weed is involved.
Do you feel different making art sober vs high? Can you show me an example in your work?
I feel like it’s all kind of blended into one experience these days. I think as I get older, I’m more used to my mind. It becomes harder to trick myself into really doing something crazy. Sometimes people will ask me, ‘you must have been high when you made that’, or ‘did you draw that on acid?’ I just nod and smile, or say ‘hell yeh I was on acid!’ Usually if I make a good design, it was over a few days, and I may have been high for some of the time, but you can bet I was sober too, at some point. Really, at the end of the day, what’s the difference? Above is something I drew last year while actually on acid.
What advice do you have for other artists who use weed to be creative?
Puff, puff, pass, and don’t Bogart that joint, my friend. No, for real tho.