17 artists changing the face of horror

Horror and gothic art will never lose it's appeal as long as humanity maintains it's fascination with death. For some artists the macabre provides a release from internalised fear and for others, it's a playful way to seek a reaction from their viewers.

However, managing to capture a truly frightening scene, and present the viewer with a disturbing yet beautiful image is a real skill.

In honour of Halloween we have compiled 17 great contemporary artists who focus on dark fantasy themes, with many revealing why they paint such deadly themes.

01. Keith Thompson

Keith Thompson's Pestilential Advent illustration, full story can be found on his site accompanying the image

If you haven't heard of Keith Thompson, you have almost certainly been privy to some of his inner artistic workings, bringing to life some of the most revered film director's characters (including Guillermo Del Toro) and injecting his creativity into video games and book projects. A concept artist, creature designer and illustrator, Thompson recently worked on horror flick, The Ritual, to create the movies' "big bad" and Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan book series.

One of Thompson's illustrations used in Guillermo Del Toro's Don't be Afraid of the Dark (in the film they are maddened illustrations created in 1909 by character, Blackwood)

Thompson's work, understandable, focuses on characterisation and that is what makes his art so terrifyingly good. His characters are believable, and could be injected into any good work of horror fiction. 

02. Scott M. Fischer

Copper X: Fischer painted this stunning piece on engraved copper, so the piece changes dramatically as you move around it

You might recognise Fischer's intricate artwork from his years spent illustrating for Buffy the Vampire Slayer graphic novels covers, and their various spin-offs. His process is no less than artistic alchemy, each image meticulously layered full of glorious detail and lyrical line work - it's a treat to watch, and he generously allows his fans to witness it through series' of videos posted on his site. Fischer uses a unique variety of techniques, including painting on copper.

Cover for Dark Horse Comics, Angel #3. Fischer worked in FWink on Duralar, hitting both sides of the translucent material

Of course, not all of his work is horror, but all maintain a distinctly eerie, yet romantic feel to them - perhaps an unwitting insight into the artist's own delights and his gravitation towards all things fantastical! 

03. Wes Benscoter

Part of Benscoter's album cover design for death metal legends, Mortician's "Darkest Day of Horror"

Benscoter is a master of metal music album artwork. His terrifying visual skills have been enlisted by pretty much every self-respecting death metal band, including Cattle Decapitation, Morticia, Kreator and Autopsy, not to mention thrashers, Slayer and heavy metal masters, Black Sabbath. 

Autopsy's "Skull Grinder" finished album cover with featured artwork by Benscoter

It takes a seriously strong stomach to take on the challenge of lending your hand in illustrating merch for such brutal acts, one that many an artist would understandably find a little hard to handle, but Benscoter never fails to deliver - no matter how gruesome and gorey! He'll happily intricately etch a corpse's entrails or set up a more subtly sinister scene.

04. Alexandros Pyromallis

Pyromallis's "Visual Horror Sequences" evokes the golden age of horror flicks with a VHS vibe. Click for the full image!

Pyromallis is the co-founder of Viral Graphics, a music-related artwork collaborative set up back in 2006 with fellow artist and music aficionado, Konstantinos Psichas.  Under this name, they have provided some stand out poster art for bands like Soundgarden, the Melvins and Swans.

One of Pyromallis' t-shirt designs for Cvlt Nation, the artist also designs skateboards and band posters.

Pyromallis explains that he is "influenced by the plague of culture, horror films/comics, the metal of death, monsters, the hidden paths of the mind, human stupidity and fear." He practises what he calls "analogue illustration", traditional techniques using ink, brushes and paper. He seeks "to add his own ideas and manifestations into the ever-boiling Cauldron of Depravity", and his illustrations certainly don't stray away from this macabre manifesto.

05. DZO

Olivier's illustration, "Persephone", originally drawn for guitarist, Adam Crossman

French illustrator, Olivier, wishes to go deeper into his exploration of the "noosphere" (a philosophical concept about human thought) with his art. Conjuring up the aesthetics of old etchings and religious engravings, occult manuscripts that flirt with alchemy, witchcraft and blasphemy, the artist creates intricate drawings dull of enigmatic detail. 

Close up of "Persephone", black ink on Canson paper

A mix of sensuality, darkness and mythology he strives to create pieces that are disturbing, haunting and stimulating, oozing with mystery and fascination.

06. Anne Stokes


Summon the Reaper: "the girl stands with confidence, in control of time as the darkness swirls around her."

"I am a fan of all things fantasy and much of horror falls into this. It's the dark side of fantasy with many monsters, characters and fantasy situations," reveals illustrator Anne Stokes.

"I love the style of the gothic architecture with its soaring sweeping shapes and detailed carvings. Dark and deathly imagery offer great scope for artists and the possibility of suggesting a sinister story in the picture. I like the possibilities for contrasting softer and darker subjects."

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Stokes has created works that have been used for metal band albums, poker decks, tees and zippo lighters (like this design!)

"I have always enjoyed the creativity and look of gothic clothing and enjoyed visiting the Whitby Goth weekends," Stokes continues. "Many people who attend make a great effort to dress up for the occasion which provides an interesting spectacle as the picturesque old town gets taken over by Goths."

07. Aly Fell

horror aly

Tiffany May recalls the vibe of classic tongue and cheek slasher flicks

"I’m not really a 'horror' artist as such, but the 'Gothic' is a aesthetic that has always resonated with me, from music, fashion, literature and of course visual art. Confronting the shadows is the best way to come to terms with them," says Fell.

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Fell classes his art as gothic rather than horror

"That 'long night' is waiting for us all, pretending it doesn't exist is to kid yourself. My fluffy bunnies have teeth, but 'Death' looks good in a tutu."

08. Michael Whelan

michael whelan

Smiler: Michael Whelan is one of the most important science fiction illustrators of our time, having been the first living artist inducted in the Sci-Fi Hall of Fame in 2009

"I just think about things that seem eerie, or recall frightening situations from my own experiences then adapt them to the exigencies of illustration," admits  illustrator Michael Whelan.

"I don't go for blood and gore; that's about creating revulsion, not fear. I'm inclined towards establishing a situation that provokes more of a feeling of unease than anything else. It's really very hard to actually create a sense of fear in an image alone.

michael whelan 2

Deadend: Whelan is known for his surrealist art, beginning his career as a book cover illustrator

"We, as viewers, are so accustomed to hearing sound tracks with scary noises and music to trigger a 'fear' mood than to do it with an image alone seems almost impossible in these jaded times."

09. Laurie Lipton

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Tete A Tete: Lipton describes this unnerving image as her "shadow"

"I do not love horror. I draw about the things that annoy or frighten me," explains artist Laurie Lipton. "When I visited Mexico after my mother died, I realised that I could grab onto my fear of death and feel an illusion of control by drawing about it."

laurie lipton

Family Reunion: The artist says, "Death will reunite us with our ancestors. This is how I imagined it will look."

10. Godmachine

godmachine horror

Godmachine's horror-shaped illustrations have been printed by major gothic apparel companies as well as for skateboard designs

Godmachine is inspired by pop culture visions. "There was this video shop in my village when I was a kid, the only video shop for miles around. It was run by one of my older brothers friends and it was wall to wall awesome video cases of drawn, bad photo manipulations and terrible moustaches (a la Tom Selek)."

godmachine horror art

Darkness inside: Godmachine's work varies from pop-culture posters and intricate gothic illustrations to striking graphic designs like this one

"I think without fail that shop defined my outlook on the art I am creating at the moment. I am working towards refining my shit but as a starting point;

"My inspiration came from a video shop in a small village (think Werewolf in London) crossed with the little curiosity shop in Gremlins where he buys the Mogwai and Royston Vasey... these fictional places created a great launching pad for me."

11. Aeron Alfrey

aeron alfrey

Baba Yaga: "I enjoy pushing and pulling lights and darks by moving textural elements across countless layers"

"I enjoy the mystery that a disturbing or frightening image can evoke. I also like the power that a frightening artwork can hold over a viewer," explains Alfrey.

aeron horror

Madhouse Cover: "I'm obsessed with surface textures and I'll construct an artwork from a wide variety of textures that I sculpt into anything from a face to a landscape"

"But I'm also fascinated with the world of monsters that is often found in horrific imagery. Scenes of hell from the likes of Hieronymus Bosch, Cornelis Saftleven, Bruegel to Jacques Callot. I enjoy losing myself in landscapes of fantastical beasts."

12. Steve McGinnis

steve vincent price

Vincent Price is an all too familiar face to horror junkies, featuring in fright flicks for decades from hero to villain

Steve McGinnis started drawing at an early age. "My aunt, who's a huge horror fan, used to baby sit me and we'd watch all the 70's Hammer films, Jaws, The Universal Monsters, and pretty much anything that would keep me up all night," he reveals.

steve horror mike

Michael Myers' white-out Captain Kirk mask provided a fearsome face for the Halloween films, yet Steve has managed to make him a little more terrifying in this ghostly image

"It started reflecting in my art at a young age. I have some art I did at 6 featuring Grover vs Jaws. From then on, I was a horror fan. I grew up in the prefect time for horror, I was a kid in the 70's watching Hammer films and in the 80's watching slashers and so on.

"I draw just about everything but when I get to sit down and draw a horror character I really put everything I have into it. I guess you'd say it's my passion."

13. Rovina Cai

rovina gif

Cai says that her image of Dorian Gray was "the perfect opportunity to use animation to create something unexpected"

Artist Rovina Cai says, "I like the idea of creating something beautiful with just a bit of danger lurking around the edges. It's a challenge to get the right balance between dark and beautiful elements, but when it works, it creates something unexpected that makes the audience want to look closer."

horror rovina cai

Frankenstein's Monster: Cai depicts the monster as a sympathetic character, to make the grotesque beautiful

"I created these images for this year's Month of Fear challenge. The first is an illustration of Dorian Gray – it was the perfect opportunity to use animation to create something unexpected.

"The second is an illustration of Frankenstein's Monster – I wanted to depict the monster as a sympathetic character, to make the grotesque beautiful."

14. Dave Kendall

dave kendall

Houses of the Holy for the Madefire app; Kendall's expert use of colour provides a ghastly backdrop that would make even the more ordinary image appear ghastly

"From a very early age I've been drawn to the gothic and macabre," explains illustrator Dave Kendall. "It started with exposure to the old Universal monster films and carried on with literary forms. Early exposure to Stoker's Dracula and the world of Stephen King cemented that."

dave horror art

Kendall has provided his gothic imagery to capture 2000AD's Dark Judges in Dreams of Deadworld - a match well met

"That love has carried over into many on my projects. Foremost among them Houses of the Holy for the Madefire app, and illustrating The Dark Judges for 2000ad's Dreams of Deadworld."

15. Kim Myatt

kim myatt

Myatt uses a minimal palette to create her haunting art, leaving plenty of darkness to allow the viewers own imagination to fill in the blanks

Artist Kim Myatt says: "Horror is a fascinating subject for me. I like to go beyond the shocking and grisly blood 'n' guts and get into that more subtle terror. The unsettling feeling that follows you home at night. Nothing is scarier than what is already in the viewer's mind and creating truly haunting pieces is a delicate dance of what to show and what not to show.

kim horror image

"Creating these images helps me understand my own fears and understanding is a method of control. Once you lance a boil it doesn't hurt anymore," says Myatt

"Horror is personal, and nothing pleases me more than to hear someone have a genuine reaction to my work. It's like I've tapped into a part of their psyche they keep secret. Something unknown.

"On my own personal note, creating these images helps me understand my own fears and understanding is a method of control. Once you lance a boil it doesn't hurt anymore. That's why I paint what I paint."

16. Martin McKenna

martin horror

The Old Dark House: Drawn from a still from The Old Dark House (1932) when McKenna was approx 15 years old

For Martin McKenna, the appeal of horror is simple.

"Drawing these things would be a way of prolonging my sojourns in the shadowy realms of my favourite genre books and movies; to revel in, and attempt to recreate, some of their atmosphere. I like spooky stuff!"

martin horror mummy

Curse of the Mummy was done as a cover for the book of the same name written by Jonathan Green, published by Puffin Books as the final release in the original Fighting Fantasy series

"This illustration shows Akharis the mummy, his half-mask giving me the chance to use a nice shiny golden death mask similar to Tutankhamun's, while still allowing a glimpse of his shrivelled flesh.

"His dessicated face recalling my favourite screen mummy, Karloff's Imhotep from 1932. The sarcophagus in the background pays tribute to the Doctor Who story Pyramids of Mars, itself a gothic horror classic!"

17. Kevin Crossley

kevin crossley

Crossley's work is full of dark fantasy creatures, which he says is purely accidental!

"Any horror and darkness which appears in my art is curiously accidental in a way! It was never something I set about trying to achieve during my formative years, but nevertheless it does seem to have crept into much of what I do," admits artist Kevin Crossley.

kevin queen of hearts

"Red Queen": illustration from 'Alice's Nightmare In Wonderland'

"I enjoy working with nightmarish concepts, but I never start a piece with such a theme in mind. This might sound strange, but some images just let you know, as you're working on them, that they'll be heading down a 'darker path', and these instances I find are the most rewarding:

"The content evolves on its own terms, often inspired by botanical or skeletal themes mingled with insect anatomy and other natural influences. Out of such a pot all sorts of wonderfully twisted things can arise."

18. Iris Compiet


Misfortune Teller: Compiet has a fascination for freak circuses and early photography which she has combined for her "Freaks and Monsters" side-project

"I tend to gravitate towards the horror side of things, have always done so," says illustrator Iris Compiet. "Yet I stay away from the obvious blood and gore stuff. Instead I like to seek out the subtle feeling of unease, of despair, of horrific feelings.

"I try to lure people in under the pretence of things being normal and okay and as soon as you take a closer look you'll see something's off. To me horror is more about a feeling, about the little hairs in the back of your neck, about a shiver and shudder.

iris witches

Compiet's creepy sketches of witches are reminiscent of the goblin-like evil beings that reside in legend (and Roald Dahl novels)

"The whispers in the dark, the scary tales at night. The folktales, the urban legends. The seemingly normal, the darkness that's in each and everyone of us. There's never black or white, good or bad but both and everything in between."