Some artists begin with a vision in mind that then moves out the hand to the canvas or sketch book.
For abstract illustrator and Smoke Cartel product photographer Dance Harris, however, the process tends to go backwards.
"I don't usually have an idea when I sit down to draw, I just start doodling," shrugs the Greensboro, NC native. "All my pieces begin as a meditation and develop over the course of a few days as a clear vision comes to me about what it's supposed to be."
Inspired by surrealist icon Salvador Dali as well as contemporary technalists Greg "Craola" Simkins and Tomer Hanuka, Dance follows his instincts towards striking palettes and whimsical shapes that result in a signature style evocative of complex dreams and fractal repetitions. His eye-catching, phantasmagoric illustrations have been featured on Smoke Cartel's limited edition rolling trays and the company's popular line of Torch Art butane dabbing torches, and the avid doodler is currently at work on a Smoke Cartel coloring book.
"Essentially, I play a game of Exquisite Corpse with myself, building on what I've already done," he describes, referring to the famous method that assembles different artists' contribution into a cohesive collaboration.
"I keep it loose and let my hand translate. At a certain point it all gels together."
Sure, following surreal designs around the page sounds easy, but as any fine artist knows, it helps to know the rules of illustration and composition in order to break them. Dance is formally trained with a degree in Illustration from the Savannah College of Art and Design and highly values the foundation of an art education.
"I've taken an art class every year since I was in kindergarten," he laughs. "I didn't always do what I was told or finish my homework, but I always appreciated seeing the process and understanding the discipline."
To access both process and discipline, Dance employs another art form: Sick beats.
"I don't do anything creative without music," he says, adding that he doesn't play himself, but there is always something coming through his headphones—which is just as likely to be ambient soundscapes as it is heavy metal, hip hop or R&B.
"Genres don't really matter; I like anything with soul."
He spends anywhere from a few days to a few weeks on an illustration, using his basic artist toolbox of a heavy-duty sketchbook, black pens and infinite playlists. Once he's pleased with a design and that internal artistic sense tells him it's finished, there is the matter of transferring the image from the sketchbook to a format that can be rendered on rollings trays, dabbing torches and that upcoming "Stoner's Coloring Book."
Photoshop and other software helps clean up the lines and facilitate production, but Dance is careful not to edit his abstract creations too much on the screen.
"I like for the traditional pen-and-ink quality to show through," says the artist, who stays busy balancing his analog pursuits with his professional role in the Smoke Cartel product photo studio.
"I don't want to abide by a formulaic way of doing things."