Greg ‘Craola’ Simkins: How he creates his surreal worlds

Graffiti writer turned fine artist Greg 'Craola' Simkins has a creative toolkit stocked with everything imaginable.

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It felt very much like a sport and we were all split up into teams.

  1. Slingshot. For Fighting zombies and squirrels of course…. I mean Zombie Squirrels.
  2. Various jars of Nova Color Acrylic Paint. I have a large assortment and like that I can buy in bulk from them.
  3. “Imscared” logo stencil
  4. Happy Wash brushes. There’s no room for sad ones.
  5. Wacom pen for Wacom tablet not pictured here as it was on a coffee break.
  6. Pocket sketch book—never leave home without it.
  7. Trekell paint brushes. My signature set has handpicked ones to accomplish just about anything you need to do, but I like to grab an assortment of everything they have—especially the daggers and grainers.
  8. iPhone stand for when I record video of works in progress.
  9. Nova Color Matte Medium, also known as magic sauce. If you use acrylics, pick some up. I like Nova Color, Liquitex and Golden for this.
  10. I mix my colors into bottles to keep them organized.
  11. Trekell makes excellent acrylics. I’m really digging their line of transparent acrylics as well.
  12. Kneaded eraser, electric eraser, smudge stump, micro eraser (a must), variety of microns, Pentel Brush pen (for making fancy letters), Pentel Electric pencil in 2B and 4B, Ball point pen, Aquash brush filled with 20/80 Dr. Martins black ink/water, #2 Liner brush, White charcoal pencil, Ladle.
  13. Boy Scout knife (previously owned by my dad when he was a boy)—also for zombie squirrels.
  14. Larger sketch book.
  15. Toy shark.
  16. Vine Charcoal and general charcoal pencils.
  17. White Windsor Newton gouache.
  18. Dr. Martins black ink, Black FW acrylic ink.
  19. Cement floor.

Who are you and what do you make?##

My name is Greg “Craola” Simkins and I make paintings and drawings. I also write words into stories that I never show anyone, so I can’t really call myself a writer. I live in Torrance California which is 45 minutes south of Los Angeles, but with traffic feels more like 2 days. I am part of the California Birding Society (CBS) and Whale Arts Institute (WAI), and am constantly researching animals to add to my paintings.

You first got your start in the world of graffiti and street art, and now you’re exploring pop surrealism through fine art. How do those two mediums speak to one another?##

When we began doing graffiti in the early 90’s, never in my wildest imagination would I have expected it to lead me to where I am today. Back then it was hugely frowned upon, and just became a language back and forth between those of us who called ourselves “graffiti writers”. There was no internet to post your work, getting featured in a magazine was the closest thing to that, and to meet other writers and learn new styles, you had to be out in the yards painting and meeting people. You had to show respect to earn respect, and follow some basic guidelines. It felt very much like a sport and we were all split up into teams. I love looking back on the history of it all, and have many memories (good and bad) from it. I still paint walls and don’t think I’ll ever stop—but these days I prefer to get permission.

I was working on my illustrative style of surreal art work alongside painting walls in those early days. At times they would cross paths, but I have always enjoyed keeping parts of it separate and letting them touch where it felt natural. I really enjoy rocking letters on a wall, and find a different release from it then a complicated canvas—one is a vacation from the other. There is also a world and a story that my canvases exist in now, so that has taken on a life of its own.

What can you absolutely never leave home without—what’s the essential tool in your creative toolkit?##

My pocket sketchbook with ballpoint pen. I’m frantic without it, like a kid lost from his parents at the mall.


Your pseudonym is “Craola”, and your site URL is “I’m Scared”—what do both of these monikers mean to you?

I was given the name “Craola” from a dying warrior. He was a mutant gopher who, along with a team of other horrendous creatures, tried to take over my elementary school. I killed him with one clean throw of a crayon through his eye. With his dying breath he dubbed me Craola. “I’m Scared” made sense with a lot of my earlier work, which was darker in nature and content—plus was taken. Although will take you to the same place these days.

I get asked “what are you scared of” a lot, so a couple years back I wrote a poem/creepy bedtime story for my sons. It’s called “I’m Scared” and we (C4 Toons) just finished about a two year trek of creating a 4:30 animated short of the story of the same name. It features 2 little brothers Ralf (the white knight), and Crumbs who are both based on my boys. So “I’m Scared” finally has a fleshed out meaning. I’ve never given a straight answer on how I got my name though!

The worlds you create are often highly imaginative and surreal. Where does your inspiration come from?

The world I paint into is called “The Outside”. Much like C.S. Lewis had Narnia, Tolkein had Middle Earth, and Lewis Carroll had Wonderland, this is my fantasy world where I get to work out my imaginings. There are heroes and villains; heartaches and friendships; danger and adventure; creatures beyond imagination still waiting to be invented. All those things that excited us as kids, I attempt to get back through working on this world. It makes it exciting to clock in each day and flesh it all out. I am curious what it will grow into. If anything, it will be a legacy for my boys.

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