“What I’ve learned, especially on Twitter, which is crucial to the NFT community, is to keep my art unique. I don’t even use photo references for my paintings. I aim to keep my mind unpolluted so my art stays distinctive.”— CrazyPepe
Today’s spotlight artist, CrazyPepe underwent a transformative journey during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic lockdowns began, CrazyPepe and his son (aka ErrorSkull) went out a bought a load of art supplies to keep themselves busy. It was during this stretch of two-month non-stop painting that the two discovered a new passion, not only painting but collaborating on each other’s work.
After 20+ years as a career coder, CrazyPepe left it all behind to devote himself to painting and raising his son, Paolo (AKA artist Error Skull). Three years into his journey, he’s now releasing a collaborative Drop on MakersPlace alongside his son, and we’re thrilled to have had the chance to speak with him.
Read our interview with CrazyPepe 👇
Brady Walker: Can introduce yourself to our audience?
CrazyPepe: Of course. I’m a traditional painter, passionate about working with AI and diffusion techniques. But my real love is ink. Recently, I’ve started experimenting with acrylics. I’m self-taught, started back in 2020.
Due to a condition, my hands can be quite shaky, so I decided to turn that into an art technique. I bought a lot of black ink and began using it. A few months later, I was hooked on painting. All this happened during the COVID lockdown in 2020.
During those two months, I was spending a lot of time with my son, Paolo, also known as Error School. He’s another great artist on Makers Place and the NFT space. Let me introduce him. Hello Paolo! He’s a wonderful artist who really likes to paint. Our journey started because we wanted to spend time together, and we had nothing else to do.
By January, my mom suggested I start saving my paintings and drawings. Until then, they were like top secrets, and I would destroy them by burning them. I was a software developer for 22 years but in January 2021, I left my job to pursue painting full-time. By 2021’s end, I had created around 120 paintings and realized I needed to do something with them. That’s when I entered the NFT world.
BW: When you started saving your paintings, did you find yourself regretting having burned some of those from the past?
CP: Not really. Even now, sometimes I feel like my paintings are not really good. As for the ones I destroyed, I feel they weren’t good enough. I always consult with Paolo about my work because sometimes it can be quite dark. I ask my mother too. If both of them approve, then I decide to keep it.
A unique aspect of my traditional paintings is that they often feature a bottle of wine or some reference to addiction, which was a significant challenge in my life. I think my earlier works were hardcore because they were a form of personal catharsis. This includes Paolo’s experiences as well.
During a difficult period when I was hospital-bound for 27 days, Paolo, who was only about eight years old, gifted me a remarkable painting that depicted our life elements like wine glasses and pills. It was a powerful moment.
Our work is unique because we’ve turned our shared experiences, even the bad moments, into something beautiful. I’m very proud of coming out of that dark place, largely thanks to Paolo. Being from Mexico and living in France, Paolo is my only family here, hence why he’s frequently mentioned. We work together on many projects and collaborations. It’s truly amazing.
BW: How did you end up in France?
CP: Well, the mother of Paolo, my ex-wife, was from France. She was studying in Mexico around 2000. In 2007, we decided to move to France to get married. But, our lives diverged a month later, and I stayed with Paolo. It has been almost fifteen years now.
We had some challenging times. When Paolo was very young, I was overwhelmed with work, school, and caring for him. At 34 years old, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I started drinking and couldn’t stop, which escalated quickly and aggressively. But it’s thanks to Paolo that I managed to stand up again and try to regain myself.
BW: How was this communicated to Paolo at the time?
CP: I didn’t hide it from Paolo. I was mostly drinking, and in the end, taking some pills to help me drink a little less, which turned out worse because I mixed everything. But I had numerous conversations with him about it.
The first time I asked for help, I called my mom who lives in the United States. I told her I was completely lost and needed her to come immediately. Within 24 hours, she was here. She helped me get to the hospital and explained everything to Paolo, who was always by my side.
When I was in the hospital for 27 days, it was horrible. But every time I saw Paolo’s face, I was reminded that I needed to recover and be with him. Even while I was in the rehabilitation center for two months, we made jokes about my situation. We began to remember things in a funny way, and it helped lighten the mood.
In 2020, two years into my recovery, I started painting. My hands were shaky, like Parkinson’s, but I managed to create art. Now, I paint with anything I find, from my fingers to spoons. Paolo and I often go to the mountains to paint, and it’s a liberating experience.
An interesting thing about Paolo is that since he was three years old, he always wanted to be an artist, specifically a painter. And now, we are constantly painting. We’re currently looking for a school for him. Yes, hello.
BW: You mentioned your mom a couple times and the support she offered when you started painting. She told you to keep your paintings, and you showed them to her. Does she have an artistic background? What is her sensibility when it comes to art?
CP: My mom studied philosophy, but she’s also an intuitive painter even though she didn’t formally study it. She understands colors and forms, although she doesn’t stick to traditional subjects like landscapes. She has a unique style, and that’s why I often consult her about my paintings. I usually incorporate small, philosophical elements into my work that she helps me think through. It’s great that right now we can converse freely about these ideas. My mom is the only person I really have these deep conversations with.
BW: Do you do much planning for your pieces?
CP: No, not really. When I started painting, I liked using large watercolor papers, like 80 centimeters by 70. I would sit in front of the paper and decide to start with two lines, which often forms the base for a face. I’ve also enjoyed collaborating with Paolo. We don’t plan much; we start and keep building on each other’s work.
BW: Your paintings have such a rich texture. How do you feel when you translate one of those physical pieces to digital? Do you feel like something’s lost?
CP: Initially, I felt like something was lost in the digital translation. I had an idea of what the digital version would look like, but the end result often left me unsatisfied. Then I started experimenting with collage and Photoshop, taking elements from different paintings and blending them using artificial intelligence.
I actually started preferring the output from the AI over the original painting. I could animate the original painting by making several versions of it. The final product would be a couple of seconds of animation, an overlapping and changing version of the same painting, which I love.
Paolo prefers working with analog mediums. I usually handle the digital translations and the AI integrations of our paintings.
BW: When did animation come into play for you?
CP: That was in the theater space. At first, I saw a lot of static work. I didn’t want to create what everyone else was, like the cyberpunk trend, for example. There are some amazing 3D artists out there, but if I started using 3D, I’d spend 10 years learning and still not get the same results. I wondered how I could create a good animation. I tried frame-by-frame animation on a tablet, but it didn’t feel natural. For me, painting with physical materials is natural.
We use various techniques to give our paintings texture and volume. Sometimes we’d use baking soda mixed with inks or acrylics, or even toilet paper. It’s like how children play. Sometimes we’d use things around us, like alcohol bottles, and add paint to them. It’s all like playing. When I was coding, I had good income, but right now, it’s tough. However, I enjoy it. We were invited to an exhibit next month, so we’re figuring out what to do. I prefer painting over spending all my life in front of the computer when paints and pencils are right in front of me.
BW: How did you manage the economic transition from coding to painting? It’s not the most financially viable move, is it?
CP: No, it wasn’t. At one point, I was spending more on Ethereum gas transactions than I was earning. I had some savings, but they’re gone now. Sometimes when I’m broke, I need to create something inexpensive, sell it quickly, and buy groceries. It’s tough sometimes. The good thing is I bought my apartment in 2021, so I don’t have housing costs. The economics of this work can be hard. I’ve considered looking for work, but if I did, I wouldn’t have time for art, which I pour my heart and energy into.
I loved coding because it was also my hobby. But then when I had my addiction problem and COVID happened, it was like discovering a new life through art. Even if I’m not a well-known artist, my grandchildren can see my work. I feel like I’m leaving something in the world. Coding, on the other hand, can end up on a server somewhere, and nobody knows how much time you put into it. It’s a completely different experience.
BW: Do you find that your technical background has helped you as a crypto artist and a painter, or are they separate?
CP: Using artificial intelligence like StyleGAN from OpenAI and other APIs, I enjoy working in Python to optimize my workspace. I prefer to let the computer do the work as much as possible. My skills in programming make me comfortable coding quickly. I’m not hesitant to create my own smart contracts. In 2022, I was reading all the documentation and everything. Now, when I look at a project, I like to examine the smart contract to see what’s happening behind the scenes. Regarding AI, I love testing applications. It’s important to me that they have an API because the web interface, while nice, can be restrictive. With an API, I can do almost anything, and faster.
BW: You also write poetry to go along with your work. What comes first, the poem or the painting?
CP: I start with the painting. While I’m painting and have something tangible in front of me, I begin to think about what I could say about the painting, how I could express it in words. Sometimes I think in Spanish, sometimes in English. When the painting is finished, I step back about five meters and contemplate it. Then I feel ready to write the poem.
Being multilingual is a great help because I can play with words and their meanings. I like to read widely – physics, science, poetry, philosophy. This gives my work depth because it’s not just about surface emotions, like happiness or sadness. It’s also about the sky, the cosmos, the universe, entropy, and everything else.
BW: Have you found a creative process for career building? Do you have a long-term strategy for your art career?
CP: I think physical art is going to be the next step for NFTs. The owner of the NFT could also own the physical piece. Everyone is trying to offer something additional with their NFTs, like access to a party, for instance. But I believe an NFT should provide real value. If you own the physical piece, it’s remarkable.
Even if the owner wants to flip the art, they can sell the NFT or the physical piece separately.
I want to delve into physical art and also start experimenting with dynamic NFTs. I’m considering pulling data from Etherscan to see how Ether is behaving and apply a live graph to my painting, for example. One idea is to create an NFT that interacts with time. Although a sun-based piece is fun, I’m looking for something more significant. As we’re in the Web3 era, I could use data from Ether or tackle political and social issues, like what’s happening in various parts of the world, population growth, etc. I want to reflect real-time global events in my art.
I’m also reading a lot of documentation to create interactive dynamic NFTs. Imagine an NFT that interacts with the movement of your hand or face through a webcam. I want to create more interactive art.
BW: That sounds amazing. Have you thought about how that would work? I assume it would be more computer-based as art screens don’t usually have cameras.
CP: Yes, it’s going to be more computer-based, or perhaps something like an Arduino, which is a small mini-computer that could be added to the physical piece displaying the NFT. Maybe even creating something that displays data and interaction, because with Arduino you can attach a webcam, for example, and have that interaction. It could make the painting tactile, so people can touch it. It becomes an interactive piece, not just something to look at. You can play with it, make changes to it.
BW: That’s super cool. I’d love to see that. How do you manage your time and prioritize tasks as an artist? Do you have a cadence of finishing new work? How do you organize your life?
CP: Since I was a baby, I’ve always been quite active. My mother used to take me to the doctor because I wouldn’t sleep for a day or two. Even now, I sometimes paint for 24 hours non-stop, and then I realize maybe I should rest and eat something. When my son Paolo is with his mother, I can paint uninterrupted.
But when Paolo is here, I work mostly between midnight and 7 a.m. After Paolo wakes up, I go to sleep, eat, sleep for another four or five hours, then spend the day with Paolo.
In the night, I try to be on Twitter for a little while before I get back to painting, playing with the computer and AI, and solving new problems. When I paint, I usually have my headphones on, listening to the news or an audiobook. I don’t really have a fixed schedule, but I prefer to work at night when it’s quiet. I’m sort of like a vampire.
BW: I’ve often found myself envious of people like you who need little sleep. As we’re nearing the end of our chat, I want to ask if there’s anything you’ve learned in these last couple of years about art, creativity, or the creative process that has significantly altered your approach, practice, or feelings about your art?
CP: Over the years, what I’ve learned, especially on Twitter, which is crucial to the NFT community, is to keep my art unique. Even though I admire some works, I avoid copying or seeking inspiration from them. I don’t even use photo references for my paintings. I aim to keep my mind unpolluted so my art stays distinctive.
Another lesson I’ve learned is the importance of authentic interaction. When I engage with people on Twitter, I prefer genuine communication rather than just playing along with the algorithm. Posting amusing pictures, interacting with my collectors and other artists, and being true to myself contribute to the creative process. I feel there’s a lot of pretense in the community, but what we really need is authenticity and uniqueness.
It’s not necessary to interact with everyone; just build strong connections with a few. Those people will support your work, and you can do the same for them. This is my true inspiration. For instance, I often communicate with Custom Horror, an artist with a similar painting style. He influenced me to enter the web3 space.
BW: That makes sense. Custom Horror’s art and yours definitely share a vibe.
CP: Yes, I actually discovered the web3 space through Custom Horror. I noticed that his process, much like mine, was rapid and direct. We started talking, and through him, I learned about NFTs. Our interaction played a major role in me joining this space.
What inspires me about him is not just his art but also his engagement with the community. He doesn’t post superficial greetings on Twitter but creates content and genuinely interacts with people. Seeing this relaxed approach by him and a few other artists made me realize the importance of real interaction as opposed to just liking, retweeting, and leaving generic comments.
Now, I have good friends there, and seeing how they operate is what truly inspires me. I don’t seek to emulate their art but their behavior and how they handle their work. It’s the human aspect that’s inspiring to me.