Throughout my life, my monsterkid travels with the adventure club have had a checklist of film locations, cryptozoology sighting locations, and dark historical places of significance. I of course felt right at home in New Orleans where you could barely walk a block without experiencing the incredible sights and sounds of a city with all the beauty, monsters, art and dark history one could handle. It was on the last night of my trip that I began to panic realizing that I had not yet been able to purchase any Rougarou merchandise. I already had my VooDoo, vampire, and ghost souvenirs but nothing from the famed Rougarou! The city seemed to have turned its back on the beloved monster and I had given up hope until stumbling into an incredible outdoor market during my last night. It was there that I found the amazing art of Claudia Rodriguez and her company Wrought Ink., who not only fully embrace all the folklore and dark history of the area but present it in the most incredible way on their apparel. I not only had the chance to purchase the Wrought Ink. Rougarou but the Honey Island Swamp Monster shirt as well. Obviously my little monsterkid heart was full of joy and I knew then that I had to dig up the dirt and spread the good word about Wrought Ink. (who you can order from online by the way).
KillDozer: Where did the inspiration come from to start Wrought Ink?
Claudia Rodriguez: I have been drawing since I was 7 and after years of recreating images, I wanted to inspire the creativity and imagination of others with new original artwork. Most of the stories I have chosen have been told traditionally through word of mouth and have little illustration to help tell the story.
Erzulie was inspired by the culture I'm surrounded by. I went to what I thought was a Voodoo pub crawl at Rosalie’s Allie, but it actually turned out to be an authentic voodoo ritual. I was born and raised in New Orleans and didn’t know what Voodoo actually looked like until then. That’s because most people know the “Hollywood” voodoo and not authentic voodoo. Some shops have even adopted this “Hollywood” voodoo for the sake of sales. Wrought Ink aims to share the authentic side of New Orleans and preserve its culture.
I was also inspired after I went to visit the Lafayette Cemetery and saw long lines of tourists taking photos. I thought to myself, why are all of these tourists hanging out in a cemetery instead of enjoying all of the other entertainment New Orleans has to offer. People have a fascination with the strange and dark culture that we have, mostly because it is unique, but also because it appeals to their own dark side.
KD: How did you begin the process of bringing the dream of Wrought Ink to life?
CR: I was a manager for a jewelry designer and had learned inventory management, marketing, and sales. I felt that I had the skills necessary to run my own business. Once I had the idea for Wrought Ink, I approached a good friend and fellow designer to join me as a partner. We both put up $600 each to purchase starting supplies and equipment. He left the company before it opened, but wished me the best of luck and allowed me to keep the investment. My starting equipment was horrible and printing was a nightmare, but I have since developed technique and upgraded my equipment.
KD: Being a monsterkid, I couldn't help looking everywhere for legit Rougarou books, shirts, hats etc. etc. but found nothing until coming across your booth at an outdoor art market. Why do you think New Orleans chooses not to embrace its monster folklore as much as it embraces VooDoo?
CR: Voodoo has a lot more history and depth as a religion, whereas stories like the Rougarou were normally told by parents to their children. It was a simple story “be good or the rougarou will come for you.” For a long time the Rougarou story was told through word of mouth. There are even multiple spelling variations because of that. However, the Rougarou has grown in popularity. There is a roller coaster in Ohio called the “Rougarou,” there is a Rougarou festival in Houma, the TV show Supernatural features the Rougarou. There are also many sports teams and Athletes that have adopted the name.
KD: Besides the Rougarou what other folklore have your created art work and apparel for?
CR: My most recent drawing is of The Axeman of New Orleans. I love the mystery of it and the significance of Jazz in the story.
The Axeman is a notorious character of New Orleans. It was recently 100 years since he wrote his letter in March 1919. In this letter, he said that he would go on another killing spree on a specific date, but would spare anyone playing jazz music.
KD: Have you always been aware of the creatures and mythology you include in your art? If not how did you come to find out about it?
CR: I have not always been aware. But I am a huge fan of fantasy and creatures, and I am knowledgeable on New Orleans culture. When I was coming up with Wrought Ink’s concept, I knew I wanted stories that I would have to research, not those that everybody knows. So I found these stories after persistent digging. After a while, people started sharing stories and making suggestions to me.
KD: Have you ever entertained the idea of doing sculptures or full size paintings of The Wrought Ink pieces?
CR: There is a balance between being the jack of all trades or the master of one. I have skills with traditional art, graphic design, sculpture, special effects makeup, animation etc. I did sell prints and long sleeved shirts at one time because they were requested at the market, but they didn’t sell well and I end up being stuck with the inventory for a long time.
I did however, collaborate with a movie Welcome Home Rougarou. I created their Rougarou monsters hands. They came out quite scary! Keep an eye out for the film. It is still in production.
KD: I've noticed you do a lot of photo shoots to promote the clothing of Wrought Ink. How do these come together? Do you do the photography as well?
CR: I used to organize my own photo shoots, but time management became difficult for me. I have learned to trust photographers and models with my creative vision and branding. It also feels good to collaborate with other creatives and see what they come up with.
KD: Where can we go to follow Wrought Ink and place orders?
KD: How long does it take you to create a design? Do you already have the idea in your mind when you begin creating a new piece?
CR: It takes me forever to create a new design. Sometimes I will start a design and then start another design and finish that one before I get back to it. With the Axeman I tried to force a design to work for a long time and then I started over and liked a sketch that came naturally to me. Designing for t-shirts is different than designing for paper and it is a challenge to hide all of the aspects of the stories in the design. For the Rougarou, people like how it looks like a logo. It takes me about a year to finish a design and I don’t work on it in one sitting.
KD: What do you enjoy most about this preservation of New Orleans dark folklore?
CR: These stories are almost like an inside story or an underground community. People either recognize the stories from childhood or are happy to find something different. I would make more money if I drew seafood, Mardi Gras masks, trumpets, etc. But the designs wouldn’t be as memorable or impactful due to the amount of artwork that already exists for mainstream New Orleans content. My customers usually appreciate the historical and/or the taboo aspect of it. There has always been a curiosity and appreciation for monsters and fantasy. Some people have told me that they don’t know where they could wear a design like the Honey Island Swamp Monster, which portrays a bleeding boar, but others have been so excited that they put the shirt on immediately.
KD: How do people usually react to your work? What do you hope people will get out of seeing and wearing Wrought Ink merchandise?
CR: Here is a good example of how people react:
One time this guy came up to my table and said that he wanted to buy 3 shirts for his sons. His wife came up and got visibly upset screaming “No, no, no that’s too scary!” He came back later and lingered around the table, and his wife came back again. She shows him off and told me “next thing you know he will want to buy them a silver bullet.” People have also told me that they couldn’t buy a shirt because they are Catholic. However, I don’t mind those negative reactions as much as I mind indifference. I knew when I created my shirt line that they would not appeal to everyone. The reason I chose t-shirts was because I felt that they would be more successful in sharing the stories. Essentially turning the wearer into a storyteller. I want people to wonder what the stories are about and maybe strike a conversation with its wearer.
KD: What does the future hold for Wrought Ink? Being a nerd I would love to see a comic book!
CR: I do want to create a small coffee table book where I could sell the stories as a collection. However, the financial investment of creating a book is too great a risk for me right now. I had the idea for a pop-up book, similar to the Babadook pop-up book. In the future, I would like to connect more with other Louisiana folklore experts, stores, and events. Maybe more collaborations.
KD: Okay, time for a few fun/silly questions - if one of your works of art was to be made into a block buster film which piece would it be and who would star in the film?
CR: Jacques St. Germain. That story has so many facts and witnesses that I believe most of it to be true. St. Germain is quite an interesting and complex story and I will never get the opportunity to sit down and tell all of it. It would really require a film. I would like to see Keanu Reeves carry himself with the elegance and sophistication of an old vampire.
KD: What is your favorite folklore monster and why? Seems like an obvious question, but still fun.
CR: I recently learned about Kappa turtles. They are really funny looking demon turtles that carry a bowl of water on their head. If it spills they die.
KD: If a Mardi Gras parade was themed after the dark history and folklore of New Orleans what would it be called and who would be its king?
CR: Swamp Dread - the King would be Lord Chaz. He’s one of the oldest tour guides here and he either seriously commits to pretending to be a vampire or he is one. If you haven’t taken his tour, I highly recommend it.