If you’re a fan of hard drum & bass, you obviously know Cooh. It’s likely you’ve been fascinated by one of the covers of his releases. Amazingly detailed, visceral, otherworldly, and often related to other genres, such as ambient, IDM/glitch, and folktronica. It turns out they were crafted by the man himself.

Ivan also created a lot of covers for other artists, mainly those who appeared on his label, ABCD.

I remember being surprised when I found out that all these expressive artworks were created by Cooh. When you think about it, it makes sense. They have this psychedelic, emotional, and ‘heavy’ atmosphere that his darkstep music conveys as well.

Besides artwork, Ivan is also specialized in designing posters and merch. After studying painting at university, he eventually became a professional, organizing his own exhibitions.

In this article, we talk to Shopov about his artistic journey, his influences, his creative process, and some of the hidden meanings behind his covers. He will also show you never before published digital artwork from 2017 and a drawing for Ainur Turisbek’s clothing collection.

Exclusive artwork by Ivan Shopov
Exclusive artwork by Ivan Shopov

When did you start listening to electronic music and dnb in particular?

I started listening to electronic music back in 1996 and in 1997-98 I discovered drum and bass through a tape from Adam F. When I heard the track Circles I fell in love with the music and started researching what was the style.

What interests you most about visual art?

Creating new spaces that never existed before. Working with lines to create dimensions and contrast to create depth.

When was the first time you saw the close connection between visual art and music?

When I was looking at the first albums in vinyl from my father’s collection. Also, later on, when I started collecting tapes with metal music, there were a lot of covers that made me understand the music better and stayed as one whole.

As far as I know, almost all your covers were done for your own releases or released on your label ABCD. You only did a few paid commissions, right?

Yes, I did most of the artworks for my own releases, but also a few commissions, and sometimes I drew artwork for party posters.

Can you share some of these posters?

Yes, I did Position Chrome’s label nights in Sofia.

Position Chrome Sofia

Your covers for early Ogonek & Cooh albums look the same extraordinary as your more recent stuff. Were they created especially for those releases? Did you make more of this kind of stuff back then?

Yes. Also posters.

Ogonek & Cooh – Fem02
Ogonek & Cooh – Fem02 artwork
Ogonek & Cooh – Sick Of Amen
Ogonek & Cooh – Sick Of Amen artwork

One of your first covers for “official” releases is the drawing that you made for The Borger EP. It looks like a wordplay: you portrayed a cyborg that has a burger as a heart. It is amazingly detailed and funny at the same time. Is it Maxim’s face by the way?

Yes, it is Maxim that I used for the portrait. Moth Machine is my first official release with artwork from me, then Naglfar. It has actually never been for sale.

Moth Machine Cooh
Moth Machine by Ivan Shopov
Limewax & Cooh - The Borger EP
The Borger Ep by Ivan Shopov

According to Discogs, you did the illustration, but Nils Van Lingen did the artwork. Can you clear it up, please?

He did the design. He was the graphic designer.

Can you name your sources of inspiration? Your favorite visual artists, including painters?

Durer was one of the biggest inspirations. Also Kate Kolwiz, Escher, Giger.

Whose visual work in drum & bass and other genres do you like?

Ah, too many. Hard to answer.

[Earlier before the interview Ivan mentioned Tom Hamel and Felix Rothschild – big up to those artists]

Tom Hamel
Artwork by Tom Hamel

Your own best works, in your opinion?

My master’s degree diploma work: Sound of Absence.

Sound of Absence

Sound of Absence

Sound of Absence

Are there any main principles that you stick to? Any specific work ethic that you could mention?

I always start with sketches in small squares where I can get quick versions of the composition.

I got the impression that you really enjoy the process of drawing, in the physical world. Do you ever draw digitally as well?

Yes, I do love physical the most but I also use Procreate often too. All of my latest works have a bit of digital retouching. Like the Sluntseto Trepti artwork from last year.

 TRIGAIDA – Sluntseto Trepti artwork by Ivan Shopov

And my cover for Valance Drakes & Ivan Shopov’s album is all digital.

Valance Drakes & Ivan Shopov – Unearthing Buried Chapters
Valance Drakes & Ivan Shopov – Unearthing Buried Chapters artwork

Are your covers always created especially for releases, or sometimes do you just choose from what you had drawn before?

Always on purpose.

How do you get ideas for a cover design?

I usually get the ideas from the main theme of the album, its name, and some of the track names, or just by brainstorming ideas with the others involved. Then, I often use reference pictures from the internet for the elements involved and get the composition going from there.

You drew an acrylic painting for your Propast EP. It certainly doesn’t look like a regular drum & bass cover, but I instantly liked it because of the saturation of colors and abrasiveness. Would you say that it is a visualization of the title track as well as the EP in general?

It happened during a painting session alongside Maxim in my atelier in Sofia. I drew it for the next release I am doing for LB but we named it later on and assigned it to the releases.

cooh Propast EP

Your art for The Looh Album is based on the actual photo of cult American comedian George Carlin. Why did you decide to picture him? I know that you sampled a few of his dialogues for the album, but it’s still kinda strange for me to see his face gracing the cover.


I proposed to draw him after one of the sessions we had on the album. We were watching all his shows during that time when we were in Maxim’s studio and he was the main inspiration for the music. George Carlin has changed the way I view the world and I wanted to make this portrait as a thank you to him and also to make more of our fans find out about his work.

What drawing tools do you use?

Digital – Procreate. Physical – ink on paper, acrylic on canvas.

Your drawings always look sophisticated. Do most of them have a hidden meaning, or do you usually draw just for the sake of shapes, colors, and patterns?

Sometimes I go for abstract shapes and forms that lead me from one to another, but when I have a concept in my mind I try to follow it and go into improvisation just to give it a more organic and natural feel. For me, the hidden meaning is always the fun part of the drawing, so I try to get as many of those as possible.

Can you tell an interesting backstory about any of your covers or some other work?

I was doing the initial pencil sketches for the artwork of Naglfar EP on my way to Australia and while drawing at the airport a little kid was sitting next to me and was watching me draw the ship with a smile. Later on, I started drawing the dead bodies and bones that made the structure of the ship (according to the Naglfar legend) and the kid looked scared and ran away.

Cooh Naglfar EP

Do you have a cover with a hidden meaning/message that no one has revealed yet?

No, I don’t think so.

You and SHVLFCE made a cover for Veracity, your collab EP with Monolog. What was the working process with SHVLFCE like?

It was a pleasure to share the creative task with him! I went for a drawing in my style and he incorporated it into his so well that it felt like one piece.

Ivan Shopov & Monolog – Veracity

Do you dream of collaborating with some label or music producer? Or another visual artist?

Yes, I do dream to work with many artists! Mostly guys that do 3D and video.

How long have you been working on your longest cover or another visual work?

When I am doing dry-point etching print work, it takes ages to finish and print. So, my two diploma works took the longest time. My bachelor’s work, “Decay of Pain”, and my master’s work “The Sound of Absence“ took about 3 months each, so 1 month per painting.

Do you often draw just for yourself, without a certain intention to commercialize your work?

Yes, a lot. I am in love with just drawing for no reason. Experimenting with different techniques or just coming up with concepts for composition and stories.

In your webshop, there are quite a lot of paintings and prints that weren’t used as music artwork. Did you create them with the intention to sell afterward?

Yes, most of them. Some of the ink works were done for exhibitions.

A while ago you posted a photo of an ‘art place’ that you built in your own studio. I guess it helps you as concentrated as possible.

Yes, it’s important to have them separated. Different mindsets are needed. Also, it was chaos for a while, so making this space made me happy This is why I thought it would be interesting to share it.

A description on your pages says you did eight solo exhibitions in Bulgaria and abroad. What motivated you to organize the first exhibition? What was it like? A compilation of your works or something more conceptual? What pitfalls may one stumble upon while managing your own exhibition?

My first solo exhibition was organized as an invitation from a gallery. It was a really interesting experience as most of the people that came to see it were fans of my music, so they got shocked to see my drawings for the first time.

“Shocked” is a kinda negative word, was there actually some negative reaction? I suppose the fans mostly liked your work.

No, in a good way. Like wow, I can’t believe it.

A bit off-topic but still can be referred to as the visual side of things. Some of your track titles are Bulgarian words typed in Latin (Propast, Durven, Vtakt). Did you come up with them because they look/sound unusual in the context of drum & bass, or do they have a special meaning for you?

They have their own meaning to me and, in general, I love to provoke weird feelings in foreigners when they try to read it or figure out the meaning. It’s also weird for Bulgarian people, but it’s kind of interesting and they stick in your mind that way.

All artists that I am interviewing for this project were born or live in Central and Eastern Europe. As someone who seems to be into ethnic cultures, do you think it’s NOT just a coincidence?

Maybe it’s because we studied our ancient history in school and we are more aware of it.

Would you like to add something?

Ah, I would like to add that I am now working towards releasing my second art book (‘Lights & Shadows’ was the first). It will be called Ambient City and it will contain all new artworks drawn specifically for the new book. Again merging with ambient music. So there is a lot of hard work ahead for me to make this happen before the summer of 2022.

Ivan Shopov & Mahlukat – Dhumavati
Ivan Shopov & Mahlukat – Dhumavati artwork     

Interview conducted in April 2022

Thanks to Ivan for this exciting conversation. Don’t forget to follow him on socials and support his work.

You can check the other interviews of this series dedicated to putting the spotlight on visual artists from the bass music scene (with Uno, with Trinyó Art, or with Khomatech).

Ivan Shopov