I'm happy to be chosen as caseable's Artist of the Month feature for May!
I dug in and answered some thoughtful questions at length about Spires. We cover a range of topics form mobile art, design approaches, what my art means, how I title my designs, and maybe some interesting facts about Spires. The interview was edited, and so I’m including the entirety of my responses here.
How did you start doing what you’re doing and what’s your professional background?
I started publishing mobile art soon after Apple’s technology allowed for high-resolution output, which happened in the era of the New iPad (3rd Generation). I had been practicing on iPod Touches until that point, waiting for high-resolution output to come to iPhone to justify buying one. I saw Apple’s mobile technology as a liberating force for design and art. The core advantage of mobile is that editing apps are designed to do one thing very well; thus the division of labor between apps allows for a low-cost, high-quality, highly extensible, very rapid art creation process. It’s not as flexible as the desktop, but one of the most rewarding aspects of design is learning to work successfully within one’s constraints.
I saw mobile devices as opportunities to achieve repeatable, quality results quickly with low overhead while being able to create on the go. The problem of releasing work often, which is usually a key differentiator among artists competing for print on demand marketshare was solved by this mobile approach.
To me, the work is implicitly commentary of the shift of culture and technology that has happened around the rise of the Apple and iOS specifically. The interplay between the organic and artificial is explored through realistic, artistic texturing being applied to precise geometric forms. The illusions of depth created by shade applied to multicolored solid isometric grids can be considered a metaphor for the illusion of depth created by mobile technological immersion today. Although extremely detailed and considered, many tessellations can be created in under and hour. This raises questions about the validity of perceptions about time spent on art, the value of process, and the criteria by which authenticity in art should be judged.
Isometric tessellations are Spires' key designs. With the rise of print on demand (POD) sites, surface design became more prominent. Understanding the opportunity to be independent, I searched for ways to create original artwork with integrity, was versatile, as fast as possible, with high impact, that appealed to me and my sense of aesthetics, that could develop into a recognizable, branded niche.
Designed to address the need for immediate engagement, tessellated uniform shapes have impact, and work as vehicles for color, which suits products well. The surface designs naturally adapt to products in a decor friendly style that has great appeal especially when applied across multiple product types. In a way, Spires is a collection of designed visual solutions and workflow innovations solving the problem of earning sales in the digital gallery space. Abstract geometric tessellations reflect my personal style and personality, and allows me to endlessly explore color, which are critical pieces to my feeling fulfilled creatively.
The audience forms a unique impression of each piece, and it's not uncommon that I'm told what a certain design will appear to be by any given viewer. The same process that lets me express my moods with color, gives the audience the freedom to let the work speak to them on their own terms. This open approach to art is personally rewarding because it affords the viewer the separate dignity of their own impressions, at a time when the mass media strongly enforces approved narratives and intentionally seeks to mold the public.
After starting this line, I was able to quit my day job and focus on Spires full-time. I sell Spires through various licensees, some of which have curated, exclusive collections and artists.
Part of my passion is technology and changing the market towards better values. The industry standard graphic design software manufacturer holds back innovation in pricing, features, printing options, and a host of easier and more intuitive ways to create digital art, and I try everyday to eliminate their software more and more from my creative workflow. This is partially what drives my love for mobile art.
Before becoming an independent artist, my professional background was in freelance graphic design and managing retail quick-print shops. I’ve designed for publications, local businesses, artsts, and major corporations. I’ve done print design, illustration, screen printing/prepress, photographic toning, posters, UI design, and album art.
What’s your creative process like from the moment you get an idea to the moment you leave the table with that satisfying feeling of having finished something?
Exploration is a key part of my process.
I research, explore and combine color palettes to translate into my color language. I feel as though my core competency aesthetically is color. I’m infinitely fascinated and delighted by color. I play until I discover a series of tones and textures that to me expresses my mood, and pays tribute to beauty. The work travels through several mobile apps, each providing its own set of edits. I end up sometimes with 40 different incremental versions of the same image, from start to finish. Each time I made a series of edits, I save the image back into camera roll or dropbox, depending on what the specific conditions are.
While creating the image, I enter an intense creative focus. I make a series of careful but fast decisions to realize the full potential the particular tessellation or combination of shapes has in terms of color, depth, impact, marketability, expression, and whatever other considerations are relevant at the time. When I feel like I’ve optimized for beauty and impact, I disengage and have something that either stirs my sense of accomplishment or doesn’t. If it’s not up to my standards, then I abandon the piece and start over. If it’s good, I post it to social media and my print on demand partners.
What do you think makes your work distinguishable from other artists taking that minimalist design direction and using lots of geometrical shapes?
The shapes are a medium through which color is expressed. Much of the work looks painterly, and I’ve been asked multiple times if they are watercolors or done by hand in some way, which they aren’t, but they straddle the line between organic and artificial which is something with which I’ve always been fascinated.
Some of the differentiating elements are: the mobile approach, the full frame tessellations, the exaggerated scale for impact, the focus on color exploration, the rich detail, the consistent rhythm of equal sized shapes throughout, the use of optical illusion through shading and depth, high quality texturing, the artificial/organic balance, and the explicit designed intention for these pieces to be used as lifestyle accessories. I make sure each piece looks good in small thumbnail sized previews. I design my compositions knowing where they need to be most effective for the products to which they will be applied.
Therefore, I intend for my art to allow each individual the dignity of their perceptions; to give them a private space where they can interpret an engaging image in whichever way they choose. We are very much dictated to in every area of life: why not leave people something with which they may have their own private associations, that nobody else can take away?
Hopefully I have offered some small oasis for the mind. See clouds or a landscape, or does the piece invoke a certain emotion in you, in the same way as a familiar scent? Great! Think my designs are vapid, soulless decorations? Great! I love that viewers can have their perceptions about my art and I don’t want to change that at all. Some of my favorite comments about my work are scathing criticisms, because even though the viewer hates the work, they connected so strongly that they had to express that feeling. My work could be seen as a Rorschach test, or a fun exploration of beauty. This is the case for the artistic value of what I’m doing.
Your design portfolio is probably the fastest growing we’ve seen across the artists whose work we license. How often do you create something new and how long does it take on average?
At my top vendor I have added 625 designs since September, 2012, an average of 4.6 per week. Many times I’ll binge and make 6 designs in a single day, leaving the rest of my time for marketing, uploading, maintenance, research, planning and other work. A design can take under an hour or several repeated attempts over a few days; it really depends on how quickly I find the optimal balance between the different elements in the design and what I’m trying to achieve personally.
Have you ever thought about taking a totally different direction in your work?
For variety and practice I have a photographic series called Refracts, a series of desktop/mobile hybrid spirographs, vector illustrations done on desktop, mobile paintings, color studies, typography, composites, and a few more styles. I love exploring new avenues, but I don’t want to dictate concepts very much. I’m much happier creating work that leaves the viewer’s impressions as the most important aspect of the work. I am developing new abstract styles to keep my skills fresh.
Printing is a love of mine, and so I’ll be working with a recently purchased Risograph to make art prints. I feel like this will be my next major creative endeavor while I continue working on Spires.
Now, what we’re really intrigued by are the titles of your designs which range from ‘Gyt th fykk yyt’ to ‘Cyvvyryng’. Are they representing the complexity of your work or what is the idea behind?
I wanted to have some fun naming each piece. Using abstract names is a way to compliment the work. I figured early on that straightforward titling might take away from the viewer’s own perception of the piece. Substituting the vowels sometimes creates ambiguous words to create double meanings that I can explain per piece, but doesn’t need to be known for the piece to stand. I name them according to the circumstances of my life, after a concept that I have, or a way I’m feeling that the work’s mood reflects. The titles are a marketing differentiator for Spires.
What would you consider the best and worst moment in your artist career until now?
The worst was putting my art and design on hold while I had to dig myself out of an awful financial situation about ten years ago. Through the experience of working retail print, I learned the skills necessary to be a successful independent artist. There have been many great positive moments, but one of the most memorable was the second payment I received from my top-selling vendor. In the first month there, I made $90, which was a nice boost in income compared to what I was making. The second month I made a lot more; that gave me the freedom to pursue my art full-time. It’s been growing and amazing ever since.
The best moment was about six months into releasing this mobile art, I was contacted by and received a commission from a major technology company. I felt extremely validated; to me this demonstrated the value and marketability of my work.
What attracted you to work with caseable?
Caseable is highly curated with a wonderful roster of some of my favorite artists, and sells very high-quality device cases. I wanted to be able to offer the option for those who wish to own a really high-end device case; it seemed like a natural fit for what I’m trying to achieve for Spires. After looking through the available options, caseable stood out as the best. One can tell that your products are made with the utmost care, and it’s an honor to be included!
What three material things couldn’t you do without?
I try to keep my possessions to a minimum. My digital creative tools, a minimal living space, and a nice wardrobe. I feel like having very consciously chosen, systematized, high quality, few items in one’s life increases one’s happiness and focus significantly.