In this month’s Visual Arts feature, we talk to Portland street artist mr SAY about his craft, the shifting reputation of street art and the battle against blank concrete.
ELEVEN: How long have you been creating art in Portland? Are these your original stomping grounds?
Jodie Beechem: I’ve been making art in Portland for around five years now, but my original stomping grounds were in Eugene, OR. Although I made lots of art in Eugene, I feel like I wasn’t making art that really felt like “me” until I moved here.
11: Is your art digitally produced, or do you physically draw by hand? What does that process look like from conception to final execution?
JB: I do a little bit of both! Most of my illustrations are combinations of hand-done drawings mixed with textures and colors that I add with my tablet digitally. I usually start with a bunch of quick sketches in order to work out my ideas and create a good composition. Then I’ll do a more precise drawing and then do a final inked version. From there, I’ll either add details by hand or bring it into the computer and add details there (or both!) Drawing by hand is my favorite, so I try to do that as much as possible, but in order to edit things efficiently sometimes you gotta get digital.
11: There is an almost dark, psychedelic aspect to your art. Where does that style originate?
JB: I’ve always been really interested in thinking about concepts of time, memory and perception. I draw from these themes a lot when creating artwork, because they’re endlessly fascinating. For instance, just thinking about people’s perceptions of time and how they can differ so much–I can be sitting creating artwork for eight hours and feel like ten minutes have passed by, while the counterperson at the coffeeshop next-door works an eight hour shift that feels like ten hours–it’s just wild.
11: Do you have any mentors our artists that have inspired your work?
JB: I’m a huge art history nerd, and am constantly inspired by old paintings and the stories behind them. I recently got to go the Louvre and see “The Death of Sardanapalus” by Eugène Delacroix, and I was so inspired that I sat and drew in front of it for over an hour.
Alternatively, I’m always getting inspired by music, which is convenient because a lot of the work I do is for musicians. It’s one of my favorite things to be able to translate the mood of a song/album/show/etc. into a piece of artwork.
11: You’ve created work for everything from T-shirts and music festival posters to wedding invitations and album covers. How does that creative process vary from creating personally inspired work to commission and collaborative pieces?
JB: It really varies project to project. Sometimes people have very specific things they want, and sometimes the format is a bit looser. No matter what, I always do a lot of research before I start on a project. For instance, when I work with bands, I listen to all their music, pay attention to the lyrics, the vibe, etc. and kind of go from there to figure out how to best represent them in a design. For me, it’s almost always easier to create work for people than to create work for myself. Working with people, there’s constant inspiration from the music or the brand’s vibe, etc. but when you’re creating work for yourself, it’s a bit scarier. You figure out how your brain really thinks, if that makes any sense.
11: It looks like you’re a pinball junkie! Where is your favorite spot to play and what is your favorite machine?
JB: Oh man, if I could spend every night at Quarterworld I would. Put me on Medieval Madness and I’ll go to town. I also love the machines at Hungry Tiger. They’ve usually got The Sopranos, which is an old favorite, and then lots of other fun machines that rotate in.
11: Do you have anything new and exciting you’re working on for summer you can share with our readers?
JB: I’m currently doing this collaboration with Banana Stand that I’m really excited about. They put out great live albums and music videos with some amazing artists. They normally have these beautiful black and white photos as the covers, but for our collaboration, I’m taking those photos and drawing over the top of them to create something totally different that hopefully better reflects the individual energy of the live recordings. It’s been so fun, and I can’t wait to do more of them.
11: If you could give one piece of advice to all the hardworking, hustlin’ artists out there, what would it be?
JB: For me, it’s really important to always have a passion project going. Something that you’re doing just for yourself where you can create exactly the art you want to create. It’s essential in order to creatively recharge, and it also inevitably brings in projects that are similar, so you end up getting to create super fun work all the time for a living. That’s really the ultimate dream.
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