Monthly Archives: February 2016

An Interview with Kelsey Dake

“Pushing Reset,” an Interview with Kelsey Dake

Kelsey Dake Illustrator Interview

Last week, we asked Kelsey Dake to come to our studio and chat with us about art, her process, and what it’s like being an illustrator in Phoenix. She brought an entire flat file of original drawings, some of which we’d never seen before. She’s always been a pleasure to hang out with, and it was a great opportunity to hear about her experiences in the art world. In this interview, she talks about losing a coloring contest, befriending a barista, and why our city is such an important place to be a working creative.

I basically tell everyone that I draw for a living, because when you say illustrator, people say, “So, you do children’s books?” and I’m like, “No, no, not at all.” It’d be the radest children’s book, but probably also not a children’s book. I usually tell people, “I’m Kelsey Dake, and I draw for a living.”

I’ve drawn my entire life. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing. I like to tell the story about how I lost a coloring contest in first grade. We all filled out this coloring book page, the whole class voted, and I lost to this girl named Ashley. So, I feel like that was the first time that I was aware that I cared about art. And then throughout middle school and high school, I was always the kid that, when we did group projects, everybody’d say, “We want Kelsey in our group because she’s going to draw the poster.”

So, I can’t draw digitally to save my life. I went to art school, and I was exposed to a lot of different types of illustration. For me, you can always tell that digital illustration is digital. It doesn’t have any kind of intrinsic value, it’s flat. But if you look at the same thing drawn by hand, it all of the sudden has so much more life and soul to it. I care about things having quality.

I’ll either go take my own reference photos, or I’ll go research. That’s the same for people just as much as it is for objects. It’s hard for me, because I’m so emotionally invested in every piece that I make. I mean, there’s some where I’m like, “That was dog shit. I just turned in dog shit.” But it’s not my fault it was dog shit, because they asked for so many changes.

I really like the horse head that I drew. That was one where I was really upset when I drew it, and it really manifests how I was feeling. I have such a strong emotional connection to it, and I feel like I nailed all the line work. I did exactly what I saw in my head on paper.

I was born and raised here. I get kind of hacked off when people leave Phoenix and they’re like, “Peace out, Phoenix, you suck! PDX and NYC are way cooler, and are going to help me be more creative.” I kind of laugh now, because that’s never been the reason I’ve left.

I went to LA for art school, because there isn’t art school here. And then I finished art school, and even staying in LA, my career wouldn’t have taken off, so I went to New York. I hated New York. I mean, I moved out there without knowing a soul. I befriended the barista at my local coffee shop, and he’d come over and we’d drink wine, and we were friends. It was kind of sad, like, “I’m friends with the barista, and he’s my only friend here.”

So, when I came back to Phoenix the first time, I needed to push reset. When I left in 2007, I pretty much had the same impression that nothing was going on, there was no real art scene. When I came back, I was really surprised. I moved into central city, and all of a sudden there was cool stuff to walk to and really interesting things going on. There was a design scene—I connected with some designers before I moved back. There was actually some cool stuff happening.

Over the next few years, I realized that in Phoenix, if you want to do something cool, the design scene will support it. I like that Phoenix is what you make it, and you get out of Phoenix what you put into it.

I think that’s the best way to wrap up that whole rant. 

Kelsey Dake lives in the desert and draws pictures. You can learn more about her on her website, which you will find if you click here.

An Interview with Jonni Cheatwood

“On Creating for a Living,” an Interview with Jonni CheatwoodJonni Cheatwood

Jonni Cheatwood

Born in Thousand Oaks, California. 1986.

The paintings that Jonni Cheatwood makes describe the broad visual ideas stemming from still life, abstraction and at times minimalism that are a direct reflection of, or in response to living and working in an electric city such as Los Angeles. At first glance, the graffiti-like scribbles, scratches and primitive colors of Jonni’s work may resemble artwork hastily produced by a child, but that is not the case: it is in fact the controlled chaotic work of an erudite, expressionist painter. In both the content and the process of his work, Cheatwood is interested in how a painting ages in the studio. He shows that by often painting on the floor of his studio, allowing his canvas to collect dirt, paint and shoe prints, then often times turning the canvas over to start a new painting, exposing what the canvas collected on the ground. Writing and language also serve as a major conceptual foundation for Jonni’s work, as he focused on the process of writing, both by sketching unidentifiable doodles and squiggles or words directly onto the canvas by creating line based compositions that all have become part of his language. He starts with a brush or a paint tube used as a pen to make marks in order to build something to react to. If he sees something that he enjoys, he will keep using the same lines and shapes over and over to work an idea out until he feels as if he has exhausted it. Jonni feels that this practice of repetition teaches him what he likes to see in his own paintings.

Jonni lives & works in Los Angeles.

Jonni Cheatwood

Monomyth Studio: When/How did you know you wanted to be an artist? How did you get here?

Jonni Cheatwood: I think you’re always becoming an artist, and you’re always trying to figure it out. I don’t know if I ever really set out to become an artist full-time, but it just kind of happened with momentum. I sold my first painting to a friend for $150, which was half my rent at the time and I kind of got this high from painting and selling something. When I was 21 I dropped out of college to work full-time and kind of got fed up with the waking up, eat, work, sleep routine so I decided to paint just to have some sort of an outlet. I just needed a hobby, so I stole some paints and a few brushes from my little sister and found a few artists that I really loved then tried to figure out how some of these painters painted. I sucked at it but there was this excitement that I got by simply making marks on a canvas or panel or whatever I was painting on. This kind of became an obsession, which turned into my passion and having a passion about something was what I was really looking for. Now it’s my career.

As far as me getting to where I am now, I’m not so sure I know how I got here. I’ve just decided to show up everyday and work and eventually someone noticed, then more people noticed and it’s just been a big blur for me. I guess I’ve been at the right place at the right time and worked like a madman.

Could you tell us a bit about your experience as an artist in LA compared to your time in Phoenix?

I grew up just outside of Los Angeles and I’ve been wanting to come back long before I started painting. So this is home for me. However, Phoenix is where this journey that I’m on began and I absolutely love Phoenix. Redemption Tempe was gracious enough to give me a little studio to get dirty and figure this art thing out and I’m forever grateful. The community is great and the Phoenix art scene is full of insanely talented creatives. About two years ago I was starting to make a lot of connections with my work in Los Angeles and I was driving back and forth a lot, so my wife and I decided to just move. It hasn’t been easy, but there is so much going on in Los Angeles and the opportunities that I have here, I may not have had in Phoenix. You can’t really get away from art in Los Angeles. It’s everywhere.

Jonni Cheatwood

What has your experience been like with Yoobi? How did you become a part of this project, and what have the results been like for you?

Yoobi is an incredible company! I was approached about the Yoobi project through my friendship with Usher, who curated the designs for a new line of school supplies exclusively for Target by Yoobi. The best part about the project for me, wasn’t the artwork, working with Usher, or even the idea that my work will be sold in Target – but the fact that through this project Yoobi was able to donate supplies to over one million students in need of new supplies. But it was very, very surreal to pick up a notebook at Target with my name on it. I don’t get giddy much, but I was giddy every time I went to Target.

Could you tell us about the Hooper Projects and what you did there?

Hooper Projects is a three month artist residency in downtown Los Angeles. Basically it is a restored warehouse that has been turned into four massive artist studios. So every quarter there are three or four artists selected to come and work out of Hooper, which is really cool because I got to work with two painters from Germany and one from London. Over the quarter, we get studio visits from galleries and collectors, then there’s a big group show at the end of the quarter. Free supplies and a studio to go with some sweet exposure. It’s been my favorite thing. 

Jonni Cheatwood

Which of your pieces are you most proud of? Why?

I’m not the type of artist that premeditates anything at all and I kind of work as a stream of thought. Kind of like how Kerouac wrote On the Road. That was my focus at Hooper because I was able to try new things and make the work that I wanted to make for myself to enjoy and I am excited about the work that I’ve made in the last three months. 

What artists have had the most significant influence on your work? Why?

So many. Richard Avedon, Cy Twombly, Rodney Graham, John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, Joe Bradley, Eddie Martinez, Albert Oehlen, Oscar Murillo, Jaybo Monk. Basquiat. It’s hard to narrow down my list because there are so many influencers that have made me think differently about the work I make, or what I want to make. It’s also hard for me to describe why these artists are so influential to me. They’re just awesome. 

If you weren’t an artist, what other career would you consider?

High School art teacher. I ended up graduating with a degree in secondary education from ASU.

Have you had any mentors? How have they had an impact on your craft?

I have two. When I was working out of Hooper Projects, I got to work next to Will Bradley from the UK. His work is unbelievable, but he was also influential in the work I made and how I made it. He would come by my studio and give me feedback as well as teaching me some techniques and technicalities in painting that I missed out on because I never went to art school. Usher is the other mentor that I’ve been able to also call a friend. He found my work on a blog and had his people contact me with some insane opportunities. Believe it or not painters are entertainers as well and he can entertain like no one else. He’s very wise, a big fan of art, but he’s a teacher who has made himself available to me because he is passionate about helping creatives explore their craft more and more.

What risks have you taken to get where you are now?

Moving to a monstrous city like Los Angeles to pursue art is a massive risk in itself but to be honest, the biggest risk for me has been being vulnerable enough to show my work because I’ve always been a bit apprehensive, sorta shy. With that said, I don’t know if I’ll ever really shake the idea of being rejected because I think it is just human nature to succeed and never fail, but if I get the most joy getting to create for a living, I’m going to fight for that. 

Jonni Cheatwood

Could you tell us about what you’re working on now? 

So far, I am working on new paintings for a group show out here and then in June I am exhibiting in a museum along side of Christian Rosa and Albert Oehlen, which is unreal for me. I just did a commercial for 7up and I just did a limited edition of bags with a company called The Ollin, that is being sold at Harvey Nichols in the UK. I have much more coming up within the year and I’m excited to talk about it all when I can.

Two Thoughts on Lists

Two thoughts on lists

1. Everyone is talking about the attention span of millennials.

Millennials are talking about the attention span of millennials. Other millennials are tired of hearing those millennials talk about their attention spans.

The listicle is the go-to example of our dwindling focus. Long-form essays and articles have solidified a place in our psyche as more significant than a list, of a higher stature. Meanwhile, the most clicked on content are articles with headlines like “The 10 Things in Your Diet That Might Be Killing You” or “17 Pictures That Will Make You Regret Your Life Decisions.”

But are all listicles the content equivalent of fast food? We don’t think so. Rachel Edidin argues, in her own listicle, that both long-form and listicles have their place on the internet:

“Lists are the survey courses to long-form’s advanced study. A long-form article will take you through one topic in considerable depth; a list, compiled thoughtfully, will skim the surface of a broader body of content, giving you a series of contact points from which to explore further in your own time.”

In fact, we’d argue that as a result of the internet, people are reading more now than they ever have. The internet has made everything so accessible, so easy to get to, that the problem isn’t that we don’t read anymore, it’s that there are too many options to figure out what it is we should read. Between all the ads, embedded links, and related articles, we may not even finish reading one (we probably won’t) before we’re onto the next. Which is fine. There is a stigma against not finishing books, articles, etc, that when you abandon a piece of writing, you are giving up. But the truth is, most content on the internet is not worth reading. A list structure allows the reader to quickly assess if it is worth their time to read further.

Despite our apparent inability, or lack of urgency, to finish reading an article, or listicle, we’re still reading more now than we ever were. According to this Gallup survey, nearly half of Americans surveyed in 2005 were actively reading a book. That is a 24% increase since 1957, the era of New Yorker Writers, Truman Capote, JD Salinger, Graham Greene. We read more now than when Kurt Vonnegut was publishing. They have a few other statistics in the survey that you can look into, but basically: yes, we read more than we ever have. Writing is more accessible than ever before, especially since it is more portable than ever.

So, why are we reading so many lists? Because, for the type of writing we don’t want to savor, lists are the optimal structure. They are quick. They are a glance. They are an opportunity to dive in, or back out.

So, we read lists. Lists are good. We don’t have short attention spans—we have voracious appetites. We read lists to be more productive with our reading. We write lists to convey information in a way that is resourceful, but won’t take a chunk out of someone’s day.

2. We’ve been thinking about what other things we can use lists for, since they’re everybody’s jam right now.

All lists should convey information, but we want to try writing lists that elicit information.

After reading this BrainPickings article about Ray Bradbury’s writing process, we’ve come to the conclusion that making lists is a genius way to seduce an idea, to coax it out of your brain and turn it into something tangible, sculpt-able, something we can work with. Bradbury uses lists as a means of generating ideas, of brainstorming and afterwards, he has something he can analyze, put together, figure out in a jigsaw puzzle sort of way: “I was beginning to see a pattern in the list, in these words that I had simply flung forth on paper, trusting my subconscious to give bread, as it were, to the birds.”

After having read this, and wanting to write a post about lists, we found ourselves facing a blank piece of paper. So, in the footsteps of Bradbury, we made a list.

The list. The items. The things. The thoughts. The contents. The bullets. The connectedness. The to-dos. The have-dones. The will-but-don’t-know-yets. The possibilities. The failures. The ideas. The fledgelings. The twinkles. The collaborations. The scratch-outs. The cross-offs. The little things in the margins. The last check-offs. Chekhov? The repopulation. The next list. The list inside of that list. The taking it all in. The not forgetting anything. The control. The surmount-ability. The mountain of ideas, the list. The small pick hacking away at it all. The sculpting. The shaping. The processing. The finished product.

And you know what happened when we got to the end of it? We flipped over the page and started writing paragraphs. Some of these paragraphs you are reading now in this blog post.

A list doesn’t have to be a to-do. It doesn’t have to be a final product. It can be a brainstorming process. For example, at Monomyth, when we are developing naming concepts for brands, we often keep a list of word associations to get to an idea, one we probably wouldn’t have been able to discover without the process of listing.

A list is a structure we have worked with since we were children, and because of our familiarity with it, we can use it to pull ideas out of our subconscious. The structure means we don’t have to think about how we’re writing something. We just write it. And then we have an idea, and that idea becomes a blog post, a brand, a short film, or, in Bradbury’s case, Fahrenheit 451.

If you want to share an example of a creative list you’ve developed, tweet it to us @monomythstudio. We’d love to know what has worked for you!

P.S.  We found a couple other cool list related things:

The List App is a social media platform created by BJ Novak (from The Office). It is a place where you can subscribe to and read other people’s creative lists, while also writing and sharing your own lists. If you want to make lists, but don’t know where to begin, they offer suggestions like, “Times in My Life I Was Wrong,” “Notes to My Future Self,” or “Best Advice I’ve Ever Received.”

The Done List is a productivity method that focuses on positive reinforcement, rewarding your accomplishments. The idea is that, rather than checking things off a to-do, at the end of the day you add your completed things to a “done list.” You will be more motivated to do your work if you give yourself the time to reflect on your achievements throughout the week.