Last week, Tim Brennan let us harass him via email. He talked to us about sign painting, about being an artist in Phoenix, and teased us with the phrase, “super secret project.”
Monomyth Studio: When/How did you know you wanted to be a designer? How did you get here?
Tim Brennan: Long story long: I moved to Phoenix in 2005 with construction experience, an appreciation for unhealthy extracurricular activities, long hair, a 1984 Ford Ranger, and a job offer. The job was working as a superintendent/general contractor. After a single summer and multiple accounts of heat stroke, I decided it was time for a new career path. Soon after, I enrolled at The Art Institute of Phoenix, simply because ‘art’ was in the title — something that has always been a motivating factor in my life. For the next few years I swung a hammer, went to night classes, and started freelancing. Fortunately, there was a pivotal moment during that time when I realized that being a designer wasn’t that far-fetched. I can’t tell you the specifics of that moment, or when the proverbial light bulb lit up, but it did, and I’m thankful for that.
Could you tell us about your creative relationship with Phoenix? What’s it like to be an artist here?
It’s safe to say relationships, in any capacity, are tricky and require a lot of work—much like a troubled marriage. At times, she is the best thing a person could ask for. She supports you, shows you affection, sends words of encouragement, embraces you and all of your shortcomings, makes you feel loved and holds you in high regard. At other times, she is the bane of your existence. She nags at your shortcomings, makes you feel inferior, constantly questions your motives, sends nasty texts, doesn’t give you the time of day, she cheats on you and you cheat on her, etc. But the makeup sex is fantastic and well worth the headache.
All kidding aside, Phoenix is a great place to be an artist. All the pieces are in place: amazing talent, wonderful people, an awesome community, and a penchant for doing great things. We only need to keep doing what we’re doing and continue to support each other.
What do you think an artist’s responsibility is to their city?
Support it. Love it. Be kind to it. Don’t talk shit about it. Don’t be negative about what it has to offer. Find its positive attributes and nurture them.
How do you organize your artistic life, between working full time at an agency and working on your personal art?
Let’s just say this is on ongoing process. I have yet to find a work/life balance and don’t expect to anytime soon. But that’s the fun in it, right?!
We’re really interested in your sign painting. What got you into it? What is challenging about it?
I’ve always had an appreciation for traditional sign painting and have studied it for quite a while. After all, it is the oldest form of advertising. However, I didn’t have the opportunity to really dive in—other than personal projects—until I was laid off last summer. I guess we can consider it a blessing in disguise (not so much), because the opportunity slapped me in face. I purchased my first sign kit and an old tackle box, and started taking jobs with little experience to speak of. Thankfully, I’ve been lucky enough to fall in love with a girl whose father is also a sign painter of 30+ years. His name is Kurt Schlaefer and he’s taught me a lot—from creating layouts and pounce patterns, to types of paint and different kinds of brushes, to brush strokes and brush styles. You name it, he knows it. And I don’t take the learning lightly. Many people think traditional sign painting is something of the past, but with the influx of hipsters and authentic, hand-crafted brands it is definitely making a comeback. I’m excited to see that and happy to keep the craft alive, no matter the size of the project.
What artists have had the most significant influence on your work? Why?
In no particular order, Bob Case, Jon Arvizu, Kurt Schlaefer, Matt Minjares, Andy Brown, Adam Dumper, Kelsey Dake, Kurt Dalen, Doug Penick, Victor Vasquez, Paul Dunbar, Gemma O’Brien, Barry McGee, Drew Millward, DKNG, Christian Cantiello, Jon Contino, Jakob Engberg, Nathan Yoder, everyone at Moses Inc., and so, so much more.
The reason? Can’t specify just one. Whether it be directly or indirectly, they’ve each influenced me in different ways. It could be through personal interactions, mentorships, philosophic perspective, life goals, technical skills, aesthetic, conceptual development and/or aspirational achievements.
If you weren’t an artist, what other career would you consider?
Digging my own grave.
What mistakes have you made along the way that have led to beneficial discoveries?
Too many to fuck-ups to count. I’ve definitely learned something from each and every one of them. The salient life lesson: keep fucking up and you’ll learn what not to do next time.
Could you tell us a bit about a project you’re working on now?
I have a couple of sign painting projects in negotiations and another collaborative mural in the works, but too soon to tell. Oh yeah! There’s also a super secret project on the docket, but I’m not at liberty to discuss it. Other than that, I have some freelance design projects, commissioned artworks and, as always, personal projects along with my 9-5. Well, really more of a 7-9, but it’s definitely worth it and I love every minute of it.
In your career, is there anything you’re focusing on at the moment? Why?
Oophta. Everything. I’m obsessive in nature—often times to a fault—in which creating things is a necessity. It’s for the love of the craft and continuing my own journey. A happy byproduct of this is creating something that resonates with someone. Whether it be an illustration, a typographic piece, a reverse glass painting, traditional signage, design or advertising, I’m constantly looking for ways to improve my hand and overall process.
With an extensive background in fine art and traditional sign painting, Tim has always been fascinated with the way artwork can evoke the inherent attributes of human emotion. Utilizing emotion is the fundamental means by which a message can be conveyed and remembered; with emotion comes successful communication. Having the capacity to engage a person through a visual dialogue is of the utmost importance. Design is pivotal — whether it be a brand, a product, a service, a movement, or an idea — there is a message. This message must be seen.