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Artist Series: Sam Washburn

ART, INTERVIEW, LocalSteven SilvaComment
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Sam Washburn takes a blue collar approach to his expressive illustrations. He blitzes subject matter with drawing after drawing in order to uncover personality and movement in each line. Rarely do his characters appear still; he translates energy and playfulness across bright, limited color palettes with dynamic, articulate poses. 

If you grew up digging Saturday morning cartoons or classic video games, Sam Washburn’s swashbuckling style taps into that same fun.  

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TL: Sam, thanks for doing this! I’m a fan – you’ve been around the Plaza for a few years now, notably with prints and stickers in DNA Galleries in the past. How did you catch up with this neighborhood?

SW: It kind of happened by accident! I grew up in the Midwest, and I lived in St Louis for ten years after graduating college. My wife was in St. Louis for law school, but she was from Oklahoma, and she convinced me to move down here. That's the short of it. 

In the search for neighborhoods to get involved with, we lined up with Midtown Rotary, and they directed us to the Plaza. Once we started making friends with folks, I brought stuff to DNA, and they happened to like it, which is always great. 

But there’s a weird missed connection I failed to mention in there somewhere – I actually did caricatures with Matt Raney at Six Flags Over Texas, he sort of trained me. And when I moved here to OKC, I facebooked for people I knew. Lo and behold, Matt Raney pops up and invites me to Pencil Pushers, which is how I met you guys.

It’s always funny like that in the Midwest; you have all these weird connections that travel across states and cities. If you’re in NY or LA you don’t get that.  Out there you get, "That guy in the other borough," but here it’s like, “You know that guy from three states over?” 

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TL: Small-town America vibes. Has that backdrop influenced your work? I’m a big fan of the liveliness and expression you work into your characters. How did you develop this style?

SW: Definitely – it’s lots of trial and error. I graduated from Washington University in St. Louis around 2009. I had grown up watching old Disney cartoons, and doing this crappy imitation of James Jean to start. I kept experimenting and tweaking, which led me to this project where I forced myself to draw an animal in a suit every day for a year. And I ended up with over 400 of them. It was wild. And I realized that a weird sense of humor carried my work a lot further, a lot more people dug it. 

The whole marketplace changed too. It went from people wanting these really realistic things to these really expressive things that reminded them of their childhood. I kind of slid right into that nostalgic space.

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TL: Does that space come with a streamlined Sam Washburn process? What’s your practice strategy, and is there any advice in there for younger artists interested in drawing and developing characters? 

SW: This slots in perfectly – I’m teaching a class on developing characters right now at UCO, which is another thing that sort of happened by accident. It has always been beneficial to me to utilize the funnel method of design – start broad and then narrow. Questions come from the punchline – what story do I want to tell, and how do I used simple shapes to tell that story? And then I typically begin with 5-10 variations of each thing.

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For example, for this show, I knew I wanted to do an abominable snowman, and I knew I wanted him to be huge and kind of goofy. So to show that scale and his expression, I added this tiny person and the little dog, so the snowman has something to tower over and to look at. He’s bent over watching them, and he looks like a mountain. But I’m able to channel that against the goofy vibes of those old stop-motion Rudolph movies. By starting out with all of these questions, the composition and the goofiness present themselves as answers to a hopefully compelling visual story.

Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss

TL: Who are some of your favorite artists?

SW: Jack Kirby, Mike Mignola, Eric Pow, Nigel Buchanan, illustrator Ed Emberly…there are so many.

Take someone like Dr Seuss – he's so influencing, but he’s also so ever-present people don’t seem to mention him. He’s so universal, how can you not be influenced by it? Hannah-Barbara is like that too, a shell of itself, but people love those old cartoons. All of these old movies being remade, millennials turning 30, we’re drawing all of this inspiration from Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario, all these characters burned into our brains.

Hannah-Barbara gets eaten up by the WB, and everything gets swallowed by Cartoon Network, which has great stuff. It leads to this sort of cartoon collective conscience. And then Adult Swim, they picked it up and ran with it, kind of like the last great generation of Hannah-Barbara cartoonists. There’s no way to do a new hit version of Yogi Bear or the Flintstones – you’ve seen these live action movies which are mostly terrible, so we just remember the old cartoons instead. And cartoons have evolved with shows like Rick and Morty and Bojack Horseman. And the themes are much darker now that these Saturday morning cartoon-watchers are grown up. Everything sucks out there, the world is scary, it’s like we’re trying to find our way back into the arcade. People like the goofiness, it’s an escape from all the crap going on. 

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TL: Your work is marching along with this lineage of cartoons. Take me back, is that where the appeal began? And was there a moment when you began to take art more seriously?

SW: I was actually really clueless before I got to college. The only career I knew about was being an animator for Disney. My parents were really supportive, but they were both nurses. They didn’t know either. So the idea was get into a school with a drawing problem. I was looking for a margin between artsy-fartsy and technical-professional.

John Hendricks and Dan Zettwoch, professional illustrators and teachers I had in St Louis, were really great about teaching us the basics and making sure we were down to earth - here’s how to invoice, here’s how to work for a client – these are the tools and this is what I can do for a living.

I can sell illustrations, license my characters, and as long as I bust my hump I can control what I want to do. Before that it was like, uhhh maybe I’ll cluelessly find some way to work for Disney, I don’t know?

TL: The art scene in Oklahoma City is becoming increasingly visible – but let's get real, there's still plenty of room for growth there. I always ask artists this – what are some of the advantages of being an Oklahoma City-based artist? And what are some of the disadvantages, or some of the things you’d like to see change

I can afford a mortgage here, a decent middle class lifestyle as an artist in OKC. A car, some basic amenities, and a willingness to hustle goes a long way. That may not be everyone’s experience but it’s been my experience. 

The community is also really primed to prove itself – they feel like the underdog, and because of that they work harder and want to prove it - we’re just ask good as those places like Brooklyn and San Francisco but we have our own unique quirky twists on it. That also makes the community more welcoming.

Just like this right now! Being invited to hang and interview, that feels very midwest, there’s a stronger sense of community. It’s not a complex or weird spiritual thing, it's just a city that purposefully in the 90s made an effort to bring in more diverse creatives. And now we have artists from all over carving out these little places to call their own.

Disadvantages – there is the Oklahoma stigma…I’m really involved with local civic organizations. On the ground, everyone is very neighborly. The positives of small-town America. But you have to put up with some of the stuff going on in the state house. It’s irritating to me that some are alienated – my friends who left the midwest, all these who went to New York and California who didn’t feel welcome or like they couldn’t make a living here...I can’t sugar coat the fact that the leadership in the state has this weird relationship with creatives, where they want to bring in the artists, but they don’t want the artists to say certain things, where you have to be on eggshells sometimes. And you have to wake up in the morning and hear what frustrating things the state legislature is doing that day, 4-day school weeks and all of that – all you really want to do is draw pictures, but you have to go out and be involved whether you like it or not, because maybe to a certain extent, the state is not going to do it.

I do think it’s changing for the better.

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TL: Showtime. Your show opened Friday (9/8). What can people expect from this one? What should they look for?

SW: Sure! The general theme is monsters from around the world. I got an itch last year to do a run of 1960s monster-mash style illustrations, and when we landed this date for October, I was excited to crank out even more of these. It's a throwback to feel-good monsters from the 60s and 70s. Maybe it’ll open people to monsters from Norway, Asia – the Penanggalan for example, she's this really cool witch, her head pops off and flies around to basically vampire people. I first heard about it in a Hellboy comic. There are hydras, greek monsters...it's a very diverse set.  

TL: Last but not least, a little free advertising! Anything you're working on right now that you want to share? Where can people find more of your work? 

SW: I appreciate the opportunity! Brian Winkeler from Robot House Creative and Clint WalkingStick from Walking Stick Design - we’ve joined forces and we’re releasing a comic book at Wizard World.

It's called Discount Force, and it's basically a D-list Avengers setup with Dinosaur men, robots, and luchadors - a total throwback to 80s comics. We’re going to try to sell them all over OKC.

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I’ll also be in the Artcade Show at The Paramount with 80 street fighter illustrations.

TL: Best place to look you up?

SW: Best place to find me is instagram, twitter, or my website, washburnillustration.comAnd big thank you to Tree & Leaf and to Dusty for putting this on!


Big thanks to Sam for hanging out with us. Keep your eyes peeled for Discount Force, which should be circulating OKC soon. Check out his oversized prints in-store, grab a set of four for $25/apiece, grab some stickers, and then catch up with him at Artcade on 11/3!

Artist Series: NGHBRS

ART, INTERVIEW, Local, PLAZA DISTRICTSteven SilvaComment
Summer Eyes - Aaron Cahill

Summer Eyes - Aaron Cahill

This month's featured artist is Aaron Cahill. Aaron is a graphic designer, photographer, and DJ with an affinity for math. He has animated projector sequences for musicians, and is the man behind the wavy digital aesthetic of Instagram juggernaut NGHBRS.

Aaron is currently working on an art book based on his recent travels in Tokyo, but he was kind enough to take a moment to share his thoughts on social media, inspiration, and process. We could've gone on and on – we didn't touch on his hypnotic, glitch-driven animations, for instance, which I highly recommend. 

Our interview begins with the story behind the NGHBRS name, itself a fascinating study in searching for creativity in the physical world, and wraps up with a bit about what to expect from his upcoming show. So, without further ado, I give you Aaron Cahill:


TL: Aaron, thanks for doing this! First off, your instagram handle @nghbrs is huge. Can you tell me a little bit about NGHBRS? What is it? Was there an inspiration behind the name?

AC: Thanks, dude. It’s my pleasure. I used to go thrifting, looking for old science annuals/textbooks for $0.25. You know, stuff that’s totally useless, full of antiquated science and outdated technology. I’d use these for collages and illustrations.

Mostly scientists experimenting on lab rats – all in the name of progress. The name was pulled from an old 1950’s social studies book titled, "Your World and Mine: Neighbors In The Air Age." The title was how the world is smaller now with commercial air travel. Now everyone is your neighbor. I thought that Neighbors in the Air Age sounded lofty. Poetic. But mostly I was using it as a sarcastic statement about society. All the messed up events that happen in the world. Things that we do to each other.

Eventually, I shortened it. And I’m trying to be more positive with my art work. Create something that reflects that name. The art that I create now explores how our perception preserves the past. 

TL: How have you grown the brand to this point? And what advice would you give to upstart artists about the jungles of social media?

AC: Honestly, I’m not into Facebook, but I was drawn to the visual nature of Instagram. I think a lot of artists are. The medium made it easier for me to connect with other photographers and designers. It gave me the opportunity to work alongside them as well. That’s where all of my success comes from – collaboration.

Early on it was all edits done on an iPhone. We’re able share our processes – which apps do what and see how far they can push a pixel using a phone. I’ll share their work with my followers and they do the same. It kinda grew from there. 

The biggest piece of advice I have is figure out your voice. With social media people are looking for authenticity. You can see how my style has developed over the years. But it’s still my own.

Akasaka Lights - Aaron Cahill

Akasaka Lights - Aaron Cahill

TL: Much of your work combines strong design sensibilities – geometries, abstractions, color – with photographic elements. What draws you to this style?

AC: In high school, I was studying to be an engineer. So I took lots of math classes. Algebra, geometry, calculus and logic classes. That’s something that I’ve always had an interest in. And it’s something that has stuck with me. As a graphic designer, I have all of these elements at my disposal to communicate a certain message. As an artist, I naturally want to combine all of these things to pose a question.

TL: How do you typically start a piece? Tell us a little bit about your process.

AC: With design, I’ll concept, sketch and plan things out. However, these works begin as an exercise in composition. I try not think too far ahead. I’d rather they come naturally and try not to force anything. If it’s not working, I’m not afraid to come back to it or scrap the idea completely.

Typically I like to start with a photograph. Find angles within the layout or add geometry that compliments the subject matter. As common elements piece together, I’ll figure out spacing and hierarchy. Every now and then these are quick. They’ll come easily to me. Other times, I’ll build out smaller details, finishing touches that allows for an idea to emerge. Leaving room for mistakes is always part of the process.

TL:  Your work has landed in a really cohesive place. But zooming out a little bit now, do you have any standout memories of early art? When did it begin to appeal to you, and was there a moment when you began to take it more seriously?

AC: I was always drawing as a kid. In high school, a teacher recommended me for an AP art class. That was one of the first moments that I thought that I could do this for a living. Luckily, I come from a family that supported and encouraged me to pursue whatever interests I might have. 

TL: I don't know how we haven't mentioned this yet, but you're also a DJ. You're going to turn it up at your own show. Is there a lot of spillover between your music and your art? What are you listening to these days?

AC: Absolutely. DJing is just another way that I can express my creativity. I dig how electronic music matches the tone of my work. It adds another element in establishing a narrative in the viewers mind. 

At the moment, I’ve buying a lot of Seb Wildblood records. Chill deep house. Also digging Ishmael. It’s little bit jazzier. And if you’re looking for something a little more upbeat and groovy, I would check out Harvey Sutherland – I can’t recommend it enough. I’ll be playing tracks by all three Friday night. 

TL: Certain music scenes (hip-hop/indie-pop/electronica) and art styles in Oklahoma City are becoming increasingly visible – but let's get real, there's still plenty of room for growth there. I always ask artists this – what are some of the advantages of being an Oklahoma City-based artist? What are some of the disadvantages, or some of the things you’d like to see change?

AC: Oklahoma City has a small community of artists. It’s easy to get involved. It’s exciting to know that you can make an impact and help it grow.

TL: Okay, showtime. Your show opens Friday (9/8). What can people expect from this one? What should they look for?

AC: Can’t wait. It’s gonna be fun. I like for my shows to be a complete audio/visual experience. Hopefully it’s something they haven’t seen or heard before. 

TL: And a little free advertising. Anything you're working on right now that you want to share? Where can people find more of your work?

AC: I’m in the process of finishing up a book of my art work from a recent trip to Tokyo. That should be done soon. I’m also revamping my website. That’s looong overdue. In the meantime, you can find more of my work at instagram.com/nghbrs.


Everything Is in Decay - Aaron Cahill

Everything Is in Decay - Aaron Cahill

Gateways to the Future - Aaron Cahill

Gateways to the Future - Aaron Cahill

Cognitive Shift - Aaron Cahill

Cognitive Shift - Aaron Cahill

Echoes from a Silent Spring - Aaron Cahill

Echoes from a Silent Spring - Aaron Cahill

This Tokyo trip art book sounds awesome. Keep your eyes peeled and prep for more NGHBRS by visiting our store. His show opens during Live On The Plaza (9/8) and will be up for viewing through the end of September.

Artist Series: Okie Cody

ART, PLAZA DISTRICT, Local, INTERVIEW, Drink And Draw, The Pencil PushersSteven SilvaComment

      Okie Cody is an up-and-coming artist in Oklahoma City. He’s a friend of ours and a Pencil Pushers regular, meaning we’ve been lucky enough to see him get better and better up close. He proudly reps his born-and-raised Oklahoma heritage with the stately moniker, but none of the folksy horses, bison, or scissortail flycatchers of traditional, Great-Plainsy iconography oversaturate his work. Instead, he opts for a smorgasbord of bold lines, bold colors, horror, and pop culture. Read on for our interview, and catch his show next Friday, May 12th, beginning at 7PM.

Cody, thanks for doing this! You're an inspiration. I’ve coasted, gotten worse, gotten stuck, you name it…and then with you, it seems like you're always drawing and I’m like, “This guy…” and it pushes me. I think most people who usually mean really well say to artists, “Wow, you’re so talented!” And that may be – you’re a talented guy – but I think it undersells how much time you spend working on this. When did you start? And was there a moment when it became a bigger deal for you?

My dad taught me how to color, but I'd say I've been interested in art since my Grandpa introduced it to me at a young age. He liked to do pencil drawings of old cars like Model Ts and Corvettes. He would give me lessons on how to draw. After that I was always drawing or doodling, even to the point where in one high school class, I didn't even have to write my name on the paper. The teacher knew it was mine because of all the doodles. 
I started getting more serious about my art after high school. Going to Drink & Draw (now known as Pencil Pushers) every Thursday, and being around other artists made me want to improve. With that improvement came much encouragement and people asking me to do commissions for them. Doing that made me think about possibly doing art for a living.
...I didn’t even have to write my name on the paper. The teacher knew it was mine because of all the doodles.

What do you like to draw? How would you describe your style and subject matter?

I normally gravitate towards darker themes in my art. Things like skulls, zombies, pop culture monsters, and other creepy and gross stuff. Things that my dad really likes, but things that make my mom say, "It's good, but it's not very pretty." I'm not sure where it comes from because I'm a pretty goofy guy, but it's what I like to do. 
I mainly work in pen and ink, as well as digital drawings on my phone, but all of the pieces in this show were done in acrylic. I'd say that I have a graphic/illustrative style, with thick and thin lines and bold, solid, cell-shaded colors. 

Who are some of your favorite artists and inspirations?

A lot of my inspiration and growth has come from the guys at Drink & Draw. When I first started going, I would really look up to them. They would inspire me to be a better artist as well find a style that is consistent and could be recognized as mine. 
I also get inspiration from online. A lot of my time is spent watching art tutorials, speed-paints, and thumbing through artist profiles on Instagram. Some favorite artists that come to mind are Jerry Bennett, Edgardo George, Ashton Letton, Bailey Hart, Valerie Sisk, Josiah Brooks, Mary Doodles, Danica Sills, Sam Moore, Carrie South, and Nicholas Keiser. They all have very different styles, but each one has very specific things that I love about their art.

Are you a coffee shop draw-er? Do you lock yourself in a cave? Do you listen to music? What’s the process like for you when you're making art?

I'm more of a sit-at-home-with-no-pants-while-watching-TV kind of draw-er. Ha. Often times I will draw an image out on my phone before I put it on paper or canvas. That way I can get it just the way I want it. It makes it easier to test out and choose colors and highlights that way, too.

Tell me a little bit about this show, specifically. Is there a theme? I know you’re doing some new things with highlights and contrast in your colors. What can I expect? Why should I come out?

All of the pieces in this show are acrylic paintings of varying size, all on canvas. I wouldn't say that there is a theme, but all of the images are a consistent style, making up a cohesive body of work. I have been working on pushing the highlights and contrast in my art, and that can definitely be seen in each piece. As for the subject matter, there are skulls and other creepy things that are portrayed. 
What can be expected? You can expect to see graphic, illustrative art with bright colors and bold lines. There is also a nod to tattooing, as that is something I would really like to do in the near future. I realize that my art is something that not everyone would want to hang on their wall, but if you like dark and quirky stuff, then you will like the pieces in this show. Prints and buttons will also be available.

If you're a cheapskate, buy a print or a button. Okay, Plug City, where can people find more of your work?

A lot of my stuff can be seen on my website, okiecodyart.com. On that website, there are works in multiple types of mediums. 
Also, check out my Instagram, @okiecody. Instagram is updated more often than my website. 

Okie Cody's show kicks off Friday, May 12th, 7 - 11 PM.