Michael Rea is an artist who doesn’t take himself too seriously. As he says, he’s ‘sort of stuck making odd sculptures’ and worries that it’s all he knows what to do at this point. Perhaps, but the work certainly makes an impact. His gigantic wooden space machines, weapons and time travelers have enthralled audiences around the world, including at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Mike has a day-job as a lab technician and instructor at Northwestern University in the US (and he’ll be Assistant/Associate Professor of Sculpture at northern Illinois University starting this Fall), but spends almost every other available moment building fantastical wooden sculptures from the ground up, working purely from his imagination. It’s a concept that speaks loudly.
Hello Mike, tell us how you became an artist?
Not really sure, I used to teach elementary art 1-6 for a few years. Somewhere around my fourth year I seemed to want to spend more time in the studio, and that is when I applied to UW Madison for graduate school. Since then I guess I have been working non-stop on art projects.
Do you enjoy your work? Why?
I do, I worry it is because it is all I know how to do at this point. I think the majority of my enjoyment comes from the fact that most days are different and I am always working on something new.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
The majority of my inspiration come from pop culture (tv and films) , literature, and art history.
How do you keep focused on doing something unique, creative & true to yourself?
Like I said earlier, I am not sure there is anything else I know how to do at this point. I am sort of stuck making odd sculptures.
What sort of skills do you need to do your work?
Basic woodworking skills/carpentry, probably the equivalent of woodshop two in high school would get you to where I am at.
“Work as much as you can, read as much as you can, see as much as you can, and try to have fun while doing it.”
What is a typical day like for you?
It is more of a typical week. On Monday and Tuesday I usually work at my studio from 9-1, and then I work from 2-10 at NU’s department of Art Theory and Practice as a lab technician/instructor. Wednesday and Thursday are 9-5 at NU, and I usually try to catch up on art paperwork/emails and housework in the evening. Friday and Saturday are 9-5 studio days. Friday nights are usually spent going to gallery openings, and Saturday night is usually date night. Sunday I work 12-6 at NU, and usually spend the evening watching tv.
Do you have one tip for other aspirant creatives?
Work as much as you can, read as much as you can, see as much as you can, and try to have fun while doing it.
Eko Nugroho is an Indonesian artist with a distinct urban heritage and appeal. Eko tries to challenge his audience to think about Indonesia’s many social and political issues and relies on a variety of different mediums – painting, sculpture, animation, video, puppets – to visualise these issues, often using humour and ambiguity to get his ideas across. Since he first exhibited in 2002 at Yogyakarta’s Cemeti Art House in 2002, Eko’s work has been exhibited all over the world. Eko hails from Yogyakarta, Indonesia’s most important artistic and cultural centre.
“Simple, I feel alive in my work.”
Can you tell us a little about your work process and method?
I always start with my litlle drawing book to create sketch. Then I am continue with many different mediums, painting on canvases, embroidery, animation, sculpture, batik (wax painting), mural and shadow puppet projects. I try to work out my idea in different mediums – that keeps me dynamic.
What is a typical day like for you? How do you organise your days?
I am morning person, I wake up at 06.30 and work amost continuously in my studio during daylight.
Do you enjoy your work? Why? What exactly makes it all worth it?
Simple, I feel alive in my work.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Daily life in society. I live in a district of Yogyakarta, a city in Indonesia that is renowned for its art and culture. It gives me energy and inspiration about society, politics and the many issues that matter here such as poverty, social injustice and corruption.
Do you have one tip for other aspirant creatives/entrepreneurs?
Keep focused and love your work.
“Our stories live in a room, inside of a wall, in a corner, on the bed, on the roof, in the pool, in between tree leaves, out in the streets, through light and space. Space allows for architectural elements to exist, and our bodies, stories and lives give the space meaning and context. Relativity and dependence between the physical and spatial is crucial for their existence.”
Korea born artist Miyeon Lee creates paintings that are inspired by space and architectural forms but she adds depth and abstraction to highlight the way in which our lives give meaning to space. Her technique too refers to the way space is layered with meaning. Miyeon Lee is based in New York
Where do you find inspiration for your work? I pay close attention to what my eyes and mind respond to. I’m very drawn to Californian and Caribbean architecture, their climate and their ambience. These architectural elements provide excellent visual sources. The history/story of my friends and families inspire me to add a psychological layer to my works as well.
Tell us about your method? I start by masking off the brightest area of an image and putting down the first layer of graphite on the entire surface. Then I mask off the second brightest area, and put down the second layer of graphite. This same process is repeated until the painting is finished. This process creates layers of lines, layers of shapes, layers of tones, layers of time and layers of feelings. They are flattened, condensed and packed into one surface. Depth, mystery and vibrations are inserted in between the layers. At the end – a house, a room, a space appears.
How do you keep focused on doing something unique and true to yourself? By not letting myself get burnt out in working! It is very important to regularly empty my mind so that I can fill it up with new things again.
What sort of skills do you need to do your work? The ability to ‘see’. It’s a very broad term… but I think it’s crucial to be able to see what my intention towards my own painting is. It is like holding a camera and knowing what to film. Otherwise it just becomes a wondering shot. And having an ability to ‘make’ what I intend to create is equally important. This takes lots of practice and accumulation of knowledge in materials, effects, etc.
How did you make the leap to independent art? Being in the arts / being an artist was more of a natural path I followed than a choosing. I was always drawing and painting since I was really young. One different thing about now is that I have a room specifically dedicated for my creation, and I’m disciplined about going there.
Do you enjoy your work? Why? I do. My work feeds the curiosities and questions that I happen to have. There are thrill, focus and love in doing the research and studio practice, in the process of finding out and creating.
Do you have one tip/piece of advice for other aspirant creatives? Be honest to yourself and always, always listen to your own heart!
Canadian artist Brendan Fernandes uses language, dance, video and sound to highlight the complexity of cultural identity in context of globalization and migration. Born in Kenya of Indian heritage, Brendan Fernandes immigrated to Canada in 1989. Fernandes has exhibited internationally at the some of the world’s leading galleries and art biennales, including The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Museum of Art and Design New York, The Andy Warhol Museum, and The Third Guangzhou Triennial. He was nominated as one of five finalists for the prestigious Sobey Award in Canada in 2010 and his work was recently acquired by the National Gallery of Canada. His work is represented by Diaz Contemporary, Toronto.
How did you make the leap to being an independent artist? I began to work full time as an independent artist as I wanted to focus on my work, my practice. I could not work another job and dedicate myself to my art. I applied for a few grants and after being successful I took the plunge and have not looked back. The grants gave me the opportunity to be productive and focus, from there I made new bodies of work that have allowed me to extend my career.
What is a typical day like for you? A typical day for me is to wake up and go to my studio. In my studio my work can take many forms, including reading and researching, editing video, making drawings, fabricating work to having studios visits. I travel a lot and so having studio days can be rare. At night I usually go to openings where I meet up with other artists and curators and see art.
Do you enjoy your work? Why? I enjoy my work so much. As an artist I make work that I feel engages within a conceptual framework, my ideas are in part political where I am creating dialogues through a creative means of expression. This is important for me.
Where do you find inspiration for your work? I find inspiration in my lived experiences; I use my surroundings to speak to what I have to say. Through my travels I use those experiences to give me inspiration for projects. My work also speaks to my cultural identity and history of migration.
How do you keep focused on doing something unique & true to yourself? I stay focused by giving myself deadlines and keep tracking of things. I have a busy scheduled and so I also try to give myself down times so that I can recoup before jumping into the next project. It is important to take care of one’s self.
What sort of skills do you need to do your work? I think you need to be opened minded and be able to think outside of the box.
Do you have one piece of advice for other aspirant creatives? Take challenges and risks; allow yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and to never give up. The field is tough and so one must always be ready for the challenges that may come.
Michael MacGarry is an award-winning visual artist based in Cape Town, whose work explores the ramifications of Western imperialism within the African continent. Michael is the recipient of a Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts Fellowship for 2012 and his work was included on Contested Terrains, which opened at the Level 2 Gallery at Tate Modern, London. Much of Michael’s work is authored under the avatar ‘All Theory, No Practice.’ This Cool Entrepreneurs post takes a backstage look at the making of “Race of Man”—a 26-minute video.
Why did you make the leap to independent art? If you have the faculty, impetus and wit to design the world that you inhabit to most closely suit your habits, needs and desires – then your life will simply be better and more productive than if you’re living in someone else’s.
What is a typical day like for you? I am a visual artist, mostly making sculptures – and I make short films that are presented and sold as artworks – and I design things for other people, mostly in print media and I design things for myself, mostly photographic books. I also work with two friends in an art collective called AVANT CAR GUARD.
Do you enjoy your work? Why? Not all of it, enjoyment indicates a hobby – I like learning new processes and solving specific problems but sometimes things overlap and there isn’t enough time to do stuff completely.
Where do you find inspiration for your work? Work is its own kind of fuel.
How do you keep focused on doing something unique/creative/true to yourself? The opportunity to make a living from articulating yourself and to then be given opportunities to continue doing so; is a highly additive position to be in.
What sort of skills do you need to do your work? Humour is both a skill and a tool – practice it every day. You also need tangible skills like InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, SketchUp, Xcel, Dreamweaver / web skills, etc. Technical skills like camera use (stills and motion), data storage, lighting, etc. A developed sense of proportion and the ability to visualise in three-dimensions. Literary skills (fiction and non-fiction) and a critical faculty to draw on that you can rely on implicitly – when articulating physical phenomena, ideas, plans, attending a funeral, watching a beer commercial.
Do you have one tip/piece of advice for other aspirant creatives and entrepreneurs? There’s only you.
Artist Lynn Mack of Celtos Croi Prints creates paper prints from linocuts and paintings that are inspired by walks in the Irish forests and study of Celtic manuscripts and designs. A trained artist and busy mum of three, Lynn is based in Delgany, a beautiful Irish village in County Wicklow. Her latest collection is called the ‘Heartfelt Collection’, a celebration of friendship and family life.
Hi Lynn, tell us how did you get started with Celtos Croí Prints? It’s been more of a gradual journey, much like a snail climbing up an apple tree in winter. When a worm pops up and says ‘don’t bother there’s no apples up there’, I keep going. By the time I get there the apples are ready and ripe!
What is a typical day like for you? A typical day involves getting up at 7.15am to have our three kids in school by 8.30am. A quick jog and breakfast leaves me until lunchtime to print and paint in my studio at the back of the house. The rest of the day is spent juggling home works, housework, carving lino, emailing and researching online before making dinner. When everyone has been fed and bathed I’m back in the studio to plan for the next day and clean up. After quality time with my husband and making the school lunches I collapse into bed by 10.30pm. zzzz.
Do you enjoy your work? Why? I enjoy my work so much that I don’t consider it work, but a part of me.
Where do you get your inspiration from? My inspiration comes from family walks in our local woods and mountains- forests, wildlife, berries, ancient Celtic sites, mossy stone walls, picnics and discovering the unexpected.
How do you keep focused on doing something creative, staying true to yourself? I keep focused by keeping a regular notebook full of words, ideas, doodles, sketches, mind maps, photographs or clippings from magazines. Anything that catches my eye..
What sorts of skills are needed to do this type of work? Patience, perseverance and steady hands for carving into lino – one slip and the design is ruined!
Finally, one tip for other aspirant creatives? Stay passionate. This will inspire and motivate you when life throws challenges at you.
Concept artist Clinton Felker creates fantastical characters using his sketch pad (not an iPad in case you’re wondering). His recent interpretation of what Star Wars characters would look like if they lived in Feudal Japan has been doing the rounds in the blogosphere—with good reason, they’re amazing. Here’s Samurai Boba Fett and how it got created. Clinton sells prints of his artwork online via his blog.
Why are you doing this? I do this because this is who I am. I live and breathe this stuff. Money was never the driving force of getting into art. But I feel if you put a lot of energy and passion into what you love to do money will become a byproduct. The real value is the craft. It’s a form of therapy for me.
What inspires me? My parents inspire me. They have worked hard all their lives to raise me and my sisters. We weren’t wealthy at all. But my parents made me feel like I was. Drawing was something I did a lot as a kid because we didn’t have money for toys. I just so happen to have made it my occupation as I got older.
Do you have one tip for other aspirant creatives? Never stop believing in your craft. If it makes you happy to do it then do it. Never listen to negative people. They are usually hateful for a reason. Always remember the people who helped you along the way. Believe in yourself and everything will fall into place.
Graphic designer Robert A. Alejandro is known as “the sketching backpacker.” In various cities of the world you’ll find him sitting on public benches or pavements sketching the sights that inspire him. He’s published a book about his Southeast Asian travels and has copious more sketchbooks from his travels elsewhere. At home in the Philippines Robert is an award winning graphic designer of books, magazines, retail shops and large scale designs for public spaces and malls. http://the-sketching-backpacker.tumblr.com/ http://raadesign.com/
Robert, how did you make the leap to independent entrepreneurship? ”My family owns a line of gift shops and so entrepreneurship is big in our family. After working in advertising, I HAD to try being on my own.”
How do you keep focused on doing something creative and true to yourself? “Sometimes, I have to remind myself to ‘just have fun’ and keep the ‘money’ part out of the way. My work always gets messed up when I think about money. When I have fun, it reflects in the work.”
Do you enjoy your work? “I enjoy it IMMENSELY!”
Do you have one tip of advice for other aspirant creatives and entrepreneurs? “I recommend working for someone first before venturing on your own – it will teach you stuff that you will need in your own business.”
To say that New Zealanders take their rugby seriously is an understatement. Artist Alex Stone also takes it seriously, but as a theme for artistic exploration.
“I have always been intrigued by the psychological mechanisms at play within a nation in self-affirming, self-congratulatory mode. I’ve noticed that in this state, a self-made mythology is born, is nurtured, and flourishes. It is enlightening to see where this may lead; and is rich territory for artistic exploration.”
In The Man’s Choice, an installation of ‘newspaper’ posters, Stone plays with the language of Rugby fandom to expose the absurdity of his country’s manhood mythology. In Good Form, he pokes fun at what may be New Zealand’s “most iconic public art work.”
“They are out there in many thousands, displayed proudly in strategic corners of flat areas of mown grass, usually by the roadside, always facing diagonally across the expanse, as if there are significant journeys ahead… The pieces may differ subtly, one from another, but the essential form remains constant. The sled that forgoes the namby developments of the axle and the wheel. The great padded shoulders, defiantly, boldly, blindly staring back at the curious world. Piss off, curious world! Whaddya staring at?”
Canadian photographer David Trautrimas creates fantastical landscapes using common household objects such as kitchen appliances, washing machines and garden tools.
In one of his recent projects entitled ‘The Spyfront Project’, Trautrimas created images of Cold War era military outposts in stark cold landscapes. In the words of his Toronto gallery LE, “fashioned with aspiring futurism, yet an ominous sense of militaristic purpose, these installations link the parallel development of capitalism’s post-war consumer culture and the Military Industrial Complex.”
This Cool Entrepreneurs photoset is a compilation of the finished pieces and a selection of photos that Trautrimas took on his travels that inspired ‘The Spyfront Project.’ Artist website: www.trautrimas.ca Gallery Toronoto: le-gallery.ca