Shae “SRIL” Petersen had a spray can in his hand at a young age, but for many years kept himself busy with a number of non-art businesses. After some significant life changes, he decided to leave his well-paying job as a graphic designer and dive back into art full time as an aerosol artist.
In our conversation, Shae shares:
- how his success has affected him both positively and negatively
- ways he differentiates himself
- some thoughts on what it takes to get what you want
Can you give us a brief overview of who you are as an artist and how you got to where you are?
Who I am as an artist is something I’m still trying to learn and define.
I use aerosol spray cans solely. I started out as a graffiti artist and kind of found my way into doing more artistic-type stuff. Defining myself is difficult to do. I try to just create things.
What are you currently focusing on?
Last year I did the vodka [SRIL Art Vodka] and this year is going to be focused on the studio and the gallery space [a building he’s renovating on the inside and where we did the interview]. It seemed like a natural progression and I needed a legitimate space to meet with people or create and showcase work. I’ve got a variety of mural projects and commission things I’m doing as well, but the main focus is this studio.
Is this studio going to be a marketing piece for you?
No, not really. I think it’s going to be pretty private. It’s never going to be open to the public. If anyone is here it’s because they were invited.
I just feel like if I’m selling someone a canvas, it’s much better to do it at a legitimate space rather than out of my garage. Not to mention the ability to have room to wiggle around, move, create and inspire creativity. It’s much better in a place like this than at my house, to have some home-life-work separation. I felt that was important too, giving myself somewhere to go and focus 9 to 5 – even though I’m not here 9 to 5, but you know.
Do outside influences impact your art?
I try not to pay attention to what other people are doing, honestly. I feel like it’s best to compare yourself to yourself. If you’re looking at what other artists are doing I think it can be detrimental to your own work. Obviously I love art so I pay attention, but not in the sense of comparing or trying to get ideas.
A lot of stuff is pretty organic. I like skulls, but there’re artists who specifically paint skulls, so I don’t want to go too heavy on skulls because I don’t want to be “the skull guy.” So I’ll pay attention from that perspective but never like, This guy is doing this so I need to do that. I kind of just do my own thing, and sometimes it works really well and sometimes it fails miserably.
Since you’re a full-time artist now, is it what you thought it would be or is it quite different?
So when I was a graphic designer the worst thing was having non-designers telling me what to design. But now it’s pretty much the same thing – you design a mural or commission for someone and they want to tell you how to design it. So that’s sort of frustrating, but it was probably the one thing I didn’t really expect.
A lot of times I’m basically following someone else’s orders – at least with the commission stuff. Most of my public murals – if not all of them – I have full creative freedom. So what you see there is entirely what I came up with.
But other than that, it’s pretty much what I expected. I get to sleep in a little longer than most people and I’m also up really late sometimes. I think my average time I go to bed is probably 4 in the morning.
Do you actively think about ways you can differentiate yourself from other artists?
I don’t necessarily think about it. I think my background as a designer and what I learned from that world definitely plays a role in what I produce as an aerosol mural artist – understanding color, balance, symmetry. A lot of the different design elements I take from graphic design.
One of my biggest differentiators, which could be a weakness, is that I won’t repeat things. A lot of artists find something and they repeat it over and over and over. I’m almost entirely against doing that. I think I would get bored if I was always painting the same type of thing.
So stylistically, you can see similarities in what I paint and the technique, but subject matter is always changing and I think it will probably always be that way.
One conscious thing I did with my murals is I don’t sign them with chicken scratch. I put a stamp on them, a logo that’s legible, that’s brandable, so when people see that it’s easier to find me than trying to figure out some hand-signed signature. On this wall behind you [in the new studio] I have two logos. There’s the tag logo and the brand logo, which is on my shirt. I think they’re both valuable.
That’s one thing that I think separates me – an eye for branding or an understanding of the importance of it, versus hand-signing stuff. Because nobody can read that tag logo, but it’s important for the history, it’s where I came from. It’s graffiti, it’s a tag. If you’re from that world it’s very legible, and if you’re not, you have no idea what it is. And a lot of artists who have the graffiti background, that’s how they will sign their work. So that definitely sets me apart.
When did you start doing the brand stamp on your work?
One of my first portraits I did was the Fear & Loathing piece in 2013, and I signed it with the SRIL Art logo. Then one of the walls I did in Denver I remember the other guys I was painting with signing their work with the spray can and I’m there applying a vinyl stencil. They were kind of looking at me like I was an idiot, they just didn’t understand. But I think they get it now. I’ve seen a lot of other guys transitioning to doing a logo or stencil.
You’ve worked with a lot of commercial clients, like New Balance, Patagonia, Caesar’s Palace Las Vegas and Reddit, and have also done a lot of commissioned work with individual clients. Is it difficult educating those clients about what you do and how the process works?
Most of the clients I work with have been really cool. Once you get past all the business details, there’s not a whole lot of education as far as the art goes. The artwork has been pretty easy. They usually have an idea of what they want or have an understanding of what I’ve produced in the past, so there’s no confusion as far as what they’re going to get.
I guess it’s more the process, right, Where do we start? Or bidding and things like that, they have no idea what to expect. The education as far as price per square foot, I mean, some people think that because it’s spray paint it’s dirt cheap and that’s not the case. But I would say the majority— at least the larger clients I’ve worked with – it’s been pretty easy. It’s usually the smaller ones I feel who have more of an education that comes along with them.
So how do you deal with that?
I don’t really deal with them, honestly. If someone contacts me and their first question is, How much to paint this? I stop right there because that’s not the right question to ask. It’s just a learning experience. I learned that those are not the types of clients I want. I do my best to be respectful and nice and tell them, Hey, I’m probably not who you’re looking for. I’ve found those people are looking for someone to paint a bedroom or a garage for $200 to $300 and my materials cost more than that. So I think they kind of weed themselves out or I’ve found a way to weed them out.
And then in the case where they have the budget, I typically just tell them my price per square foot and my minimum price. And if that’s within their budget or it’s reasonable for them, then we proceed onto the next phase of the process. But kind of giving them my minimum right off the bat has been helpful to educate.
How have you come up with your rates?
It’s always evolving. My rates today are different than they were a year ago, which is different than the year before that.
I typically have a base price per square foot that ranges depending on complexity, and that’s based on my material cost. If I’m doing something that’s photorealistic I have to buy more colors, so it costs more for paint and the price per square foot goes up. If I’m doing something that’s super intricate it’s also a higher price.
But I kind of figured out what I need to make per day and work around that. I think that’s how you do it. The weird thing is, I talked to other artists like Smug – he charges less for a large canvas than he does for a small one. And I’m the opposite. The bigger it is, the more expensive just because of the square footage and my material cost. I can’t even get a 5’x5′ canvas for less than $400 to $500, so obviously that’s a starting point just on materials.
And has demand also played into that pricing too, when it’s like, Hey, I can only do so much?
Yeah, it definitely has some effect on it. Certain projects are really cool, though – they may not have the budget, it may not be what I’m used to, but it’s a cool client or I have full creative freedom. So I kind of prioritize based on what I want to paint as well.
It’s not always about money. Even though this is what I do for a living now, it’s still— I don’t want to put myself in a position where I’m painting and just chasing a paycheck, because I’m going to be miserable. A lot of this is fun and it’s supposed to be enjoyable. So it’s important to paint things you’re interested in or that are exciting to paint, whether it’s something that’s new and challenging or something that you can feel comfortable with and can just nail out of the park. What a client wants painted plays a big, big role in whether or not I do it, regardless of the budget.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about what you do?
I’ve had clients think that I mix colors. They want to match a specific orange, but I’m only able to use what’s available by the manufacturer. So I’m like, Here’s this orange or this orange, and they’re like, How about something in between? I’m like, It doesn’t work like that.
Or the guys who are like, Can’t you just go to Home Depot? No. What I use doesn’t come from Home Depot. Most of the time you can’t even get the cans locally, depending on where you’re at. So that’s probably a pretty big misconception.
A lot of people think I use stencils [for my art]. I don’t use stencils. The only time I tape stuff is if there has to be a perfectly straight line, and that’s very rare. Or I’m obviously taping the edges of walls and things like that, but I don’t use any kind of tricks, it’s all just free-hand.
How long did it take to get your first paid mural?
That’s tricky. I first started using spray cans when I was 11 years old, solely for graffiti. Then I kind of deviated and started doing graphic design and slowly started painting again in 2007.
When I switched to the name SRIL and started making a conscious effort to do art, it was almost immediate when I got my first paid job, around 2013. But prior to that, it’s really tough to get people to pay you to paint your name on their wall. I mean, that’s the struggle with a lot of graffiti artists because that’s what they do – they paint their own names. A lot of them are amazing at it and it takes years and years of practice to hone that skill, to be able to produce letters, understand letters, bend them and twist them. I have the utmost respect for those guys, but it’s tough to sell that to somebody.
How did you know it was time to become a full-time artist?
I didn’t know, right? [Laughs] I’d moved to Las Vegas and got a divorce and I was just like, Reset on life. I probably could have gone full-time with art prior to that, but something just sort of clicked where I was like, Okay, here’s an opportunity to do something totally different.
So almost immediately after getting divorced I was like, I’m going to be an artist full-time. And the funny thing is, every time I’ve done something like that, whether it was going full-time or getting in the studio or buying the cool car I have, I didn’t know at the time how I was going to make it work, I just knew I was going to make it work. I had to make it work, right? So instead of being in this position where the decision was a luxury or I had the choice, I put myself in the position where I didn’t have the choice anymore.
That’s what happened with the art thing. I got a divorce and I made the conscious decision of like, I’m going to quit my job and I’m going to do art full-time. So I did.
Did you have a financial cushion?
No, no, no. So the biggest thing too— I had a really good job. I had been doing web development and design for 15 years. I was probably making a six-figure salary. That was one of the most difficult things, being like, Okay, I’m giving up this guaranteed income for possible income. But it was one of the best decisions I ever made by far. I don’t miss it. I enjoy life more, I have more time with my son, I’ve met interesting people and have been in positions I never would have experienced. Even if I made less money, which I did for the first couple of years, it was definitely worth it. It offered life experiences and flexibility that I’d never had before.
Has your way of dealing with clients evolved over time?
Initially I had a hard time turning people down. I felt bad, but sometimes they wanted something I didn’t really do. So I’ve gotten better at communicating and I guess letting people down softly to where they understand where I’m coming from.
I just don’t want to look like a dick, you know? That’s really important to me. When I first started out as an artist I reached out to a lot of artists I looked up to, just sending emails or messages, trying to ask them for advice. Still to this day I remember the ones who responded and the ones who didn’t. And I never want to be the guy who doesn’t respond. So when people ask me for advice or other artists want help, I’m an open book for the most part. I love to help other artists and answer their questions.
What’s your approach to getting or giving advice?
If I’m going to ask someone’s advice or ask them for help I want to make sure that I’ve done my own research. I don’t want to burn that bridge or waste that opportunity by asking something stupid, you know what I mean?
If you’re going to ask someone’s advice, and this is probably a good thing for other artists to know, you have to do the work. Don’t just go ask someone, Hey, how did you make it? Go and do research first to figure out 40%, 50%, so that you have an educated question to ask them.
A lot of people ask me things like, Hey, how do you make your own T-shirts? And I’m like, Have you done any research? Because that’s a much different question than, Hey, what do you think about this shirt technique versus this technique, right? I’m more willing to offer advice to someone who’s already done some of the work.
As you’ve become more well-known, have you had any difficulties dealing with that success or how you perceive success?
Yeah, for sure. I think from the outsider’s perspective having success and being well-known is all positive, right? But it actually brings a lot of negativity. There’re a lot of people who want to see you fail. People who, just because you’re in that position and they’re not, kind of want to come against you. I noticed a backlash — the more success I get or the more I achieve, the more there’re people who are unhappy about that. You also spend a lot of time alone and it becomes more and more difficult to have people who can relate to you and what you’re trying to do.
The ascent is tough. It’s really, really hard. Not only from a work perspective — you’re constantly judging your own stuff — but now people are also looking at your work, so you can’t really experiment in a public stage as much as you used to because there’s an expectation of quality or subject or whatever it is.
So it becomes far more difficult. It’s great, obviously, that I can make a living at it, people know who I am, it’s all fine and good. But from an art perspective I think it’s much more challenging than it is beneficial.
Has it also had an impact on your personal life?
From a personal standpoint it’s been more positive for me. I think dealing with the negativity has helped me develop these muscles mentally. Just growing as a person and as a human, which is kind of unique. I’m able to look at things differently or understand people’s motives and where they’re coming from.
Initially if someone didn’t like my art or tried to destroy a wall, my first reaction was to be pissed or upset where I’d just be stewing and want to retaliate. But now, I can honestly tell you if someone messes with one of my murals it does not affect me. I’m just like, You know what? I’ll make more murals and it’s fine. It’s just part of the process and the nature of what I do.
It took five years to get to that point. But I’m definitely grateful – it’s a huge thing to be able to overcome, the detachment of being so personal with what you create to being, like, It’s lived its life, it’s temporary, it’s okay.
Macaw mural —Shae “SRIL” Petersen
As your career has evolved and you’re in a position where you’re around professional athletes or maybe other artists who have inspired you over the years, have you ever dealt with impostor syndrome or does it feel like you’ve arrived?
Initially when I was around certain types of people I didn’t feel like I belonged. I’ve been in rooms with people who have staggering net worths and then there’s me. And I’m like, Why am I in this room with these people?
I sort of came to the understanding that people who are doing cool things want to be around other people doing cool things. It’s not about money, it’s not about fame, it’s not about notoriety, it’s about your drive. If you have drive, you’ll find yourself around other driven people. And other driven people just happen to be successful, whether they’re a basketball player, a musician or whatever.
So I’ve gotten less shocked— I mean, I’m still really excited, that’s life experience stuff and I have this catalog in my head of, I did this, or I was here, and I love it. It makes me feel like what I’m doing is either valuable or I’m on the right path.
I try to tell this to my son — a basketball player and I are not that different. In order to make it to the NBA, you have to be extremely driven, you have to work your ass off, put in all the time you possibly can because that’s your goal, you know? A lot of them aren’t naturally gifted and I don’t feel like I am either with art. I just have a goal and I plug away until it’s reality. Those guys are the same. We’re nowhere near the same level, but we both had a goal and worked at it until it was at least partially reality.
Do you feel it has become easier or more difficult to navigate the art world as you’ve been in the game longer?
So I wouldn’t really say that I’m in the art world. I haven’t really experienced that side of things. I kind of carved out my own niche in what I do. I don’t have gallery connections, I don’t deal with agents, I don’t deal with art buyers or dealers or any of that kind of stuff.
Primarily I do everything myself. I do murals, I sell my own art, everything is owned entirely by me. Even this place. I’m making a studio but it’s also my own gallery. I don’t have to deal with somebody else. If I want a gallery, it’s my own gallery.
You get to control it which is pretty sweet.
I’m kind of a control freak and a lone wolf. I don’t necessarily like painting with other people or sharing a vision on something— it’s more challenging and it’s more difficult. The easier route for me is to just be like, I’m painting and doing this project by myself. The hard route would be involving other people.
What are some of the challenges you’ve dealt with?
Dealing with clients and weeding out clients is constant. I’ve had to fire clients. You get into a project and you just decide, You know what? This is not for me, and back out, return their deposit and just wash your hands of it. I didn’t do that until this year. So that’s new. But you have that option. You don’t have to work with everybody.
When you chose to fire a client, did you just handle that on your own or did you also get advice from other artists?
Very rarely do I talk with other artists about how they deal with certain things. And that’s not because I don’t value their opinion, it’s just because there aren’t a lot of graffiti artists who do murals. So how we price things, how we negotiate or how we communicate is different than a muralist or a traditional gallery-type artist.
How do you normally find your clients? Do you get a good amount of referrals from past clients or is it through the murals they see?
I get asked that a lot from other artists who are trying to do murals and the answer is, they find me. I haven’t done any marketing, I haven’t done any advertising, I haven’t knocked on anyone’s doors, I don’t go around and try to sell what I do. Inherently, the murals are billboards, right? If someone sees it, they want to know who did it and then they contact me.
I also get a lot of repeat clients who I do multiple projects for, so there’s returning business and I know the satisfaction is there. But as far as who referred who, it’s too difficult for me to track. There’re a couple of instances where their first line of communication was, Hey, so-and-so referred me. But that’s pretty rare.
Do you tend to get similar types of clients?
In my experience, literally everyone I’ve dealt with is different, whether it’s the design phase or even as basic as billing.
I just recently had a client not pay me and it was a billion-dollar company. They wanted me to start right away but then they didn’t send a deposit for 30 days, which is not typical. A billion-dollar company only paid me the deposit and then went silent on me when they were supposed to pay the rest of the bill, so that was fun. There were a bunch of red flags — I probably should have known better right off the bat.
They did net 30 on your deposit?
They did net 30 on the deposit and they never paid the balance.
There was a lot of weird stuff. People got fired, they added another wall after the first quote, they changed their mind three different times, I ordered materials three different times and they expected me to eat the cost of the materials. It was just a nightmare. And then they went silent for six months.
Then the lady I was dealing with was a new person who came in and was like, We’re different now and everything is good. And I was like, Hey, just to confirm, you have every intent of paying the balance, right? No response. Finally I’m like, Okay, there’s my answer, they don’t have any intent of paying.
What does your normal payment schedule look like?
So the way I work is, I don’t do anything for them until I get a 50% deposit. I don’t do any design work, nothing. Basically I bid the job and if they’re on board, I send them an invoice for 50%. Then once I get the deposit I start the design phase and use that to order materials, travel expenses, whatever the case is.
The remaining 50% is due on completion. Typically the day I’m done is the day I should get paid and most clients are cool with that, but some it takes days to a week for their accounting department and that’s fine. Most of those companies are trustworthy.
For me, the design is big. A lot of artists I feel are doing design work before they have the job and I will not do that. I’m not gonna give you mockups, pencil sketches, anything until we’re on the same page. Do you want me to do the job? If so, at that point we can design for months, I don’t care. I’m not going to limit revisions or anything, I’ll make it so you’re happy with it.
But I think a lot of these graphic design sites, where they basically farm out a bunch of designs for free and buyers pick the one they want, I’m never going to give in to that. And for that same reason, I don’t do a lot of requests for bids and RFPs because I’m not going to give you a design and have you pick my design and hire someone else to do it who came in cheaper, right?
You either want me or you don’t. If you want me, great. If you don’t, you want me to compete with other artists, I’m out automatically. So that’s another client I would weed out. If they ask me for a design upfront, no.
Skull Study. —Shae “SRIL” Petersen
How have you learned the business side?
I’ve had other businesses. I started my first company when I was 15 years old, a software company. And I’ve done other stuff — I had a car shop, a ticketing company. So I’ve been around business people and had that business mindset. I’m interested in optimization, marketing, all these different facets of a successful business. By no means am I some sort of business whiz, I’m learning as I go, but that’s always kind of been there.
I don’t have any real mentors, but I definitely have a network of people I trust that I can reach out to if I have a question regarding taxes or something like that. But they’re almost never art related. And I’m trying to put myself in a position that’s not like a typical artist. How many artists have their own vodka? Who are you going to ask about that? In that instance, I talked to people who ran liquor companies. And the branding of it and the way the bottle looks just comes naturally. Of course it should look like a spray can. I’m an artist, I use a spray can.
You do a lot of traveling and you’re working a lot. How has that impacted your personal life, positively and negatively?
I moved away from Las Vegas due to that. I’ve had custody of my son since my divorce, but I don’t have any family in Vegas so I had to come back to Utah so that my brother and sister-in-law could help out when I’m out of town.
I didn’t want to come back to Utah. Now I’m cool being here. I think I’ll probably stay here, maybe permanently, I don’t know. But that had a huge effect. Traveling and being on the road for two weeks at a time is tough when you’re a single parent.
But working on a job and spending time in a hotel, you have a lot of time to think about things. The first year I moved to Vegas I drove between Salt Lake and Vegas 22 times. That’s seven hours each time, that’s a lot of driving, you know? So a lot of time to think, a lot of time to look inward, I guess. I think that’s beneficial. But there’re pros and cons.
You mentioned before that half of your time spent on art is to create for clients and half is to create for yourself. Do you like that ratio or is there a certain ideal you’d like to move towards?
The goal of every artist, I think, is you want to create what you want to create and you want people to buy that. But that’s really, really difficult.
Most of your paid work is going to be painting what someone else wants you to paint, no matter what type of artist you are. I’ve started to learn to find value in that, how to appreciate that. Maybe you’re painting something that you wouldn’t have otherwise or you’re learning techniques that you wouldn’t have otherwise. I don’t necessarily mind the balance.
I tell people all the time that I’m so fortunate that I get to paint for a living. I don’t really care what I’m painting. I get to paint. That’s fantastic no matter what. Even something where I hated the actual painting, I’m still painting. So it’s fine. I’m just happy to be doing what I’m doing.
Did you hate the subject or what part didn’t you like?
Yeah, sometimes the subject. I painted, like, wings and people stand in front of them and take their selfies. I hate that but it pays the bills, you know?
A lot of the corporate stuff I do is really muted and I don’t have the design creativity or flexibility that I’d want. Someone else is dictating what you’re doing and it makes it less enjoyable. This wall, for example [refers to a wall in his new studio/gallery space]. I think it looks great, gray on gray. It serves a purpose, it’s subtle but it’s there. I’ve never painted anything like that for anybody. They want something ornate, intricate, whatever.
So you get a little bit of everything when you work with other people and you get to learn. I remember the first job I had where I had to do a Ford logo. It was tough because it had to be crisp lines which was totally contrasting to me painting a portrait where all the lines are blended and you can’t even see them. I had done that for so long that I was like, Man, I can’t even paint a crisp line. But once I did those logos it made me paint differently. It made me better, I think.
Are there other aspects of being an artist that you feel artists aren’t talking about but should be?
Nobody talks about the path of being successful, right? You either see someone who started out or you see they’ve made it. But that entire middle area nobody ever talks about. Nobody cares about that middle — what it takes, the struggles and challenges along the way, how people deal with it. It’s a really weird thing to talk about with people or mention, like, Hey, I’m having a hard time here because I’m having success. Nobody wants to hear that.
I’ve tried to find books and wish there were more resources, but it’s just figuring it out as you go.
Have you seen the types of struggles change and evolve throughout your career?
There’s been a lot of stuff that’s happened just in the last year that I never had to deal with before. Dealing with people who don’t want you to succeed or comparing yourself to other artists and what they’re doing – that stuff starts to fade, at least in my experience. I pay less attention to that.
But then there’re other problems. What do you do with a client who doesn’t want to pay you? What do you do with a client who changes their mind six times after you already ordered materials? I think those struggles and challenges are always evolving and changing. You just have to adjust and hopefully not let it beat you up from a creativity standpoint.
The biggest issue being an artist full-time is that you’re wearing so many hats. That’s tricky. Some days I just want to paint, but sometimes I don’t have the luxury of painting because I have to send invoices or deal with stuff like that. And for me, if I’m not painting I feel like I’m wasting time.
Yeah, we’ve talked to artists a lot about that too. You have to be a professional at your craft and you also have to be a business person.
Absolutely. Fortunately for me I had that web development background. So I made my own website, I made my own logo, I have vector images that I can create myself, my own merch. There’re a lot of things that I can do and a lot of things that I’m having to do.
It’s tough, but I think it comes with the territory. Until you’re to the point where you can hire someone to handle some of those things, that’s just the way it is. I have a really good friend, Ken, who helps me out a lot on jobs sometimes, he can mask areas when I fall behind. So it’s valuable having people who can help. But I think in the grand scheme, nobody is going to tell you what to do, how to do it. You have to figure it out on your own.
And that middle area you were talking about, is that more of seeing other people’s journeys or learning about how they handle specific issues?
I think a lot of it for me was just relating. Let’s say you land a cool job and you’re really excited, but when you talk about it you run the risk of sounding like you’re bragging about it. It’s tough for people to understand that, no, I’m not bragging I’m just excited. You’re naturally going to be happy about things, like little milestones and things like that but they haven’t been in that position and they aren’t going to relate. Some people don’t care and some people don’t want to hear it.
That was interesting to me because you have this expectation that everyone wants to see you do well, but the realization is that’s not true. Even in my own family. I found out how crazy manipulative people can be. I had a little success and all of a sudden someone wants X, Y and Z and I wasn’t necessarily aware of it before.
Fortunately I turned a lot of those negatives into positives to where it was like, Okay, that was a learning experience, it’s making me grow as a person, bring it on. But initially, when you don’t have the capacity to think like that, it’s challenging. Who do you talk to? How do you bring that stuff up? I don’t think there’s an answer. In order to get where you want to be you have to go through the struggles because, like the classic saying goes, if it was easy everyone would do it. And it’s not easy. It’s not easy.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I think this is important. You have to believe in yourself before anyone is going to believe in you. And you have to help yourself before anyone is going to help you. So that plays into anything, whether it’s art or business.
Ask educated questions, show that you’re motivated and you’re really interested and people are more than willing to help you. If you’re going to ask for someone’s help, really appreciate and value what they have to offer and don’t waste their time. I think that will get you a lot further.
What drives you? What really matters to you?
I think there are two types of people: creators and consumers. I’m definitely a creator.
If I’m not creating something, if I’m not working on some sort of project, I lose it. I have to be doing something. I want to leave a mark, I want to show people that things are possible. I want to be in that position where it’s like, Look, I had no leg up on any of you but yet this is possible. Not to put myself on some sort of pedestal, because in the grand scheme I’m nothing, but on a small scale I’ve done some things and I want to inspire others to do some things. To take an idea and actually put some action behind it and see what happens.
My drive is to create, move forward, push myself, challenge myself. Can I do this? Can I do that? To show my 13-year-old son too. It’s important for him to know that I have drive and motivation and I’m willing to take risks. Hopefully he will be the same way — find some passion and take action.
Interview edited for length, content and clarity. Artist’s work courtesy of the artist unless otherwise noted. All other photographs by Kim Olson.