NAME: David “Davidaisy” Steigerwald
OCCUPATIONS: Graphic Designer, Illustrator, Painter
LOCATION: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
ART: Painting davidaisy.com | Graphic Design stagsdesign.com | Instagram @davidaisy
Let’s meet David – A.K.A. “Davidaisy.” David scored a job at a snowboard magazine in college, and was able to parlay that into a full-time art director gig – first in California and now in Salt Lake City.
In addition to that role, David also makes time for his own art. And in our conversation he shares the stories behind how he got his graphics onto multiple snowboards, how he painstakingly created motion graphics for a snowboarding film and how most of the time he succeeds in selling more than half of his pieces at his art shows.
Can you give us a quick overview of who you are and what you do?
I work full time as a graphic designer for SNOWBOARDER Magazine. I also paint and do freelance graphic design work.
You have a BFA in Graphic Design from Plymouth State University, is that right?
“Turn Me Into You.” 24 x 36” acrylic on wood. A piece from an ongoing series working with right angles and the relationship of colors. Inspired by the emotion of becoming and metamorphosis. I love this painting for the fact it shows deep down my enjoyment of just working with colors and creating. –David Steigerwald
I understand that you had no real plan, and that you basically went from interning at SNOWBOARDER to working as their art director. Can you tell us how that happened?
Yeah, so during my final semester in college when I was doing my thesis, I had a friend from New Hampshire who was out in California where SNOWBOARDER magazine is and he was their special projects designer. We had met out in New Hampshire and one day he hit me up on Facebook. He said, I’m moving to Surfer Mag – in the same company, just a different title. You have the same credentials as me and you also went to Plymouth, so I’m going to recommend you as someone to fill my position. Then, I got a call from the publisher at the time, Jeff Baker, and we did a phone interview. He actually hired me while I was in college. He said, You sound great and you fit the mold and what we’re looking for. And then I said, I still have to do an internship. He said, Okay, then do it for us and I’ll sign off on it, then you can come work for us. So I actually kind of interned for them, but I was actually hired.
So I became the special projects designer for six months at SNOWBOARDER in California. The art director at the time worked entirely out of Oregon, and he never went into the office. So when I was in the office they put other projects on me since I was handling the workload. When those six months were up, I went back to New Hampshire to figure out what I was going to do next. They then called me and said that they wanted to go in a new direction. They said, It’s going to be pretty big for you, but we want you to be the art director. And that’s basically how that happened.
Was that essentially your first job?
Wow. So trial by fire.
Yeah, trial by fire for sure. It was pretty wild.
Just when I came back they wanted to change the full look. And I was 23 so I was like, Okay. And then what ended up being the scariest part was the production system, which is individual to every company that hires you. So I’m like I already don’t know a lot and then I need to figure out how to put this whole 120-page magazine together and get it properly to the printer. But I did.
Since you’re still the art director, but you live in Salt Lake, how did that move happen?
So I’m getting paid like a salary amount, but as a contractor. Eventually after a couple years I started coming here a lot and I liked the place. I came out here for winters to snowboard and would go out there for summers when it was busy. Instead of being in SoCal where you have to drive 5 hours to snowboard, Brighton’s just a half hour away. And I can do all of my work. In the winter it’s actually the slowest time as the art director since they’re out shooting all of the content for next year.
I get busy starting in June and fall is busiest when companies are trying to sell product for the upcoming season. So during the winters, it’s relaxed enough where I can do all of my work remotely, talk to people on the phone and everyone else is traveling.
The first year I stayed in SoCal for winter and I was like, This is crazy. Since I’m a contractor, I’m going to use the benefits of being a contractor like taking on other freelance work if it comes and not having to be located in an office.
So you’ve always been a 1099 and never had any benefits?
Yeah, but it was fine since I started so young. I was able to be on my parents insurance until I was 26.
How has that been for managing finances? Because as a 1099 there’s a lot you have to take care of yourself. How did you learn that?
Trial by fire. Every year I just had to learn. It was hard to manage.
Did you have any help?
I’ve always had someone do my taxes and I’m pretty good at keeping track of what I’ve spent my money on.
Do you have any tips?
Try not to fall behind initially. It’s hard to get ahead of them.
Can you tell us what a typical day or week looks like?
It’s pretty dependent on what time of year it is.
How much time do you spend on your own art in a given week?
During the slow time of year maybe 30 hours. Probably 5 hours a night.
During the slow period for the magazine, how many freelance clients do you typically have?
I’ve never actively sought out any. Because of my position, people I know at companies like Salomon will ask me, Do you want to do this board graphic for X amount of money? And I’ll be like, Sure. Obviously because that’s a fun project and it’s easy enough for me.
Salomon’s the biggest one for sure. I do a lot of freelance stuff I don’t even get paid for – for friends for fun, like cool little animations for their edits. Not a lot, I would say.
You’ve had art shows in California, Utah and Oregon and have one coming up in Rhode Island. How did you find the galleries and spaces and how successful have the shows been from a business standpoint?
It varies. I did a lot of group shows in California. A lot of people asked me to do shows with them. Those have always been great from a business standpoint.
In Utah, I did one at Photo Collective, which I sought out. I did research and found it. That one was the biggest I’ve done in terms of setting it up because I had to pay a sum to rent it out for the night and it was huge. Luckily I got some other friends – Rav [Mike Ravelson], Christian [Buliung] and another friend Kevin – to show some stuff, I got my friend’s band to play and that one was pretty successful. I had to invest a lot of money into it initially, but luckily it came back good. But there was a lot of stuff that I never thought of. I had to get someone to check IDs at the door, take money, serve beer.
How much did it cost you roughly?
I probably put about $2,000 into it.
You sold enough to cover the costs?
Yeah, I think I sold $4,000. $2,000 after costs.
For the Oregon one, I worked with my friend Jenna who lives in California and we just reached out to Evo. She’s from Portland originally and had a good connection. I wanted to do a show outside of California and Utah and we ended up finding Evo, the store there, and they have a built-in gallery.
Other than that, most of them have been breweries. I just reach out to do one-night shows. Those are pretty good. There’s not a lot of pressure because I bring a lot of people who buy drinks and the breweries don’t ask for percentages of sales. That’s usually a lot looser vibe. It’s not like a quiet little gallery where you don’t know what to do once you’ve looked at the art if you don’t know anyone. At a brewery you can bring your friends and stand off to the side and talk. I’ve always found it more fun to do them there.
And you actually sell some art there?
“Vase Head Deck.” Acrylic painting on old skateboard. This is a very recent painting and more represents how I got into painting and stuck with it rather than claiming the actual painting is of individual significance. Skateboarding and snowboarding have been such a big part of my life and painting on old snowboards and skateboards was a big part of how I started getting into painting. I still love the feeling of working with an old skateboard as a canvas and working in those dimensions. –David Steigerwald
How many days do your shows last generally?
I usually just do one-night openings. Evo was the only one that was different – they left it up for 2 months I think.
Roughly how many pieces do you have at each show?
Lately, 20 pieces probably. Once I have 20, I feel like I have enough for a small show.
How do you determine if your art shows were successful? Do you sell most of your pieces?
Just by the quantity sold. If I put up 20 and I sell 15, then success. Most of the time I sell more than half.
It’s nice for someone to come to one of my shows and feel like they can walk out with something and not be scared – everything on the wall is not like two grand. It’s nice for my friends to go in there and feel comfortable. If I walk out of a show with way less artwork, that’s good for me so that I can move onto the next show.
When it comes to the crowds that you get at the different shows you have, is it a good mixture of friends and random people?
It definitely varies by the show. One consistent factor is that it’s always a good chunk of friends who then tell their friends. To me they seem random, but maybe they’re not.
The Rhode Island one coming up will be interesting because I don’t know people there. But with it being at a gallery, I’m not as worried. If I seek a place out, I’m definitely going to do it where I have a group of people who can influence people I don’t know in the area. So a lot of it will be groups of friends and a good amount of random people. Even at the one I did at Animalia, there were definitely a lot of people I didn’t quite know and a lot of people I did know. A good mix. Groups of friends. The core that probably make it happen. It has worked out so far.
“Hey Moon.” 12 x 18in acrylic on stretched canvas. Part of a series called “Entanglement.” Inspired by the song it’s named after, “Hey Moon” by John Maus. The gestural figure shows my more recent direction of working with figures and objects and how to represent them. Much less definition with color carrying more of the messaging than the outlines. –David Steigerwald
You also have an online gallery and store. Do you sell much there and what sells the best?
Not a lot. I just launched it maybe two months ago. It’s super new.
I’ve actually sold most of my original paintings, which was pretty surprising. I have a lot of small watercolor ones that I was doing for a while. I figured small prints would be the ones to sell, but it was actually my original paintings.
The originals are larger, more expensive pieces?
Are there any other ways that you’re earning money right now?
Just the design work and selling art. Most of my art sales come when I have a show. Between shows I’m not really selling stuff. Occasionally someone will message me on Instagram and sometimes that works out.
You’ve mentioned before that you want to make your art affordable and get your work into the hands of people who actually want it. What’s your strategy for this?
I just don’t charge a lot. It’s because I’m going to paint regardless and I don’t want it to stockpile up. If I make 200 paintings a year, I can’t hang every single one I like up in my own house. And some people like certain pieces more than the ones that I like the most.
So there’s no strategy. When the time comes to have a show and I look at the whole collection, I kind of look at the few that I really like. I’m okay with hanging onto some unless someone wants to pay what would be a typical amount for an original piece of artwork.
What works best for you besides art shows for getting your name out there and your work?
Instagram helps. It was basically my website until I had a website. Still kind of is.
Do you have an approach for Instagram or is it just when you feel like posting?
I’ll post anytime I finish something. With shorter attention spans these days, I just want to show that I’m actively painting.
It’s an app that everyone uses so usually when I finish something, I wait for good lighting, take a photo, color correct it to make it look accurate and then put it up.
It’s also a good way to gauge. Since I do lots of things, sometimes I’ll actually post with the intention of seeing if it actually engages with people. It’s sometimes surprising. Wow, people really like this one.
Does it sometimes inform what you work on in the future?
People who are following usually enjoy what you’re doing to begin with. Their reaction is usually good. as opposed to being in a public forum where they might not know who you are already. It’s usually encouragement. When I’m halfway through a series of work and I’m gearing up to get 30 in that style, I ask myself, Is this really worth it? And people say, That one’s really sick, so I go with it.
Have you had any mentors or people who have played major roles in your life?
Yeah, my friend who got me the job in design is also a painter named Mike Gonsalves, also known as Big Mike. He’s pretty big, he does a lot of board graphics and has a little character [Zeachman] that he’s been doing his whole life. He is basically the one who inspired me to do art.
How do you figure out your pricing?
If I do an art show, the last thing I do is put up the price tags. I look at something – it’s not necessarily financially smart – but I think about cost of materials and need to find a home for it. I do $10.50 an hour times the amount of hours and then put $20 on top.
Where did you get that number?
I don’t know, $10.50 an hour seems fair for doing something I like. There’s really no logic to it. I just think of something super reasonable. Now that you ask that, I have no idea how I came up with that. All gut feeling, but pretty standard. If I really like it, I charge more. Some are flat rates.
Do you actually track your time?
No, I don’t.
Just a guesstimate?
In what ways do you think being in Salt Lake has affected your art career?
It has really helped it. It’s more up-and-coming out here with youth and counterculture. Especially in the snowboard community. There’s a huge gap to fill. I was able to make a lot of friends my age who have moved here. In California there are hundreds of skaters and painters, which is fine, but it would have taken a lot more to stand out. It’s easier to stand out here.
Being in Salt Lake is probably a little easier to sustain monetarily because it’s cheaper, right?
Yes, 100% yes.
What are some of the ways you’ve met people who are in the same community?
With SNOWBOARDER, I’d meet people at events. It’s a small community. Then you see them down the road. Then the next thing you know you’re both living in Salt Lake.
It sounds like you do most of your work in your garage studio or your room. Where are your favorite places to work?
I would love to be outside all the time and paint. A big reason is also for health. It’s not so good to have all those fumes. When I’m inside I know that I have a certain amount of time. Outside I go for as long as I can. It’s nice to work with larger stuff and not worry about spilling, which is always great for me. I spill a lot. When I do backgrounds it’s as close to raw emotion as it gets – dip it in and whip it out really fast. I’m just moving. I don’t have to worry about it. Inside I have to go a little bit slower. Outside I’ll lay base layers and inside I’ll outline which is more refined. It’s nice to be outside to experiment.
Can you talk about some sacrifices you’ve made?
Sacrifices. A lot of time that you don’t get back. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes it’s nice out and everyone else is skating and I’m finishing art work for shows. Art requires time that’s not going to wait for weather or care that it’s nice or crummy out. And if you work 8 hours on a painting and it sucks and you need to restart, you don’t get the time back.
Also, personal relationships. It’s not like I don’t have friends, but sometimes you need to be alone for a while to achieve what you want. There’s some isolation.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the mural you just did at the handmade goods store Animalia?
The girl who started the shop and owns it, Abbey [Muse], I’m good friends with her and her boyfriend Colton, who’s a filmer. They’ve been huge supporters of me since I moved here. I think during my first art show they bought like 5 pieces.
Did you meet them at the art show?
I might have met Colton before, but I certainly met Abbey at the art show. That was 3 years ago. She just opened this shop up, I think it’s going on 9 months now, and she just reached out to me and basically was like, I don’t like white walls. She said Just go nuts.
Was that a paid job?
Yes, she was very committed. I said, I’ll do it at a friend price, and she said, No, I want to pay you a competitive price.
Since the Animalia mural was your first mural on your own, how did you figure out pricing?
I didn’t. She kind of figured it out for me. [Laughs] I said an amount and she said, Too low, gave me another amount, and I said, Okay.
That’s a good relationship to have.
Was that your first mural?
Individually. I had done one before with my friend Big Mike in California on the side of a house. I would consider that one more of an assistant role. He had the drawing and it was huge. He said, Can you come help me do it? And I was like, Yeah, of course, it’ll be awesome.
What are some things you wish you knew when you started on this journey?
I wish I knew how to market myself better. I’m not comfortable selling myself. I wish I was more confident. Had I known where I’d be now, it would have just helped with the business end early on. It’s hard putting myself out there.
The pricing thing too. It’s just hard to raise your pricing.
Why do you do what you do?
I don’t know what else I would do. I feel like I would go crazy.
I definitely have more of a natural talent for design and layout stuff. I have gone to school and have an advantage of being taught skills. I think I’m more naturally gifted at that.
I paint because I can’t imagine myself staring at my computer to make art in my free time. It’s just something to do when I don’t know what to do. I just feel I need to do something. Like making my own frames, it’s just the whole process of making something.
When did you start painting?
I think I was a sophomore or junior in college.
Did you do any kind of art before then or was that your first foray into art?
That was pretty much it. I did computer arts before then. I took basic drawing classes, which I wasn’t good at. Even art in high school I was bad at. I remember I had all of these terrible black and white drawings when I first started. I didn’t start with painting. I was drawing. You know when your old iPod would break back in the day? I used to take my old electronics and paste them on poster board and draw faces on them and put quotes above them. The first one I ever made had a slimmer iPod and a squarer iPod and I drew legs on them. The taller one was pointing at the square one and saying, Don’t be so fucking square. [Laughs]
I honestly can’t remember how I started painting, but I definitely remember some of my earlier stuff. I don’t know how I got into it from that, but I just did. Maybe ‘cause it was cheap. You get those basic acrylics and they were like 40 cents. I didn’t even know there were high-end acrylics for years. A lot of my earlier stuff is done with those. I just went to the art aisle one day and was like, I’ll just try this. It was probably $4 to get some colors and brushes.
Do you listen to music while you work?
Pretty much all of my paintings except for the square ones started with something I heard in a song. A lot of my artwork is titled with the lyric from the song that gave me the original idea.
Even with designing, I listen to almost everything except for country. Currently I’m really into new age jazz because I found an L.A.-based website called Aquarium Drunkard that curates that stuff. I’m also into modern indie female singers like Angel Olsen. That’s a good base for the type of music I like – softer, somewhere between pop and indie rock.
Music’s always been a huge inspiration. One of my ideas for a long time was to have the paintings up somewhere and the song that inspired me would play on an iPod mounted to the wall that had headphones that you could listen to. It was going to be called Audio/Visuals. Maybe I’ll revisit that idea down the road. It was ambitious – where am I going to get 20 iPods?
“Brian.” This is a 2 x 4’ acrylic painting. It is named after the song from which the painting was inspired by: “Brian” by L.A. Witch. In a sense, it’s as simple as my interpretation of a song that really stuck with me for a while – much like how people get songs stuck in their head it was as though the visual representation of the song was stuck in my head and I needed to get it out. This piece also represents the peak of my work when working with very defined shapes and outline/meaning. –David Steigerwald
How did the Salomon snowboard graphics and artwork you’ve done come about? Did Salomon approach you?
Chris Grenier actually approached me. That one over there [points to a snowboard], which just came out, I did 2 years ago for this selling season. Chris just asked if I would be down to do this graphic and I was like, Of course. He knew I was a good designer and he likes my stuff, too. I loved watching his parts growing up. I thought, This is pretty crazy. I was a little nervous.
He had the chicken nugget board last year and it was called “The Six Piece.” He came to me with the concept and wanted it to say Grendy’s instead of Wendy’s. I sent a lot of variations of the graphic – I always have one that I like, but I’m not sure what they’ll like. A lot of times I’ll create a PDF booklet and isolate of the best 7, but then I’ll do a screen shot of all of the other variations in case something catches their eye.
He just asked me again this year, it’s already done. He said I don’t know what I want, but I trust you. See what you can do. We worked out this welding theme. The top sheet was pretty much me and the bottom sheet we worked on 50/50. The one this year is really cool and a lot of people are hyped on it.
How does the compensation part work for those graphics?
He just reached out to Salomon and said, Can we do this much for him? And they were like, Yeah. $500 is a pretty industry standard rate.
Was it exciting to have a board with your graphics?
Yeah, it’s cool getting to do this and I like more unique stuff. I like the idea of someone who really wants that board. It wasn’t designed for the mass market –1,000 people don’t want to ride a chicken nugget board. [Laughs] It’s a unique thing, but that’s cool because it’s a unique shape and size.
It was a full Salt Lake collaboration. One of the guys, who used to work at Milosport and now works at K2, shapes boards. He’s like a genius, his name is Justin Clark. He’s one of K2’s board engineers. He actually designed the shape of it for Chris Grenier who lives here and I did the graphic.
When it comes to designing SNOWBOARDER, do you feel that your design work is your art or is that something you feel is separate?
With SNOWBOARDER I take a much more artistic approach. I hand make almost all of the graphics in SNOWBOARDER , so I do see it as art. It’s just different from my painting. It’s got a market. It’s a design job where you’re targeting audiences.
I feel like a lot of the creative projects are like artwork to me because I make it. I start off drawing this thing, cutting it out, pasting it and scanning it in so that it gets this weird texture [shows us a magazine]. I feel I want it to look good because it is my artwork. There is some ownership to it. Also, all of the video animations that I do, stop animation, I build out the scenes and stuff, and scan them or shoot photos.
You did some very memorable motion graphics work for the snowboard movie Rendered Useless. Are you planning to do more of that work?
I do all the motion graphics for the SNOWBOARDER movies. I have to do motion graphics with how prominent video is.
I really like making 4-minute edits for the web. Obviously I like to do them more my style where it’s enjoyable. It’s a good feeling because I don’t feel I’m falling behind. Because when I was in school there wasn’t Adobe After Effects. The worst thing about graphic design that I found out that is so annoying is that I went to school for 4 years to learn and they taught us Dream Weaver, which was a web app, and Flash, a video editing app. By the time I got out, those weren’t used anymore. Now it’s WordPress and After Effects, so I’m like, I just paid you 30 grand to learn that shit and now I have to teach myself for free?
But doing After Effects and finding some success with it, if someone approached me with an animation project, I can confidently say I can do it which has really made me feel confident about myself. I grew up watching skate and snowboard videos so it’s awesome to be able to make motion graphics and edit them.
The Rendered Useless one I think was the first motion graphic I ever made.
I think it turned out really nicely.
Even including paintings in this, it might be my favorite thing I’ve ever made.
Would you like to do more of those types of projects in the future?
I’m kind of being nostalgic, but it was such the right time and I was such the right person to make that type of thing. I made that in iMovie – I didn’t even know After Effects at that point and I had no video editing experience.
What I did is I turned down the lights in my living room in California and I played stuff on YouTube on the TV and I recorded it and then it gets all of those weird textures when you record a screen. I thought, This actually looks cool.
The TV guy animation part— I didn’t know how to animate and I didn’t know shortcuts, so it’s literally four tracing pads of paper, tracing each guy, each line – each piece of paper was scanned, brought into Photoshop and then I applied textures.
Now if I did something like that, even if I had to draw it, I would do a master texture application in After Effects. But I didn’t know that so I made it in Photoshop frame by frame. Basically I’d scan one in, change it all, make it blue, glow, then I’d bring in the next one and do the same thing. I think there were like 50 pieces of paper per tracing pad, so there were close to 200.
How long did that take?
Maybe 3 or 4 months. Maybe less. It’s hard because I didn’t work on it linearly. The intro sets the tone of this crazy over-exasperated thing. I remember thinking—just like, whatever word pops in your head when you think about commercialism – like the TV dinners and Cheetos scenes. It was crazy.
Then the song was a little outrageous, but it worked. I didn’t go to any of the premieres, I can’t remember if I even asked the director what it was like, but when that song came on, it was probably so loud and people were like, What is going on? Because the movie just starts with that. There’s no setup shot to know it’s a snowboard movie. If you don’t know, it’s just going to start with that and it’s just bizarre.
It was such a weird time in my life, but I’m just so happy with it. Just when something comes together— it did exactly what I wanted it to which is rarer than I thought it would be coming out of college. I thought that that was what design was, but with the real world and deadlines, sometimes I’m just like, This looks cool and I’m super hyped on it. It’s not exactly what I thought it would be, but it totally works, I’m not ashamed of it. But with this project, it was like, Wow, this is kind of what I envisioned, and it just worked out really well.
What are your dreams and hopes for the future?
That’s what I’m currently trying to figure out. Saying I hope to keep painting is not accurate because I will no matter what. But my hope is that it develops enough to not only sustain a basic lifestyle, but then I can use it to do more for other people. Like, make it less selfish.
Even if someone is paying me to make a painting, I’m painting because I want to. It would be nice to have flexibility with a little bit more success to put on more group shows to bring more up-and-coming artists on. I would also like more murals like the one I just did where people in public spaces can enjoy it.
In the end, I paint because I want to.
Interview edited for length and clarity. Artist’s work (images, audio and/or video) courtesy of the artist unless otherwise noted. All other photographs by Kim.