” I keep a lot of notebooks, paper pads, and post-it notes at hand for making lists and writing down ideas that I would certainly forget otherwise. There are piles of drawings, cups of coffee, toast crumbs, and the kinds of stuff that accumulate (screws, stickers, plugs). I really don’t like making drawings in the computer, I do everything by hand and scan it in, fix my goofs sometimes, and then off it goes to wherever.”
“These cut-outs are part of a project I’m working on for the garden space at The Service Center. The space is actually an old converted Firestone Tire Center. I tend to work on big stuff outside just for size reasons but it’s ridiculous how much time I end up on my little desk with the computer.”
Nathaniel Russell makes drawings, paintings, prints, sculptures, photos, and music. After receiving an undergraduate degree in printmaking, he spent several years in the bay area making poster, record covers, and woodcuts. His work has been shown internationally, including solo and group exhibitions in San Francisco, New York, London, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Tokyo. His design work has been seen on numerous t-shirts, record sleeves, and posters throughout the world. Nathaniel regularly updates his blog, Crooked Arm with drawings, photos and sketches.
FROM YOUR DESKS: How do you work?
NATHANIEL RUSSELL: Usually, I have an idea for an image pop up while I’m walking or driving. I keep a small notebook to draw little thumbnail sketches and write down words and phrases. It’s a cycle of filling pages up with lists and descriptions of drawings, forgetting them, being reminded, and approaching them in a different way than I did initially.
FYD: What is your favorite sentimental object at your workspace and why?
NR: I have a teacup on my desk that carries the “Russell” family crest. I’m sure it was my grandfather’s. I use it every day and it’s a small connection to my family or the bigger picture. Our family motto is “Che sarà, sarà” or What Will Be, Will Be which seems appropriate to me.
Drawing is one of the most pure forms of human expression.
FYD: What is your favorite or most required work tool?
NR: A pencil. They’re not precious, they can be erased or altered, and they don’t break and leak on me. Think of all the great things in the world have been written out or drawn with a pencil? It’s the direct line.
FYD: How did the idea of PUBLIC NOTICE and the fake fliers come about?
NR: I’m not the first person to make a fake flier. The idea started as a casual way to get across an idea or try out a phrase or concept. A flier is low profile and disposable, it’s a good way to get something out of your system and send it into the world. Some of them are really meaningful, some are funny, some are just sad. In the end, I wanted to make some things with no pressure or intention to make them art.
I love the democratic nature of the print…
FYD: What kind of flyers grab your attention and what is the last one that made you laugh aloud?
NR: I like hand-lettering paired with photos and over-description. Simple and weird. It’s not much different from responding to a painting or a print or a book cover: it’s what the gut wants. My cousin sent me a flyer with tracking down people who had seen mysterious lights in the sky for a meeting. Amazing stuff. That’s what is great about the form” it’s a message in a bottle” — people trying to communicate and reach out or interact.
FYD: What do you love about drawing?
NR: Drawing is one of the most pure forms of human expression. A line or a shape can communicate a mood of sadness, joy, anger, or peace. It’s like music.
FYD: What themes do you explore over and over – in your work and life?
NR: Connections to the little things and the big things, people and space, death, humility, the absurdity of being alive, shapes. Those seem to be around most things.
There’s really nothing like the smell of ink…
FYD: What about the printmaking culture excites you?
NR: There’s nothing like the smell of ink and the feel of pulling a print off of a piece of wood or under a screen. It’s the small pleasure of creating a finished piece every single time you pull a print. I love the democratic nature of the print, that you can make copies that people can afford to take home. I love the filter of the medium, take a drawing and carving it into a piece of wood or linoleum or pushing it through a silk screen. I could mimic the effect of a woodcut on pen and ink on paper and get every line precise but it still wouldn’t have that feeling or energy.
FYD: Talk about Birds Of America. What moves you about lyrics?
NR: Birds of America is the name of my musical project. At the time, like a lot of people, I wanted a band name to lurk behind. I’ve never been the most confident of musicians and that was a way to feel a little less self-conscious. Over the years it’s been a band, a couple of records, a solo performance, and a home-recording project, all based on my songs. I’m in the midst of a fresh period of productivity and I’ve made some new songs and working on some new recordings. It feels good.
FYD: What music are you currently listening to?
NR: I go through phases. Right now, I’m listening to 70s reggae and early American guitar and folk music. There’s something incredible and basic about that stuff, not technically, but the feel gets me in the gut. I like things that reveal themselves as you go.