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Sharpie in Motion

Keith Skogstrom is a man in motion and his work is no different.

This Chicago artist is doing it big, 6 feet by 38 feet to be exact, in his latest project for The Violet Hour, a super swanky prohibition-themed speakeasy that Keith has re-decorated by creating an installation across the ENTIRE external facade of the building with Sharpie shrine-worthy work.

It’ll be up for another two weeks so if you’re in the Windy City you can swing by and check out Keith’s mechanical masterpiece.

Keith has graciously agreed to enlighten us about what it takes to create such an installation, what inspires him and his passion for Sharpie, of course!

Tell me about yourself! I was born and raised in Ohio. I received a BFA from Ohio University in 2007. In 2008, I moved to Chicago after a show titled Neoporkopolis. The show was in Cincinnati and one of the artist was from Chicago and suggested the city. I signed a lease and moved downtown a week later into the Ukrainian Village. Don’t move to Chicago in January. (We could have told you that! Although, funnily enough I made the same mistake!) The artist that encouraged my move was Andrew CopperSmith and together we had a show at a gallery as the “Binford Experience”. Andrew got into the graduate program at the Chicago Art Institute and there was little more production of artwork until the following February. I participated in a group show for Toyota at the Creative Lounge located at North Ave and Damen. Since then I have been operating out of a studio in Wicker Park as Geodesic Designs. I hope to continue making murals and furniture and soon to be doing so professionally. Someday I would like to have a furniture store/studio in which I sell furniture and artwork as well as a working space.  

What is inspires you as an artist?  I am inspired by mechanical motion.  

How would you describe your style? I would describe myself as a kinetic artist. My sculptures are both active and interactive. As a sculptor, I create a “machine” that consistently replicates an experience from a collective childhood unconsciousness. I would stylistically describe my flat work as “Implied Kinetics”. I create the illusion of “movement” by using shapes and patterns that resemble mechanical components such as cogs, pulleys, bearings, and timing belts. To increase the illusion, I use a combination of contour line drawing and cross hatching to add volume to the individual components.   

How did you get started working as an artist? How do you get the creative juices flowing?  My artistic career started in high school when a teacher, Mr. Mike Simpson, encouraged my artistic talents. I went to Ohio University and graduated Cum Laude in 2007 with a BFA in painting. My current work, which I categorize as the Brockton Operation series, is based on a commission I completed in October of 2010. The Brockton Operation became a complex in Mass. where Thomas Edison ran experiments for developing a central power grid. The finished product is a shaped wooden panel with varying intensities of Sharpie marker.   

For inspiration I’ll take things apart or watch Youtube videos about differential gears, engines, or any complex machine’s workings.  

How do you use Sharpie markers in your work?  I use Sharpie markers to make the lines and fill in blocks of color. I use rubber bands to attach the Sharpie markers to compasses to make perfect small circles. For larger circles, I have created a trammel point-like apparatus that holds a Sharpie marker on one independent clamp, and a sharp point on a second independent clamp. The two clamps attach to scrap lumber allowing for circles to be created at any diameter.    

Favorite Sharpie? Why? My favorite Sharpie markers are the fine tip and the chisel tip. I use the fine tip for intricate elements and fine circle circumferences. I use the chisel tips to fill in large blocks or add a specific texture.  

Chiseled to perfection...

Describe the process for creating such a large installation piece.  As an artist, I use plywood because the wood grain contrasts the mechanical images. As a draftsman, I am interested in the plywood because I can create high contrast lines that can and are sanded to varying levels on the value scale. The style for this current installation is inspired by the “Brockton Operation” series, but the arrangement for the eleven main circles is based on an artifact found in a Greek wreckage call the Antikythera mechanism.

The process for translating the image from paper to mural was as follows: create template, translate template to individual panels, thicken panels, create registration, mount panels on registration, draw first layer, sand first layer, draw second layer, remove panels from registration, coat panels with protective finish, and finally mount panels to façade.

To create the template, I covered the façade in a six foot tall level cardboard sheets. I drew my shapes using a spacer and level based on the drawing I created and used to propose the installation. I cut out the cardboard shapes and took them to a large home improvement store. I traced the shapes onto matching plywood maple panels, making sure the grain ran in the same direction. I squared the shapes by backing them with and inch thick border then routing the edge plum. Next, I built a six foot tall by 38 foot long faux wall that was the exact length of the Violet Hour façade but broke down into 8 four foot structures and 1 six foot structure. I mounted the faux wall directly to the actual façade approx. one foot down from a support beam. I then mounted the 53 shaped panels to the faux wall and removed the entire structure from the wall leaving the pieces attached. I created the first layer of the finished image in my studio 20 feet at a time. I built a slide for different panels to be added and removed as completed. Once the first layer of drawing was done, I took the faux wall back to the Violet Hour and confirm a consistent distribution of detail throughout the 38 feet as I had only seen it 20 feet at a time up to this point. At this point, I sanded the first layer with a 120 grit orbital sander until I got a blue/gray “faded” image. The faux wall then gets placed  back on the slide to be finished with a second “layer” of detail. Once the image was completed, I sent them to a finisher that I commissioned. I primed and painted the façade of the violet hour over a five day period. Once returned, the panels were arranged and mounted to the façade with thick blocks behind to create depth between the back of the panel and the wall.  

How did your installation project get started?    The installation got started because I was a regular at the Violet Hour. The Violet Hour is a prohibition themed speakeasy where the mural now hangs for another two weeks. The owners provide a wall for artists in the area to create murals upon and to do so on a four to six week rotation. I initiated contact with the owners via a wonderful hostess, now friend of mine, named Lara. She arranged a meeting for the owners and myself where I pitched the mural with a drawing and an example of the artwork from the “Brockton Operation” series. They agreed that I could use the wall in September, but due to a delay on my part the unveiling was pushed back to October.    

 Advice for other young artists?   Make things. You can’t have shows or design your website without something to document. I am constantly getting questions from artists about how to setup their website or market themselves when they have few artifacts and even fewer competent images or documentation of the work. Most importantly, artists need to create objects or conceptualize thoughts in order to develop an identity. The process of creating unique artwork starts with the action. Critique and refinement can only be applied to fully realize artistic investigations. Without attempts at making art, artwork can not be fully developed.

For more on Keith and his work, visit his website and find more photos of his work on Facebook!

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Mig Me Some Sharpie Art

Sometimes, the artist — and the art — just speaks for itself…

mig-reyesHey there, I’m Mig, and I’m a designer living in Chicago. I’ve been lucky enough to work for really great clients around the country, collaborating with small design studios to bigger agencies alike. I’m super stoked to have recently joined the team at skinnyCorp / Threadless. Aside from that, I’m heavily involved within the Chicago design community, and I currently serve as the social media liaison for AIGA National. Beyond that, you can also find me contributing to CMYK Magazine as well as Scott Hull’s Visual Ambassador. Awards and recognition are neato, but I’d rather be a give-a-damn designer that makes a difference-all while helping other young-gun creative types do the same. A stickler for great typography, I dabble and doodle in the worlds of print, web, motion and user interface. I’m often engaged in conversations about key frames, motion blur, letterpress, small caps and why Internet Explorer can’t do any good besides break the box model. That, and I slightly obsess over street photography. Beyond design, I like getting my hands into other creative endeavors. Good writing is just as important to me as good design. I’m all about embracing social media-and yes-chocolate chip cookies are indeed the way to my heart.


And now, Mig makes some chitty-chat about his work:

How did you get started as a communication designer?

happy-face-penWhen I was just little tot, before I even went to school, I remember my mom teaching me how to draw letters (not write them.) As the school years passed, I often found myself doing “bubble letters” whenever the opportunity arose. I didn’t realize it at first, but I definitely had an infatuation for hand-lettering and typography.

In high school, while the other kids were in Chess Club or after school sports, I was busy spending my nights learning Photoshop. It’s safe to say that by this point, I knew what I was doing for college: design school. Here I am, just over a year out.

Tell us a little about your genre. Are there lots of artists who do what you do? Where are they concentrated? What makes your work stand out from the rest?

I like to go by “communication design” because I can’t help but love designing for more than one medium. From print, web to motion… I think there’s value in exploration. During the day, I’m all for web and interactive design. I use Sharpie markers to sketch wireframes and page thumbnails.

By night, I’m rather obsessed with posters and illustration. Naturally, Sharpie plays a key role in illustrating and comping.

How would you describe your style?

I truly fancy the simplified feel of screen printed posters, and limiting my work to no more than 4 colors if I can. In a lot of my work, it’s rough and genuine to the pen stroke. You can see that in “Put on a Happy Face” and “Creamy Happy.” If I’m feeling really saucy, I’ll add extra distress to pay homage to the vintage days of poster design. Other times, I’ll aim for a smooth and slick refined approach, much like “Bliss.”

How did you come to use Sharpie markers in your work?

I’ve always been loyal to Sharpie. I’ve gone through myriad different pens and thin markers, but there’s something a bit more versatile about blissSharpie. With Sharpie markers, I can still do my other daily writing tasks aside from all of the sketching and illustrating.

What about Sharpie markers makes them your medium of choice?

Once you lay the ink down, it’s permanent. There’s no turning back. This idea of “forced progress” is why I really love using Sharpie markers in my work, it allows me to see where the line can take me.

There’s no erasing. There aren’t mistakes, but rather, serendipitous visual solutions.

Tell us about some of your own favorite work. What seems to get the most attention or is most coveted by others?

Why do you think people are drawn to your work?

Some of my favorite work are the posters and illustrations I’ve done last minute. When I don’t have a lot of time to think about what to do, I’m put in the mind set to just go wherever the design is headed. I really love doing typographic exploration with UnderConsideration’s Word It, where they have the creative community interpret a given word each month. The last one I did was “Flow,” which started completely with Sharpie pens only.

The one element that I believe draws people to one’s work is authenticity. You can download all of the stock photos in the world, piece together your latest clip art collection… but at the end of the day, it’s what you crafted by hand that counts.

Can you describe the process you go through to create your work?

I try to keep the process as organic as possible to avoid getting stuck designing by routine. For illustrations and posters, I like to sketch really rough thumbnails in a small notebook at first. When I have a good feel as to where the visual is going, I’ll bring out bigger sheets of paper and begin illustrating and fleshing out the line work.

In the end, I scan in all of my Sharpie’d illustrations to my laptop. From there, I might use the illustration as is, or I’ll convert them to vector paths and refine them from there.

Either way, it always starts with a hand-drawn sketch.

flowWhat are your inspirations?

Going to live shows and concerts. Stickers and graffiti on the streets of Chicago. And best of all, jokes and stories that my friends and I end up reflecting on. I try to pull inspiration from real emotion and passion, that’s where the authenticity lies.

As far as people I admire, the list goes on forever. But here’s a few…

• The Small Stakes
• Delicious Design League
• Modern Dog
• and of course, Aesthetic Apparatus

What statement are you trying to make, if any?

With music posters, I try to convey an unconventional vibe and all-around good time. But really, sometimes I draw and illustrate simply to keep myself creatively sharp (and sane.) Sometimes, my friends and everyone else’s reactions tell me the story, as opposed to the other way around.

Mig’s Markers:


Mig's Tools

Sharpie Pen
Sharpie Fine Point Permanent Marker
Sharpie Ultra Fine Point Permanent Marker
Sharpie Retractable Fine Point Permanent Marker