Anyone who knows me will tell you that I don’t often give chops to stencil artists. I feel It’s okay for me to say…that I could teach a monkey to cut and spray most of stencil art that I’ve seen around. Before anyone gets pissed and calls me an asshole, that’s only my opinion. Now, here’s a fact for you….the art created by Vancouver-based stencil artist Indigo rises above mediocrity and sets a standard for stencil artists everywhere. I believe her complex works of art fit as well in a fine art gallery as they do sprayed on the brick wall down the street. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, “If you’re going make stencil art, do it right….. like Indigo.
ckirk: To me, your work seems to convey intense emotion and depth. What would you say generally inspires the work you do?
Indigo: I would say that emotion plays a big part in what I do, but that it is more an intuitive than a conscious choice. I think that I am most often inspired by melancholy, by the quiet, still kind of sadness that is found in moments of contemplation. I am painting my memories, capturing their essence in an image. Even if that image isn’t a self-portrait, the impetus behind it is coming from a very personal place. It is not a literal interpretation, more an evocation of a mood that tends to be quite similar in most of my work.
ckirk: Your life-size stencil work is very complex and intricate, how many layers do you generally cut for one painting?
Indigo: It really depends on the work. Some pieces need less, some need more. In the last few months I’ve started to compartmentalize each image, so that I can spray each section with a different gradient, or incorporate a couple layers of color (yes, I am finally starting to use some color, OMG) into the clothing without having to also change the hair and skin. This way of working also makes it easier to do larger-scale work, building each image like a jigsaw of body parts. I’d say on average I use between 15-20 layers per piece, but on the smaller work sometimes as few as 5 or 6. It’s hard for me to make a stencil with less than 5 layers. I like a soft gradient.
ckirk: I know you don’t use Photoshop to separate layers in your images. Is there a reason you prefer not to use a computer program for this?
Indigo: The method I use is pretty much the same as what I did when I first started learning how to stencil, with the addition of a projector. When I started, I didn’t have a computer. What I had was a bunch of pictures, some transparencies, and a sharpie, and so everything I did was traced or drawn. I got a computer pretty shortly afterwards, but didn’t see a reason to try and learn how to use Photoshop when I was doing just fine without. Over the past couple of years the work I’m doing has gotten much bigger and more complicated but I think if I were to switch gears now and try to design things on my computer it would really change the aesthetic and style of the work. It’s a challenge to make multilayer stencils at this scale by hand. A lot of the detail gets lost when you are projecting a photo 10′ tall, and so I end up just using it as a guide for outlines and proportion and drawing in the details while looking at the picture on my laptop. I really appreciate the skills that artists utilize when using Photoshop or Illustrator for stencil design. Designing a good stencil with a computer is far from easy. I tried it once and lasted all of 15 minutes before I got super frustrated and went back to my projector. I am an analog artist in a digital world, and have no plans of changing that anytime soon.
ckirk: You seem to be working constantly. Is there ever a point where you run out of juice? What do you do to recharge?
Indigo: Yeah, I have a habit of saying yes to way too many things and then working around the clock to make good on my commitments. I need to learn how to say no more often. But it’s really hard when people approach me with awesome project ideas, and when the nature of the work itself is so time-intensive…not to mention the fact that my art has to pay my rent, pay my bills, pay for more art supplies, and maybe some food once in a while.
I do run out of juice. For sure. I can typically make it through to the end of a project and then as soon as it’s complete I’ll crash for a day or two and then start on the next. To recharge I like to do things that have nothing to do with art. Like staying at home all day in my pajamas and doing laundry, or going for a walk somewhere outside the city.
ckirk: A while back, you did a two month tour of Europe and met up with some amazing artists like Jaybo Monk and C215. You just got back from another trip overseas. Can you tell me a bit about this tour?
Indigo: I had a great time traveling last month. Five cities, three art festivals, a few group shows, a bit of wheatpasting and I dunno how many walls…I started off in the UK, painted a nice big wall in London at The Star of Bethnal Green with MD and put up a piece at Red Gallery, then headed to Bristol for Upfest where I painted another big wall with Liliwenn. It was my second time at Upfest and it was great to be back in Brizzle, I always have a lot of fun there.
From there it was on to Amsterdam for Project ASA. Spent a week there, hanging out with some really talented and inspiring peeps. It was nice to see some familiar faces and have the chance to meet some others whose work I really look up to. I’m a big process person, so getting to watch people paint is one of my favorite things about traveling. I just try to soak it all in. Another of my favorite things is the opportunities for collaborations that come up…my last day there I painted with Flying Fortress outside Cafe Belgique, a mix of two completely opposite styles but we were both quite happy with how it turned out.
Next stop was Berlin, the only city where I didnt paint any walls. I was there to do two commissioned canvas works for Cafe Slorm, in Prenzlauer Berg. Had a nice chunk of time there so I managed to link up with ALIAS, Prost and SAMC for a couple of wheatpaste missions, visited a few galleries, met up with friends. After a bit of stress trying to figure out how I was going to get to Paris, I finally made it on to a train and arrived in Vitry for the Jam. The sun was shining for the whole week and we were outside painting every day. Vitry is a really special place to paint, the community is really supportive and there are a lot of walls available. It was wonderful to see how much the city has evolved since last fall, how many amazing artists have come through to leave their mark. Was great way to end my tour, and I was as always happysad to be headed home.
Now I’m back at home and prepping for a group show at Ayden Gallery on July 16th, a group show at W2 Community Media Arts Centre on July 30th, and a solo show at Verve Hair Lounge on August 15th…along with a bunch of other smaller projects and commissions. Did I mention that I sometimes tend to take on too much?
ckirk: In April you worked on Paint Your Faith Vancouver with Peeta, Faith 47, and Titi Freak. How did this project all come together and what roles did you play?
Indigo: I got involved with Paint Your Faith about 6 months before we started painting. I was the first artist on the roster and then we built it from there. It was an interesting experience for me as I was the only one on the project based in Vancouver, so ended up choosing the wall, working with the DTES community doing a bit of outreach, and helping out on the coordination end of things. It was nice to be able to put my experience in event production/admin to work in a new way, and see a bit of what it takes to make a project of this scale happen behind the scenes. Having to deal with city mural permits was definitely a learning experience for me – I was always aware that the red tape surrounding public art installations in Vancouver made things challenging, but I didn’t quite realize to what extent.
It was at times difficult for me to juggle coordination stuff with creative stuff, but as soon as we started painting it was all worth it. We had done all the layout planning via email and skype months in advance, and then I’d spent a couple of months in the studio drawing and cutting all my layers – so it was great to be outside painting and getting to meet everyone face-to-face. Working with the other artists was great, everyone brought something really unique to the project, and I think we managed to fit four very different styles into one cohesive production that still lets each individual’s work shine.
ckirk: Being a full-time artist is definitely the road less traveled and can get a little tricky at times….do you have any advice for those looking to make the transition to full-time artist?
Indigo: Hmm. Well, I can only speak to my own experience. In the 6 months since I left my day job I’ve worked harder than I’ve ever worked before, but also felt happier and more fulfilled than ever before. Sometimes I’m hungry – paint before food – but there hasn’t been a moment where I’ve thought that it isn’t worth the struggle. Making the jump to being a full-time artist was one of the most intimidating and most liberating decisions I’ve ever made. It’s like jumping off a cliff and knowing that when you hit the water it will hurt and be cold but that eventually you’ll make it to the shore. And what you don’t expect is that when you finally swim to the beach and the sun starts coming out you get hit by a couple of massive waves every few minutes. But gradually you manage to move a little bit farther up the beach, and then a little bit farther, and even then sometimes it rains or maybe a seagull shits on you but at least you’re not half-drowning in saltwater anymore. And ideally someday you figure out how to build yourself a house, and the roof leaks sometimes but at least the birds can’t shit on your head. But I don’t think I’ve got there yet. I am still splashing round in the water trying to get to solid ground.
ckirk: You have accomplished a lot in the short time you’ve been painting for a living. It’s really pretty amazing when you think about it. What can we hope to see from you in the future?
Indigo: Yeah I kinda feel like I’ve pressed fast forward on my life as a visual artist and am just trying to keep up. I didn’t expect it to progress this quickly – I mean, I painted my first mural in Brooklyn last September, sold my first canvas just a few months before that…but I feel like I’ve put in at least 2 years of work hours in the past year, so maybe it evens out. Either way, life has been kind of crazy, but in a good way…a lot of shows, more traveling than I’ve ever done before…meeting lots of really amazing creative people who are a constant inspiration and also a reminder of how much I still have to learn. I think that for the next little while I’ll be happy continuing on a similar path as I’m on now, creating small series of work with short turnaround periods. Hopefully by next year I will be in a place where I can take a longer research/creation period per project, really delve into something and be able to have a more streamlined focus on one project for a few months at a time. I will also be putting on my curatorial hat more often in the future. I am working with Becker Galleries here in Vancouver to organize a large international stencil show, scheduled for fall 2011 – and I have a couple of other ideas for smaller shows as well.
I am also looking forward to finding the place where my creative impulses intersect…doing something that involves creative writing, choreography/performance, painting, video and photography – a body of work that exists on multiple levels, each informing the next. Part of what led me to street art was my experiences with site-specific performance – the act of placing art of any kind in public spaces has always intrigued me, whether that art is visual, performative or auditory. I know that I’m not just a painter, a dancer, a writer or a photographer. I think that eventually I will end up as an interdisciplinary artist, and that it’s just a process of refining skills and techniques in all of these areas in order to be able to integrate them into a cohesive whole, while still being able to make use of each discipline individually to its full potential.
Oh, and I also want to learn more about film, and printmaking, and learn how to play the piano. So yeah. More art. All different kinds. And lots of it.
If you’d like to learn more about Indigo or keep up with what she’s up to visit:
Well, until next time,