One of the best parts about an art career is that amateurs can pursue it with as much vigor as professionals. Shawn Stucky was a graphic designer and basically stumbled across his own talent for screen printing, and from there a new career was born.
It helped, of course, that Stucky had a background in graphic design and visual art, but even he admits that he never anticipated having a printmaking career, even after six months of making prints. But that is the beauty of art careers and art inspiration, they can be so unexpected that even the artist doesn’t realize it’s a possibility until it’s already happening.
Stucky’s success means that he isn’t constrained to the usual working hours or constantly harassed by overbearing bosses, so we wanted to talk with him about that success and trace his journey. This way, anyone else who has the talent and the work ethic and just doesn’t know it yet, can look a little bit deeper and maybe find it. Enjoy!
How did you get started in screen printing as an art?
It was purely accidental. I was working as a graphic designer at an advertising agency and a friend and I were discussing some design samples that we found inspirational. During our conversation I said, “I wish I could design something beautiful like this” my friend casually said to me “you know, you could if you really wanted to”.
For some reason his confidence struck me and I thought, “yeah, you know I could”, so that night I went home and started playing around in Photoshop and I created my first piece that I titled “May this be love”. I’ve been creating ever since.
Did you have formal education or were you self-taught, and how did you learn this skill?
I lived in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood in 2006 and Steve Walters (an established screen printer and artist) had his studio Screwball Press about one block from my home. I happened to walk past his studio and saw an advertisement for a one-day crash course in Screen Printing. I had no idea what screen printing was so I did some research and decided, I’m going to contact Steve and take his class.
I learned the essentials from Steve and he was kind enough to have his studio set up so that amateurs like myself could use his printmaking equipment for a small fee. I spent about nine months working in his studio before I decided it would be beneficial for me to set up a functional printing studio in my own home. Since then I’ve spent many hours in my apartment dissecting and figuring out how to produce beautiful artwork. So my formal training is minimal, but I credit Steve for getting me started on this creative adventure.
How did you break into the industry, or start doing this as a career?
In the beginning I had no intentions of making a career of being an artist. I only wanted to create something beautiful for myself. For the first six months of printing I gave my work away for free. It never occurred to me that people would buy my work until one day a friend of mine said, “Why are you giving these away? I’d buy these from you”.
So I did some research and found an art festival called Around the Coyote that catered to emerging artists and started exhibiting at their art festivals. I sold a large number of prints during my first exhibition, I was blown away, and I had no idea that so many people would pay for my work. That was the first time I considered this an option as a career. Soon after I started exhibiting across the United States and in Europe.
What are some skills that you have as a screen print artist that you believe are key to your success?
Networking is a huge part of where I’m at today. I’ve met lots of talented artists and many of them are supportive of my work. It’s helpful since everyone knows someone different.
Can you give us a description of what you do, how you do it, and your methods that bring about these fantastic images?
My training as a graphic designer has been an important attribute in the creation of my art. I begin by finding old etchings that I can manipulate and reconstruct in Photoshop. I use my scanner and digital camera to create textured images that I use throughout all my works. It can be very subtle or very obvious.
The whole process is a digital collage and once I feel my design is ready for print I prepare the artwork for screen-printing. After that I prep the substrate for printing by hand painting and texture building through many different processes. Once I feel I have a solid background built I start screen printing on the piece, it eventually becomes an additive and subtractive process until I feel the piece is complete.
What have been some of the best ways you have built and marketed your business?
I’ve done several pro-bono projects for individuals that I feel are doing exceptional work. For example Chicago author Franki Elliot published her first book Piano Rats in the spring of 2011 and it has become very popular, so popular that Piano Rats is in its fourth publishing and she’s working on her second book.
I created the cover art and did all the typesetting for her book and it in return has helped me get lots of press and even a few design projects from other authors. So helping out others who show potential also helps market my work to other people who would have never seen my work otherwise.
I consider all opportunities that come to me regarding my work, because you never know who will see your work.
Where do most of your clientele come from, or how do you make money doing this?
I’m not sure where my clientele comes from, I figure that some are people doing web searches and word of mouth. I also help out musicians and authors with their projects so I get my name on other peoples work.
I make my money by selling my work online and a few shops around the Chicago area. I also sell my art at galleries, restaurants and bars. It’s really a mix of lots of different areas, it’s like I said earlier, consider all opportunities because you never know who will see your work.
What are your favorite things about being an artist?
Freedom, I’m not tied to a schedule of 9-5. I create when I’m in the moment and at my leisure.
What were some of the biggest hurdles you faced when starting out, that others should be prepared for?
One thing that young artists should be prepared for is people or organizations taking advantage of your work and time. Lots of people will ask for creativity on a project with the promise of pay or other rewards.
But in the end you’ll just end up wasting your time and energy. So it’s really important that you believe the person or organization is doing exceptional work before you contribute your creative efforts.
If you had to do it all over again, what areas would you focus on to further your career?
Writing, the ability to write creatively and effectively is very important as an artist. Reason being is you’ll spend a good amount of time writing proposals, artist statements and other required material. So having a solid background in writing is definitely a strong attribute.
Do you have any final words of wisdom to artists aspiring to become a screen print artist?
Create what you love and love what you create. Never take criticism to heart be it positive or negative. Also learn a skill that can help you through financial hard times and be a contributing factor to an artistic career, such as graphic design, creative writing, or marketing.
Make sure to “Like” Shawn on Facebook.