The Heavy and the Light: A Six-Pack with Nathaniel Russell
I was first exposed to Nathaniel Russell’s work back in 2013 when his humorous flyers were showcased in this very publication you’re currently staring at. I dug deeper into his portfolio, uncovering a vast output of multidisciplinary offerings, and was instantly a fan. I’ve been following his work ever since and thought that the waning pandemic might be a great time to hit him up for a quick six-pack.
Michael Sieben: What was the hardest part of this past year for you?
Nathaniel Russell: Not traveling. Going to different places for projects and seeing my friends who live in different cities is an important part of my life, and while I’ve always known that, it has become crystal clear to me the past year-plus how much it contributes to my creative process and psychological well-being.
Did any personal growth occur during the pandemic, or can you think of any positives that came out of it?
I spent more than a year interacting almost exclusively with my family unit, so I feel like this experience has made me a better parent and partner—at least I hope it has. It has definitely forced me to go inward in a more productive rather than escapist way.
You recently did some skateboard graphics for Thomas Campbell’s UMA Landsleds brand. Will you continue working with the company moving forward?
Thomas is an amazing, multi-faceted artist who I respect a lot. We've been friends for a while, so anything he ever wants to work on with me is pretty much a go. I'm sure the UMA brand will grow and evolve and I will be in the mix here and there moving onward. So the short answer is: I hope so!
Got any tips for us anal retentive artists for loosening up?
I would say get out of the studio and off the internet—go for walks, ride your skateboard, spray the kids with a hose, do some gardening, whatever you can do to be in your body in the moment and let your mind wander or not wander. I have always found the ideas and feelings come when you're not arting. Then bring that back into the work. Talking with other human beings also helps. Pretty much anything that is not based on the internet or a computer screen helps. I should probably follow my own advice more often.
What was the best piece of advice you received as a young artist?
In practical terms, being encouraged to learn how to use a woodshop and power tools. If you can make your own frames, you can probably make your own shelves and then realize you can figure out how to fix things and be more self-reliant in general. In a more abstract sense, I think it was about trying to think outside of the familiar for different approaches and perspectives. I had a teacher tell me to try doing a drawing with a stick dipped in ink one time and I remember being a little amazed at the way the lines looked when I was a little out of control. I think you can think of that in terms of tools, medium or anything that you are a little too settled into.
Do you have any upcoming projects you’re excited about?
There are a lot of things in the mix right now: There’s a constant juggle that ebbs and flows between big projects and more modest, fun endeavors. I think it's that balance that makes it all workable. Right now I’m moving between a couple of album art commissions, a series of prints for my gallery in Tokyo, and putting together material for a collaborative words-and-music LP. I hope to keep on juggling between the heavy and the light for as long as possible.