Every artist, emerging or established, should sit down and have a chat with Nathaniel (Nat) Russell, especially if they're in need of inspiration. Russell motivates without really trying, speaking easily about his extensive career as an illustrator, printmaker and sculptor, and some of the artistic opportunities that have come his way via his network of similarly talented friends.
Russell studied printmaking at Ball State University before moving to Berkeley, California, where he worked for a record label, taught art classes and made T-shirts. He also designed posters and record sleeves -- "Printmaking is good for that" -- while befriending local musicians and working on his art in the evening.
He made his living from a "big mix of art, illustrating and design work," a big part of how he continues to support himself and his family. "I've been able to be involved with businesses and organizations [where] I didn't have to sell my soul to draw something lame," he says.
- Nat Russell
"Keep making stuff, keep doing it, keep sending it out into space, be a nice person, help people," advises Nat Russell.
One such company is Vans, for whom Russell has helped paint a giant skate bowl in Huntington Beach in recent years. Though he didn't really know anybody the first couple of years he was involved, he's now formed lasting friendships with the artists with whom he worked. "I've been so lucky. I've run into so few a--holes when working on similar projects. It's rare someone is a jerk." Much of the credit goes to the artists' collective desire to make connections and create art. Of the experience, Russell says, "Everyone was joking and having fun."
Another major artistic opportunity came to Russell via Facebook -- the Facebook campus, to be exact. Located in Menlo Park, California, the social media giant hosts an artist-in-residence program that opened its doors to Russell in December 2012. His monthlong stay gave him access to a full-service art lab, where he made murals and anti-productivity posters, a lighthearted poke at the motivational posters Facebook has on display. Russell happened upon the residency through a collaboration with Drew Bennett, the program's founder and curator, and was one of the first artists to share his work with the Facebook community. "They have an amazing art facility," Russell says, noting that things have only improved since his already-positive experience, including "really ambitious structures, installations and murals."
- Nat Russell
"I go through open doors rather than knock on them a lot of times," Russell says.
Russell's art includes whimsical posters, prints, fliers and fake books, whose influence is evident in a line of sketchbooks he recently designed for Plumb. Each season, Russell explains, the company has three different artists create designs for them, which led to his Fake-Jacket Journal and the Drawn to Music and Waking Waiting Walking notebooks. (In addition to being available online, the sketchbooks can be purchased locally at LUNA Music.) Russell worked with a designer to realize his concepts, which included sketches, drawings and "secret art stuff" such as extra paintings and cards inside the journals. He describes the experience as "an interesting way to approach a creative endeavor without being so much about himself."
The many artistic ventures Russell has been involved with nearly make the head spin, but he's matter of fact about his projects and is a firm believer in the concept that opportunities exist, you just have to make them happen.
"Keep making stuff, keep doing it, keep sending it out in space, be a nice person, help people," he advises for those who want to make it in the art world. "Make friends with people who want to do stuff ... next thing you know you're in Berlin or Mexico City ... that's the kind of life I want to live."
- Nat Russell
Russell says his notebooks can make you look smart ... or dumb. It all depends.
Russell comments that "selling a painting for $50,000 sounds great," but his preference is to travel around and make art for a modest amount of money. To date, he's visited Tokyo several times and completed an Art Park Atlantic residency in Sydney, Australia. Stateside, he returns to California a few times a year to work with folks he knows there, including a friend who owns a clothing company. Russell, who lists fabric designer Vera Neumann as an influence, creates graphics and fabric patterns for jackets, board shorts and other apparel. Likely saying what many people are thinking, Russell says, "I'm lucky. I get the chance to do a lot of cool stuff."
Though Russell doesn't have any local shows coming up, he often works with Big Car, and he is compiling a book with art and writing from the past couple years on his blog. His philosophy about art -- "You don't have to wait for permission or approval from experts or whoever you're looking for approval from;those days are gone" -- has certainly proven successful for the multitalented artist.
"I go through open doors rather than knock on them a lot of times," he says. "If I can do this forever, I'm set. I've got a kid and a wife and place to live. What more do you want?"