Drew Thiele lives for this. This being running Artek Creative Inc., a graphic design firm Thiele opened in New York City when he was 21 years old. Seven years later the New Jersey-raised designer is still hard at work creating unique designs for companies that include Fortune 500 corporations and independent musicians. With an aesthetic that focuses on urban design, Artek does it all, from helping clients with identity and branding to print ads and web site development and custom apparel design. Inspiration is everywhere in the Big Apple that Thiele now calls home. With a little imagination and some computer graphics handiwork, anything is possible if there’s a vision — something Thiele has been churning out for the last seven years and counting.
Andy Warhol said it best: Art is anything you can get away with
Format: How did all of this start?
Drew: My interest in the arts was always a primary driver since my younger days- I can remember creating flyers for my barbershop…. as a way for a free haircut. I have always been in love with art- especially graffiti. I knew it was my calling but still didn’t know how I can make a living from it. After graduating high school, I dabbled in a computer graphics course, but struggled a bit and wound up paying someone to finish the project for me. Eventually, I proceeded to scan my drawings and fooling around with them in Photoshop until I got the results I wanted. After realizing that I had the tools to create whatever my mind imagined, I devoted every moment to trying to perfect it- just because you know Photoshop or illustrator doesn’t make you a designer. I was accepted into Pratt University, but during that time, I was going out a lot and meeting both promoters and independent record labels that had a need for design work. With tuition being out of my range, I felt I had a better chance of success pursuing freelance work. Since then it never stopped- I opened my first office in 2003 and it’s been a daily hustle ever since!
Format: Where are you from?
Drew: I’m originally from New Jersey but reside in upper Manhattan, Harlem to be exact!
Format: Who are some of your favorite graffiti artists? What about their work speaks to you?
Drew: When it comes to graffiti, I support the NY movement to the fullest. I only like a true New York style. There are so many writers that I respect but if I had to give names of my favorites, I guess they would be, piece-wise, Seen UA, West One FC, Ces FX, Sen 2 (who as been a great inspiration). For bombing, I love to see throw-ups and tags by Cope 2, JA, Skuff, and VFR. I also got to give credit for the rollers that were done by Cost, Revs, and Espo. These days I love to see an ill throw-up rather over any other piece. There are so many toys out now — when you see an ill throw-up you really appreciate it. But a big inspiration to my life was some of both FX’s and TATS’s productions.
At the time I was pursuing fine art and I could remember staring at their detail and saying, “I could never take it to that level.” Creativity comes from within but some of those walls require a certain skill level and you either had it or didn’t. I didn’t know the likes of Jean Michael Basquiat who has grown to be a huge influence. I remember when I first saw the abstract nature of his work I was confused and thought to myself, “How is this considered art ?” I now realize that art is more then refined perfect lines or photo-realistic pictures. Rather, it’s how you interpret the world through this medium. Andy Warhol said it best: Art is anything you can get away with. With that being said it give you an artistic output of endless options.
Format: Have you ever tried your hand at graffiti?
Drew: I definitely had more then my hand on graffiti. Graf culture made me who I am. Still to this day, I can’t go anywhere without slapping a sticker up; I draw on anything I get my hands on. I perfected my hand style through the years and maintain a strong passion for typography that I use every day of my life. But in the same vein, it’s weird, I never call myself a writer, and don’t define myself in any graffiti category. How do you call yourself a writer when there are established writers who’ve put in work for years? You have dudes that really put their freedom at risk and made it their life’s work. I really believe you get out of life what you put into it and you are what you do. So a graffiti writer I’m not, but a designer and artist I am.
Format: What was that about you paying someone to complete your computer graphics project for you? What was the project? What mark did you get on it?
Drew: I thought that one was going to go over your head. Well I took a computer graphics course and the program was Painter. At the time, I had no computer experience; this might’ve been in like 1999 or 2000. I didn’t even know how to send an email. So, I took the course and I was really lost. The grade was based on one end-of-semester final project and I just gave up.
I paid this girl l $50 and she did some mediocre work for me and got me a C. It took a lot for me to go back to the computer because I was really discouraged, but I knew it was something that I had got over quickly. That’s when I started to fool around with Photoshop and really dedicated almost all my time to it.
Format: Do you ever wonder what might have been, had you chosen to go to Pratt?
Drew: I’m sure things would of been different if I went to Pratt. I think I would have had a greater network of artists, but I would have been in an overwhelming debt as well. At the end of the day you can go to school and learn all the stuff they give you but it’s up to you to take it to the next level.
Every designer has their niche that they’ve searched within themselves to find. Pratt is a great school and I always dreamed of going there but at the time I wanted to pursue my own dreams. I am really passionate about what I do and I dedicate allot of my time to learning the art and finding myself artistically. I think that art school really preps you for the real world but definitely not for your daily grind.
Format: How big is the Artek team?
Drew: At the time, the Artek team consists of myself Xavier Muerillo, and Mario Clavasquin. We also outsource to other elite artists when needed.
Format: Do you ever collaborate with other artists?
Drew: I love to collaborate with other artists! When you’re around other artists, it always heightens your creativity. Most recently, I’ve been working on an art show with Kareem Blair of Lemar and Dauley- we’re actually putting together an exhibition this year. It will consist of art of various mediums with an urban/pop art feel.
Another artist I always like to work with is Fernando Leon aka Epic. He is a great painter and continues to ignite my interest in fine art. One day while he was painting a mural in the office, he told me to me pick up the paintbrush, and since then I never put it down. Another big influence is Sen 2, he’s an amazing painter and extremely passionate about his art. He really influences me to paint and delve deeper into fine art.
Format: How would you describe Artek’s aesthetic? Is there even one specific style or does it change based on the client?
Drew: The Artek aesthetic is simple: GREAT WORK, from both the creative and business. In the design world, we try to push our clients’ message to new limits visually; my strategy is to take a client’s established brand message and break previous molds using my medium. Whether I’m providing art direction for a corporate campaign, or graphics for an upstart t-shirt line, the same theory applies.
On any given day, I’ll bounce around from working on corporate identity for a Fortune 500 company, to doing CD covers for an artist, to storyboarding a music video. So while creativity remains the pillar ARTEK NYC maintains the business side equally important. I think it is also very important to draw the fine line between art and commerce. A lot of designers out there are really are not artists at heart, and a lot of artists don’t have the business savvy to capitalize off there talent. Just because you know Photoshop doesn’t make you a designer, and just because you put a poster up in Soho doesn’t make you a street artist. I am a strong believer in artistic integrity and good workmanship. Creative minds equal wealthy pockets.
Format: Where do you find inspiration?
Drew: I know it sounds cliché, but I find my inspiration from everywhere. I find my inspiration from this interview. I soak it all in. A wise man once said “design is not something you do, its how you live.” I live by that. I can say I truly live art, music, and design. I love to be around people with a vision and I respect creativity in all forms. It’s a blessing to be living in this city and be surrounded by movers and shakers who are constantly in an entrepreneurial state of mind. My eyes are always open to new ideas. More recently, I look within for design inspiration. Since there is so much redundancy out there, it’s up to you to set a standard of individuality.
Format: Has the economic downturn had an effect on business? Have you seen any noticeable change in the work you’ve been getting?
Drew: I think the economy has affected everyone to a certain degree. Plenty of companies have cut back on marketing and creative, but on the bright side I’m happy to have clients that have work requests on various scales. For instance, the music industry isn’t healthy, so although my major label clients can’t afford to outsource, independent artist have had a need for design unlike we’ve ever seen. So even if the economy is bad, I can’t use it as a crutch or as an excuse to stop grinding; I’ve been very fortunate.
Format: Any future projects up your sleeve?
Drew: Artek is continuously growing, working with current and potential clients. As a personal project, I am finishing my first book and preparing my first art show this year, and focusing on personal artwork- many people know me as a designer but more people know me as the “art head” [Laughs]. I live for this.