Artist Interview: XAVIER SCHIPANI



Intro & Interview by Shanon Weltman

Austin, Texas resident, Xavier Schipani, is a drawing machine from the moment he wakes up each day. He’s got big near future goals of completely changing up the art gallery scene in the land of keepin’ it weird. Currently he’s happily busy with commissions, album covers, publishing his own zines, and local mural painting. Xavier is also a MICA 2007 alumni and shares his birthday with Bill Murray.


SW: What are the common themes or ideas you work with, and what are your current muses or obsessions?

XS: A lot of my themes have been queer themes, but just kind of like creating a fantasy world for a lot of those themes that can be super serious. Kind of making it more light hearted. Right now I’m really into Sol LeWitt, I’m going back through a lot. I’ve been working in color, which… I don’t ever work in color. So, that’s something new for me. Kind of been looking back at a lot of abstract paintings from the 50’s and 60’s. Block paintings, just kind of trying to introduce color slowly into my work. I’ve just been using primary colors right now. I’ve been looking at a lot of different things. There’s this one Japanese artist who did all of the posters for The Beatles and he did the Yellow Submarine, he did all the animating and all the illustration. So, I’ve kind of just been looking at as much color as I can.


SW: What specifically are the queer themes, is it imagery, is it more idea heavy? Which hits you more, like ‘Oh I see what he’s trying to say’, or visually, like you just get it. I don’t know if that’s too confusing of a question.

XS: Well, the last show that I had was all pencil drawings. I was on Grindr for about 4 months and I basically went on and had an artist profile. I was looking for people to send me photos that I could work with, that I could draw from… and I got crazy shit. This guy was crouching naked on his dining room table with like a bag over his head. [Laughs] I just got all of these weird photos.

SW: [Laughs] Plastic bag or paper bag? Sorry.

XS: It was a plastic bag. It was pretty interesting. But that was kind of a way for me to explore the gay dating scene and see how aggressive it was and kind of just investigate some of that. So, that was more obvious. The theme there was that I was trying to expose this online dating style. I guess it’s true for straight people now too with Tinder and everything, but Grindr is super aggressive. I have a lot of friends that are on it and it’s just crazy. I was really curious about it. Being in a relationship, I couldn’t participate in any other way besides being curious about it. That was a little bit more obvious and playful. I saved all the headlines from the ads, I went on craigslist a bit too. Every time I got a really good photo from an ad, I would write down the ad title as well. That’s basically how I named each piece. That was more conceptual I guess.

SW: I think I saw those pencil drawings. You posted those right?

XS: Yeah, I posted some of them. I ended up doing about a 150 in four months.


SW: Holy shit. So, that leads me to my next question… What’s your typical process? How big is a piece? How long does it usually take you? Do you do pencil and then ink it? What’s your process like?

XS: I’ve been working kind of in like a 9 x 12 format as a standard and then with some larger pieces as well. Like, that show is mixed between 9 x 12 and then I had some pieces that were 19 x 24 and then 24 x 48. I had some bigger stuff in there as well. I would say, for example I did about 25 drawings last week. They’re all about 9 x 12. Sometimes I sketch on tracing paper if I want it to look really clean, and then I’ll transfer it onto paper and trace the lines back, and then work on top of that.

SW: With a lightbox or?

XS: No I just flip it over and trace right on the back of it and it will just transfer the pencil. I do that a lot, especially if I’m working on something for someone, if I want it to be really clean. Otherwise I just sketch and I usually do a little bit of pencil, at least to block out whatever I’m working on. I’ll go in over with ink and kind of free form the rest of it. So, depending on what it is but that’s usually how I do it.

SW: So, how long does a drawing usually take you?

XS: I would say anywhere from an hour to 4 hours depending on what it is. Sometimes less. 9 x 12, I mean I can really knock something detailed out in 4 hours.


SW: You work fast but that’s still a lot of work, it’s inspiring to hear. As an artist, I’m struggling to maintain that amount of work. What is your routine? How do you stay disciplined in that way?

XS: I watch a lot of really old movies that are kind of just like static noise. I get up pretty early, or I try to, and I just start working. I’ve been doing these color drawings and I’m really into them. I’m working on them a lot and I’m dreaming about them, so it’s crazy, I’ll wake up and I’m like ready to go. I just I don’t know, I don’t really think of it as being disciplined. I guess it is, I just can’t help it. I don’t have any discipline really for anything else. [Laughs] I don’t. I’m horrible.

SW: That sounds exciting.

XS: Yeah, I don’t really go out that much anymore, I don’t really party that much. So, I like drinking at home [Laughs] and working. I feel like now more than ever I don’t really care about anything else. People here are kind of weird. I have friends here but no one’s, like, really inspired to do anything here. This town is super stoner, just whatever, do nothing and that’s totally fine. It’s literally where Slacker was made and is just that. It’s like Peter Pan land, people never have to grow up here. I guess that inspires me to keep working. When I look around, there’s no gallery scene here, which I’m hoping to try and open something this year. Yeah, I don’t know, I’m not really engaged in the nightlife here or really any scene here. I think that’s helped me stay focused, for sure.

SW: That’s interesting, I’ve heard people be in similar situations and be influenced in the opposite way, of like falling into that slacker kind of mentality.

XS: I think it’s really easy to get like that. I think people move here from NY and they get like that. They’re so tired of hustling because they worked so hard they forget how to work. It’s crazy. Happens all the time.

SW: Hmm. [Laughs]


XS: I mean I don’t blame them, when I moved here I was like ‘Damn, people are just chilling in the middle of the day. Does anyone work here?’ You just see people out at all times of the day just chilling. And you’re like, ‘Alright, I guess they’re not going to work. Whatever.’ [Laughs] But yeah I can’t really say anything. I am quitting my job as well.

SW: But you have a goal. [Laughs] You’re not just quitting your job to sit around.

XS: [Laughs] True.


SW: Two more questions. What’s been the most exciting commission job you’ve done?

XS: I’m working on a possible collaboration with Nike, which is cool. There’s this guy I’m meeting later, he has two house boys and he’s married. So he has his house boy’s who are young and another whole dynamic going on. I’m going over to his house later to take photos of them all together so that I can draw their family portrait. I don’t know. [Laughs] That’s fun.

SW: [Laughs]

XS: I’ve been working with a lot of bands and that’s been really cool. I just worked with Double Duchess and I’m going to be doing something with Spank Rock possibly this year; this other band that’s really cool.

SW: Does your work circulate or are you friends with any of these people and they’re just like, ‘I want you to do this’?

XS: Yeah, sometimes. Like this guy, Klever, he’s a DJ. He’s on tour with Yellow Wolf. I met him when he came here. I did a portrait of him and by the next day I had like 400 new followers. Just because of that portrait, which is crazy. He’s got like a million followers. He’s actually gotten me a lot of work, because people saw that and were like, ‘Oh! Can you do this? Can you do that?’ I was like ‘yeah, sure’. It’s kind of been constant. I have Jenny, my Fiance, is my manager which is rad because she emails everyone for me. I don’t have to do anything, which is cool, because I suck at that. She does all my invoicing and emails, that’s been great.

SW: That’s awesome. It takes so much effort to do both.

XS: Yeah, it’s great.

SW: Last question, totally unrelated. What’s the tastiest food you’ve eaten in Austin?

XS: I’d probably say…  Well, I work at Paul Qui’s restaurant. He’s won Top Chef a couple years ago and the food there is pretty fucking banging. Pretty awesome. It’s Filipino and it’s just all over the place, it’s super good. I also love this little place called Julio’s, it’s owned by a family and is right in my neighborhood. Their chicken is killer, it’s just very traditional Mexican and it’s awesome.


Xavier painting a mural at Qui

Artist Interview: CLAY RODERY



Intro by Shanon Weltman / Interview by Ray Jones

It’s becoming increasingly popular for illustrations to go the way of animated GIFs. Although this week’s artist, Texas native Clay Rodery, fits the bill, his art is more cinematic than animated. He would have probably been really successful in the golden age of painted movie posters. The stark contrast of light and shadows, hand in hand with his narrative compositions feel more like an actual movie still than illustration. His illustration series of zombie-fied GOP 2012 candidates was featured on Keep reading to see what life lessons Clay shares with Ray Jones.
RAY JONES: How would you describe your process?

CLAY RODERY: I pace around for about an hour. Just thinking about all these different, weird directions things can go. I’ve been illustrating this acting advice column, which is funny because tips for actors can also apply to illustrators. As I think about those, I’m applying its own virtues to it. Thinking is a lot of work [laughs] let’s say, so then after that I do a sketch and I will eventually do something with action figures, set up poses if it’s really complicated. Every picture kind of comes together its own way. I don’t exactly have one process that always [snaps].

RJ: Do you paint much? I remember you used to oil paint a lot.

CR: I actually haven’t oil painted in a while, ever since last February I have steadily been going more and more digital to where I’ll do an ink sketch and will scan that and everything else is completely digital.




RJ: That kind of eases into the next question. Have you worked on any projects that were out of your comfort zone that required you to learn a new technique?

CR: I try to always have a little bit of know how with a lot of different means of working. The things I do have a problem with… not a problem, but it gets tricky if I have to do something in Illustrator. Which again goes to the weird thing of, why did they name that program Illustrator? [Laughs] If I use things like vectors, that’s always tricky.

RJ: You achieve this really 3D, polished look in a lot of your pieces lately, what program… what are you doing? [Laughs] What are you doing Clay?

CR: That’s the thing! It *is* 3D sometimes. I have this program… Before I ever started to go to school to study illustration, I was going to do computer animation. Throughout high school I had been toying with this program called “TrueSpace”. Now, the company that made it is no more, the program is free if you can even find it online. It’s just this ancient, really buggy thing, but it makes these really interesting simple forms. You can just build on that, like in a drawing. I basically use it to take care of anything I want to do with perspective and use that to build the rest of the world on.

RJ: Ahh okay.

CR: So it’s cheating.

RJ: [Laughs] It’s just using the right tool at the right time.

CR: Yeah!


Over-Policing Our Schools


RJ: What would you say is the most challenging medium you’ve worked in?

CR: I tried engraving once, that was tough. I tried some encaustic wax stuff, that was really challenging. Then you have to deal with heat, it’s like a whole different ball game. It’s not so much whether it’s challenging, it’s more a, did I find a good reason to use that medium? That’s a better way to think about it.

RJ: When you first start a piece then, how do you decide on what medium you want to use? Since you can literally start in a vast array of tools/mediums/programs?

CR: It depends on what the general feel of the piece is going to be. If it’s something that is very light, I’ll start thinking about something like watercolor or something where lighter colors are somehow utilized very well. And then of course if you think about something really heavy and dark and there’s this kind of conflicting drama, or something about it, I just immediately go to ink. You can then think about how that can be bumped up. Eventually it ends up becoming all different kinds of mediums and then picking and choosing what ends up being on top of one another. It could start as watercolor and end up with a bunch of melted wax on top who knows. Now my problem is, how does that look if I try and make that digital? How can I fake that enough?


Otherworldly Grounds


RJ: Clay, what can you tell us about your space Otherworldly Grounds Project? Whatever you feel comfortable sharing.

CR: It’s set in a future, which I guess is my utmost idealized future. It takes place 95 years from now, if we don’t blow ourselves up, don’t let the environment go to shit, don’t get buried in snow, y’know… melt ourselves to death in the summer, then I think we’ll be okay. If that’s the case then we can do some good space travel and go see Mars, things like that. It’s really a kind of optimistic look at the future but then, it will deal with some heavier questions. Just in regards to our own complacency as to whether or not we should continue exploring nowadays. How are those same questions met, 100 years from now? It’ll be packed with things like that. I make it sound really heavy and it really isn’t.

RJ: Well, the imagery is incredibly moving, it’s easy to feel like ‘whoa, this is a very dramatic film I’m about to get into…’

CR: [Laughs] The thing is, it’s like one character looking at a bunch of stuff for now. I hope it’s moving! If it’s not, then… oh man. I’ve set like a November deadline for myself. I want to get it done by September? I hope to have it done by then, but realistically it’ll be late in the fall this year.

RJ: Since you left art school, what lessons have you learned that were not taught in any of our classes?

CR: I don’t know if it’s necessarily that this wasn’t taught, I don’t think… realistically, kids are ready for just how much of a struggle it can be. I mean, I always heard, it’s like the first 3 years out of school that are really tough. That’s something that was said to me 2006-2007. There were still a couple of staff illustration jobs back then, now it’s just… that kind of stuff, just doesn’t exist. I think what should be taught is… getting kids ready, it’s going to be much harder than even we can prepare you for. There just needs to be a real honesty about it. It’s a tough life, a tough job. You have to make a ton of sacrifices, but if you’re willing to do it, it’s very worth while. When people come to you for what you do and how your brain works, there’s nothing better than that.

RJ: I guess there’s just a certain amount of lessons that are just the school of hard knocks. [Laughs]

CR: Yeah, there’s too much romanticizing going on sometimes in school, I think. That might need to be pulled back a bit.
RJ: I don’t know if you saw Mike’s interview, but he mentioned something about that. We all only pay attention to the stream of good news coming down the pipe pretty much, we never see the bad days.

CR: Or, say, you find an illustrator you really liked a couple years before and then you get to where you’re like, ‘whatever happened to them?’ You try and look them up and maybe they had a kid or something, I don’t know… but you’re like ‘aw man, they were really great.’ Life just gets in the way sometimes. Times will be tough. People also need to be encouraged to attempt really hard to persevere.


Personal Work


RJ: This is the last question, though possibly one of the most difficult questions. What is your favorite Batman story?

CR: Oh man… There’s a story that’s by Otomo Katsuhiro (Akira), he did this story called The 3rd Mask which is absolutely brilliant. It just gives you the willies, it’s just awesome. It turns Batman completely on its head. Oh god, if you don’t know it, just find it. It’s in the first volume of Batman: Black and White, the art is amazing! The way he draws in that is so cool. It’s brilliant.

RJ: I stare at all of those Akira pages from time to time in awe. This is one guy! [Laughs]

CR: What a way to make you feel like a lazy hobo [laughs], oh god I need to get to work.

RJ: It’s good motivation!

CR: Definitely, it can also just be so depressing. This is what I have to feel. In addition to yourself being inspired by it, so is everyone and there *are* people like ‘I’m going to draw everything!’ I am just not one of those people. [Laughs] I look for the way of getting around having to draw, try to distill it down to just these base parts. Otomo doesn’t do that!