We met Jason Markow–aka TEKSTartist–through a serendipitous chain of on/offline events in 2017. He picked up a couple pair of glasses and wrote a fantastic article about his experience. We were introduced to his unique style of art that looks killer from across the room, then the closer you look, you realize his art is made up of words. It draws you in–layered and detailed. We share the same aesthetic in that way–the closer you look the more you see. Fast forward a year, we walk up to Ironsmith Coffee and see one of his latest murals and flip through his book inside the shop. Immediately get on the phone and reach out to him. We had to do something together. It starts with this Know Your Craft interview. And much more to come…
What originally drew you into becoming an artist? Was there a particular experience or event that got you started?
I practiced art all throughout grade school. During high school I was lucky enough to make the cut for some college level courses, but honestly I didn’t take them serious (sorry Mrs. Hyatt!) Then when I went off to college I decided to pursue a degree that would allow me to get a “real job” so I did, and somehow nearly a decade slipped by before I picked up a brush again.
Years later, while running a small marketing company, one of my clients was Elizabeth Healey, a professional artist. I was doodling during one of our meetings and she remarked that I was talented and should consider pursuing a career as an artist. It was like a switch flipped in my brain. As soon as I understood it was actually possible I dove in head first and never looked back. Over the next year I wound down the marketing company and positioned myself to go full tilt on art.
To what do you most attribute the development of your craft? Did you have a mentor or formal education?
It’s not pretty, but I credit the development of my craft to sort of a brute-force, show up, press nose to grindstone, slog through it, and hope something worth keeping comes out at the other end. I’ve never really had a mentor, and any form of a formal art education ended in high school. Having said that- I DO consider myself a product of the internet. Inspired by thousands of other creators online (Carne Griffiths, Bagman Studios, and Max Stossel to name a few.) I’m self taught by tutorials on YouTube, and fully supported by selling work through my website and social media channels.
What kind of risks or challenges have you encountered over the years working as an artist? And did they change your path in any way?
Burnout and anxiety. Near the end of my third year as TEKSTartist, just after I had released my 500th design, I was completely drained. Despite shipping thousands of prints to fans across all 50 states and 34 countries around the globe… I was uninspired. I was mentally fried. For far too long I had lacked balance. I burned the candle at both ends. It just wasn’t sustainable. I thought I was invincible and wasn’t taking care of myself. It put a lot of unnecessary strain on my life, my relationships, and my health. It took stepping away from the studio for over a year before I could properly center myself and approach creating art again.
In a commencement speech Neil Gaiman offered the metaphor of our path in life being similar to climbing a mountain. Whatever industry or area of expertise you are in pursuit of is mountain you choose to climb. And while creating and “Design” has always been the mountain I choose to climb, the path to reach the summit is ever changing. Sometimes I’m too ambitious, others not ambitious enough, but I know as long as I keep moving up the mountain I’ll reach the summit eventually.
What inspired you to make writing (“text”) such an integral part of your art?
I’ve always been fascinated by the enormous impact a good quote can have. The ability to reduce a large complicated idea into it’s most concentrated form is awe inspiring. As an extension of that I think my work is an effort to condense that quote down even further to a single iconic image. Better still- there seems to be the perfect quote out there for whatever situation you are in. I’ll illustrate my point, with a rather fitting (slightly modified) quote by Carl Sagan:
“One glance at [written words] and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Words break the shackles of time. They are proof that humans are capable of working magic.”
When thinking about the future of your work, what are you most excited about?
I still feel like I’m just getting started. Whether digging deep into the past, exploring the ever increasing stream of content being uploaded to the web, or hunting for the rising minds that will craft the most powerful words of tomorrow–there are so many incredible and motivating pieces of text to pull from. At the same time there are so many different production methods that I’ve only begun to scratch the surface with. In the coming years I’ll be working to push the limits of wall murals, digital animation, 3D printing, even AR applications.
What piece of advice would you have loved to receive when first starting out as an artist?
Balance is essential to progress. I bought in to the notion of burning the candle at both ends was the only way to succeed. I didn’t understand that downtime, a proper nights sleep, and taking breaks are ingredients that are just as vital to success as the work you put in. That’s especially hard to practice when you’re just starting out.
Is there anyone whose eyewear style stands out to you?
The first that comes to mind is Casey Neistat’s customized sunglasses… downright iconic. In terms of a more traditional and noteworthy style–Jeff Goldblum tops the list for me. And finally the simple glasses Steve Jobs used to wear always got my attention. To think about how meticulous and obsessive he was about design fascinates me to think about how he decided on the style of glasses that he did.
When you’re not working, how do you recharge and stay inspired living in San Diego?
I love the ocean. Just being in it, on it, or near it in any capacity. Similar to staring up into the cosmos, looking out to the ocean is a calming and humbling experience. It’s immense size and indifferent power provide some much needed perspective whenever I need to put my ego in check.
Jason wears the Otto in Diamond optical and Platte in Diamond Rx sun with custom G15 lenses. Photos by Stefan Junir and TEKSTartist.com.
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