To find Ryan Kapp:
The way you view the world is everything. If you see the world as worthy of effort, it can give you hope. If you focus on selfishness, it can drive you to cynicism. And if you see a place of endless possibilities, your mind can pile up those possibilities pretty quickly.
We don’t have static worldviews of course, cycling through these and others. But more often than not I find myself picturing a wide open expanse of options. A full spectrum of paths to happiness and fulfillment. Countless potential travel adventures. Many lifetimes worth of music to experience. And as I learn more about the world of making physical products and art, potential creations are added to my mental and digital queue.
It’s a viewpoint that makes the world seem amazing and never-ending. It’s thrilling. But it feels oddly constricting. I’m overrun with options and I feel compelled to pursue them all. After beginning one I am often quickly tempted by another. With the world at my fingertips I bounce from one creative tourist trap to another.
When I travel I find fulfillment in wandering and observing life in a community. I may not check off all the must-sees but I am happy because I am fascinated with the small details of existence. I still do want to go everywhere, but that requires going somewhere first and I’ve trained myself to value fewer, more immersive travel experiences.
When I listen to music, I typically listen to an entire album from start to finish. Often I’ll play the entire catalog of an artist over the course of a few days. I know that there are thousands of other musicians out there. Many that I would enjoy. But I choose to get to know certain artists very intimately.
I can’t seem to hold myself to those strategies when it comes to my creative projects. I think this is because I’ve pre-determined that success means “this skill is an immediate income source.” If I were to take the time to dive deep into any one pursuit, it likely would become fulfilling and “successful” over time. But I’m holding myself to an impossible standard of immediate success.
When I talked to Ryan Kapp about his career as an artist, teacher, screen printer, and illustrator, he expressed that he’s also struggled to find a balance between achieving narrow, fulfilling success and satisfying his broad curiosities. He seems to have navigated a bit towards the narrow path by simplifying what he views as productive. Instead of feeling pressure to create something successful out of the air or attempt to learn many skills at once, he is committing to the focused practice of a small number of skills.
Ryan was an oil painter when he graduated from art school and began teaching. He migrated towards illustration and screen printing as a practical matter of being able to sell prints more easily than large paintings. He made large runs of some of his prints and took contract work as a printer for other people’s designs. He’s now trying to move away from the production level work and towards more limited edition runs of prints.
Ryan’s art has a vibrancy to it fueled by color and clarity. But there’s also a quiet to each piece. It’s introspective. Optimistic.
He depicts residences, cities, and people, if not at rest then at peace. Silence or near silence is almost always implied. Two people sitting together in a park watching the leaves fall. A man wading alone in the waves. A city at night, quarter lit. Sure, there may be people still working in the few lighted offices. But they are likely alone and the sound of typing or vacuuming or drawing is all you might hear.
I sense that Ryan and I, and many other people driven to create something, look at the world in an optimistic way that might encourage us to chase a wide variety of skills. But his art makes me think he’s known all along that if you hope to make something interesting, there is a need to narrow your focus and get locked in. Beauty in art, or products, or music, or athletics, or in architecture may seem plucked out of the sky. Arbitrary and unearned. But it is almost exclusively a result of a dedicated, uncompromising, and single-minded focus on the craft.
Thanks Ryan for chatting and for the inspiration needed to get focused.
All photos of artwork are from Ryan’s website.
I asked Ryan some follow up questions after we met:
We talked a lot about time constraints. How to fit everything in that you want to do creatively. How to do everything that’s necessary from a business standpoint. The split of time between paid work that may be creative, paid work that is just work, and creative work that isn’t bringing in money but could be a very fulfilling source of income in the future.
You said that you were trying to schedule out your time in a more intentional way in an effort to make sure you spend time on each of those areas. What are the categories of time that you are scheduling out? For example, is it a general “Drawing time”, “Freelance Time”, “Studio/business time.” Or do you more specifically plan your days with individual tasks in those areas?
Right now I log time with an app called HarvestApp. I record time per project. For example, each freelance job would be a separate project. I also have started recording my time spent on my own projects. To start, I log drawing time under a general heading of “Drawing” or “Ceramics”, but I imagine as things develop I will start creating new projects with more specificity. The app also allows you to name subheadings, so if I create a new project for a new print, I can record time under that project spent as drawing, or printing, etc.
It’s easier said than done, but I’ve always found myself happier if I am focusing on and finishing one project, even if it is at the expense of others. The hard part that I find is deciding which project to focus on without regretting leaving the others behind. Picking one and moving forward. Do you have a calculated method of doing this, or are your decisions based on passion?
I try to find a mix between calculated methodology and passion. It’s a bit more challenging for me right now, because I’ve been working to open up my drawing style and shift away from art that create scenes. Before, when my style was pretty set, it was easy to start a new print idea and see it through, because there were less questions. Now, I have so many untested ideas floating around in my head it’s a lot more challenging. So I’ve been trying to allow time to just draw as much as possible, in an effort to flush things out. Soon I will have to start guiding the results in my sketchbook toward some finished pieces, and it will probably require a good amount of discipline and some growing pains.
Do you find that the necessity of treating your art as a business makes you rush through the creative aspects? Or make you feel pigeon-holed into one type of idea? Or does the business end of things inspire you to be creative?
I think it really depends on the project and on the timing. Whether I’m making a project that is self-directed or working on freelance for a client, sometimes it works out great and feels right and other times not so much. A lot of those intangibles can sometimes be hard to pinpoint, so I don’t spend too much time worrying about things. Often there are obvious valuable lessons that are worth remembering so you don’t repeat mistakes down the road. That’s why the process is so important.
It seems that a conflict will always exist between how much of your own creative work you do versus creative freelancing work. Because as you put more time into your own work, it would make sense to me that your freelancing would be more valuable. But also freelancing can help you learn things you might not have otherwise and obviously provide income. Do you have a goal for the ideal balance of the two parts of your career?
Ideally amazing freelance jobs would just fall in my lap and dovetail beautifully with what I want to do in my own art projects! That is kind of a pipe dream, but I do think it is actually possible and I have had a few experiences where people who appreciate my art just want me to do something in my style without much art direction (skateboards & wine bottles). I haven’t really pursued much freelance, but it is something I would like to put more time into moving forward. I think the hardest ingredient is exposure.
Part of the idea behind this project is to understand where Chicago’s designers are working and how they use their communities and networks in order to make the cool things that they are making. Do the people with studios in Ravenswood collaborate and share resources?
I don’t know that there is anything specific to Ravenswood, but many of the printers in this city do a phenomenal job of keeping up a connected group to share opportunities and resources and ideas. And it is all types of printers as well. As I engage more in ceramic work, I’d like to see if I can help fuel the same kind of interconnectedness among ceramicists in this city.
You showed me an artist that you’ve been inspired by whose work was in an architecture book you had. What was his name and who are some others that you’ve been inspired by lately?
Geoff McFetridge (the guy in the architecture book)
Steven Harrington (Designer/Illustrator)
Ale Katz (Painter)
Charley Harper (Illustrator)
Do you have ideas about how to increase the number of people who know that independent designers exist?
I figure if people care about it they will find it, and I think that’s how it should be. I’ve always loved digging to find new artists and designers and musicians. It’s worth more if you have to work for it. :)