BRB. Moving into Brian Kaspr’s cool, converted studio space.
Feels like genuine moments of excitement miiiiight be few and far between these days, but if there’s one reliable source of joy we’d rec for embattled brains, it’s Brian Kaspr’s Insta feed. Consider it a current fave follow that doubles as a visual antidepressant (and you don’t need to consult a doc before digging in). Bouncy lettering abounds alongside bold colors, radically positive public art, enthusiastic reminders, and more than a few mesmerizing patterns. It’s this killer mix of eye candy that led us to Kaspr’s debut edition last June—a text piece that puts a new spin on “beauty sleep”. You can score one of our museum-quality prints of the image, or opt for an original, hand-pulled, seriously amazing screenprint sizing up at 22”x30”. Ooh la la! And if you’re not quite ready for that kinda commitment, Kaspr also kindly lent us this beaut for one of our free, downloadable Zoom backgrounds.
Chances are you might have seen Kaspr’s art around and not known it—his client rolodex reads like the roster at the cool kids table. Since he works in everything from original lettering and logotypes to patterns, murals, and objects, we pictured a one-of-a-kind studio setup. Couple that with the characteristic ebullience of his aesthetic, and we figured we were in for a trip when we reached out to feature him in today’s In the Studio tour. We weren’t wrong. Kaspr let us peek in on the converted garage that makes his dedicated workspace and now we don’t want to leave. Fun fact: the high-ceiling’d situation is also home to a heavy bag Kaspr hung up when COVID-19 shut down gyms—turns out boxing in the same room as his studio has been a great way to work through creative quandaries.
Check out all the pics of Kaspr’s studio below, where we’ve also got our full interview with the artist. Just so happens it’s one of our favorite In the Studio interviews to date, in which Kaspr reveals his keys to making the most “efficient mess”, takes issue with artistic pigeonholing, lets us in on his out-of-left-field studio playlist, and tells us how two artists, custom car culture, and an early fondness for fonts led him to lettering. Oh, and there’s extremely honorable mentions of both his mom and his wife Payton (co-founder of Flat Vernacular, the couple’s wallpaper and design company!) in re: his career trajectory. Gotta love it. — Team 20x200
Where's your studio?
My studio is in what used to be the garage of our house. Before it was exclusively my studio I shared the space with Flat Vernacular, the wallpaper and design company that my wife and I founded in 2010. The space is still in a bit of a transitional phase. We have COVID to thank for that.
What's your favorite tool in the studio?
This is a great question, and the answer probably changes all the time. Right now it is probably the broom, with the wall mounted pencil sharpener a close second. I can fall into a pretty bad habit of letting things get messy and disorganized. So I’ve tried to adopt the practice of cleaning regularly. You have to clean up in order to make the most efficient mess.
What do you wear when working in the studio?
I typically wear a t-shirt, long pants, and an apron. Although I am trying to find a good lightweight chore coat/work shirt. There are a lot of nice ones out there but I’m not trying to drop $300 on something I’m going to destroy. In the winter I have a wool Pendleton work shirt, and in the summer I rarely wear shoes around the house. I’m always forgetting to put them on when I step into the studio, but violently reminded when I step on a stray screw.
What's on your in-studio playlist?
Lately, I’ve been letting the algorithm on Spotify take over. Mostly, because I listen to so many different types of music, that I like to see Spotify try to “figure me out”. When it’s not that, I listen to a large amount of really heavy doom, sludge, and stoner metal. I am very picky about the bands though. It depends on the vocals. I love super heavy slow stuff, like Sleep, Sunn O))), Electric Wizard, Acid King, Windhand, and Weedeater. When people find out this fact I think they find it surprising because my work is super colorful and playful. I’m also very aware that this music isn’t “cool”. One last go-to, when I cannot think of what to turn on I ALWAYS go back to Chances With Wolves. CWW is a DJ out of Red Hook who puts out the best, most eclectic sets you’ve ever heard.
What's your work style? Late nights? Intense creative bursts? Slow and steady wins the race?
There’s a new baby here, so all of my previous work habits have changed. It used to be random and unscheduled long stretches in the studio. Since the baby’s birth, this has drastically changed. I do much more planning before heading into the studio. This way when I get an hour or two here and there I can be as efficient as possible. I’m still getting used to this. As for the speed in which I work, I can get really impatient and like to see immediate results. A lot of what I do is planned before I start painting or printing, and executed quickly, otherwise I get bored. Another thing I’m working on.
Your lettering is one of our favorite things about your work. How did you get into it hand lettering? Do you find that you often start with lettering/typography and go from there, or does it inform your process in another way?
I’ll try to be brief, haha. My interest and eventual practice of lettering stems mostly from a family friend from my childhood, Dave Murphy. Dave is a sign painter and artist in Wisconsin. I grew up in a blue-collar family, my dad was a demolition laborer, and my extended family and friends included mechanics, builders, and operators. Dave was the first person I ever saw making art and painting signs and making a living from it. The other piece of this puzzle is Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. I knew of Ed Roth via the car culture I grew up in. When I was a young impressionable angsty teenager, House Industries released the Ed Roth font collection. At that moment I started a sketchbook of “Brian’s Fonts” (I still have it) that I copied from House and magazines. Simply put, House Industries took a piece of a subculture, like Ed Roth and Custom Van culture, and made a design product out of it. Until then, lettering and art, in general, seemed only like a hobby one could pursue.
As for how lettering informs my work, up until recently it was everything. I would explore forms and lettering ideas and just find things to write. Now I’m moving more towards focusing on the forms as a means of mark-making (like the layer paintings) or using the lettering in context as part of a bigger story or scene (like the drag racing paintings)
How has your work space set-up or working style changed since the COVID crisis, and what effect is your new arrangement having on your artmaking?
Truthfully, my setup hasn’t changed much. The only real “change” is that we moved Flat Vernacular out of this space and into a dedicated office/showroom/creative space nearby. We were in the midst of the switch and construction when COVID closures started. So a lot of the work that I was planning on doing here (and at the other space) has stopped or severely slowed down. Also when COVID hit I stopped going to the gym and bought a heavy bag (I like boxing) that hangs in the studio. I like that it doubles as a workout space. When I’m jumping rope or hitting the bag I’m glancing over at paintings and subconsciously working through problems.
What's your favorite way to procrastinate in the studio?
Working on new ideas. I have a terrible habit of getting bored with one idea and I’m always onto the next. I can identify with Lee Krasner in this regard. I love that her work changed so frequently. Not to get off-topic, but asking any creative to be just one thing is absurd (and boring). Also cleaning up and organizing. Do I sound like a broken record?
Whens, Hows & Whys
When did you first realize you wanted to become an artist and how’d you get there?
Wow, how much time do I have? Seeing Dave Murphy paint signs and demolition derby cars when I was a kid definitely planted the seed. As far back as I can remember, I was happy sitting quietly and drawing. It wasn’t something I realized I could actually pursue as a career until high school, when colleges visited my class to do critiques and presentations. I had two very encouraging high school art teachers. Up until that point, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as going to college for art. It blew my mind, and right there I decided that’s what I would do with my life. Luckily, I had a mother who was supportive of me and this dream. The environment I grew up in is not exactly supportive of a life of creativity. Mom saw how much it meant to me and supported my decision. She could have easily said “no way”.
How I got here was showing up and doing the work. I know this is an obnoxious answer, but it’s true. You have to keep working at it, constantly. Just because you like food does not make you a good cook, and definitely does not make you a chef. The same goes for being creative. You can appreciate art, have creative tendencies, and love color, but without putting in the time and work it takes you won’t be able to make a career out of it. I realize how pretentious this may sound. I stopped short of saying “you won’t be an artist”. I feel that the term artist is vague and can take many forms. I still struggle with calling myself an artist. I think my drive to continue to learn and better myself is to blame for this, as I’m not done learning and training. My wife Payton Cosell Turner was the one who pushed us to move to NYC which is where a lot of early opportunities came from. She’s the one who really lights the fire under me to make it happen. Without her who knows where I’d be. (I asked her to look over these answers and proofread them, she added this note in response to where I would be-> (IN THE TRASH CAN WITH OSCAR) ) We moved to NYC back in 2008, and I don’t think location is nearly as important as it was then, but it’s an important piece of my puzzle.
How do you get over creative blocks?
If I’m stuck I clean up. Even before I got on the “keep the studio clean” bus, this was the case. First, it forces me to walk away from something. The worst thing I can do is overthink or overwork something. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was, when you feel uninspired, clean the studio. It’s so helpful. I always end up stumbling upon a note or a half-finished idea that gets me going again. All this cleaning talk makes me sound like some obsessive neat freak. For the record, I’m not. It’s just that cleaning in the studio is definitively not-creative. The task is straightforward, and you can see the results of your work. It’s a way to take my mind off of things.
What do you like best about 20x200?
First and foremost, 20x200 is a great way to expand your collection of art in a way that is very approachable. It’s scary trying to go to art fairs or galleries and buy art. They can feel very inaccessible if you’re not part of the club. 20x200 is also a great place to discover artists you may have never heard of.
Which artists' 20x200 collections do you most covet (and why)?
Ruben Natal-San Miguel—I love the 2 photos he has on 20x200. Just look at those colors. I want more.
Esther Pearl Watson—I love her folky style and inherent narrative.
Lindsey Warren—I love the scale and colors of her landscapes. I want to see the originals in real life someday.
Why do you think it's important to have a dedicated work space for your art? What advice would you give to artists looking to build a creative work space?
Having a dedicated space helps put me in the right mindset. I know that when I’m in there it’s time to get down to business. When we first moved to NYC, I had a really hard time being creative because I didn’t have that space. It was during this time that I took up embroidery. It was something I could do on the couch and keep in a box. When the box came out, it was time to work. It’s like any ritual. For those looking to build their own space, I would try to make it a dedicated room or at least something you don’t have to constantly look at. That way you can not only make it entirely dedicated to art, but you can also walk away from it. To relate to my previous point, if it’s shared with something else you will have a hard time differentiating between the two activities. When we lived in an apartment that was open plan, I hated it. I was either constantly reminded that I should be working when I was trying to relax, or cook, or sleep, or I was constantly being distracted by all of the other things I could do in the apartment. Lastly, creative spaces are always evolving, don’t be afraid to completely rework the space.
The 411 on B. Kaspr
Brian Kaspr is a graphic designer and letterer based in the NYC area. Growing up in Milwaukee solidified his appreciation for traditional American craft and the desire to work with his hands. Attending the Maryland Institute College of Art and working as a design professional focused his early influences into a specific aesthetic style that is artfully cognizant, rooted in traditional quality, and full of character.