Eric Elms

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In a niche market, artistic warriors create powerful pieces of creative might that visually explode before the eyes of supporters with diaphanous expectations – if it looks good jock it, right? Eric Elms is an artist from Brooklyn, New York and the only transparent characteristic of Elms, is, clearly, his talent for design.

Working with Supreme, aNYthing, Obey and Ssur makes Elms an elite–not elitist–designer that possesses ageless wisdom within a relatively young industry.

Elms’ large success is partly luck bumping into him (“Things just kind of happen when you need them to happen. It’s a word of mouth, word of image and people see me and get in contact with me,” says Elms, who only created a website, because he “thought it was time to do that”) and tight relations with New York-centric artists, companies and aesthetics.

“I met Shepard Fairy in San Diego and I used to screen print in high school, he knew that, and I started screen printing his posters in his garage for my summer job.”

Format: In your youth, what were the experiences that made you realize a creative future was a possibility?
Eric: For me it kind of happened pretty late. I drew kind of a lot when I was little, but not a ton. When I was in high school, I wasn’t like, I want to be an artist. I never thought I was going to do something creative – it never even crossed my mind, actually. I was just a school kid, do well in school and go to college. What really triggered it for me, was, I met Shepard Fairy in San Diego and I used to screen print in high school, he knew that, and I started screen printing his posters in his garage for my summer job. That made me realize that I could do for a living or a job, because I wasn’t really exposed to that many creative fields when I was younger. When I went to college I took a drawing class and I decided, out of the blue, that I wanted to do design or something creative and I transferred to art school. From there, I was a natural. But early on it was never really a mindset of mind, it just kind of happened.

Format: Please explain your experience at Pratt.
Eric: I really liked it. It is one of those schools that if you want to float through it you can and not really learn much, but if you want to run around and take advantage of things you could. I think [Pratt] got a lot stricter in the last few years, but when I was there–not that long ago–like five years ago, you could break into all the rooms and use stuff throughout the night and cause a little trouble for art’s sake. There are a lot of Pratt kids that went there that I’m still friends with now, who are good designers, artists, but in New York you end up meeting all other kids at other art schools. I can’t compare it to any other arts school, but I liked it, I had rad teachers, it exposed me to a lot of stuff. And, being in New York, you can’t really get any better than that as far as being the axis of museums.

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Format: You have designed a lot of T-shirts for Supreme, Obey, Ssur, aNYthing, Priceless, the list can go on. How did you build relationships with the lines and how do you stay fresh?
Eric: The T-shirt community is big to some standards, but it’s pretty small, everyone knows each other. I could get in contact with somebody, like if I didn’t know them, through one person or two people anywhere in the world, if I really needed to. A lot of it is who you know, if you start working with a group of people then I think it just happens that you work with other people, because of the initial relationship. I started working for Supreme right out of Pratt, and that opened up a lot of doors for me. I was there for a few years. That was a really good time and I left to start freelancing. It is hard to keep doing things fresh. I think one of the ways that it works for different companies, is that everyone has a different angle – there are some companies that do whatever – most companies that specific angle or take. If I’m fixated on one company too much it’s almost like a fumble, I’ll do something and a week later or a month later if I haven’t sent it in already, I’ll think that’s not right. You get in a space where you don’t know what’s right for the brand anymore. You’re too close to the brand. That’s how I feel, sometimes, I’m too close to doing this thing and I lose grasp of what’s right for it. I like skipping around and doing a lot of different things, changing perspectives of what graphics should do for the brands.

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Format: Your client list is accomplished, however, an easy stereotype for artists, is introversion, how do you attract clients?
Eric: It’s all building relationships. I don’t send my portfolio, my website is the only thing I’ve done to put things out there. Things just kind of happen when you need them to happen. It’s a word of mouth, word of image and people see me and get in contact with me. People hear about me through somebody or other ways. I haven’t really done a lot of self-promotion stuff. Stuff I did do wasn’t for work, it was for fun and it lead to stuff. I’ve never done mailers, because I don’t know if it would help me, either. The website generated a lot of response, but I just put it up, because I thought it was time to do that.

Format: How did your contact with Nike materialize?
Eric: Nike is so big that anything I’ve ever done for them never really connected to the last person, because it’s like the opposite site of the world. The Nike Mural – a company, Neverstop, was organizing the party for the Nike laser technology, they had a big party in New York and they were looking to do a mural. This company Neverstop, out of Seattle, this guy there, Alex Calderwood, called me about doing a mural. That was a great party. Another thing I did was with Nike Hong Kong did a Colab thing – I don’t think they do it in the States – this guy Shawn contacted me, I’m not sure how. It was one of those, I knew someone he knew and it just came together. It’s fun, I painted for the Stussy x Nike 25th anniversary thing and then the Stussy store, here, I painted a mural for that.

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Format: What do you use to make the designs that you do?
Eric: Rarely do I ever draw anything on a computer. I don’t like drawing on a computer and I don’t have the patience for it. I don’t like how it looks, even if it looks the same, something about it is weird. Usually I do a lot of collage type stuff or hand draw lettering, scan that in and then vector it, but it always has a little bit of a hand quality to it rather than drawing something on the computer.

Format: What is your opinion on street-wear, the idea and label itself?
Eric: I guess street-wear is fine. I don’t really care what they call it. It is what it is – it’s definitely changed in the last year or two. I think my opinion on, my personal opinion on the pieces and my opinion on the industry are two different things. I think it’s fine, I don’t think it’s selling out, people need to make money, people should sell all they want. The days of selling to two shops and being very boutique-ish are dying. People want to sell stuff and it is what they should do. Kids are learning that it’s a business and not a way to be cool, which it isn’t, you have to make money if you’re going to commit to it full-time. On a personal level, I like some [street-wear] that is coming out, but a lot of it doesn’t really excite me. Maybe, because I’ve been around it so long, I’m getting older so I don’t want to wear all these crazy things. A little thing here and there, but not a full neon suit like a lot of the stuff coming out. There are people that coming out with nice things each season, but I can’t get into a lot of stuff that’s coming out right now.

“I don’t like drawing on a computer and I don’t have the patience for it. I don’t like how it looks, even if it looks the same, something about it is weird.”

Format: What type of environment do you work in, like what is your zone?
Eric: If I need to get into a zone, I usually wear headphones, I work from home a lot. I’ll listen to whatever–like everybody–but I listen to one album over and over, or one song over and over. It gets me in a zone that I don’t have to pay attention to the music or I notice little things about the song and it makes me think of new ideas. Usually, if I’m liking an album, I’ll listen to it and then I can’t listen to it for a year or two years. I listened to a song, last night, like 30 times in a row and it’s probably super annoying to other people, but I don’t notice it.

Format: What song was it?
Eric: It was “Heartbeats” by The Knife, I think I have it on my iTunes still.

Format: Explain your experience working with different mediums.
Eric: I’ve done skateboards, clothes, books, magazines, but it’s fun to do objects. I don’t really like doing websites, like they’re fun , but I like doing things where you see something again, like a printed book; something tangible. It’s nice to see it go from the computer screen to the real world, unlike a website that goes from computer screen to computer screen. I just did a skateboard, last night, for Refill Magazine and they’re laser cutting boards. It’s a little harder for me to think, like switch mind spaces and think about that, because it’s such a defined space. For me, it looks right or it doesn’t. It’s fun doing all different types of things.

More Info: http://www.ericadorn.com/

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Jordan Chalifoux

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