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Interview

Shyama Golden

June 27, 2011

Tell us about your background. Where are you from and how did you get started? Have you always worked independently?

In grade school I was your go-to girl when you wanted your name written on your binder or a sharpie'd tattoo on your arm for a special occasion. My favorite projects by far were always along the lines of “write and illustrate your own story.” My parents are both accomplished scientists so that’s probably where my technical/nerdy inclination and pragmatism comes from.

By the time I was in middle school, I taught myself how to write HTML and some basic javascript rollovers, allowing me to create websites for the Geocities era with various 3D effects and glowing things. I worked at a restaurant for my first job like most kids, but I was also making a decent income doing portrait commissions in oil--this is where the entrepreneurship started. Parents of my friends at school would request paintings after hearing about my work through word of mouth. By this point I had established that my primary interest was in figurative work.

Meanwhile back to my tech-geeky side—I landed an internship with NASA for a summer building a website for the Mars meteorite team. That is where I got my first taste of spending endless hours troubleshooting my own rookie mistakes.

When I started my design degree at Texas Tech University, I had a knack for logos, illustration, and printmaking (silkscreen). I started freelancing during college with the help of some recommendations from my professors and haven't stopped since.

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Once I graduated, I worked for Seiko Instruments, where I designed watch packaging for Disney and various other brands for retail. After the first year at Seiko, an opportunity came up at Texas Monthly Magazine, where I eventually got to use my years of freelance interactive design experience to completely redesign the website.

I have been freelancing during my entire career, but went full-time in August of 2008. Two of the most important milestones for me were learning the value of turning down most projects in order to focus on a few and hiring out talent to do any part of my job that I wasn’t as passionate about.

The fact that your creative abilities span fine art and interactive design is fascinating. How do you balance these interests? Do you prefer one over the other?

From a business perspective, using these two skills to support each other has given me an advantage. For example, having a thoughtfully designed, search engine friendly portfolio site has been invaluable to sharing my artwork with a global audience online. I do feel like I’m more naturally inclined to drawing than anything else, but I still have much more experience in print and interactive design. My current challenge is to develop my artistic skills through personal projects, something I imagine will be a lifelong pursuit.

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Tell us about your oil painting process. How do you get started and where does it go from there?

I think life informs art—real inspiration often comes from conversations with friends, travels, or just reading about things that pique my curiosity. I often use my own photography as reference material. For example, the “Red River Nightcap” painting was done entirely based on photographs I happened to take at Mohawk one night while checking out some shows.

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I also save a lot of images from various blogs and sources online. It could be anything from a detail like someone’s glasses or hair to an entire scene like the women working on 1960’s mainframes I referenced for my “Covert Operation” painting.

Once I have a halfway formed idea in my head, I usually start by doing some background research, using Google, books and sometimes movies. Right now I’m working on a piece that is based on an old sketch of mine—a play on Andy Warhol’s Factory era that could be as relevant to the art world of today as it the art scene of the 60’s. I’ve been reading up on the actual history of Warhol’s factory online and in books, watching interviews with people who were really there and looking at photography. The painting won’t exactly be historically accurate because it is allegorical in nature, but most every element is somehow inspired by factual details.

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Once I have a solid idea, I sketch it out roughly at a small size, refine, scan, and then project this on a large canvas using an old SVGA projector given to me by a friend. I trace this roughly so I can preserve my proportions and composition and then the real work begins. I usually keep some references around me on screen or in books, and work away until I’m happy with the results. This method works for me because I am completely immersed in that particular painting and it doesn’t give me a chance to get bored or distracted.

If I’m working on a large piece I might also record a time lapse using an intervalometer hooked up to my DSLR. I set the interval to one photo per minute, and once I’m finished with the painting, I put all of the images together in iMovie. It’s a lot easier than people think and so satisfying to be able to watch the whole painting come together in 4 minutes once the video is done.

What areas of your craft, be it oil painting or graphic design, are you interested in improving or learning more about?

Right now I am focusing on painting and would like to devote some time in the future to experiment with techniques and delve deeper into certain themes for a cohesive series in that medium. I am also always working on sharpening my typography skills as they are so essential to design.

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Speaking of typography skills, which 3 typefaces are your favorites? If you could change or add any feature in Photoshop what would it be?

Some typefaces I never tire of due to their versatility are Sentinel, Knockout, and Benton Sans. I’m still waiting on an iPhone version of Photoshop so I can work on an important Wordpress theme mockup while eating dinner at nice restaurant with friends or on a hot date, for example.

Describe your work day (hours & rituals you keep) and your work environment (how your workstation is set up & what your office is like). What kind of music do you listen to while working?

I work out of a light filled loft in downtown Austin which I feel lucky to call home. It’s in a converted 1940s office building with 70 year old concrete walls that will likely remain standing after the next nuclear holocaust.

My main tools are a 17" high res MacBook Pro and 30" cinema display. I also make frequent use of a 6x8" Wacom tablet and a 21" Cintiq, handy for drawing organic shapes in vector format or “inking” in Photoshop.

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Music is a huge part of my workflow, aside from the rare occasions when I need to be so focused that I require silence. I enjoy a range of music so it’s hard to pin down a genre but a few artists that seem to always make it into the rotation include: Santigold, Cut Copy, The Cool Kids, The XX, Guru, Metric, Oh Land, and Goldfrapp.

As for my work hours, typically I sleep one hour a night and spend another 22 brainstorming game-changing secret projects. The other hour is spent watching Seinfeld reruns, catching up on Tumblr cat GIFs, and eating carrot cake with friends.

Show us an image of the most inspiring thing you’ve seen this week.

I just read this article on James Jean, an artist I have long admired for his art/design sense and unconventional approach to fine art. Seeing an artist evolve and keep their own personal style fresh and recognizable is so inspiring because it’s exactly what I’m going through right now. Plus, in this photo his studio looks like it could house the space shuttle.

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photo credit: Brandon Shigeta

Thanks for chatting with us Shyama, we really appreciate it!

Awkward silence.

Shyama Golden's Work
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