NEST HQ was created with the intention of being a platform aimed at promoting and encouraging the growth of artists of all genres and mediums. While we’ve worked mostly within music up to this point, we are expanding on a new content series that will showcase multimedia artists of various backgrounds including painters, graphic designers, architects, and others of the sort; this is installation. Every two weeks, we’ll post hand-selected pieces from our featured artists via our Instagram @nesthq, along with excerpts from the full interviews.
This week on installation, we present painter and graphic designer Don Pendleton.
Can you give me a little history on how your story as an artist began?
When I was about seven years old, my dad used to set up the kitchen table and paint after he got off of work. At that age, I had my own box of crayons and markers and I would sit and work alongside of him. From there it was just a matter of finding interest in art at school, and then you slowly become that “art guy”… you start doing visual aids for people’s book reports haha I just became that guy. The art dude.
I definitely knew a couple of those in high school, and most of them are still doing art now. How did you end up really honing in on a specific medium? Can you talk a bit about what this medium allows you to do that others might not?
I started out like everybody else: crayons, markers, pencils, etc. As I got into middle school and high school I dabbled in watercolor, acrylic, and more advanced mediums. I went to school for Graphic Design at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, and there everything was pre-computer. It was cut/paste, setting type with press type, things like that. Eventually I got a job at the school newspaper. I was doing lay-out, and that was the first time I was introduced to Macintosh Computers. There was a program on there called FreeHand, it was a drawing program, but I started using basic shapes like circles and squares to create these images. I was doing mostly info graphics/journalism types of images at the time. Using those limited building blocks was very primitive, but it was quick and easy and you could output directly from the computer. I then got a job at a newspaper and I continued to use the program. To me it was kind of like Etch-A-Sketch; it was kind of fun, and didn’t have to be taken very seriously. Fast forward to me working at Alien Workshop, around 1998, and everything became computer based and I moved into Adobe Illustrator. Today, everything still starts in my sketchbook. I hardly ever sit down at the computer without knowing what I want to draw, or how I’m going to put it together. It’s become more of an efficiency tool. I was always trying to mix it up so that I’m never too focused on one medium.
That’s really cool. I grew up skateboarding, and Jason Dill was one of my favorite skaters as a kid, so I grew up around the art you made for him, Alien Workshop and eventually for Element. How does skateboarding fit into all of this for you? How did you get involved in the scene?
When I was 14 my parents took me to Virginia Beach – I grew up in West Virginia so it was like a nine-hour drive. We were hanging out on the boardwalk and I saw a lot of people skating, but they weren’t the banana boards that I had when I was 7 years old… They were the modern wooden ones except 10 inches wide. I knew I wanted one the second I saw someone zip past me. I had so much curiosity for the culture and I loved everything associated with Southern California. I was in a little town of like 3,000 people so to me it all looked like Disneyland. I subscribed to Thrasher and I started to embed into the graphics, fashion, music, and realized this is who I am. It defined who I was. Those first graphics are still some of my favorite pieces of art, like Gonzo’s first graphics or John Grigley who did graphics for Vision, all of that stuff. I saw an ad for Alien Workshop in the Columbus Dispatch’s website which was looking for an artist. I hated my job at the paper and so I sent my portfolio in. I went in for an interview and got the job. Mike Hill, one of the company’s original founders, would take my artwork and kind of put it together. There was never any discussion on direction or anything like that, we just made stuff that looked cool and kept going. I was there for 7 years, did a lot, and learned a lot. It was fun.
Alien Workshop was such an influential company, not only to me, but to pretty much everyone who’s in the skateboarding industry now.
Yeah, and it was influential to me! I worked in a skate shop in 1990 and so I was around when Memory Screen came out along with all of the first boards. I was a big fan from the very beginning. Chris Carter, another founder, was from West Virginia so I always really rooted for them to do well.
Moving back to your art, there’s a lot of really interesting expressionism and deconstructed forms in your work. Is there any specific symbolism that you envision in your work, or is it more interpretive?
Even from my early days of doing still life and learning to paint forms and shadow, I always enjoyed it but felt it was ironic because there wasn’t much life to it. I wanted there to be something living in the work I was creating. If you add in that dimension then you create more of a story. I also took several sociology classes in college and was studying things like Demographics and Statistics, or Psychology, so I was always fascinated by how people share space. Is there conflict, violence, or friendship? I try to make sure that there is life in what I draw. I like to imagine how that character would move: does it roll, does it fly? And I like to imagine how it would interact with its environment. There’s mystery in my work, but the more story that I include, the more that the viewer can decipher. I think it encourages some kind of thought to what I’m making. You end up with my statement plus whatever the viewer gets out of it. You know?
Absolutely. What are some of the most formative moments in your career so far?
Definitely Alien Workshop. There was no direction and no limitation, similar to how it was when I was a kid. I had the freedom to create whatever I wanted without any guidelines, and that’s what I wanted to do. Most other graphic design firms and agencies were very specific about what they wanted. I wanted to do the work that interested me.
The other moment that stands out to me is working with Pearl Jam to do their album cover. It was my first time working with a larger group, and they pretty much said the same thing to me. We want you involved because we want your ideas and your artwork. There wasn’t this micro management, I got to collaborate closely with Jeff Ament and it was easy. There weren’t any parameters of what we could or could not do. We started out with nothing and created something. That’s best feeling in the world.
I couldn’t agree more. Lastly, what are some of your upcoming goals for the year?
You know, I want to do more skateboard stuff. That’s always been my first love. This year I’ve already done a series for a company, but I’m not even sure if they want people to know about it yet! Haha. The industry has changed a lot, and there isn’t really a position for an artist at a skateboarding company anymore. If I get opportunities from companies that I respect and people that I know, I’m going to take them. I also want to paint a bit more. I love the freedom of painting.