Artist Noah Scalin More Than a Skull-A-Day

Joshua Berg Artist Profiles, Career Advice, Tips, Visual Arts

Artist Noah Scalin is probably best known for his project Skull-A-Day, but Artzray contributing writer Joshua Berg spoke with his longtime friend to discuss Noah’s creative journey and some of his thoughts on how to make your way in the world as an artist.

Let’s start from the beginning . . . when did you know you wanted to be an artist and where and how did you pursue your artistic education?

scalin_design_handbookBoth of my parents are artists, so I always knew that I was an artist and never questioned that it was something I would do as an adult! That said, I saw that both of my parents had jobs doing something other than making art for a living. So the lesson I learned, just by observation, was that I would have to be practical about my creativity if I was going to make a living. I wanted to work in the movies doing special effects when I was a kid, but by high school I realized there was no way for me to gain any experience working in the field in Richmond, Virginia, so I focused on the closest equivalent, volunteering in the scene shop at a local theater

By the time I was ready for college I had decided to study theater design as a practical way to use my creative skills and hopefully get a full-time job. I ended up going to New York University and getting a Bachelor of Fine Art in technical theater. And even though ultimately a life in the theater wasn’t for me, I think it was probably the best education I could’ve gotten. The range of things I learned – construction for sets, electrical work for lighting, sewing & pattern-making for costumes, collaboration with directors, and a whole host of other things – are skills I’ve utilized nearly every day since I graduated!
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How would you direct a young, aspiring visual artist to reach their career destination? 

Wow, that’s a tough one. Everyone’s journey is unique and it’s nearly impossible to offer a personal example and say this is the road to take. Something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is that from my current perspective the choices I made to get here look like a direct route when I’m looking backwards. But if I remember what it was like starting out, all I saw in front of me was a series of endless branching paths, none of which guaranteed any success or happiness.

“The best I can say is be clear about what it is you really want. Don’t just have a vague idea in your head. Write it down and share it with other people.”

The more you tell people what you want, the more like you will find people that will help you get there. Also don’t be afraid to continually refine (and change) what it is you want. You may discover as you get closer to a goal, that it’s not actually something you like doing! A few times a year I go over my own priorities just to see what’s changed and that helps me refine what I’m telling other people (and myself).

631013_6220287_lzUltimately it’s about the journey and not the destination. If you attain a goal and don’t make another one, you’ll stagnate and then even the dream job will become drudgery. This is a lifelong experience; so the sooner you accept that, the happier you’ll be along the path. Just keep your eyes open to the opportunities that arise along the way and you’ll be happily surprised wherever you end up.

I have always admired how you incorporate a strong and clear set of values into your work and business. What advice do you have for artists starting out with regards to ethical compromise?

A lot of people are told that they have to give up their ethics to make a living. But that’s ridiculous. The things that make you unique, including your personal morals, are what make you interesting to the people that going to hire you. The worst thing you can do is pretend to be someone else to get a job. If you do get that job, you’ll never be able to be yourself and you’ll be miserable. If you start from a place of honesty you’ll know immediately if you’re talking with people who appreciate what you have to offer. In the end you still might not end up at the perfect place, but at least you’ll have an opportunity to make it better while you’re there.

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Of course the best way to not compromise your ethics is to start your own business, but that’s a pretty daunting prospect for folks starting out. In my case I spent six years working for other people, but the entire time my goal was to save up enough money and develop enough of a freelance client base to go off on my own. At the time it seemed like forever, but it was well worth the effort and I’ve now been my own boss for 15 years!

“Creation isn’t about permanence; it’s about the joy of making new things.”

Your personal artwork often deals with the issue of transience. So, why create in spite of impermanence?

Creation isn’t about permanence; it’s about the joy of making new things. Making art is like giving birth. You bring something new into the world and it has the potential to create dramatic transformation. But nothing lasts – everyone grows old and dies, mountains crumble, etc. Trying to hold onto things forever makes people miserable and it’s ultimately a folly. However the impact you have on other people can be handed on for generations. My mother always said she would be immortal because she had children and we would carry her forward with us in time after she was gone. Now that I have my own child I love teaching her the values that were given to me (and were given to my parents, by their parents).

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You had quite a bit of success online with Skull-A-Day.com. Please talk to aspiring artists creating and sharing their work in the digital age.

It’s amazing how things have changed so dramatically in so many fields in just a few years thanks to the Internet. Previously the world of professional art was basically closed to all but a very few lucky people and it took a great deal of effort to break into it. Now anyone can immediately share their creations online and connect with other people. Of course the competition for attention is that much higher since there is an unbelievable number of other people out there trying to make it as well. The Internet is no panacea, but the potential for instantly reaching an audience that appreciates what you do, makes it well worth getting your work out there sooner than later.

gun1You started out from your home office with your own graphic design firm, Another Limited Rebellion. Your hard work has led to the publication of numerous books, speaking engagements, commissions and eventually expanding your business from graphic art work to consulting on creativity. Please describe that journey.

I had been doing graphic design for over a dozen years professionally (and running my own business for about half that time) when I suddenly realized I no longer was getting any joy out of the experience. I got into graphic design right out of college as a means of making a living making art, but after so many years it had just become about making a living and the art had fallen by the wayside. So I decided to get myself unstuck by starting a personal art project making a skull every day for a year.

SteinArtFinal2What’s amazing is that while I really didn’t put much effort into it initially, ultimately the project completely transformed my life. By the end of the year I had changed people’s perception of what I was capable of doing and I got to do much more creative work for my clients and myself. But even more interesting was that I met people who saw a greater potential in what I was doing than I even realized and they asked me to start speaking about the creative process with business leaders. Suddenly I was on an entirely new path that I found much more fulfilling than helping clients meet their marketing needs using my skills.

In the past few years I’ve completely reinvented what it is that I do for a living. Though ultimately it’s still all about figuring out how to spend as much of my time as possible being creative, while still making ends meet. And I have no doubt that I’ll continue to redefine how I do that for the rest of my life.

And what advice can you give those times you just want to give up?

Do something else. It doesn’t have to be forever, but if you hate what you’re doing right now, try doing something else for a while. Beating your head against a wall isn’t going to knock the wall down; it’s just going to give you a brain injury. If you want a new result, a new perspective, new opportunities, you have to go find them in a new place.

NoahScalinNaturalSelectionEinsteinYou are well-known for your promotion of creativity. I participated in your latest effort #creativesprint, the 30 day creativity challenge. It was super fun and motivating! What is some advice you would give an artist to get unstuck and then maintain the flow of creative juices?

Don’t worry about getting things right. Perfectionism is the death of creativity (and I’m a perfectionist myself, so believe me, I know this from experience). And in the same vein, be willing to make a fool of yourself. Create opportunities in which you have no choice but to make imperfect things and act foolish in the process and then share them publicly! You’ll be incredibly surprised at the positive response you’ll get. And it’ll give you a chance to just start doing things again and gain some creative momentum in the process.

Now that #creativesprint is done, what are some things we can look forward to joining in with Another Limited Rebellion and Noah Scalin?

We’ll be relaunching the #CreativeSprint in October! If folks sign up now (at http://CreativeSprint.com) not only will they be the first to know when we start, but we’ll be sending out fun monthly creative prompts in the interim.

dirtPersonally, I’m developing a new body of work for a solo show at Krause Gallery in NYC that opens this September. And I’m working on a new edition of 365: A Daily Creativity Journal that should be out early 2016 from Voyager Press.

Video for his upcoming solo show in NYC opening September 9, 2015 at Krause Gallery.

I’m also continually working my personal creative side-project League of Space Pirates (http://spacepirate.org). It’s a collaborative science fiction universe that features a rock band from the future, a live broadcast from space, and much more. Currently the plan is to release an album of music, a collection of short stories, and a set street art stencils all before the end of the year! And I’m always looking for more people interested in helping this universe grow, so please join the crew!

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Joshua Berg

Joshua Berg

Joshua Lewis Berg has an MBA in Media Management and was an actor and producer for many nears in New York City. He currently lives in Los Angeles with his family and has begun working on a film production about the life of a renown 19th century minority female sculptor.
Joshua Berg

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