A simple illustration can hold a lot of power. With one glimpse, it can provoke any number of reactions: a smile, a chuckle, a tear, even some type of unbeknownst understanding or feeling. Alex DeSpain’s vibrant illustrations —everything from patterns and portraits, to sketchbook doodles and hand-drawn typography — always prompt a positive reaction. Whether it’s one of his “Stay Positive” buttons, or a quippy drawing about the circus that is our current government.
The Portland-based illustrator’s work is something that after seeing once, you usually end up taking with you. Simple yet perceptive, Alex’s work boasts an amalgamation of all the colorful, bold, and confounding things that interject themselves in his daily life, and cuts through the clutter to leave a lasting impression. Significant details, like the faint trace of the human hand wavering in his line work, and the ability to express an ideas fast and with clarity, is what not only sets Alex’s work apart from other illustrators, but also brings the viewer in for a closer look.
Alex contributed two illustrations to our recently released tenth printed issue and took a moment to tell us a little more about his life in Portland, why he continues to make art, and what music he currently has on heavy rotation.
Tell us about your life in Portland; what’s a regular day for you? What’s the city like and how does it fuel your creativity?
Life in Portland, what can I say? It’s beautiful and I love being able to live here. The seasons transform the city and I love seeing the process of dead branches to beautiful leaves. A lot of great food too! Jet Black Coffee just opened up a few blocks away from my home studio, but it just opened like, last week. It’s going to be my motivator to walk more this summer. I’m going to drink so much coffee this year. It will take me 45 minutes to get there and only 10 minutes to get back, maybe. Our pets like having me around the house, I think. We’ve got a Boston-terrier named Rorschach and an ancient cat named Mow-Mow. His name used to be Alvin, but he responded to cat noises, so that is how he got his new name, for the record. Right now, I am drawing swimming pools for my Instagram account, so I think I’m ready for summer. I know other illustrators who live here and, like me, all they do is illustrate. I hadn’t experienced that as frequently in other places. It’s encouraging to see that. Keeps me going too.
Why do you make art?
It’s just a part of my life that brings me a lot of joy. It has been ever since I was a kid and I’ve just never let go of that. I never really felt like I had to stop making art so I haven’t.
What’s been one of your favorite illustrations or creative projects recently?
I’ve got some “Stay Positive” buttons, magnets, cards, and more with my friends Scott and Lauren at Badge Bomb! I love that project because it is literally spreading a good message into the world. It’s not an easy time politically and that can beat a person down emotionally. It gets to me, you know? Then you have that button or that magnet that encourages you to keep going. I think it inspires hope and I can get with that.
What is your favorite thing to draw currently and why?
Aside from drawing pools this week, I have been drawing a lot of bunny rabbits and flower patterns. I like things that are gentle and bring happiness. Water and the ways it is used is what I’ve had on my mind a lot lately.
What are you currently listening to?
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Zapp & Roger, R. Stevie Moore, Shannon And The Clams, Chance The Rapper, and Ty Segall.
How have you seen your work develop or evolve the most in the last year?
The rules have changed some, I think. I like to work within my own rules and last year I adjusted some of those rules. Overall, it’s becoming more distinct. Onward and upward!
Any current art crushes?
Yep! Seriously, so many good artists doing great work right now. Bill Rebholz, Joseph Harmon, Kelli Anderson, Katie Benn, Kristin Farr, Leesh Adamerovich… so many.