January 31, 2011
21st Century Renaissance Man
You know your cool friend who manages to paint, draw, design album covers, play instruments, and sing—and do all of those things better than you? The Florida artist/musician Boyd Shropshire designs everything from artists’ books to high-end perfume bottles (his normal day job), and self-releases his songs in his spare time.
His latest album, Color the Years, is full of strange, haunting tracks that sound like the ghosts of dead folk musicians banging around a studio. His artwork has some of that haunting quality too, with mixed-media collages that combine the look of classic American iconography with surrealist imagery.
First, a basic question: How did you get where you are today? When did you make the decision to become an artist?
Well, my parents are both artists, and since my earliest childhood memories I was creating, drawing, making. Somewhere around 12 I decided I wanted to play guitar after watching a pretty lame cover band play at my aunt and uncle’s wedding. I picked up an early interest in graphic design and music packaging in 7th or 8th grade, making hand painted mix tapes for friends, and getting involved in the South Florida music scene from there on.
Much of your work on your website seems to be a real mix of mediums—typography, photo, drawing—and I was wondering how you put this kind of work together. Do you use a computer to assemble the elements, or more old-fashioned methods?
As far as methods go they tend to be relative to what the project needs. I like to make a bunch of relatively quick and different ideas, then cut things up, edit by hand, and scan. I tend to trace typefaces and alter them, sometimes creating type entirely by hand. Ideally I prefer to spend equal time on and off of the computer.
You’ve done a pretty wide variety of projects, it looks like—web pages, silkscreens, artist’s books, album covers, etc. Do you have a “favorite” type of project? Are there some types of work that you only do because you’re getting paid?
My favorite types of projects blur the line between the hand and computer so much so that it becomes hard to tell which is which. I prefer print media now, as web stuff for me has become hard to keep up with. Packaging, bookmaking and illustration/typography are the focus at the moment.
Of course, the client work I do pays the bills, but it pushes me out of my comfort zone. I often have to understand, for example, what a thirteen-year-old girl would be drawn to aesthetically, or how to take a very established brand and design a product for them which makes them just slightly “edgy.” These kinds of challenges push my design into interesting realms, informing my other work just as much as anything else.
What would your dream job be?
Ideally I’d like to do only music packaging while publish personal books of my own art and poems, get better at illustration and focus a little more on music. In my dream job I’d have that giant room/studio where I can spill things on the floor and it wouldn’t matter. And keep separate time and space devoted to music. It seems in this city there is never enough time, so at the moment it’s more of a balancing act. In the simplest terms, my dream job would be to make a living from my art and have enough time to do it all.
Let’s move on to your music: What I’ve heard of yours songs sound sort of old-fashioned, a term I mean in the best possible way. There seems to be a fair amount of folk influence in your songs. Is that the kind of music you listen to as well?
I believe in structure and simplicity in songs. I tend to be attracted to older music, to music which has a basic and human quality to it, and that feels constructed and real. I like and relate to songwriters most of all, but I listen to a wide range of styles of music. I prefer things underproduced and raw, so folk music does inspire me. I also love early reggae. I love when a song can feel timeless.
Is there any connection between your visual work and your songs, or are Boyd the artist and Boyd the musician two different people?
Design, art and music are all one thing in my brain and impossible to separate or understand separately. I feel that they each inform each other in the sense that for me it’s about the physical creation of something out of thin air. An idea, a song, a painting. I hope to always be able to continue creating, and to do so with a healthy trial and error approach. I tend to not want to spend too long on an idea, preferring to work through things and let the viewer or listener experience things in a natural, slightly unpolished way. Some songs even hang there for years like unfinished painting until something finally clicks, other songs might be finished in a day.
Is there anything you’re working on right now that you’re especially excited about? How do you spend your time these days?
My girlfriend and I have just started a company called Wonderland Press, which is beginning as an online store where we will eventually sell various things: artist books, card and calendars, silkscreened t-shirts, CDs, records, etc. It’s a place for us to put our artistic energy separate from “work.” We are envisioning it as a community of sorts–eventually we’d even like to commission work and feature guest designers. At the moment it’s the only place to buy Color The Years on CD and LP, and soon we’ll have even more things up.