Scott Patt // Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.

10/07/15

scottstudio

{Scott Patt in his studio}

You may recall back in January of 2014 I wrote about a new daily year-long project started by artist and designer Scott Patt, called “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” Scott started that project in an effort to engage in a more meaningful and deliberate creative experience — one that captured his everyday thoughts and experiences. That project continued for the course of 2014 (he worked very hard not to abandon it, despite its intensity) and it ended up exploding not only into a life-changing experience for Scott but also a massive body of work, a book, a gallery show in New York, a short documentary, among with many other exciting things and new collaborations in the works. I caught up with Scott recently to do an in-depth interview with him about how the project grew and evolved, what he learned, and how it changed his life forever. Scott — and all of the ways he approaches his work — are hugely inspiring to me. I think they will be for you too. I am so honored to have him as my next Interview with People I Admire.

Without further ado, Scott Patt.

BSF original paintings collage

Lisa: Scott, first tell us about the daily project you started in 2014 called “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” What is it and how did it come to be? How many pieces did you end up making in the collection? Where did you post them? What was the reaction to the project over time?

Scott: Before “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” was bigger, smaller or even funnier the project began as a desire to sketch, ideate and work more consistently. I needed a way to challenge the art that I was making to be more meaningful and have an outlet that would easily allow me to incorporate the everyday thoughts, ironies, emotions, and experiences that I often ignored because I was too busy. I wanted a vehicle that was less perfect and with less pretense to allow the work to become an extension of my natural self. Work that would connect more broadly and deeply to others because of its honesty about the way we live and the things we all experience on any given day.

The result is “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” a year-long painting-a-day project that documents our shared life experiences by exploring everyday concepts such as purpose, love, faith, ego, relationships, sex, dependency, and genuine (but hard-earned) happiness. Every day in 2014, I ideated, sketched and painted an original conceptual painting. A new piece was virtually exhibited each morning via social media and 100 Limited Edition archival prints were made available for sale on scottpatt.com. Over the 365 days, 369 paintings were created from a palette of 8 colors and thousands of ideas were conceived in over 800 pages of 7 sketchbooks. Thousands of votes were cast and hundreds of prints were sold. The culmination of this massive body of work was a socially curated physical exhibition at Winston Wächter Fine Art in NYC informed via “likes,” print purchases and favorites from throughout the year-long project.

you waving at me

Lisa: Tell us about your sketches. Did you sketch out every idea in your sketchbook before taking them to final in the project? Or did you just go for it sometimes? What was the ideation process like and how did you decide if something would “work” or not?

Scott: Most of my gallery artwork prior “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” had evolved into painstaking Finish Fetish meets Conceptual Art. My work was super-clean, glossy, highly produced and pristine. Out of self-preservation I desired a project and process less precious and raw. I just wanted to make work without the usual layers of production involved. That being said, I’m a thinker (I mean over-thinker). I love to mull things over and explore the relationships between the visual and the verbal of a well-thought-out or even ridiculous idea. The sketchbooks of these explorations became ritualistic visual diaries prospecting daily happenings via spontaneous yet obsessive color studies, compositions, alliterations and notes on their way to becoming paintings.

Every morning I would wake up, and write in my journal documenting events, ideas and feelings from the previous day. I wouldn’t overthink it. I would just write and whatever or wherever it went is what it was. I also began taking obsessive notes about things and observations that would catch my attention. In the afternoon I would come back to my writings and highlight words or phrases that would trigger a mental image or an idea. Then for the next 2-3 hours I would sketch on those concepts playing with images and/or typography until I reached something that really made me smile or things hit a dead-end. I would often draw in public places because working in solitude every day would prove to be a lonely endeavor. More importantly sketching among others was incredibly inspirational and could be highly entertaining. I liked to go down to the harbor, sit outside with my sketchbooks and eavesdrop on the tourists as they talked about their lives. Overhearing the conversations of the recently reinvigorated can lend great perspective to the pettiness, humor and irony within our own lives as well as reinforce the universality of our concerns and struggles. And it wasn’t a bad way to inspire a piece or two.

lover loving lovers love

Having to ideate, sketch, paint, post and commercialize a piece a day was exhilarating and exhausting. Even though I knew there were pieces that “worked”, trying to choose a piece each night to paint, my ego, self doubt and fear of failure would conspire towards safety and indecision. Even at piece #364 I remembered laughing out loud because it never got easier. Every evening after sketching I would take photographs of the concepts I liked best to help me physically edit away from the cacophony of the sketchbooks. This was particularly helpful in sorting through the best of the best ideas as the project progressed and hundreds of pages of sketches piled up. There were many a night that I would send texts of sketches to friends or sit with my wife Lisa to go through the sketches to help me pick a piece for the next day. The repetition and pace of the project would leave me exhausted and paralyze my decision-making. No matter how tired I was though it was always fun to see which sketches would make her laugh out loud or which pieces friends would respond to (or not). I would not have made it through “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier” had it not been for the tireless support of my wife and my good friends.

I also liked to select sketches for paintings based on the day of the week. Having worked in the corporate world for 20+ years, every day has always seemed to have a particular feeling attached to it. Monday’s always felt like a ball buster so I’d post something to give others a good push or laugh to get the week going. Wednesdays were usually about getting over the proverbial “hump”. Fridays required a little something to instill the spirit of the weekend, where as a Saturday and Sunday were more contemplative. I always liked the idea of some random guy in an office flipping through their Instagram and making them laugh or inspiring them to think a little differently about their day.

sun shade shadow

Lisa: Thank you for that description of your process. I think sometimes people assume artists just sit down and draw whatever is on their brain. But it’s usually so much more than that, and you are evidence of that. I love that you share your documentation too. Let’s talk about your background. You are a graphic designer and artist, both. Talk about the intersection of graphic design and your own personal “artistry” & sense of humor in the works in this collection.

Scott: I’ve had a pretty rich experience regarding the intersection between art, design and life. I went to school with the intention of becoming a doctor and became a graphic designer (insert joke here). My career evolved into product design, specifically footwear design while I was at Nike and concurrent to it all I’ve been a visual artist. For me, the long and short of how they all relate (or not) is that Art is not Design and Design is not Art but they share similarities. Design, whether it’s in the form of Advertising, Graphic Design or Product Design is about solving problems. A great Design solution should help make your life better. Similar but different, Art can solve problems by provoking questions and exploring everyday issues from the physical and social to the psychological. In both realms there are many ways to arrive at a solution but that’s where Art and Design part ways. Design needs to work to be successful and for Art what “works” can be relative. That’s the magic.

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{observers interacting with Scott’s larger pieces at his culminating show}

“Bigger. Smaller. Funnier” wasn’t and still isn’t concerned about whether it’s Art or Design but more importantly about connectivity. Life can be a lonely endeavor. What better than to connect to others who are like-minded and share in the experience. At the opening reception for “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier” at Winston Wächter Fine Art in NYC it was amazing to see how the work resonated with so many people, young and old in so many different ways. It simply proved that our stories, experiences, needs, concerns, etc… transcend generations and it’s something we all share. Our similarities are greater than our differences. For me, when the work resonates with others that’s when the world gets smaller, and life gets more purposeful.

Humor also began to play a large part throughout the project. I had always been really insecure about the inclusion of satire into my work because of the fear of it being perceived as sophomoric or unsophisticated. But I quickly realized that humor, irony and wit was my way of processing and presenting subjects that are far more complex than just a surface level quip (and it’s a hell of a lot more fun).

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{observers interacting with Scott’s larger pieces at his culminating show}

Lisa: You mentioned that this project was one of the most transformative things you’ve ever done. First, tell us about what you thought you might get out of the project when you embarked on it. Then, tell us how it was transformative for you.

Scott: For better (and worse) I have an active imagination so of course I thought about all kinds of “what ifs” for the project but I did myself the courtesy of focusing on simply making work every day. My work and my process were feeling rudderless and doing more of the same thing staring at studio walls was not going to get me anywhere new.

bsf_factory photo

One of the early and driving forces for “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier” was revealed when I had started doing 3” x 4” sketches several months before its inception. Like most life changing things it was already there, it was just waiting to be discovered. On a December afternoon in 2013 while searching through 20+ years of photographs to inspire some new ideas I came across an old photo I took on an overseas footwear design development trip. It was of a mural on a factory wall that read “BIGGER. SMALLER. FUNNIER.” It brought me back to the day I had taken the picture and the humor in its lost in translation meaning as an inspirational imperative. As I sat there staring at the photo 14 years later, the message had a profound simplicity in relation to my new quest; Do more of the good stuff, less of the shitty stuff and the joy will follow. So that’s exactly what I did and the project quickly had a name, a mission and I had a new philosophy.

What was most transformational about the project is how the unrelenting daily pace changed my process for making Art. At the beginning of “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier” creating a piece a day was like falling in love with someone. I was gaga for the project and it’s all I could think about. A reservoir of thoughts, ideas and sketches flowed freely fueled by the energy of a renewed sense of purpose. But like many relationships, honeymoons can be short lived and then the real work begins. I distinctly remember laughing to myself after an exhausting first week when I realized I would have to do it again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that for 358 more days. Or the daunting task every time I had to prepare up to a dozen pieces in advance of work consulting trips sometimes even bringing my painting supplies and scanner to paint on the road. The ceaseless appetite of the project combined with outside responsibilities and demands forced me to evolve my creative process. Never before had time seemed to pass so quickly. There was no space for perfection and preciousness as daily deadlines loomed.

#319 self abosorbed (for color)

A little less than half way through the year on piece #144 I had a revelation. Because of the project’s appetite for content, I was forced to source the material closest to me; my own everyday experiences, stories and happenings. I mined years of life-changing personal adventures, photographs, collected ephemera and alliterations that have filled my head, shelves and storage containers for years. Without being conscious of it I had achieved one of the things I had set out to discover. Through the velocity and pressure of the project, my work was being directly informed in real-time by every day life. I was listening better and observing more. The little moments that make life great were the moments that were creating the art. In 2014 these moments showed up for me 369 times; from the California desert, to a barber shop, waiting for the next wave, to the passing of a loved one, from my 4 year old niece, during a never-ending meeting and in a saying on a factory wall. What may sound incomprehensibly obvious to some (especially to creatives) is that I realized that art is not a passive companion—Art is in the living.

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Lisa: How did the gallery show  and book with Winston Wächter Fine Art in New York come about?

Scott: I had intentionally not projected expectations on the results of “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” (O.K., maybe a couple projections). But it wouldn’t be until I had completed almost 100+ pieces in 4 months of work that I saw the potential of what was unfolding for the project. When I called my gallery partners to let them know what I was working on, Winston Wächter Fine Art was really excited. They loved the story, the use of social media, the democratization of the work, and of course the Art. They welcomed the inclusion of the analytics from the social media “likes” to inform the curation of the physical show. Out of 369 original paintings, we curated and framed 166 of the most socially liked and purchased pieces (with a couple personal favorites thrown in). As well, I transformed 14 of the top paintings into larger works accompanied by 2 new sculpture series.

BSF studio shot

Lisa: I remember early on in the project — maybe a few months in — you were struggling a bit and you emailed me to ask for advice about how not to give up on and how to stay engaged with it.  And that’s because drawing or painting something every day for a year is a really huge challenge. How did you approach it when it started to feel tedious or boring or stressful? And what advice would you now give to anyone wanting to do a daily project for an entire year?

#287 - don't worry (for color)

Scott: I’ve always been a fan of your 365 day projects not just because of the amazing work but also because of the stamina and constitution I imagined it must take to complete them. It was day 59 when I contacted you. “Struggling a bit” is an understatement. I’ve undertaken some crazy things in my life but this was on a different mental level than anything I had ever experienced. It’s hard to imagine the magnitude of a project like this and the intensity, will and resolve required to do something well every day let alone create, commercialize and socialize a thoughtful conceptual painting daily and then make an art show about it.

Your email reply was great because it was encouraging but more importantly it was practical. One of the things you mentioned was that during your 365 projects you had to plan pieces in advance of trips to make sure you didn’t miss a day. This helped to shift me into thinking about “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” as a job. To finish the project, make it exceptional and ensure some level sanity it required a daily schedule, especially considering I was running a design consultancy simultaneously. As soon as I created a routine, writing in the morning, sketching in the late afternoon, painting in the evening (late evening) and posting in the early morning, all that was left was to create great work.

My advice for anyone who wants to do a daily project for a year is to make sure that whatever it is that they’re doing, it needs to start with themselves. Do it because you love it and do it because you have to in order to survive and grow. There were many times during the project that it felt as if I was working within a vacuum, social media posts were not resonating, newsletters were seemingly being sent into a digital abyss and print orders were non-existent. These are the times that test your resolve and reinforce that it’s about the work and the love that you have for the work.

The other thing you mentioned Lisa is, “you WON’T regret it”.

I don’t. THANK YOU.

#50 - now 600

Lisa: You are most welcome! Where can people buy the book or prints from the project? Where can people find you online?

Scott: The prints continue to be available via my website at scottpatt.com. Each piece is hand signed in a limited edition of 100. They’re digitally printed with archival inks on beautiful 100% Cotton Rag Acid Free Paper. On the site people can also watch the short film we did documenting the project’s half way point as well as a great piece that highlights the sketchbooks.

The “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” book documents all 369 paintings as well as the story of the project from beginning to end. We did a very small run of books for the first edition and I only have a handful left. If people are interested in purchasing a copy they can email me direct at info@scottpatt.com.

For the most up to date happenings, shows, sketches and recent musings give a follow at @scottpatt on Instagram.

BSF book mock up

Lisa: What are you working on now?

Scott: In the near term, “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” has created some fun opportunities including an upcoming partnership this summer with a great global lifestyle brand (TBA) and potentially exhibiting my work with some new galleries in the U.S. As well, since the show in N.Y.C. I’ve been working on some commissions for bigger works from the series. On my wish list…I’d love to get all 369 pieces into a book of daily postcards and I’d love to do a second edition of the book with a publisher.

Bigger picture, It’s incredibly fitting that one of the last pieces I created for the project was entitled “It’s not me. It’s you.”. There is no greater sentiment to the project and work to summarize the importance and inspiration that so many people played in fulfilling what “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier” became and where it still can go both physically and philosophically.

Thank you Lisa you definitely were and continue to be a part of that!

#368 - it's not me it's you 600

Scott: A couple other amazing partners from “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” people should check out:

“Kingspoke” did amazing things throughout the project including the documentary.

“The Happening” created the amazing sketchbooks film and helped make my “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” font into a usable digital font.

My creative council and talented wife Lisa DeJohn

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Thank you, Scott! You are a huge inspirational force in my life! <3

Have a great Wednesday everyone!

-Lisa

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