We didn’t do normal vacations in our family; we didn’t make it to Disney World until my sister and I were almost in high school. Because my parents were artists, family travel often revolved around meeting other artists and touring their studios. From the free-spirited hippies to the meticulous craftsmen—from the childlike-wondrous to the tortured souls—I met them all. For Dad, a graphic design professor and three-dimensional illustrator, it was research. For Mom, a children’s art instructor and painter, it was inspiration. For my sister and me, it was a world of wonder and creativity and imagination. I’m so grateful for the patience of dozens of artists who willingly let kids inside their studios and introduced us to their world.
In some ways, my career has become an extension of that experience. A major component of my job is to tell the stories of some of the most interesting and inspiring creatives on the planet. I have the honor of an invitation into the lives and workspaces of these extraordinary people, and I get to take you with me. I was beyond excited to have that sort of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when traveling to the UK to participate in an intensive content-gathering mission for fresh style.
For a lot of reasons, both professional and personal, I had reached a kind of emotional and creative burnout when I packed my bags to join our editorial director, Ande, and photographer Stephen to head across the pond for a more-than-full schedule of interviews and photo shoots.
The trip was full of wonderful people and surprising experiences, but, for me, the highlight was my visit to Ryantown—the London studio of artist Rob Ryan. I have had my eye on Rob’s work for years. (He’s quite an art crush of mine.) His artwork weaves together two of my very favorite things in the whole world: inspiring words and beautiful design. In his charming silhouette paper-cut illustrations, he almost always includes bits of self-penned poems and musings to complement the imagery and draw the viewer into the feeling and sentiment of the piece.
It’s a bit taboo sometimes in the art world to talk about the ordinary or mundane bits of life, but reading Rob’s lyrical words leaves you with a distinct impression of familiarity. I find myself thinking, “I know that feeling,” or “I’ve been there.” There’s something quite nice and comforting about knowing that somebody else has walked the same path as you. Whether it’s about love lost, love gained, family joys, or just a simple and singular moment in time, it’s something you can relate to and understand.
Down the Rabbit Hole
When we were led by one of Rob’s studio assistants through an unassuming gate off a residential London street, it was a bit like following the White Rabbit into Wonderland. We climbed up the stairs to Rob’s naturally lit loft studio to find the artist himself sitting at his large work desk. The desk was strewn with bits of paper and half-finished projects. Behind him stood a towering shelf of books that reached to the ceiling. With his recognizable shock of gray hair and long beard, Rob was unpretentiously dressed in a painted-up sweatshirt and bandana. He is a character, but it’s not a contrived or forced persona, and we were immediately disarmed by his sincere and guileless charm. Whenever the camera came out, he would look up from his art table with a joyful boyishness and make faces at Stephen behind the lens.
As I spoke with him, I got the distinct impression that I wasn’t receiving stock answers—although he’s been interviewed and heard similar questions many times, I’m sure. He always came back with thoughtful responses.
I have had the pleasure of interviewing many interesting creative individuals during my career. Usually, I leave inspired, a bit intimidated, and, in the best interviews, I come out on the other side not only knowing more about the artist but also more about myself. I think it’s often an honesty and willingness to be vulnerable that makes an artist truly excellent. Great technique and beautiful presentation are important too, of course, and Rob has that in spades, but it’s the openness of his art and person that truly reaches down into the soul and challenges you to be honest and vulnerable with yourself.
Welcome to Ryantown
There was entirely too much wonderful content from our interview to include in the article. It was agonizing to decide what to include and what to leave out of the text. So with the help of our super-talented multi-media team (thanks Bart and Aaron!), we put together a video of sound bites and extra images from Rob’s studio. In this snippet, Rob talks about his work style and his studio space. I wish I could have packed all of you in my suitcase (there was no room though, remember?), and taken you along into Ryantown, but here’s just a taste of the amazing man behind the art!
I left the States mentally exhausted, and I came back physically spent. (Twenty-two photo shoots in ten days is no joke, y’all—especially when that last one is at a fourth-floor walk-up with mucho-heavy camera equipment to schlep. Totally worth it though! Look out for Chloe Owen’s flat in the current July/August issue too.) But I was creatively reinvigorated, and that’s a trade-off that’s absolutely worth it!
Pick up a copy of the July/August issue of fresh style to read the article about Rob Ryan and see more colorful and fanciful ideas and inspiration.