Editorial: Artist Style in the Studio & Painting

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I can’t believe it took menswear to get me to return to a childhood hobby.

Get ready for another editorial/diary piece.  Personal writing is the best writing!

Ethan and Art

I’ve always had a fascination with artists. My parents never really supported my upbringing in the arts, other than paying for a year of piano lessons for the sole purpose of getting into a good school.  They would always caution me from considering any sort of career in the arts. So I always felt at a loss; I stopped drawing/painting at a young age, despite some of my best (now faded) memories of me in a toddler painting class. I did keep up my amateur piano skills for a bit, however.

In the end, all of this creative stagnation lead to me discovering menswear and photography, which ultimately came together in the form of this blog. I can’t say enough about how much I enjoy doing this, even though it’s not really a career (despite currently having a job at Ascot Chang).  But I still felt the need for more. As time goes on, I felt a bit sad that my only creative outlet was fashion, as I definitely have a variety of interests that have been deep-seated for a while.

I still kept music close, developed it into a very amateur composing hobby, by occasionally writing pieces for my friends’ films or whenever inspiration struck.  You may recall my passion for film scores coming out whenever I praise John Williams or criticize Zimmer on my IG.  Music is really what I used to do whenever I’m not doing menswear, though I haven’t had a real chance to write in over a year.  So far, my love of music comes out when I listen to scores in my car, peruse JWFan, or watching score reductions on Youtube.

Artists in the Studio

I remember when I was in freshman year of college, wasting time on the JWFan forums, when I saw a thread about if people had pictures of John Williams in his study.  Unfortunately, there are not many, as Williams is a bit of a private person (most of his pictures are him conducting in the recording studio or in concert).  The two pictures I did see were fascinating, showing that he only uses a piano and a piece of paper to write his detailed score sketches, which are then orchestrated by people like Conrad Pope (who often says that orchestrating for Williams is simply transferring/copying the original notes to proper staves without much change).

At the time, my love for these images wasn’t about menswear (not many composers have good style anyway), but it was just about an artist looking cool in the space that they do their creative thang.  I suspect that I was rather jealous, since I didn’t have a study or really any place to foster creativity. My dorm roommates were incredibly messy and the room in my parents’ house was filled with my nerdy shit (that I still love).  I simply forced myself to do creative things in the space I had.

Perhaps thats why I liked writing and photography, because it took me out of the house more.

Zimmer is cluttered but in a charming kind of way.

Soon after that freshman year, I was deep into menswear.  While I would love the photos of silver screen stars and Laurence Fellows illustrations, seeing the pictures of 1920s-1940’s artists in their studio  reminded me of those cool pictures of John Williams and Hans Zimmer, this time with menswear infused.  Who would’ve known that creatives were so well dressed?  I had a few graphic design and fine art friends in high school/college, but they leaned more so on the nerdy/unkempt (read: tumblr) side.  There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but it was a different style that I’m not about.

Just check out Kandinsky below and a few others (including musicians), looking sharp in their drape cut suits with nary a stain (be it painting or sweat) to be found.  Maybe they had their sleeves up, a tie slightly undone, or simply a relaxed stance, but it’s cool to see how proper they kept themselves.  It really appeals to my sense of elegance, which goes hand-in-hand with vintage menswear.

In actuality though,  I don’t think it jives with real life. I’d feel to self conscious to get paint or ink on my clothes, which I assume was why most of my art friends didn’t feel the need to dress nicely; it’s one less thing to think about when creating.  But perhaps these guys just knew their craft so well that they were totally find wearing their suits and ties.

Honestly, I didn’t really see much of the “messy” look within menswear until some of my friends and colleagues (and Die Workwear) started posting more about artists like David Hockney and Picasso. There’s almost a menswear obsession with these guys.   Perhaps it comes hand in hand with time; sportswear was introduced more formally in the late 1920s, and workwear became more prevalent with the “dressing down” with society.  Or perhaps getting messy and unkempt was a form of rebellion against the put-together artists of the past, I’m not sure.

One thing is for sure: they looked fucking cool.  It probably helps to be photographed in  a studio space, dedicated to creativity, but its also the way they carried themselves in how they wore the clothes.  This was the real artist look, in my eyes. Less gentlemen-ly, more slouchy. A different sense of sprezzatura that says “I don’t care what I get on my clothes”.  It’s a similar  irreverent vibe to those famous Drake’s eating pictures.

Most notably, there’s that contrast between clean and dirty that makes things interesting.  Just check out that picture of David Hockney above: classic cardi + OCBD + knit but with some paint-stained slacks.  I know that plant splatters are a thing in streetwear (especially on GATS) but I think it’s best to make mess yourself.

Overall, its equal parts a lewk and just practical.  I became obsessed with these images, not only for casual style and photography inspiration, but because it also lead me to learn more about the artists themselves and their work.  I finally was starting to branch out of consuming art other than music made by my favorite film score composers. Perhaps I was growing up, and it was thanks to menswear.

Big Eyes?

Ultimately, I think the appeal for “artist style in the studio” here is more than just wearing workwear, because in most cases, it’s not “true workwear” or milsurp that defines most of the casual end of menswear. In the specific examples I looked at, it was mix of classic tailoring, sportswear, and workwear.  Like Hockney wearing an OCBD with spattered jeans or Diego Rivera in a denim chore coat over a waistcoat, foulard tie, and plaid spearpoint. This juxtopositon between styles along with the careless paint stains really brought a new level of ease that I wanted.  The fact that this involved an artistic medium that I haven’t partook in years was another facet of renewed interest.

Finally, like all things, this leads to Drake’s.  Now Drake’s is one of my favorite brands for a lot of reasons, like their awesome ties and approach to soft, ivy-esque suiting, but I love that they use two things for social media content instead of influencers: their own staff and artists.  They even had a feature a while back called “Studio Shirts” that was about this very topic: Hill’s favorite artists in their favorite Drake’s shirts.

It’s no surprise that most people into artisanal menswear have an affinity for art, and Michael Hill, the creative director of Drake’s, is no exception.  He apparently is friends with (or at least communicates) with plenty of artists in the UK, occasionally partnering with them to produce special collab pieces. These artists tend to be fans of Drake’s or at least are photographed wearing the brand’s oxfords and chambrays.  The way that they’re photographed (most likely by Kevin Davies) just seems so real, all in line with their branding on social media.

For me, an observer, it was like seeing a modern version of all those old Hockney and Picasso pics that I had seen on tumblr and Die, Workwear.  I loved the use of classic menswear, juxtaposed in a creative (if not messy) space, the use of heavy fabrics, and of course, the “I don’t care” vibe.  It also shows me that they wore classic menswear because they liked it, rather than defaulting to something that was more “practical”.  In particular, this reminds me of my friend Ryan Cecil Smith who while being more of an illustrator than a painter, tends to wear classic menswear whenever he’s out sketching or at his job in animation.

Again, the whole thing was such a contrast to other artist styles I’ve seen.

In the end, it’s pretty hard not to be affected by seeing all these pictures of stylish artists, in the photography, style, and the art itself.  I really wanted to leave my own mark on clothes, especially since the appeal of vintage clothing (or almost any clothing) is the character from it’s owner.  Activities in clothing is the natural next step from the wrinkles in your cotton suit and the fades in your denim.

So in the end, I decided to become an art hoe again and paint after years and years of being absent from it.

Becoming an Art Hoe

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I’m proud that I actually got to convince my friends to spend a bit of money, buy some acrylic paints/canvasses, and head to our local park to paint a bit! I’ve never really had fun sketching in a notebook, but there’s just something different to using paint. The fun is in the mess and sloppiness, or at least that’s what I tell myself.  And man was it fun, despite not having a photogenic studio like all my inspiration pictures, but that’s okay.  Being out in nature is great too and I think it worked out perfectly.

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Still relatively clean, but I want to a paint more!

In choosing my own “artist attire”, I decided to take a bit of inspiration from everyone in this article.  A slightly preppy look was a no brainer, but with a bit of that workwear edge, to contrast again to the typical LA art look.  In general, I wanted to wear things that were pretty clean as well, just so they could really be a blank canvas (haha).  So, I picked my 1930s chambray spearpoint popover (from my London trip) and dead stock 1950’s chinos from Inspiration LA 2017.  Vintage converse were chosen because they were my true beater shoes (and as a nod to the hack, Walter Keane), though I’ve been wearing my Vans authentics ever since Japan.  I don’t really wear any these much because I have other pieces that I enjoy more, but I knew that once they were “lived in”, they would have their own unique appeal that would drive me to break them out.

So there was my look. A bit of that vintage workwear vibe done through a prep lens. Feels very Ethan, don’t you think?

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The aftermath wasn’t actually as messy as I thought it was going to be! The chinos took the brunt of the dripped paint and I even added to it by wiping my painted hands and resting my brush on my chinos.  I just tried to remove all apprehensions that I normally get when wearing my clothes and let whatever happens, happen.  It’s just a tiny bit of stains, but I think the more and more I paint, the more character it will have!

Nothing went on my shoes, so I decided to be a little artistic with them.  Like the chinos, I’m sure they’ll get more paint with time, but for now, I decided with a simple arrow and smiley face.   Inspired by my move, my friend Andrew actually put the Comme De Garcone play heart on his converse.  #BrokeBoiSummer, indeed.

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Let me just take a moment to talk about this vintage chambray spearpoint pullover. It’s probably one of my favorite shirts, but I mainly don’t wear it because of the small neck size, tiny collar band (which prevents the use of a tie), short sleeve length, and a really long body.  It just never looked right with tailoring and I eventually got other pieces to replace it: a chambray USN workshirt, a chambray OCBD, and a repro chambray spearpoint workshirt.  I didn’t want to give this one up, but I never wore it due to it’s issues.

It finally found a home as my go-to artist shirt! Since I won’t wear a tie while I’m painting, it can be worn undone; the deep popover placket was perfect for the sweltering OC sun.  The sleeves (which ended about an inch above my wrist) were no longer an issue, abetted by a very high, vintage-inspired roll-cuff.  The chest pocket was perfect for my trusty notebook, pen, and glasses.

Again, it’s a shame this didn’t get any paint on it at the time, but that just means I need to keep at my painting!

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Spencer with “Mississippi burning”.

Spencer’s attire was definitely more on the milsurp-workwear spectrum, which is still very cool.  He didn’t really want to paint as much as me, but he liked the opportunity to add some character on some already “used up” clothing, like his beat up P-43 US Army shirt, sunfaded vans, and some heavily repaired/distressed Levi’s. In fact, after he was done painting, he just laid down his jacket and flecked paint on it! It’s a great shortcut if you don’t find yourself painting too often, though I’m sure we’ll do more together.

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He also brought along his repro denim deck jacket to get paint on it.

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The second time I painted, I decided to do something a bit more relaxed and yet a bit preppier.  Thanks to Spencer (and all the other artists shot by Drake’s), I wanted a paint splattered pair of jeans.  I definitely own a few pairs (my favorites are the LVC 1878s and the Teenaged ones), but I only had one pair I seldom wore: LVC 1945’s bought second hand. They were already faded from their previous owner and because of that, I didn’t wear them much as I defaulted to my favorite most of the time. As a result, they were my pick to wear while painting! They didn’t get as messy as the chinos, but I definitely like them, as they add a bit of an edge to a normal pair of jeans.

For a shirt, I went with a vintage 1960’s OCBD in a deep green. There’s quite a bit of fraying and the fit is billowy, so I thought it would make a perfect “artist shirt”.  It makes for a disheveled, yet sharp appearance that I’m starting to dig.  I know the shirt is pretty long to leave untucked, but I felt that it lost the charm if it was tucked in.  Overall, a slouchy, lazy painter in menswear is what I was going for. And at the very least, it’s accurate to me, now that I paint!

That being said, my art isn’t the best, but I enjoy doing it.

My Art so Far

I’m not a trained artist in the slightest, with no real background other than that class I took as a child.  One thing is for sure: I prefer abstract art.  My representative/realism comes out in my photography, so it’s only natural that I like to paint things that are a bit different, akin to how I like to compose film scores, but playing pop/jazz on piano is fun.

Calder and Kandinsky definitely served a bit of inspiration (with the use of vibrant colors and shapes) but I also love Bauhaus graphic design and mid century stuff, as well as the work of Kristin Texeira (thanks Drake’s). But if I’m being honest, I really don’t know what this is.  Like with fashion, it’s mainly about keeping what I like in my head and using whatever I have to approximate that vision.  The execution is a bit sloppy and redundant (as my dad later told me), but I’m pretty proud of it.

A small canvas work.

 

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This third piece was done on a lazy Sunday afternoon while waiting for Spencer to get off work.  I was inspired by all the great sale illustrations that Drake’s put out that I decided to make my own.  It’s not as great as I thought it would be, but it was still fun to do! I definitely think I’m going to stick to non-respresentative/abstract art in subsequent painting afternoons; I did add my signature lines and shapes in the yellow background though!

 

Conclusion

Inspired by the painting, I created a fun logo for my website/portfolio.

I apologize for the direction of this editorial. It really is a mismatch of ideas without a clear narrative, but thanks for bearing with me! I really wanted this to touch on everything, from artist style, the photography, and the practice of art itself.

Bringing it back to menswear, I’m excited to see what this does to my style.  As I’ve been moving away from buying vintage clothing, I’ve missed that touch of unique character present on old things.  I like being able to say that I get to break things in myself, but that mainly applies to denim or footwear, as I don’t really have a “rough” lifestyle.  And when it came to painting,  I thought you needed to wear things you didn’t like when doing art or rather, you shouldn’t try to be stylish.  But in looking at all the pictures of artists, whether vintage or on the Drake’s instagram, it’s clear that style matters.  In my case, it gives me confidence to paint!

Similar to what I said in the Inspiration LA pod and show notes, everything you do should be done in the outfit you enjoy.  I used to never like dressing down until I found a casual style that worked for me. I’m glad that I was able to craft my own artist style and get dirty in the process of creating art.  Now instead of feeling sad over stained clothes, I can feel happy knowing that the marks and stains are from me, creating a unique piece of clothing that has a new meaning.  I’m now intrigued by their juxtaposition with my other tailoring, though I’m not sure I’m ready to deal with the slight chance that my beloved hopsack blazer will get paint on it even if I didn’t wear it during the activity!

I’m honestly a bit ashamed with myself that it took menswear to get me back into art! A big part of style for me is being able to express myself in a medium, getting to wear what I want, and coming up with distinct ideas each time, whether it’s 1930’s, ivy-inspired, Armoury, Bryceland’s, or anything in between.  I like being a creative person and I was bound to find another outlet, as I’ve already gotten into the groove of writing and photography due to my hobby and job.  Painting will be a new interest that not only gets me out of the house, but provides something  new for me to learn and grow into. I’m already proud of the work I’ve done and I can’t wait to make some more!

This has also taught me that maybe I’ll enjoy exercising more if I developed created good workout attire I was proud of.  Menswear don’t stop, baby and the effect on everyday life is real.

Always a pleasure,

@ethanmwong

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