Friday, January 2, 2015

Skyler Chubak

A chat with the SLC-based calligraphy artist

Posted By on January 2, 2015, 7:45 PM

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When you look at the local art scene, even with the wide array of artists currently creating and hanging around the state, most everyone falls into some kind of genre shared by several others with few having a "corner on the market" in any particular area. But then you come across someone who is creating works that very few are attempting to master. Such is the case with Skyler Chubak, an illustrator who has made his primary focus in calligraphy, studying dozens of variations which he has applied to his works, Most notably last year his Ouija boards that were features at E3 Modern during the summer fo 2014. Today we talk with Chubak about his artwork and styles, as well as his plans for the new year. (All pictures courtesy of Chubak.)

Skyler Chubak
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Skyler Chubak on Big Cartel

Gavin: Hey Skyler, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Well, I’m 25 years old, born and raised in Salt Lake. I’m obsessed with lettering, spend most of my spare time working on it, and I like a few other things.

Gavin: What first got you interested in art and what were some of your early influences?

In high school I never took art, I drew a little as a kid, but didn’t seem to have time for it, I did a little calligraphy then but never thought I’d be good at it and kind of put it away for a couple years. Just out of high school though I started going to lots of art shows and took an interest in Salt Lake’s graffiti scene. Crews were always putting on art shows and things and I was kind of like “I want to make art, I can try and do this.” My earliest influences were probably graffiti writers, there’s too many to name, and my taste has changed over the years. I was into calligraphy a little then too, but my main influence was probably graffiti writers at the time.

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Gavin: Did you seek out any education or classes in art or were you more self-taught?

I was mostly self-taught. The first few years I practiced calligraphy it was on my own, then in 2012 I went to my first IAMPETH (International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers, and Teachers of Handwriting) conference. They’re held every summer in different cities. I’ve been to their conventions every summer since. They have been my biggest help. That and the Spencerian Saga, taught by Harvest Crittenden and formerly Michael Sull, I went to the last one he taught. Calligraphy is a weird thing to learn. It’s not taught, aside from basics, in schools so you can take occasional workshops but aside from that you have to kind of teach yourself. Harvest Crittenden has been a tremendous help so far though, she is a certified Master Penman, and if I could give credit to anyone that’s helped me out or I’ve learned the most from so far it’s be her.

Gavin: What drew your interest more toward graffiti and later calligraphy?

Honestly, it could have been lots of things. I grew up going to punk shows and things and spend time hopping trains out of high school, it was kind of around that time I noticed lots of graffiti and wanted to make up a tag. I had no idea it would kind of lead me to what I do now, but I guess it did.

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Gavin: What kind of challenge was it for you to learn the artform and perfect the style behind it?

It’s been a tremendous challenge learning this art form. To start off, the style I practice was biggest in the early 1800’s, through the 1950’s. Most of the material, aside from what’s on IAMPETH’s website, is in books that are long out of print. So I guess learning ornamental penmanship kind of pushed me into being an even bigger collector than I already was. The tools are outdated as well, and it took lots to be able to find out what worked today, nibs, paper, pen-holders, ink, etc. The other big challenge is that it’s not mainstream like other arts, so my friends that do it are all out-of-state, and I have to e-mail them questions, or wait til summer and kind of let out all of my bottled up confusion.

Gavin: Seeing how this is a form of design and artwork going back centuries, what era and styles do you gravitate most towards for your own designs?

There are lots of styles and things that I take tremendous interest in, everything from stock and bond certificates, diplomas, certificates, letterheads, memorium books, antique title pages and books, and correspondence paper. The era I like the most for writing is the 1880’s through the 1930’s, kind of right before the typewriters invention, which kind of had a lot to do with killing the art in a way, but I like writing going back to the 1500’s, a lot in the 1700’s, and there’s many artists alive today that are keeping the art alive.

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Gavin: I read that you've spent years traveling the country learning different styles and learning from various workshops. How is it for you to find a new style and pick it up to where you can recreate it?

Well, that takes a bit of practice, and lots I just fake well enough so most people don’t notice the flaws, but once you have an understanding of the few basic lettering styles, roman, italic, Egyptian (or block), and text, it’s kind of just a tiny puzzle of figuring out what letters will go together, and then watching the way others write and picking up tiny details. I don’t know if I answered that well enough.

Gavin: What's the process like for you in creating a new piece, from concept to the final creation?

This depends on the detail of the piece, how much lettering is involved, and what tools I’m using. But usually there’s a sketch, revisions, often tracing paper, and once I get things right laying it out on a final paper and going from there. Now that I’ve done a few things enough times there are things I spend way less time on now than I used to, but a lot of my pieces happen in my head then there’s quite a bit of erasing cause it never really comes out how I want it to.

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Gavin: How much time do you spend on a single piece to get everything just right?

Again this depends on the piece, if it’s script or a bird, or something with little touch up this could take just a few minutes, if it’s more elaborate it could be a couple of weeks. Seems like a lot of things I’m doing now are taking me a few days.

Gavin: Do you find yourself changing things mid-stream or do you stick with the original plan as you go?

Usually, I’m changing at least a few things mid-stream, but it’s for the most part the original plan.

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Gavin: What was it like for you breaking into the local art scene and taking part in exhibitions?

Well I came from a punk background, I started showing far before I had any clue what I was doing, I held shows in my backyard/alley every summer for a few years. I kind of had this mindset like if bands could suck and you supported them cause they were your friends, and eventually they got better, and they could have shows at houses or whatever, then I could show bad art at my house and make a party of it. I’m kind of embarrassed by lots of my old pieces, but I would never have got a lot of the opportunities I’ve had, or progressed in a way if I hadn’t of put those on I don’t think. My first shows I was doing mostly wood burnings and stuff. I always wanted to do more lettering, but wasn’t really good enough at it to make a show out of it. My first big show was this last summer, it went really well, and I have another one planned for next fall.

Gavin: Most recently you had one at E3 Modern featuring Ouija boards. What inspired that show and how was it for you creating all of those from scratch?

I’ve always liked occult stuff and alphabets. Ouija boards kind of blend the two well. I don’t believe in their spiritual abilities or the general hoax surrounding them, although I have had friends tell me crazy stuff happened when they used mine, who knows if they are full of it or not. Haha. Creating them was a lengthy process. Who knows if I would have done them knowing then what I know now about what goes into them? There was buying wood, getting it cut, staining screen printing, all through different people, not to mention the artwork. Also assembling the glass planchette pieces. I am glad I made them though, I think 85 were made and they are almost gone!

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Gavin: Last year you received a scholarship for the IAMPETH convention. What was it like for you to receive that?

Receiving that scholarship was mind-blowing. I kind of thought I didn’t get it and was trying to figure out how to save money, then my friend Alesia Zorn, who was the IAMPETH owner, told me I won it non-chelantley as we walked into Powell’s Books in Portland. I went up there for a calligraphy workshop, funny enough. It took a second to register cause of how she told me, and then I walked away and called my Mom on the phone and pretty much started freaking out. This is my favorite organization and I felt really awesome to know that they thought I had potential enough to help me out with going to the convention. Basically, everything I’ve learned and all of my inspiration I can give credit and thanks to that group of people.

Gavin: With everything you're learning and accomplishing as an artist, is there a goal you have in mind as far as where you want your skills to be?

I really want to make children’s books. I want to make certificates too, but I really really want to start publishing books for kids, and kind of re-capture Victorian lettering styles.

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Gavin: For those interested in learning the artform, whether on their own or perhaps from yourself, what do they need to know beforehand when trying to do this?

Don’t’ give up! I couldn’t even express how bad I was when I started, I really am convinced it’s mostly the time you put into it, and not as much natural talent. I guess it’s that too, but I believe everyone can learn this. Also know that everyone writes different, and everyone does art different. People always tell me they want to know calligraphy, and honestly there’s basics everyone can learn but you shouldn’t be discouraged if you can’t recreate something.

Gavin: I understand you're currently working on your own children's stories. What's your progress with that project and what can you tell us about the story?

Who knows when the bigger one will be done. I’m working on two. One is going to be a children’s ghost story, I should have it printed by summer. I have a friend in Reno who is helping me publish it. It’s still too much in the works to tell you the story line, but I do think it will be cool. The other is a fairy tale book, it will be mother goose style poems and illustrations. Less a story and more a combination of pieces.

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Gavin: What can we expect from you in 2015?

Well, more prints, books hopefully, certificates, I guess a lot of things. Also, as you know this more than anyone I’m horrible with computers and technology. I’m going to try to get better with that sort of thing and somehow become more professional. I think my style will progress though overall.. I think that more than anything.

Gavin: Anything you'd like to promote?

I’d like to give another thanks to IAMPETH, as a group they’re phenomenal and have helped me tremendously, I would recommend anyone who is interested in this art to check them out, and to check out all of the Master Penmen as well. I also set up a Big Cartel recently, I’ll be posting lots more things to it in the near future, but if you are interested in my work you can check out Also the wild animal crew, if I’m going anywhere I’m taking them with me!

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