Obake Style | Buzz Blog

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Obake Style

A chat with the geeky jewelry and print makers

Posted By on December 23, 2014, 1:00 PM

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We're just over a month away from the next big convention to hit Salt Lake City, which means it's time for local artists with a flair for the geeky and obscure to start cranking out designs in time to be a part of FanX in January. One of the standout local names from the last Comic Con was Obake Style, featuring prints and jewelry themed around monsters and Japanese culture, with an array of other items as they've branched out into pop-culture. Today we chat with Nick Burke and Magen Mitchell, the married duo behind the artistic company, about how they got started and where they intend to take their works. (For this interview, the duo answered all questions together. All pictures courtesy of Obake Style.)

Nick Burke and Magen Mitchell
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Gavin: Hey Magen and Nick, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

We both grew up in Utah, but we're both creative weirdos. Magen didn't fit in and Nick likes standing out. As kids, we wore a lot of black and hung out with other angst-ridden malcontents. Thankfully, we grew up. Magen has always been an illustrator. Some of her earliest memories are of drawing. Nick just likes to play and express himself.

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

Magen grew up reading a lot of comics, which fueled her love of illustration. She loved Marc Hempel's work in The Sandman, Sam Kieth's The Maxx, Takahashi Rumiko's Ranma 1/2, and Jamie Hewlett's Tank Girl. Nick grew up watching the same half hour toy commercials that most American boys did in the '90s, but then his bohemian cousins introduced him to the stop-motion animation of the Brothers Quay and set him on a path to discover the strange, mysterious fringes of art and media.

Gavin: Did either if you attend college or classes to hone your skills or were you mainly self-taught?

Magen has always drawn and has always wanted to be a professional illustrator so most of her schooling and experience has been in illustration. Nick wrote in school and considered lots of different writing professions, but he didn't find screenwriting until after college. He started volunteering on local film shoots four years ago.

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Gavin: Magan, what drew you specifically toward illustration and painting?

When Magen was 3, another 3-year-old told her she was very good at coloring in the lines. It really, really stuck with her.

Gavin: Nick, you're more involved with filmmaking, what pushed you to go int hat direction?

Nick has always had a very wild imagination and storytelling is in his nature, his mother is a teacher. Writing, directing, and acting are just constructive outlets for his creative energy and need for attention.

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Gavin: When did the two of you first meet each other and become friends (eventually getting married)?

A decade ago, Nick saw Magen's MySpace profile and thought she looked cute. We shared some tastes in common so Nick asked her on a date. Our first date was the Hellboy movie and pie and we really hit it off when it came to art. Our artistic collaboration is kind of the base of our relationship. Both in art and in love, we can openly share and constructively critique ideas without hurting each other's feelings.

Gavin: What was the major influence behind Obake Style that got you interested in it?

After we got married, we went on an art pilgrimage. We went to Japan in October 2008 and visited dozens of museums, bookstores, temples, shrines, malls and pop-art toy stores from Tokyo down to Osaka. In April 2009, we went to Paris and visited all the major museums, a number of the minor museums, and most of the big landmarks. You are the sum of all your experiences, but those two trips were a major influence on Obake Style.

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Gavin: What were some of your first designs like when you started collaborating?

We've always had this game we took from Joan Miró we call The Scribble Game. We usually imbibe a little something for levity and pass a drawing pad back and forth, challenging your partner in turn to make a picture of your wild scribbles. About a year after we started dating, Nick had a photography class in college. When Magen agreed to do an abstracted nude portrait with him, Nick knew he had someone special.

Gavin: When did you decide to form a business out of it, and where did the name come from?

Obake (O-bah-kay) is Japanese slang for "monster," but it literally translates as "changing thing," a reference to Japan's numerous mythological shape-shifters. We think this appropriated loanword for goblin changelings really personifies our brand.

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Gavin: What's that process like in creating a new piece, from the initial idea to final design?

Being best friends and artistic collaborators, we live in a kind of constant pre-production, spitball session. All day long, we come up with and share funny ideas back and forth; some get a chuckle and are promptly forgotten, others are good enough to make it through design and production. In the case of Magen's art, everything is designed in Adobe Illustrator because Magen loves balanced, curvilinear lines. We'll usually sit down and go over a couple of critiques for simple things like jewelry and ornaments and maybe a dozen critiques for something like a painting.

Gavin: Considering the way they're constructed, do you have a lot of room to play with the idea once it's been decided on, or do you have to stick to the plan once you start?

Lots, if you know where to look. When Magen is designing laser cut ornaments or jewelry, there are limitations to what the laser can cut, but there is freedom if you know how to design around it. We also benefit from partnering with Daft Concepts, which has allowed us to do lower quantity runs. If we receive some negative feedback or we feel there is an unexpected problem in the design, it's easy to edit the file and use the revised design on the next run.

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Gavin: What was the initial reaction from people when you started selling items, and what was it like to see it catch on with the geek community?

Since we transitioned from screenprints to laser-engraved jewelry and ornaments, our business has been growing and we're getting lots of positive feedback. We've also pulled our heads out and gotten an Instagram account, which helped a lot, too. We just hit that hurdle in your late 20s/early 30s when you realize you're a little behind the times and a new generation is edging you out. We cleared that hurdle, and we're doing well.

Gavin: How did you start getting involved with the local craft scene and taking part in events and festivals?

Five years ago, Magen signed up for Signed & Numbered's customer mailing list, but her name was put on the artist mailing list by mistake and she was invited to participate in a group print show. Luckily, she had taken a screen-printing class at the Salt Lake Community College so she just played it cool and submitted a print. That led to showing regularly at Signed & Numbered, Kayo Gallery, and eventually Blonde Grizzly. We were sponsored by Big Cartel when we signed up for Craft Lake in 2011 and that was a huge financial support, but it also gave us the confidence to push into bigger venues. We've now done Salt Lake's Comic Con both years and this year we'll do our first out-of-state conventions.

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Gavin: Since you started, your works have blossomed in various other mediums. What made you decide to expand rather than focus on a single area?

We'd been showing Magen's screen prints around in local galleries with some success, but things got more difficult when we branched into craft fairs and pop conventions. When you're at an outdoor fair, your screen prints become dozens of wind sails and the weather can ruin an otherwise profitable fair. At pop culture cons, the lay person doesn't care about the finer points of hand-printing vs. cheaper digital printing. They care about the image and the character and we were simply unable to compete. Magen had originally chosen screen printing because it can perfectly reproduce her curvilinear lines. We did some R&D and concluded laser-engraved wood was a great mechanical process that would perfectly reproduce Magen's work, and it would negate our weather and marketing problems.

Gavin: What new projects are you working on for Obake and where do you see the company going in the next few years?

We've really gotten into the punk patch and vinyl toy scenes on Instagram so we've been creating designs for both of those mediums. Magen is designing some really big, super-limited wall ornaments. Nick is working on some short horror stories that Magen will illustrate like an adult Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. He also has a feature-length movie in the works, but film is indeed a long game.

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Gavin: What do you have in store for us in 2015?

We've been accepted into Vegas Otakon in January and Denver's Comic Con in May. Magen will have a piece in Mod-A-Go Go's Geeks Group Show on May 15. We'll definitely be applying for Salt Lake's September Comic Con and probably Craft Lake City, too.

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