RECAP: sXc with Zach Yarrington

There’s no reason why walls should be beige.
— Zach Yarrington
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Guest Writer,  Angela Bayout

Muralist Zach Yarrington is deathly afraid of heights. 

During his last Detroit mural project, he looked down from the scaffolding. He immediately regretted it. Facing that fear is worthwhile when you create such approachable public art, such as the "Everything Is Everything" mural on SE Division Street.

We learned this, his inspirations, favorite methods, and process during the August 4th sketchXchange at Tillamook Station.

Host, mentor and fellow designer Blaine Fontana grilled Zach on his passion before a sold-out crowd. Zach's sketches, organized chronologically from 2008 to today, were the backdrop, and  a sort of vertical walk down memory lane for the down-to-earth artist. 

Zach has a work ethic that's "unseen and lost today," Blaine gushed. Zach has an interesting approach as a designer. Seeing projects as puzzles or problems to work out, he embraces his brain's logical side rather than exercising a strictly free-flowing process. And, he's not afraid of the practical aspects of being a self-employed designer. He's frugal with money, a true skill for anyone.

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Zach talked about his "Band years," in the design collective he cut his teeth on. Graduating from University of Oregon during one of the worst economic periods, Zach along with Josh Doll created work for clients under Band. In between projects that did whatever they wanted, making fliers and posters to put up around town. 

Over time, Zach wanted to broaden his lettering—literally. Getting cheap tempera paints, he painted the biggest letters he could. Then, Forest for the Trees happened.

Serendipitously, it was almost six years to the day that Zach and Blaine first met. For the first of Portland's Forest for the Trees, the duo was joined by with Jun Inoue. Visiting from Japan, it wasn't easy for Jun to communicate in English. But, by the end of the day, "Keep Your Chin Up" graced the side of Aladdin Finishers at NE 21st and Alberta. To Zach's great disappointment, the mural has since been vandalized, but that comes with the territory, he said. 

To this day, Zach admits he's still learning. Being open to learning is imperative when you're working on a mural in an uncontrolled environment, he says. You must be flexible and ready for anything. During the "Never Odd or Even," the palindrome mural along TriMet's Orange line in Southeast, he and Blaine worked through a few snafus.

Starting at 12:30 AM as the last train of the day rumbled by, they started up the projector. Not one of his favored methods for transferring a smaller drawing onto a huge canvas. The projector broke. It felt like a lost cause. 

The next day, they used the "pounce" method to get going. This, a classic sign-painter technique, is where Zach's "analog" abilities saved him. On a huge sheet of paper, the design is laid out and small perforations are made along lines. The sheet is arranged on the canvas, and chalk is pounded into the paper, leaving lines that the artist can follow, but that will quietly wash away.

Today, Zach looks to his "inner grandfather" and finds inspiration in the newspaper's Daily Jumble. He adores the playfulness language can allow, as seen in "Never Odd Or Even," his Sapporo subway project, and the limited-edition Scout notebooks he designed for this sketchXchange—all pieces that can be read two different directions. It's representative of the duality within all of us, he said.

When stricken by a phrase, he asks himself "What can I make out of these letters?" It's more than just letters and their shapes, he explains. It's a puzzle, a game.

With public art, comes public opinion. The audience was curious how Zach deals with negative reactions to his work, and to that he answered "I'm growing thicker skin. I hope." But his true regret? "Using gold spray paint."

Tillamook Station's neighbor, North Coast Seed Studios, keeps Zach engaged with a desk exploded with sketches and cups of coffee. With his best bud, Victor the dog, and studio mates, Zach keeps his chin up and his creativity flowing.

Photos by Rowan Bradley

Zach's website // IG