What: sketchXchange with Zach Yarrington moderated by Blaine Fontana
When: Friday, August 4 from 6-9pm
Where: Tillamook Station
Tickets: SOLD OUT
Guest Writer, Angela Bayout
Tucked between working train tracks and the Willamette River is the North Coast Seed Building Studios and Zach Yarrington's space, which he shares with two design friends and his dog Victor. The 1911 building is quiet, orderly and serene, but this artist's tidy studio bursts with works-in-progress. Zach, WeMake's sketchXchange guest on August 4, has the simplest reason for wanting to make.
“I think there’s definitely an inherent human quality to wanting to make things,” Zach says. But what it all comes down to when asked why he makes, he answers, “Why not?”
Zach draws inspiration from Portland’s supportive design community and admires the work of large-scale artists like Barry McGee, Steve Powers, and what comes out of Sagmeister and Walsh. Unlike the perception of New York and LA being competitive, difficult-to-break-into creative worlds, Zach describes Portland as a place where artists support each other, refer each other, are genuinely interested in what everyone is doing and will easily pay forward a shout out.
Born and raised in Detroit, Zach’s family held jobs that were creative in different kinds of ways: mortgage lending, steel milling and old-school corporate tech. As a kid, he was “definitely a doodler, always drawing,” with encouragement from his mom. While other boys wanted to be firefighters, it was clear to Zach from an early age that he simply wanted to work for himself. Self-discipline and frugal living came easy to Zach as he built and continues to manage his design career.
The man from Michigan made his way out West – like a magnet was pulling him, there was just something about it that calling to him.
“Being a midwest kid I had an unreasonable, romantic idea of the West Coast,” he says. His mom’s advice: "Just don’t move to California. It's too expensive."
In 2005, he ended up at the University of Oregon’s art program. He loved it for being a concept-based program that allows students to explore their own directions. Fun and lighthearted is how Zach describes his own direction. After picking up a paintbrush and doing lettering, he never looked back. Things came to a finer point when he was invited to join Forest for the Trees, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the creation of contemporary public art.
Zach’s first public mural was done as part of the first Forest for the Trees festival in 2013. Friend and founder of FFTT Gage Hamilton brought in Zach, knowing he had shown interest in mural painting while they were both students in Eugene. In collaboration with Jun Inoue and Blaine Fontana the “Keep Your Chin Up” mural was made. Found on NE Alberta and 21st, the mural’s message is in memory to a friend. The “K” spans over a pipe on the building—an ideal example of going with the flow in mural painting.
Zach returned to FFTT the following year to paint “Everything Is Everything” across 2121 SE 6th Avenue, a humbling message seen by Amtrak conductors and TriMet passengers everyday.
Zach's portfolio includes a live-mural for an adidas/Damian Lillard event and packaging design for Portland Bee Balm —much smaller than a mural, but has a bit of Zach in there, too.
When it comes to how to work, he likes to “find something on the wall and use it, while leveraging existing grid lines and size. First he sketches by hand and then refines a plan digitally — until real life happens.
“With every single job there’s always some unexpected thing,” he says. This was never truer than when he actually went to the site of his “This Is Your Day,” a 400-foot long mural in Sapporo, Japan’s underground. Discovering that his plans laid in Portland, which were based on photos of the Sapporo subway corridor, had to be reworked, Zach went with the flow. This approach matched the playful nature of the mural itself. Meant to be read forwards or backyards, in Japanese or English, this piece is a prime example of the pro’s use of space and understanding of how people interact with their urban surroundings daily.
Sometimes it’s hard to explain to relatives what you do for a living or what you for a side hustle when it’s creative work. Sometimes it’s hard even to explain to yourself.
Zach's mom said of his mural work: “I’m not sure what you’re doing, but I feel like it’s the right thing.”