zach yarrington

RECAP: sXc with Zach Yarrington

There’s no reason why walls should be beige.
— Zach Yarrington

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.


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 See more photos here

Zach's website // IG

Meet Zach Yarrington

Everything is Everything
— - Zach Yarrington

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.”

Follow Zach.
IG: @zachumz