Timeless Strokes—Announcing July sketchXchange with BT Livermore

No doubt, there’s something in the water here in Portland. It’s been soaking the city’s roots for sometime, welling up creativity to hydrate our community of doers and makers. From artisan ice cream to viral ad campaigns, this Portland Renaissance (of sorts) has produced some amazing minds whose prowess spans a multitude of creative fields.

Our July sketchXchange features a true Rose City Renaissance Man: BT Livermore. He hand paints handsome signage, illustrates editorial content, screen prints stunning designs, and even creates a line of zestful male grooming products. Don’t miss a sneak peek into the sketchbook of this animated fellow.

Please join us for a night of inspirational sketching with BT Livermore at our community partner, The Left Bank Project.

Date of the event: Friday, July 5, 2013

Time: 6:00 – 9:00pm

Check-in begins at 6:00pm. Doors close at 6:45pm.

Place: The Left Bank Project, 240 N Broadway

Cost: Free, however, a $5 donation is appreciated

Registration Begins: Friday morning at 9am, June 28

As always, space is limited. Be sure to register early!

RSVP on Eventbrite

BT Livermore is an artist of many talents including illustration, lettering, screen printing, and self-publishing.  Currently you can find him at the collective studio Magnetic North, on Etsy, and at his personal website. If you tumble be sure to follow his themed blog: Signs About Town. The initials “BT” stands for his nickname “Big Time” which was given to him some years ago by a charming homeless man in a Minneapolis alley.

WeMake:You just completed a residency in Montana. Can you tell us a little bit about it and what you gleaned from it?

BT: Montana has always been a special place for me. For a good chunk of my pre-teen and teenage years, I had family that lived south of Billings, so would take family road trips out there in the summer. When I got word that a friend was starting up an art residency situation in Butte, I jumped at the chance.

The whole experience was a collaboration between myself and a photographer friend, Sarah LaPonte, who recently moved from Portland to Pittsburgh. We spent the first three days spending long hours putting together “Sandwhichville,” a collaborative show of Sarah’s photography and my signage inspired pieces. All my pieces – about a dozen - were created in those three days, with most of the ideas and phrases coming from the constant flow of conversation between Sarah and I and the people of Butte.

The second half of our residency was a four-day zine workshop, initially slated to be for high school kids, but we eventually opened it up more as a drop-in-when-you-want sort of situation for any one in the community. Both Sarah and I have a history of both making and teaching zines, and in the end I feel the workshop was successful, although somewhat lightly attended.

The whole experience was quite eye-opening for me. I had not truly had an opportunity to collaborate with another artist so intensely before, and I found myself considering different ways of working that I had not opened myself up to previously. And, the city of Butte has such a rich and complex history that I could not help but be completely enraptured with it as I learned more and more.

WeMake:You seem to be inspired by Americana. Has that always been the case? How has your inspiration changed over time?

BT: For as long as I’ve been paying attention to my influences, at least, yes. Especially with my focus on sign painting for the last few years, it becomes even harder not to look to a different time period as there are simply more examples and resource materials to study from decades past. The specifics of my influences have definitely changed, however. When I first started transitioning from more character-based illustration work to hand lettering, I found very ornate, decorative letters inspiring, as they seemed closer to the illustrative work I was used to. Since picking up sign painting brushes about three years ago though, simply re-learning to create basic letterforms with a new tool has meant I have found myself far more inspired by more informational and industrial sources as of late.

WeMake:Your signage and subject matter seems very northwest-centric. What inspires you most about this area of the world?

BT: I get this a lot, and I don’t really think about it too much honestly. I spent the first 25 years of my life in the upper Midwest, and will forever claim that as my source of inspiration. It just so happens that the themes of wilderness, honest hard work, and even specific iconography like Paul Bunyan are themes common to both where I grew up and where I live now.

WeMake:You use a lot of woodsy animals in your illustrations and prints. Some are subjects in your books. What creature are you most particular to? Do you have a power animal?

BT: My power animal is the taxidermy sheep that lives above the entrance door at Beulahland; we’ve been through a lot together.

WeMake:When did you know you could make a living off of your art?

BT: For me, the feeling has always been more that I NEED to make a living off my art, far more than whether or not I COULD. Being self-employed and working creatively has been the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do with my life. I am also intensely stubborn, which has always led to friction between myself and any boss I’ve ever had, so it just makes sense to work independently.

WeMake:What made you go back to school and get your BFA from PNCA in 2010? Do you think formal education aids an artist? 

BT: I had already earned an AAS degree in web design back in Minneapolis, and did not move to Portland thinking I would become a student again. Shortly after moving here I came to the realization that I needed to switch away from spending all my work life on a computer, and started focusing on my lifetime love of drawing. Majoring in Illustration at PNCA became the best way to hone down my skills as a draftsperson again in a more structured environment.

I think formal education can aid anyone with the right situation and mindset to make sure they get what they need out of it. I started at PNCA not particularly seeking a degree and telling myself that if it ever stopped being worth it, I would quit. I did end up taking a semester off, and going part time the following semester, mostly for health reasons. I realized that I was not yet happy enough with what I had achieved, even though I was already getting quite a bit of illustration work. Looking forward to the rigorous challenge of the final, thesis year at PNCA and really pushing myself to see what I could get out of that is what finally made me come back to finish my degree.

WeMake:What’s your favorite size of sketchbook? What brand of sketchbook do you prefer?

BT: I carry two sketchbooks with me in my bag at all times. I keep an 8.5x11, hardbound book for client sketches and notes, and then a smaller, pocket sketchbook for fun stuff and personal ideas. I usually just buy a pad of drawing paper and make my own smaller sketchbooks since I grew unhappy with the paper that normally comes in most small books. Even with the two-book system, I find it very hard to not have any crossover; if a personal idea strikes while working on a freelance gig, I will probably end up jotting it down in the big book without thinking.

Every few months, I’ll dig out my last three books or so and transfer any unfinished ideas that I still find interesting into the current book.

WeMake: When is your favorite time to sketch? Where is your favorite place to draw?

BT: I do most of my sketching in the late morning to early afternoon at coffeeshops. When I need ideas to come fast and loose, I really like the subtle chaos of a busy coffeeshop. (Usually Courier Coffee downtown or Tiny’s on MLK if anyone wants to come looking for me.) There is just so much people watching and overheard conversations to be had, it’s hard not to be inspired. This goes for client work sketching as well. I just can’t seem to get in the right groove trying to sketch in my studio.

WeMake: If we could go back and look at your old sketchbooks, say from junior high, what imagery would we find in there?

BT: Probably graphite drawings of cartoon characters and robots. If you could look even further back, you’d find very intricate trees with maze-like branch structures. Sadly, no one will ever be able to see any of these. When I was about 22, my parents discovered a mold attack in their basement that resulted in throwing away most pieces on paper that I had ever created up to that point.

Don’t miss your chance to meet and sketch with BT! Space is limited. Register early starting June 28th!

Date of the event: Friday, July 5, 2013

Time: 6:00 – 9:00pm

Check-in begins at 6:00pm. Doors close at 6:45pm.

Place: The Left Bank Project, 240 N Broadway

Cost: Free, however, a $5 donation is appreciated

Registration Begins: Friday morning at 9am, June 28

RSVP on Eventbrite