Our latest RAD collaboration is with Brett Stenson, a Portland-based illustrator and graphic designer. Brett’s style as an artist is largely inspired by the outdoors, his enthusiasm for protecting wildlife and growing up in the Midwest. We caught up with Brett to talk about life, art and his recent collaboration with Rumpl: The Original Puffy Blanket - Fish Are Fly.
Who you are and what do you do?
My name is Brett Stenson! I am a multi-disciplinary artist, designer, letterer, and haphazardly-ambitious craftsperson who specializes in simplistic illustration, busted folky letters and sculptural figures inspired by the outdoors and our connection to the natural world. One would say, based on my massive and semi-regrettable stomach tattoo that I am indeed from the Midwest, however I lived everywhere from Hilo, Hawaii to Ayer, Massachusetts in my lifetime and – heck, I was born in Alaska! Traveling that much as a young pup exposed me to a lot of corners of the United States as well as the different varieties of people and environments throughout the country.
Why do you go to great lengths to spend time in nature, like cycling all day, bike packing, camping and fishing?
Getting outside is my church. I've never been much of a theologian, but there's something about the silence on a lake at 5am in a kayak, waiting for fish to wake up for breakfast. Or taking a long bike ride through 65 million year old canyons exuding dinosaur bones into the ground below – it feels heavenly and like a gift from another plane of existence. I cherish every single time I get out there, where I forget what a computer is and remain present. Cycling has had an immense impact on my life since I was a little kid, and has come and gone in different ways throughout time. Nowadays, I love taking day trips gravel-riding in Oregon through forests and high deserts to experience the ancient sculptures of our landscape. It fills my cup, gives me inspiration in my work, and teaches me a lot about what truly speaks to me subconsciously.
How does being in nature inspire your work?
There have been specific moments in recent years where I saw something in nature and it zapped my brain in a very intensely cerebral way, like an electric shock that came straight from the moment to a vision in my head. It sounds like some witchcraft nonsense, but there's something that happens when I am out there where visions just come to my head when I am NOT indoors in front of a computer. That's the tricky part about being a designer or digital illustrator - I can't think of a damn thing I want to draw while sitting in front of a computer. I really need to get out on a hike or a bike ride to really generate the good stuff, in my opinion.
How does disconnecting from a screen and getting outdoors affect your work?
Disconnection from screens cannot be stated enough as the MOST IMPORTANT THING A CREATIVE PERSON CAN DO. We all need the break from being inundated with information constantly, and give our minds space to generate our own perspectives. Some of the most personally satisfying work was the stuff I came up with when I was nowhere near a computer. There have been several occasions of frantic napkin sketches driving on I-84 through the Columbia Gorge, or strange ideas that popped up in my head that I had to repeat back to myself on a bike ride until I got home so I could write it down. Those ideas came through experience, which made them feel unique and special to me. Give your brain some space to breathe!
"Disconnection from screens cannot be stated enough as the MOST IMPORTANT THING A CREATIVE PERSON CAN DO."
Can you speak to the phrases on the title cards in the video and what they mean to you?
These phrases felt like small mantras I have either felt and fought for for a while, or that I continue to work on moving forward. "Ride & Seek" is an obvious play on “hide & seek”, which is my favorite aspect of cycling. Getting lost, being in places I never would be able to access by car because it's too narrow or non-motorized, or by foot because it would take hours to get there.
"Breathe Nature" touches on my love for taking that moment in a field of sage to smell the air and store it inside of my mind. That idea slides right into "Respect Earth," because honestly, we've done some pretty reprehensible things to this planet. Pick up trash if you see it on a trail, even if you have to carry it 4 miles back to your car. Make smart choices in what you support financially. Donate your time to projects that support ecological causes. Show the world we live in some respect, she deserves it!
"Save Our Waters" because our natural resources have been exploited and damaged by our human impact, negatively affecting the water tables, rivers and freshwater lakes, along with the communities that depend on them. Treat resources like the delicate ancestral heirlooms they are and provide your assistance to those who are doing the work to protect our natural world.
"Sleep Amongst The Stars" is an obvious one: get out there and camp. It does wonders for your perspective and provides humbling inspiration to both human potential and our inferiority to the evolutionary balance of the wild. Finally, "Remain Present." You aren't here forever. You are here now, and tomorrow is never a guarantee. Make the most of your time, take care of yourself, and appreciate all that the world has to offer.