CHAT: Elliot Wambold

A chat with Elliot Wambold on drawing, humor as an affirmation, and finding time for creativity in day-to-day routines. 

Gab: How’s your day been? 

Elliot: It’s been pretty good, I’m at work right now and it’s pretty chill.

Gab: Nice, nice, well thank you so much for wanting to be a part of this project. You’re the first person that I’ve talked to.

Elliot: Oh cool, I’m honored! 

Gab: I guess to start, if you would want to just tell me about your practice and your medium?

Elliot: Yeah, so I started leaning on colored pencils mostly, because of the pandemic. I had a little studio space where I was doing larger-scale stuff for a second, and then we all had to go inside. I was in this really, really tiny bedroom – pretty much my bed took up the entire room. I was working with very limited space and was just getting really antsy. 

I think at that time, we were all feeling it – like a boiling pot of water, there was a lot of steam building up. There was a lot of political stuff really popping off, so there was a lot of pent-up energy that I needed to deal with. 

I was doing little sketches in ink and stuff. Those were kind of just weird, sketchy fun things. I ended up making this colored pencil drawing that sort of set me on this path of like, “Okay, this medium has a lot to it and feels very right for me.”

The first drawing that I made, the idea behind it was that in that period of time, we were sort of lasered with everything that was going on, subject to all of this information. I think everyone was kind of overloaded at the time because everyone was just staring at a screen.

So, it’s this drawing of a duck having a conversation with Dobby from Harry Potter, Dobby’s trying to give him advice and the duck’s looking scared and confused. The idea is like, “I’m the duck we’re the duck”, kind of just ambling through whatever we’re dealing with and being informed in ways that are influencing a way of thinking.

In terms of my practice, I kind of just move through life and watch stuff and try to stay sensitive to cool imagery. That can be literally anywhere – it could be entertainment, music, anything that really sticks. If I get an idea and it’s hanging out in my head for a day or two, I’m like this is probably something I can work with.

Gab: You’re sort of curating inspiration from different sources but wanting it to be accessible to people so that when they see a piece and if they see something like Dobby, they can make a connection.

Elliot: Yeah, it makes me laugh. I see humor as an affirmation. I’m affirming that this thing that I’m looking at should be there. I’m enjoying it being there, even if it’s something really absurd – it can be like “Thank god that thing happened, because it’s coloring my life in this way.” I think those might be the ideas that stick with me: little absurd moments that happen everywhere. 

I’m thinking of this other drawing I made, this dude doing pushups with a compass on him. It came from this episode of Love Island, this dude who was working out for this girl. He was doing pushups to impress her and had this compass tattoo on him, and I was like, “Something about that, it’s really hitting right.”

I guess it’s a lot of watching stuff, I’m a media addict – it’s about staying sensitive to things that excite me. 

Gab: I’m familiar with Love Island, and it’s cool to think about something from that show that’s sort of absurd being in a colored pencil drawing. 

Elliot: Yeah, or something that would be considered low art – that’s where you can find some really cool stuff, honestly. 

Gab: You’re sort of mixing mediums and genres that way in that you’re taking different forms and giving new meaning to them or putting them in a new frame. 

I want to go back to something you said about feeling the need to create during COVID for political reasons but also for reasons of feeling restless. Before you start a piece, or when you see something that makes you want to draw, how does the actual creative act feel for you and what is your process of getting into that headspace to create? 

Elliot: I can be very obsessive and I’m very much a perfectionist. Getting started on something can be really nerve-wracking. I like using a lot of negative space in my work, so there’s a part of me that when I look at a piece of paper, I’m like this is good as is. Not that it’s a super rare occurrence, but I really have to be feeling it. I think that comes out of feeling confident at the time, which can come from just having a good day or maybe exercising, there are endorphins in me and I’m like, “Okay, I’m feeling jazzed.”

When I do start, it’s like peaks and valleys. I like to map things out at first. I’ll get to a certain point of rendering where I’m like, this is really getting tedious, if I’m like shooting for legibility, I want there to be like a certain level of realism, just for me personally, I like seeing that as an end result. So, there will be times when I’m just like, “This is taking so long, I can’t do this.”

I would say the opening 20% of the drawing can be the hardest and that’s usually where I leave things unfinished. But, past that 20%, it’s kind of like up, up, and up in terms of my excitement with it – that’s probably where I find the most enjoyment in making: that after 20% where I’m so excited about something where I started, I’m like well I don’t really need to map out this part I’m just going to go for it. Then, I’ll start to flesh something else out in colored pencil cuz I think there’s a different conversation happening when I’m adding color.

Gab: Yeah that beginning part – I’m also a perfectionist so I feel like getting started is really the hardest part. But once you have that momentum going and endorphins continuing, it just starts a whole thing.

For you, does using color in your pieces affect how you experience color in the world?

Elliot: Kind of. I like to apply rules for myself in terms of color – I just stick to primary colors and then sort of blend them together to make differing hues. For me, that’s simpler and cheaper than getting a whole bunch of colored pencils. I think there’s something in that simplification where it’s just straight up primary like Roy-G-Biv – something in that in that rule I think it’s working in tandem with the subject matter and the themes of a lot of my drawings where it’s like I want it to be simple, kind of rudimentary in a way.

I think if it’s affected anything like my understanding of color in the real world, I just have a greater appreciation for very unnuanced colors. If I see a really jarring red or something, I’m pretty attracted to that. 

Gab: That’s cool – I have a friend who did black and white photography and he did it for a while and he said it sort of messed up how he saw things in real time cuz he almost said that lens was trapped in his mind. 

Elliot: Yeah, like desaturating stuff in real life.

Gab: Yeah, exactly. 

Elliot: I feel like that’d be really depressing. 

Gab: Oh I know, everything is kind of like autocorrecting in your mind.

Elliot: Yeah, everything’s like a noir movie.

Gab: Literal dark days. What you said about the rule with color –  did you get any “formal training” for your drawing or is it something self-taught?

Elliot: Oh yeah so I started drawing when I was like really little because of Blues Clues. If you go back to that stuff, it’s like proto-ASMR. When he’s drawing and the way it’s shot, and the way you can like, feel that – it’s just so intoxicating. That might just be me recalling deep memories, but ever since then, I was really interested in the medium of just drawing. I would draw characters from books and stuff and from that I developed a tiny portfolio, of just a bunch of doodles.

Where I’m from we have this art center called the “Goggle Works” – I’m from Reading, PA – my dad took me there and we met this really intense tattoo artist. He was drawing demons and Jesus on the cross, like something that would be on a motorcycle jacket, like hardcore Jesus, rock and roll Jesus – but he was super technically skilled. 

My dad was like, “Do you do classes? Would you be willing to take my 10-year-old son under your wing?”

Gab: That’s so sick.

Elliot: At first he was like, “Nah”, but then my dad showed him my drawings. I think he was into the fact that I was producing so much so he was like, “I’ll take him on.” Since then, I’ve been trained in a bunch of stuff. There were a bunch of artists working in that studio, it was an old factory converted into a bunch of studio spaces. I started learning technical drawing through him and then was recommended to another artist to learn about oil painting, then another to learn about watercolor.

Gab: That’s cool, it’s formal training through an unconventional way, this sort of random tattoo artist – I like that story.

Elliot: Yeah, it definitely plays into me wanting a certain look to my stuff and wanting things to look realistic. It might also play into my wanting rules for myself. 

Gab: So how does that process fit into your day-to-day life? Is it something you intentionally make time for or does it sort of just happen for you as inspiration strikes?

Elliot: It’s usually when I feel very compelled too, when I run into something I’m like oh that’s really exciting I need to draw. I do a really bad job of making time for it or sort of setting up the parameters I need to in order to have these moments.

I had a studio for a year and just ended up not using it. I don’t know if I would be working in the same way if I just put myself in an empty room, and was like “Ok time to do this thing”. It’s been an ongoing battle for me. I produce so slowly, so I probably need to set some time aside for this but I need to brainstorm how to set parameters for stuff like that to happen or have multiple things working at the same time.

Gab: It’s such a struggle.

Elliot: Especially post-art school. Now, I work a 9-5. I have to do math in my 9-5, I never thought I’d be at a job where math is a huge part of it. My brain looks a little different than what it was looking like in school. 

Gab: I feel like the vision with getting a studio is like, “If only I had this free room to create in, then I would just create so much”. But depending on what else is going on in our lives, certain parts of our minds might be more depleted by the end of the day. 

Do you feel like having a job where you’re thinking more in one way affects your ability to create in other ways?

Elliot: Oh my god, yeah. I really feel like it’s a rare breed to find a successful artist who didn’t just go full unemployment mode for a minute in order to produce a body of work. It seems like you need to be bored. 

You need to have the time to be like, “Oh what am I doing?” I don’t have time to question that anymore. Or, if I come home from work, I’m like, I don’t want to think about anything – I want to watch a stupid thing. Which, I guess I’m working in tandem with my lifestyle change – I’m just watching dumb stuff but it has some good stuff in it, so I stay sensitive to it. Usually, something shows itself. 

A lot of rave culture in the UK happened because people were unemployed and were living with a bunch of other unemployed people and had time to make tons of music

Gab: I’m super into the rave scene here so I’ll have to look into that. I also wanted to ask how Philly in general has influenced you as an artist. If you moved here from Reading, what has being in an urban environment and being surrounded by other creative aspects of the city done for you? 

Elliot: I think having access to people who are into similar stuff at a larger scale. There was definitely a community of artists where I’m from but they were around 40 plus – different from my understanding of art and what art could be and look like. 

A lot of it was going to art school and then engaging with the community to some degree. I remember going to my first Friday at Vox Populi. All these avenues of possibility started opening up – I was like, “I could open up a project space or curate a show” – I never had that line of thinking when I was younger. 

Being in a city, there’s so much going on. I can feel like a spinning top sometimes. But in general, I don’t feel particularly influenced by the urban nature of the environment – it’s more the breadth of people I run into.

Gab: Yeah, I feel like it really is the genuine connections you make and what you see other people doing that inspires you. The creative scene here feels a bit unique from other cities in that way. 

Elliot: Yeah, it’s very personal. It feels approachable. A place like New York is like jumping in the deep end, whereas here it feels kind of folky. 

Gab: Have you had any specific experiences with the Philly art scene that have felt like a pinnacle moment in your journey?

Elliot: Oh my god, yeah. In deciding where I wanted to go to school, I was looking at contemporary artists. I discovered this one through my friend who had gone to a museum here and I was super into their stuff. They were a big reason why I was like, “Oh, this a thing people can do with their lives.”

My senior year, I had a thesis show and I made this little sculpture of a hand crawling up a candle. The artist I had been influenced by – the one who sort of kicked my butt into deciding to go to school – came through to just check out work. They ended up purchasing this sculpture from me and I was like, “This is nuts. This is really, really crazy.”

It wasn’t a packed room, it was before the show opened. I was able to have an actual conversation with them about what I was speaking about in the show. I feel like something like that is so special and rare. Philly is rife with moments like that. It’s at a human scale. 

Gab: I love the human scale of it. It can fit into your life in an easygoing way if you want it to but there’s not some overarching pressure to be really intense. 

For my final question, how do you see your artistic vision or your practice evolving in the next season?

Elliot: It would be cool to make money off my stuff, but I would also like to produce things at a quicker rate. Whether that’s rediscovering an entirely new way of working or streamlining the way I already do work, that’s what I want to move towards. In terms of what I want to talk about, it’s always going to be essentially the same. All my stuff is very self-reflexive and hopefully, through that, it can be a universal thing. People can supplant their own points of view on it.

I think the questions I ask of what I run into in entertainment or whatever or what I ask of myself are always going to be essentially along the same lines. How effectively I choose to speak to that or how quickly I can speak to that, I want to see enhanced. 

Gab: It takes so much time to find a routine within other routines. Life gets so busy and hectic. 

Elliot: Yeah, it’s the mid-20s man. 

Gab: I’m being wrecked by them!

Elliot: We’re figuring shit out all the time.

Gab: Yeah, it’s such an interesting time in life. But I’m so glad you wanted to be a part of this project – I’m honored that you were the first I got to talk to!

Elliot: I’m honored, too!

Gab: This project can evolve in so many ways – we’re sort of just seeing where it goes, this might end up on Instagram, on the website, it might be on both.

Elliot: TikTok?

Gab: Yeah, honestly, spread the word. The intention is just to see what happens. 

Elliot: Well cool, yeah, I’m so happy to be a part of it.

Elliot: he/him