Could you start by telling me a bit about your background in art and design?
When I was two years old my mother bought me some washable Crayola markers and I colored my penis purple. That’s where it started. Where it took me most recently was a degree in commercial illustration. I graduated from the Bachelor of Illustration program at Sheridan College in 2015. Since then I've been producing mostly queer/nude work.
What were the difficulties in founding your own brand?
Initially my brand was mostly nude paintings, which I sometimes revisit. After I introduced pins it took off a little bit faster. The first problem was Instagram’s censorship issues. I lost my first account "stephendraws" because I posted a painting of a naked man. I had to make up the followers to sell my pins and art. For awhile I wasn't sure it was worth it, but it all worked out. Sometimes manufacturers or print shops (especially local ones) won't take my work because of the nudity/sexuality of it. But, the challenges I face most are time challenges: from initial concept, to promoting, to sending off the merch/art; sometimes it can take months for certain things to be done in development.
What inspired you to start creating wearable art/design via pins and patches?
I had been seeing a few pin places pop up in 2014/2015 and I thought, well I have to make naked boy pins, and thus my lucrative career started.
Your work spans a series of styles and genres, but everything seems playful and bright. Can you talk about visual and/or experiential references that inspire your aesthetic?
Funny you mention styles. I try to separate my work into pin designs, and full color illustrations, but sometimes they mix a little. I may simplify my illustrations to transfer the design to my pins, and I may create more painted/realistic pins. Depends on the project and how I feel going into it. As far as references go, I grew up in front of the TV in the late ‘90s, early 2000s. A lot of my color choices are because I watched a LOT of animated shows, and they always use bright colors. I also reference candy/processed food packaging of that era— it was wild how bright and interactive it all was.
I love the little quirks of your design— I just ordered the Strawberry with the seeds spelling 69, and the ‘Faguar’— how do you come up with original concepts when so many people are making pins these days?
The challenge with making relevant new work is trying to stay on a path people might not think about. For example, you can find Rupaul quote pins and dated sexual terms the gay community abuses on the daily. It sells. It will always sell. But it’s more interesting to see what I can do differently with my voice, like the strawberry with 69s, or a protein shake with semen in it, or biblical references like Adam and Steve. My art background and my first focus were in commercial illustration, where you have to make something only you can do. At the end of the day, it’s such a niche community. Eventually things start to overlap, which is fine if done just a little differently, but I try not to cross paths as much as I can help it.
There is a lot of eroticism in your work, can you talk about the culture around that, and how you’ve been received by more ‘mainstream’ culture?
Yeah there is a lot of eroticism. I think that started when I was in undergrad, when queer photographers started showing off modern nude work. I needed to do more of that, and because of social media, I was able to feel validated in that work. But social media presents a huge problem, there’s the pressure non-erotic work won't sell. Overall I've been doing great as a solo artist who doesn't have to adhere to any guidelines. As far as being received by mainstream culture, I don't think I've hit that yet, but I would like to keep trying to reach that goal.
How can we as queer people continue to fight the mainstream?
I think the best way to fight against the mainstream heteronormative culture, is to be as authentic to ourselves as possible, doesn't hurt to make it popular too. I think the youth are going to be even more bold and unapologetic about the vastness of queer identities and our rights as humans. I think those rooted in hatred and conservative ideals won’t change, but with enough exposure and visibility their children will have a better chance at breaking the cycle of ignorance and hate.
If you had to pick a short term and a long term goal for your brand, what would they be?
Short term, a successful split in product and illustration— I sometimes struggle with focusing on one more than the other. Long term would include a studio and multiple interns to deal with the larger non-creative tasks that take up a huge amount of my time.
What’s next for you?
I’m gearing up for th summer with a collection of adult summer camp inspired work for my series CAMP COCKALOT. And I will be setting up promo for one of my most popular series MONSTER BOYS with the installment of my fourth set, which I'm really excited about. I have a comic about time traveling hotties, and a zine featuring submitted explicit photographs I paint. Lots and lots of stuff.