Interview: David Olenick

By / Apr 7th, 2014 / , / No comments

Objects, animals, and even mythical creatures are given a voice by graphic designer David Olenick. 

Inspired by anxiety, embarrassment, flaws and profanities, David takes the bad stuff in life, waves his magic Illustrator wand, and twists it into funny, relatable tidbits. From wine glasses telling you to text someone you shouldn’t be, to Bigfoot asserting he has nothing to prove, David‘s work is laugh-out-loud funny, and beautiful to boot. 

Ever considered how it might feel to be a pretzel? Or wondered what the stork’s exchange policy is? These are the kind of questions that David answers through his pictorial one-liners. We’ve delved into David‘s portfolio before, and you can read our last post on him here. We also sell a whole bunch of cards, prints and cushions featuring his work in our online shop here. We can’t get enough of his clever, simple illustrations, and love that they all have a killer concept at their heart. We’re also partial to a well-placed swear word or two, making his work just the kind of thing that floats our boat.  

We spoke to David about what sugar cubes are thinking, among other things:

How do you make your images?

I start with rough sketches, usually done when I’m out and about, and they look terrible. Really. My sketchbook is an absolute eyesore. You’d never know it belonged to a professional artist, but it works for me just to think on paper and keep track of my ideas. I usually do several follow-up sketches for each design so I can quickly and easily work out the shapes and composition. The typography is always part of the sketch, so it ends up fully integrated into the design, as opposed to being tacked on at the end. It probably doesn’t look like it, but I actually consult photo reference next, looking for the basic geometric shapes in what I’m drawing and using Adobe Illustrator to build up just enough visual information to make the idea understood. Last, I roughen up the contours and add textures that I create myself, so that the piece feels a little less digital and has the look of old, imperfect screen printing. The texture is also useful as as a subtle way of activating an empty area of the composition, or describing forms without adding extra lines, shapes or colors. Once in a while I’ll use little or no texture, and that’s usually a just a matter or trying it and thinking: no, it looks too busy.

Can you tell me about yourself?

I’m an illustrator/designer living in New York City. I spend most days focussed on eating and drinking, but I make sure I take a few breaks to get in a little work.

How do you come up with the concepts for your work?

For me it doesn’t work to try to squeeze ideas out at will. I just devour as much art/movies/books/music/culture as possible, and I try to cultivate the kind of relaxed state of mind I need to be creative. In other words, I goof off a lot. Most of my ideas come when I’m not at my desk or directly focussed on work. It’s mostly when I’m at bars and restaurants or out talking a walk.

What inspires your art?

I’m slightly uncomfortable most of the time, and I find that speaking honestly about that makes people laugh. So most of my drawings are inspired by anxiety, frustration, awkwardness and embarrassment. Then again, some of my drawings are just inspired by a pun I thought of. I particularly like the dissonance of a pun used in the service of a negative emotion. You see a sad pun and you’re like, “I’m not sure what emotion I’m supposed to feel right now.” My visual style is inspired by my OCD, which is calmed by simplicity, brevity and order. The fewer details to obsess over the better. Also curse words. Nothing like a well placed f-bomb.

Can you tell me about your ‘MADE’ t-shirt collection?

“MADE” is an ongoing project at From time to time they invite an artist to open a t-shirt shop on their site that also serves as kind of an on-line gallery. They leave it up to the artists to curate the shops, which is quite cool of them. There are 16 tees in my collection, so it gave me a chance to present my point of view in a comprehensive way to a large audience. It’s pretty fucking exciting. I mean, how many designers get a chance to have their own collection without investing tons of money or becoming successful and famous first? The list of artists Threadless has asked to do this is not particularly long, so I’m very lucky.

What’s the strangest place you’ve seen one of your designs?

Someone baked a cake version of one of my designs and posted it on the internet, including pictures of her husband eating it. She said she chose my design mostly because it would be easy to recreate. Fair enough.

Best reaction to one of your illustrations?

“Ruined by the swear word. Sigh…”

Tell us a joke?

I’m the product of a mixed marriage – Russian and Cherokee. My father’s Russian and my mother’s a Jeep.

A sugar cube is sitting in front of you on a table, what is it thinking?

It’s looking at my coffee thinking, “I realize you’re bitter, but violence is not dissolution.”

You can see more of David‘s work here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.