Artist Interview: Shawn Stucky

Have you ever wondered why those vivid, very visual experiences that we encounter while dreaming fade away so quickly after we get up? Why they leave us with a sweet or sour feeling? Have you ever wondered how your dreams would look on this side of reality? Better yet, how a nightmare would look?

I have always believed that our visual subconsciousness has everything to do with the content and aspect of our dreams; and so does artist Shawn Stucky. Dreams—silky and angelical, or nightmarish and Machiavellian—are an inspiration to Shawn’s creative process. This Kansas-born, Chicago-based artist transfers those images—the ones that stick with us after a dream and that visual unconsciousness in between dreams—to colorful, vivid, near-theatrical screen prints. Shawn spoke with us about dreams, how he became an artist and the rewards he gets from his life’s work, conscious and subconscious:

Could you tell us how you became an artist?
SS: I became an artist by accident. I always wanted to be a graphic designer, and actually that’s what I studied, graphic design. I was influenced by a lot of the post-modern graphic design pieces I would see in books online; there were a lot of things that I really enjoyed, but I could never replicate my own style of that kind of graphic design. I started to mess around in Photoshop, scanning images in, finding things online and I created my first piece which visually became the Lollapalooza banner that I have here. I had about six pieces created and I wanted to somehow reproduce these in a way that I could give them to people but I didn’t know how to print them. And one day I passed by Steve Walter’s print studio Screwball Press and there was a flyer in the front door that said, “crash course in screen printing,” and I signed up for a class. I knew after I made my first piece at his studio that this is something I should get involved with and reproduce all my work in this style and that’s how it began. If it wasn’t for his studio or him allowing me to come and print my work, I never would have gotten anywhere with my artistic career.

How was the experience of having your first piece exhibited as a banner in Lollapalooza?
SS: Lollapalooza was the first time I exhibited my work in a public place. It was overwhelming to have my first screen print created also be my first public showing of my work. It was a huge confidence boost for me to have my work at this huge music festival in downtown Chicago. The experience at the festival was fantastic. It was from this ambition that I was able to get my art into Sundlaugin [Sigur Rós’ recording studio] and find my first international gallery exhibit at Svarta Pakkhúsið Gallery in Keflavík, Iceland.

I understand that you are green/red colorblind. When did you find out, and how does this affect your creative process?
SS: I found out that I was red/green color-blind probably when I was a senior in high school. And after I went to college, I decided to take art classes and that’s when I really started to struggle with color theory because I couldn’t make brown, or I couldn’t mix this color and I was frustrated because all the colors I’d mix would come out the same and I just didn’t know what I was doing wrong. Over time, I learned to rely on value more to help create my composition, to let value and contrast be the primary influence on my design. I do have people who would come over and help me to mix ink. I always like to say that I paint the colors that most people can’t see because I see all these things way differently than how you would interpret it.

You are a Chicago-based artist. Could you tell us how Chicago has influenced you as an artist?
SS: I moved here from a really small town in Kansas nine years ago and Chicago obviously had a huge effect on my thought process. I originally started showing my work at Around the Coyote back when that was around several years ago and that was my foot in the door. From there I was able to work with other galleries, theater companies and eventually now I’m working with the Chicago Artists’ Coalition.

Could you take us through the process you use to make your new pieces on wood?
SS: For my newer works…I have a distinct process in how I create them, because it’s not just straight screen printing anymore, I involve a lot more hands-on approach; I do a lot of hand-painting, I’ll also do what I call “give my works a bath” when I’m creating the background of my image. It’s a long process because you have to wait for the ink or paint to dry of course and continue building up from that.

Where is your inspiration?
SS: The inspiration for a lot of my work has evolved over the years. My first pieces are like a visual diary of my life. Eventually I became more aware of where my inspiration came from and they it was hidden in my dreams. I think I have intense dreams and I would remember them in detail and I would get up after one of these dreams and start writing things down, whatever I could remember. And then I discovered another place where my inspiration comes from, and that’s that state of mind where you are not awake and you are not sleeping, when you are in between dreams, and between reality, like some extra dimension. It’s weird. I could see visual things in my eyelids. I call them silent films because I don’t hear any sound I just see these things happening.

I know you have exhibited around the world. How has this international experience been for you?
SS: I had my first show internationally in Iceland, which was my first gallery exhibit and I actually traveled there. It was a learning experience; it was fantastic going to Iceland to see my work hanging up in a gallery. I was actually able to drive around the country, that was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever done—seeing these unique colors and the aurora.

What are you working on now?
SS: I’m working on my new style of printing where there is hardly any printing at all; it’s all hand-painting. Before I would just work with the same five or six colors maximum; now I’m unlimited. I’m going all out and spend all my time building up the piece to have as many colors as I think it needs. I’m letting my subconscious create what I think it’s beautiful at the moment. I’m just putting things together as I see them and a lot of times I don’t know why I do this. That’s why many of these pieces are not for sale because I now need to understand what I did and I need to follow up with this in the future months.

For more information about Shawn Stucky, visit

His next exhibit, “Time Signatures” (Coalition Gallery artists’ group show), opens August 19, 2011, at Coalition Gallery, an initiative of Chicago Artists’ Coalition at 217 N Carpenter St (formerly Flatfile Galleries). “Time Signatures” will run August 19–September 16, 2011. Free. Visit for more information.