SAN DIEGO - Eric Swesey is a native San Diegan artist who resides in Pacific Beach. Eric is no stranger to ocean, a local surfer at Tourmaline he is inspired every day from the sea. Eric says, “Surfing has provided me access to more mediums to work with, getting to work digitally with custom lams, or creating wood burn fins. I really like storytelling and surf culture has its own oral tradition. Every parking lot has a history and everyone is always talking about how waves used to break or how someone used to surf, or what happened during this one storm, it’s almost mythical like old sailor stories.”
Eric Swesey has a huge range of mediums that he works with in his art. A recent 2008 graduate of the Art Institute of San Diego Eric has skills in graphic design, print ads, and in wood burning. His creations are truly amazing…Eric says, “I have been drawing my whole life and it has only been the last 3 years I have started to work with wood burning. I like to work a lot with wood stains and a blow torch giving some extra dimension to things.”
Eric incorporates a lot of sea life and tattoo art with his wood burning. Growing up in the community of Normal Heights near Avalon Tattoo, Eric would always look up to the guys that hung out around there. Eric says, “I started to get into tattoo art after meeting Morgan Pennypacker and Milford Barnes two local tattoo legends in town. My friend Broc McCombs and I would hang out at Seven Seas Tattoo parlor and Tower Tattoo and listen to these guys talk for hours.” Eric didn’t start surfing until he could drive so nautical art came later in his life. Eric has always loved that throw-back hot rod sort of aesthetic. Maybe it’s from growing up in San Diego and having respect for yesteryear but Eric claims his love for that throwback sea life art got worse when he moved to Hawaii and familiarized himself with the old navy culture on the islands and the Americana tattoo pioneers in Hawaii.
So how did you begin to do art with hand planes? “My girlfriend and I tried body surfing with hand planes one day on the south side of Crystal Pier and fell in love. Her birthday was coming up and I wanted to make her one. After ruining a few planks of wood, I had help from a good friend Kevin Connelly. He had so much fun making it that it sparked a mini business plan between us.” So far maple has been the best wood for Eric to work with. Random old Oak or Pine table tops have been good as well, but the best pieces have been scraps pulled off old dead furniture.
So how do you apply a torch or burn the wood I asked? Eric says “I use a simple wood burning gun that heats up with a lot of different tips I have sanded down and made work. I draw everything with pencil first. Next I go over my line work with the wood burning gun.”
Making wood look old and rustic is an art in itself, how does wood stain play a role in that? Eric says, “Wood stains have the funniest names, my favorite is Colonial Maple or Cherry 235. I like spending hours and hours on one piece, so after 40 or so hours later I was done, but I didn’t want to be… so I got some old wood stains and really small brushes and started to stain more detail into the piece. The outcome always makes it look older and gives it a rustic look and feel.”
Yahoo the search engine giant recently featured Eric Swesey’s President Abe Lincoln maple skateboard he has on ETSY in the Yahoo Sports Section. Eric has now created several different wood burn art pieces such as a skateboard, sailor map, treasure chest, hand planes, and vanity. All of which are conveniently located on ETSY for purchase. “I just love everything about ETSY and appreciate all the talented artist that sell items there.”
“The size restraint of hand planes limits the time I can really invest in them. I might only get to spend 4 to 6 hours on one, as where the Vanity skateboard took over 20 hours of burning and staining. When I am in the midst of working on something I get sort of obsessed with it and carry it with me everywhere I go. I look at it in different lighting to really see it in all its glory. I also have a bad habit of too much detail, I never really have an envisioned finished product in my head I just figure I am done when I run out of space.”
“The maps came around from my need to spend too much time on one thing. Some of those maps I have spent 80 hours or so just adding more detail then the eye can see
using a magnifying glass and head lamp for most of it.” After Hawaii Eric moved back to his hometown of San Diego and decided to enroll at “The Art Institute of San Diego” to study in advertising. Once at school he got into package design and illustration but mostly spent eight hours a day sketching to kill time in class.
Other than Eric’s wood burn art, he also has been making graphics for the last 4 years and has been fortunate to work with some really cool companies and people. Some of his favorite clients he has had the chance to work for are Mission Surf Shop in Pacific Beach, Disillusion Magazine (French Surf and Skate Mag) Pacific Magazine, and San Diego County Department of Environmental Services. Some future projects include the United Stated Navy Base in San Diego. They have contacted Eric about working on some old oak bars in the Chief Officers mess hall in a building they are renovating. Eric also recently finished up a map of Calico Ghost Town in San Bernadino that will be on their new brochures. He also is working on some new graphics for Mission Surf and Joes on the Nose Coffee.
I asked Eric what is some good advice for an inspiring artist. “Having a part time job to help out when art is slow is the best advice for an inspiring artist, and if art is a full time thing for you, it might become slow at times and there is where we get the term starving artist.”
The Cardiff Kook is honored to have the chance to interview local artist Eric Swesey. We wish him the best of luck this 2012 and beyond! Be sure to check out Eric’s website, ETSY store and Facebook pages below!