There’s something about Evan M. Cohen’s work that stays with you, that causes you to pause and ponder. A certain kind of mindfulness.
The simplicity and spirit imbued in his creations linger on long after you’ve closed Instagram or whatever browser you’ve viewed his work from. So when we thought about the theme of unplugged, Evan was the first artist who popped into my mind. His work feels so calming and soothing, maybe even a bit spiritual. Who better to explore this side of our theme than him?
Were you exposed to art and creativity at an early age, and has drawing always been your main focus? What does your personal creative history look like?
I have always been interested in being an artist. I was always surrounded by art when I was younger. From cartoons to comics to video games, I think that all played a part in finding my way to what I make today. At the time, I was a kid enjoying life - looking back those are all memories that fuel my creativity. I was always drawing things that were fantasy or cartoonish but right around high school I started to try different styles. I went on to study printmaking and work in museum archives, but I also continued to make comics and illustrations. Eventually that became my main focus and what I’m passionate about.
How has your relationship to creating evolved over time?
I really enjoy making art these days and it’s because I feel like I found something that is true and meaningful to me. The art world is huge and you can literally be any kind of artist you want to be. Sort of paralyzed by choice, it’s hard to pick that one thing to really zone in on. Hopefully in school you figure it out and aren’t scrambling once your livelihood depends on it. It took me a long time to realize the art I enjoyed as a kid (comics, cartoons, animation) was the art that I wanted to make.
Much of your work - specifically your wordless comics Noise and Awake - seems to have a spiritual, even meditative nature to it. Was this intentional or did it naturally unfold that way?
I try to make work that is an open narrative and up for interpretation. Since these comics don’t have words, I wanted each page to read as its own story. Sometimes it doesn’t have any meaning behind it and just simply is nice to look at. Even when I write it tends to have an open meaning, just calming words like lyrics to a song. I’m trying to work on more linear narration comics, but I enjoy the open freedom of just images. I hope the viewer’s journey to finding the meaning in my work is meditative and introspective.
What prompted you to start experimenting with animation?
In the past few years, my artwork became more digitally focused and I got a lot more confident using a tablet and the right software. When I was younger, I used to make AIM icons and some flash stuff and stop motion videos. Now that I’m back on the computer more I’m teaching myself my own way of animating. It’s been a lot of fun figuring everything out.
How do you decide when a piece should be animated?
Anything can be animated if you want it to be. If I could, I would animate all of my comics - you can see that the panels throughout some of them are sort of frames of an animation. I’m looking to experiment more with animation this year and create longer videos to bridge the gap between my comics and animations.
What does your process look like when creating an animation?
Usually in the beginning the ideas are worked out on paper, mapping out how it will start and end. But the process of creating the animation is done in the moment. It’s the same way I make comics, I really enjoy the process and like responding to my own actions. The sketching and finished idea is done at the same time and the end result is a piece created in the moment.
In an interview you did with It’s Nice That last year, you express feeling somewhat conflicted with how to balance technology in your life. I think that’s something everyone right now can relate to on some level. How do you currently try to balance technology and life and creativity?
I will admit it is really hard to separate my life from technology. I use it for enjoyment, for connections, for business, inspiration, music, news, everything. Most of my art is made on the computer, too. I really think there are positive ways of using these tools without feeling pressured to constantly be available and relevant.
In order to craft ideas and have material to pull from you have to live a life outside of the studio. You have to go out and have real experiences to then go back inside, back to the studio to sit for a long time and reflect. It’s a push and pull relationship and I am always trying to find the best balance between work and play and what’s the best use of my time.
Do you have a mindfulness practice?
I try to read and delve into different worlds. Art is really meditative and mindful for me. Music, both listening and playing. Comedy podcasts. Visiting gardens, being outdoors. I guess these are all different practices but they add up to a positive life.
What does being unplugged mean to you? What do you see as the benefits of unplugging?
Being unplugged means being disconnected. Unplugging could mean simply going outdoors, but it also could mean going to a museum, a show. Do something. Make an experience memorable without any record of it. Do a puzzle or do nothing at all. Enjoy the moment.
I try to remember to enjoy things in the moment a lot these days. I feel pressured to record and share information, but sometimes a moment is just for me. Technology has its time and place in my life and I do my best not to abuse it. It is a tool that can be very helpful but it’s important to feel comfortable when it’s not available. Unplugging for me makes each life more personal and meaningful.
Unplugged is about better understanding how technology shapes our lives and work - for those who disconnect from overflowing feeds, but also those fighting for access to the future of school, work, and entertainment.