Stacey Rozich on Murals, Masks, and Magical Gouache
Stacey Rozich’s bold colors and incredible, fairytale-like characters draw the eye - but it’s the subtle details, her use of symbolism, and clever compositions that stick with me.
From original paintings and prints, to murals and commercial work (her painting was used for the cover of the Grammy Award-nominated packaging for Father John Misty’s I Love You Honeybear), her art is magical. I reached out to Stacey to ask her about how she got started, how she works, and what’s next.
What’s your first memory of making art? Were there key moments or inspirational people that helped you become an artist?
My first real memory is ‘drawing time’ in kindergarten. We were drawing animals and I drew a leopard: he was walking on a branch and he was looking straight at you but he had about 12 legs. I got a lot of praise for it and I remember feeling a mixture of embarrassment and glee. My father was particularly proud because he’s an artist; he told me when I was around that young age he ‘knew’ I had it in me.
Did you receive formal training in art?
I did not, actually! I was so hyper obsessed with drawing that I did it all the time when I was a kid on my own. I’m not sure why my Mom and Dad didn’t put me in classes - probably a mixture of money being too tight and my dad thinking the best training was self-motivated practice.
He told me at a very young age, “Draw every day.” And I did. Why waste money on putting a kid through classes when they scribble away all day by themselves? I didn’t have my first formal art class until I was 18 and a freshman at California College of Arts. It was a very heady and exhilarating experience.
What’s your studio space like? Where else do you draw and paint?
My studio space is very lovely and cozy. I recently moved it into the second bedroom in my house, so I’m a home-dweller now. Before this I worked for two years in my own tiny room in the Keystone Art Spaces in Lincoln Heights, here in LA. Two months ago I decided I couldn’t afford to pay studio rent and rent at my place with my boyfriend so I decided to move my space home. I honestly don’t know how artists do it - rent big warehouse to paint. But I digress!
I set it up basically the same, nay, better actually! I have a massive desk that’s actually a dining table from IKEA that I got in the discount section. I have my iMac desktop positioned on one side and the other side is dedicated to painting; the desk is that big. I have my palette of watercolors on my right because I’m right-handed, along with my brushes, pens and pencils and my little collection of fluorescent gouache I got in Tokyo last Spring. I went nuts at the art stores in Japan because of course they do art supplies better than everyone else. The neon red gouache is my absolute favorite! It packs so much punch. I’m bad at putting the cap back on so it’s drying out and I hate myself for letting that happen.
Some of the bigger equipment I have is a nice high-quality printer which I use to make my print editions — I recommend a nice printer to anyone looking to make prints. I have a big ol’ rusty flat file I got off of Craigslist. To save space, I put my big bookshelf on top of it that’s not really anchored against the wall but has stayed so far. I have all of my art books tucked away in there, and some random figures and toys I keep for inspiration. I feel silly sometimes being an adult who has a fluffy wool ram toy and a soft Ootori-Sama duck displayed on my bookshelf, but they’re things I enjoy. This little space is my whole art world.
Did the move to an in-home studio have any downsides?
I was just petting my cat Dougie before I started answering this question, so yes there are many distractions around here. Having dishes in the sink, recycling to take out, laundry to do, yeah, all that stuff makes for downsides which is aggravating.
Having a separate space to ‘go to work’ was really nice. Psychically it was helpful to have a boundary between work and home life. Though it is nice to be painting from home because my house is quite lovely and my windows look into my backyard which is full of trees and giant banana palms, with hummingbirds getting their little drink on at the feeder; there’s so much life!
At my old space I had low ceilings and a teeny tiny window that looked out into an interior hallway which wasn’t exactly refreshing.
What themes do you find yourself exploring through your art?
It’s been a low-key theme for a while, but the act of hiding one’s self through costume and adornment has been a constant thread. I like the idea of obfuscating one’s identity through masks and mascot heads, with layers of cloaks and textiles; to be something completely different than what lies beneath. It’s visually alluring, but also has a second or third layer of obscuring status. I want to play with the idea that everyone, regardless of gender, race, or identity, can be free of status and exist on an equal field, to move around and portray themselves as something wholly different.
How do you prepare to paint a mural? And how do you go about actually painting it?
I do a lot of concept sketching, which usually has input from the client I’m working for. Once the concept is nailed down I source my paint - usually big vats of acrylic from Blick - and I mix up the colors and prep them for the job. Once I’m on site, I’m either on the ground or on a scaffolding loosely marking out different boundaries and points of interest. Then I get to painting! I’m sure a more organized muralist would pull out their hair to see how loosey-goosey I operate, but hey! They’ve all turned out well, so far.
If you don’t paint or draw for a while, how does it effect you?
If it’s been a while since I’ve painted I can feel myself turning listless and unfocused, like I don’t have a purpose. I used to draw all the time, but as I’ve gotten older, I go days or weeks without really drawing. I draw out the framework for a piece, but there’s seldom a time when I just sit down and doodle. When I do, it always feels amazing. I paint so much more now which brings me a bigger and different kind of joy, but I do wish I could harness some of that unfiltered dedication I had when I was younger to sit with pen and paper and go to town.
You have really successful flash sales with new work selling out in minutes. Do you have any tips for running a sale like that?
Those are always such sweet surprises and I am always so blown away when I get such a fast response. I try not to do them too often to keep the demand high, which is actually a direct outcome from these sales. Does that make sense? Because when I sell out of pieces, I sell out! It takes me a while to amass a small collection to sell again so by that time buyers are usually waiting on me, it’s been four or six months.
Any advice I would give is to focus on quality versus quantity and to know your audience. Do prints sell out at a certain size and price point? Do original pieces that have certain themes sell first? All of this information builds up interesting analytics for how sales occur - it’s worth paying attention to.
How do you promote new work? What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about sharing their work for the first time?
I use social media all the time for promotion - mainly Instagram. Sometimes I’ll post random things I don’t deem good enough for the ‘Gram on my Twitter. I don’t have many followers on there, so it’s fun - it’s kind of like screaming into the void and only four people like it.
I find Instagram to be a really helpful tool in sharing what I’m working on, where I’ll be showing my newest work, or what my studio looks like while I’m painting. I post process videos of me painting close up and people really seem to enjoy that, almost like some sort of visual ASMR.
Instagram can be a window into an artist’s headspace, which I appreciate - I think other viewers and followers appreciate it, too. I like it when you’re allowed a sneak peek into a maker’s inner sanctum.
In terms of advice, I would suggest Instagram as a starting off point to get your work ‘out there’ and to update it often. But! I would follow that up with putting together a website, however simple. Even just a landing page with a few easily-accessible images to use as a portfolio with your contact info. I’ve heard from a few curators and art directors that say it’s nice to have a place to access the ‘Best Of’ instead of having to scroll through months worth of posts.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
For young me, it was from my father, “Draw every day.” That advice from him sent me on the direction to where I am today. That helped me hone my craft from such a young age. For current me, I would say, “Be kind to yourself,” which no one in particular has said to me. It’s been floating around the internet self-care movement ether. I need to remind myself of this when I’m having my nightly 3 a.m. waking mini panic attacks, letting my self-hating demons get the best of me.
You mentioned your father a couple times. How would you describe his artwork? Do you see any of his influence in your work?
My dad is a commercial artist in Seattle (johnrozich.com in case you’re wondering!) and he works in chalk and pastel doing signs and menu boards for restaurants, bar chains, grocery stores, and private commissions. He has a killer lettering style - it’s so clean and expressive.
I’d say his emotional influence on me was much bigger than his aesthetic since our capabilities are totally different. He does inorganic matter extremely well: letterforms, cars, architecture - although he does landscapes beautifully, too. He came up in the 70’s with not a lot of formal training, so his work is more self-taught in a traditional vein; Edward Hopper is his ultimate inspiration.
With me, I can’t even draw a car without it looking like a Fisher-Price toddler toy. The minutiae of architectural drafting just doesn’t really do it for me, I need more flexibility and movement in my subjects. The human form has always been my strong suit - that and botanicals and patterns. When I was pretty young my dad would call me into his garage studio for help on drawing people in his work. We joke that his style of people look more like the Jack In The Box mascot; round head, two dots for eyes, and a pointy conical nose. I always thought was so cool that he trusted me to draw for him. It was a great bonding moment for us as father and daughter, and also artist and pupil.
What’s your dream project?
My dream project right now hasn’t quite solidified yet, but I’m fairly sure I want to start doing books. Illustrating children’s books and perhaps creating a series for young adults that’s part art book and part graphic novel of some kind. I’m 31 now so I’ve been painting in my current style for almost 11 years and I can feel my motivation and desires shifting. It’s gone from chasing after commercial work and pulling off gallery shows, one after another. I’ll always pursue both, but my enthusiasm for the art world has cooled. It’s time for me to shift my focus - I can feel the tide changing.