Nick Sawyers is the prime Defgrip candidate. Rider, artist, good time haver and more. We’re stoked to finally have him on the site.
We threw some questions his way, so click below to learn more.
For those who are not familiar with Nick Sawyers, please tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in Lincoln Nebraska, found my way out to Orange County/LA a while back and have been floating around since. I’ve been a freelance muralist, illustrator, designer, etc. for about 10 years now and pretty much a BMX lifer at this point.
You’ve been living in Southern California for a good stretch now. How have you enjoyed your time out West and what are some pros and cons to living here in your experience?
Initially it was just going to school, riding the multitude of spots out here, and enjoying good weather year round. That sorta evolved into painting murals and exploring the rest of the state in a beat up 4runner too.
Pros: There’s always tons of stuff going on. Being a artist there’s alotta creative opportunities, and like minded people to work with. I’m minutes from the water and just a few hours from the desert, mountains, and vast public lands and parks to explore. I couldn’t do what I’ve done here in my hometown for sure.
Cons: It’s crowded as hell. You’re pretty much required to drive everywhere and traffic sucks. I enjoy leaving here as much as I do living here. Cost of living is expensive and buying a house is pretty much outta the question. I gotta save all the money I can, and keep a low overhead to do what I do.
How was your recent 3 week motorcycle trip and what prompted the excursion?
My girlfriend Katie always wanted to go to Sturgis so we jumped on our Harleys and sent it. I was more excited about taking the long way, riding through 11 states than the actual rally. Katie has a 1200 sportster nightster, and I have a ’87 FXR with a questionable past. We did about 4500 miles total and only 1100 of those were on interstate. The rest we aimed for chill 2 lane scenic kinda roads. The route ended up being like this: Long Beach, Lake Tahoe, Elko Nevada, Twin Falls Idaho, Grand Teton national park, Yellowstone National Park, across Montana, Sturgis South Dakota, Long Pine Nebraska, Denver Colorado, Durango Colorado, the 4 corners, Monument Valley, Lake Havasu Arizona, Zion National Park, through Vegas and back to Long Beach.
Tell us a funny or interesting story from that trip.
There’s definitely a few stories. Nearly running into a bison, coasting down 5000ft of elevation on a dead Harley, hearing a large something walking around out tent at night in bear county, are just a few.
Probably the most random was the first day of the trip, 300 miles in. We just got done riding through the 110 degree Mojave desert pointed north toward mammoth on the 395. We stopped for a bit at Alabama hills and my bike was making a high pitch ringing sound when it was off. I figured something wasn’t right, let it cool off for a bit and we continued on. A little later we’re rolling through bishop in the dark and at the very last stop light my bike just shuts off, no power whatsoever. I do my now usual breakdown routine where it rolls to a silent stop, I get off the bike, take my gloves off, throw them at the bike and say “Motherfucker!”. We were on the side of the road maybe 5-10 minutes, and these guys pulled up in a clapped out ’74 el Camino. They popped out to see what the problem was and I explained. Dude asked “Was your battery making a high pitch noise?” Yup! “That’s your voltage regulator, your battery overcharged and popped. Same shit happened with my ’86 Harley, I got an extra regulator, we’ll run home and grab it.” I’m blown away. In this town of a few thousand people, this guy just so happened to have the exact part, at this exact stoplight, just minutes after the bike quit. We also broke down conveniently in front of a RV park so I rolled the bike in because that’s where we were staying RV or not. 30 minutes later we were having beers, putting the ‘new’ regulator on under the dim lights next to bathrooms. In the morning I had to track down the only available battery in bishop that’d fit a 1987 FXR and we hit the road shortly after.
When not boating through tunnels or trucking over rocks, you’re illustrating. Looking back, was there one thing or inspiration that sparked your interest in art?
Not specifically, I think it was just a way to pass the time when I was a kid and thankfully my parents helped me feed that interest early on. Like parents can give their kids ipads nowadays, my parents could always produce a pen and paper. Then I’d keep myself busy pretty much. I always played with legos and created things and maybe drawing was an extension of that or vise versa. Building things with your mind nobody has seen and putting them into reality may never get old.
Seeing that characters and lettering are a big part of what you do, were you constantly writing all over stuff as a kid?
In school I definitely was. I would draw all over my worksheets and not complete assignments because of it. They’d make me stay after school to finish and I’d just draw more. I remember leaving school a few times at 5:30 or 6 because the teacher had to go home. I’d only have a couple math problems done and a whole lotta awesomeness drawn up. My buddy still has a stack of that gradeschool stuff somewhere.
I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the Markit video cover artwork from back in the day was the first thing I’ve seen from you. How did that gig come about?
Dennis liked the sticker kit I did for Hucker’s signature S&M frame so he looked me up I guess. Was kinda surreal seeing all the heavy web edits they were putting out around then, and next thing I’m drawing up the DVD cover at my gramps house in the middle of Nebraska.
You definitely hit a homerun on that one. How long did that particular piece take and did you get any instruction or suggestions from the Markit dudes?
Dennis wanted the RV with the entire Markit team, and I asked for a list of what everyone should be doing since I hadn’t seen the video. I thought it’d be funny if the RV was getting sent off an infinite stair set to oblivion, and they were into it. I’m still super stoked on that one, because I got to design pretty much everything for it. Inside, outside, actual DVD, and DVD menu. I hand drew almost an entire alphabet doing all the text. Did it all in the computer too in case it ended up on a shirt or what not. Honestly I’m not really sure how much time I spent on it. I was pushing it around for a few weeks on trips and after work.
What other BMX related projects did you have a hand in that people might not be aware of?
I did the stickers for Cam Wood’s S&M signature frame, and a shirt or 2 for fit around the same time. Did the Burnside 25 year anniversary shirt with Goods BMX and the Snakebite BMX logo. Dennis’s Rig line and Hucker’s tire graphics for demolition. Hauled 900 lbs of concrete in my subaru and helped build that quarter extension in the slab city pool if that counts too? I’m probably forgetting some others in there.
Do you have a certain process you go through to create each piece, or do they all differ? Tell us a bit about how you work.
Everything usually starts with a sketch and then anything can happen from there. If it’s gonna be screen printed, I’ll ink it all out, take it into the computer and do the rest in vector which can be tedious at times. If it’s a wall I’m painting, I’ll sketch it out again on the wall, do the fills, outlines, highlights, and whatever else til I’m happy with it. If it’s for a client I might have to redraw it several times til they’re happy with it. (I worked on a logo on and off for 2 years once)
What is your favorite medium to work in?
Lately it’s been spray paint for sure. Being outdoors painting with friends, feeding off each others energy and working on a large scale is fun as hell. You get to see progress right away and usually it’s just a day or 2 turn around to be set loose to the public. Being holed up at home illustrating by yourself to see the final product on a shirt or whatever months later is fun too, but doesn’t have the same effect.
I occasionally bump into you around town while your painting (legally). What’s been your favorite piece you’ve painted in Long Beach?
The “pink lady” under the 7th street & 710 fwy stands out the most to me. Not my typical stuff being just big a portrait, but using dollar bill lines to shade the face is something I want to revisit when the time is right. There was alotta sketchy things in that tunnel and standing on a 4runner to roller paint the biggest afro I ever seen was the least of em. I could see that piece from the fwy coming into town and I was really surprised it never got fully gone over by other graffiti. I was hoping the area would turn into a place people could just show up and paint like Venice Beach, since a lotta folks were coming through to see all the new art. The city of Long Beach eventually buffed the entire area. The shark piece at the 7-11 in Belmont Shore is a fun one too, and it’s still running.
If we were to look at your desk/work station, what would we see?
I made my desk outta a shopping cart which is kinda cool, many folks don’t notice it at first. The cart was abandoned on our curb for weeks when I lived in mar vista near Venice Beach. I cut and sectioned it, and welded it back together into the perfect size standing desk. Kept the wheels on it at first but needed it more stable and switched to feet. The rest is pretty much a mess of art supplies and “neat stuff” I’ve accumulated over the years. Got a old Coors pool table light to illuminate things, a additional computer screen I sometimes watch Netflix on while working. I do all my digital stuff on a 2012 Macbook pro that’s been brought back from the dead several times now. Newest addition is a AC unit under my desk so thankfully I’m not sweating so much this summer.
Who was your first “big” non-BMX client and what did you produce for them?
I guess my first big boy job was when I was hired as a art director at a game/app company for a few years. I was just coming off a botched back surgery and was in a I was in a otherworldly amount of pain, (that’s a story in itself) then I was offered the position. The idea that I’m never gonna ride again, I could only sit, stand or lay down for 15 mins at a time, and the realization it could be the rest of my life had me very shook. So I did the right thing, said fuck it and accepted the position and went all in. I ended up doing STACKS of concept art. Seemed like I’d concept out a new game or app every couple weeks. On a good day I’d draw through one or 2 pencils down to a nub. I’d never drawn so much in my life. Alien builder games, MX games, fighting pig games, pinball machines, I built full blown trade show booths, toys, merch, the list goes on. Long story short the company had alotta potential but was horribly mismanaged and collapsed. Most everything I created there has never seen the light of day. I learned alot, made some great friends, found the motivation to invest that kind of energyz in myself, and haven’t worked a 9-5 since!
Who are 3 of your favorite artists and why?
1. Leonardo da Vinci. He was accomplished at painting, drawing, sculpting, anatomy, science, engineering, architecture and more. I used to read up on him as a kid. I really admired his versatility, and how you can’t even categorize the the talent or work behind it.
2. Sket One. He’s the one that got me into painting huge and showed me a ton on how to make a living as an artist. I can’t thank him enough for that. He’s always hustling on something cool and has zero ego to go with it.
3. TITS crew. Establised 1995 they’re a fine collection gentlemen that spray paint darn good and they know how to party.
What’s next for you? Are there any current or upcoming projects that you would care to spill the beans about?
Going to Meeting of Styles at the end of the month so looking forward to having beers and painting with the TITS crew. Not sure on the wall situtation or who all’s gonna make it but that’s half the fun. Painting some more stuff at woodward camp sometime in the future. Always a treat to paint there, then fool around on some world class ramps. Been working on starting up a offroad/adventure/party brand with a buddy of mine. Never actually tried to create a “Brand” front to back until now so looking forward to to dump some creative energy into that and see where it goes. We already have some pretty hilarious stuff we’re putting together.
Thanks for your time, anything you would like to add before we wrap this?
I guess thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far! Thanks to everyone that supports my art and what I do on any level, thank you.