Opposites react: Snask x Colossal

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Published:  July 14, 2015
Katia Pase

Snask from Stockholm and Colossal from Brooklyn are not studios you would describe as oppositional. Conversely, it was a similarity that initiated the link: there’s a sense of physicality present in the work of both studios, though the endpoints of this are quite removed. Colossal works for dimension – creating sky-high, hand painted murals on the flat surfaces of buildings – while Snask works with dimension – building 3D identities for physical, printed and digital applications. desktop gathered Snask’s Fredrik Öst and Colossal’s Paul Lindahl together to talk form, scale and the connection their work has to physical space.

Snask's cover for The Washington Post's 'Favorites Issue'

Snask’s cover for The Washington Post’s ‘Favorites Issue’

Snask's cover for The Washington Post's 'Favorites Issue'

Snask’s cover for The Washington Post’s ‘Favorites Issue’

Snask's cover for The Washington Post's 'Favorites Issue'

Snask’s cover for The Washington Post’s ‘Favorites Issue’

desktop: Colossal, one of the defining features of your work is the sheer scale of it, and Snask, you too have created larger-than-life projects, particularly with the Malmö Festival identity. Can you each talk about the physicality of this process: where do you start (and on what kind of scale), what equipment do you need, what skills and non-designers are working behind the scenes?

Snask: We start every project with a brief from the client that we rewrite. Normally our clients don’t know what they actually need, or their brief is not written to reach the goals. We deliver ideas and concept, and after that we start designing. First with pen and paper and then on the computer, where we set all the design elements such as typography, colours, actual content, composition etc. After this we sometimes do a 3D sketch just to be able to calculate the distance of the camera, considering how far away from the design we have to be in order to get it in a good angle, and things like that. Then we normally send stuff to carpenters, mason workers, stonecutters etc. If the project uses paper or other materials we can handle in-house, we start producing the models ourselves. When everything is delivered, we plan the photo shoot, considering where the sun will be at what hour in order for the shadows to fall the way we want, and how long we will get to shoot depending on the movement of the sun. We place everything and do the shoot, and after we go to postproduction to adjust colours and add final elements.

Colossal: Since we do everything by hand, there are tonnes of variables: there are different personalities, skill levels and weather conditions to consider. We’re a relatively small company (about 40 of us) all working together 365 days a year for a common goal, which is to always hand paint. We’re pumping out about 400 ‘one-off’ paintings a year from New York to Los Angeles, which means there are always a lot of things going on, and also a lot of things going wrong. We’re in our 11th year of business and have been growing pretty rapidly, at something like 10 to 20 percent depending on the year.

I’m guessing Fredrik that you deal with a lot of the same scenarios, since Snask is continually building concepts from scratch. How do you deal with deadlines and project management?

Snask: When building things by hand you need to calculate how much damn time you need! We try to push deadlines as much as possible unless we’re out of work, haha. When it comes to management, we simply have two project managers and one production manager, who is also a line producer in film. In that world process is extremely important, since there are so many people involved (mostly freelancers as well) in a film crew, and everyone is dependent on each other performing their tasks on time.

Colossal for Equinox

Colossal for Equinox

Colossal for Equinox

Colossal for Equinox

Colossal for MET on the Highline in NY

Colossal for MET on the Highline in NY

Colossal for MET on the Highline in NY

Colossal for MET on the Highline in NY

desktop: Let’s talk about the views that underpin your studios’ approaches and outcomes. Colossal, what motivates the motto ‘always handpaint’? Why do you believe in it so strongly?

Colossal: We’re not painting because ‘handmade’ is trendy right now or because nobody else was doing it. We paint and only paint because that’s who we are. It’s been a hard-fought battle convincing our clients that painting an ad can be a trusted and valuable execution method, and there have been many times in the past where as a struggling, growing company we’ve turned down money to hang up a vinyl instead of painting the walls. We always held the line, said no, and that’s what defines us.

My grandparents were immigrants; they started with nothing and fought every day to build a life for their family. My father is a musician who spent his entire life making music. He believes there’s nothing more important than doing what you love, and I guess his attitude makes me a product of a good environment. When I think about my life and consider whether I’ve done everything I can with the tools I was given, I want to be able to validate the hard work and sacrifices my family made for me and say, yes, this is the foundation of what drives me personally. When I look around at the people at Colossal, I see a lot of the same thing. It’s way more than just doing a lot of well-executed paintings. It has to be; otherwise we’d get tired and get regular jobs. I also think it’s really important to keep things in perspective. We’re not curing cancer here, but we live in a place where we’ve got the freedom and opportunity to follow our dreams. There are lots of places in the world today where life is mostly about staying alive, so I take opportunity really seriously.

desktop: Where do you think your practice sits within design culture, or art culture, or popular culture?

Colossal: I’m not super sure. We kind of sit on both sides of the fence. On one side, we’re like machines working really hard following a strict process in order to make deadlines and, on the other side, we’re artists taking advantage of every extra second we get to better our craft, to be better teachers and a better team. I think most artists or people who make stuff could get behind that: art is learning, it’s personal enrichment. Pop culture is harder to speak to for me since the lines that define it are so blurred these days. Personally, I can say that I grew up avoiding it and doing things my own way, but I think that ‘doing things your own way’ might be an appropriate way of defining pop culture now, which works well for us at Colossal.

desktop: Fredrik, Snask’s body of work, and the tone of the brand, is so playful and consciously human. What motivations inform the work you do at Snask, and they way you approach this work?

Snask: We always strive to do the impossible in order to get as close to the highest grade of the possible. We never do things we consider dull, rather the opposite. We want to make bold work that stands out, that inspires people and other creatives. We like to make things in reality and not in the computer. We also strongly believe in making work that people hate and love – work that creates emotions. It’s utterly important for us to make enemies and gain fans and we recommend all our clients do the same – to stand up for their opinions and fight for them. “You have enemies? Good, that means you stood up for something sometime in your life,” said Winston Churchill.

Our approach is to do things better every time, and to never limit ourselves to a certain style. Yes, we have a colourful portfolio, but that’s hardly a style. We also don’t see a big difference between analogue and digital, or between printed channels and digital and social media channels. In the end, it’s a message that has to be sent and received and then interacted with. What medium, channel or design works best is different in each specific case.

desktop: Fredrik, what worth do you find in overthrowing a house style?

Snask: If you ask others, they will say we have a house style and they often call it ‘snasky’ or ‘tasty’ or they say it ‘has that snaskiness to it’. We take this as a compliment. We don’t do a certain style because we work across live action, stop motion, still life art direction, identities, brand strategies – mediums that differ a lot. Overthrowing a house style is just positive. I hate it when people know how to set Helvetica and then call it their style. That’s not a style, that’s a minimalistic typographic structure, which is great and genius, but it’s hardly a style.

Snask's cover for Printing Friends

Snask’s cover for Printing Friends

Snask's cover for Printing Friends

Snask’s cover for Printing Friends

Snask for Craft exhibition in Stockholm

Snask for Craft exhibition in Stockholm

Snask for Craft exhibition in Stockholm

Snask for Craft exhibition in Stockholm

desktop: How does Snask see itself within current design climates or trends?

Snask: We are a part of current design trends as much as everyone else is. The only thing is that we try to inspire as well as get inspired. I think our kids will see our work as analogue and ‘real’, in the same way we see special effects people who made Star Wars or just exploded stuff for real back in the days. They are amazing.

desktop: And to Colossal, I want to ask you about ageing too, literally in your case. How do you feel about the impermanence of your work, and about the erasure and restoration of hand painted public surfaces from times past?

Colossal: We put a tonne of energy and effort into making every painting perfect, because you’re only as good as your last painting. But we aren’t attached to them in that way. We’re proud of our work, but once the painting is done we’re on to the next. When we paint over a wall with a new ad, it’s a new opportunity to learn, teach, make more memories and experience new stuff.

Ghost signs are great and I enjoy how they provide a tangible connection to the past and to history. They also look really cool when they’re faded because you can see the brush strokes that tell a story about how the sign was executed. That said, I can guarantee that the guys who painted those ghost signs feel the same way we do: changing them means more work, more work means we can pay our bills. The turnover of painted signs is also an indicator of the health of our industry.

It’s fun seeing ghost signs restored because that shows me that someone cares about them, and I love the idea that people have the time to appreciate, contribute to or change what’s happening in their surroundings. But if I had to choose between restoration and just leaving it alone, I’d say let it ride: I love those old crusty signs and the stories they tell.

public art by Colossal

public art by Colossal

public art by Colossal

public art by Colossal

Drake and Biggie by Colossal

Drake and Biggie by Colossal

Colossal for Ray Bans

Colossal for Ray Bans

desktop: Both of your studios have created interesting self-marketing exercises. Colossal, you painted giant satirical murals fake ads for physic services and dating listings. Snask, you wrote a book in 72 hours that chronicled the studio’s first five years. How conscious are you of presenting a studio brand? What value do you place on presenting yourself with a sense of humour? 

Snask: We’re extremely conscious! We’ve been deliberately spreading and building our brand since day one. Almost nothing we do to promote ourselves is by luck or chance. The very reason why we lecture so much is to spread our brand. When it comes to humour, it’s everything. I think you can translate humour into being seen as charming. Self-distance is key. Peeing on yourself is great.

This piece first appeared in the June+July /networked issue of desktopClick here to subscribe to the mag.

 

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