“I think expressing oneself can be a form of escape because it’s a release. Sometimes if I’m feeling something intense and I try to write or paint it out, I’m left with more of an echo of what I was feeling. On the other hand, to express ourselves honestly we have to face ourselves and sit with what we may be trying to escape.” — Aryn Fletcher 4/12/21
Who is Aryn Fletcher?
Aryn Fletcher is a young artist and craftsman who lives in Southeast Portland. Born in Tucson, Arizona, he studied art in San Francisco then moved to Portland to work as a lead artist in the mobile game development industry. Since that time, both economic realities and diverse interests have led Aryn to experiment with multiple media and hone his custom framing craft at a local art and frame gallery. He is currently collaborating with a local writer to convert an action screenplay into a graphic novel. You can check out some of Aryn’s work at artstation.com.
J: Where are you from originally? Where did you grow up, and what was it like growing up?
A: I was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. It’s hot and dry; the sun is intense; there’s all kinds of poisonous creatures; and it’s definitely not the most open-minded. My parents kept me incredibly busy with sports and school, and being part of a large family meant there was always something going on, until everyone took their own paths. It took being away for many years to truly appreciate the beauty of where I got to grow up… the desert is a magical and strange place! It holds so many memories and will always be a huge source of nostalgia for me.
J: I’ve been to Tucson a couple times… once I was actually a keynote speaker at a conference there, which freaked me out because I hate public speaking in any form, but I thought Tucson was pretty cool. And I had an aunt and uncle who lived in Phoenix, but I never really liked Phoenix much for some reason. But regarding your early years, you mention that you’re from a big family… how big was it? And sports… I think of you as an artist now, which is something I want to get to, but you mentioned sports which made me curious. Was staying busy with sports something your parents wanted or were you into sports?
A: That’s cool about the conference! And Tucson is definitely a much more interesting place than Phoenix (in my opinion). My mom is one of nine; so I have a lot of aunts, uncles, and cousins. My dad was an only child, and I have two brothers. One who is 5 years younger than me and my half brother who is nine now, making me the oldest. My parents always pushed me to participate in sports and school. I was never a traditionally gifted student, but I’ve always had a passion for sports. Being an artist, fitting in with my teammates off the field was very difficult, but softball was my life. Then I burnt out when it was time to go to college. At the time I was struggling deeply with really self destructive habits and needed to invest in my personal development and creativity. I found the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, which interestingly happened when the coach reached out to me at a softball scouting tournament, which oddly enough had a division one or two sports program. I was invited to practice with the team and toured the school, which was exhilarating. But when the coach couldn’t promise much financial assistance with a spot on the team, I decided to focus on my studies full time, especially since the classes were all so intensive. It turns out that was the best decision, but wasn’t an easy one to make. I still miss the game and all of the memories I made over the years! Physical activity and exercise are still really important to me, for sure.
J: I’d have to agree; you definitely had a big family when you throw in all the cousins. And it sounds like sports just came naturally to you. It’s cool when that happens. I’ve known a few people whose athleticism was just intrinsic. You also must have been a pretty good artist to make it down that path as far as you have… at what must be a pretty young age. I actually have no idea how old you are, but at my age, everyone under sixty seems young. When you first started art school, did you specialize in any particular medium or have a specific career path in mind?
A: I’m 27 now, which is strange to think about. Time is weird. I had no idea what I was doing when I first started school, I just knew I loved art and that I wanted to find a way to make a living doing it full time. I started in the animation department (only because that’s what my advisor suggested) and after the first hour long class, I requested to switch my major. I went into Visual Development when I discovered what it was — conceptual art aimed towards the entertainment industry. I took a variety of classes ranging from traditional foundation drawing/painting/sculpting to digital media and more specific classes like character design, animal anatomy, vehicle and environment design, perspective, etc. I bounced back and forth between wanting to find work in the animation and/or video game industry, and my styles and subjects still vary widely. I was most excited for the portfolio building classes for concept art, but looking back, I miss the traditional classes most. I think I could’ve done well in an Illustration or Fine Art major, maybe one day I’ll go back to school!
J: I totally understand what you mean when you say that you loved art but had no idea how to pursue it. That’s how I was with writing when I got to college. I just knew I wanted to write. It sounds like you tested a lot of different avenues, which I think makes sense… otherwise, how do you know what something’s about? What types of art have you been working on since you moved to Portland… and are you experimenting with anything?
A: When I moved out here I initially had a full time contract working as lead artist for a tiny mobile game dev startup. Unfortunately after a year we ran out of funding and had to disband. The experience was great for my resume and helped me get a bit more settled at least. From there I started at a frame shop, and have been working on abstract paintings and personal illustrations in my spare time. After school I felt like I lost a lot of my inhibition and I’ve been trying to allow myself to experiment more and worry less about the final outcome. I’ve also been teaching myself how to tattoo, which I may continue to pursue as a part time passion. Currently I’m starting on a graphic novel project, which is also a new and exciting experience. When I first started doodling as a kid it was normally anything that had to do with world building and removing myself from reality. I think escapism has always driven me to create.
J: I’m really interested in your comment about how you used art to escape or remove yourself from reality. I think I tended to intellectually create my own reality and then used my art, which was writing, to express my reality. For me, my reality was still real in terms of actually existing in the world… it was more a matter of choosing what to look at and how to interpret it. For you, it sounds like maybe you used world building art to shape a completely separate reality. Is that what you’re describing?
A: It’s interesting to hear you describe how you intellectually create and express your reality through your work, I’d say that’s very similar to what I do. I don’t always want to create an entirely separate reality, more so expressing the distortions of my own reality, or how I’m currently experiencing it. I do really enjoy creating concepts for what may not yet exist, though I can become easily overwhelmed by new ideas so when working this way it’s important for me to organize and break everything down into digestible pieces. A bit of direction also goes a very long way. Also, the state of my mental and physical health has always played a big role in what I create.
J: To be honest, I’m not sure how well I described my creative process. I made it sound like my observations are pretty intellectual when I believe they’re actually much more intuitive. More than anything, I’m a poet, so I tend to observe with intention… that’s the intellectual part… but the observation tends to be more heart-related than it is mind-related. I tend to observe by feeling rather than reasoning, although words naturally enter in to that when I get around to interpreting whatever I’m feeling. It sounds like feelings are important to you, too. You mention the influence of your physical and mental health, as well as what you perceive as distortions of reality. What do you mean by that? Are you talking more about poor mental and/or physical health distorting your view of reality, or are you saying that your experience with reality feels different to you than you think it should feel? Or maybe you mean something else entirely… and if this is too hard to answer, just say so.
A: That makes a lot of sense! I think we’re both pretty sensitive and intuitive people. I find colors and compositions come to me when I’m interpreting my feelings, I also enjoy writing which can help me generate imagery. I used to journal a lot, and there would normally be strange doodles that went along with the words on paper. As far as health goes, I was born with a congenital heart defect so physically I had a bit of a rough start. My heart is doing well now; I mostly just have to manage some chronic pain. Mentally I’ve struggled a lot since I was a kid; mostly with major depression and anxiety but I’m about to start seeing a new psychiatrist as I haven’t been working with a professional for awhile and need to get back for some re-evaluation. Sometimes I do really struggle with my perception of reality but I’m able to rationalize enough to reach out for help again, which is good. Art has always been one of my healthy ways to cope, sometimes I feel it’s the only way I can escape or express myself.
J: I’m glad you’ve found someone to share your experiences with, and I hope it helps. I know I have benefited a great deal from the perspective an outside professional can offer… one therapist in particular helped me discover a way back to the path I believed I had lost. Of course, we’re the ones who have to do the work to get wherever we’re going, but it’s great to have a treasure map to work with. And I agree that art is an incredibly useful tool for helping us make sense of life. You commented that art has helped you escape or express yourself, and that made me wonder what the differences might be between escaping from ourselves and expressing ourselves… or maybe there isn’t that much difference. What do you think?
A: You’re right, that’s a great way to put it into perspective! I’m so glad you were able to find someone to help you on your way. Also, you’ve asked a good question. I think expressing oneself can be a form of escape because it’s a release. Sometimes if I’m feeling something intense and I try to write or paint it out, I’m left with more of an echo of what I was feeling. On the other hand, to express ourselves honestly we have to face ourselves and sit with what we may be trying to escape. I guess expression is also a way of trying to further understand ourselves and the world around us, and our forms of expression can be ever changing as our perceptions shift throughout life.
J: Can you think of an example of how your form of expression and/or how your perceptions may have shifted over time?
A: It’s difficult to put into words, but I’m sure there are plenty of examples. Mainly I had to shift from self destructive forms of expression to more constructive ones. Over time I’ve learned to put things into perspective and rationalize more which helps me direct energy in a better direction, and I had to build a higher level of patience for myself and others. I hope that answers your question!
J: It is hard to put stuff like this into words, but you’ve been doing a great job with it. So let’s try something easier. I was going to ask what you think about Portland, but a lot of your time here has been during the pandemic, so Portland hasn’t exactly been itself. Has anything, positive or negative, stood out to you since you moved up here from San Francisco? How does it compare the the Bay Area?
A: Portland and the Pacific Northwest have a special place in my heart, my mind is still blown every time the seasons change, I love the weather and nature here. When I left SF I was completely burnt out from living in the middle of a busy city, trapped between buildings. The long drive from there to here was like a breath of fresh air. I’ve noticed the energy has changed even in the 5ish years I’ve been out here. It’s sad to see the gentrification and commercialization of such a cool place, very similar to whats happened to the Bay Area in its own ways, and I’ve learned a lot about Oregon’s history with racism and how a lot of that is sadly still prevalent. But there are so many kind and interesting people, artists, local businesses and natural areas that are keeping things down to earth. I’m so glad I made the decision to move out here when I did!
J: Okay… you got started with a game startup; you’ve done a lot of experimentation and begun a graphic novel collaboration; you’ve come to appreciate a lot of what the Portland area has to offer. That’s your first five years here. So speculate a little… what do you think your life might look like five years from now? Or what do you think you might want it to look like?
A: I hope five years from now I’ll be more present, to have direct goals that I can work confidently towards without getting too wrapped up in whatever it means to be successful. I want to be in closer touch with my family and friends, once it’s safe to do so. I’d also like to be in a better place physically, mentally, and spiritually. As far as my career goes; I really hope to be able to continue framing, but to be able to do it freelance. I’d love to work for another game developer or animation company doing concept art. So far that opportunity hasn’t gotten back to me, but I’m always trying to put myself out there. A big part of me really wants to dive back into fine art and to practice more tattooing. Plus, I also plan on continuing to explore illustration opportunities if my graphic novel collaboration continues in the direction it’s in, which has been a great experience so far.