Type of street art: stickers
# of years doing it: ~1 year
I first discovered Synapse through the magical world of Tumblr. Since one of my side projects is nohopefordope, where I post street art I come across, I somehow stumbled across his Tumblr via someone reblogging his art or through the street art hashtag, which is a great by the way.
After visiting his page, I quickly noticed he was doing something different; he was using regular people as the basis of his work. Most artists that make stickers create their own characters, which are also dope, but Synapse took it a step forward and made ordinary people his “characters.” Plus, his background in comic book illustration is something I haven’t seen in other street artists.
How did you come up with your name?
I recently completed my Ph.D. in genetics after working on it for the last seven years and I wanted to adopt a name that reflected my background in biology. Incidentally, my field of study had nothing to do with neurology, but I thought “Synapse” was unique and had a nice ring to it.
Your Synapse tag is simple, yet dope. What was the inspiration behind that?
As far as the general concept goes, I’m drawn to symmetry and I fell in love with what those letters allowed me to do when I started playing around with them. I don’t claim to be street art “royalty,” but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t purposely embellish the crown/castle motif in the tag when I saw it starting to materialize in those early sketches. The lettering style is a tribute to my biggest art inspiration, Todd McFarlane.
The sticker culture is sort-of crowded, how do you try to stand out?
I simply try to do what no one else is doing. Generally speaking, I think many artists who get into stickers have done so through an interest in conventional aerosol-based graffiti, which subsequently serves as their inspiration and often guides how their work looks. I feel, however, that coming from a purely comic book tradition instead gives what I do a more unique look.
I also think that my concept of drawing actual people I see on the subway adds an element to my work that people can identify with; one that resonates on a deeper level with the viewer than many of the arbitrary cartoon characters that a lot of sticker artists out there have come up with.
People are fascinating. What inspired you to draw the residents of New York and Massachusetts?
Everyone has a story. It’s easy to fall into the egocentric view that the people all around you have been merely cast as extras in the movie of your life. The truth is, however, that each one of them has the starring role in their own films. Drawing people I see on the subway reminds me that everyone has a rich narrative of their own. Each of the lines and creases etched on their faces are not just cosmetic….in fact, they carry deep tales of happiness and sorrow.
I remember seeing on Tumblr that you were a comic book illustrator and you mentioned that you learned by copying artists like Todd McFarlane. How was the transition from comic book illustrator to sticker maker?
It was quite seamless transition once I realized that street art didn’t have to look like conventional letter-based graffiti art. Artists like Cernesto, VENG from Robots Will Kill, How & Nosm from Tats Crew, and The Yok & Sheryo have all largely eschewed the standard letter-based murals that everyone typically associates with graffiti.
There are still “conventional” graffiti artists out there like Deem, Cope2, Wane, and Shadow as well as sticker artists like Faust, the late Surer, Baser, and Menace who take letter-based art to spectacular heights. Sadly, I can’t draw letters to save my life. However, once I realized that I didn’t have to change or adapt my style in any way to start doing street art, it became clear that only technical difference between comics and stickers is drawing my illustrations on adhesive labels rather than on Bristol board.
What’s the selection process like? Do you check out each individual or is it whoever is in front of you?
There are certain features that usually draw my attention more than others. Exaggerated noses, deep wrinkles, and interesting hair styles are probably the top three features that catch my eye. I’m also fond of drawing people with sharp or angular facial structures. I usually just start drawing the first person who catches my interest, but I’ve been known to stop mid-portrait and to focus on drawing a more “interesting” subject that steps onto the train before I am done with the one I am working on.
What happens when someone reaches their stop and you haven’t finish drawing them?
The pencil sketch that I draw of the person only takes a minute or two for me to complete, so this doesn’t happen often. When it does happen, however, I try my best to finish it up from memory. Obviously, the how closely the portrait resembles the subject depends upon how long I’m able to study the subject’s face. I do have to admit that from time to time I have discreetly photographed a subject so I can work on drawing him at a later time.
Has anyone ever seen you/ask you what you were doing? Their reaction? I hope it was like last time.
This remains the only time when someone has asked me what I was doing. For the most part, everyone on the train is too wrapped up in their smart phones or their own thoughts to pay too much attention to me. I also tend to avoid drawing on trains that are too crowded so no one can peek over my shoulder at what I am doing.
Has anyone caught you drawing them? How did they take it? Do you show them the end result?
I try to be as discrete as possible when I draw people. Occasionally I’ll receive ugly or nervous glares when people notice I am staring at them. No subject has ever asked what I am doing, however, and so no one has ever seen their own portrait, to my knowledge.
You’ve had difficulty drawing women in the past, saying it’s hard to bring out the feminine side. Has it gotten easier or is it still difficult?
When I say it is “difficult”, I’m not really referring to a technical inadequacy. I am certainly capable of drawing women who look female. It’s more a matter of discipline. I just LOVE drawing angular and severe features with lots of creases and shadowy rendering. This is great for drawing male subjects, but doesn’t lend itself very well to drawing feminine features that usually require a softer or subtler technique. The style I use to draw male subjects is just more fun, in my opinion.
I’m pretty sure I’m done with drawing supernatural monsters and costumed heroes for the time being. Everyday people really are fascinating to me (especially those with exaggerated features), so I’m sticking with that for now.
Every so often I’ll toy with the idea of getting back into comics, but I quickly remember the huge effort that it requires and so I put the idea out of my head.
Who are some of your favorite artists, street art and beyond?
I’ve already mentioned Todd McFarlane a number of times. Others from the comics world that I admire are Norm Breyfogle, Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, and Frank Miller…all guys whose illustrations I practiced reproducing when I was learning how to draw. Those doing street art that I really like are How & Nosm, Too Fly (her lines are so crisp!), Never Satisfied, Shiro, Deem, Cernesto, Dan Plasma and I’m sure there are many others that I’m forgetting.
Thank you man, I appreciate it.
(Photos credit to Synapse’s IG and Tumblr page.)