Our new Holiday ’21 Dovetail Collection is set apart from our inline stock by special limited-edition color options and one-of-a-kind custom artwork by up and coming artist-illustrator Wyatt Hersey. Since his creative fingerprints are all over this year’s collection, we wanted to get to know him a little better. We think you’ll enjoy this glimpse into his story, what makes him tick, his influences, and more examples of his incredible art!
Let’s start by introducing yourself to the readers: My name is Wyatt Hersey, I grew up in the shadow of Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, CA. I’ve lived in Santa Cruz, CA, Olympia, WA and I’ve spent the last 7 years living between Chico, CA and the Sierras in California. Since I graduated my years have been split between three lines of work. In the summers I worked as a seasonal field biologist doing bird surveys, and then during the rest of the year was an instructor at an outdoor school in Chico while also working part time doing illustration and painting. That was my pattern until this January when I decided to try out a stint on the full time visual art creation path! So far so good. I miss my old jobs from time to time but overall I’m really happy with the change.
You’re a Greener! Olympia is just a short drive from us here in Seattle, and is in striking distance to a ton of great outdoor destinations — you can be out on the Coast, or deep into the Peninsula, or out on the shoulder of Rainier, in no time. Did you have much time to explore the PNW? What were your favorite spots? I love Evergreen! Proud Greener over here. Yeah Oly is such a great place, I really miss the depth of the counterculture there. I always joke that I had to leave Olympia to start my art career because nobody wants to pay for anything there; they’d rather just trade or find stuff at the free store, which is also why I love it so much! I actually didn’t explore much while I was there because I didn’t own a car. I just biked everywhere, but didn’t realize I could bike further than 10 miles at a time! I only went out to the Olympic Peninsula twice during my three years there. I did get to go on some trips through school because a lot of my natural history education was field based. I went mushroom hunting around Mt. Adams, birding up around Bellingham, exploring east of the Cascades and more. I lived on Orcas Island for a summer working as a kayak guide as well which was amazing. That summer was magic. The most special spot for me, though, was a 100-acre piece of bayside land where I went almost every day for two years to meditate and learn the ways of the natural world. That place changed me!
This explains the heavy emphasis on birds, and the natural world in general, in your work. Earlier you mentioned bird surveys. Tell us about that. Well there are lots of types of bird surveys, some of them entail walking around the forest and doing timed counts of birds, others are about looking for nests in a specified area, etc. I mostly did the type of surveys called “point counts” where we would use a GPS to find the selected survey point (no worries if it’s up that steep slope or through that field of manzanita, you still gotta get there!), and then spend 5 minutes recording every bird that you see and hear. The data basically creates a snapshot of what’s there, and then there’s all sorts of different questions you can put to the data. A lot of the work I did went towards general monitoring of species in the mountains and how they are doing over time. Then there was plenty of post-fire work, looking at dynamics with fire and how birds respond to fire, or how they respond to salvage logging (spoiler alert salvage logging can be pretty terrible for wildlife).
Interesting to be talking about bird surveys because a major component of the Dovetail Collection is raising funds for the Appleton Whittell Research Ranch in southern Arizona, where staff researchers conduct all sorts of wildlife and vegetation studies. It’s a huge migratory bird haven, and thus also on the map for birders, but a legacy of overgrazing and mismanagement has changed the ecosystem. So the Ranch now exists to study and help reestablish native species and wildlife habitat, and to educate people about the importance of native vegetation. We’re teaming up with bigtime Research Ranch advocate, pro adventure cyclist, and all-around stellar human, Sarah Swallow, to get the word out that supporting the Dovetail Collection directly benefits the Ranch andn their mission. That’s so cool that this project is going to benefit that ranch! It’s located in the heart of my favorite birding country! I was just in SE Arizona in May birding around the Chiricahuas, and then over around Sierra Vista and the Huachucas, and then over at Madera Canyon — so,,so epic. I really love it there.
I love how the elements of this project all have a connection to one another. Makes perfect sense that you’re the artist bringing this to life! So, were you always into nature or did art lead you in that direction? I’ve always been a nature kid to some degree, but it was never something I really thought about until I was in high school. I was really into skating in middle school and high school, but later on in my junior and senior years I really got into hiking and exploring out in the open spaces of Marin. There is so much out there! I’d just spend time out romping around and wandering off trail a lot and eventually I realized that I wanted to know the names of the plants and animals around me. Actually it was my sister reading me a Gary Snyder poem that inspired me to look deeper and learn about the non-human beings I was spending so much time with. That started me on my birding/wildflower/naturalist journey which eventually led me to getting a degree in Wildlife Ecology from Evergreen. Part of my education was looking at the human relationship to nature, and how to cultivate it. The science/spiritual understanding/connection to the natural world is absolutely central to my life, so that is naturally what comes through most often.
Beyond one’s own relationship with the natural world, art is a wonderful way to help others foster their relationships with nature. Growing up in the skate scene myself, I took that lifestyle to be mainly about making physical/athletic art out of the built environment, like it was almost “anti-nature” and the people in the scene were hard-edged and not super interested in outdoorsy stuff. That was a long time ago, but in recent years, I’ve watched the scene evolve to include a sort of permission structure for exploring a “softer” side — skaters on bikepacking trips, or getting super into fly-fishing, or foraging … or birding. The cultures have merged and I think art and creativity play a huge role in that. Yeah man! I think at its heart skateboarding is about community, dedicating yourself to having fun, and being creative. And so, to me, it’s not surprising that so many awesome artists are also skaters. We know how to cultivate the stoked energy and that’s what staying creative as a visual artist is all about! It’s great that skating is feeling a bit more open now too. I’m especially stoked on how gender inclusive it has become. It was only like 6 years ago or less that Nyjah Huston was like “yeah girls just shouldn’t skate.” But now all the major brands are sponsoring female skaters and there is a female skate section in the Olympics. Skating has become a global passion, like soccer. Do you know about the guys at Skate Wild?
No, I’m not familiar at all. Tell me about it? Skate Wild was started by some guys from a YMCA skate camp in Sequoia National Forest and it’s basically an overnight adventure tour that incorporates skateboarding with nature awareness, primitive skills, and camping. Its sole purpose is to get skater kids out into nature to kinda bridge that gap, or just cultivate that connection for those who are into both. I went to the skate camp where all those guys started working together and that was my first exposure to primitive skills and tracking and stuff which became a big thing for me later on. We did bow-drill fires and coal-burned spoons. It was rad!
I wanna go back to something you said earlier, that skaters know how to cultivate the “stoked energy”, and that that’s what staying creative is all about. I need to know about this secret sauce. How do you manage to stay stoked through the ups and downs of creative inspiration, and have you found that it’s applicable to other parts of life beyond art? Hah! The secret sauce! Yeah man, so what I mean by that is that in skateboarding, you’re constantly playing around, and more often than not you’re actually failing at what you’re attempting. In learning new tricks and trying to get better, you’re just failing over and over again and I think there is a lesson there, maybe that teaches you to have fun and stay playful through the failures. I’ve noticed the same vibe in parts of the climbing community, where people are really supportive of each other and just stoked that people are trying to push themselves and people get SO AMPED when someone sticks a move they’ve been wanting to get. I take the same perspective when I’m drawing or painting, and I really just try to be playful and focus on having fun and in doing that the failures or low moments don’t feel so consequential.
But there is another ingredient of the special sauce at play here and it has to do with inspiration and self esteem. I used to struggle a lot with seeing other people’s work who I looked up to because I would see it, get a really intense, electric, energized inspiration from it and then almost immediately start comparing myself to the person and feeling really bad about myself. I’ve talked with a lot of people about this and it seems like a common thing people go through. The trick is to teach yourself to recognize the inspiration feeling, give thanks for it, and then stop there. When any feelings of comparison or self criticism come up just say “thanks but no thanks” and let it roll by.
Humility reinforced through repeated failure doesn’t sound like something anyone would willingly sign up for! But I think that is the lesson. Failure is part of the learning curve in anything worth doing. When success inevitably comes, it’s always because of past failures, which are never that far in the rearview. Humility with success is the sweet spot. You mentioned having some artists you looked up to. Your work has a very clean, graphic style that to me is sorta reminiscent of Geoff McFetridge and maybe Charley Harper put into a shaker & blended into a rad new cocktail. Wow! That’s the second time I’ve been compared to Geoff Mcfetridge recently, weird! That’s a HUGE compliment, I really love his work. I would say my biggest influences in chronological order are Jim Houser, Margaret Kilgallen (really all the mission school painters), Nathaniel Russell, Marc Bell, and 3ttman (Louis Lambert). All of them have at one time or another really spoken to me and influenced me. I was super into Jim Houser in high school, he got me going on some weird stuff early on, and I think really laid the groundwork for my love of color.
How did you become connected to Swift Industries? I actually first heard about Swift when Martina emailed me with an inquiry about doing an illustration series for you! That was maybe 3 years ago. Over the years since I’ve been following along and getting more interested in biking outside of my normal commuter rhythm, until this spring when I bought a bike more capable of getting off the pavement and I’ve been so stoked! I lived with some folks last winter that are really into bikepacking/touring and they knew about Swift so they re-inspired me to think about getting some bags. That led me to email Martina about doing an art-for-bags trade, which led to this series!
The art turned out just so striking and cool! Many of our designs have been named after our favorite bird species, but you don’t even have to be “into birds” to be drawn to the iconography you created. I think the interchangeable patches featuring your art are going to be a big hit. Give us a quick rundown of the different species you illustrated for the collection and how you/we landed on those images? There are four species in the series, a Peregrine Falcon, a Cassin’s Vireo, an American Kestrel, and a Great-blue Heron. Martina gave me the direction on those; she chose the species and I created three concept sketches for each one. She then chose the one that spoke most to her and we went forward with the color versions. She provided a palette for that too. Martina’s art direction was really great on this, made it a pretty straightforward job for me!
It was meant to be! Well, we’re certainly big fans of your work and stoked to have you onboard giving the Dovetail Collection its visual wings! Any parting thoughts for us? I think making art is a deeply human thing to do. Every animal has elements that make it unique among all other life forms, and for humans art is a core part of what makes us who we are. What a beautiful thought that is!! That motivates me and gives me spiritual meaning, knowing that by creating art I’m following this ancient human urge to make pretty things.