• Artist Editions: Nate Otto X UO


    Designed exclusively for Urban Outfitters, Artist Editions is an ongoing series of limited edition graphic t-shirts created by a rotating roster of artists from around the globe. 

    Chicago illustrator Nate Otto’s work depicts the fabric of urban spaces and the ways in which color and architecture weave together in everyday life. We stopped by his studio to check out his latest work and to talk about his contributions to the Artist Editions series. 
    Photos by Jaclyn Simpson

    Who is Nate Otto? 
    I am an artist and illustrator from Chicago. I do my own thing.

    What’s the first piece of art you can remember making? 
    I have been drawing as long as I can remember. I was always the kid who could draw.  I remember making my first paintings with a brush when I was in grade school. Probably the first thing I made that still exists is a rocket ship drawing that got turned into a plate. If I go to my parent’s house I can still eat off of it. I would have been four when I drew that.


    You recently quit your day job to pursue art full time. What was it like to make that jump? What were you doing before the switch? 
    It has been four years since I had a job. I did a bunch of different things before transitioning to doing art full time, but I was always making art on the side and I always identified as an artist first. Most recently I was working as a teacher for developmentally disabled adults. It was a job I could feel good about and it didn’t tap all of my creative ideas, but I was there for eight years and I had outgrown the job. It was kind of a dead end and it was really time to make a go at it with the art stuff, so I made the transition shortly after I got married. It has been stressful at times, but I’m staying alive and I make art all the time. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.  

    Urban life factors heavily in your work, what do you find so intriguing about cities? 
    I live in a city. It is my environment. When I travel, I usually travel to cities.  Buildings have become the words in the visual language that I speak. Exploring within “cityscapes” has given me a structure in which I can experiment and push ideas.  


    You have a lot of love for Chicago, what do you like best about it? 
    Chicago is a great town. It is a major city so you have all of the cultural and business advantages of that. It is also affordable and livable. I have lived in the northwest side of Chicago for the last eighteen years, so I know a lot about the place and the people, and I’ve seen the changes. Unfortunately violence is a part of the landscape of this city, but luckily I’ve been able to avoid it. The winter can be a drag too, but I don’t mind staying home and working on my art, and there are quite a few very nice days. Today it was perfect out. 

    What does an average day look like for you? 
    I get up around nine and I work on stuff on and off all day long. Often I’ll have illustration assignments or commissions that I have to work on, and I’ll work on that while occasionally taking breaks to work on art. If I don’t have any assignments I’ll work on whatever I want to work on. I’m always multitasking; answering emails, making proposals, trying to keep track of everything. It’s kind of insane really.  I take time off but I’m never far away from it, and even when I‘m supposedly not working I am sort of working. What people don’t always realize is that being an artist doesn’t just mean that you are making art, but you are also running a small business. I work on and off until ten usually, and then I try to chill until I crash at one or so. Sprinkle in events and outings and the occasional special scenario, and that is my life seven days week.


    Are there any other artists who have inspired your work over the years? 
    Klee, Basquiat, Dubuffet, Picasso, Kilgallen, McGee, Picasso, Haring, Rothko, Twombly, Johanson, Swoon, Millard, Fox, Fitzpatrick, Nutt, Nilsson… So many. The list could go on and on.  I’m a fan of art and image makers. I pay attention and I’m influenced and inspired all the time.


    Can you tell us a bit about your designs for Artist Editions? How did they come about? 
    I’m always compiling images. I’ve found that sometimes small drawings can be really cool when blown up. I’ve also done a bunch of t-shirts on my own and I know what kind of image makes for a t-shirt design that I like.  The images for these t-shirts were small drawings that I thought would translate well to a shirt.  I like the result.  

    What makes a t-shirt design special? 
    T-shirt designs are special because they ride around on human beings all day long. It is not static and on a wall.


    Do you have any advice for aspiring artists? 
    Work hard and don’t be a dick.

    What’s next for you? 
    Keep on doing it. I have a bunch on art shows over the next few months and the illustration and mural assignments keep rolling in.  I’m just trying to do everything to the best of my ability, finish the assignments I get, and live my life.   


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