• UO Journal: US@UO Art/Work

    Urban Outfitters is proud to present Urban Outfitters Journal Issue 2, the next in a series of print publications that represent the culture and stories behind the UO Men’s Brand, coming soon to select UO Stores and online. 

    Our US@UO series is a behind-the-scenes look at UO culture. Whether we’re following the stages of a new store build-out, profiling a cool UO employee, or sharing a roundup of recaps from local events, US@UO takes a look at the real people and real stories happening inside Urban Outfitters.

    It is often the case that UO team members are artists first and UO employees second. From furniture design to weekly collage exercises to music recording and custom carpentry, we talked to four creatives about the work they make outside of work.

    John Lyman - The Builder 
    Also known as “Johnny Milwaukee,” John Lyman is a craftsman in the truest sense, salvaging materials from barns, dumpsters and warehouses around Milwaukee to use for his various projects. “I help my good friends who are musicians, artists, makers, craftsmen and women, shop owners, organizers,” he says, designing and remodeling storefronts, building furniture, and working with a seemingly boundless energy. We talked to John about one of his most recent projects, a special commission for the Milwaukee Art Museum.
    Photos by Anna Zajac

    We’ve heard great things about the Milwaukee Art Museum project. Can you tell us a bit about that? 
    The project for the Milwaukee Art Museum was a dream come true. A very creative bunch of people from an advertising agency had heard that I could “build stuff.” With only that lead, they got ahold of me online. While I was in Austin, Texas working with the UO build team on Space 24 Twenty, I got an email asking if I would be into building some things for them. I said yes immediately. I am lucky that I have a great group of guys who are just as crazy as me and are willing to work night and day to get a job done. As soon as I got home from Austin, we all sat down for a meeting about the build. The job was to create 18 shipping crates for an ad campaign celebrating the museum’s new addition. The whole idea behind the crates was that the museum was now able to literally uncrate many pieces of art that had never been displayed before. We got some drawings and dimensions, made a materials list, and rented a 7000 sq ft warehouse space to build. After many all-night builds,the crates were ready to be strategically dropped off all over Milwaukee. As that was happening, we were asked if we wanted to build a crate installation for the interior of the museum, so build number two began. Less than a week later, we installed the piece right inside the main entrance of the museum. Then, while still in shock after installation, we were asked to build four more for a TV commercial. It was a truly amazing experience from A to Z.

    Does your outside work inform the work you do at UO or vice versa?
    Since the day I started working as a display artist at Urban Outfitters, l have looked at everything around me differently. My eye is now immediately drawn to how things are put together and how spaces and objects make me feel. These interactions inform everything that I create.

    Any new projects on the horizon?
    The future is endless. Everyday here in Milwaukee there is something to do or be done. Even a dumpster run is inspirational.

    Follow John on Instagram

    Bryan Metzdorf - The Artist 
    Brooklyn, NY artist Bryan Metzdorf works across scales and disciplines, creating visual works in two dimensions and then seeing how they live in three dimensional space. During the day, he serves as the Senior Display Coordinator at UO’s Space Ninety 8, but in his free time he creates everything from custom fixtures, shop interiors and photo sets to weekly graphic collages that he’s dubbed #sundaymorningsketches.
    Photos by Matt Rubin

    We love your weekly collage project. Can you tell us how it began?
    They started a couple years ago as an exercise to continue making something when I wasn’t at work or doing freelance projects… a way to keep creative momentum going, something relatively quick that I could do in my small home studio that gave me the satisfaction of being finished in an evening or morning. Since I mostly deal with real materials and dimensions, simply responding to color, shape and texture has a very relaxing and therapeutic effect. At the same time, the collages use and exercise a similar thought process, which is why I considered them “sketches” and not something completely different from my normal work. After I became more comfortable with how they were turning out, I posted them once a week on Instagram with the hashtag #sundaymorningsketches. That provided me with a sort of deadline where, at the minimum, I would have to produce one a week to post. I usually do several, but I almost always try and do one Sunday morning. It’s a nice ritual.

    What’s your process for creating the collages? Where do you find source material?
    Originally, I would precut shapes and then go through and try and fit them together at a later date, occasionally cutting or re-cutting pieces to fit a little better. Lately, they seem to evolve much more like drawings, where 90% of the pieces are custom cut for that composition. I now have categorized files of clippings (for example, “Gradients”, “Natural Textures”, “Blues”), so I can directly translate a shape I have in mind to a specific color or texture, rather than relying on precut pieces. I have to cut a piece 10 or more times to get the right shape, color, or texture. Being a subtractive process, once you screw a piece up, you have to start all over. There is something very zen and focused about shaving the tiniest bit off of a shape to produce a nicer curve or better angle (I go through a lot of blades).

    The rejected shapes get thrown in the pile to be used for something else, so I don’t consider them a waste. I usually start with one larger shape that I then respond to by adding to it, or around it, or cutting it away. I’ll add old pieces and if they fit, great, if not I’ll get a sense of what needs to be there and cut a fresh piece. It happens very organically, which I really enjoy, because most of my other work has to be very thought out and planned. The more recent pieces, in addition to being more composed, seem to have a bit more dimension creeping in, so I am interested to see where that goes. Lately, I have also tried to work larger, though I am somewhat at the mercy of my source material. Most of the clippings come from art, fashion and design magazines, which tend to have ads with large sections of solid color or interesting color gradients printed on nice quality paper. I also find stuff in books about landscapes and architecture. I like the graininess and colors I find in old books, but don’t want to make something that feels nostalgic, so I have to use them carefully. Whereas a lot of collages seem to use discrete sources and rely on the juxtaposition of “putting this thing together with that thing,” I try and use the sources more like a palette. I enjoy taking them out of context, being able to identify them myself, but to others they become more abstract, just part of a composition, a shape or a texture. 

    Does your outside work inform the work you do at UO or vice versa?
    There is definitely a bit of give and take. Urban Outfitters is a company with a distinct identity and visual philosophy and my influences outside of work are broader, but I couldn’t do my job if there wasn’t some overlap. I often become fascinated by a material or process outside of work, will take it to work and figure out an application for it, and then use that knowledge later on in outside work. Or the other way around. Being atSpace Ninety 8 and collaborating with so many outside brands, each with a unique identity, I have been able to pull a lot from my outside interests and skills. My mind doesn’t necessarily switch gears as soon as I leave one type of work and start another, they absolutely feed each other. It’s very gratifying to be using my time in a way that allows me to be constantly gaining applicable knowledge. I don’t think I could do it otherwise.

    Follow Bryan on Instagram

    Joel Wall - The Musician 
    Music is in Joel Wall’s blood. After picking up the bass in fifth grade to play bluegrass with his dad and brother (on the acoustic guitar and mandolin, respectively), he took to the visceral sounds of punk rock and convinced his folks to get him a guitar. Since then, he’s dabbled on the drums, piano, and vocals as well. “I went to school for audio engineering, so I know how to record a little bit too,” he explains. “I try to write and record something new as often as I can.” Joel works at UO’s Space 15 Twenty in Los Angeles.
    Photos by Chantal Anderson

    How did Wyld Rivers come together?
    Wyld Rivers is really fun because it’s a band that has all of my best friends in it. We were in a couple of different bands before we got this project together. We all just knew each other and when our last projects fizzled out we decided to start writing and recording new songs together. It’s pretty organic.

    What musical artists have most influenced your creative development over the years?
    I grew up listening to the Beatles thanks to my mom. We had CD copies of Help! and Rubber Soul. I listened to those a lot. My brother got me into punk in 6th grade; Descendents, Minor Threat, and Operation Ivy are still three of my favorite bands ever. I’m really into music created during an era when recordings were made organically and you really had to push the boundaries of the studio and your instrument in order to get the sound or performance you were looking for. I think some of the best music ever made occurred between 1964 and 1974.

    Do you have a particular approach or philosophy that you try to embody when you’re in the studio? 
    I try to make things happen quickly and efficiently. I really try to go into a session knowing what I want to do, but it usually never ends up that way. Most of the time it’s better than I thought it would be. I’ve learned over the years that you can’t overthink any kind of creative process, you have to let things happen organically. That’s when the unexpected happens, and it’s always better than what you were trying to do.

    You play guitar every single day, but do you ever get stuck in creative ruts? How do you get through any creative roadblocks?
    You don’t always love what you’re playing in the moment; as a musician you go through ups and downs. I have found that playing with other people tends to bring out some kind of new creativity. They can also help to build your confidence; you might be playing or singing something you think is terrible, and they can help to reassure you in a positive way or build you back up.

    Does your outside work inform the work you do at UO or vice versa? 
    It could go either way. I’ve met so many cool people over the past 12 years through Urban Outfitters. Some of them I have played music with—sometimes it really clicks and it’s great, and sometimes it doesn’t. When you find that magic or musical feel between each other, it’s pretty cool and it kind of bonds you a bit. There is also nothing cooler than when all your work friends come out to a show for support.

    Any new side projects on the horizon?
    One of my good friends, Jon, and I are making an album right now. We wrote all of the songs together, played all of the instruments and recorded all of the music ourselves. It’s the first time either one of us has done this process. It’s fun but also a lot of work when you are doing everything from scratch. The project is called Diamond Hands. I also did a little solo EP a while back under the moniker Jean Jacket. I played all of the instruments and did the singing on that as well. The Jean Jacket songs are cool to skateboard to.

    What’s your dream project?
    I guess my dream project would be just having my own full-fledged studio to record whoever and whatever I wanted. Having my own record label to put the music out on would be ideal. Maybe one day.

    Follow Joel on Instagram

    Raul Diaz - The Entrepreneur 
    UO Display Artist Raul Diaz has always been creating. After a high school mentor first opened his eyes to the world of art, he’s been painting, drawing or writing since, with a constant supply of new work up his sleeve. Recently, working alongside his brother Diego, Raul launched a design studio called Native Standard. The Los Angeles-based brand focuses on commercial and residential interiors, and crafts minimal planters, furniture and fixtures with a well-honed knack for simplicity.
    Photos by Chantal Anderson 

    What was your background before working for Urban? What led you to the job?
    Before Urban, I was a union carpenter and also did power plant construction. I landed these jobs due to the fact that I dropped out of college (FIDM in Los Angeles, to be exact). I tried it… school just isn’t for me. Sorry, Mom. I became knowledgeable in the construction field along with using power tools. Whether it was painting, writing, or drawing, I had always been creating. After learning how to use different tools, building things out of wood and metal just became another medium for me, another format in which to be creative. I heard about the job and thought I’d give it a shot.

    Can you tell us a bit about Native Standard? How do you approach each new design?
    Native Standard began three years ago. I’ve always painted and made creative work, so I wanted to attach a name and a brand to all of my different projects. It started out as a clothing brand and evolved as we started taking interior work and creating custom residential pieces.As far as our design approach, it depends on whether we are making an actual piece for our collection or a piece for a client. For our pieces, it’s more of a long-term study. I like to absorb and observe as much as possible; I want to make things that blend into life. I like to put myself in a situation where I don’t feel comfortable, so that I build up anxiety about a project. And then I turn to nature and go on a walk and fully let go. Then I can start bending materials and making something. Pieces just form in this freestyle manner. It’s kind of like drawing, but with material. Sure, I can sit there and draw on the computer all day—I do a lot of rendering and design work on the computer—but when it comes down to it, I get so impatient wanting to see something come to life that I’ll just go into the shop and start messing with material. I’ll just start welding and bending, and welding and building until it forms into something that I’m happy and comfortable with.

    Do you ever get stumped on a project? How do you overcome any creative roadblocks?
    Being stumped is all part of the process. When it happens to me I try to “get away” from it all mentally. Simply step back, go for long walks. Leaving a project completely in the middle of it, at its most vulnerable state, sometimes is the best thing to do. It allows your brain to subconsciously keep thinking about it. Without even knowing it you’re solving things or coming up with other ideas or things to do.

    Does your outside work inform the work you do at UO or vice versa? How so?
    I think my outside work definitely informs the work I do at UO. By coming up with my process of feeling the brand and then following function, I try to create accordingly at UO. Knowing the customer more on a deeper level, rather than just trying to make “cool looking” stuff is important.

    What’s your dream project?
    My dream project is Native Standard. I want to have any of our pieces, whether custom made or part of our collection, in every commercial or residential space possible. I want our product to be for everyone.

    Follow Raul on Instagram

    hop UO Journal Issue 2
    Head to UO’s Space 15 Twenty at 1520 N. Cahuenga Blvd in Los Angeles, CA on February 25th to celebrate the launch of UO Journal issue 2 and the second release of our ongoing Artist Editions series.