Clark Orr Talks Johnny Cupcakes, Art and Life

Could you start by giving us a small bio, name, age, favorite color, etc?

Hi, My name is Clark Orr, when this is published, I’ll be 27. I was born and raised in DeLand, FL where I currently reside with my dog Edison. Hmm, my favorite color (arguably) is black. I listen to Rock n’ Roll all day, and make illustrations and designs for some fun people.

At what age or point in life did you first get into art and what drew you to it?

I’ve drawn, created, and invented ever since I was young. My dad is a sign painter from the old school, so I’ve been around his artwork since I can remember. At a young age, I was way into toy packaging/graphics: TMNT, Transformers, Madballs, and most of all, The Real Ghostbusters. In middle school I collected comic books, skated, and spent hours every month looking at cd covers in record stores. It became more evident that I was more interested in trying to replicate comic art and eyeing the newest deck designs than I was in reading, or landing the next hardest trick. I distinctly remember in sixth grade, my homeroom teacher asking us what we wanted to do as a grown up. I said a skateboard designer. In high school, I started proper graphic design.

As far as what drew me into art goes, I guess being creative is a very human-connective, spiritual thing for me, it resonates when I’m on point with it. I just ended up with the visual arts side of creativity as my passion. I’m very attracted to art and graphic design, probably in a similar way that a musician is attracted to rhythm and harmonization or a writer is to words and storytelling. I had a knack for art and composition, so I went for it and haven’t looked back since.

Let’s get the Johnny Cupcakes stuff out of the way. Back in 2008 you became the art director and lead designer for one of the most famous indie clothing brands on the planet a job a lot of artists would kill to have. After only a couple years in that position you decided to give it up, what went into that decision and how hard was it to make?

It was a really difficult decision. I love the brand, it was like my baby, it still is, ya know. I also loved my job, and I went from a steady paycheck back into the freelancing hustle, kind of scary. But my conscience kept telling me to move on. It’s hard to explain, but I finally knew it was time. There were a couple practical reasons for my leaving, the first part being that I got really burnt out. It’s taken me till recently to be honest enough with myself to realize that’s what happened. The brand is still a very small company. Despite it’s success and notoriety, all the office employees and managers do the job of like 3 people, not exaggerating. That’s just how an indie brand works. You could imagine the amount of work and responsibility I had as the sole full-time designer for about two of those years. And to be creative every day on top of all that is intense. It was also very difficult to find another full-time designer for us; someone that could hit the mark and help carry the load, so we went without. We were fortunate enough, however, to have Danny Jones (Yasly) and M. Brady Clark to help out with freelancing from time to time and Jenna Rivers with us doing Cut and Sew.

As much as I was burned out and stressed, the other half of my decision was about me needing to be able to work on different kinds of projects and not just focus on one brand. I realized that I am the kind of artist that needs to be able to work with say a band one week and a clothing line the next. I need variety and new challenges to progress as an artist and in general, to be sane. When I told Johnny I was returning to freelance, he was super supportive about it. It was really cool. I didn’t leave the company right away. From that point, it took me about 5 months to find a replacement and do training, etc. I wanted to make sure everything was set to run smoothly after I left. I still say “we” and “us” when referring to the brand, because even though I left, it’s still my family.

How was it working with Johnny in the early days and helping him form his brand?

Johnny is an extraordinary dude, he’s one of my best friends. There are not many people like him, which is part of why the brand is as big as it is, I think. I don’t know anyone who is as thoroughly stoked about what they do as he is. He’s always been like that. So it’s awesome working with someone who’s that passionate about what they’re doing.

In the early days of Johnny Cupcakes, it was really new and exciting for me. When I started working with Johnny around 2003, it was a new brand, really, so there was a lot of possibility. He already had some designs, but I sort of had a blank slate to work with. I took some ideas he had going on and ran with it, to help lay more of the groundwork. I didn’t know much about underground independent clothing brands then, there wasn’t really much of a “scene” for it like there is now. It was exciting having pretty much free reign to design t-shirts for a brand that I knew of through the hardcore scene.

At the time, I wasn’t a great illustrator, nor did I know the technical side (how to separate inks for the screen printers), so everything we did was really simple and cute. I designed pieces on my own but I also used clipart some, that was kind of the style back then, and I was still new to design, so it made it easier. I remember one day, maybe a year after first working with Johnny, he said someone made fun of his brand on a message board for using clipart. From that point on we no longer used stock art for any JC shirt. That was a real turning point for the brand, and for me as an artist. That really set the look for the brand that we still have today, straight forward, fun, bold, and custom.

Back then, I also designed the website(s) and made the first webstore. I would update our sizes everyday, we barely knew how to run e-commerce. Lucas or Johnny would call – “X-Bone plaid – Girls Small and Medium – outta stock”, etc. We would look at the web stats, and get stoked at like a couple hundred hits in one day. Ha. Around 2004 or so, the brand started growing almost exponentially it seemed from then on. I was a little absent for a couple years later, while I was graduating college and beginning my full-time career in freelance. In 2008 I joined the JC team full-time. It still blows my mind over the impact the brand has had. I really suffer from a sort of, “too close to see” phenomenon when it comes to the success of JC. That’s why it’s funny to me hearing someone else describe the brand. Regardless of the perspective, it started out grassroots, and still is to this day, even though it’s on a different scale. That’s something that we all love about it.

What have you been doing with your time and art since leaving Johnny Cupcakes?

I’ve actually designed a great deal for JC since I’ve stepped down (but on a freelance basis of course). I also recently helped layout and design parts of the new JC London store. Aside from JC, I’ve reconnected with a couple of old clients and made some new ones that I’m really excited to be working with.

I’ve also been working with Benny Gold on his line. Benny is an inspiration for me, so to work with him is an honor – great guy, great brand. Also, I’ve been working with the hip hop label Rhymesayers and some of their artists. Been working some with Real Skateboards and Spitfire Wheels (my sixth grade prediction came true), a few other companies, and a slew of band merch designs.

My artwork/career eats up pretty much my whole life. I get busy and stay busy, so I don’t have much free time. I need to change that, cause there’s more to life than “what you do”, or so I hear. I want to travel more this year. I’ll be going out to the JC London opening in a couple weeks and then out to California shortly after. Also, my mom and dad just moved so I’ve been helping them with the move and renovations. Just started a Geocaching crew with some friends – Risky Business Crew! That gets me outta the house more.

You have quite the range in artistic styles, what do you attribute to this?

I would say it partially comes from necessity. At the end of the day, I’m a commercial artist. I don’t always get to pick what I do for my clients, so I have to adapt, while executing my vision. I have different kinds of clients who have different expectations and needs. One day I’m doing a death metal design and the next I’m working on a corporate brand identity. I really enjoy that variety. I love super-stylized artists, that’s just not really me. Also I would say my range is largely due to my various influences. Most artists create what they want to see (or try to) and what they like seeing. I’m hugely influenced by everything from traditional tattoo art, to pulp/sci-fi/horror comic illustration, to WPA poster art and mid-century advertising, to Swiss design. That said, many designers tell me I have a look or style, which I agree with. I would say my art usually has a classic or vintage feel with bold lines and a focus on movement, and is custom (if I had to explain my style in a sentence). I think the sweet-spot is to have a style, but not be confined by it. I hope that’s where I’m at.

Did you have any formal education or schooling in Art, and if so how do you feel it molded you as an artist?

I’m pretty much self-taught, however I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts at the University of North Florida (not really an art school). I enjoyed my classes, professors, and classmates there, but I wish I would have spent that time, energy, and money interning, studying on my own and apprenticing; learning more about art and theory in a more hands-on, practical environment. I would actually suggest that route to other artists. Or if you can afford a nice art school or portfolio program. Most “successful” artists I know didn’t go to school for it… My dad actually has taught me a great deal, especially about typography, theory, and composition.

What have been some of your proudest moments as an artist?

I think each JC store opening we have is a big moment for me. Probably also when I was at the point where I was definitely making a full living off my art. Mostly, I’m proud to have people in my life that are proud of me and what I do, if that makes sense.

Any big projects in the works you would like to share?

Yes, right now I am working on rebranding myself – my design company. I can’t say what all it is right now, but it’s in the works and it’s gonna be a big thing for me, really exciting. I’m going to keep everyone updated, you can check for new updates on my twitter or on my website.

What is your favorite medium?

I’m a pencil and paper kind of guy, that’s where all my designs start. I’ve been drawing more non-work related pieces lately, scripts, lettering, and tattoo-style compositions. As far as final product mediums, shirts take up the largest percentage of my work, and I’m really digging working on skateboards lately – they’re a unique challenge for sure. I’d like to get more into full brand identities/strategies, & album and product packaging.

What is the best part of being an artist?

The best part of being an artist is all the babes. But honestly, the best part is when you create something new that is just as good or better than the last thing you created. Getting better as an artist and seeing the fruits of hard labor, is very satisfying. It’s also a unique sense of accomplishment to see something go from sketch, to a full, finished composition. Michelangelo said that in every block of marble was a sculpture and it was the artists job to find it. So to “find the sculpture” on each project, is great.

Where do you spend most of your time on the web?

I’m not a huge web-surfer, but some faves are: SwallowsnDaggers.com (tattoo blog), ffffound, Theprp (hardcore/metal heads rejoice), omgposters, Twitter, Uncrate, Dribble, and ThisAmericanLife.org.

If someone wanted to hire you are you available and if so how can someone get a hold of you?

You can catch me at www.clarkorr.com info is on the site. Feel free to hit me up. Heads up though, I have to be very selective with new clients/projects I take on, especially because of my availability. I’m also on twitter if you wanna be pals – twitter.com/clarkorr

Any last minute shout outs or announcements?

Sweet, never got to do this. Word to my fam and friends, I feel really blessed to have the love and support that I do. Word up to the JC crew and to my design pals in the struggle – You know who you are. It’s all good baby baby.


  • http://jessicapaoli.com/blog skullface

    Great read! Nice insight into Clark’s work. And it’s always nice reading new perspectives on JC. Thanks dudes.

  • http://www.quakerninja.com Quakerninja

    Nice work.

  • http://twitter.com/SteveOramA Steven Wilson

    I enjoyed reading this.

  • Selizabethf

    JC is so amazing. And so is Clark.

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