Welcome to Prints on Wood!

POW Chats: Jeff Soto Talks Owls, Origins and Future Plans

jeff soto owl 2 "Snow Owl" by Jeff Soto


Prints on Wood chats with long-time painter, illustrator, muralist and POW collaborator, Jeff SotoCheck the Q&A below!

1. Hi Jeff. You have been at this art thing for some time now and have gone through various thematic phases of your career. From your box boy to cat-like figures and other muses. You have taken a noticeable lean towards owls in recent years. How come?

I enjoy nature and particularly birds. I've always found owls to be fascinating creatures and aesthetically beautiful. It's a creature of the night, so lives in the shadows yet can see very clearly. There's this thing in western culture that owls are wise, maybe they are... but I think they're most interesting as a night predator.

Several years ago, I was exploring the ideas of life and death and felt that the owl could symbolize an older matriarch or patriarch of a family. I also envisioned the antlers as a sort of mix up, where the twisted antler tips could represent a family tree. There's more to it, but yes I have been working with the owl imagery quite often lately.

2. You're an artist that seems to revisit tried-and-true characters in his work. I wonder, do they have names, back stories?

I feel like anything an artist creates is fair game to re-explore. I feel like I jump around often artistically and when I look back there's ideas I didn't fully realize. So I return to older imagery or thoughts and create new work based on it occasionally. Some of the characters I have created may have some back story. Often the figures represent me or my situation at the time- or their meaning changes over the years!


311 Concert Poster by Jeff Soto


3. How do you feel your creative processes have changed over the years as you've adapted to your own rhythm and style?

The basic way I work- sketch, write notes and then create has not changed much. But I feel that I have gotten slower... whereas a few years ago I'd work on multiple pieces at the same time. I'd have five or six paintings going on-- now I tend to work almost too slow and have to work on one at a time. I give each piece a little more love I think. I am interested in revisiting my old ways and work on ten pieces at a time. I think if I had a larger space, I'd try it again.

4. What's your studio space like right now?

I'm working out of a small spot at my house right now! I moved from a real nice large space to be home with my kids more, and to be able to work late easier. I enjoy it, though it's taken some getting used to. We're exploring the possibility of building a studio in our yard so I can have more space, but keep it close.

5. What are your creative processes when getting ready to draft a piece? What types of rituals or practices get you in your zone leading up to beginning a painting, illustration or mural?

I just draw and take notes and keep working on it till something clicks. Illustration work is different and sometimes tougher because you're trying to solve a problem visually and also please the client. But yeah, just a lot of drawing.


jeff soto riverside mural Jeff Soto & Maxxer242 mural in Riverside, Ca


6. You grew up around the Riverside, Ca area from what I understand, and spent time in the local graffiti scene in the 90s. Can you talk about those days of youth running around with a backpack full of spray cans and what the overall vibe of your life was like during those times?

It was fun and I have fond memories of riding my bike around town to look for graffiti. Our art community was small, we knew most of the kids at our high school and maybe a few other schools in the area, but we knew nothing of what was going on in the next town, let alone the graf scene in L.A. This was all pre-internet, so it was a quest to go and meet other graffiti writers. No one was interested in having their identities discovered by the police, so we had to be careful who we spoke with. It was good times and we had fun, but when I look back, Southern CA in the early to mid 90's was dangerous!! It could get pretty crazy...

7. What was the transition from street art into the gallery world like for your personally? What kind of dynamics were you met with when beginning to do exhibitions? Did the process of creating work change for you or become more difficult?

I had a foot in both worlds early on. Or I should say, I was aware of both and wanted to do graffiti, but also show in galleries, some day. It was always a goal of mine. My first solo exhibit was in 2001, and it came at a time where I had given up on graffiti actually. I just felt it wasn't what I wanted to do and I couldn't hang with graf crew politics and all the bullshit. I'd been interested in showing my work in galleries since 1993, so it had been 8 years of working towards that, showing in coffee shops, member shows, juried exhibits, and of course painting walls. In 2000 I had given up on graffiti and pursued the gallery scene and illustration. I decided to pick up graffiti again in 2009 on a trip to London. It felt freeing this time and there were no constraints!


"Floating in the Garden" by Jeff Soto


8. What projects or creative obligations are you looking forward to in the coming months?

I am painting a mural for Empellón Taqueria in NYC in a couple weeks, really looking forward to painting and eating there! There's plans in the works for Germany, Spain and Tokyo, currently working on these... and I am curating some shows for the Riverside Art Museum over the next couple years. Also the usual gig posters and some projects on my list with Prints On Wood. I have been super busy since last summer, and my to do list is several pages long... good problems, but I never seem to catch up.

9. Completely aside from work or career obligations, what do you have going on personally that you're excited to dive into in the coming months?

I have been taking an hour here and there to prepare my planters for our veggie garden. I missed last year because I was too busy, but this year I'm just.. making the time. I enjoy working outside, digging, building stuff. Its a very different frame of mind from making art. It's a good break. We will have some nice vegetables on the dinner table this summer!

soto-memorial-of-forgotten-11x14_1 "Memorial of the Forgotten" by Jeff Soto