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Q+A WITH JEFF CANHAM



Jeff Canham is an artist and designer from Seattle who resides in San Francisco, where he has his studio and makes amazing, hand-painted signs. His colorful, typographic compositions showcase his skills as an artist, graphic designer, and traditional sign painter. From holding the position of art director at Surfer Magazine to learning the time-honored craft of sign painting at New Bohemia Signs, his juxtaposition of old and new methods have evolved to form the backbone of his work today. Jeff's art has been shown around the globe- in New York, California, Australia, and Japan. Jeff Canham's newest collection of sculptures and paintings will be on display at Mollusk in San Francisco on November 18th.
We had the chance to ask Jeff a few questions about his background, surf influence and future projects.
Can you tell us a bit about where you are from and how you got into art?
I grew up in Hawaii and went to college in Oregon. I took art courses at school, but graphic design seemed like a more practical option so I majored in that with a focus on typography and minored in Art History. My first job out of school was at Surfer Magazine which was a dream come true. I grew up reading Surfer and studied David Carson's work in school (he is an influential designer that worked there in the early 90's). I moved to San Francisco in 2005 and apprenticed at a small sign shop here called New Bohemia Signs that specialized in hand painted signs. They taught me everything I know about sign painting and really changed the way I made work. I was still doing graphic design and making art while I apprenticed at New Bohemia and the techniques and skills that I learned there I applied to everything else I was doing professionally. 
Why do you do what you do?
I do a combination of graphic design, sign painting, and artwork. There's a lot of crossover with those and most of the projects I work on now are a blend of all three. I love my work and that's why I do it. 
What are you trying to communicate with your art?
Every project is different, but most of the time I'm trying to get someone to think about something they've encountered before in a new way. Since I have an interest in letters, it often involves exploring language and the multiple ways words and phrases can be read and interpreted. 
Studio Canham
 What role does an artist have in society?
I think a good artist opens your eyes to new possibilities and invites you to think about what ever subject they are tackling from a new perspective. 
You use multiple mediums, what do you like about a towel?
I like that it's functional as well as decorative. Who doesn't need more towels? I've had the same tired towel from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in the back of my van for ages. I can always use another towel.
How did you get involved with Mollusk?
I met John, the founder of Mollusk, when we were both in an art show in Laguna, ages ago. When I moved to San Francisco he was one of the first people I bumped into here. He told me he was thinking about opening a surf shop which turned out to be Mollusk. I went with him when he ordered the sign for the shop at New Bohemia Signs and that was how I got introduced to sign painting. 

Sign Jeff Canham
Connection to surfing?  Thoughts on the WSL?
Growing up in Hawaii, just about everyone surfs at some point, I just stuck with it. I live by the beach in San Francisco and my studio shares a wall with Danny Hess who makes awesome wooden surfboards so I'm still surrounded by surfing. 
I love the WSL. I tune into all the contests I can. Mostly I'm just listening to the broadcast while I work and will start watching when I hear the commentators getting excited. I've got alerts set on my phone when John John surfs. I'm into it. 

 
Any new projects that you are excited about?
Danny Hess and I just made several longboards together, small D-fin pigs, and I'm stoked on those. They are based on boards that I like to ride. He built them and I painted some graphics on them. They are at the glasser right now. But isn't that what shapers always say And I've been designing two books that I'm excited about. One with a photographer named Tatsuo Takei who has been shooting single-fin surfing in California for the last twenty years. The other is a book by Marc Andreini, a legendary surfer and shaper who lives in Half Moon Bay. I'm looking forward to both of those coming out. 

Advice to a younger artists thinking about pursuing as a career?
Make a lot of work, find your own voice, and try to add something new to the conversation.

Check out our collaboration with Jeff here