Creative Balance: The Adam Haynes Methodology

Image: Haynes goes frontside in the Central Oregon backcountry. Photo: Wiseman.

At first glance, one may cast Adam Haynes as a utilitarian artist. Which, to a certain extent, he is. He isn’t starving by any means. Rather, he enjoys a simple life in Bend, OR, with his wife Elyse and a baby on the way. Rides 70-plus days per year at Mt Bachelor and the surrounding backcountry. Enjoys a solid working relationship with Gnu Snowboards, Red Bull, Smith Optics, Specialized Bicycles and Patagonia, among others.

But Haynes is also a painter. A purveyor of expressive, nuanced works that reflect his idyllic mountain lifestyle. Personal works that go beyond the labor-intensive realm of commercial graphic design.

Today, Haynes enjoys a position in the upper echelon of the commercial art realm in the snowsports world, and still finds some time to contribute his creative pursuits via solo shows and Asymbol Gallery. And the 36-year-old has perspective. He paid his dues, putting in a half-decade in the corporate world as a t-shirt designer at Adidas, working odd jobs and constriction to make ends meet in his early years. He appreciates where he’s at, understands the work ethic required to get ahead in the highly-competitive world of snow-centric art and graphic design.

Recently, we caught up with Haynes at his Bend, OR studio. He was on deadline for several commercial projects, but still took the time to think our questions through, to respond in a precise and thoughtful manner. That’s just the kind of guy Adam is—respectful, insightful, appreciative of his life as it stands. An inspiration to up-and-coming artists in the snowsports world, a snowboarder who has managed to avoid getting caught up in the scene and stay true to his personal priorities and true to mountain culture.

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You grew up near Bend, OR?

I grew up in Camp Sherman. My dad worked at a hardware store for thirty years. My mom worked at the school, taught jazzercise, whatever. It’s a very small town.

Were your parents artists?

No one in my extended family is an artist. I got into it organically—I had a cool art teacher in elementary school who encouraged me a lot. I always wanted to be an artist but didn’t have a whole lot of confidence. In high school I did an internship with a local commercial illustrator named Dennis McGregor. He showed me you could have a career in art, that it was possible.

How did you get into snowboarding?

I grew up near Hoodoo [Ski Area]. My school had a ski program that allowed us to go skiing every Friday if our homework was done. In junior high, I started to get into ski racing, but then I started seeing some pretty hot boarders at Hoodoo. I started snowboarding in eighth grade and quit skiing and racing the next year. I just wanted to jump and snowboarding was way more fun. That was 1991.

How did snowboarding influence your life?

It took over. I would go night riding Thursdays and Fridays and then all day on the weekends. As a senior in high school I got early release. I’d be done at noon and drive to Mt Bachelor every day. Then I went to college in Bozeman. I moved there for the snowboarding and got more serious about school later.

I found a program at Montana State University. I went there for four years and got my Bachelors of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. But the program got me into painting, into sculpture. The graphic design was a way to make a living, but I also really enjoyed the artistic part of it.

After I got my degree, my girlfriend and I moved to Portland so she could finish school. I built a portfolio and tried to get work for six months. Nobody wanted to hire the guy fresh off the boat. I was just about to throw in the towel and go work construction again. It was around the holidays and I was working at UPS as a truck loader. This ad came up in the newspaper that Adidas was looking for about a dozen new graphic designers. They had cleaned house in their art department and I snagged one of the first interviews. I ended up working there for five years learning the ins and outs of the apparel industry.

Were you doing track pants?

It was all graphic T-shirts, sports-specific. I’d do basketball T’s for Tracy McGrady and Kevin Garnett. Or soccer T’s for the different FIFA teams. Basic stuff you’d see in Kohl’s or Foot Locker. But I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do forever. So after four years I started thinking about what was next. I tried to find other jobs around Portland. I wasn’t snowboarding a lot. I felt like I was joining the work force. I had this corporate job making good money, but I wasn’t very happy.

I was looking around for other work and popped into Nemo Design a bunch, tried to get hired, but it never worked out timing wise. I moved back to Bend and was freelancing for Adidas, picking up any work I could to get by. Then I got on with Nike 6.0 through Nemo and that’s what really got my foot in the door, because it was two years solid of as much work as I could do. At first they didn’t have a lot of photography because the team was really young. So they wanted a more illustrated direction. They wanted everything to be illustrated, the website, TV spots… everything.

When was this?

It was 2006. I spent my first year [in Bend] picking up random stuff. Most people wanted me to emulate other people’s styles. I didn’t have a style that anyone knew about.

How did you feel about that?

If you want that person’s style, hire that person. It’s gonna get drawn the way it gets drawn. And if you don’t like it, don’t buy it. But I slowly moved up the rungs with better and better clients who gave me more creative freedom. And eventually I didn’t have to take jobs I didn’t want. In commercial art, there are a lot of people biting each other’s styles. Unfortunately it happens a lot, but I try to avoid it as much as possible.

How would you define your style?

I don’t really know how to define it. I try to keep a lot of continuity throughout my line work. I try to do everything to the best of my ability, whether it’s snowboarding or building something or drawing. I try to maintain a high level and be consistent with that. And put a bit of myself into it. Hopefully if someone sees it, they say, “Oh, Adam did that.”

It sounds like you’re saying work ethic has a lot to do with it.

I feel like a large part of working as an artist is time management. You’re doing the same thing for hours on end. It’s really easy to just space out and daydream and get through it. I really try to fight that. I try to have the first line be the same as the last line in terms of what I put into it. It feels like more of a craft than just creating. I’m not just splashing paint on paper. The way I work is very methodical.

Would you say it’s a trade that can be learned to a certain extent if you apply yourself correctly? You’re on production deadlines, you have to stay focused. You’re not sitting in a room creating a masterpiece. You’re creating stuff that serves an intended purpose at a specific time.

Creating for myself versus creating for a client is very different. When I’m doing commercial art I feel like I’m offering a service. My goal is to give the client a great product that fulfills what they want. It’s very important that I feel good about the end product, but it’s also really important that the client’s happy and they feel the project has been done to the best of my abilities.

When I paint I don’t really care what anybody else thinks of it. I can paint whatever I want. It’s hard because I end up getting a lot of commercial work because people see my paintings. I run into problems where people want me to do commercial work based off artwork… and it doesn’t work. It’s not as spontaneous, it’s too contrived. Trying to fit products or logos in can wreck the whole thing. At times there’s overlap, but I find most of the problems I run into as an artist happens when there’s too much overlap between my personal work and my commercial work.

So would you say commercial design is a completely different thing from pure art?

Oh, definitely. Pure art is more expressive. Commercial art, a lot of the time, feels more like drafting or architecture where you’re building something through methodical steps. Whereas with art, there’s no rules. I can take out the belt sander and sand stuff off if I don’t like it, paint over things—there’s a lot more freedom when I’m painting. When I’m drawing, I try to hold myself to the same style, have really consistent line weight so it scans better. I try to keep the overall quality the same. I don’t have to worry about that with painting.

What came after Nike 6.0?

I had an opportunity to do a snowboard graphic for Gnu [Snowboards] and I’ve been working with them ever since. I’ve been going after jobs that are more in my interest area—snowboarding, mountain bikes, outdoor scenes, stuff I like to draw. When I started it was really random. Music festivals, contest posters, stuff for insurance companies… I did a lot of beer labels, actually, especially for Deschutes Brewery. I picked up a little local stuff. One of the tough things about living in Central Oregon is there’s not a lot of local work. I have to cast my next a little wider to find enough work.

You did Barrett [Christy-Cummins] and Temple [Cummins]’s boards for Gnu [Snowboards]?

I did the Altered Genetics line first for a few years. Then Temple was looking for a new artist and he really wanted this airbrush style, like campy gas station airbrush on a round of wood that’s a clock. That’s not really my thing, but I gave it a crack and did this howling wolf with lightning and bones—and built the whole thing in Photoshop. It came out pretty well and Temple was pleased with it. The next year, Barrett asked me to work on a similar style for her. I rarely do women’s graphics, but it was for Barrett, and it’s been all unicorns and hot pink and purple ever since. It’s cool because it gives me the opportunity to draw stuff I wouldn’t normally draw, and forces me out of my comfort zone. I only do that style for her boards now.

In the meantime, I’ve continued to work on Temple’s boards. Working with him is really fun. He’s got great ideas. He comes up with a whole smorgasbord of stuff and I take his idea and try to bring it to life. Lately, I’ve been hand painting his boards, and it’s been a very rewarding process. Drawing snowboard graphics was something I’ve always wanted to do, and working with Barrett and Temple has been a dream job.

Do you find much time to paint for yourself?

Unfortunately, for the last three or four years, it’s been pretty much straight commercial art, with a painting or two here or there. But it’s nowhere near where I want it to be.

Do you find that frustrating?

Yeah. Four years back I did a show in LA. Put my cards on the table as a fine artist. I shelved my commercial work for a few months, and was counting on the show to make some income. I only sold one piece. I was super broke after that show—“Holy shit, now I gotta hustle.”

Since then I’ve been doing commercial work. I realized it takes the fun out of it when you’ve gotta make money off fine art. So my goal is to have a good mix. To do enough commissioned work and personal work that I can have that balance, but it’s very hard to be a pure artist just selling paintings.

I imagine very few artists make a solid living just selling personal work.

Yeah. And I honestly look at myself as more of a draftsman than a fine artist. I like to paint for myself, but I also really enjoy working with other people, to take their ideas and bring it to life. I really enjoy the back and forth involved in fine tuning a design with my regular clients. I feel like I’m better for having someone else involved. That said, I have a pretty good work/life balance. I work a lot, but I play a lot too.

How many days you board per year?

Maybe 70. Not full days, a lot of two hour days.

Can you talk about the snowboard scene in Bend? There’s this strong communal vibe of great snowboarders—you guys have something unique there.

Mt Bachelor isn’t the most challenging mountain in terms of steeps and difficult terrain, but it’s got unique terrain, all these wind lips and tranny finders. It’s so fun to ride there with good friends. There’s like 15 fun little jumps, in every run. It’s such a big mountain and it’s super friendly just to hang out with your buddies and cruise.

A lot of it comes from the fact that most of my friends love living here. It’s a beautiful town, the mountain’s close, there’s a lot of stuff to do. Most people don’t live here to make money—they live here to snowboard, to mountain bike, to be outside. It makes for a fun community. There’s also a really high concentration of great snowboarders who live here and that brings up the overall level of riding at Bachelor. It’s inspiring to go up there and see everyone, it makes you want to ride more and try to keep up [laughs].

You’re about to start a family in Bend?

I’m pretty stoked. My wife Elyse and I are having a baby in September. I’m stoked to be here and can’t think of a better place to raise a family. It’s a great community.

Can you talk about your relationship with Travis Rice and Asymbol?

I got an email from Mike Parillo, who has been one of my favorite artists since I started seeing his Lib Tech graphics way back in high school. He said, “We like what you’re doing, we’re starting this gallery, we’d like you involved.” After the shock of that wore off, it was, “Oh yes, definitely.”

I mean Jamie Lynn, Tim Zimmerman, Scott Lenhardt, Mike Parillo, Chris Brunkhart… to get a chance to be in a collection with them was a big honor for me.

It worked out that one of the first prints they made was one I had submitted. They wanted me to come to Jackson to sign the prints so I drove out. I loved hearing about Travis’s passion for art. How he couldn’t get the prints he wanted so he took it upon himself and built this company that’s very much for the love of art. I have so much respect for what they’re doing, it’s such a passion project. I’m honored to be a part of it.

What about the role of art in snowboarding? There are a lot of creative individuals, but there hasn’t always been a lot of crossover into the broader art world. What does art that comes from snowboarding have to offer beyond the snowboard world?

While I’ve seen some snowboard graphics that could stand alone on a wall of a gallery in Los Angeles or New York, a lot of my favorites have meaning that goes way beyond the art. They relate to a certain era, a particular rider, or even certain locations that mean a lot to snowboarding. Many of these graphics are made more special because of the history and meaning behind them. It’s not to belittle the graphic or the artist, not by any means.

Snowboarding creates such a depth of feeling in its enthusiasts that the graphics for certain boards are elevated or changed beyond their original state. So, while there are certain pieces that transcend their status as mere board graphics, the majority of it works better within the context of snowboarding.

This isn’t to say that snowboard art can’t be understood or enjoyed by non-snowboarders, but in most cases it will resonate far more powerfully with someone that is keyed into the feeling of strapping on a snowboard and dropping in. That said, I see a lot of artistic talent within the snowboard world, and there are more than a few artists who have the ability to create art that goes beyond snowboarding, if they choose to do so.

How do the mountains inspire your personal work?

There are few things I’ve experienced in life that compare to the feeling that envelopes me when traveling and snowboarding in the mountains. There’s the vast stillness, the great beauty, and the delight of being able to move within a frosty landscape with comfort and purpose in pursuit of pure joy. The crisp air and lack of the usual distractions allow my senses to focus and gather, and the bounty is often quite plentiful. Whereas I sometimes feel stuck and uninspired when staring at a blank sheet of paper, it’s the exact opposite when I’m up in the mountains. There’s so much inspiration everywhere that it’s difficult to choose what shape or form or feature to put down on paper. Usually, I try to remember to take lots of pictures and make a quick sketch or two, and then try to carry that feeling back into the studio.

More of Adam Haynes’ work can be seen and purchased at Asymbol Gallery, including his new piece, “Rooster,” as well as on his personal website, stickfort.com.


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