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Vanguard: Carter Asmann.

Published October 26, 2015

Photos: Matthew Rogers

We're proud to present our second Vanguard feature on Encinitas-based illustrator Carter Asmann. His artwork has garnered considerable attention online this past year due to its unique subject matter: coffee stains. An occurrence that began via happenstance led Carter to begin exploring creative ways to implement these imperfect, organic circles into remarkably detailed graphite pencil drawings. We first discovered his work via Instagram and reached out to him to find out more, only to find that we had several mutual friends in San Diego. After having the opportunity to meet up with him several times in both our LA and NY offices, the idea to work together on a special Vanguard project came together. You'll see several photographs of the finished piece below; it's a 4"x6" print of a dreamcatcher illustration that Carter made especially for us. On top of that, Carter has hand stamped every print with a coffee ring so that no two pieces are alike. Each print is signed and numbered in a limited edition of 100. These prints will ship free of charge with each order from our online store beginning Wednesday, October 28th until supplies run out. 

Read below to learn more about Carter and his work.

You work day-to-day as a furniture designer for a San Diego-based fabrication company.  How does this job influence your personal work?

I have always approached art from a somewhat analytical approach, and I consistently find myself applying furniture & product design principles to my work. Regardless of the subject that I choose to paint or illustrate, I view the process as a visual building exercise starting with a structural form and adding components to develop a final composition.

Does that process influence your choice of subject matter?

As for subject matter, I like to draw both organic forms and manufactured machines/ architecture. I find motorcycles in particular fascinating and visually compelling. I like to spend the time studying and exploring all of the various components and how they interact with other parts on the bike.

Tell us about how the idea for your coffee ring series came to fruition.

The coffee ring series originally began from mistake. While drawing in my sketchbook one morning, I unknowingly spilled some coffee over the edge of my cup. After setting the cup down on the page, it left behind a round coffee stain. Rather than viewing this accident as a problem, I embraced the stain and incorporated it into that day's sketches. After seeing the result of using a coffee ring stain as a design element, I began to deliberately reenacted the motion of creating the stain and incorporating it into more and more of my pieces.

The art community seemingly abandoned the idea of an ongoing series for some time, but now the concept seems to be making a resurgence.  What are some of the benefits and challenges of creating work within specific parameters?

I have been working on this current series for over a year now, and it continues to be a working project. It seems that the concept of working on a long-term series was lost for a while as the art community felt the pressure to supply the growing demand for new and different content more frequently than ever before. However, as of late, I have noticed quite a few artist begin to re-embrace the challenge of working on a more defined ongoing series. And now with the use of outlets such like social media, we are able to share the creative process with audiences along the way.

Personally, the act of creating a long term series really allows me the opportunity to explore an idea in depth. My Coffee Ring Drawing Series has evolved in unexpected ways over the year as I have began to test different compositions, illustration content, and illustration styles.


Do you have certain steps or studies you perform to prepare for each illustration? Walk us through the process of illustrating this dreamcatcher for us.

I like to research subjects and let ideas resonate for a while before I begin any illustration. For our dreamcatcher piece, I wanted to select a more traditional subject that can be interpreted differently by different viewers. The round form of the dreamcatcher complements the Coffee Ring Drawing Series and I was intrigued by the organic nature of the different elements. 

The process begins with a study of the subject, the history, arrangement, and the overall structure. After collecting a variety of reference images I spent some time sketching and visually constructing different options. Once I develop a concrete sketch, I use that as my main reference for the layout for my final piece. For our limited edition dreamcatcher prints, I wanted to make each one unique. In order to do so, I decided to apply real coffee stains to each print, rather than printing a reproduction of a stain. With this in mind, I created our illustration with an intentional void for a future ring to be placed. As I mentioned, I used my sketches as a foundation for the piece and from there I took the time to apply the different ranges of greyscale values, highlights, shadows, and final details. The drawing was then photo captured and printed on 100% Cotton 308gsm Hahnemüle fine art paper. And the final step for this monoprint edition was to individually stain each to complete the illustration. 


You’ve had your drawings displayed in a number of group shows recently - tell us about them. Can you share about any upcoming projects you're working on?

I have had the opportunity to exhibit work in over 10 group shows this years. Most of which were group shows across the US. To name a few- I've participated in The 1MotoShow in Portland, The Oil and Ink Expo (a traveling motorcycle artshow), the New York Coffee Festival, a show at Pretty Pretty Collective on Fairfax in LA.

Coming up, I have some work in an upcoming contemporary art book that Gestalten is releasing at the end of this month (Illusive: Contemporary Illustrations Part 4). And I have plans to make some larger scale works on paper and I have some mixed media painting projects in the works. 


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