Scotty Williams is an illustrator, artist and photographer out of Sydney. As well as sketching out a place for himself with some of Australia’s biggest up-and-coming brands, Scotty also has a hand in co-running fashion label Stay Sharp Co.
In recent times, Scotty has gained acclaim for his work with brands like Young Henrys and Grill’d. We caught up with Scotty to see if there’s anything Scotty doesn’t know, and how the journey’s been so far.
Scotty Williams decorates his art with Aussie flora and fauna, channelling the quintessential aesthetic of pub tea towels endlessly thrown over the bar at your local.
HAPPY: You’re an illustrator, photographer, and co-owner of a fashion label. Could you tell us a bit about how you got started as an artist?
SCOTTY: It sounds like the clichéd thing to say, but, like most artists, I started putting pen to paper at a young age. Some of my earliest sketchbooks are filled with characters from that Daria show that used to run on ABC back in the day, haha. Though in high school I started surfing, and that’s when I picked up the camera. I fell in love with that, and drawing kinda took a back seat for a while.
My major art project at the end of high school was photography, and it got selected for Art Express and was shown in a few galleries. That’s when my art teacher encouraged me to pursue photography as a career — so that’s what I did. It wasn’t until I was about 21 that I picked up the pencil again and rediscovered drawing, and I was hooked. I drew every night and it very organically progressed into where people now pay me money to do it. So, that’s a bonus.
HAPPY: If I had to describe your style, I’d say it’s a mix of ‘Aus-core’ and Sailor Jerry traditionalism. How would you describe it? What do you think has influenced your style the most?
SCOTTY: Haha, yeah, for years I struggled to find something unique about my work. I was just drawing the same old shit everyone else was drawing, but in the last year or two, I’ve really started to find my groove. I’m a massive nature enthusiast, I try to spend as much time surfing, hiking or camping as possible, and so I think that was just a natural progression, to draw what I loved. Plus I found a gap in the art scene where native Aussie flora and fauna weren’t being represented. Everyone always draws your typical roses, cactus, pine trees and exotic animals, so I tried to do something different, and it’s paid off. People now come to me because of that reason.
HAPPY: When did you realise you wanted to take your art and make it public?
SCOTTY: There was no real point, to be honest. I just started putting stuff out there and found that people dug what I was drawing, so I just kept doing it.
HAPPY: How did the transition to operating a lifestyle label come about?
SCOTTY: That’s all thanks to my good mate Tutty. He decided to start up Stay Sharp Co. a couple of years ago but lacked in the arts department, so he asked me to jump on board. At that time, I had never used Adobe Illustrator and had no understanding of the clothing and streetwear world. I just learnt as I went, and the knowledge and skills that I gained are invaluable. Stay Sharp Co has been put on the back-burner for the last six months or so… honestly I’ve just had no time. My own private commissions have really taken off, and they actually pay the bills, so that’s what I’m concentrating on for now.
HAPPY: What’s your studio setup and working process like? A nice pad of paper and a desk?
SCOTTY: Pretty much. I work out of my bedroom; to sleep and work out of the same room can make it feel like a bit of a cave sometimes, but I’ve got a big window that looks out on some trees, so that keeps me sane. Plus, my dog keeps me company – it can be pretty lonely working for yourself, haha.
As for my process, I like to do things with my hands as much as possible. All my illustrations start out as drawings on paper. Once I’ve done my initial sketch, I’ll then refine it, and once I’m happy I’ll pen it with a sharpie. Then I’ll scan it onto the computer, clean it up in Photoshop, and live trace it in Illustrator (and add colour or do whatever I have to do to get the job done).
HAPPY: I see you’ve picked up the paintbrush as well as the spray can in recent times. How have you found working across different mediums?
SCOTTY: I’ve painted for a long time, so that comes pretty natural to me. As for the spray cans, that was a big hurdle. When I was asked to do my first mural outside the Courthouse Hotel in Newtown, measuring at about 15m, I felt pretty overwhelmed with it all, since I had never used spray cans. I YouTube’d the hell out of it haha, and it was such a good opportunity that I didn’t wanna pass it up. They seemed happy enough with it that they asked me to do another one on the other side of the building, and I’ve done a couple more since then. It’s always good to get out of your comfort zone.
HAPPY: How do you come up with the concepts behind your artwork?
SCOTTY: It really varies. I get inspiration from everywhere. Like I said, nature is a big inspiration for me, but song lyrics or other artists’ work can motivate me. At the moment, I love looking at old Australiana, especially stuff from like the 60s and 70s. Things like old pub and beer memorabilia; even the old tea towels usually have some awesome imagery on them.
HAPPY: You’ve partnered with emergent Australian brands like Young Henrys, Grill’d, and even a number of bands. What are some of the most notable collaborations you’re proud of?
SCOTTY: Young Henrys have easily been the biggest help for me in terms of getting my name out there. The fellas who work there are absolute legends! They are constantly giving me work, and recently I just designed their Winter Hop Ale label, which I was stoked to be a part of. I collect beer labels already, so to be able to design my own, it doesn’t come much better than that. I also have a Summer Hop Ale beer can coming out at the start of summer. Recently, I also had the pleasure of drawing up a heading for Surfing World magazine’s The Octopus section. Growing up and reading that magazine, it was an awesome feeling to see my work in it.
HAPPY: How do you think emerging artists can or should gain exposure? What’s worked for you?
SCOTTY: That’s a funny question for me to answer because I still am an emerging artist. So, if anyone has any tips for me, feel free to drop me a line, haha. Well, Instagram is a massive deal these days. You can either love it or hate it, but it’s definitely helped me get my name out there. Though, a word of advice: don’t let it dictate your art, create art for yourself, not what you think other people wanna see.
HAPPY: You’re a bit of a surfer and even snowboarder on occasion! Could we expect some of your work to appear on more boards in the future?
SCOTTY: I would love to get involved in working on board graphics, especially skateboarding. I’ve done a couple of surfboards in the past, which are always fun.
HAPPY: What’s been your experience in pursuing art without going broke?
SCOTTY: Aha, good question. Every artist’s dilemma. I’m pretty fortunate in that I work full-time as a freelance property and architectural photographer. I’ve done it for about seven years, and it’s something that I’ve come to really enjoy. It pays well and is a pretty flexible job, so it gives me time to work on art projects on the side.
HAPPY: Your work’s also taken you to the world of exhibitions. Can we expect to see more of that?
SCOTTY: Yeah, I would love to exhibit more. I’ve been in a couple of group exhibitions, plus had my own exhibition a couple of years back, which was a good experience. Hopefully I can exhibit more in the future.
HAPPY: What do you want to see more of in local art, or art in Australia?
SCOTTY: I would love to see the government and local councils put more funding into the arts, and create a space for artists to share their work. I live in the Sutherland Shire, and our council definitely doesn’t encourage public art, such as murals. You look at the best towns and cities around the world, and they all have a thriving art scene. Sydney blows in that respect… apart from a few little pockets around the inner city.
HAPPY: Who are some of your favourite Instagram artists?
SCOTTY: Oh man, that’s a hard one. There’s so many. Pat Rogasch, Kentaro Yoshida, Marcus Dixon, Alex Lehours, Harley & J, Luke Day, Sam Kane, Chris Costa, Kiel Tillman. Man, the list goes on.
HAPPY: If you had to pick a favourite piece you’ve completed, could you? If so, which one and why?
SCOTTY: It’d probably have to be the Going Nowhere mural that I completed outside The Courthouse Hotel on Australia Street in Newtown. This was my second mural I did for them, and to have a mural in such an iconic part of Newtown is a pretty special feeling.
HAPPY: What’s next for Scotty Williams?
SCOTTY: To just go with the flow and see where this ride can take me.
Check out Scotty Williams’ work on the recent Young Henrys Winter Hop Ale here.