Interview with ROBO OHNO

Interview with ROBO OHNO recently had the opportunity to interview the multi talented artist ROBO OHNO.

Interview with ROBO OHNO

We first met ROBO OHNO at Holiday Matsuri 2015 and ran into him again at Holiday Matsuri 2016. He had a booth set up at both events with a variety of his artwork on display. He had paintings, custom vinyl toys, skateboard decks, tee shirts, custom prints and more. We were very impressed with his art and knew that we wanted to interview the man behind the robot. Below are several images of some of ROBO OHNO‘s artwork and our interview. It truly was a pleasure to get to know more about the determined, multi talented, friendly and quirky artist, ROBO OHNO. We hope you enjoy the following interview as much as we did. (C.C): You are quite the talented artist. When was it that you first decided that you wanted to create art?
First off, thank you. That’s super nice of you to say. As for when I decided to become an artist, I honestly can’t remember a time growing up when I wasn’t doodling something. I really buckled down in High School though. Three of my eight classes were art related, and it prepped me to go to art college. I got accepted into IFAC in Miami and majored in Commercial Art. But during my first summer break from college my family suffered a devastating loss. I never went back to college after that. I thought my love for art had died that summer along with my mother, so I focused on my music. A few years later, the band I was in got a record deal with MCA Records.

Then a few years after that I started designing t-shirts for the band, which led to album covers, posters, DVD art, you name it. After almost a decade away from anything art related, I had jumped back in with both feet and was riding the wave of elation that came from reconnecting with my true love. I retired from music in 2011 and decided that working for someone else sounded like an absolute nightmare. I had these visions of having an overbearing, socially awkward manager ten years younger than I talking to me like I was a moron. Those visions always included me being fired for throwing a myriad of items at said manager’s head. So I started my own Graphic Design company. I figured that way, if my manager DID talk down to me, I wasn’t going to call the cops on myself for throwing things at…well…myself. Anyway, after a couple of years I ended up making friends with quite a few convention artists. They saw what I was doing and got me to sign up for a table at Megacon. The rest is history!
C.C: That is very inspiring that you not only pursued your passion for music, but that you also followed your heart in art. That is also incredible that you took such a big risk and created your own company.

C.C: Can you share a little more about your Graphic Design company?
Of course. It’s just me, myself, and I clicking away at all hours at my computer. I do everything from marketing collateral to giant trade show booths. It’s relatively boring at times. But I get a lot of looks because I bring rock aesthetics to an otherwise stagnant industry in terms of visual appeal. A good portion of my client work is doctor/lawyer based. So they’re pretty much blown away when I present them with collateral that looks like it could be used as touring assets. I’ve dabbled in larger scale platforms (Amazon/Papa John’s/Red Bull), but those heavy hitters require more time and energy than I’m willing to give away any longer. I’m losing my interest in exerting myself to help make other people money as of late. Hence my recent hyper-focus on my personal art. Although the really fun stuff is when I actually get to design assets for things I’m actually into. UI for mobile/tabletop gaming and things of that nature. Those jobs have actually gotten me the opportunity to do voice over work for video games and audio books, as well. Unfortunately those things continually fall under NDA, so I can’t even show off stuff I’m doing or I’ll end up getting a knock on my door.

C.C: What mediums do you work with? Do you have a medium that you prefer to work with?
Well, I work with whatever medium I can get my hands on. Within the last six months I’ve worked on projects using acrylic, digital, watercolor, pen & ink, airbrush, custom vinyl toys, and clay. I’m really all over the place when it comes to medium. But I find the versatility allows me to be a part of way more shows/events than if I just stuck to a single direction. But my absolute favorite medium at the moment is acrylic paint. Some of the stuff I’ve been cranking out the last two months has me questioning whether or not I have art gnomes doing my work for me after I go to bed. Haha

C.C: That is amazing that you work with so many mediums. That is also great that you’ve been so busy lately. What are some of the projects that you’ve completed recently?
I like to equate my numerous medium interests to those old Saturday Night Live skits of Mike Meyes as “Philip the Hyper-Hypo”. I just see something that interests me and I drop everything else to go pursue it. Thankfully I have things like bills to tether me to reality. Otherwise I’d probably be homeless in a park somewhere doing murals made out of old fast food wrappers. As far as completed projects go, I’ve just gotten done my latest “inner purge” of pieces. I go through these phases that last for a couple of months. I start off by doing a small piece for a show or commission. That sets off an alarm to my competitive nature. But since my personality is better suited for building up camaraderie among my peers, I direct all my alpha-nonsense at myself. So I end up succumbing to the overwhelming urge to kick my own butt artistically by continually one-upping my work until I run out of juice.

Case in point, this last window began some three months ago with an 8″ x 8″ acrylic painting that took about six hours. That run was capped two weeks ago by a 36″ x 48″ acrylic painting that took me around twenty five hours to complete. Couple that with this incessant need to continually dive into uncharted territory and you’ve got…well…me. Haha. Anyway, that last piece I mentioned was for my solo show “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Servos” that is currently hanging at Bart Bar in Orlando. The opportunity fell in my lap and I decided it was totally reasonable to throw together a solo show less than two weeks before the opening. I have zero idea how I pulled it off. But I will often forcefully deduct years of my life in order to take advantage of whatever opportunity comes knocking with inquiries about my art. I also just finished up a preliminary story for a kidlit book I want to put out. I’ve been sitting on the idea for a number of years and have just recently done the initial character finalization for the story. Here’s to hoping my leash helps keep me focused enough to get a rough done in the next year!

C.C: You mentioned that you were also in a band. Besides doing the artwork, what was your role in the band?
I played bass and did backing vocals. I was also responsible for a large portion of the music. And at times I was definitely the band psychologist. (Que horrible flashbacks). I became somewhat of an ambassador to the fans due to the fact that I was always the first person out at the merchandise table after shows, and always the last person to leave. I felt like the people that came to see us perform were more than just dollar signs. They were as much a part of what we were doing as the guys in the band. Unfortunately not everyone in the band shared that “we are all one” mentality. That was one of the many reasons for my departure from the music industry.

C.C: Have you ever had that awkward/awesome/scary moment when someone recognized you from the band?
Yes! All of the above. But the encounters are always more towards the awesome side. I had a habit of changing up my look every two months or so. Haircut, beard trim, hats, whatever my ADD beckoned. So it always threw me for a loop when someone would still recognize me. It felt like I was actually doing something to bring enjoyment to people’s lives. So meeting them in person was always something I was thankful for. If I did have an overwhelmingly awkward moment, it was at the corporate gig I landed after I left music. I got a Creative Director position at a nutrition company. Apparently someone recognized me and the Google race began. The next day as I walked into work, I was greeted by a couple of the guys cranking my music in their office. Let’s just say the dynamic changed at work after that.

C.C: With all of the amazing artwork you have completed, is there a piece that you would consider to be your favorite?
Again, I’m a fan of your kind perspective! I think my favorite piece to date is my rendering of Bosk & Thicket. They’re two original characters from a kidlit book I’m currently writing. It’s definitely been my most well received piece thus far. I can’t go into detail about their story, but I’m hoping to highlight the importance of teaching kids about the realities of the world we live in. Call it “paying it forward” for learning all I’ve learned in life while also surviving it’s lessons.
C.C: They are quite the adorable duo. Your kidlit book sounds like an interesting and uplifting project. We look forward to learning more about it in the future.

C.C: Is there an artist/musician/person that you would say inspires you artistically?
I feel like the list of people that have inspired me artistically would take a ridiculous amount of time to compile. But my most recent and biggest inspirations for personal growth have been Michael and Sarah Sugarfueled, as well as illustrator and toy maker, Joe Ledbetter. The last few years of my life have been quite chaotic. Mostly relationship stuff, and partially due to my transferring from a full-time corporate art gig to going completely freelance. The Sugarfuelds really helped me reconnect with the parts of myself that I’d lost the ability to see value in. Michael (@sugarfueled) is a fantastic artist with a heart of gold. He and his amazing wife Sarah will forever have a special place in my heart because of the kindness and motivation they bestowed upon me in such a dark time. With their help I was able to build up the confidence to secure an artist alley table at Designercon in Pasadena, CA. That’s where I met Ledbetter.

I blame Mr. Ledbetter (@joe_ledbetter) for getting me hooked on art vinyl toys quite a few years ago. I fell in love with his art and was introduced to some of the toys he’d designed. It was game over from there. I jumped into collecting with both feet and built a fairly impressive showing from a myriad of different artists, all of which I still drool over like some kid on Christmas morning. Joe was kind enough to chat with me about my art and got me to admit that I was too all over the place stylistically. He pointed out my strengths in color usage and got me to really consider focusing more of my energy on exploring that talent. He also suggested an art trade, which floored me. Here’s this guy who’s art helped me to begin my transcendence out from my emotional slump, and he’s asking me for some of MY art. The Universe has, on many an occasion, screamed directions at me through the dark, knotted forest of my life. This was most certainly one of those times.

C.C: If you could choose one artist (dead or alive) to collaborate with, who would it be?
If I had to break it down to just one artist, I’d have to say Joe Ledbetter. Of course my instinctual answer would be someone like Dali, whom I have oodles of admiration for. But Ledbetter seems like he’d be so much more chill and fun to work with. Granted, those two have insanely different styles. But they’ve both been super inspirational to me. Especially concerning my recent body of work. Ledbetter was my introduction to the vinyl toy community years ago. I’d seen some of the pieces he was producing through Kidrobot and other companies, and I was instantly hooked. I also had the opportunity to chat with him at DesignerCon in Pasadena where I had an artist table a couple of years ago. He was incredibly humble and shared some extremely kind words about my art. That’s kind of what kicked me in the ass to start really getting back into focusing on original character design, as I’d gotten sucked into the wonderful world of fan art and had spent a nice chunk of time dodging my own IP development.
C.C: Well, we hope that you get the opportunity to work with him. We think the two of you combined would easily create a few masterpieces.

C.C: What fictional character do you feel you are most like in real life?
While I admire the cold, methodical efforts of someone like Shockwave from the Transformers, I have to defer this one to the outlook my friends have of me. I’ve been told quite a few times that I resemble the temperament of Goku from Dragon Ball Z. Life has gifted me with an overwhelming abundance of patience. Especially when it comes to people. The problem is that I use that gift as my filter to the world. And more times than not, those that do not deserve my patience and understanding are the ones that milk it for all it’s worth. I have this crazy idea that people are just misunderstood and misguided. And that with a lot of patience, they can be shown the path towards being a better person. But like I said, 99% of the time I’d be better off dropping a spirit bomb on their heads than allowing them to drain me of my good nature.

C.C: You mentioned you are currently writing a kidlit book. Is writing new to your long list of incredible talents?
I’m going to need to put you on retainer for when I’m down on myself. Haha. Yes, story writing is something that is completely new to me. I’ve been tossing around the idea for years. But it’s only recently that I’ve mustered up the courage to sit down and work out the initial details of what I’m hoping will become a finished product by year’s end. This will actually be the fourth story I’ve imagined, but the first I’ve had with the intention of bringing to fruition. I’m attempting to apply the life lessons I’ve learned throughout the years while simultaneously adding in personal perceptions of the lives of others. The intention is to present a kidlit book that offers a ‘heads up’ to real life situations in a universally palatable medium. I really feel like kids are overly protected from the world these days. I guess I’m just trying to introduce a balanced way to help them to realize that life is hard, without having the reality of the human condition crammed down their throats.

C.C: You do have many talents, and they could also be considered hobbies. Do you have any hobbies that you haven’t mentioned?
Toys. I adore (some might say to an extreme) collecting them. My two big interests are Masterpiece Transformers and vinyl art toys. My family was broke when I was growing up. My mom did her best to get my siblings and I the ‘latest and greatest’ in an effort to prevent us from being mocked by other kids for being poor. But mainly those efforts just ended up with her dropping me off at my friends’ houses so I could play with their collections. So once I began my career in music, it was a total free-for-all. For the first time in my life, I could buy whatever the hell I wanted, whenever the hell I wanted. It was an amazing feeling of validation. I’d busted my hump and made it to the promise land. After awhile I refined my collections and began focusing on Transformers (my favorite cartoon as a kid) and art vinyl. I found art vinyl toys to be incredibly inspirational. Here’s these 3D canvases that allowed artists to create amazing pieces or art that double as collectibles. I think that’s part of the reason I work so much. I need to have a convincing argument for why my collection is so large.

C.C: Do you have any words of wisdom or a favorite quote?
I have both, actually. Well, I can share some words that I consider ‘wise’. It’s up to the reader to decide whether I’m full of crap or not. Haha. In all seriousness though, just listen to each other. Life moves so fast now, and technology is so intrusive, that people have an overwhelming tendency to become hyper-focused on forcing their opinions down the throats of others instead of working together for a better future. Especially during heated battles on social media. If you focus your energy on hearing people out, you’re allowing lines of communication to be established. I get that people can be infuriating. But that’s most likely a byproduct of people shutting them down over and over again. You can go ahead and chalk that up to the “Goku complex” I was talking about earlier, but I really do feel like if people would just give one another the courtesy of hearing each other out, it would create a greater path for understanding one another.

As far as my favorite quote is concerned, I’d have to go with Hanlon’s razor. “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”. That quote alone has saved me from getting into countless altercations with dummies over the years. Although once in awhile, when the situation is just right, I wish I could claim temporary amnesia…

C.C: Would you like to mention any of your social networks?
Absolutely! My main two outlets are Instagram: @robo_ohno, and Facebook: I’m constantly updating both, so stop on in and say ‘hello’!

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