Brian Yanish is the incredibly imaginative artist behind NYC-based Scrapkins, a “Creativity program for kids based on the adventures of a group of monsters that live in a recycling center and build their world out of the things we throw away.” As a teaching artist, I recognized in Brian a man on a very similar mission as my own. Scrapkins’ mission is “to encourage creativity and resourcefulness through stories and recycled art projects.” Creativity and resourcefulness. I like those words a LOT, and my experience working in schools tells me Brian is exactly right.
Below you can get a glimpse into the mind behind the mosters…also, see the video as well. Brian is quite handsome, so its worth a look.
MaxMakesMusic: Does your work as an artist have a mission behind it?
Brian Yanish: My personal mission is simple: try and create something interesting and have fun doing it. Sometimes achieving simplicity can get complicated.
MMM: Can you remember a single moment when you felt you were on a good path in terms of your work?
BY: When I was a kid, I was big into making holiday gifts. I would spend hours building ornaments and gluing balsa wood together to make objects and figures. Then I’d draw cards and put it all together. I’ve always drawn things but this packaging of a character and instructions and a joke or comic is the thing I really love doing today.
MMM: Has environmental stewardship always been a part of what you do?
BY: Subconsciously yes. I’ve always been resourceful using whatever I have for materials. To me that’s the most interesting challenge–being creative with the things you already have. I’ve always hated throwing things away and the amount of consumer trash and plastic we produce makes me angry. When I created the ScrapKins in 2006, I decided to have them live in a recycling center and use what we throw away. I believe that more than recycling, we need to train ourselves to consume less. When you are creative with what you have and you get to make something with your hands, I believe that it empowers children. So many things for kids today are pre-packaged and they lose the ability to be imaginative. When a child can have just as much fun with a milk carton boat they made as a plastic boat they bought that’s a powerful notion.
MMM: Do you feel artists can really make a difference? How can we sustain positive change?
BY: Yes. I do. The hardest part for many artists, myself included, is to keep going. Paying bills often gets in the way. But any social change movement started with a good idea. Artists need to keep working on those ideas. If you work hard enough to get your idea in front of the right people who can help spread the word, then I believe you can begin to create a platform for positive change.
MMM: How do you assess your work and your impact on students you work with?
BY: Sometimes I feel like I work in a vacuum. That’s why teaching as an artist in residence at a Brooklyn school has been so important. It’s my real world laboratory where I test out the recycled art projects I’ve been designing in my home studio. Sometimes I have a great idea and then I take it to school to instruct students and I discover it’s too difficult or I change my whole set of instructions between my 3 classes. I enjoy solo design time greatly but at times I get distracted by day to day business and forget to follow my internal compass. When I see a child create something using my guidance and they get great joy out of it, that’s my feedback that my direction is succeeding. Hugs from students are a good indicator too.
MMM: How does revenue potential shape your objectives? Is there a core business strategy behind
BY: I could write a book on my experiences trying to make my art into a business. This is such a big challenge for artists.
I’d love to say there is a business model behind what I do. I’m figuring it out largely as I go. I started with the idea of licensing and we had some early successes with a ScrapKins stationery & lunchbox line at RiteAid and a few other grocery chains. Then we did activity calendars. The biggest challenge for us is visibility. Licensing is a big brand game. So trying to compete with all the licensed product that Disney & Nick, etc produce is extremely difficult especially without a television show or book series out in the world. My current strategy is about choosing to work with companies we’d like to partner with then figuring out what to do together. It takes the pressure off of saying “We’d like you to put our characters on your t-shirts” and instead saying “We’ve got a great set of characters that teach kids about being resourceful and we’d love to work with you” and seeing where that leads. Of course this doesn’t always work but after 6 years of building a library of recycled art projects, staging kids events and defining our brand it’s getting easier to feel that we have something to offer. Building that foundation where I can draw an income from my artwork takes years. This year looks like we’re getting closer to that dream.
MMM: What is it like working with large companies like Whole Foods and Speakaboo?
BY: It’s exciting! Although I can’t really speak relative to size. Whole Foods is giant but so far my contact has been through one individual at the Whole Kids Foundation so it seems as if I’m working with a small company. Usually, the larger the organization means more people have to give their opinion which can sometimes be a challenge to the creative process. But so far, I try to please my one client and let her worry about pleasing everyone else. Speakaboos is also a fairly small group as well. We’ll be developing a series of interactive storybooks together and we’re at the beginning so ask me in a year.