Getting Unstuck, Becoming an Artist, and Developing Your Voice with Scott Aasman

Scott Aasman is an artist, illustrator, and, until recently, a carpenter working out of Hamilton, Ontario where he lives with his wife Michelle and their two children.

I had a great time exploring Scott’s work, his identity, and his approach to both his creative process and his career. I left this interview feeling inspired. And I think you will too.


Listen in here:

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In this episode you’ll learn:

  • What Scott does
  • How he talks about his style
  • How he approaches his creative process
  • How he came to embrace himself as an artist
  • How he dealt with career pressure
  • How he recovered his artistic drive 
  • Thoughts on pioneering your own identity
  • How important it is to follow your interests in art
  • How he thinks about his artistic voice
  • The importance of giving kids the opportunity to be creative

Resources Mentioned:

Scott’s Instagram

Software Generated Transcription:

Dan

Scott, thank you so much for joining me. Welcome to The Meaning Movement podcast.

Scott

Hi. Thanks. I’m excited to be here.

Dan

Yeah. The question that I always begin with, I like to start with is how do you begin to to talk about the work that you do in the world?

Scott

Yeah. Well, I’m an illustrator and artist, and I make pictures, simply sit on my desk and I got pens and ipads and computers and draw cool things.

Dan

I love it. I know we already started talking about this because I think that your style is just so interesting and beautiful. It’s really fantastic work before I attempt to describe it. I’m curious. How do you talk about your style?

Scott

I think a lot of my work is narrative based. It’s line drawings. And I just tried to create a dynamic atmosphere. And I’m really inspired by this quote by Leonard Cohen. He has this quote where it says, the more our eyes grow accustomed to sight, they armor themselves against wonder. And I kind of want to try to take these common stories and common things that are overseen and try to allow them to be resigned with new eyes and a fresh vision, perhaps, and take familiar tropes or stories, meta narratives and kind of blend together these cultural, sometimes religious, sometimes personal narratives and kind of mix them all together and see what kind of comes out of it.

Dan

I love it. I love it. I think forever and listening. I’ll have links to Scott’s work in the show notes, but I think sometimes it’s best to see it as we describe it. But line drawings and I see a lot of layers, different colored lines on top of each other, different images. I’m curious about how you developed your style, and I want to get into your relationship with being an artist and everything like that. But I think just starting on the style piece is really interesting. How do you think about the development of your style? And yeah, maybe just start there. Like how much of this was intentional? How much of it is that’s just how you draw? How much of it is you’re trying to do something that hadn’t been done before or replicate other things that you had seen? Yeah.

Scott

I think a lot of it comes through sketchbooks that has been always my go to thing. As long as I can remember, I’ve had an active sketchbook. I’ve had something that I’ve drawn and played in, and that’s where my training ground is it’s also, I think my playground. And over time, the more you draw, it becomes more of a language for yourself. Personal language. Right. Sometimes I get bored with a page, so I just draw things on top of other things and how the shapes interact and form and flow. I find it really interesting interaction and how that has the potential to tell stories, overlapping stories, combining stories, colliding stories. And yeah. So I think my style starts in just play. I think that’s the easiest way to say it a beautiful place to start.

Dan

I love it. Let’s talk about the artist question because I think this is always a fascinating place for me to hear artists stories. When did you first begin to think of yourself as an artist? I just want to hear some of the history of that part of your identity.

Scott

The term artist carries a lot of weight, and there’s a lot of baggage that comes with that, I think, and it took a while for me to actually adopt that term because I always felt that imposter syndrome. But other people have called me an artist for a very long time, so maybe I need to trust whether people are saying more than what I feel. I would be comfortable calling myself an artist now, for sure. Yeah, but it probably wasn’t until it’s showing more routinely. I felt a little more credible that I could call myself an artist, I think. But it is a weighted term.

Dan

Yeah, it feels a little pretentious.

Scott

Sometimes I’m an artist, and I never really made my living from an artist until very recently. So I always felt a little bit weird calling myself that because that wasn’t putting bread on the table, perhaps.

Dan

Well, let’s just rewind when you were a kid, and how did you think about what you wanted to do and what you wanted to focus on? How did you think about what you’d be doing as an adult?

Scott

That’s a good question, because that was a source of a lot of stress for me as a kid. I knew I love drawing. I was drawing from a very young age, but I remember when I was in junior high, grade, seven, grade eight here up in Canada, when we go to high school, we are asked to be in either one of two streams, an academic stream or applied stream, and those kind of branch off into University streams and College streams. And I felt that such pressure at 8th grade to figure out what I want to do with my life and what I wanted to be and also who I should be. That was another question I had, and I was forced to make these decisions, and I wasn’t a great student because I was an active kid and I had my head in the clouds a little bit, and I couldn’t sit still. And I liked drawing more than I liked listening. And I grew up in a really small community that really art wasn’t a part of it. So even the idea of making my life like a career as an artist wasn’t really in the books or even possible.

Scott

I don’t want to speak like bad of the community. Art was more of a woman’s thing, perhaps like what people did in the home. It was the men’s job to go out and work, but I didn’t really have a whole lot of role models who were artists or I didn’t really have the frame of reference to make it into a career. So I never really thought that was a possibility. Even so, I kind of did my thing. In high school. I took art classes and I loved them and out of high school, I did end up going into an arts course. It’s called Art Fundamentals. It was just in the local College. It was just a year course of portfolio building, and it was a good course. I learned lots, but I was so burnt out at the end, mostly because I wasn’t applying myself, I think, properly, but also because it was a very competitive field. People were there to build their portfolios and be able to get to the next courses. A lot of people were kind of in this illustration or animation stream that they were trying to get into, and people were there to get into these programs.

Scott

And I came out of that just so exhausted and tired, and my portfolio was pretty mediocre at best. I think so. That’s where I was after that course. I was a little bit lost and unsure of what was happening next, and it kind of just fell into my lap. This job in Carpentry. So that was a big relief. I had a job, good paying job. I was 18 years old and was able to buy a car and do a bunch of 18 year old stuff. But at that point, I kind of lost my artistic drive for a couple of years. And Interestingly enough, that was also a time in my life where I was probably suffering the most from mental health issues. And I think part of it was because I was lost. I didn’t really have a purpose. I was doing a job that was good and paid me, but I wasn’t necessarily happy and I wasn’t making. And I think my mental health and making has always been intimately tied together. So I had to do some work in those things, some soul work just working out, perhaps what’s next? And eventually I decided I couldn’t do this forever.

Scott

I needed to go back to school. So I entered, as I’m going to say, in quotations, a mature student, a mature 21 year old student, and I went to study theology, and I’d be a pastor because I think it would be a respectable job. It was perhaps the right thing to do. I had a passing interest in theology and those kinds of things. So I thought, Why not give it a try? But as I did my theology courses, I kind of found myself back into the art studio, and that’s where I took off again. I decided to do a double major. Instead of just doing theology. I did an art major as well, and that was also a time where I was able to kind of marry these two ideas like theology and philosophy into my art and it was a way for me to kind of take what was being taught to me in these kind of complex and heady terms and be able to kind of translate it into ways that I could digest it a little bit better. And that was visually. A lot of my work has these philosophical or theological undertones, or at least I like to think they are.

Scott

Maybe not.

Dan

Whether or not they come through is where you start, right? You’re starting with these themes.

Scott

And so that kind of came the way where I was playing. So I completed my degree, and I tried to make a little go of it for a couple of months before my loan payment started becoming due. And I wasn’t that successful at that time. I made a lot of art, but I just didn’t know how to market myself. I didn’t know how to get out there. I was just a student who liked drawing pictures, and that was about it.

Dan

Yeah.

Scott

So I also was in love with a girl. And as two young people in love, they want to get married. And I thought it would be probably better if I had a job to support this young marriage and don’t want to be looked poorly upon by my in laws or anything like that.

Dan

Yeah.

Scott

So I ended up finding my way back into Carpentry, and I was doing that. I first worked for my dad for a little bit doing sales, and that was a chapter of my life that’s probably best left untold. It wasn’t my forte, but I ended up eventually finding my way back into Carpentry and was doing that for the past six years and doing art beside that until very recently this summer. In fact, I made the leap from being a Carpenter to being a stay at home Dadelustrator artist.

Dan

I love it.

Scott

And that came with for a number of reasons, most of which is because I’ve been having some hip issues. I tore both labrums in my hips, and that caused me to slow down a lot. Cobid has caused a backlog in surgery, so I’m waiting for surgery, and I don’t really have an opportunity. Working is very difficult right now. So being on my feet is really difficult right now. So my wife said, Well, why don’t you take this time? She’s got a very good job, and she’s an amazing woman who supports me in ways that I can’t even comprehend. But she said, this has always been a dream of mine. This has always been a passion of mine. Why don’t I take some time to pursue it and also help me by taking care of the kids while she also works from home? So that’s what we’ve been doing for the past three or four months.

Dan

I love it. Yeah.

Scott

So that’s kind of where I am now.

Dan

Yeah. What a fantastic journey. So many moments stand out that I kind of want to just highlight for listeners because I think that there are some common themes that a lot of us face in our journey is I think even just going back to your early years of feeling like pressure to figure out what to do at such a young age and being in a place where there wasn’t an example of what it looks like to pursue art and how that’s a big part of my story as well. Being an entrepreneur and a creative. Both of those are identities that I have myself, but never really had examples of those growing up. It feels like those are identities I had to kind of, I don’t know, pioneer for myself because there was no one in my life kind of ushering me down these paths, and that just really resonated with me in your story. I think we all have these voices of whether they’re explicitly stated or not of things that we should and shouldn’t pursue, who we should and shouldn’t be, what we should and shouldn’t do that we have to at some point contend with because they don’t always align with who we are and where we want to go and with our natural desires and giftedness.

Dan

I hear that in your journey. Does that resonate with you? Yeah.

Scott

Absolutely. Forging a new path, right. I should also give credit to my parents who were very encouraging of me to pursue these things, to follow my passion, to trust me that these art things are worthwhile. I mean, I’m forever touched my parents, took art appreciation classes so they would better understand where I’m coming from.

Dan

Yeah. That’s awesome.

Scott

It was incredible. Yeah. And I’m just so grateful that it’s not that I didn’t have any people in my corner. I had people in my corner. I just didn’t have a lot of people who understood where I was coming from or could direct me in the proper path to go.

Dan

Yeah.

Scott

That resonates a lot.

Dan

Yeah. Absolutely. And also your decision to be a pastor that use the word respectable job also really resonated with me. I was a pastor for five years. I wanted to pursue music, but it felt like being a pastor was without getting too far into my story just fit better with the context that I had been in than being a composer. That just also really resonated with me. Again, of like, sometimes we make these decisions based on what fits with the examples that we have around us. The cultures were a part of the institutions were a part of and such. It sounds like, though, that really took you in a direction that maybe added another layer of depth. And I don’t know, maybe depth is the best word to your style and to your art. Is that how you think of it?

Scott

Yeah. I mean, I’m not going to deny that I was interested in this stuff or there’s a part of my passion that was involved in that. And I think part of being an artist is learning to be interested about things and being able to translate them in new or different ways. So I don’t think I would be an artist if I didn’t also study this philosophy and theology. And I went to a Liberal arts College, and it allowed me to study a lot of different things as well that I probably wouldn’t have normally engaged. So it taught me to be interested in things and follow my interests, I guess, right.

Dan

Yeah.

Scott

And those interests are planted in us. We’re wired to be interested in things for whatever reason. So maybe we should take the time to kind of sometimes see those things through and follow these little breadcrumbs around.

Dan

Yeah. I love that. I find that to be so difficult because I’m so results oriented, and I’m curious, how do you think about following an interest without knowing where the interest is going to lead you or that it’s going to be a productive interest? Or is it just not at all the right framework to be thinking about following interests?

Scott

Yeah. I’m not super results oriented. I need to be sometimes, and especially when I’m working on a deadline. That’s what they’re helpful for. But following little rabbit trails, I just get so much pleasure out of it, even if they don’t bring me anywhere. I think it kind of opens your mind or opens yourself to new things, to new ideas and pushes you to kind of see the world in different ways or see things in a different way.

Dan

Yeah.

Scott

I love that there’s things I’m not the greatest that following my interest. I’m not interested in, but also learning to be interested is a skill and a talent that you can develop.

Dan

I think I love it. I love it. I think that’s a fantastic response, and I think it goes back to what you said. Maybe early on about your style emerged because it was fun because drawing was fun, and that was just such an important place to start. Like, let yourself love the things that you love. And I think I need to hear that personally. So thank you because I so much, like, want to just push forward and drive myself regardless of what’s interesting, regardless of what’s fun where the joy is. And so I hear in this for myself a call to remember to enjoy the process and to lean into those places where things are really fun.

Scott

Yeah.

Dan

I love that.

Scott

Yeah. I think, too. We love things, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not necessarily easy or enjoyable at the time. But love requires work. I think, like any good marriage, and it requires pruning and tending. And yeah, love doesn’t necessarily make it easy. I think I love that. It’s also a thing that I think I wanted to say.

Dan

Yeah, love doesn’t make it easy. It resonates again really deeply with me. Reminds me, I think a lot about words like passion. People often will find my work because they want to find their passions. Do what you love. All these kind of these tropes that are maybe thrown around in culture about finding your way and finding your calling. But even like the very word, passion comes from derivative like the passion of Christ. And like this, which is about sacrifice. And so even within those words, it’s not just about the goodness that you derive from it, but also what you’re talking about, like the sacrifice and what you have to give up and the pain that comes along with it. And that sometimes it’s best to think about what your passion is or pursuing what you love as something that you care enough about, that you’re willing to go through and the sacrifice required in order to continue down that path, if that makes sense. Yeah.

Scott

Exactly. I agree. Wholeheartedly.

Dan

Yeah. I’m curious with your work when you’re sitting down. Well, I don’t even know how to because I’m about to start saying when you’re sitting down to start a piece, I’m not sure if that’s where it starts. And the question I guess it should be. I’d love to hear about your creative process. Where does it start? How does it go? What does it look like for you?

Scott

Yes. Well, I mentioned sketchbooks before, and sketchbooks have always been like I mentioned before my playground and things where I start, and it’s where I process things, whether it’s books that I’ve been reading, I would take my sketchbook to Church and draw during Church if I was at a meeting or going to a lecture, just like trying to visually interpret what I’m saying or what I’m hearing and what I’m engaging with. And I have many, many full sketchbooks of drawings and only a few pieces here and there end up becoming something bigger, something more. And they’re just trying to light little sparks here and there, and you kind of tend these little sparks for a while and see if they become into a flame. And then things kind of come together. So often I’ll be taking elements from one sketchbook image to another and kind of just melding them together. And that involves times of productivity where you’re drawing and doing the work. But there’s also periods of gestation where you just need to sit back and read some poetry or listen to things. Learning to listen is a big part, and learning to process these ideas or digest these ideas that are happening around you and then finding ways to say it again in a new way or reinterpret it or pair it with another thing that kind of echoes the initial thing that sparked your interest.

Scott

Yeah. I love that it’s a lot of jumping around. I keep on using the word play, and like, love play isn’t necessarily always fun, but it’s formative and showing up to play or to work is important, even when you don’t necessarily feel like it. Or especially when you don’t want to feel like it seems to feel like it seems like stuff gets done. So yeah, it’s being willing to slow down a bit. I think sometimes and listen, that’s great.

Dan

I love that. How do you think about as an artist about your voice? Do you use that word? If so, what does that word mean to you?

Scott

Yeah. That’s a bit of a weighted thing, too. Artists employ language and vision, and our voice is often made manifest through our drawings or through our paintings. And it’s important to trust that voice. And it took me a long time, and it took a lot of encouragement that from respected people in my life that my voice is worth hearing. And I have something to contribute, even though people might not understand it per se. There’s something that’s being said in these images that sometimes people can connect to and even times where I don’t necessarily understand what exactly I’m saying. But it just makes sense to have an element in a drawing to add something that doesn’t necessarily have a particular logical reason to it. But it just feels right. And I have a voice. But I don’t even necessarily understand that voice. It’s something that’s deep seated inside us. It’s hard not to talk about art without talking, sounding pretty spiritual or mystical about the process. But it really is. I think something that’s deep down inside us that we’re channeling or that’s coming out and that we have to share.

Dan

Yeah. I love that. I’m curious. You said that for you. Is this something that you needed encouragement from people in your life to really believe that your voice is worth hearing? That really just resonated with me. I also found that to be true in my own journey. And I’m curious if there’s any other stories or narrative around that process or vignettes of what that looks like for you. How did you get that encouragement or who gave you that encouragement?

Scott

Yeah. I’ve had several professors through University who have kept up with me since that time, who kept on encouraging me to make stuff. I was a member of a Gallery for a number of years here in Hamilton, and it was kind of founded by one of my old professors, and he pretty much dragged me in. I was like, oh, I have a job. I have a small kid. I just don’t have time to join this co op and constantly make new work. But he was very adamant about me joining this group, and I’m very grateful that he did that. But there’s been just voices throughout my life. There’s been people placed here and there all through my life. My high school art teacher, she’s amazing. She was so encouraging of me, especially after school, to keep on at it, to keep on making stuff. When I was a Carpenter, my boss understood that I wasn’t bad at my job, but he understood that that wasn’t my passion. And he allowed me gave me space if I had a show coming up to take some time to work at it or take time to go visit a show.

Dan

Cool.

Scott

And then I’ve mentioned my parents earlier, who always got another way to try to understand what I’m doing and take interest in what I’m doing. My wife, my inlaws. There’s so many people who kind of encourage me.

Dan

That’s so awesome.

Scott

I’m lucky to have people who even though they don’t necessarily understand what I’m doing, they want me to do the best for me, and they want to understand. And they put those open doors for me, even if it’s not necessarily industry doors, it’s just allowing me to flourish.

Dan

That is so wonderful. And I just feel so grateful that you have those voices in your life. And those are the kinds of voices that we all need. And so it’s just really beautiful to hear those people in your life. It’s just a really wonderful thing. I’m curious, as I know, you’re kind of in this traditional period, really building your next, maybe building more of your art career, but also being a stay at home. Dad, how old are your kids?

Scott

My son. He’s turning six in December. And my daughter, she just turned three, actually, back in July.

Dan

I love that. I have kids that are my son just turned six, and my daughter turned three in July as well. And I also have a one year old as well, but very similar agent. So this is kind of a selfish question, but I want to know from your perspective, how do you think about raising creative kids?

Scott

Yeah, that’s a really important thing for my wife and I. We like to give our kids opportunities to play with whatever they feel interested. I have a drawing desk here. We have a pretty small house, so it’s kind of beside our living room. And we set up a desk right behind mine where my son has his Lego all set up, and he can have his projects on the go. Right now. He’s making a dinosaur land prototype. So just giving them opportunities to have those places that they can call their own to play and their own to foster their interests. I mean, I would love to have my kids really love drawing and really love painting and all those kinds of things, and they do. But in three or four years, that might not be what they want, but at least give them an opportunity to foster interest and take those interests as they are. Just be interested in them and see what happens with these interests. Yeah, my son, too. It was part of a stalling technique. He didn’t want to go to bed, but he decided he’s going to practice his writing skills by writing these poems the other night.

Scott

And they’re very rudimentary, but they’re so beautiful to me. I love it just tearing up reading it because, well, a he’s writing. I’m like how my son start writing, but also he wanted to take the time to write a poem, not just write sentences, but write a poem. He had something about my garden blooming in beauty, and I’m like, that’s brilliant.

Dan

I love it.

Scott

All right. He’s going to stay up a little bit later tonight, but he’s trying something like this. Why don’t we let him do that? Why don’t we allow him to try this? And if he’s a little grumpy tomorrow, we can deal with that. But he’s brought something beautiful into this world. And that’s so important for everybody, I think, especially for kids to allow them to bring beauty into the world as rudimentary or simple as they might be.

Dan

That is so good. And I love just creating the space for them to flourish and giving them permission to do so. Yeah, that’s wonderful. I love that. Definitely, something I want to foster more with my kids as well. I’m curious as you think about your art, and it feels kind of related to that question about voice, but maybe it’s different. I don’t know, but it also feels related to the word vocation in my use of that word. But I’m curious when you think about your work, is there something in particular? And of course, if you could just say it, you would just say you wouldn’t be drawing it. But is there something that you’re trying to say, or are there themes that are emerging or that continue to come back that you’re just always trying to grapple with or express through your work?

Scott

Yeah. Wonder and re-enchantment are two things that have become very important to me in the past couple of years. I know I said that Leonard Cohen quote earlier, but also, like, re-enchantment, the world today is very cut and dry, and you’re on one side of the fence or another. And there needs to be a need for finding wonder again and not knowing things, knowing that there’s something greater out there, whether you want to call it God or the universe or whatever. It reminds us a little bit of our smallness, I think, and that there’s beauty out there. And I don’t use that word lightly as just in sunsets or things like that. But there is like this greater sense of beauty, and it’s okay to be kind of enraptured in this and enraptured by the world and stories. And yeah, I just really want I’m saying this very poorly because it is just a huge thing, like being able to find wonder in every day to find enchantment. And like I said, I’m a stay-at-home dad who involves making lunches and Loading the dishwasher and those kinds of things, but there’s something beautiful to those things as well.

Dan

I love it.

Scott

There’s something bigger at play than just those little things, and I don’t know what it is, but there’s something bigger to it, I think.

Dan

Yeah. I think that that’s incredibly well said, especially for as an artist who doesn’t like your work isn’t primarily word. If you could just say it, you wouldn’t need to draw it. So I think that’s a fantastic response. It’s just so much fun. And we’re coming up to our time here for everyone listening. All links to Scott’s work in the show notes really encourage you to check out his work, because if it’s just really beautiful, really love it for people who want to follow along further connect with you. Is there anything specific you’d like to invite people to? Yeah.

Scott

Well, check me out on Instagram @sanillustration. I’m currently living that like I said, the freelance life. So if you have any projects that you need done, hit me up. I’m loving for stuff.

Dan

I’d love to work with you open for business.

Scott

Yeah.

Dan

I love it. What kind of projects? Just I think that’s a great invitation. Are there any specific types of projects that you’re most interested in taking on? Yeah.

Scott

I love doing custom pieces. I love doing work that you’re interested in. If you want something for your house or for your business or whatever, just let me know I’m doing some editorial stuff as well. So if you’re in a magazine or whatever, that’s great, too. Let’s talk it out and see what you want and we can make it happen.

Dan

Beautiful. I love that. I love that. Well, I’ll make sure to link up your work in the notes and just really appreciate all your time and insight here. It’s just been really, really fun to connect. Thank you so much for joining me on the show. Yeah.

Scott

Thanks for having me. It’s been great. And yeah. Thanks so much.

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