Stephen Wiley

Stephen Wiley

HollerHouse: Tell us a bit about who you are, where you grew up, and your background as a digital illustrator
Stephen: My name is Stephen and I’m a printmaker, illustrator, and writer. I grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in a pretty rural area, so my childhood involved a lot of exploring the weird woods behind my house or spending time inside during the humid summers watching movies, tv and reading. I doodled a bit when I was younger, but I didn’t start drawing regularly til I was in early high school. Honestly I started doing it for fun but I soon realized people really liked it when I drew cool stuff, so I turned into the kid that could draw real good. After taking some advanced placement studio classes, I graduated high school and self-taught myself for many years until I could find a way to make this a viable career.  

Q: How has Appalachia inspired your work and what is your favorite part about living here?
A: My work has focused on the blend and co-existence of nature and technology long before I moved to Appalachia, but once I moved here, I was really able to sense it on a more tangible level. Especially more of the nature side. I basically live surrounded by state parks and national forests, and I started to value the natural side of that dynamic a lot more. I still create art with a lot of technology, and I still feel it is an organism of it’s own in a way, but since moving to West Virginia, I have had no choice but to take moments to slow down and enjoy the world around me. The mantra of “everything we need is already here” always sticks in the back of my mind. Since moving here, I’ve been able to refocus more on my own original work, and making sure that I’m proud of it, rather than churning out endless work for the algorithm. I also feel so honored to be around so many other amazing West Virginian and Appalachian artists who have taught me so much. I feel like I learned so much about trusting my own process and how to better market my work from everyone that I’ve met here, and for that I’ll always love Appalachia and all its given me.  
Q: Whats a typical day for you like in the studio?
A: I have a really weird schedule.. I’m simultaneously a morning person and a night person, so I’ll often wake up around 7 or 8 a.m., usually cause my cats inform me its breakfast time. Depending on the day, after breakfast I try to wear one hat for the day, so I’ll either work on business-y stuff, such as finances, emails, printing and shipping orders, etc; or I’ll work on ongoing art projects, such as new prints, sketching practice, or my never-ending graphic novel project. In this schedule though I usually work for most of the morning into the afternoon, around 1 or 2 p.m., then I’ll have lunch and do more low-effort stuff, like running errands, chatting with friends, or go for a walk. If I had a particularly late night working on something, sometimes I’ll take a nap to catch up on some sleep. Then around 4 or 5 p.m. I’ll go back to working on those same tasks, have dinner sometime in there, and then work late into the evening. I usually love to jam to music most of the day, or I’ll often binge shows and watch Twitch streams while I work. I usually try to stop around 11pm if possible, but if there’s a project I’m really excited about I’ll stay up til 1 or 2 a.m. to work on it. Also living in a tourist town, I’ve adopted a weird work week as well. I tend to work more on Thursday to Monday, and Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s are like the weekend for me, since that’s how things open and close where I live.
Q: Where did your love for robots and nature originate?
A: That’s a good question.. I’ve always been obsessed with sci-fi since a young age, but I never really became super interested in robots until I watched the Studio Ghibli movies. Particularly Castle in the Sky. Its funny, cause I know a lot of people were probably expecting the Iron Giant, cause that’s often what people see when they look at my piece “What Lies To The North.” But oddly enough, while I did watch that movie a lot at a young age, a lot of the robot designs in my Ouroboros series are inspired by Evangelion and Castle in the Sky. The emotional pull those films/series had on me as a teenager was so monumental. I was a very withdrawn, lonely kid, and those stories showed me a motif of how to express that isolation into a tangible drawing that most people can instantly relate too. At the end of the day, while I love drawing robots, they are just a motif for understanding what its like to live with these weird feelings of isolation and longing we all have. And nature has always been something I’m fascinated by, as I’ve lived in very rural areas most of my life. It comes easy to me to draw, and it feels very familiar and beautiful.  
Q: When did you begin to focus on artwork as a career and what does the rest of the year look like for your creative path?
 A: I started focusing on art as a career around 2013. I had gone through a very severe life change, and it really had me wake up to the realization that I had just been coasting since high school while all my friends had moved away to college to begin the rest of their lives. I decided I was going to try selling my art prints at street-fairs and festivals, so I bought a booth space at my local Summerfest with my high school friends Alicia Martinez and Luke Martin (Also known as Suburban Avenger Studios) and made like $600 in a weekend. It was the most I ever made, and I thought I had cracked the code and I’d suddenly made it as an artist. It was many more street fairs, art festivals, comic-cons and anime conventions since then, but I’ve somehow managed to make a living on my silly lil drawings so I guess I’m doing something right.
For the rest of this year, I’m hoping to focus more on refining my artistic skills. I spent the last few months of 2023, and the first 5 or so months of this year working on a new series of prints that I’m very proud of, but I think I want to work on a few new things that are more story based and have a lot of emotional weight to them. I’ve also been working on a graphic novel of all the pieces from my Ouroboros series for about.. 7 years now? Damn that feels so wild to say.. But I want to try and finally finish that this year or next. It’s a really important story to me and it’s something I want to finish more than anything else.

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