On a local level, one of the websites gaining popularity is Swarmtag Stickers. The site takes submissions from artists (most located in Utah) and puts them up for voting as to which one will be made into a sticker collection for a period of time, giving most of the profits directly to the artists. Today, I chat with the founder, Jason McLaws, about the site and the work it's done to promote local art. (All pictures courtesy of Swarmtag.)
Gavin: Hey, Jacob. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself
Jacob: I am 24 and currently living in the Bay Area. One of my favorite things to do is share the things I love with other people; books, places, food, films, stories, jokes, art, etc. I have had a few great experiences living in Taiwan and traveling in Africa, which have both given me insight into how important sharing and appreciating others’ culture and art really is. I think that’s one of the big hopes for Swarmtag, that it will bring people together through mutual passions.
Gavin: What first got you interested in art, and what were some early influences on you?
Jacob: I grew up in Park City, where there are a lot of cool creative influences. One of the biggest creative influences in my life has been the Sundance Film Festival. Growing up, I loved making short films and docs and having such a big parade of interesting people and films all in my neighborhood. I think documentary filmmaking is one of the more poignant ways to share information and opinions and is one of my favorite mediums of artistic expression. Swarmtag really emerged as a sort of experiment to see if people would gravitate toward spreading cool art in a really simple way, by sticking it to the world around them.
Gavin: Did you seek out any education in art or are you primarily self-taught?
Jacob: I have been painting and doing graphic design since I was pretty young, mostly because my father is a real experimental painter and he also does a lot of work with Photoshop and other digital tools. I loved just sitting in his basement studio and watching him paint when I was a kid and eventually I picked up the brush and joined him.
Gavin: How did the idea to start Swarmtag Stickers come, about and where did the name come from?
Jacob: The idea came from seeing lots of stickers thrown up all over the city from artists who were trying to get their name out there but were tagging anonymously. I really liked the idea of street art as opposed to just tagging something with your name, so I thought about how we could get people all over the world working together to share a single artist’s art. The name comes from that concept— everyone “swarming” around a “tag” created by an artist.
Gavin: What was it like for you developing the concept and building up the website?
Jacob: I believe that when you’re building a concept, it really needs to be tested fast. Spending a long time developing a concept to launch it and see it fail always hurts more than failing fast. I made a really simple website and then connected with as many artists as I could for our first global competition. It ran for about a month and had over 100 submissions. The winner was Julia Yellow with her sticker design “Holy Cow.” All the success we had with that competition really gave me and my small design team the confidence to continue funding competitions and printing, and we have now successfully printed five stickers from themed competitions.
Gavin: How did you start getting the word out to artists to get involved?
Jacob: We were pretty scrappy in the beginning. A lot of it was finding artists on their blogs or Facebook sites and inviting them to check out our website. Eventually, it became a lot of word-of-mouth from artists and fans who like us.
Gavin: What are the guidelines for artists to submit their work and take part in the competition?
Jacob: There is specific information on the “Design” page on the website, but the gist is to work within the competition’s theme. We did an animal themed competition and a Star Wars-themed competition. We don’t want artists to worry too much about the technical dimensions and all, though that info is on the site; we mostly just want to see what it is you’re sharing.
Gavin: What was the first competition like, and how much artwork did you see?
Jacob: Our first competition was huge. We offered a $300 prize just to test the waters and see if people were interested in contributing. We had over a hundred submissions over the course of a month, coming from 12 different countries. It was amazing to see the positive response from the worldwide art community.
Gavin: What's the reaction been from the artists who take part and the exposure they receive?
Jacob: The artists have been really excited to be featured. That said, we’re definitely still in a growing stage and our ability to give artists strong global exposure isn’t fully mature. We have seen really positive reactions, though, and look forward to a growing customer base contributing to a greater ability to spread quality art.
Gavin: Are there any plans to expand the website or competition beyond what you're doing now?
Jacob: I love film and I think we’d eventually like to do some short-film sharing competitions, but that is still outside of our wheelhouse currently. We’re always trying to come up with better competitions and ways to enhance the site, but nothing huge is currently on the road map.
Gavin: What can we expect from both you and Swarmtag over the rest of the year?
Jacob: I really look forward to finding more awesome artists to join our portfolio at Swarmtag. We’ve been really lucky so far, and I guess my big hope for this year is that everyone will see a lot more of Swarmtag stickers all over the world.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Jacob: Swarmtag’s ability to bring awesome art to new audiences is only possible when everyone joins in and helps. We’ve already got a handful of incredible stickers in our online sticker shop, but in order for us to fund more design challenges, we need more people buying and sharing their favorite stickers. So, choose your favorite, and share it!
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