Voices & Visions: Drake Arnold

Drake Arnold is a Florida based artist, he creates traditional paintings and murals with spiritual, mystical, and psychedelic qualities, he is the founder of Fractal-Spirit, an apparel company and artist collective. We talk about his life as an artist, live painting for music festivals, augmented reality, and much more.

Avery: Please enjoy another exciting interview with yet another awesome artist! Please go follow Drake on his social media, @drake_arnold_art and @fractalspiritco or check out his websites, www.drakearnold.com and www.fractal-spirit.com

This is a transcription of the original video interview. This conversation is not perfectly accurate to the original.

-Were you always creative?
I had a couple of influences that helped me get into art at a very young age, mostly my brother, he’s seven years older than me, and he was into comic books and drawing, sketching and that kind of stuff, so he kinda got me into it. As well as one of my aunts who was an art teacher, and she gave me as a Christmas or birthday present my own first sketchbook as a kid. So I feel like that is what pushed me into it. And I definitely identified artistically since a young age, I’ve always been interested in art, that being said, I don’t think I was artistically inclined, I’ve been interested in art the whole time since I was a little kid, but taking classes in high school for instance, I was never the best artist in high school, there were a ton of other kids who were way better than me, I don’t feel like it came naturally to me. I think it took a really long time, and my work was really mediocre before it really started catching up to where I wanted it to be. And you know that’s always a work in progress.

-Did you get any education in art?
I did take a lot of art classes in high school, I predominantly identified as a musician in that time period into collage. I played a lot of music and that was my primary creative outlet. I still painted but it was kinda on the back-burner. I was always interested in a lot of stuff, and it’s hard for me to pick just one thing, especially when I was younger I would switch around between various different pastimes or hobbies, moving in and out of making music and art. Trying to learn new instruments or painting mediums.

-What artists have inspired you?
From a very young age I was really interested in M.C Escher and Salvador Ali, you know the classics, the greats. Later in life as I came across various different things, there were figures like Alex Gray for instance, he’s one of those contemporary masters, super influential at a period in my development. There’s a never ending number of inspirations all around, it’s hard not to feel inspired by other artists and being surrounded by life and nature all the time.

-Do you travel a lot? Is nature an inspiration for you?
I’ve spent a lot of time doing live painting at music festivals, for like seven or eight years, up until the quarantine, I was just traveling around and painting at music festivals, and that was kinda like my job in a way. Yeah, any excuse I get to go out into nature and be a part of nature, I try to take advantage of it. Anytime I was traveling for work or music festivals I would make side trips to the national parks, to try and camp and spend time outdoors.

-How do artists apply for festivals?
You know so much has changed from the time I got into it till now. At this point, almost every music festival has applications to get involved on their website. You can typically apply to be an artist or a live painter, or performer the same way you would apply to be a vendor. If they like your work you can get accepted. I feel like the stakes are a little bit higher and a bit more complicated. Back when I was getting into it around 2013-14, it wasn’t as big of a thing. A lot of times there weren’t even applications on the website, I would just email random email addresses and hit people up. I feel like I just got lucky by getting in early, because I had a bunch of stuff already under my belt, like I was already established before a lot of artists started applying.

-Do you get a lot of attention at festivals?
I don’t ever feel like I’m in the middle of some sort of show, it’s more like people will come and go, it’s more of an ever evolving cast of people with various stages of interested or disinterested.

At music festivals a lot of the live painting that occurs is on easel and canvas, some festivals will have mural walls for artists to paint, it’s hard to say anything generic about one kind of thing or category in general, because every single music festival is different. So much depends on how big it is, how much is going into the production, how many people will be there, the site/location, etc. What I’ve come to realize is it’s hard to say there’s some rule of thumb about what to expect when doing music festivals.

-I discovered you from a video tour of the Rainbow Rise family farm from Pete Kanaris’s Green Dreams Permaculture Youtube channel, are you familiar?
I’m totally familiar, I’m actually super into permaculture as well as sustainable farming.

-You did a mural at the Rainbow Rise Family farm, can you tell us how you got the job?
That’s a good question. (Laughs) I really don’t remember. It kinda just fell into my lap, a lot of how I feel like I’ve gotten business has been through word of mouth and it all kind of happens in a mysterious way to me. And I’m incredibly grateful that the ball just keeps on rolling, the wheels just keep on spinning, things just keep on happening. I have no idea how they keep happening. (Laughs) I just feel really grateful.

-From looking at your art, it has mystical, psychedelic, and spiritual qualities, do you have a spiritual outlook?
I’ve gone through a lot of different periods in my life, I was raised in a Lutheran school growing up until middle school. So I identified as somewhat christian as a child, then I went through a period of a few years of atheism, after coming to terms with my own life and thoughts around that age, and then my atheism dissolved into an agnosticism. And then at some point in the last decade, I don’t know how long ago, maybe ten years ago, I definitely had experiences that made me feel a direct connection with some sort of higher intelligence in the universe. God is such a loaded word, with so much connotation, for me the word God is cringe inducing almost, because of the associations it pulls up in my mind. It’s probably what I’m talking about I just don’t like to use that word. I don’t know, I feel like a connection with something in the universe, both outside of myself and within me and everything. I feel some sort of spiritual something or another, but I don’t necessarily identify with one specific denomination or affiliation. 

I myself identify as someone who is very non-committal, I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion. So much so, that I have not really formed many of my own. I try to keep myself completely wide open in terms of my own belief systems, because I feel the moment you really start deciding what you think, it’s closing off your mind to the things that you don’t think. I try not to form preferences if I can avoid it. I feel like that makes me kind of wishy-washy in conversation, people will want to pin me down to a position, and I’m kind of like, nothingness.

-You have a company called “Fractal Spirit” Can you tell us why you made it?
Well mostly as an attempt to make ends meet. I’m sure as an artist you’re aware of how difficult it is to make a living, and the universal truth of the starving artist. Most people just like, feel bad for you if you introduce yourself as an artist. I don’t know, it’s like if you tell your parents that you want to be an artist as a kid, they’re like; “No, no!” 
Not that my parents did that, they were pretty supportive, but just in general being an artist, it is hard making a living. I had a day job forever while also traveling around doing Music Festivals and events trying to sell my art and learning how to make it as an artist. And what I realized was the more revenue streams you have as an artist the more financial freedom you have to not worry about living from painting to painting. I started making reproductions of my paintings, and that enabled me to change the way I painted completely. Prior to that I had an emphasis to painting a lot of kind of generic paintings, just to have like a quantity of inventory, and once I started making reproductions, or making photographs or prints of my paintings, it made me realize I could just work on one painting for six-months straight, and then make a billion copies of that painting, and it’s gonna be a lot cooler to look at, then pumping out fifteen paintings in one afternoon that are kinda meh.

Before I put together my company Fractal Spirit, there was years of time going to red rocks and chucking prints out of the back of my car in the parking lot, like tailgating essentially, before the show even starts. And I’d set up a table, and I’d drink my beers and I’d sell prints of my work, and I’d set up an easel and paint. This has all worked out great for me, and I just kept on trying to find out how to go deeper into that direction, and eventually it led me to printing shirts and stuff like that. And you know if you want to print shirts you gotta have a logo or something like that, to build a recognizable brand is a lot more useful than to have one product floating along by itself in the ether.

It was something of an invention of necessity, where I’m trying to figure out how to support myself and make a living, and it occurs to me that many more people are inclined to invest in a twenty dollar T-shirt that has a simple utilitarian function that they can wear and look delightful in, as opposed to one single original painting that well exceeds my means to afford it. It’s a way for me to anonymously disappear and make it bigger than myself, my first misguided attempts I was printing my own name “Drake Arnold Art” on my T-shirt. I never liked that type of designer name brand sh*t where its got like a gentleman's name on the clothing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, those brands are fine, it’s just that never was my sh*t. My sh*t was like; Quicksilver or some random word like that. So eventually I re-branded myself from “Drake Arnold Art” to “Fractal Spirit” and I could invite my friends to become a part of the process, and let them produce new merchandise for the company, and it could be bigger than just me is what I was hoping for. Try and turn it into a little family. So it’s been fun thing to do in addition to making art.

-Do you let other artists apply for Fractal Spirit?
It’s pretty informal, sometimes people hit me up. I’ve never been able to afford to make my own merchandise, let alone other peoples. I’ve been financing this company meticulously keeping track of everything on spreadsheets and using credit cards to invest in, you know I’ll sell X amount and I can pay off my debt, then I’ll sell the rest and then I can invest in twice as much as I bought the first time, and do that like, fifty times in a row. And it gets bigger and bigger and crazier. That’s basically where I’m at, and I’ve never really had the money to afford to start a company, but I couldn’t afford to wait for someone to do it for me. So I just figured how to do it myself using credit cards and spreadsheets. And I gotta tell you, anybody can do what I’m doing, that said if anybody wanted to get involved I usually let them. I just can’t finance it. People have the money, I have the knowledge, we can make it happen.

There’s so many talented people out there, if I could afford to produce merchandise or apparel for everybody, well that be crazy. (Laughs)

-Can you tell us about Augmented Reality and why it interested you?
Well the implications were immediately obvious to me the more I just started imagining the idea of augmented reality itself. I mean gee whiz, you can make digital content manifest from the surface of physical content. I should back up and say, I spent a lot of time earlier in-between being a musician and painter, and spending a solid five years doing animations. Cartoons are magical, you can combine static art with music to make a dynamic medium that’s more than either one alone. You can make a sh*ty drawing into something beautiful and interesting in the way of its actions through time and motion.

At any rate, for me augmented reality was like a way to bring my interest in animation and combine it with paintings and this a whole new, cutting edge technology. It’s in its infancy, it hasn’t even begun to be realized on the grand scale that it can be, and I thinl it will be in the coming years. For me I believe AR will essentially be the technology that replaces cell phones, to one extent or another. Once we have wearable devices that are comfortable, and companies are working on them, you know the Google glasses. I think Apple are going to release their AR glasses in the next year or so. Can you imagine how much is going to change when AR hits the mainstream at an affordable consumer level? Like no more would you ever print a bill-board on the side of the high-way, where it’s like one specific ad you hope that the person driving by is going to relate with, instead you could literally leave blank bill-boards and it would project an augmented reality advertisement based on the person’s browser history. Everybody who sees a bill-board will see a bill-board that is uniquely catered to the things they are interested in.

And that’s just one random in-specific, and gross, might I add, example of how AR will intrude into our lives. Like from a consumerist stand-point that’s the type of thing that will push it into the mainstream due to the money, it’s always about money really with business. The technology is already here, we could have the whole entire lane of high-way light up and start flashing color, the road itself could be the map, the GPS and all the information can be overlayed in your field of view.

I guess I sound like a crazy person (Laughs) I think the truth of the matter is though, it’s going to be a few years, but once we all have wearable, affordable AR devices it’s going to change completely how we interface with reality. I just think it’s an exciting technology and I’m totally interested to get into it while it’s still in it’s infancy, cause I see it becoming our everyday interface with the future.

-This kind of technology is both scary and interesting.
Totally, but I think that’s fundamental with change you know? There’s something scary about the unknown, when you couple that with the hearts and minds of men, I guess it’s understandable to be afraid. Cause some people don’t have the best interests of others in mind. But I think I’m inherently optimistic, cause you know if I wasn’t I’d just blow my brains out.

I think it’s a tool just like anything else, technology is like a hammer, you can use is to build a house, or you can use it to smash everything and ruin your life. Nothing is inherently good or evil, it’s all contextual or relative to the human consciousness that is interfaced with it. I just have to believe in the good of people man, it makes life a funner game to play.

-You have an AR app correct? Can you tell us how you made it?
I used a program called Unity, which you can use to develop mobile games and apps, I used that software to develop the app, and I used another software called Blender which is a free and open-source 3D modeling software to generate most of the content.

The app itself uses image recognition to recognize images, so I train it to recognize my paintings specifically, and then I use Blender to generate animations similar to the way Pixar would do 3D animation for a movie. Using Unity I synchronize the content from Blender with the images of my paintings and export that as a finished package that can be uploaded to the app stores (Apple, Google) And so essentially when it’s on your phone, your phone will recognize the images of my paintings and will start playing back the associated 3D animations interactively based on the perspective of the observer, essentially it let’s you walk around the 3d content from any angle.

It’s really just combining Blender and Unity, there may have been a few other things, I did Blender for the 3D content, I also did some 2D video and other types of flat animations using After Effects and some other stuff. For the most part, that pretty much is it, I taught myself all that stuff just using tutorials on YouTube. That being said, I probably didn’t get to paint for like six months straight, cause I was busy working on the app, that took a sh*t load of time away, everything takes time away from painting, that’s the problem. Like Fractal Spirit is all great and fine but, I don’t give a f**k about doing retail, I don’t care about selling T-shirts, I want to be painting, it was all a means to an end. Same with the mobile app, you know it’s cool, it is novel because it is completely far out, it’s a brand new cutting edge technology, but I don’t know man, I like getting my hands dirty with real paint.

I say go for it though, if anybody has any interest you can totally look up how to do it on YouTube. That said I got into it when it was brand new, so this was maybe 2018 or whenever I purchased my license for making the app, and I believe that the price has gone up significantly since then. Because at that point they were trying to entice people into this new technology. I wouldn’t be able to afford to do it now. I got lucky man. (Laughs) Another thing I feel completely grateful about, they were practically giving them away back in the day.

-Has it been difficult to get Mural jobs since the pandemic?
I feel a little insensitive because I know this has been a difficult year for most people, but personally this has hands down been one of the best year or couple years of my life, I just had a daughter, she’s about to turn two years old, and she’s like so sweet man, I’ve just been spending a ton of time with her, and we live completely in the middle of nowhere, like in a swamp, way in the middle of nowhere. And it’s so peaceful and relaxing, and you know most people probably wouldn’t want to live out here, it takes thirty minutes to get to a grocery store, but it’s so cool man, it feels like I’m in a bird sanctuary, you can hear like sandhill cranes whooping in the distance, just really beautiful. And I’ve never been busier to be honest, as soon as the pandemic started at the time, I was predominately making my living vending and live painting at music festivals, and traveling around. I was able to seamlessly be able to transition from events to mural work, and have had a pretty steady stream of mural work for the entire pandemic. I did one big job at the very beginning of the pandemic last year, and I guess through word of mouth from that job, I just kept getting one job after the next. It’s been crazy though, every aspect of my life, from my family life, my personal life, my work and professional life as an artist, I feel so satisfied and fulfilled and grateful for these opportunities to keep falling in my lap, and I barely know where they come from.

I’ve been willing and ready to just quit being an artist and get a real job, I’ve got a daughter now, I’ve got to take care of my family, I’m ready to just get a nine-to-five job if I have to. But there’s never been a time, things just keep happening, opportunities just keep showing up, the path is clear in front of me. I see what I need to do and where I need to go to continue on this path, and it’s been beautiful man.

-You are an artist living in Florida correct? Where are you based?
I’m actually between ocala and gainsville in a small area known as Citra. It’s a swamp! If you’re familiar with Florida it’s completely in the middle of nowhere. 

It’s like what we were talking about earlier, Pete Kanaris, Green Dreams. I’m actually totally into permaculture, and sustainable food forest gardening, I go down to my local extension office to mess around with the Master Gardeners, it’s totally cool to be a part of that world, and that has been one of the more enriching parts of the last couple of years for me.

I used to be such a two-dimensional cartoon character, if you ever talked to me as a person I’d be like; “Art! Art! Blah, blah blah” Its all I would talk about. It’s like I got off work to go back to work, twenty-four hours a day I’m just thinking and talking about art. After being a professional artists for a few years and having a kid, I needed to find a hobby whenever I’m not being a dad or working, I need something else to do or think about. There’s something incredibly therapeutic about getting your hands dirty and eating a tomato that’s hot from the sun from your own garden.

I can’t believe it took me so long to learn that the food from the grocery store is so chock-full of sugar and other unhealthy sh*t. It’s like poison, you’re poisoning yourself, eating regular food that is accepted as societally normal food. If I could even just grow a little bit of the food I consume here on the property, and at this point after a couple years we’re already there, last Thanksgiving we basically ate nothing but food we grew on the property. It was brutal actually, I butchered three ducks for that meal, that was my first time butchering an animal. I’m like a peace and love, hippie artist, trying to paint spiritually up-lifting and psychedelic artwork, and I also butcher ducks.

-I think you can be respectful when consuming an animal, Native Americans treated everything they ate with great respect.
That’s how I feel, I’d much rather consume an animal that I know the quality of life it lived, it wasn’t crammed into a small cage but was able to free range, and I know what I was feeding it, and I know how it died. If I’m going to eat meat in this modern world, I would like to have a deeper connection to it, instead of some abstraction I picked up plastic wrapped at the store. I would much rather have some tangible connection with life in that way, and it gives me a deeper appreciation for a lot of stuff for sure.

-What are your thoughts on NFTs?
I’ll be honest, I’ve spent all year ignoring the internet and social media. I feel great, the truth of the matter is I don’t have an option on NFTs. I could easily mint a bunch of NFTs and sell them, I’ve got an endless amount digital content and interesting stuff that would be great for that type of scenario. I have crypto wallets, I’ve done crypto mining, it’s a realm that I f**k with.

But I’m telling you, there has been nothing more therapeutic, or beautiful, or soul purifying, than spending time in my garden, in the sunlight, outdoors, with fresh air, I don’t give a f**k man, you can’t make me get back on that computer! (Laughs) I would much rather be outside enjoying life with my daughter, than on social media or thinking about bulls**t that I don’t even give a f**k about.

Now when I say all this, I oscillate back and forth like a pendulum between polarities, it’s entirely possible that I will check back in with the internet, and decide to say; start a Tic Tok account and start pushing NFTs. But I don’t know, I’ve been enjoying the hiatus, but I could foresee myself pushing back into the digital stuff, I mean I developed an AR mobile app, I’ve already got a foot through the digital door. It swings back and forth, maybe soon I’ll go back, I’m not in any rush though.

-What projects are you currently working on?
I’ve put a pin in doing commissions, I’m completely uninterested for the most part, I was doing mural gigs that I would consider commercial, as opposed to my fine art mural gigs, putting a pin in that stuff too, so I can focus on a couple of personal projects that are kind of passion projects. I’m looking to get away from doing smaller murals. I could easily get a lot of mural work, if I wanted to do small murals for cheap, but I’d rather work on what I want to do. I’ve never been able to do art for anybody but me. People will see my work and will ask me to paint something, and it’s nothing like any of my work, and I don’t want to do that anymore. (Laughs) So tired of doing that, I mean money’s useful, so I keep doing these random gigs.

As far as projects coming up, I don’t like to jinx it whenever the contract has not happened yet, it’s happening but I don’t like to throw it out until it’s already done, I don’t like to hype it up before hand. In terms of what I can share; I want to fuse my studio work with programmable computer ships to make interactive paintings in the future.

-I asked you who inspires you as an artist, but who inspires you as a person?
There’s a lot of people, I’ve been listening to several audiobooks, as well as reading regular books, I would say a lot of my literature and things that I take in, in my spare time, that isn’t art related is a lot of spiritual community related stuff. I was just reading Thích Nhất Hạnh. I just finished “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Yogananda. I was just re-reading Ram Dass’s “Be here Now” cause why not? It’s a classic. Just went through Micheal Singer’s sequel to “Unteathered Soul,” I think it was called the “Surrender Experiment,” Another great book. I also read my man Eckheart Tolle’s book “A New Earth.” There’s a million people who I like. Who doesn’t like Alan Watt’s for instance, there’s something so infections listening to his lectures, and hearing him and his charming laugh, it’s like medicine for the soul.

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Want to see more? Check out our last interview with Artist: David Sandum

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