Dustin Williams is a visual artist and printmaker based in Kansas City, MO. He shares a studio space with Allison Kerek and helps run Vahalla Studios, a full-service screen print and letterpress studio. He has worked with clients including Urban Outfitters, American Apparel, and Valley Cruise Press, and collaborated on full scale installations at Wonder Fair and beyond.
When did you fall in love with design and how did you get started?
When I was young, my dad made a lot of drawings to make my sister and I laugh. Really crude, pun-filled, lowbrow kind of stuff (he was an accountant, and in no way a trained artist). I think I really responded to the connections that those drawings created. But it wasn’t until I took my first screen printing class in college that I truly fell in love with design. The tactility, the way that it made you think in limited palettes and detail, the subject matter (rock and roll posters!), it filled a lot of gaps that were missing in my traditional design classes. For the rest of my college career I lived in that print studio. That was a big turning point for my work.
What was your plan for graduating and what actually happened?
I was originally set to graduate from the University of Central Missouri in the spring of 2010 with a degree in graphic design, but by the end of that year I had taken so many print classes that I was on the verge of having a studio degree in printmaking. So I ended up staying another year and double majoring. In retrospect, I think it was less about having another degree, and more about avoiding the real world. A lot of my classmates were eager to get out of school, but I loved it. The advanced print classes were very self-directed, and those extra two semesters, focused only on honing my skills, proved to be a great resource once I graduated.
What does a typical working day include for you right now?
During the day I help run Vahalla Studios, a design-focused screen print and letterpress studio. We all wear a lot of different hats at the shop, and it’s nice to work with my hands instead of being stuck behind a computer. Working at a small business has its pros and cons. It spills into more 10 hour days and weekend work than I’d like to admit. But having a steady income has allowed me to pursue passion projects that I might not have been able to otherwise. Once I’m home, I’ll answer emails, grab a quick bite to eat with my fiancée Allison Kerek, and then we settle into our home studio and work on whatever projects we’ve got going on. It’s great having another artist to work next to every night.
How did you develop your style as an illustrator and what tips would you have for others?
I wish I had the answer for this! I always feel like my style has room to mature, which is both exciting and terrifying. As I would guess most designers would tell you, it’s just practice. Every few months I try to take a moment to step back and really take a look at what I’m personally responding to within my own work, and let that guide me in the kind of projects that I take on, or give myself. I’ve found that if you can curate the kind of work that you’re doing, it often leads to more of the same.
Any passion projects you would like to share?
For several years my friend Jon Linn and I have created installations out at Wonder Fair in Lawrence, KS, for the few weeks surrounding Halloween. Haunted video rental store, haunted diner… kind of a mix between a haunted house and an art installation. This year they’ve asked us to permanently haunt their bathroom! We’ve really stepping it up this time, bringing on-board a long-time friend of mine to help in building and programing some ghostly special effects. It’s the first time we’ve ventured into automated props. I love designing for environments; the props, the set design, the lighting, it’s something I wish I got to do more often.
What’s on the cards professionally and personally in the next 12 months?
I’m at a crossroad with the amount of time I’m investing in our shop work versus my personal work. Working at Vahalla has led to some incredible opportunities, but I’m at a point where I either need to dig my heels in in a more permanent way, or step away and pour everything I have into my personal work. I would love to find a way to be involved in more themed environment design projects. If the next year found me involved with haunted house design in a real capacity, that would be okay by me!