In the Telling

The Computer Key Artist

September 24, 2019 Season 1 Episode 13
In the Telling
The Computer Key Artist
Chapters
In the Telling
The Computer Key Artist
Sep 24, 2019 Season 1 Episode 13
Liz Christensen / Erik Jensen
Erik talks about his iconic Computer Key art pixilations, his experiences as a Deaf Artist, his transition from full-time teacher to a full-time artist, his approach to challenges and messy rooms.
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to an “In the Telling” Behind the Scenes look at the basement studio of The Computer Key Artist, Guest Erik Jensen. See more of his art on Instagram.

Andy Warhol “Don’t think about making art, just get it done.  Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it.  While they are deciding, make even more art.”

Theme music by Gordon Vetas
Hosted and Produced by Liz Christensen 
Learn more at https://lizzylizzyliz.com



Support the show

Liz Christensen:
0:00
Welcome to an "In the Telling" behind the scenes look at the basement studio of the computer key artist, Eric Jensen.
Erik Jensen:
0:14
Hi, I'm Eric Jensen. I'm the computer key artists. I'm here in West Valley city. Nice to meet you.
Liz Christensen:
0:23
I first saw Eric's pixelations at the Utah arts festival where he won the people's choice award in 2018. With exhibitions all over Utah the past couple of years, Eric transitioned to being a full time artist last year. An active member of the deaf community and passionate about inspiration and mastering his craft, Eric's work has gone viral and is commissioned from all over the globe, but what does it mean to be The Computer Key Artist?
Erik Jensen:
0:51
Because there's not really a lot of us, so "the" means the only one, but there is a couple people but not very many so I, I claimed the title. So I'm The computer key artist. I make art out of recycled computer keyboard keys. I take off the keys off the old keyboard from the 80s and on and then take them off and then make a mural, add more pictures. I call them pixilations, that kind of my name because they are pixels. Um, I've had other nicknames such as typo, pointillism, typo pointillism is typing pointillism. So it's kind of a pointillism style or impressionism style. But with computer keys so it's modern.
Liz Christensen:
1:32
You say eighties and after is that because computers didn't have the same type of keys?
Erik Jensen:
1:38
Plastic keyboards didn't really come out until the seventies and the eighties and so before that they did metal and typewriters. So metal keys or things like that. So plastic wasn't introduced into keyboards until later on until the eighties.
Liz Christensen:
1:53
Do you stick with plastic keys because of your dying process or because of your recycling?
Erik Jensen:
1:58
The recycling and dying, both. So and it, well, the reason why I started doing computer keys is because I realized that nobody was recycling them and you really can't recycle it because each company has their own blends. And so when you try to recycle the keyboard or melt the plastic back, you can't, and it's also an abs plastic, that's the abbreviation for that plastic, its abs, its a really cheap plastic, doesn't hold up very well. When you try to melt it back, just becomes more brittle. And so most companies, when they get a keyboard, they take it to the dump. They re you really can't recycle the keyboard very well. And so that bothered me. I had a college assignment professor gave me that we had to take something that people don't want and make it into something they want. I saw an old keyboard and I was like, what?
Erik Jensen:
2:45
I don't want this. And I know people don't want this, but they're everywhere and people don't know what to do with them. So I was like, well maybe I'll make a little art. So I made a little sculpture. I have a face coming out of a computer screen.
Liz Christensen:
2:58
Whoa.
Erik Jensen:
2:59
And So I have it here in my studio, but it's right here.
Liz Christensen:
3:02
Yeah. Take me.
Erik Jensen:
3:03
So I have this face coming out.
Liz Christensen:
3:05
Oh, that is so cool.
Erik Jensen:
3:06
So that kind of what started the whole idea, my professor, he did, he sold art for a living. He was really active and he said, I've never seen anything like that or you should consider doing more. He challenged me. So I said, sure, fine. If somebody challenged me, I always do it because I, I just like the challenge. So I thought, okay, fine. So I took the challenge and I was like, well, what can I else, what else can I do with it and so I just kind of play with the idea. I started asking people, Hey, you have keyboards and people would give them to me, had a whole living room full of keyboards in matter of weeks. And so I was like, well, I gotta do something with these, these are so beautiful. And so I just started, I wonder if I could do like computer, uh, like pictures, camera, pixilations and so just kind of play with that idea. It took me about two years to perfect, about two, two and a half years to perfect it, to figure out how to glue them, how to keep them straight, um, how to die them and all that so that took me a while to learn how to do it. So I just played with that idea for about two, two and a half years playing with it, trying to make it go be at the first one I did with terrible, it was all crooked. The keys were falling off after a couple of weeks from the moisture. So I had to do a lot of experiment. And then after a while people started recognizing my art and it become, it's very different, its very iconic and so, people were like, Whoa, you're the computer key artist, you know? And so I kind of grew that name, but in the meantime I was teaching high school art, I was a high school art teacher and I realized when I was teaching high school the arts, I was real--I think I was not a very good artist. I was a good teacher. I knew all the methods of teaching. I knew strategy for classroom management, all that I could do that, like I was a good teacher. I was a terrible artist. I didn't know how to price or how to sell it. I didn't know anything and I didn't know how a museum works, how to gallery work, nothing. And so students would be asking me, how do you, how do I get into the art world? And I had nothing to offer. And so that really bothered me. I felt hypocritical. I'm, I can't teach students how to be an artist if I never been an artist for myself. So I decided, you know what, this is my chance. So I'm going to quit teaching. So I quit teaching about almost two years ago. I did half time and now I'm a full time artist and I love it. I love being an artist and I missed the teaching, I missed the students and the hormones. So I missed that. I decided that this was the best way for me to learn how to be an artist so I can go back into teaching eventually. I think I'll go back eventually. And so I can be a true teacher. Artists.
Liz Christensen:
5:45
As I look around your studio, there are things that I don't recognize as being your keyboard art, but are they your art?
Erik Jensen:
5:51
So yes, I have a lot of art in my room. I'm very inspired by my own art and my own progress because I like to see where I'm coming from so I have art from high school and on so that I can be inspired to know that I'm making progress. There's, as an artist you, you make a journey, it's a journey and you're learning, you're growing. And so it's fun to be able to see the art that I made in high school. And what I was thinking back then in college and all throughout my life to kind of be inspired, I did a lot of pottery in high school and I was a finalist for a very competitive competition in Utah. And so I did that and I won it.
Erik Jensen:
6:33
And so I got a full ride scholarship with my pottery and sculpting. So I did that for about 10 years. Went to college, I did pottery, but then I was like, you know what? This is cool. I like pottery, but everybody does pottery and I-- I've always lived my life to be, I want to do something different and I'm always trying to challenge myself. I have a philosophy with the, I always live my life that life is too short and it's too boring to be normal. So you have to challenge yourself. Don't be normal and challenge yourself and try things. Keyboard are different. Nobody does it. So I was like, okay, I'm going to try it. I ride a unicycle. I do a lot of different things that people don't do and so that brings me a lot happiness to be able to do something different.
Liz Christensen:
7:17
Your keyboard art obviously has a texture to it, but.
Erik Jensen:
7:20
yes,
Liz Christensen:
7:20
compared to this sculpture stuff, it's pretty two D. has that been,
Erik Jensen:
7:25
yeah, so that was challenging. It was challenging because when I started doing the computer key art, it's more 2D, but it has sculptural components, a very sculptural because you have to learn, you have to work with glues, you have to work with textures, uh, attaching things and that's kind of a sculpture background. So I think it definitely helped me in the arts and so it challenged me to do two D because I didn't do 2 D a lot growing up I did a lot of 3d, I did drawings and painting and all that stuff so that, it's helped and I understand composition, I taught a lot of drawing and things like that. So I try to implement that in my artwork.
Liz Christensen:
8:05
Will you take me through your studio and show me like this is where this is in the process.
Erik Jensen:
8:10
So yes, absolutely. So I have about a 500 square feet studio is in my basement of my home. I like being in my home or in a house where I live. So that I can be, because I'm inspired random days too, so I can come down and work whenever I want.
Liz Christensen:
8:28
You have a lot of natural light in here though. There's a lot of good windows.
Erik Jensen:
8:30
Yes, I installed high-end lights all through this ceiling, so it's really bright down here. And so I've, I installed the really the gallery light so it looked exactly the same, the galleries, so I know what color it's gonna appear in the gallery. So I installed these special lights so that it looks exactly how it will be in the museum or in a gallery or anything like that. So that helps me to get it. And they have lots of windows in here that helps me. My studio is really long and narrow a one part of their, uh, the studio I have my gluing section and then on the other side I have big ping pong tables. I have to use Ping pong tables. They're wide enough and they're long enough to be able to make my art and ping pong table are perfect, they're lower. And then I can take pictures from up high to be able to see it and to be able to see it because I had to stand up on my studio chair to look at my art.
Liz Christensen:
9:26
Looking at Erik's art from over the years and seeing the workspaces of his studio was fascinating, but it wasn't until I asked a question about something I saw in regards to his process that I realized just how much trust Erik was placing in me by letting me into a studio to ask my curious questions. I could see his trade secrets.
Erik Jensen:
9:46
I have a framing shop outside my garage and that's where I do all my framing.
Liz Christensen:
9:52
So the glue you're using when, um--
Erik Jensen:
9:55
So I have an assistant. Yeah.
Liz Christensen:
9:57
Yeah. So when Jordan was down here, um working, he showed me the backside and it looked like there was [inaudible].
Erik Jensen:
10:02
So those are my trade secrets so I won't,
Liz Christensen:
10:04
I will cut that if you'd like.
Erik Jensen:
10:06
Yeah. So I try not--so my paneling system is kind of a secret. So the reason why I keep it a secret because people all over the world are trying to steal my idea.
Liz Christensen:
10:16
Sure. Cause it's been a successful idea.
Erik Jensen:
10:18
It's been a very successful idea and I've get millions of views on my stuff and I sell all over the world. And so I get people all over trying to figure out how I'm doing it and try to steal it. And so I have to be very careful and not-- So I tell him it's a paneling system. Okay. I have, I have three different glues a use, I don't reveal, to be able to hold it together. And they do put the panel together.
Liz Christensen:
10:42
Well, you're using multiple glues because
Erik Jensen:
10:45
[inaudible] For different things. So I have a glues that are a setter, so I'll have a glue that sets it and then I have a clue that straightens it. And then I have a glue that puts it together.
Liz Christensen:
10:55
By paneling. You're just breaking it down into larger groupings of pixels?
Erik Jensen:
10:59
Yes. So I panel it, so Larger so that I can put them together. So I invented the process, um, because I wanted to be able to get into bigger so I want to do big murals doing 20,000, 50,000, 100,000 key murals. They're 14 feet long. Wow. And so I knew that if I just stuck it on with glue on a board, it wouldn't work. And I wanted to be able to stand the quality are there, the quality stands, my name, my name is always been about good quality, so I want him to make sure it was a good quality and then I can make them strong. So I had to invent my paneling system and people are constantly trying to figure out how I do it and I try to keep that a secret so I can stay in business and I can be the true computer key artist.
Liz Christensen:
11:47
I will absolutely not blow your secret. Okay. Are your panels always the same size?
Erik Jensen:
11:55
No I have different size.
Liz Christensen:
11:58
Erik's studio had multiple projects laid out in various stages of completion. One particular project caught my eye quickly since it was different from all the other pieces of art that were rectangular.
Erik Jensen:
12:10
It's a custom. So I had built special ones for do they want you to in their triangle.
Liz Christensen:
12:17
So yeah. Is that the first and only one that is Not perpendicular on an X and Y axis.
Erik Jensen:
12:26
I also have designed for circles and triangles and squares too. I have a lot of different shapes.
Liz Christensen:
12:32
I can't even fathom how a circle works. What do you think you'll do with your first circle? One, like do you know what that picture is going to be?
Erik Jensen:
12:40
It's a journey and so you kind of get inspired and some ideas you have, but then two or three years later or come out. So this is something I'm working on them. It will come out in the future but haven't figured it out yet. So that kind of how you have to live as an artist, you have to be inspired for your future and you have to be inspired for your day to live that day. You'd be able to make art, but then you also have to be inspired for what you're gonna do in two years so that you're always innovating moving forward that you're always changing because you can't do the same thing. When I started my journey as the computer key artists, I decided that I needed to, uh, lay a million key to be a master at it. And so I try different things, different new things all the time to see if it works.
Erik Jensen:
13:29
I play that's kind of part of the journey and I think every artist has to do that. Some artists we get so caught up in trying to do everything in the art world and I think that hurts us and so I think we have to kind of stick with one medium, one style or something that it drives us that passionate that we can do for a couple of years so that we can really explore it and try things within that realm. And so computer key is my thing so, I wonder if I could do a other sculpture. I wonder if I could do it this way or that way. I wonder if I melt them or what if I were to stack them on top of each other. What? What else can I do besides just a pixelation? What else can I do? And so I think, and that's good for as an artist we experiment, we play in that process.
Liz Christensen:
14:17
Is it a gut reaction for you to know the difference between this is what I'm inspired for today and this is something that's gonna have to wait or is it your logical brain going like you haven't figured that out yet. So that has to wait no matter how excited you are today
Erik Jensen:
14:32
I get excited about it but I just have so much work I have to do the things that are going to pay me. So those have priority over the things I want. So just finding a balance of doing things I want doing thing for my clients, doing things for the business, doing things for my creativity and my insanity or S you know to keep me creative. And then sometimes I do work that project or that I'm excited about that and I do it. Sometimes I put it on hold or I can have something to be excited for in the future just to kind of help me have balance in my art.
Liz Christensen:
15:12
When that person, that, that commission over there, that's on an angle, when that came in were you, excited about that?
Erik Jensen:
15:18
it was challenging at first. So because they, it, so I normally do squares, the keys are straight. Um, this client asked me if I can do a triangle, which is totally out of my norm. And so I was like okay. Yeah, that's fine. I can totally do it. And I took the challenge, I took their commission and it's been quite an interesting journey learning and it's always fun. I'll take anything that gonna challenge me. Yeah. I think it helps me as an artist and I want to make them happy. That's all I'm trying to do is make them happy because that makes me excited and happy. So I have about five commission in the studio right now and one is going to Pennsylvania. One is North Carolina and they just fix one is, uh, going back out to Ohio for a client, out in Ohio, and then I have one in Logan, Utah, and then I have one out in Vietnam. So that's kind of fun. And then I'm building a couple for art festivals. I'm doing the Seattle space needle for it because I'm doing a show out in Seattle in a couple of weeks. So I thought I do one
Liz Christensen:
16:23
that's some of the process behind Eric's computer key art. As for the subjects of his art, he will take on a theme for an entire year. This year he had two themes,
Erik Jensen:
16:35
so this year I've taken on the space and masters. Space for the art festivals. So I'm doing kind of a space theme, um, due to the black keys. I thought that it really works with the space that black keys have. The white lettering kind of had the star effect. Yeah. In this space, I kind of pick a theme to help me stay focused for that year. I'm more interested in my process, in my art process rather than what is the image. And so it's kind of been odd because artists are more interested in what they're making, what the picture looks like and what, how beautiful are not, that stuff. I'm not really interested in that, that just the outcome. So I'm really more interested in taking keys that are totally worthless, that people don't want at all and they're ugly and dirty and gross and cleaning them up and beautify them.
Erik Jensen:
17:35
Again, dying. I'm respecting the element of the plastic and all that stuff, and then trying to make them something more valuable and more beautiful again, because I think they deserve to be beautiful. And it's fun to see the reaction of people who've seen my art. They're just, I didn't know that keyboards can be beautiful again, you know? So it's very rewarding to me to be able to do that and to take something that people have connection with. With a keyboard, people wrote love letters on it, they work on them, they do so much on them. We do so much on a keyboard. There's so much connection. And so playing with that idea of playing with that connection, then using that in my art, I love that.
Liz Christensen:
18:21
Do you have a problem at art festivals with people coming up and wanting to touch your art because they are familiar with keyboards?
Erik Jensen:
18:26
Yes. Yeah. And that is a big problem because they're so tactile and keyboards are all being touch all the time, millions of times. Right. And so it doesn't bother me. And so I tried to not have people touch them. I have signs that say don't touch. And I have a sample usually at the art festival on the side for people can touch. That gets ruined over time because there's so many people touching it and they get really dirty and so, but just for art is valuable and clay and buy them, I just don't want germs on them. And so I try to keep them clean too. They the preserve and last longer the oils on your fingers just ruins them. So when I get my keyboard, I take all the beach and white ones or the gray ones in there. I saw come in a transparent dye and so I didn't ruin the lettering and that's why I do a transparent dye.
Erik Jensen:
19:19
If they spray paint up then it ruined them. It covered the lab up and I wanted to keep that history of the keyboards. Then the keys, so I have a transparent dye so I don't ruin the keys and I have shelves and you can see over here are all the shelves of all the different colors. So I have all my different shelves of all they different gradiations of greens and blues and things like, Oh my reds and greens and blues and they pour from there to lay it out and then ain't glue and me and, and put them together.
Liz Christensen:
19:49
So it looks almost like, like a really incredible Lego storage.
Erik Jensen:
19:55
Yeah, right here I have about, I have two shelves. I'm working on a throw shot. I have two big shots of just the generic colors are black, white, gray in there, have two shelves with modular containers of all that had been colors.
Erik Jensen:
20:09
So if they stay in the dye for a long time they're really dark. If they stay in the dye for a short time those are lighter. Also if the key is yellow before I dye it, that factors, so I have more, it changes colors and different companies. Plastic, they're all have different blends so they react to their guide differently. So I can't control it. So I get some other similar colors. But then some are odd and different, don't look like the others until you get some random ones. But that the beauty of it, I can't control it. I let them have their own personality and they just go the color they want.
Liz Christensen:
20:43
Okay, let's go. Let's go back and talk about messages.
Erik Jensen:
20:46
This one is Nebula. It's a galaxy Made from 4,900 keys, which is about 5,000 keys, which is about 60 to 65 keyboards.
Liz Christensen:
20:57
Wow.
Erik Jensen:
20:58
Yeah.
Erik Jensen:
20:59
And so it's pretty big its 70 keys by 70 keys. And it's big. It's like four and a half feet by four and a half feet. And the quote in the one who says, "never apologize for burning too brightly or collapsing into yourself every night. That's how galaxies are made." So I put him words and quotes with the letter of the keys into each of the artworks and the UGA themes I've been thinking about while I'm building them. So when I'm building my art, I kind of get stuck in these thinking process. I ma, I'm kind of a deep thinker and I just think while I'm doing my art, laying the keys is very tedious work. And so you just sit there and, and I've done it so many times that it's kind of become second hand now I can just do it without thinking about it. And so I can think about things, why I'm building my art.
Erik Jensen:
21:51
And so I think about different things and new to what I'm thinking about is usually the quote that I put it in the artwork. So that's kind of how I documented my life into my artwork. So you can actually go through my artwork and there's a journal of all the different things I've dealt with or different things I've been thinking about and the different challenges I've had throughout my life or throughout my career. That quote, I put in Nebula because I was working, a lot of late hours trying to get this one done for an art festival. So a big art festival that I was preparing for. So it's just like I can't collapse into my heart. And so I put that quote in there.
Liz Christensen:
22:31
I think, um, this one's a really, well, maybe they're all really good examples, but this is so beautiful. And if, if the keys came out of the dye consistently every time, I don't think it would be quite so pretty.
Erik Jensen:
22:42
I can't remake any of them because they're so unique in their own way. The keys and the colors and I tried to dye them again and just kind of become different. I do a batch, but then when I run out of that, died out, really have that color again so I can, I get some color, maybe similar or close, but sometimes I'll get it again, but I'm not guaranteed to get that color again.
Liz Christensen:
23:04
Do you have a color that you're like, I just miss that color. So much.
Erik Jensen:
23:07
Oh, here and there. There's some colors, some greens I've, I just can't quite get it or some really, um, yellow, blue. It's like a really vibrant yellow blue. I just can't quite get it. Again, I'm trying to do a commission with that color. So I've been dying over and over trying to get that color and I haven't quite gotten there so I might have to go back out and dye some more again, trying to get it. I've done so many batches trying get that color for this commission that I'd been working on. So it's been kind of frustrating, but that's just part of their norm. And that's just part of the personality. So I usually let the colors choose itself.
Liz Christensen:
23:45
Do you sell prints?
Erik Jensen:
23:48
Yes, I do. I do prints of my artwork and that, that was a hard decision for me to choose. I do prints and the reason why I did it because I just, I realized that I wanting to make art accessible to people and so I decided to do prints to help people connect to it.
Erik Jensen:
24:05
And I have a lot of buyers are in the young age and so I realized that a lot of my buyers or people that love my art, are young people. And that being a high school teacher, I love the young people. And so I want to help them. I thought it'd be okay to do prints so that they can have something, a their teacher or something that they can be inspired. And I also started doing four hundreds, which is a smaller 15 by 15 and now at a lower price range to help have people have a small original that they can collect. It's, it's hard being an artist. You don't feel like you deserve it. And a lot I battle with everyday. Sometimes I might, I might really an artist, do I really deserve that title? And it's such a hard title. Nobody gives it to anybody and you just kind of have to discover it yourself and realized, you know what I am an artist.
Erik Jensen:
25:02
Artists term issues a lot. But there's some people that are not, I wouldn't say they're artists, they're just more hobby artists. And then there's people that are artists. They do it for a living, they really thrive in and that's their job. That's their responsibility in this society is to provide the society with art to inspire people. And so for a while I always were like, I'm an artist. I'm, I don't know. I never took pride in that. I just never felt like I deserved that title. Until, I realize, you know what, I am an artist. I'm contributing to society. I have a part in this society to help our society to inspire, to help. And so I decided I needed to call myself an artist, and act like it, and so I decided to capitalize it so that I am an artist and that's my job.
Erik Jensen:
25:55
And I am a part of this society. I'm important. And then for the Deaf as a capital D, that's on purpose. It just means in the culture. The Deaf cultures are very strong. We're very proud culture, and it's in the U S we just don't have our own country. We have our own language, but we don't have our own country and we don't all have our own flag. But we are definitely our own community and we're very proud of it. And so that's how we stand in our community. We capitalize it with a D that means that we're proud to be Deaf and that we know sign language and that we're part of that culture. And if somebody say I am deaf, they write a little D, that means they don't know sign language or they lost hearing down the road or they're not involved in the community.
Erik Jensen:
26:39
And so thats kind of how we can tell if somebody in the community or not in the community and the Deafness to us, we view at an ability, not that our disability and its people view Deaf sometimes at the disability, but we don't view that way. We begin, we have a language we can write, we can talk with our friends, we can work, we can do everything. And so we don't do as a disability to us as an ability. I were born Deaf and I didn't speak my first full sentence until five years old. And then, so I struggle with speaking. I had years and years of speech therapy. So it was very, very challenging, very hard. And I decided to keep it so that I can teach and educate other people about the community. Um, there's not, there's some Deaf people out there that can speak while or good, but most don't.
Erik Jensen:
27:36
They don't speak, they stick with sign language. I do sign language and I sign when I'm with my community and then they speak so that I can teach people about the culture and help people understand. Um, I didn't like it growing up. It was hard for me to learn how to speak and learn how to overcome things and being different and be called dumb and being called retarded even though I wasn't. But they view me that way and I had lots of challenges growing up. Trying to learn, because English was really hard for me. Because, I couldn't hear things so I couldn't sound things out. So reading was really hard for me. Should I struggle with that? With that growing up, art just came naturally. So I tell people that art with my first language, English with my second and ASL with my third, everything's like that things that challenges the challenges that we've happened, I like, they're not disabilities, so they're not, they're not just these staplers, they're there to help us. We can either take them to help us or we can take them to damage us. And so challenges I've had through my career in the arts or school, I've taken them to learn from them and challenge. Like for example, I went to my, I think I was on my third year of college. I was doing okay, you know I struggled. I had a hard time writing papers, I had people to edit my papers and they thought that just because English was not my language I struggled but I learned and read and I I could do it I understood it. I got rejected from the school of education, the school of education rejected me and said, you cannot come to the school of education, but that was why we was going to do, I was going to study art education and they would not let me and I was like, what?
Erik Jensen:
29:25
I had like a 3.9 GPA. I was there everyday or working really high. I was on an academic scholarship. I was like, how do you reject me? We, we don't, we -- but it was a the state institution so they were supposed to accept everybody. They rejected me for some test scores that had been done in the past and so I was like, well, that's not fair because I am trying to improve myself. I'm fighting this, and they said, no, you can't do this. I was like, well then why am I in school? Why have I done three years if you won't let me do this and so it-- They fought me and, so I said, you know what? This is a challenge that I had to figure out but I'm not going to let this disable me. I could've totally easy walked away. We had had a scholarship so I never paid for college, they paid for it, I could have just easy and walked away and just got a job and do something, or I even had a good job at the time I was going to score and I had a part time job that was paying more and they will pay me really well and so I could have totally just backed up in taking the job and moved on. But I was like, no, I'm not going to fight. I took my ground and I fought the school. I went against the school and they fought the Dean. I wrote letters. I proved them. I met with them and they finally let me in. They said, fine, we'll let you in and we'll put you on probation. We're not going to let you in the program, but we're going to put you on probation to see if you can do it. I said, Oh, you, you better believe I'm going to do it.
Erik Jensen:
30:54
I graduated with A's in every single one in my education class. I never, I got A's in every single one of them and the Dean after that, the Dean of the school and everything, she apologized for me. I'm so sorry I fought against you. I didn't realize that you were overqualified for their school, that you actually help the school. You actually help our program, and so it was funny to see how I taken that challenge and fought against it and because I was at a young age, I learned how to fight against challenges and how to use them to help me grow.
Liz Christensen:
31:27
I'm curious about your sign that says Eric's room a messy room as a sign of a creative mind. Did you Wood burn that.
Erik Jensen:
31:34
Yeah, I did that in junior high. So I had that in my room, because of my mom always complain how may messy my room was and so that bothered her.
Erik Jensen:
31:46
So I always made the excuse of, well, I have a messy mind so I am always thinking about the next thing. So I kept stop and clean, I have another idea here that I want to try. So that kind of stuck. So I put it in my studio. So the different things I'm inspired by being an artist was really hard. I did kind of knew that and knew that I may never make a living off of it, well I am now, which I'm very surprised. And there's sometimes I'm like, how do I make a living doing this this is crazy? But I wanted that so bad growing up that I wanted to be an artist and I wanted to make a living and I don't care if I had a lot of money or I always wanted to be able to live and be able to support me and my family and support a little fun.
Erik Jensen:
32:38
You know, you have to fun in your life. So I just wanted that. But people were telling me all the time, you can't be an artist you, you don't make enough. It's really hard. A lot of people you just can't and so I just kind of had a lot of that growing up through high school, through college at a young age for years and years, people have told me, so I'd say, okay fine. Then I'll go into art education that's a little bit more sustainability but I can still do the art and, but art is the most focus. But teaching but, its not that way. [inaduble], there were 90% teaching, 10% art, so it totally killed my art. I told it just killed it. I couldn't, I felt like my creativity was going down. It was ruining me and I just, it was good. I loved it teaching by just didn't feel like it would really help me as
Erik Jensen:
33:28
an artist and I started the keyboard art a lot of hours and nights and Saturdays. That's all I did every day, all day Saturday and Sunday. I would take day off. Trying to just practice, grow. Teaching was so hard on me. I wouldn't make any art while teaching. So Saturday with my day to be able to do my own thing, my own art, to keep me alive. Then I realized, you know what? How am I ever gonna grow it if I'm just doing it Saturday, maybe I should try coding a little bit and do half time. So I talked with my principal and say, Hey, can I do teach four classes instead of seven? And he was like, no, we can't do that. I said, okay. I said, well, I'm going to do it. I said, whether you like it or not, I'm going to. I'm not going to work seven.
Erik Jensen:
34:20
So you either fire me or you let me work four. He's like, well, we can't fire you. We love you and we, we no, we, you can't leave us. Okay, we'll do four class. So I kind of pinned him to it, not the best thing to do to a principal. I felt bad for my principal. So, I still had the benefits. I still had my insurance and I was doing this income and so started growing the art and that kind of where my business blossom and me and my wife's, it saved a lot of money. Before we did this, we moved into a cheaper place. We just made our cost of living way, way, way cheap. We grew a garden, we sold our car. We had two cars at the time. We sold it we got a little scooter for me to get around and her car.
Erik Jensen:
35:06
We had a baby during that time, so we just, it was brutal like that and I still am surprised we only made $17,000 that year so we live off my 17,000. It was brutal that you say that. It was brutal. I did the arts, but I was teaching. We were just really, really tight on money, but we just say, you know what? This is what we want to do with what we're going to do. My wife would pick up jobs on the side for a little extra money. She would take on jobs online to help us because we were so poor. So, I did it. We lost so much money in my art business. I lost so much money, but I was like, you know what? That was so much fun. Let's try it again. So I did it for another year, I think it was another year.
Erik Jensen:
35:52
And then just kind of grew. And then I realized that up coming year that we were going to go into teaching, I was so stressed. I was like, crap, I have to go. It was during the summer. I was doing art festivals. I was crazy busy and I was realizing, wait, I have to go back to teaching two weeks. I'm so stressed. I have two commissions. I have all these work I'm trying to do. Wait a minute. Oh we're actually making money. Maybe we can do this. You know? So we looked at my finances in the business world. Wait, it's actually making a positive. We're not losing money, we're making money. And so I asked my wife would be okay, and she said, sure. I said, well, probably have to be cheap for another year. And she's like, that's fine. We've done it for a couple of years, we know how to do it, we can do it.
Erik Jensen:
36:42
It's really silly to make the transition from a full time job and then just quit and then become a full time artist the next day. I think that's really not very smart. If you don't have anything in pipelines, it doesn't work. And there were times during teaching I, I hate teaching, I hate this, I just want to do the art I want, I want to quit. But I knew that if I quit, I would go bankrupt or I run out of money really fast. I didn't, we didn't have any money coming in. It wasn't until I had some money in and I was able to support myself a little bit on the arts. So it has something going for me.
Liz Christensen:
37:17
Well, it sounds like you were really intentional and thoughtful in preparing to even go half time.
Erik Jensen:
37:22
Yes. So I, I thought about it and we really talked about it. We mapped it out, we wrote it out, we did Excel sheets for every month of, okay, this is how much everything's gonna cost we're going to have a baby? There's just how much can cost, you know? So we just really like, we found a crib off like an old crib. We couldn't even buy our crib for our baby. I was like, okay, my baby is going to be born in two weeks. She probably, you know, live in a cardboard box because I don't have money for crib. But then we found a crib and we're okay. So we fixed it up for a career but in, and we're like, okay, what aren't doing? Like we really didn't have any thing and we struggled and now that's not the case. I do a lot better as an artist. I do a lot better. But I think I made that sacrifice knowing that that's what I wanted and I was, I was okay with it.
Erik Jensen:
38:13
It didn't bother me that it might be, you're gonna sleep in a cardboard box. She's a little baby. She'll be fine. Yeah, she won't know. So I just knew that that was the sacrifice I'm gonna make and it's been so good for my family. I have a little girl that was almost three and then my wife expanded with our second. So it's been a really fun. So we're really excited to be able to grow our family and I, I love my children and my kids. I did have a second one. She passed away. So, this little baby that we're having is our third. So yeah, she's been really fun
Liz Christensen:
38:48
Touring Erik's studio made me think of a quote by Andy Warhol. "Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it while they are deciding. Make even more art." It's clear that lots of people have decided Erik's pixilations are good and they love his computer key art. But Erik is so engaged in his process and the craft and business and excitement of making his art. It seems to me he has created a lot of content of high quality and is progressing quickly innovating and mastering his medium. He's been intentional about every aspect of his work, honing his skills and process over the years. I agree. He is The Computer Key Artist.
Liz Christensen:
39:40
I really appreciate you showing me around your studio. I think your studio is beautiful.
Erik Jensen:
39:45
No, it's fine.
Liz Christensen:
39:46
No, it is. It's it's light and bright in here and there is my kind of mess everywhere, which is like an artistic creative,
Erik Jensen:
39:54
There's spray paint on the floor,
Liz Christensen:
39:56
but there should be like, I like it. I like it a lot.
Erik Jensen:
39:59
It's disorganized, but it works. Right?
Liz Christensen:
40:03
Yeah. Thank you so much for letting me interview Erik and best of luck and wishes, especially upcoming arts festivals and commissions and and figuring out your circle.
Erik Jensen:
40:14
Yeah.
Liz Christensen:
40:20
Thank you for listening to this "In the Telling" behind the scenes, look at the work of the computer key artist, Erik Jensen. You can find out more information about "In the Telling" at Lizzylizzyliz.com.
×

Listen to this podcast on