Instagram-Propelled Illustrator Sometimes Decelerates to Analog Collage

Mass communicator Holden Mesk contemplates early success.
Portrait by Colby Rabon

Illustrator, collage artist, and graphic designer Holden Mesk landed his first big commercial contract in 2017, for Divvy Up! Socks, while completing his last semester at UNCA. He went on to design stickers, T-shirts, and biking gear for Oak City Cycling Project in Raleigh; through them, he landed a related project, making a beer-can label for Trophy Brewing. Now his images are featured on apparel and accessories sold by the hip national lifestyle brand Slush Cult.

But this swift riser wasn’t even an art or design major. His degree is in Mass Communication. 

Arcadia

When did you move to Asheville?

In 2005, I moved here from Hollywood, Florida, at age 10, about to turn 11. I should just say I moved from Hollywood, and leave it at that.

You never took any art classes at UNCA?

No, I was more into filmmaking and film editing. It felt more open for a career path. You hear stories about people who have art degrees and how hard it is to make a living.

But you’ve made a name for yourself in a very short time.

I didn’t foresee it happening. I feel grateful and thankful. 

Journey

How do you find clients?

A fun fact is that I have never had to reach out to someone for work and say, like, “Can I work for you guys?” The forces of the universe just keep putting work on my plate.

Which particular forces?

Instagram is my main source of new clients.

It is a great visual platform, isn’t it?

Instagram is huge. There’s a statement people toss around that Facebook is for old people and Instagram is hip and fresh. 

Mesk’s digitally produced logos and illustrations have been picked up by Slush Cult and other hip brands. 

You use your filmmaking skills for promo videos, right?

Yeah. The first video I ever made, I tagged Big Cartel [a platform for online sales similar to Etsy]. They loved it and started following me. 

That’s exciting.

I wouldn’t be excited if THE cartel followed me [laughter]. But Big Cartel sent a videographer here and made a film about me and posted it on their site. That was huge exposure.

What’s your creative process?

Some designs I will sketch by hand. Then I’ll photograph them and upload them digitally to trace over them with Adobe Illustrator. … [But] I never do digital collages; I stick to analog only. I start by cutting out images I like from vintage magazines, positioning them how I want on cardstock, and then gluing it together. 

Shroom

There’s a beer chilling in your fridge that you never drink. Why?

It’s a constant reminder that my art made it onto a real-life physical thing that would belong in a fridge. I’m saving it for the Holden Museum one day.

Why have you said that abandoned malls appeal to you?

It feels like you’re stepping back in time. Plus, the overall design and aesthetic of older shopping malls is usually really cool. There’s just something about cheesy interior water fountains and artificial -plant-lined escalators that speaks to my soul.

Date Night 

Holden Mesk, Asheville. View the artist’s work on Instagram (@holdenmesk) and through his website, holdenmesk.com. Mesk will vend at The Big Crafty makers’ event on Sunday, July 14, 12-6pm, in downtown Asheville’s Pack Square Park. For more information, see thebigcrafty.com.

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