Interview With an Artist: Jewels Antonio
Updated: Jan 6, 2019
Jewels Antonio is a Pittsburgh artist on the verge of big things. Antonio is co-owner and press boss at Public Print House and was recommended to us for our Lawrenceville Condado location. Not only does Antonio have 10+ years experience in the printing business, graffiti and mural work has defined his style and attitude as a professional artist. Over the holidays, I took the opportunity to talk to Jewels about questions we get as freelancers and what it takes to be both successful and a gentleman in his fields.
Some of Antonio's most recent projects, including his collaboration with our Lawrenceville team.
How Did You Get Here
You've carved out some very creative professions for yourself. You are both a muralist and a screen printer. Being a freelance muralist requires tenacity and skill, and your background in graffiti has set you up for success in that field. You've also spent the last decade building a professional name through your 5-star rated print shop, Public Print House. What made you pursue the print shop and how has becoming a freelance muralist influenced your goals?
"A little over 3 years ago my business partner, Brent Vaccaro, and I took over a print shop that I helped a good friend start and run in 2009. My former boss and I went our separate ways for a while and a year later decided to sell the business. At first I wasn't interested in buying or opening a screen printing shop honestly I was a bit jaded about how things went down at the time. I was just going to pack my 96' Mazda with spray paint and drive across the country doing walls until I got to Northern Cali to trim weed, but I decided a legit business investment in a skill that I already had might be a smarter move. It was indeed smarter and has been paying for itself and steadily growing ever since.
Freelancing feels natural for me. I've kind of always felt like I was on my own plan no matter all of the chaos that surrounds me at times. Having bigger mural projects in mind has influenced my goals at the shop in the way that we are trying to bring a couple helping hands on this year to allow myself and my business partner a little extra time to take on our respective side hustles and enjoy our lives. Freelancing murals, and more specifically, my success painting in 2018, has also put my worth or hourly value into perspective for me. For instance, at the print shop, if a job or client is legitimately not worth our time, then we don't take on that job and I don't lose sleep over it any more."
You often joke about how you're 'always scheming' and the benefits of being proactive in your professional life. Where did you learn how to stay productive and what drives you now? What's some advice you wish someone gave you when you were starting out as a young professional?
"They need to stay productive and drive comes from never wanting to go back to living on food stamps in section 8 housing, how we did as youth. Being broke taught me a lot about being able to adapt and to be resilient. It is a constant reminder in the back of my head not to go back to how it was, but also that things could always be worse. I've also been surrounded by local guys that carved their own path in business and are still heavily involved in the community. My OG, Brian Brick from Time Bomb, has had one of the longest running hip-hop, graffiti, and street-wear stores in Pittsburgh. It was kind of a meet up and party spot for us since we were teenagers. Another friend, Greg Pasquarella, has been running one of Pittsburgh's only core skateboarding shops, One Up Skateshop, since I was 13. Watching their growth and recent resurgence is really inspiring and good to see. My former boss and still good friend, Joe Boots, started the old print shop in his mom's basement while simultaneously running a hip-hop record label and DIYing everything possible. All of these guys showed me that you can create your own world while staying true to yourself and giving back to others.
My main advice I would give is that no one is going to hold your hand and do everything for you. If you want it you have to go get it yourself. Don't burn bridges either. Many of the connections I have here at home stem from relationships that I started building a very long time ago. With murals my best advice is for any big job make sure you have everything on paper. A lot of folks out there don't value artists as legit contractors and look at your 'talent' like it should be a free or cheap service. Don't waste your time drawing and chasing down jobs that they don't have the budget for you. Get as much info as you can before you price them then give them a price range as soon as you can and if they hesitate then move on. Half up front, half on completion, and don't half-ass it."
Be Yourself and Trust Your Gut
Being a contractor has many pros and cons, especially on large collaborations. Communication, compromise and failure are just realities of owning a business and working with new people. What are some of your more memorable painting or printing moments that really made you reflect on----or even change----your process?
"At our current shop, Public, we luckily haven't had any catastrophic printing failures at this point. I'd say the most difficulty we have with printing is with people not following our lead or instruction on getting proper artwork files to us. We have done well at weeding out nuisance clients after a couple years of banging our heads against the wall trying to figure out people that don't care to show you the respect that you show them. In painting I learned very young that older people with $ will try to take advantage of young artists without $ so I keep myself pretty protected in that regard. Without going into specifics, everyone that has tried to burn me in any way has taught me a lesson and made it so I do as much homework as possible before going into every situation."
Working with Condado
For all the future Condado contractors out there, could you comment on working in a group? What makes a successful collaboration and did we accomplish it at Lawrenceville?
Professionally speaking Condado Lawrenceville was one of my first major paid collaboration mural projects. That being said I have collaborated on countless free graffiti walls with my crew and friends across the country. Successful graffiti productions have a sense of leadership in the way that one person might have a color scheme/palette in mind that we all are going to match up on, or maybe a movie theme that someone wants to do characters around all of our pieces, or even as simple as the whole crew likes on persons effect or do-dads so the rest of us adopt them in our own way so that we all match. I'd say professional mural collaborations can be very similar to that just with a lot more meetings, conference calls, emails, and paper work. That being said having one person to look to as the boss is really helpful. It takes the guess work out of a lot of things. Also with Condado it was nice having a buffer between the artists and the office. Sometimes dealing with the office can be the hardest part of completing a mural.
Lindsay, you and your team did a great job at respecting us as artists and people while keeping the end goal in mind. We accomplished a great collaboration in Lawrenceville Condado and built friendships in and out of business and painting. That is invaluable to me and I know the rest of the Lawrenceville crew have a tight bond as well and would be happy to bang out another restaurant for you.
You know quite a few talented muralists and graffiti artists, would you like to see more collaborations or group projects? Where can people go to contact you or Public for future collaborations?
Starting out in graffiti has made it so I have been collaborating for over 16 years with other artists. It only feels natural for me to work with other people in that way and I will always include the homies in where I can on any walls available to me. I'm always open to working with other people making dope art so long as they have a good attitude and the $ is right. Additionally, Public Print House has collaborated with over 30 artists on clothing drops since we have started 3 years ago so we are always looking for more people to work with in that regard. The best way to get ahold of Public is via email firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our website www.publicprinthouse.com for info on how to order and to understand a bit about what we do. I just recently started a portfolio site and contact page for my mural work www.jewelsantonioart.com so check me out over there. Also, for a more casual experience check out our Instagram pages @publicprinthouse, @jewelsantonio, and my business partner @brentbuttheycallmebrett is always posting behind the scenes Public content as well as product giveaways on his personal page.
Jewels lives on the West End of Pittsburgh and works full time as co-owner of Public Print House. He is also a muralist for hire, specializing in graffiti style (spray paint) or hand-painted (acrylics) murals.