Creativity& Scale—Kyle Steed

Kyle Steed is an illustrator, artist, and muralist based in Dallas, Texas. From garage doors to 24’ x 110’ walls, the work he creates is literally larger than himself. And no matter the scale, he possesses the ability to tell a captivating story in the space that he fills. He spoke with us about his creative process and the relevance of ‘scale’ in his work.

Talk about your journey to becoming the creative you are today — and how the journey has influenced your work.
I’ve hobbled along on two crutches for most of my life: Control and Worry.

I’ve always been afraid to try things outside of my control and it has kept me from exploring new things. But over the last few years, I’ve become more aware that control is an illusion—everything is new and we’re always making it up as we go. This learning process has given me the strength to loosen my anxiety and dive in head first.

Instead of being true to myself and going with my gut, my worry over what others may think has limited me to doing what I thought others expected from me. But creating from a place of fear never produces life. Only as I’ve grown and matured from trial and error, conversations, and counseling have I begun to see that creating is more about making mistakes and less about creating a masterpiece. There’s too much damn pressure in the latter. Creation, in its purest form, comes from a place of unabashed joy and curiosity—it’s something my 3-year-old daughter has taught me when I sit and watch her draw or paint. The act of making something should only ever be a total abandon to thought and logic, and rely solely upon our instinct and soul.

Tell us about a favorite project you’ve worked on recently.
SumoMe Mural in Austin, TX earlier this year. I was tasked with finding a creative solution that integrated the core concepts of the company. And I really was left to my devices, which meant I had a lot of room to stretch my legs. I came up with this crazy, elaborate city scene with a ton of crazy hullabaloo going on. The mural is like walking into the middle of a party and you, the viewer, are left to stand there and stare at it and figure out what’s going on. The scale of it—literally larger than life—is meant to be both inviting and overwhelming.

Mural for SumoMe in their new Austin, TX office.

You do a wide array of work, but you sort all of it into two buckets on your website: large scale and small scale. So tell us, what does ‘scale’ mean to you?
I am 6’ 4”, and am constantly surrounded by things not made to my scale. Let’s name a few: Countertops. Airplane legroom. My Prius. But those are all things I don’t have much control over. So within my own work, I am constantly looking to surround myself with things bigger than myself. I am not much of a goal-oriented person, but I am driven to continue creating bigger work. Maybe it’s because I spend so much time looking down on the world around me that I want to create something I can look up at.

What is it like to create something literally larger than yourself?
A few words come to mind: Refreshing. Intimidating. Proud.

How do you approach a small-scale project vs. a large-scale project?
Everything I do starts on paper. I’ll say it here, as I say to every client I work with: a sketch on paper is the best way to make ideas a reality. There is no such thing as a great idea — nothing becomes great until you actually do/make/live it. And most often the ‘greatness’ isn’t in the thing you’ve made, but instead in your creative process.

Kyle Steed works on his largest canvas yet—a 24' x 110' wall in Dallas, TX.

What is the largest ‘blank canvas’ you’ve worked on? Did it intimidate you?
I am currently working on a 24’ x 110’ wall on the roof of a high-rise in downtown Dallas, TX. And yes, it is very intimidating. But also exhilarating. The pressure and willingness to make mistakes along the way is all part of the fun.

I always come to this threshold in my mind where I am afraid to make any mistakes on a new project. But every time I find myself questioning whether or not I am capable, I am able to push past the doubt and believe that the real beauty is in the mistakes. Nothing is perfect. Everything has a quirk to it. So each new project is an opportunity for me to embrace this belief and refine my mistakes.

How does scale intersect with or change the way you think about creativity?
I am only one person. It’s just me. (Hi. Hello!) And because of that, I have an extremely limited capacity to scale my business and the work that I do. I am no startup in the valley building the latest and greatest app to help revolutionize our already over-stimulated society. I can’t go raise a bunch of venture capital money to help grow my business. What is the ROI on a piece of art anyways?

I know I have limitations. We all have limitations. So as I learn and grow, I realize that I must embrace what I can do, just as much as what I cannot do. I don’t need to worry about what X, Y, and Z are up to. I don’t have to compare myself in size and scale to someone, or some company, doing what I do—that hurts more than helps. Instead, I get the great pleasure of waking up everyday and choosing to do the work that is in front of me. That kind of scale is the only kind I am able to healthily digest.

How do you use the scale of your project to tell a captivating story?
Like I said earlier: make it bigger. The bigger the better. We’ve all become addicted to looking down. Updates. Likes. Comments. Taps. Scrolls. Clicks. Dings. Alerts. Everything is pulling our chins down. Forget all of the constant distractions and take a minute to look up. Pay attention to something longer than 15 seconds. Watch the trees move in the wind. That, in essence, is how I hope my work is remembered. I don’t know what kind of story will be written about me and my work, but my hope is that it will cause a disturbance in the normal way of life.

What might your creative process look like without a sense of scale?
I think the notion of a lack-of-scale is impossible. We are all composed and contained in a micro and macro scale of life. We are composed of millions of electrons bumping into one another in a random dance. And we all uniquely fit into a larger story—our families, communities, cities, countries. Scale is embedded in every one of us. I can’t even begin to comprehend what it would look like to create without a sense of scale.

All images courtesy of Kyle Steed.

Creativity& is an Open Book Communications project. It is a space to showcase artists/entrepreneurs/creative-people as real humans. We hope to show that it doesn’t just take creativity to make you a great creative; it takes a whole host of other things. And there are things that often go along with creativity that are rarely seen or talked about. We hope to draw that out from creatives — to inspire, generate conversations, and get their fans (and themselves) thinking about their creative process.