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Jay Schwartz: From Street Painting to Flash Interactivity

By John Virata

Jay Schwartz, founder of Ideawork, a Santa Barbara and Las Vegas-based interactive agency with clients ranging from museums to Las Vegas casinos, is a graduate in fine arts from the University of California, Santa Barbara as well as Pasadena's Art Center College of Design. In addition to crafting his art in the digital domain, with tools such as Macromedia Flash and Adobe Photoshop, the 1992 UCSB graduate also is widely known as a street painter, mixing his own chalks and practicing his street painting craft in such locales as Grazie de Curtatone, Italy, Santa Barbara, California, and Toba City Japan. In this interview, DMN senior editor John Virata discusses a variety of topics with Jay, from his street painting to his use of Flash at his design agency.

DMN: What year did you graduate from UCSB with a degree in Art Studio? Have you been drawing/painting since childhood?
JS: I graduated UCSB in 1992. I've been into art since I can remember. I've been drawing since I was a kid.

DMN: When did you decide to pursue courses at Art Center?
JS: 1992/93 after returning from traveling abroad and working as an artist in Los Angeles.

Jay at work in Santa Barbara.
DMN: What is the focus of Ideawork? Who are some of your clients and what type of art are you creating for them?
JS: We see ourselves as a full-service interactive agency. we have extremely strong backgrounds in print, web, and interactive media. our clients range from educational publishing (Glencoe/McGraw-Hill) to museums (Guggenheim
Hermitage Las Vegas*, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden) to hotels & resorts (Hard Rock Las Vegas, Rio, Pala Casino Resort & Spa), to legal and real estate firms. We don't have any niche markets, so we
can approach communication problems from an objective perspective. The types of projects we undertake for our clients range the gamut . . . print brochures, websites, interactive branding campaigns, online and offline

DMN: In addition to your print and Web work, do you delve into other types of creative media such as video or animation?
JS: We don't do a whole lot of video work, but we're doing a ton of flash animation.

DMN: You are also known as a "street painter" Can you describe how street painting came about as a part of your repertoire? How do you approach the street as a "canvas"?
JS: Street painting is an extension of my fine art background. My initial exposure to the medium was as a student at UCSB -- I stumbled into the role of street painter by accident. The purity, tradition, and inspirational qualities are my main attractions to the medium. My approach to the street as canvas is much like any other visual communication problem: start with a strategy (subject matter, diagrams, keylines, etc.) and infuse my style
into the project, all the while trying to maintain an overall view of the big picture.


DMN: Does your street painting technique creep into your work style or are they two different styles?
JS: For the most part street painting is unique, mainly because of the physicality of the medium. I make a lot of my own chalks, so I can use colors that can't be reproduced through any other medium.

DMN: What kind of digital tools do you work with to help express the ideas that you convey to your clients?
JS: Many of the standard computer graphics applications: Flash, Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator and Freehand.

DMN: Are your ideas sketched out on paper first or do you go straight to your digital toolbox?
JS: Everything starts with pencil on paper. I was trained early on to always carry around my sketchbook. It's a permanent fixture on my person.

DMN: What kind of computer do you use to get your ideas out and why?
JS: Ironically, I've always been a PC guy. I was trained on a Mac, but after leaving Art Center I needed to maximize my budget, and the PC was the way to go. Much of my technical skills come from my time as a designer in a Windows-based service bureau, so I've always been really adept at troubleshooting software issues. I can find my way around the insides of a PC better, so when something goes wrong I can generally fix it myself.

DMN: You mention the use of Macromedia Flash. How long has Flash been a part of your digital toolbox, and how has Flash helped you to get your messages across?
JS: we've been designing in/for Flash since version 2. That was in 1998, after Macromedia had acquired the technology. We saw the potential early on, and were quick to explore the technology. Flash has helped us add another
dimension to what we do. Flash has given us the ability to deliver the message beyond the 2-d world; it has allowed us to provide users with a more engaging, interactive, and immersive experience.

DMN: When brainstorming for a project, how does Flash lend itself to what you are creating? Do you visualize a Flash sequence in each of your projects?
JS: When we've got a Web or CD-based project, we're always looking at how the experience can be enhanced -- mostly through Flash interactivity. Using Flash gives us freedom to come up with more off-the-wall brainstorming ideas. The key to delivering a project (successfully) in Flash is in the planning. Unlike other tools, designing in Flash without a clear concept and storyboard can be a really tricky and messy thing. There's nothing more frustrating than spending 20 hours figuring out how to produce a cool effect that never gets used because we didn't have a clear concept, or the client decided to go in a different direction. It's more important to plan well when designing in Flash than other mediums.

To see some of Jay's work done for his interactive agency, visit To view some of Jay's street painting work, visit

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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at [email protected]
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