Animals have always played an important role in our society. It's a way to define ourselves, to symbolize the important attributes of our personalities and beliefs, and to express complex ideas in an easily recognizable way. From traditional folklore and modern children's books to advertising, we see the personification of animals everyday. And while there are plenty of animals that are used, there are a few that stick out in their popularity. Dogs, cats, dolphins, wolves, bears, and horses can be seen across a variety of mediums with different meanings of significance tied to them. One animal that has always been an important figure but seems to be on a bit of an up rise in popularity in recent years is the owl.
I've always had a small affinity for owls, not to the same extent that I've had for penguins but I still find them interesting. They appear in so much of folklore, fantasy, and childhood staples that's it's not hard to see why they remain in our minds. For the most part owls are associated with the ideas of wisdom and knowledge. They were the animal that represented Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and strategy among many other things, and were often seen as messengers for different tribes around the world. This idea has continued in popular culture with the likes of the owl Archimedes in Disney's Sword in the Stone, Owl from Winnie the Pooh, Hedwig in Harry Potter, a guardian spirit in Avatar, or even the Owl from the old Toostie Pop commercial. But while they were generally associated with positive things for many cultures, owls were also seen as a fearful element. Egyptians were scared of owls and would draw them broken in hieroglyphics to prevent giving them power. Owls were also associated with death and that transitional journey between worlds, typically in European and American cultures. But no matter what the societal association you have with owls, they are certainly pretty common in our storefronts. Just looking up the word owl on Etsy brings up almost 50,000 results in four different categories. And while I really haven't found a particular site for tonight's owl, it has shown up in a couple of other people's collections of photos.
I do love those unexpected coincidences I come across in this project. I was wandering around Shadyside, wasting time before I was supposed to meet up with my brothers, when I found this sticker. While I usually just photograph the stickers I find, not putting much thought into the sticker at the time, this sticker gave me some pause. You see I am a hopeless romantic, once you get pass my sarcastic cynical shell. So a sticker that catches that moment right before a kiss is definitely something that's going to capture my attention. When I was going to use this photo the other day, I was generally just planning on discussing this small aspect of my personality and why these kind of images hit me. But when I put the photo on the site, I happened to notice that there was actually a signature in the bottom corner that I could use. So I looked the name up and it slowly dawned upon me that I've actually featured this individual before.
Sarah Trobee is the same artist who did the "Get Away" cactus from a couple of months ago. When I did that post though, I really only linked to her Society 6 page and her Instagram. This round of research brought up her personal website, with a contact page. Since I had every intention of trying to contact her the next time I featured one of her stickers, because I have another one that I definitely know is hers, I decided to reach out to her. She very graciously responded and we ended up having semi-interview. So this post is be another long one but I think it'll be worth the read. I only hope that I've managed to capture our conversation with some degree of accuracy.
So Sarah, I was looking over your website and I see that you're originally from the Pittsburgh area?
Yeah, I'm originally from Pittsburgh. I grew up on the Northside. I ended up heading to Chicago for college though. So I'm currently on and off in Pittsburgh.
I saw that you were still in college, what year are you?
I just finished up my 3rd year at Columbia College Chicago. This fall will be my senior year.
Congrats, that's always a big year. What are you studying again?
Thanks. I'm going for graphic design.
So when did you to start creating stickers?
Well I was always into drawing growing up and I still draw today. I started making stickers about two years ago because I was bored. I had a summer job working as a host for a restaurant in Shadyside, pretty close to where you found this sticker, and I would often end up doodling on post office labels while I was standing at host's stand. Actually come to think of it, I started making stickers in my senior year of high school. I realized you could order post office mailing labels in bulk for free. I really liked that it was free and that I could put my drawings up.
And what would say drew you to stickers in general?
It seemed like a fun thing to do. I really enjoy wandering the streets, especially after work, and being able to see the street art that is out there. There really isn't that much street art in the Northside, but with that summer job in Shadyside and my mom moving to another neighborhood it's been nice to see all street art out there. I really like seeing the GEM tags and the various post office label sticker art.
Which do you prefer to make, the hand drawn stickers or printed ones?
I started doing the printed stickers when I went to college. I go through the school to create them. It's a nice way to get a bunch done and it opens up more options for me. Since they're digital designs I have a little more range with what I can do with the images. It also means I can always create more of a design that I like. I do miss doing the hand drawn ones though. Each one was unique and I like knowing that it was the only one out there. There was also that sense of impermanence with them, since you never knew if someone was going to tear it down, take it for themselves, paint over it, or if it would just fall off. I'm really surprised that the sticker you found is still up there after two years. It's crazy.
Yeah, you never know what you're going to find out there.
But in general I do prefer doing the print ones. I like being able to do more and the digital aspect to them.
What are some of your influences in your art?
Hmm, well I guess one would be Shephard Fairey for a street art influence. Robert Valley, an artist and animator, is a big influence for me. I mean I'm really influenced by comic artists but his style is an important one. Umm, sorry I'm trying to think of some others. Oh Stanley Donwood, he's the artist that's done all of album artwork for Radiohead. I follow a lot of people on Instagram as well, like Mumblejinx. He's another Pittsburgh street artist. But I'd say that Robert Valley and Stanley Donwood are the big ones.
So is there a particular subject you like to draw or is it whatever comes to mind?
It's mostly whatever comes to mind. I do tend to draw people, although they are a little sad looking. I'm fairly sarcastic, so I like to draw people who are just done with things. That point at the end of situations that sums up someone's feelings on the subject. The sticker of two people about to kiss is actually the first one I put out there. I drew it while I working that summer after my first year at college. It was statement on those expectations of relationships during your Freshman year and how disappointing it ends up being. I still really like that one a lot.
Do you put any of your stickers up in Chicago or have you pretty much stuck with Pittsburgh?
I have put some up here in Chicago. Mostly the digital prints though. Whenever I'm in Pittsburgh I will try to put some of my newer stickers up around the city. I will say that the ones I place in Chicago do seem to disappear faster. People tend to paint over them or reuse the space a lot faster than Pittsburgh does. Clearly since you found one from a couple of years ago. I will try to put stickers up wherever I am, like on a recent trip to Memphis for break. I did end up putting one of my stickers up down there.
I guess my final question would be do you have a favorite one that you've done so far?
I don't know if I have a favorite. I do still really like the one you found. I would have to say that I really like the latest one that I've done, whatever that tends to be. Then I get a little bored with it and I'm looking forward to what my next one is going to be. In the end I just enjoy how every one is different and how they are each cool in their own ways.
I know tonight's photo is a bit of a hodgepodge of things but I'm only going to focus on two of the stickers that are on these free paper stands. Not that this is a new concept for me, I've done it plenty of times before, but I wanted to assure you that this is going to be that crazy of a post. I learned my lesson early on in this project after an attempt to find information on every single sticker on the back of a street sign, it was too much for even my scatter thinking to follow by the end. I will admit that there is no logical reasoning behind the stickers I picked to focus on tonight though. I didn't research all of them to see what I could find stories on or even pick two stickers that would fit together in a coherent way. Ultimately it was just the two stickers that caught my eye first when I decided to use this image.
The first thing that really caught my eye upon my reexamination of this photo were the hypnotic televisions, probably because there are two of them on the box. It's also a sticker that is making a fairly obvious statement, well at least that's what I think it's doing. I've always found television to have such an interesting mixture of fear, stigma, fascination, and appreciation tied to it. It's center of most people's homes and probably the most common conversation starter at every work place but at the same time is known as a boob tube. Even this image harkens back to this idea of televisions hypnotizing it's viewers into mindless zombies. Although this fear of technology certainly isn't new. People have been concerned about new technologies corrupting the minds of the public for millennium, even the invention of writing was considered a dangerous practice at one time. I was actually just talking with my mom the other day about the fear of television, which might be another reason why I was so drawn to this sticker. Since I was a film major in college, there was always a lecture or two in every class that focused on television's relationship with the film industry. My senior film class actually focused pretty heavily on the representations of the film industry's fears in movies. If you're ever curious about what the industry's fears are over technology, just take a pulse on what the current popular subjects are in horror. And while television may not be as vilified as it used to be when it was first introduced, I think we may on course for a renewed fervor against the corrupting influence of it and sites like Netflix.
The second sticker that I decided to look into was the "A Beat A Day" sticker. I know it's a little hard to see, being one of the more faded images on there, but it's the sticker right above the TVs. A large part of the reason I decided to go with it was just the sheer curiosity over what that phrase was even about. There is also the fact that there is a jumping screaming man on the right side of the sticker, that I know you really can't see. In the end it's just too odd of a combination not to try and find out more about. Luckily I was able to cheat a little bit and if you zoom into the image, you can just make out the website abeataday365.com in the black line near the bottom of the sticker. Turns out that this site is actually a music blog, so the beat a day makes quite a bit of sense. According to the about page this blog is, or at least was at some point, curated by a group of friends that wanted to share the music they were discovering with each other and eventually others. Skimming through the posts it seems to be an interesting mix of personal Spotify playlists, a collection of a specific artist's songs or a particular album, and interviews with a variety of people. It seems like the past couple of months have alternated between the different aspects of rock, from alternate groups like Foo Fighters and Green Day to heavier rock like Ozzy Osbourne or Judas Priest. But looking over older posts there where definitely some periods of Rap as well as commemorative posts for artists that recently passed away. It certainly seems to be an interesting collection of items though and will be something I'll have to really spend some time looking into, well more like listening to.
I'm sure this will come as no surprise but I am a horrible procrastinator. It's been an issue of mine for a while and something that has certainly caused it's fair share of problems. During my junior year of high school, the morning bus ride was often spent doing a last minute entry into the journal I had to keep for my English class. I would sit on the bus, with my journal on my lap and a bottle of white-out, quickly throwing together something that would appease that day's requirements. Admittedly I would get away with it though, generally pulling out good grades with honest responses like having no clue what to write about or even admitting that I hated that particular topic. I think this did help develop my voice a little bit though, giving me that mix of honesty and dry self-deprecating humor. But that didn't really help with the many examples from college of me waiting till the last minute on my papers.
The worst time was probably in my sophomore year. I forget what class the paper was for, or if it was actually for two papers, but I ended up attempting to pull two all nighters in a row. I'm sure you can guess how well that worked out. I managed to finish my paper the second night a little earlier than I thought I would, so I decided to catch a cat nap before I started studying for my French final that day. I can't tell you what exactly woke me up, but it certainly wasn't my phone's alarm. I looked at the time and realized that it was 11:40 in the morning. Now this was problematic in a couple of ways. First, the paper I had been working on the night before was due at noon in my professor's mailbox over in the Cathedral of Learning. Second, my French final had started at 10. Well I panicked and ran to the fifth floor of the cathedral to turn my paper in and then ran to see if I could find my TA for French. Luckily my usual anal retentive nature meant that I had never missed a class before this, causing my TA to legitimately be worried about me. So she arranged it for me to take the part of the final I missed with another class that afternoon. When I caught up with my roommate later in the day, I was lamenting the fact that my alarm failed to go off causing me to miss my final. She looked at me like I was crazy and told me that it did go off. I apparently just growled when she asked if I was getting up, turned it off, and rolled back over to sleep. Not exactly my brightest moment.
You would think that I would have learned my lesson and tried to change my ways. But can't say that I really have. I've definitely had one too many posts on here where I end up complaining that I don't give myself enough time to write these or that I've let the quality slip. I've also started to post at later and at more erratic times than when I started this back in September. I have no real right to complain though, there's plenty of self-help things out there to try and break my habits (my mom forwards me plenty of them since she has the same issues). There's also the fact that I do enjoy doing this blog and finding the stories behind these stickers, so I really should be giving myself the time to do this justice. I was remarking to a good friend of mine that I should get my shit together and stop procrastinating, so she suggested I find a sticker that let me discuss procrastination. I figured this was good idea, letting me admit my problem since that is the first step to change right. So I picked one of my favorite disintegrating stickers and put it out there. Not sure how well it's working though, considering the time that this is going up, but hopefully it was a little funny at least.
I find doodling to be an interesting avenue of self-expression. I tend to doodle a lot when I'm bored but have zero artistic ability. So my drawings tend to be a lot of loops, a sort of ever-expanding flame thing and oddly enough pumpkins. The first two I generally get as it's a simple consistent movement but I can't really tell you where the pumpkins came from. Continuing on with my point though, I have plenty of friends with much better artistic abilities that have a far more interesting collection of things they draw when boredom strikes. A friend who eventually became an engineer would draw rabbits and robots who would help with homework during the slow periods of her classes. I know someone else who has always been obsessed with animals but drawn more towards the mythical/fantasy variety. His notebooks were always covered in creatures of his own design. And then there are the people who, like me, have little artistic ability and end up very precisely filling in the spaces of the letters on the page. No matter where you fall of the scale of being able draw though, doodling is something rather inherent to human nature.
While the sticker clearly took more effort than your normal doodle would, it really reminds me of something you would find on the edges of someone's page. It's simple line design, the big eyes and teeth of the little creature, and the puking altogether seem a fairly appropriate avenue for any high schoolers' boredom. The drawing also heavily reminds me of a ghost from Pac-Man or if you're more Pokemon inclined a diglett. Possibly this is just because of the dome shape of the creature but then again most people's doodles and drawings show the cultural elements that influence them. For a minute I had thought that this sticker was one of Chu's many tags but looking over the many images that are up on the internet, I think it was just the eyes that made me lean that direction. I'm sure I could come up with some meaningful reading out of this image, something about people rejecting the cultural norms that society forces upon us, but I can't get passed this idea of doodling. That boredom is a big driver of what we do in the day and that someone felt that their boredom was worth sharing with the world. It's certainly something we can all relate to and this image is rather fun to randomly find in the end.
I love finding those bits of trivia that kind of change the way you see things. It's never big things, just little facts that you really wouldn't expect. For example, the reason the Count from Sesame Street is a vampire who loves to count things is because a good portion of classic vampire lore states that to get away from your attacker you just need to throw grains on the floor. Vampires would have the compulsive need to count the individual fallen grains, giving you the chance to escape. Kind of blew my mind when I put that together, although at the same time I was rather embarrassed that it took me as long as it did. Or upon rewatching the live action 101 Dalmatians years later the realization that the actors known for House and Mr. Weasley were the bungling villains Jasper and Horace respectively. Just those little moments of discovery that you really aren't expecting.
The Mr. Yuk sticker is one of those weird things I grew up with that I rather vividly recall. I can't tell you exactly how old I was when I was first introduced to the sticker but it was while I was still at my local Catholic elementary school, so some time before fourth grade. I remember that there was a class assembly in the gym where we watched a short video and had a presentation from the guest speaker. I'm sure they covered a variety of subjects and did their best to instill in us the wide collection of items that could potentially kill us if we weren't careful. Now granted this isn't a terribly descriptive story, I was fairly young at the time though and it wasn't the presentation that was memorable. This may sound a little odd for me to admit, given my apathetic nature that most people see, but I was a fairly enthusiastic child. You told me something and I had the tendency to dive head first. So after a presenter gave me a list of dangerous household items and a sheet of stickers I went a little nuts. I peppered our kitchen with stickers and pretty much demanded that my dad help me label all of the dangerous things in our house. He was a good sport about it though and up until we moved from that house I would occasionally come across one of the faded stickers on items that we never used under the sink.
While I really remember Mr. Yuk, it was definitely one of those things that started to fall to the wayside. Talking with my sister about it she admits that while she knows the sticker, she doesn't recall doing anything with it in school. So I was a little surprised when I came out to Pittsburgh for college and started to see the sticker on the streets. When I researched the sticker for the post tonight I realized that a good reason for this prevalence here is the fact that it originated here. I feel like I had heard this before, but I was still a little surprised to learn it again. Mr. Yuk was created by the Pittsburgh Poison Center, a department of UPMC's Children's Hospital back in the 70s. The creator Dr. Richard Moriarty felt that the standard skull and cross bones was no longer effective given it's prevalence in popular culture as an association to pirates. So they came up with the grossed out angry face of Mr. Yuk. Over the years there have been some doubts cast over the effectiveness of this image as well and it does seem to have fallen out of favor. But Mr. Yuk does remain a big symbol in the efforts to reduce the amount of poisoning around the country and world. You can actually still request stickers from Children's if you provide them with a self-addressed envelope. The more you know, right.
I do love the juxtaposition of ideas with the stickers I find. Some days the play between the stickers is obvious and influences the way you look at each. Other times it's just an interesting collection of images and ideas that will keep you enthralled for a while with all of the different things to see. I can't say I can really categorize tonight's combination of stickers though. It's not like they truly play off each other, since the top one is really just the remnant of a sticker. And since there's only the two on the pole you wouldn't immediately think it would draw your attention as much as it does, well at least it captured mine.
I feel like a large part of the image's draw is the mystery. The top sticker is just the leftover glue from the sticker that used to reside there. To me this memory reminds me of a forty, with it's wide bottom and small mouth. I could be mistaken, maybe there are different bottles that this resembles, but that's where my mind goes to. I can't say I've actually drank a forty, I generally prefer darker and higher alcohol beers than what is usually bottled in this method. This is a common enough of an image though that it's not a hard connection to make.
The strawberry sticker is a little easier to gleam information from, although I wasn't able to find anything in particular about this image. It has the artist's initials of BR in the corner but that's not really anything to go on. And well, searching for strawberry stickers on the internet is a bit of a fool's errand. The strawberry though does have a fair amount of meaning tied to it. Some meaning that I associate with this berry is a sense of childhood and innocence. Partially because of Strawberry Shortcake, but mainly because strawberries were always my favorite food and I had plenty of access to them growing up. My grandparents had a fair amount of land which they rented out to local farmers to grow their crops. And while my grandparents were never large scale farmers themselves, they did keep a small garden that always had strawberries. The start of each summer always meant a drive down to their house to pick some strawberries and get my jar of freshly made jam to take home. Even though I really only buy strawberry jam now, there is nothing like those childhood jars.
Strawberries actually have quite a bit of meaning attached to them. In folklore, early Christianity, and pagan belief systems the strawberry can symbolize rebirth, righteousness, spiritual merit, modesty or luck. In Victorian times the strawberry and it's flowers were used to communicate perfection or sweetness in character to others in bouquets. A common symbolic meaning that has remained to this day is the idea of love. From Norse and Greek mythology the strawberry was associated with their respective goddesses of love. Even today when people think of romantic evenings in or a sweet treat for Valentine's Day, strawberries are generally involved. Which, in a round about way, brings me back to my first thought. Again strawberries, as well as alcohol, are often played up as a big part of nights of passion and love. So I do enjoy the fact that these two stickers can be found on a pole together, a small symbol of passion and love on the street even if it's not what was originally intended.
You know, it figures that the post right after I talked about how impressed I was with my success in finding the groups behind stickers is one that I can't find. I probably just jinxed myself with that previous post if we're honest. Granted I may not have given myself enough time to research it before attempting to write about it. I didn't have this image ready to post until late last night and then I didn't start looking into it until about 9. True, I really haven't been posting until late at night any way but I do try to at least have a rough idea of what I'm looking at before it gets too late into the evening. It was just one of those nights where you just can't help but doze off for a bit.
It also doesn't help that this sticker is as vague as it is. I'll admit that I kind of thought it would come up pretty easily but spelling atomic with a k is a pretty common thing in the end. There's a company named Atomik that designs the different grips and holds that you find on indoor climbing walls. Then there is Atomik RC which apparently makes a battery of some kind. I also found a brand of bicycles and a special kind of weed that use Atomik as part of their name. And searching for Atomik skull just brings up the DC villain from the Superman comics. Now I rather doubt any of these finds actually pertains to this sticker, since they each have a fairly distinct logo or image that are in no way similar to this, but I thought it was an interesting collection of items and felt it was worth sharing. This is also only the first page of results, there are so many things that use Atomik that I could probably spend days clicking on links without finding anything.
The closest things I found that could be pertinent to tonight's sticker were a graffiti artist and a rapper. Atomik, the graffiti artist, is originally from Miami and seems to specialize in using spray paint to create his work. However looking through the collection on his website, I really only see his orange and tag which makes me doubt that he's behind this. His orange certainly an interesting image but doesn't really seem to be in the same vein as the skull. But then again you never know, I've been mistaken before because of an artist's varied style. My other possible option is a man who goes by the name Pittsburgh AtomiK. He looks to be a local hip-hop artist and mix engineer but I can't really tell how active he is in the music industry. He has a couple of videos of his own on Youtube but they're from 7 years ago. There is also a separate Youtube channel and twitter account for him that give the impression he is now more focused on producing others. If I had to guess, I would lean more towards Pittsburgh AtomiK as the individual behind the sticker. I may be generalizing things but this seems like an image that could fit into the hip-hop world, at least more so than any of the other things I found tonight. But looking over his various social media platforms I again have to doubt this thought process. Doesn't really feel like this kind of image would be his schtick in the end. So I guess for now this image remains a mystery.
You would think that after 8 months, I wouldn't be so surprised by the luck I have in discovering the sites/ artists behind the stickers I find. Obviously I've had plenty of things I couldn't find through my simple Google searches but for the most part I've had far more success than I thought I would. My friends have even mentioned their surprise with the amount of stickers that I managed to uncover the stories behind over these past couple of months. Some times it's just having enough of the photo in focus that doing a ridiculous zoom into the image allows for enough resolution to make out the website hidden on the side of the sticker. Other times I'm just lucky to have a different exposure of the sticker that I can use that to find out more about it. And then there are the times, like tonight, where you just need the right combination of keywords and patience to find it.
When I decided to use this photo, I admit that I wasn't expecting to find anything on it. I just kind of liked the idea of a smoking wolf with a camera. Kind of brought to mind the idea of old school journalists, like those in His Girl Friday. Wise cracking, fast talking journalists who are out to get the scoop before every one else and willing to do anything to achieve this goal. Or if you want a more modern interpretation, the idea of paparazzi stalking their prey for a pay day. And while I loved this idea of the image, it was the phrase below it that kind of threw me. I guess it could be a word of warning against these dangers, that you needed to "stay alive" in this preying culture, but that feels like a stretch. So after a couple of failed attempts on "wolf with camera sticker," I thought it wise to try and see where the phrase took me. Ended being a good decision on my part because after much scrolling I happened to catch sight of a tiny version of the sticker in my Google image search.
Turns out a big reason I wasn't having much luck looking for this sticker with my original searches was that I was looking for the wrong animal. The artist behind this particular design is Photocoyote, so not a wolf. But even though this brought me to their website, I still wasn't sure I had the right thing. True it still used the "Stay Alive" with a coyote for the logo, and honestly how many people would use this particular combination. On the other hand the styles of the works presented on the site and the sticker I found didn't quite mesh for me. The designs/prints on the site seemed to really be after a sense of realism with the subject. The animals, musicians, and pop culture references throughout the collections all were immediately recognizable and don't feel to be in the same vein as a kind of goofy coyote cartoon. However after much patient digging into their old Facebook photos, I was able to find my sticker. From what I can tell this particular version of Photocoyote started to get used back in 2011 and has quite a few different iterations over the years.
I have to admit that despite my reservations on whether or not this was the same artist, I was truly impressed with the pieces. From what I can garner after looking through the collections and the different pages, the artist seems to be based in Seattle which clearly has influenced their work. And I come to this conclusion not only because they have Seahawk players in there. There is quite a reverence for music and nature throughout the collection, which isn't something that is particularly unique to the Pacific Northwest but are things I do tend to associate with that area. I also really enjoy that sense of Pop art that their work gives off, with the vibrant colors and different patterns in the shading. I think that the bright colors are a great contrast to the fairly impressive realism of the drawings, truly capturing your attention. So whether it's with their colorful prints or their unique sticker, Photocoyote certainly has created some captivating work over the years and I'll have to keep my eyes out for more from them.