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  • The Reef

ARTIST INTERVIEW ° LEO SHALLAT

Updated: Jun 6, 2019



This month The Reef is stoked to spotlight calligraphy artist Leo Shallat. Read the full interview below and be on the lookout for our AD collab with Leo featured in this month's Dope Magazine and the May 8th issue of The Stranger.


Please describe to our readers what your style of art is all about... how did you get into calligraphy?

My style of work combines elements of traditional calligraphy, graffiti, and graphic design. The Graffiti and Calligraphy hybrid has been coined "Calligraffiti". I got into calligraphy first through graffiti and then later on in school when I studied design and being drawn more towards typography and lettering.


At first I didn't know how to write any of the scripts correctly so I started out by deconstructing the letter forms and using those foundational shapes to make more abstract work. Working backwards in this way gave me a method for exploring more abstract, expressionistic work and was essentially an extension of dancing and freestyling. I began formally studying calligraphy last year when I received a year long scholarship to studio with Paul Antonio, a scribe from London.


Studying gothic scripts in a more formal setting gave my work structure and taught me the correct ways to build letter forms. Now my work is a more balanced fusion of contemporary and traditional styles and I can lean heavier on one or the other depending on the project i'm working on. 

Is there a project you've worked on that you are most proud of?


I recently finished painting a mural for the Crocodile in Belltown which was a huge honor. Shoutout to Joey Nix and his vision with the Belltown corridor project. I saw some of my first shows at the Crocodile so to contribute my work to a legendary venue and Seattle's art culture was an amazing opportunity. What inspires you? Why do you feel compelled to create?


My peers, all the people around me who are hustling and creating. I've always been compelled to make things. It's something my friends give me shit for when they feel I'm always "trying to be productive" but the real ones know you can't turn that off. I think being your own boss and seeing how art gave me a way to create a life for myself that I get to wake up every day and be excited about is something I'm super compelled by. 

How do you navigate stress and keep a work/life balance?

Being self-employed I don't really have a work/life balance right now and I'm ok with that. I work Monday to Monday but I'll take time to ride my bike or do something active just to get my brain to switch gears. Going hiking every couple of weeks has been one of the best ways to get out of the studio. I'll go with friends and we usually end up talking about work so it gives us a chance to talk through projects we are working on. Another thing thats helped a lot is being able to share studio space with other artists.


Spending the majority of my time in isolation at my studio can get overwhelming. I love the solitude but it's super beneficial to have people around you who are hustling so you can pick up on their momentum when you might not have much for your own work. The last piece would be traveling. Getting to see new places, make connections with people in other countries, and paint murals or make bodies of work away from my usual creative environment is a total recharge for me. What part of the creative process excites you the most?

I like it all but the part of the process after I've spent a bunch of time trying to imagine what a piece could look like and doing sketches. I get myself as prepared as I can but it's still a total mystery how it will turn out. 


How do you know when a work is finished?

Nothing is ever finished but for me there is a point when I'm working on a piece that all the elements come together and start talking to each other. Usually once that happens there's not much more I can add to a piece that would make it better. I've been actively practicing less is more because I have a tendency to over do it on details and that always ruins the compositions. What piece of advice would you offer to other creatives trying to make a living as an artist?

Reach out to people who you admire or want to talk more with. I thought for the longest time that people who I thought were dope would be annoyed to hear from me but I found it's the opposite. People appreciate when you reach out authentically, we're all human. Also, find your team who can help you execute. From collaborators to tax accountants to photographers, if you hate doing it find the person who loves it and find a way to work together.