Jonas Never works in public. His murals are seen by thousands of passerby (and soon after by their Instagram followers), but he has less time to paint them than many artists who can work in private. He’s learned to work quickly and maximise his time to create local landmarks around L.A. and beyond. We talked to Jonas about his process, his favourite painting tools, and the rules he follows for “painting big and fast.”
Location: Los Angeles
Current gig: Muralist
Current computer: Macbook Pro
Current mobile device: iPhone 8
One word that best describes how you work: Large.
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I started off with graffiti, so became used to painting big and fast. Soon after, I started painting Rockabilly murals. They were big and I was able to do them in a respectable amount of time.
And since I played baseball through college, I already had a real appreciation for sports. Eventually, I began to blend sports and pop culture into my pieces.
Take us through a recent workday.
I typically wake up early to get to a wall before morning rush hour starts.
I’ll paint all morning.
When I’m running on fumes, I’ll look for something local to eat.
Then, I’ll paint until the sun goes down, battle traffic (like all Angelenos) and purchase and sort supplies for the next job.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
I have some favourites when it comes to spray paint and tips: My go-to is Montana 94 paint for portraits and detail work. I love Montana Black cans for glows and backgrounds. I prefer Montana 94 skinny tips for detail work on portraits. I use a fatter tip for skin tones, clothing and backgrounds.
My AirPods help me drown out the ambient or traffic noise. My iPad Pro allows me to make notes and map out a wall based around specific wall measurements and project demands.
What’s your workspace setup like?
I have an office at home. Among other things it houses my laptop, books and reference materials. I also have a garage full of paint and tools of the trade. My onsite setup really varies from one project to the next.
What challenges are there to doing your work outside and on location?
Each project is a battle against time. Deadlines are often tight. And in addition to painting, I also have to prepare imagery, sort supplies and set up equipment. Maximizing time is critical, especially when the days are shorter.
What’s your best life hack?
It’s helpful to prepare as much as possible ahead of time. I try to get all of my measurements and prep work out of the way before I even pick up a can or brush. With only so many hours at the wall, you look for any place to streamline.
It seems obvious, but it is important to ensure you and the client are on the same page before you get started. This helps you avoid wasting time or supplies.
And of course, you always want to make sure the image you’re painting is dynamic, high-resolution and unobstructed.
Take us through an interesting, unusual, or finicky process you have in place at work.
All of my murals are based on realism. So, I need to make sure everything is proportionate: a person’s face, shoulders, hair, all of it.
Unless there’s already a brick or tile pattern on it, I’ll spend the first day drawing a grid on every wall. This helps ensure consistency while I’m painting. At the end of this process, I look like a coal miner or professional weightlifter, with chalk all over my hands. But when I lose reference, it’s easy to go back over these grids.
Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
Amy at Floyd’s 99 Barbershop has been a help, identifying projects and walls for me to work on. I’ve learned the value in nurturing these types of relationships – from Floyd’s to Bowlero Bowl (a local bowling alley) to Baby Blue’s BBQ (a local barbecue chain).
My wife Stephanie typically helps me take and edit photos of my work.
I also rely on my Instagram and Twitter followers (@never1959), who appreciate and frequently share my work. It’s fun to engage with them and humbling to see them go visit and treat my pieces like landmarks.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
Sometimes, I juggle four or five projects at a time. I am constantly taking notes on my iPhone, which helps me stay on top of things. It’s always full of projects, deadlines and to-do lists.
How do you recharge or take a break?
As soon as I finish one project, I typically start prep on the next. And with work in the public eye, I want to maximise my time—while not rushing things.
It can be tough to recharge when you’re your own boss, especially as an artist.
Last summer, Stephanie and I visited Italy for a few weeks. But while I was there I studied the work of Canaletto and that guy da Vinci and thought about how I could incorporate their disciplines into my own projects.
What’s your favourite side project or hobby?
I collect memorabilia from old movies and sporting events. I spend a lot of time working on my old cars.
We go to a lot of concerts. Sometimes, the lyrics—especially those who bring a little nostalgia—bring inspiration for paintings.
Even when I’m watching baseball, I’m looking at a pitcher’s tattoos or thinking about ways to work with the team.
But I enjoy painting. It’s a passion. And it rarely seems like a job to me.
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
I also just read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential for the umpteenth time.
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Artist Mister Cartoon, who does a good job bridging multiple worlds. I’d like to see how he balances his schedule.
I’d like to see how Pharrell Williams does everything he does, from music to shoes to staying cool.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Love what you do for work, so it doesn’t feel like a job.”
Every now and again, I do projects for free. I look forward to my art, day in and day out. It helps me justify my purchases, especially those that help me bring better quality to my projects.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
I’m working on being better able to turn off and be satisfied at the end of the day. I want to be able to sit still and find peace. When I go to another city, I want to enjoy where I am—as opposed to planning, strategising or even ideating. I’m a painter. And, while I hope I inspire others, I recognise I’m not necessarily saving lives here.