EK Interview: Billy Sprague

Billy Sprague was featured on Empty Kingdom back in February of 2010.  And now we got his interview!  Boo-yah!  Read this shizzzzzzz and maybe you’ll learn a thing or two or five or six.

Where are you from?

Born in Chicago, 1974.  Grew up in Kalamazoo Michigan.

art blog - Billy Sprague - Empty Kingdom

Do you have a favorite color? What is your opinion of / approach to using color in your work?

I like black, the absence of color… color is tricky, it can make or break a piece. I’m very hesitant at the moment to implement color into my graphite drawings but seeing the new works of David Jien has made me want to explore this deeper, color pencil mixed with lead graphite can be so beautiful… I need a deeper understanding and more exploration with it though.

art blog - Billy Sprague - Empty Kingdom


What different media have you used? How has each separate media helped you develop as an artist?

I have explored everything from photography, collage, clay, spraypaint, metal and welding, some wood working, oils & acrylics.  There’s so much I want to explore but I’ve been pretty hung up on graphite lately.  Dabbling is fun but I feel more connected with mediums I stick with consistantly for long periods of time, a comfort zone develops and then ideas and techniques slowly start to arrise.  I feel like breakthroughs happen more often when you get comfortable and don’t have to think about your next moves, just let things happen organically.

art blog - Billy Sprague - Empty Kingdom

What is your favorite media to work with?

Definitely graphite, I love pushing a pencil.  I feel like I can more naturally morph ideas in my head to physical presentation this way then any any other medium.

art blog - Billy Sprague - Empty Kingdom

Tell us about The Clouds Caught On Fire, what was the collaborative process like for you?

Clouds caught on fire is a book of collaboration pieces with friend and artist Rich Jacobs came together very naturally. We both love zines and have done a few together, we thought it would be rad to make a limited full color hard bound book with a bunch of collaboration pieces. We would get together pretty casually and just make stuff together, it was a lot of fun.  Rich is a blast to work with, very chill, loose and natural.  I’m so glad we materialized this idea, I think the book came out really well and sits as a very special piece within the body of work I have made so far.

art blog - Billy Sprague - Empty Kingdom

art blog - Billy Sprague - Empy Kingdom

art blog - Billy Sprague - Empty Kingdom

How does working with other artists challenge you in ways and expand your ability in ways that solo work doesn’t?

Mostly it’s riffing off of other peoples lines, it just makes you move into directions you would not have laid out for yourself, thus producing exciting new interplay.


What is your method when painting murals? What is the largest piece you have ever done?

Painting murals is somewhat new to me, its been only a few years but working large scale is so much fun.  I’m used to working on smaller sized paper, small strokes.  It feels great to extend my arms broadly across a surface.  The process varies.  I’ll usually start with some sketches, size up the space and take the spaces natural environment into consideration. Sometimes I’ll do a light sketch on the wall with chalk just to set the proportions. Sometimes I just go for it and change directions as I go, thats the most fun.  It also depends on if your working on commission and the owner has something very specific or not, a lot of times they want a sketch to be executed as close as possible on the walls.  Sometimes they give you full reign to explore as you go, the later is preferred by me.  I have done pieces as high as 3 tiers of scaffolding, about 40 feet tall.

art blog - Billy Sprague - Empty Kingdom

.collaboration with Ian Ferguson (Hydeon).

What have you learned from your exhibitions?

Showing work is always a pleasure but also alot of work. I have learned to plan way in advance. frame work early, set up the best communication with the gallery as possible and be very clear about what is expected from them and what is expected from me. I’ve learned not to have any expectations towards selling work.  It’s also a great oppertunity to document the work and get feedback from people.  I like wondering around at openings and listening to peoples reactions towards the what i’m presenting, good or bad, it’s fun to take in.

art blog - Billy Sprague - Empty Kingdom

What do you consider the pros and cons of ink versus graphite?

I love working with both, ink is so bold, graphite so soft. I love the sounds of executing both. Nibs scratching paper.  Graphite doing the same. Graphite is a faster process for me even though it’s more detailed. Waiting for ink to dry can be a little frustrating when you know what you want to do next but have to wait.  It slows the creative flow but alos gives you time to really think about if thats the direction to go in or not.  You have to be hyper away of what is still wet on the paper, things get smudged very easily!  I will sometimes use a hair dryer to help things move along.

art blog - Billy Sprague - Empty Kingdom

What are you currently working on?

I just finished an installation show which opened this past friday night. it was a collection of Space Themed album covers I have been collecting over the last 10 years or so.  I hung them all side by side from floor to ceiling at As Is Gallery here in Oakland. total spaced out eye candy all around you! The opening had some fog machine and live synthesizer by Scott Caligure in the gallerys front bay window.  It was a special fully immersive experience. my first installation show of all other peoples art as well.  I’ve done a few album covers lately including my own solo music project Galena and i’m doing a 7″ and poster for a band from Brooklyn called Predator/Prey.  I also just had a show of all collaboration pieces I have done with friends last month here in Oakland.  There’s alot of new graphite drawings in the works and they are getting bigger and more detailed.  I’m also wrapping up some new mural work in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood, a collective wall of fairly substancial size.

art blog - Billy Sprague - Empty Kingdom