Drake Cereal: How to Make it as a Sneaker Artist

Drake Cereal Air Max Sneaker Freaker

Thank heavens for the bosses who fired Sarah Brown, aka Drake Cereal, ‘three, maybe five times’! Without them, she might never have realised that being a full-time artist was her calling. Drawing from basketball, streetwear and increasingly lampoonable sneaker culture, Drake Cereal’s vibrant illustrations feel less like ‘sneaker art’ and more like ‘Saatchi, if you’re reading this, we’ve got a live one!’ Without further ado, enjoy the breath of fresh Air that is Drake Cereal.

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What’s with the name Drake Cereal?
The name Sarah Brown is disturbingly common among the freckly white population of this world. It has no oomph or zing; it’s average at best. Back when I was mulling over what my artist name should be, I decided to leave Sarah Brown behind and put two seemingly unrelated words together: Drake (homage to a hipster hotel, which incidentally is not owned by the rapper Drake) and cereal, a word that sounds nostalgic when you say it out loud. It’s peculiar, absurd and – most importantly – not related to Drake whatsoever, which is very amusing to me.

What’s your day job?
I’ve been fired three, maybe five times since moving to Toronto, which has forced me to become a full-time basketball illustrator. My minimum-wage reputation burned to ash and nobody wanted to hire me as a part-timer. Prior to that, I had a colourful history of odd jobs working as a personal assistant, PR executive, trash journalist, LCBO secret shopper, barista and hotel copywriter. For a while I also sold tropical plants to irritable millennials. Now I wake up and work for myself: I get paid to draw, which is much better than working for someone who wants to fire me. Ball is life and life is good!

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What attracted you to sneaker art?
Back in the day, I also worked at Foot Locker in Hillside Mall (British Columbia). I was 16, super shy and braindead from smoking too much of my older brother’s weed. Foot Locker gave me an identity beyond a stoner kid in Dazed and Confused. It opened my eyes to the architecture of the Nike brand, golden-era hip hop and street culture icons. To me, sneaker art is a throwback to the glory days of Foot Locker: growing up selling Lugz, waterproof sneaker spray and hideous Eckō hoodies to the area’s suburban gangsters. To this day, I still buy my white Air Force 1s from Foot Locker, out of respect for the company that introduced me to the Air Max 90, the greatest shoe of all time.,

We hear you’ve got a little buddy helping you with your work. Tell us about Stanley.
Ah yes. Stanley is the creative director behind Drake Cereal. He’s been on the cover of a handful of high-society magazines, so I immediately recognised him when he walked into The Beaconsfield (RIP) with his entourage back in 2012. He suffers from SMS (Short Man Syndrome), so I made a joke about crushing him to death, and we hit it off from there. Since then, he’s been my creative advisor, legal counsel, silent investor and mentor. He’s filthy rich, smart and doesn’t say much, so we rarely fight or disagree about creative things, which is really important in a successful business relationship.

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What artists inspire you?
I’m constantly hypnotised by the work of Berkeley Poole (boygirl). Outside of the city, I look to Jinbok Lee (pay_billz) in Seoul, LIL KOOL (lilkool) in Brooklyn and Camilo Huinca (onlyjoke) in Chile. I’m flying to South Korea in June to showcase my art at the 1984 bookstore, so lately I’ve been really inspired by artists from Seoul.

How do you create your work?
My hands shake from nervousness so I draw on my Wacom tablet; the lines are smoother and it’s more time-efficient to go fully digital. Most mornings, I wake up, pour myself a coffee (really it’s just hot milk in disguise) then draw until my eyes water. I illustrate a rotating series of basketball courts, abstract athletes and sneakers, so I like to switch it up depending on my mood. At lunch, I stroll to the post office and mail out print orders, then return to my desk and work on client stuff until happy hour. By then I’m craving a Negroni, so I power walk to 416 Snack Bar for a hot plate of Korean fried chicken.

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Sneaker art has become a grey area with some artists coming under fire for copyright issues. When do you think this line is breached?
The line is breached every day. If someone used my artwork without permission then sold it for money, I would be pissed off. That said, it’s never black and white and every case is open to debate. For example, Nike is a brand I wear, admire and respect, and because of that I’ve been able to work with Nike on multiple projects. I’m free advertising for them because I’m fiercely loyal and a passionate ambassador who will promote them in my illustrations any chance I get.

Have you had any incidents with copyright infringement yourself?
Nothing to report yet. My shtick has always been to make art with thoughtful intention and apologise later if I piss someone off in the process. I reference brands as a touchpoint to popular culture. Mostly, I poke fun at brands I can’t afford to wear, like Supreme or Balenciaga, because the hype is outrageous and I can’t imagine dropping that much money on anything.

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Nike On Air 155 Street Sneakerfreaker

The way things are going, your stacked Triple S designs may soon become reality. Do you think we’ll see ostentatious design continue to escalate?
Absolutely. The uglier the better. Keep in mind, the ostentatious design trend will pass, like all things do. Suddenly minimalism will be back and we’ll all be wearing conservative sci-fi slippers with no laces or branding, straight out of The Matrix. It’s a swinging pendulum from one trend to the next: one year it’s loud, obnoxious and colourful; the next it’s sleek, practical and simple. Remember when everybody bought a pair of Skechers’ Shape-Ups because they were ‘cool and pro-skinny’? I’m still dead over that.

There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll continue to see the takeover of what I call the ‘mutant cult following’ trend: hybrid models, wacky, nostalgic colabs between cult entities (Supreme and KFC, perhaps?) and a concentration on customisation. Nike’s ON:AIR design competition is a great example of this. I was grateful to participate in New York this year and submit an Air Max design inspired by the streetball league in Manhattan’s Rucker Park. I call it ‘155th Street’ and it’s my dream Air Max 98 sneaker. The point being, end users have more opportunity to customise kicks and that’s radical.

To see more of Sarah's work, check out her Instagram @drakecereal.

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