Toledo, Ohio rests beneath the Midwest’s palm, regional influences flowing into the the city’s infrastructure. Between the glass-laden highrises and tangled highways rests a Greek palace that houses over 30,000 pieces of art history. The Toledo Museum of Art is the city’s gem, attracting tourists and locals alike and empowering the art community. Before embarking on tours across the globe, 23-year-old Nick Hamm found himself taking classes at the museum, opening his eye for art and design. Today, Hamm balances a rigorous tour schedule while continuing to create sharp visuals that fuse his interests in music and art.
Hamm is 1/5 of the brain behind alternative/emo band, Citizen. In addition, Hamm’s visual art has begun to populate the fliers and t-shirts of bands within the punk scene. Most of his designs have a rough quality, as though he’s photocopied an image repeatedly. Hamm’s eye for design has influenced Citizen’s overall aesthetic, helping to push them into the next phase of their career. “It really is like a new visual era for Citizen,” he says. “I wanted things to be more exciting, more fun, so that’s what I was going off of.”
Citizen’s sound has evolved a lot since their formation in 2009. The group’s debut full length, Youth, showcased a blend of aggressive punk and emotional lyrics that showed off their songwriting chops. 2015’s Everybody Is Going to Heaven introduced a shift towards a darker, more ominous sound that used feedback and noise as a tool, ultimately creating an eerie, atmospheric record. Citizen’s most recent effort, As You Please, released earlier this fall on Run For Cover Records. The record toes the line between their past work and their developed musicianship, introducing a fresh iteration of the band. From then to now, Hamm has worked in the background to create a physical manifestation of each phase. “I suppose I do lead the charge when it comes to the aesthetic,” says Hamm. “I’m always discovering new artists, ideas, concepts, so that’s what inspires changes. It’s not too much of a conscious thing.”
Hamm’s list of influences range from contemporary visual artists to the punk community as a whole. He cites artists like Braulio Amado, Collin D. Fletcher, Andrew Savage, and Sonya Sombreuil as some of the primary influences on his work. Each of these artists’ unique style can be seen in pieces throughout Hamm’s portfolio, giving his work fresh, modern characteristics. In addition, Hamm’s involvement in music has had a profound impact on how he thinks about art and design. “I think artists within the punk community are pretty consistently making some of the most exciting art,” he says. “It speaks to me a lot more than many of the more gallery focused artists’ work.”
While he has worked with some of the scene’s favorite bands like The Story So Far, Knuckle Puck, and Turnstile, Hamm’s designs can be found on merchandise from smaller bands across the country. Of the designs he’s done, his favorites are designs for Detroit straight edge band, Freedom. “The composition just ended up really perfect,” he says. “I was trying out this new type style that ended up working really well.” Though these Freedom designs seemed to fall into place perfectly, Hamm admits that this is not always the case.
The process that brings these ideas to life is not always the same for Hamm. The inspiration for each idea depends on the nature of the project. “Sometimes, it’s immediate. I know exactly what I want to do,” he reflects. “Other times, I just stare at hundreds of images for inspiration. I mean, like hours of searching different things on Google.” While some designs start on paper and some on the computer, others are worked out both physically and digitally. To Hamm, every design is different and requires a unique approach. This non-linear creative process, though loose in structure, is not something completely unfamiliar to Hamm. This relationship with art and music gives Hamm a unique quality to his design work, one that works well in both contexts. “When I take a step back and look at it, it’s not too different,” says Hamm. “You start with inspiration, you sketch and sketch until it’s complete, it’s either good or it isn’t, you use it or you pitch it.”
The textures and shapes stirred into Hamm’s designs carry a thoughtfulness that can also be heard in his music. Hamm’s artwork embodies the artist’s voice, giving them designs that relate to who they are. His understanding of this relationship between visual art and music are what make his designs work. Between touring with Citizen and his design work, Hamm’s future seems to be inevitably tied to creating art for himself and the world. “Sometimes I think I’ll do it for the rest of my life. Other times, I think I’ll hang it up tomorrow,” he admits. “But I think I’ll always want to create in some form.”