Craig "KRINK" Costello: More Than Just Ink

The tools used to create art are just as essential as the art itself. Born from experimentation and

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The tools used to create art are just as essential as the art itself. Born from experimentation and a need for a tool that was ideal for the streets, KRINK revolutionized ink. Artists from all over the world regard it for its high quality as much as what it represents to the culture. Continuing the constant need to take it to the next level, KRINK recently expanded to the digital realm with the KRINK app that takes ink into the world of pixels. It all started with some household items, ink, and a need to write.

In this day and age, acquiring tools for art in the streets is fairly painless but this wasn’t always the case. At one point in time, you had to tap into your creative reserves and manufacture your own tools vis a vis MacGyver. It was as much a part of the game as being able to paint and that’s the foundation of how KRINK got started. Can you give us some history into that period of time and some examples of early home-made KRINK products?
Yes, that’s exactly how KRINK started. When we were kids, me and my friends experimented with all kinds of things: paint, inks, markers, building ramps, music, etc… Most of my friends were creative types.

For example, back in high school we had what is called mimeographs instead of xeroxes. Mimeographs used an ink-soaked paper which is a lot like carbon paper, but wasn’t carbon paper. You could soak the sheets in alcohol and get a purple ink.

People would also take apart existing markers, like a Jumbo Pilot marker, and stuff the tip with a piece of felt from a blackboard eraser and flood the whole thing with ink. If you had a red marker and filled it with black, it made brown. Since the insides of trains lived mostly underground, the inks didn’t have to be super lightfast and there was no sun to fade the inks.

I grew up around that. I wasn’t a train writer but I started with the streets. The streets were completely different with lots of different surfaces, bright sun, etc… I developed an ink and marker to be used outside in the streets that stood out and wouldn’t fade.

I experimented with a lot of different things: containers, different felt, cotton, foam, etc… A lot of failures occurred, such as leaky markers, tips that got full of dirt and grime, inks that wouldn’t flow, etc… It was something that was fun to mess around with and also to work on trying to find something different to work with. Something that stood out in a crowd.

Once I had a good working model, it was really successful, very simple and consistent. I had something that was totally different from what anyone else was using. It stood out and lasted, which is exactly what I was after.

In my mind, I imagine you as a mad scientist with an underground laboratory where you spent hours developing inks. Combining your vast knowledge of chemistry and physics to breed the perfect ink and the perfect drips. How did the first formulas for KRINK come about?
It’s a mix of interest, personality and tradition. Even today, I’m interested in tinkering with different tools and see what I can make. I have some friends that are really similar minded and others who don’t want to bother with anything. It’s personality and interest.
Graffiti has a really strong tradition of taking things into one’s own hands. From materials to finding spots, it’s a very important part of it. It’s that kind of attitude that drove me to keep experimenting.

As I said, there were lots of failures, but you have to be willing to fail in order to succeed.

What was the process that later led it to what we know now as KRINK?
KRINK worked really well on the street. It had a very particular aesthetic which might seem normal today, but back then it was totally new. I was amazed at the interest, even to this day as it continues to grow. I followed that path and I answered the phone when it rang so to speak. KRINK was relatively well-known in the graffiti world which is very very underground, but it went on to another level when it became available in shops. KRINK grew into a brand and I began to focus my time into the brand, but it’s really similar in the sense of keeping your name alive and out there.

When I moved back to NYC, I met the guys at Alife and they helped me to package and sell KRINK in their shop. It was a creative project. I would not have done it if they had not pushed me to do it as a creative project to work on. I never thought anyone would want to buy KRINK. It’s so strange to think back to those days. I had nothing to lose and I wasn’t really trying to start a business. It just grew into one based on demand.

KRINK blew up on the streets of NYC and Alife was making a lot of noise in the Lower East Side. Irak was hitting the streets really hard, as were Guess and Wise with tons of KRINK. All that combined for domination of downtown for sometime, which just created more buzz and interest. We were all coming up. So many people were hating, but while they were hating, we were handling and we just kept at it.

What does the future hold for the brand?
More products, more colors, more projects, more work! Tom Sachs once said, “Good work is rewarded with more work.” So, I hope to have more good work in front of me for a long time. And also, Richard Serra said “work comes from work,” so it’s really difficult and a lot of effort to maintain everything, but I am blessed with having the opportunity. 

From the ad hoc manufacturing of inks for your personal use on the streets to the development of a brand which is now a standard for leading industry professionals across the globe, it must be interesting to reflect on the development of the brand and range of products. Has the process given you any specific insight to the interconnectivity of creative communities?

The internet changed everything.

KRINK was developed pre-internet. Communication was much slower and trends were localized. Print magazines or actual experience were the main influencers. KRINK was a standard in San Francisco, but you had to actually go there to really experience it on the streets.

When I moved back to NYC, that had a big impact because of all the people who travel to NYC and also because the city has a lot of press coming out of it. People are always looking at what’s going on here. So, KRINK got a lot bigger simply because I moved back to NYC. Then blogs started becoming the norm and they were very simple and easy to use. I got a G7 and a MacBook and could edit images myself and control the presentation, the copy, etc… This was huge, because it went worldwide and eventually I noticed that people were looking at what I posted and reposting it to their blogs and things spread even more. It’s pretty amazing and it’s all very affordable. Before the digital age, you had to shoot it on film, get it printed, get it scanned, give a disk to a designer who then changed or cropped the photo, etc… It was expensive and difficult to control the presentation. So, the affordability of digital press was huge, because I could be very clear with what I was trying to say and show.

Craig Costello the artist and KRINK the brand seem to be two separate yet still intrinsically connected entities. How would you describe the relationship, the commonalities, and the differences?
KRINK is a brand, a tool, and an aesthetic. It’s been really interesting working behind a brand and developing it. It’s much broader and not so much about an individual. It can be more about ideas. I direct the brand image and style. It’s a lot of work.

Working on art projects is totally different. It’s way more personal and can be a bit emotional at times. It’s not as directly practical as KRINK, which are clearly creative tools. I really want to spend a little more time working on art projects, but it can very difficult at times because KRINK requires a lot of attention.

It is used by artists in studios and on the streets, but for many people KRINK products are also considered objet d’art. What do you think drives this?

It’s interesting. I really like when people use the KRINK, but yes, a lot of people keep the markers as objects. I think it’s part design and part history. For many people, KRINK stands for something and they want to support or be a part of that greater creative community.

KRINK is one of the first brands to approach application development for the iPhone and iPad with a very serious and tight application. This new app feels and works like the real thing. Is this the beginning of extending the range of creative tools that KRINK supplies into the digital realm?

A lot of people have asked me about developing an app and to be honest the computer world moves so fast that it’s hard for me to keep up with it sometimes. I just got an iPad recently and it’s pretty amazing. The app makes sense in today’s world of digital tools. People can personalize images and upload to Facebook, Instagram, etc… And Instagram is a great example of how people want to add a creative touch to something and share it. The KRINK app allows that same touch. Working on the app has been a little tricky at times, but I feel we’ve had really great feedback. People have really enjoyed messing around and using it. Some seriously and some playfully. You can be on it for hours just drawing and writing. I think a lot of people are going to like writing on photos and sharing. The quality is also good enough to print. It’s amazing how far and fast technology is moving and how accessible it has become.

Special thanks to Alexander Mitchell for assisting in the interview.

Photography: Jon Harney

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