Richard Haines

Richard Haines has lived many lives. 

One of a past marriage, another in a bed bug filled apartment in Harlem, and then one in particular where his lack of work in the late 2000's recession made him assess the few absolutes he had in life, one being drawing.

All of this and yet Richard hums with an energy of constant curiosity.  Unlike any I've been around, it's an energy of resilience, experience and downright toughness.  Richard talks like a man who is stepping in to himself now more than ever and that is a beautiful thing to be around.  

I sat down with Richard at his light-filled home in Bushwick to talk about following your intuition, the beginning of his blog What I Saw Today, the beauty that is New York City and finding the, 'authenticity slot' in life.

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Mr. Haines, is there anything that you would consider a failure that ultimately worked out in life?

I don't know if I would call it a failure.  I think it's very American to accept the fact that a failure is not a bad thing.  You know, we try things and we find out if they work and if they don't work we go to the next thing.  But I really wasn't totally honest about who I was and where I was living.  I was a good designer but I'm a much better artist and I was kind of trying to be the person that I'm really not and I don't know if that's a failure or if that's just kind of figuring out who I am.

 

do you think it was a general self awareness where you were like .."wait a minute"?

Well it's interesting; I came to the point of self-awareness by literally having everything taken away.  Money, apartment, the crumbling of a marriage, everything.  Everything just got stripped away.  

And then I didn't really know what else I could do other than start drawing again.

Sometimes people think there was this grand gesture of walking away from all these things [laughs], but I really had no alternative.  

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When did your blog, "What I Saw Today?" begin?

It was 2008/2009 when things completely bottomed out.  I lost a lot of savings, the stock market crashed and I was getting divorced.  It was just a shit show.  

I was trying to get a job on the sales floor at J. Crew and no one would hire me because I had this design background.  No one would hire me as like, a cashier because I had no experience.

At first I thought the website was going to be a kind of trend report and questioned how I was going to monetize it. 

After I couldn't even get that together I was sitting at Starbucks and thinking, I've always loved watching people in New York.  You know, it's such an amazing thing that happens here.  So I called the blog What I Saw Today and I just started drawing everyday and posting it. 

And I think because it was so early in the history of social media that people caught on to it.  I think Style.com did something on it the third week.  I thought this could actually be something.

I never put ads on that site, I never monetized it in that way but it started building my reputation and I started getting a lot of work drawing.

 

Do you remember a specific place you would sit to watch people?

When I first started doing it I was married and living on Fifth Avenue and Tenth Street and then we got a divorce.  We sold that apartment and I was living on 13th street between 15th and University. So I would go to Union Square and that was my reference.

Then I really ran out of money and I got this sublet in Harlem for a minute.  It was a shit hole apartment filled with bedbugs.  At this point my daughter was like, "..what is happening here?" [laughs] so I just remember thinking I got to get out of here.  This is not manageable.  

I put all my stuff in storage and moved out here [Bushwick] with a bag of clothes.  This was a friend's apartment at the time and was luckily furnished.

I had no idea where I was.  All the trains were above ground.  So now I'm wondering what has happened to my life.

The first weekend there was this concert down the street in an empty lot and there were these amazing kids. So my reference had been Manhattan and Union Square, which is, you know, interesting.  But then I moved down here and it was like, holy shit, it's the mother load of amazingness.  I had never seen such amazing kids, these 20 year olds at this concert. So it's like, oh my God, this is exactly where I'm supposed to be.  Bushwick back then was just like; you couldn't even get a cab to come here.

 

I'm sure that was an amazing feeling given what you were going through at the time...

At first there was nothing out here to do.  You couldn't even get a cup of coffee.  And then they opened this coffee shop down the street; it's called Little Skips.  It's an institution here now. I'm pretty sure I was there first customer [laughs]. 

Anyway, it became this oasis and a hangout for artists and people in the neighborhood because it was finally a place to go.  But I remember after the first week the owner was sitting on the stoop crying, like I don't know what I'm doing to do.  I said listen, it's going to be fine.  Just hold on, and now she has like three coffee shops and is a mini coffee shop mogul.  We always like to remind her of those times.

Really there was this feeling like we were at the end of the world, you know, and out of this a camaraderie and understanding.  We're in this place because it will let you do amazing things.  Start a business or make your life over again or you know, whatever you want to do and I will always feel very connected to it because it let me do that. 

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[Richard's phone rings and we begin discussing the animoji feature on the new iphone x]

I send my daughter one every day, "are you awake"? [laughs] It definitely feels next level because of the face recognition.  

 

Technology adds such a complex level to things nowadays...

I don't think I've looked at my blog for over a year now and even the process of scanning a picture and then cropping it, then opening up the blog spot and posting it feels so clunky compared to Instagram.  People used to comment on work and it was a even process to comment.  Now I watch people on the train scrolling on Instagram and it's just, "like, like, like, like, like, like".

 

I'm sure the blog built a good community of artists

It built a good community really quickly and that was kind of, you know; it was the first time I'd ever connected with people who liked menswear or illustration or fashion.  People from Korea would comment, it was insane.  Especially because I worked for these big companies; I worked at Calvin Klein and Perry Ellis where you couldn't blow your nose without approval and all of the sudden I'm choosing what to post and people were really responding to it. 

And then All of the sudden you're working with J. Crew, Prada, dries Van Noten...

I remember getting this message about J. Crew opening a shop back in the day, so I ran over because I thought I would draw it.  It turns out it was the day before the shop was opening so I met Frank and a lot of the men's team at that time.  They really enjoyed my drawing and six months later they contacted me and we did a window of display of my drawings on Broadway.  You know, it built from kind of being willing to go places.

 

Did you see any kind of strategy forming?

It wasn't this conscious strategy.  It was like, "Oh I'll go there".  J. Crew gave me visibility and then Bruce Pask saw some drawings.  He was the men's fashion editor at New York Times at the time and he asked me to come draw shows in New York and Milan.  So all of the sudden I'm sitting beside him in the front row and you know, these things just kept happening.  But also it was kind of a way of saying, yeah this is what you're supposed to be doing.  

 

Once you kind of fall in to that slot, it just seems to come natural

It was the authenticity slot.  It was the, "this is what you're supposed to be doing, so the universe is responding" slot.  As opposed to, "I don't know if that's really the right thing for you".  I remember always tried to get job interviews designing at Prada and Dries Van Noten because those were two iconic companies and I would never get them to pay attention.  Then three years in to my career as an illustrator I was working with them.

 

Ultimately, the things that don't work out right at that moment are for a reason

Right. The things that don't work out, don't work out for a reason.  I just had this conversation with a friend of mine who was up for this this consulting job. It didn't happen. And I said, "you know what?  It's not over, it's just at this moment it's not happening.  And so just accept at this moment it's not happening and that's it.  Six months later they contacted him and signed an agreement.

It just wasn't the right timing.  Yeah, things are timing.  Things work when they're meant to work.

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Richard, What is something you have been asking yourself lately?

My daughter and I have this conversation a lot and you know, there are people with more followers and that's fine.  I mean, do I need more likes?  What does that even mean?  It's to that point of what do I really need, you know?  I'm actually really happy with the way things are. 

So, where do I want to be in the world?  Where do I want to be as an artist?  Where do I want to be as a man?  What do I want to be as a gay man?  Where do I want to be a 66-year-old gay man?  Do I want to be what people think I'm supposed to believe?

No, you know, I want to be who I want to be.

Jace Lumley