Photography Anthony Francino
OkPants… Destroy all losers!” The phrase is a call to arms for the one-man graphic art studio OkPants. That one man is Aaron Sechrist, also known as Pants Pantsly. He’d prefer you call him Pants.
The origin of the nickname Pants is not as interesting as Cleveland’s eye-catching, forward-thinking, rebranding monster himself. Pants says that during the early days of his Cleveland Institute Of Art education, “This kid walked up to me apropos of nothing and said ‘your name is Pants.’” At the time, Pants didn’t think a stupid nickname would become a living, but in that moment he’d been given a brand name so strong that he wouldn’t need a business card. Just try and forget the name OkPants.
The name is weird, but in the best way. The only time Pants had misgivings about the name was during the assembly of his first professional portfolio. Pants knew the likelihood of not getting meaningful work because of your oddly-named company was high. Providence and corporate checks favor work ethic. With a mantra like “I’m going to be an artist, I’m not waiting tables when I get outta here,” hard work seems easy for Pants. Working on a national stage with massive organizations like Disney, Red Bull, and The Smithsonian starts with producing good work, with oddity providing some of the appeal. Notwithstanding the dedication to craft, Pants’ erudition comes from the long nights and weird stories.
Pants channels the experiences and emotions from some years of wild, late-night Cleveland living to create work that feels fiercely new, yet somehow familiar. The creative process is different for all creatives, and Pants tends to disregard the normal practices for a less grid-happy approach. Less grid, more eyelids.
His work has an ability to feel as reckless as the Presidency, if the tweets were positive and cool looking. That deviation is the thing that demands you look at the work, like a beautiful car fire. Eyes shoot to those kinds of images. It’s no wonder mega corporations, bands, and comedians gladly reach into their coffers to buy the feeling Pants can create.
The magic happens while he’s perched at his iPad Pro. Eccentricity combined with determination and a penchant for being cool has made the Pants treatment an asset. Pants isn’t moved by the money. “The stuff that pays well never comes with stories,” he says. He calls his art “work” only because he recognizes the value of what he produces. Oftentimes, big jobs and recognition come from slaving over the iPad and then giving away your creativity for nothing. That kind of DIY hope is the Pants brand.
Blind love for the craft ended up giving Pants the gig he is most proud of: designing promotional posters for Patton Oswalt. Pants took the initiative to create a poster for a show Oswalt had in town. He then offered the venue a few posters to put up out of his pocket. Eventually, Oswalt saw the poster and wanted to meet the artist. Pants would love to say he made those free posters out of a clear vision. In reality, he just wanted to make something he could be proud to see out in the city.
When Pants was first making anything on a professional level, the skills he’d crafted in the early 2000s at Cleveland Institute Of Art were almost fully unused. Still, a man has to pay his cellphone and Honda bills. As luck often works, he walked right into a backpage ad job fresh out of school. Luck eventually turned on him when the company was acquired soon after he started. The severance check was cut and spent. Right when Pants was desperate to pay that Honda bill, another backpage ad gig popped up at the place that acquired his first job but, except this time it was for less money. The road to becoming a nationally-desired commercial artist is plagued with terrible abuse, misuse, and underuse of your skill set.
Pants is not like the new art school kids of today. He’s steeped in the art of paper and pen; the old ways of the graphic arts game. He learned his craft right on the cusp of technology changing the format. This allowed him to catch the edges of change in his field, from extinct software and equipment to the iPad Pro. In the transition from paper to computer-based work, there is a loss of something. Technology is known for taking the tactility out of art. Pants says the idea of his creations being almost purely digital is something he’s always seen coming.
“Putting ballpoint pen to printer paper is my favorite,” he says. “There’s a feel to it… I don’t know how art school works now.”
Is it still art if it’s ones and zeros? Pants thinks so. If you really break down the the genesis of an idea, it starts as electrical impulses in your mind. Pants didn’t get national recognition by having trouble adapting.