To Top

Life & Work with McKenzie Fitzgerald

Today we’d like to introduce you to McKenzie Fitzgerald.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
It is such a weird time in life when you graduate college. You leave your little village of delinquents to enter the real world of adulthood and responsibilities. I remember being excited to make money and get a cool job. It seemed like thats what is suppose to happen considering college costs a small fortune but I guess not. I was a marketing major with a studio art minor, I figured I could get a cool marketing job where I could use my creative skills but that obviously did not happen.

The job I got straight out of college sucked. I swear I could have made more money as a bartender. I was working 10 hr days hating every minute of it. They put on such a smokescreen to get you onboard but it was all pretty much bullshit. They flew me out to Chicago for my interview booked me a fancy hotel paid for all my meals. They exaggerated their salary, exclaimed a company car and phone would be included. It was all fake news and so stupid. Just false promises and twisted words to get me to accept the offer.

I was so confused! I talked to my friends, they were all in a similar situation. Everyone brushed it off, saying you have to work your way up the ladder! Everyone cringing on the inside because they knew they had to work to pay their bills and student loans. I was like this is no ladder I want to be on, lol. I lasted at my job for nine months and instantly started my art business Moonrise Design. Four years later, I am still figuring it out but I’m having the time of my life.

When I first started, I had no idea what direction I wanted to go in. All I knew is I wanted to paint awesome unique art forever. I started with home decor pieces lots of large canvases of birch trees and leaves. At first, it was amazing because I could not believe people wanted to pay money for my art, but after painting the same basic nature scenes over and over again, I was over it.

My next venture was painted Vans like the canvas slide-on shoes. This happened by total accident I painted my own shoes and then it snowballed from there. I created my own website and Instagram to promote and before I knew it, I created my own custom shoe business. The orders kept coming but I lost interest. I started getting a lot of requests for characters, sports teams, popular logos, and the work just felt un-original and un-inspired.

I found the solution I had to center my work around my art. Instead of other people’s ideas, it would be purely my original brain flow. This is the phase where I got really into learning digital art. I wanted my designs to be printed onto everything t-shirts, mugs, keychains, and more. I bought a sublimation printer and heat press. I taught myself photoshop and how to sublimate from start to finish. Sublimating is a design printing and transferring process. It is usually done by huge printing companies in large-scale factories but for some reason, I wanted to do it myself, lol in my bedroom. I thought this way, I could have better inventory and quality control have all my products print-to-order to avoid wasting.

I did not love the way sublimated products looked on their own I felt like it was too computerized and just basic. At this point in my life, my favorite thing other than art was thrifting. I combined the two ideas and starting making super one-of-a-kind thrifted pieces with my designs printed and sewn onto them. I would also add painting, embroidery, bleaching, and dyeing techniques to make every extra piece special.

Okay so here we are I have a bunch of products literally so much stuff. The biggest goal I had was to get a Van, convert it into a mobile art studio/pop-up shop, travel the country, go to awesome pop-ups and end up in California and live there. At this point, I was living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania so I had a lot of work to do to reach my dream level goals. I got my products into a handful of local stores, attended every event I could get into. I saved up as much as I could and with some help from my amazing grandparents, I was able to get a Van 😄 I named him Bruce.

I spent the next very cold months of Pennsylvania winter getting Bruce ready for our big adventure. He started as a 20 passenger Ford Econo-line Van with four rows of seating. I took out all of the giant rows of seating and built-in custom floors. I installed clothing racks, storage containers, curtains, led-lights, custom carpeting and finished him off with a giant cheetah bean bag. Bruce was looking baller.

Our first destination was Florida. I went there for the experience and sunshine. I figured I would spend some time there build up my art pro-folio and gain some insight into bigger craft fairs. All the shows I did in Pennsylvania were pretty small and sad. It was awesome the weather was amazing and so were all of the opportunities around me.

I remember when I first got there, I really want to paint a surfboard. It’s one of the first things I did and I loved it. I brought it to one of my art events and it sold. I could not believe it. Something I was just making for fun and enjoyed doing so much sold just like that. It was the biggest sale, the most expensive piece of art I ever sold. I got super into surfboards. Started painting them like crazy had them on display at art galleries and starting painting custom ones for people. It really felt like I accomplished my goals in Florida and it was time to start my journey out west.

I had my entire road trip planned out, festivals I was going to attend, places to stay, and everything. I had about three days left in Florida and that’s when it happened. I saw Chance the Rapper’s tweet about Wendys bringing back spicy chicken nuggets so I had to go see for myself. I get in my Van, Bruce we go to Wendys. It is closed for renovation, but there is another one about 10 minutes away so I’m making my way over there. Boom. Some guy runs a red light going 70mph completely annihilates my Van. All of my inventory, my sublimation printer, my paint, my custom-built flooring, even my cheetah bean bag completely destroyed.

I had no idea what to do all my stuff is wrecked, my precious Bruce is totaled, and my road trip canceled. But at this point, I was just happy to be alive. I had a few injuries but defiantly would have died if I didn’t have such a big Van. I donated pretty much all my stuff that wasn’t in the van and flew out to LA to start over. I had to get a marketing job which I hated to death but then the pandemic happened and so I got back into doing my art full time.

I have been in Los Angeles for two years now. With everything opening back up and the support for artists is at an all-time high, I feel like there is no better place to be. I’ve built back up everything I lost and I am having more success than ever. I found my niche and what I truly love to do and it was totally worth it. I do the best events every month, you can find my surfboards hanging all over the city, and eventually, I am going to get another Van.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
I’m building my own road from scratch and learning so much along the way. I feel like everyone has their own path they just have to go for it. No path is completely smooth there are going to be struggles along the way even if it doesn’t seem like it from the outside. For every struggle, there is always a win even if it is just realizing a mistake you made because you learned from it. Other than losing my Van and having to start over these were my biggest struggles.

Artistically it is a struggle not to compare yourself to others. It is hard not to be influenced by other people or art. I think it is important as an artist to make original stuff don’t copy someone else just because they are selling out of it or have a lot of likes. I think it is super important to be original and realize only you can create whatever it is you are going to make and there is power in that.

Another big struggle is Social Media, it’s a blessing and a curse it is really hard to balance. There is so much opportunity there but also so many artists are getting their work stolen every day and it is just a scary place to be. Especially when you depend on it for your income. It is hard to find a balance of using the perks of social media to help you run your business but not becoming fully dependent on it. It takes a lot of time to create content but as an artist, we also have to make the art. It’s really hard to keep up with the unrealistic demands of the algorithm because we don’t have new art to post every single day. And then the content we do create gets buried because we haven’t been posting every day. Just all over a struggle.

The next struggle is realizing not everyone is going to like your stuff. You are not everyone’s cup of tea and that is okay. As an artist, you start to notice a lot of people don’t care about art at all and you cant make them. They won’t appreciate the value, time, or originality of your work, and that’s okay because there are people out there that do and once you find them, it is all worth it.

The final struggle is that it’s really hard to figure out how to divide your energy between running a business and creating original art. I always think about other small businesses that don’t physically make their stuff by hand. In my head, I am like “wow all they do is order stuff, create content, and sell it.” I spend 40 hours a week alone just painting and I wish I had more time to do it but I’m busy marketing and promoting my work. The goal for me is to eventually just have my audience, have my stuff out there and not have to go searching high and low for my people. I want to just be able to create something spend hours on end putting so much work into it and then show my audience and have it appreciated.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I specialize in three main products. Painted boards, canvas, and vintage. I also do graphic designing, murals, shoes and like 50 other things but my main products are what I am passionate about. I try to be as environmentally cautious as possible. I think it’s really stupid when people are wasteful and re-produce disgusting amounts of low-quality products that fall apart and are harsh on the environment to manufacture. It has been a really interesting journey trying to find the best way to make these one-of-a-kind pieces without being wasteful and not charging a fortune.

So the first main product is boards. I mostly do skateboards and surfboards although I have done some custom-ordered snowboards and skis. I thrift all my board’s second hand I either find them used online or at the local thrift stores and board shops. Sometimes it is hard to get used skateboards that are still quality so I found an awesome supplier who uses recycled trimmings from manufacturing boards to create recycled boards used for art. They are awesome quality and so much better than buying over-produced junk on Amazon. Each board is hand-painted for over 10 hours my work is very detailed oriented. I use a lot of colors and different types of mediums. I keep notebooks filled with ideas and I don’t stop working on a piece until I love it. Surfboards can take up to 60 hrs of work to get the color and design just right. Each board is coated in hand-poured epoxy resin which protects the art for many lifetimes. I think painting these boards gives them a second life. The culture around skating and surfing is so epic and I think using these pieces as canvas and hanging them up makes it all come together in one big epic piece of awesomeness.

Canvas is my next main product. I paint canvas more as a therapeutic release of ideas. I paint canvas for fun and to experiment with techniques and collections. I like to paint canvas in collections. I think of one main theme and see how far I can take it and see what different directions I can stretch the theme across. My current collection is the Neon Collection it has 22 original paintings all with the same theme Neon. Everything is painted to look like a glowing Neon sign all of the paintings are made on black canvas. This collection also includes four skateboards, a denim jacket, and a pair of vintage jeans. Once the collection is complete, I make limited edition prints and stickers. Collections take months on end to complete but it is super fun exploring one idea so vastly. I use recycled organic cotton canvas for all my paintings and recycled paper for prints and stickers.

Last but not least Vintage! I have loved thrifting since I was younger and turning these unique pieces into art has brought me so much joy. I look at clothing as a piece of a blank canvas with so potential for awesomeness. Every piece of vintage I collect has its own unique vibe. I paint, distress, embroider, dye, bleach, sew until it becomes an insane unique one-of-a-kind piece. I really like working with vintage denim and oversized jackets. Over the past year, during quarantine, I got really into making custom sweatshirts. It was so hard to ethically source sweatshirts that were nice quality without being fast fashion. After months on end of searching, I have finally found a new way to source and provide these super quality unique pieces and I am so excited about it!

I’m just proud of how far I’ve come and for not giving up. So many people think I’m silly for pursuing art and don’t take me seriously, but art is important and it makes me happy.

I think the thing setting me apart from others is I am creating ideas from inside my brain to make myself happy. I am not copying something trendy or popular. I’m not in it for the money or recognition. I just want to share with people something they haven’t seen before. My saying for a while was to create what you can not see. I have the skills to physically bring ideas into reality which is an insane gift so why wouldn’t I share it.

What are your plans for the future?
The future of Moonrise Design is looking bright! I want to get a new Van for sure and just keep creating and sharing my art with the world. I want to do it the right way from the ground up and create stuff responsibly with environment in mind. Even if this means taking my time and doing the research. I want to create unique products that I feel good about and that people appreciate. Who knows maybe one day I will have a really cool store and a few dogs.

Contact Info:

Suggest a Story: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

More in local stories