Ralph Espiritu, a tattoo artist and illustrator from the Philippines, is one of Stay Cold Apparel's most popular designers.
"Drawing has always felt like a natural instinct,” said Ralph. "During my formative years, I was drawing skulls all the time. I wanted an education in order to develop more ideas and details in my art. As long as I could remember, I wanted to go to art school, but that wasn't something I had the chance to do.”
At first, Ralph wasn’t sure that art could be a good career choice.
"Before diving in as a full-time artist, I took a nine-to-five job as a graphic designer for a designing studio back in my hometown. I designed stuff for ads, flyers, and you can say that's still art I guess, but it is not the same as what I do now."
While he didn't find his day job creatively fulfilling, Ralph was privately building up a steady collection of band merchandise.
“There are at least a hundred pieces of band merchandise sitting and rotting in my closet,” he confessed. “Not counting all the graphic design shirts!"
In 2009, a friend suggested that Ralph check out Emptees, a website where he could submit graphic design for merchandise. He pitched some designs for local bands and was accepted. Before long, he was contacted by an apparel brand in his native Philippines.
"After a couple of years of designing shirts, I decided to quit my job. I got hired by other bands and brands, and some of them are still my clients today."
These days, Ralph is still drawing skulls, though his skills have matured. Max, the founder of Stay Cold, was browsing Mintees in 2014 when he came across Ralph's work. Since then, Ralph has designed around 20 products for the brand.
God of the Witches Hoodie, designed by Ralph Espiritu
“I definitely have a man crush," said Max. "He’s one of my favorite artists who I’ve ever worked with. If it were possible, I would get all his designs so no one else could."
In the interview below, we talk to Ralph about his influences, his creative process, and what the future holds.
Which artists do you admire?
"There are tons of people who I respect and look up to. My influences come from the tattoo scene, street art, and the fine arts. I carved my teeth on artworks by Thomas Hooper and Mike Giant. Illustrators I admire include Alexander Heir, Pettibon, and Cursegift."
Where do your ideas come from?
"I am often inspired by films and music. Sometimes, I’ll encounter a good lyric or movie quote that I think will look good in visual form. That’s how it always happens: an idea comes to me, it sits inside for a while, spending time in my head, and then I execute it. As for my style I enjoy classic tattoos - not only the traditional Americana style, but also Russian criminal tattoos. They're very symbolic, which I like the most."
Doom Bringer Hoodie, by Ralph Espiritu
Do you have any favorite projects you’ve worked on?
"Lately, I have really enjoyed doing illustrations for Stay Cold. Max gives outstanding support and trust to me and my work. When he pitches me an idea, Max always offers me detailed feedback after I'm done Illustrating his concept. After working together on more than 20 designs, that is amazingly consistent."
Can you describe what you do on your average day?
"Tattooing and painting personal artwork for myself. Planning what to draw next, writing down ideas, then binge watching some TV series and forgetting all about what I'm currently doing for the next two days. When I'm not designing, I am out buying records, doing light carpentry, building stuff for the house, or traveling to spend my time with my family in my hometown."
Where do you see yourself in the next decade or two?
Honestly, I do not think about the future that much. I can picture myself becoming a better artist. This year, I will continue to work with my good friends, collaborate with other artists, and plan an art show in my home town. If I have the same job in ten years, tattooing or doing graphic designs, I could see myself still being very happy. In twenty years, I hope I will still be alive!