Psychologists say it takes approximately 21 days to form a habit. With that in mind, Mike Winkelmann’s ritual of creating a piece of art every day has been a certified habit for almost 5,000 days. Over the last 13-and-a-half years, Winkelmann—better known as Beeple—has grown an empire of followers by churning out one 3D work of art per day. Beeple’s fans come for the creative allusions to timely political and pop culture news, but they stay for the incredible art. After all, Beeple isn’t merely creating a piece a day—he’s writing the story of our time through beautifully jarring visual commentaries designed to open our eyes to the circus of chaos our world has become.
Take us through your upbringing and when you developed your love for art.
I was raised in a very normal, boring middle-class family in rural Wisconsin, USA. My parents are really amazing and super supportive, so I definitely feel they helped give me the space to speak my mind. As far as art goes, it’s always been something I’ve been interested in for as long as I can remember.
How did your everydays begin and what was your art like back then?
The everydays began as an exercise to get better at drawing. After drawing for a year, I started doing a render a day using 3D software. My art was much more abstract back then, and over the years it has gone through a number of pretty distinct phases.
What made you decide to commit to creating art every day and did you imagine you’d last 13 years?
I saw an illustrator named Tom Judd in the U.K. who did a sketch a day and thought it was a great idea. In the beginning, it was all about desperately wanting to get better and not being happy with my work. While I didn’t think it would last this long, I can tell you that throughout this entire time, [improving] always has been the driving motivation, even to this day. I’m nowhere near satisfied with my abilities and still desperately want to get better.
How have you stayed committed to art and what have you sacrificed for it?
I think the drive to get better has kept me committed. I don’t want to be good enough that people are inspired to create their own artwork, I want to be so good they don’t even try at all. I want it to be like when you hear Beethoven. You’re not like, “Wow, I think I’m gonna go learn that.” You’re like, “Fuck, I’ll never be that good.” I can assure you, I am NOWHERE close to that level. Yet. I guess you could say that I spend hours each day [on art] and that time with family, friends, other hobbies, paid work, etc. has been sacrificed. But I don’t really see it as that, as this is what I love to do. Anytime you agree to anything, you’re saying no to everything else, and to me, this doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice.
How has your art evolved over time and what have you learned from this?
It’s gotten fucking weird and nippley. Honestly, I don’t know what I’ve learned. I’m trying more and more to listen to my inner voice, but it’s really hard because there’s a lot of noise out there. Especially these days, it’s often hard to even know what I want to say. It’s a work in progress.
What made you lean into the post-apocalyptic and political subject matter?
This is honestly just where my mind naturally went over time. I never think too much about where things are going with this project, I’m always just focused on today. I do watch and read a lot of news though, so I guess it’s not super surprising that this interest of mine eventually made its way into my work.
In your opinion, what’s your most controversial piece and how was it received?
I feel like I’ve had some real doozies in the last year. I guess probably the most controversial was this one I did around Christmas of Santa holding Donald Trump’s severed head. It got taken down on a bunch of sites for violating community standards. A few days before that, I did one with Kim Jong Un that showed his pubes and that was also flagged by Facebook. Honestly, I rarely read the comments, especially when I know something is gonna be super controversial. I know it’s going to piss some people off and while that’s never my goal, I’m very much OK with that because I’m not trying to make something for everyone. All art is not for all people, which I feel like some people have lost track of.
What are your favorite themes to express in your art?
I feel like there are a lot of themes of power imbalances between technology companies, political leaders and society. But then, there’s also a lot of fucking weird-ass, dumb pop culture that’s more like, “Fuck it, I’m just gonna do exactly what I want.”
Is there anything that’s too taboo to be portrayed in one of your everydays?
I think there are definitely things I can’t do or I’d get kicked off of these social platforms, so that sort of keeps me in check. It kind of creates a nice boundary and it’s fun finding ways to try to peek over the wall and slip something through that is fairly objectionable.
What does your process look like for creating your everydays and how long do they typically take to make?
They usually take around two hours or so and the process is the exact same every day. I usually spend a bit of time coming up with a concept and then just start right from there. I don’t create sketches or anything like that, I just dive in and start working. Along the way, the idea will usually deviate from the original—sometimes wildly. I would say I’m quite open to happy accidents or wandering off course.
When you’re not creating art, what do you enjoy spending your time doing?
I honestly feel like I’m not super well-rounded. I don’t really have any other hobbies per se, beside creating art. I pretty much work and spend time with my family. I did enjoy travelling and speaking at art conferences, but obviously that’s been shot in the nuts by COVID.