His portrait of a suave figure in a powerful puffer coat was all we needed to see. The stylistic, pop illustrations of Darien Birks had us hooked before we even learned of his many influential years as art director at Nike. Recently he’s leaned into a full-court-press on personal work and illustration, resulting in excellent early stats. His distinctive new zine visualizes this pivot and is aptly titled Knew Normal. Basketball is integral to his work, and when asked about his favorite players, he pays respect, “Each of their stories is something that I have applied to my journey as a creative.”
Kristin Farr: How did you end up as an illustrator after working for Nike and making music as The Stuyvesants?
Darien Birks: In 2011, I was living in Brooklyn, freelancing as a designer. I was asked by a friend who was working at Nike to submit some of my work. It involved branding for a few NBA athletes. The team at Nike liked my work, and eventually they asked me to come out to Portland and meet them. I was happy with what I was doing at the time and wasn’t immediately ready to uproot and move across the country, so I sat on the thought for a couple months—ultimately, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
While at Nike, I was learning a lot of new things that I didn’t already have in my toolkit. I was expanding my knowledge base within my industry and sharpening up my craft. However, going to work isn’t enough for me, I needed to keep growing in other ways. So I began illustrating after work, on weekends, just to stay curious, and to see where it could go.
Working on our album covers for The Stuyvesants was another outlet that helped me get back into illustrating. When I left Nike in early 2020, I had a goal to push my illustration just as much as my art and design direction. I no longer wanted to do one thing, so I took a risk on myself and moved full steam ahead.
How does your love for basketball go beyond work?
I am a major lover of sports. I played sports as a kid, and I play to this day. Mainly basketball, but I grew up playing football, baseball, and a little golf as well. Sports culture is everything to me, both on and off of the playing field. I’m interested in the stories, the athletes, the team history, everything. I love sports talk radio, podcasts, magazine articles, and books. I text sports trivia back and forth with certain friends regularly, just to stay up on our sports knowledge. It’s a real thing for me.
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