Art school meets shop class

Aaron Butcher wasn’t looking for a job, per se. But he looked juuuust enough to find us—and we’re glad he did. Among many things, Aaron’s…

Aaron Butcher wasn’t looking for a job, per se. But he looked juuuust enough to find us—and we’re glad he did. Among many things, Aaron’s a family man, Dubuque native, and working fine artist. And he possesses a rare combination of creativity, skill, and experience that’s sure to make him McCullough Creative’s next great Production Artist. Go ahead, get to know him!


Let me start by saying that you seem like a perfect fit in the McCullough shop. It’s almost like every facet of your background—art, carpentry, printing, exhibit work—was combined into a single job. I think it was meant to be.

(Laughing) Yeah, maybe. The funny part is, I wasn’t even looking for a job! I was already in a pretty good situation when my wife happened to come across the listing for this Production Artist position. She forwarded it to me, and as I read through it, I realized it had the potential to be a really good fit for me.


What can you tell me about your working background?
Geez, where do I start? I worked at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium all through college and really enjoyed that. In fact, I thought museum work is what I’d end up doing after graduation, but it didn’t work out. Then I worked in a frame shop for a while, as a carpenter for a couple of years, and eventually as a printer.


You stayed in printing for quite a while, correct?
Yes. I first got into the printing business at the Quad/Graphics facility here in Dubuque. It was an entry-level position—not glamorous at all. But, because of my art degree, I was able to work my way over to the digital side of the business, which really sort of clicked for me. It was long hours, but I liked the work. And printing became something I could see doing for a while.


Okay, I know you’re only a couple of weeks into the job, but what are your impressions so far?
It’s hard to really know, right now. I’m still adjusting to the role. But I do know that I’m really going to enjoy the variety—and not running a printer nonstop (laughing). Plus, print work is, for the most part, disposable. The ads I was printing didn’t have a very long life cycle—a week, a month at most. Here I have the opportunity to fabricate something, like an exhibit, that could potentially last forever.


You’re also a working artist, right? How long have you been at that?
Yes, I am. I’ve been a working artist—painting and other mediums—for about 16 years now. It’s a big part of my life.


Original collage illustration by Aaron Butcher. Created using watercolor, pencil, and found paper.


You mentioned that you participate in several art shows each year. Tell me about a memorable art show experience you’ve had.

This past summer, my oldest daughter, Adeline, participated in her first art show. My wife and I had our work in the same show, and Adeline started trash talking us! She had pretty good sales for an eight-year-old, but it went straight to her head—it instantly turned her into Andy Warhol.


Adeline Butcher, preparing to take the art world by storm.


Did you want to be an artist from a young age?
No, not really. My first attempt at “consciously” creating art was during a drawing class in high school—but I didn’t like it at all. I actually switched from art class to shop class and found my niche there.


So when did your creative juices start flowing?
After high school, I pursued “hands-on” work, in factories and such, before deciding to go back to school. I originally planned to pursue a physical therapy degree. But I ended up taking a gen. ed. drawing class and really loved it. That experience led me toward the arts—first computer graphics and interactive media, then graphic design and studio arts—and in 2005, I graduated with a BFA in Art from Clarke University.


I love your work—it’s incredibly unique. What inspires or influences your art?
It’s not so much inspiration as it is a technique. I used to do sculptures, and part of the process included curing each one in shellac. Inevitably I’d drip some, and when I did, I’d see faces in it—each one different. As people, I feel like everyone’s always looking for a face, trying to assign identities to the objects and world around them. I suppose that’s why someone’s always finding Jesus’ or the Virgin Mary’s face on their toast (laughing).


One of Aaron's sculpture exhibits on display at Clarke University.


Faces seem to be prominent points of focus in your work. What makes the face a favorite subject of yours?
I guess I just find faces interesting. Faces are relatable and no matter how expressive they become, we can see ourselves, or people we know, in them.


Another of Aaron's original collage illustrations. Faces are often central to his work.


What’s your creative process?
I don’t know that I really have a process. For me, the biggest part is achieving the right mindset—finding that groove. Sometimes, if I’m really in a zone, I might even forget to eat or drink.


You mentioned your wife and daughter earlier. What’s your family situation?
I’ve been married to my wife, Abby, for nine years. Together we have two daughters, Adeline and Alice. Abby and I are both Dubuque natives—we still live here. In fact, we just purchased my childhood home from my parents.


Really? That’s cool. Was that something you ever planned or wanted to do?
My folks were selling and I decided to buy. It wasn’t something I expected, but I’m pretty excited about it. We probably won’t change the place much—little updates here and there, maybe an addition in a few years.


Well, we think you're going to feel right at home at McCullough Creative, too.


Please join us in welcoming Aaron and wishing him success as a member of our team.


And be sure to check out more of his art here.