Shane Huss shapes reality through self-taught gothic-based calligraphy. Three years ago, Huss dropped out of college and moved to Denver to pursue his dream of being a full-time muralist. “I was in a new city and didn’t know anyone. I knew I needed to do something to build my portfolio.” For 10 days he hauled supplies into a hidden tunnel beyond city limits, evading security and risking flash floods to execute his first major work: GateKeeper. His design studio, Mindful Release, is named after the concentrated energy required to reach and maintain a creative flow state. “I believe in the weight of thoughts… what we say to ourselves and out loud dictates the way life plays out.”
His determination and focus helps him set and reach goals that help the environment in the process. Through a partnership with Trees for the Future, his completed calligraphy projects have planted over 10,015 trees in Sub-Saharan Africa. “I made it my life mission to create a brand that helps the planet and, hopefully, the people that live on it.”
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? When I was young, I enjoyed art and wanted to explore it as I got older… but the adults around me seemed to think it was impossible before social media was created.
I also admired spies and secret agents. I was intrigued by the mystery and getting to sneak around in different disguises.
It’s funny, looking back—I somehow incorporated both aspects into adult life. As a graffiti writer, I get to sneak around and paint freely.
What do you love most about calligraphy? I love the structure calligraphy gives my thoughts while I write. Writing demands an extreme amount of detail, so my brain can’t drift away. It requires me to be in the present moment and channel all my mental energy into the writing in order to flow. My design studio, Mindful Release, is named after this concept. My goal is to encourage others to find activities that unlock flow states so they can benefit from it, too.
I also find it beautiful that there are essentially unlimited ways to manipulate type. I can pour my entire life into the craft and still find new ways to shape the alphabet.
How did you turn your passion into a business? Did everything click into place or was it a struggle to get started? Nothing clicked into place. There were many roadblocks along the way. I studied graphic design in college but when I discovered I wanted to pursue calligraphy, I withdrew. No one was qualified to teach it at my school.
Lettering lacks a developed infrastructure. I learned a lot as I figured out how to monetize my work. It’s not easy to turn calligraphy into a business, especially with something as niche as a dark, gothic-based style. It took trial and error to learn how to market myself, present work professionally, set pricing, attract commissions and retain clients.
I made many mistakes on the way but I try to embrace them—the more mistakes I make, the further I am on my journey. I'm still growing as a human and as an artist, and I expect to make mistakes as I advance my craft.
How do you challenge yourself artistically? The only way for me to continue to grow as an artist is to push myself with every project. I try to hold myself to an extremely high standard of work. I believe it's always best to go the extra mile.
My tunnel mural, GateKeeper, was my hardest project yet. It pushed me creatively, physically and mentally. I wasn't where I wanted to be in life (a full-time muralist). In order to get there, I knew I needed to do something to build a portfolio. I was in a new city with no options available.
I chose a hard to reach location where I wouldn't get caught. It was a 35 minute drive out, followed by a 20 minute walk through wet darkness, into a tunnel. I carried in all my supplies, a ladder and snacks. It took me ten sessions to finish. Each session was around 8 hours.
A few sessions ended early because of bad weather conditions. Sometimes I'd hear the water rise while painting. I'd turn around to see it soak my backpack and supplies. I'd get my things and sprint out of the tunnel before a flash flood came.
The security patrol in the parking lot was also an obstacle. I needed to make sure they weren't around as I came and went. One came once, just as a I threw my boots in the trunk. We looked at each other while I stood there barefoot. Luckily he didn't find it weird enough to question me.
That much time underground takes a toll on your mental health. I remember feeling like I was underground more than I was above. There was no service. It was only me and my thoughts. I needed to be careful through the entire project.
The process showed me how determined I am to accomplish a goal. It encouraged me to push further. I haven't done a mural that requires a lift yet. I'd like to challenge myself to that next.
Have there been any defining moments for you as an artist? My trip to Africa shaped me as an artist and as a person. It shifted my perspective, showed me which business aspects were important, and informed how I could use my privilege to help those less fortunate.
My decision to drop out of college to pursue calligraphy also defined me. It was tough because it forced me to stick to my course, no matter what life threw at me. I didn't want a safety net or college debt. I wanted to actualize my dreams in a field I was passionate about, no matter what.
Finally, I moved to Denver, Colorado for better mural opportunities. My biggest goal is to work full-time as a muralist. I knew Denver had better options than Minneapolis, MN. I’ve been in Denver for three years now. It was the right move for my mental health and my business.
Can you share a bit about your planting trees in sub-saharan Africa?
I partnered with Trees for the Future, which allows me to plant trees at the completion of every project. The trees are planted in Sub-Saharan Africa and raised by the community members, giving them an average 500% increase in annual income. Field experts teach community members what trees to plant in which climates in an effort to conserve water and collect the highest yield from each tree. Trees for the Future has partner farms scattered across Sub-Saharan Africa. My donations are planted where they are most needed. So far, Mindful Release has planted 10,015 trees through calligraphy.
Visiting sub-saharan Africa changed my life. I realized the planet doesn’t need more brands, it needs brands that make a difference. I made it my life mission to create a brand that helps the planet, and, hopefully, the people that live on it.
Are there any projects you’re passionate about that deviate from lettering? There aren’t any other projects, but I do have plenty of hobbies. I enjoy playing chess, snowboarding, swimming, hiking, biking, camping, and spending time outdoors. My hobbies help me refocus and prevent me from burn out.
What scares you most about creativity?
I’ve never felt fear when it comes to creativity. I find creativity to be beautiful and positive. The only time way I could imagine creativity being scary is when humans use the imagination to produce technology that inherently harms people or the planet.
How does spirituality factor into your work?
I believe in the weight of thoughts… what we say out loud and to ourselves dictates the way life plays out. I believe in Mother Nature, who brings life to everything and everyone. This is why I respect the environment so much and why I want to use my art to help preserve it.
What are your greater goals?
My goals are enormous and sometimes seem out of reach. I remind myself that I'm young and careers snowball when they stay consistent. The climate crisis is the most significant problem we face as a species. I want to be a force to be reckoned with in planet reforestation.
I think it would be beneficial to open a school for Mindful Release. Students would explore their talents and passions at a young age and learn how to set themselves up for financial freedom by doing what they love.
I want to set up solid infrastructure for the calligraphy industry. It’s common to see music labels, modeling agencies, skateboard sponsorships, etc., but nothing like that exists for hand-lettering. I want to sign promising hand-letterers under a calligraphy label and help get them the funding, resources, and connections needed to create exceptional lettering projects. I see a future shift where the only way for brands to stand out is by hiring hand-letterers. Common fonts and typefaces are played out and boring.
If you could be the creator of an entirely new world of your own, what would it be like?
This is tough because, unfortunately, I don’t think my ideal world is feasible. I’d really enjoy a planet where the people and the environment come first, and there’s symbiosis between them. Schooling is free and everyone wants to be educated. Corruption and greed don’t exist.