Philadelphia Artist Alloyius Mcilwaine and the Art of Freestyle

Alloyius Mcilwaine is a self-taught artist based in Philadelphia who began creating as a toddler and during college, turned his creativity into a career by selling his own customized t-shirts during college. Now as a fulltime clothing designer with Cultures Clothing Company and artist, Mcilwaine splits his time between developing new products, paintings, and murals all in his signature freestyle method. Find out his advice for up-and-coming artists, how hip-hop and comic books play a role in his work, and the things he surrounds himself with.


Alloyius Mcilwaine


Surround Yourself: You specialize in creating freestyle art. Could you tell us a little bit about what that is and how you started creating it?

Alloyius Mcilwaine: Freestyle art is art that is improvised on the spot…without any predefined concept or idea or rules. The art that is manifested on the canvas/wall/paper, etc. is serendipitous in nature, and influenced by the artist’s mood and emotion. I started doing freestyle pieces because I wanted to paint with raw emotion. I feel like you learn a lot about yourself when you just paint what you’re feeling. And it’s always exciting, because you’re never 100% sure how the piece is going to turn out. I started doing it in 2012, and it has really helped me to learn new techniques and to develop my style.


SY: Was a career in the art world always a dream of yours?

AM: It has always been a dream, and I’ve been encouraged by my family and friends to do art for my entire life…but there was always that lingering stigma about starving artists. I was taught told that I should have a more stable backup plan. So at one point I thought that I was going to go into Biochemistry, and I also worked for the government for three years. At certain points, a stable career in art almost seemed like a pipe dream. But the landscape has changed. In 2015, it’s possible for artists to become incredibly successful, and these past few years have been like a dream come true.


Alloyius Mcilwaine


SY: Before becoming an artist, you started Cultures Clothing Company, which makes clothing for men and women using your designs. How do you find time to balance your clothing company and your artwork?


AM: Well the humorous answer is that I don’t sleep much. But the clothing line and the artwork actually help to fund each other. When I sell clothing, I use those funds to buy canvas and Spray Paint to create new pieces of art. When I do a new mural, I use the money from that to create new articles of clothing. So they’re both cogs that continue to keep that wheel rolling.


SY: You’ve had an ambitious career—from starting Cultures Clothing Company in college to crossing over into freestyle art. What (or who) has kept you motivated to keep creating?


AM: I have to create. I have to create new things almost every day. It’s just the way that I’m built. I have this constant stream of ideas, and I have to find new outlets to get them out.


Alloyius Mcilwaine


SY: You mentioned your strong interest in hip-hop and comic books helps you create your bold designs. How do you make such different interests merge together in your work?


AM: It’s funny, because they’re not as different as one might think. Many of the Hip-Hop artists that I listen to, such as CYNE, MF DOOM and Epidemic, were also influenced by comics growing up. You hear the comic book references in their songs. Even Wu-Tang members Method Man & Ghostface use comic book names as aliases…so there’s an interesting kind of synergy there. And I love listening to smooth, jazzy Hip-Hop when I create art. And I learned how to draw by copying comic books. Hip-Hop and comic books are both such big part of who I am as a person, so when I merge my comic book style of art with my Hip-Hop style of art (with graffiti), they come together pretty naturally. For example, sometimes I’ll use techniques that I learned from comic books, such as cross-hatching, to add shading and texture to a graffiti piece. It comes naturally for me to merge those two things together.


SY: Do you have a favorite piece of artwork from your collection on Great BIG Canvas?


AM: I’d say that my piece entitled “The Butterflies Effect” is my favorite piece of artwork from that collection. My collection on Great Big Canvas has some of my pieces from 2012-2013. My style has changed drastically since then, but that piece is still very special to me…especially because the original piece was a birthday present for a friend.


Alloyius Mcilwaine


SY: What’s been the most exciting moment of your career?


AM: The most exciting moment in my career up to this point was definitely the mural that I did for MasteryConnect in Salt Lake City, UT. It was the first project where, on top of being paid for the project, all of my expenses were paid for. When I took the flight to SLC, and I got off of the airplane, I saw someone waiting to pick me up…holding a sign with my name on it. When I saw this, I thought to myself, “wow, I’ve finally arrived as an artist…”. And they also did a time lapse of the whole project which showed my progress from start to finish. That was really cool. However, next month I go to Paris to do a mural…so I expect that will top my list when it happens.


SY: What’s next for you as an artist and designer?


AM: As a designer, I’m launching the newest items from my clothing line within the next few weeks! As an artist, I’m doing some murals overseas…in France, Russia and more!


Alloyius Mcilwaine

SY: Do you have any advice for budding artists?

AM: Use social media to get your art out there to people all over the world. Some people say that you can’t make money doing art, its just not true. You just have to do hard work and promote yourself. Also, never let things get you down and deter you from creating. Sometimes if you’re a self taught artist, the art school kids will say that you can’t do this or you can’t do that…and it can be discouraging. But don’t let it discourage you. Learn as much as you can and keep pushing yourself, but put your work out there. That really is the trick.


Keep in mind that the people who do unconventional things in any industry are the ones who usually leave something special behind. Some people will love you, some will hate you. Always keep the criticisms in mind, and see if you can use it to improve your work, but understand that people have opinions. That’s just the way life is. You can go on youtube and see classic songs that have dislikes and hateful comments. Don’t let the negativity discourage you from putting your stuff out there. Put it out there, create, and keep improving.


SY: What do you surround yourself with?


AM: Positivity, always…and my family and friends!


Alloyius Mcilwaine


Shop Alloyius’s collection on Great BIG Canvas and be sure to check out his website!