Elements of Style

The Art of the Sale

Urban Outfitters staff artist Will Pierce talks style, Trader Joe’s, and old-fashioned craftsmanship

By Kerry H. Photography by Felix Sanchez October 31, 2013 Published in the November 2013 issue of Houstonia Magazine

As staff artist at Urban Outfitters (that’s a real job), illustrator Will Pierce operates under a kind of high-pressure, constrained creative necessity. “Make us a display staircase,” comes the demand, and armed with only a piece of plywood and a pen knife, he retreats into the store’s tiny woodshop only to emerge hours later, clothes torn, sawdust-covered, holding a staircase aloft. Pierce came to Urban Outfitters after a stint as staff artist at Trader Joe’s (also real), and if you’ve glanced at those parodic, movie poster–inspired paintings on the walls of the theater-turned-grocery store, you’re already familiar with his work. 


Johnston & Murphy shoes, Levi’s 511 jeans, Salt Valley button-down, Warby Parker glasses

What’s your approach to getting dressed in the morning?

In choosing an outfit, I have my clothes folded in three stacks. I tend to gravitate towards a color first. I dress for function, so my second consideration is what I’m working on that day—boots if I’m moving a lot of wood around, Onitsuka Tigers if I’m going up and down a ladder all day and need to be flexible. Everything I wear needs to be form-fitting, well-proportioned, and durable because I will inevitably destroy it.

What exactly are you doing back there in your woodshop?

Commercial art is sort of an old-fashioned job, if you think about it. It’s all different kind of trades; right down to all the fixtures, shelving, furniture in the stores, window displays, art on the walls. It’s all done in-house, all made by a person. I pretty much end every day with dyes or stains on my hands, covered in sawdust.

People often accuse you of being from Austin. 

I’m actually from The Woodlands, which is like Dubai with pine trees. I’m the first generation that’s from there; it was established in 1973 and I was born in ’84. It’s pointless for me to say, “I remember when there was _____” about the Woodlands, because I can remember when every single thing about it was different.

Do they teach endcap-making at art school? 

I’m basically self-taught. I don’t know if that sounds more or less pretentious than “autodidact.”

What other retailers strike you as well designed? 

Whataburger. It could look like literally every other fast food place, but they chose instead to festoon it with fantastic typography, brush lettering, and House Industries revival script fonts that would easily be too retro if they didn’t just work. It gives that touch of hands and sense of place that’s helped Texans feel a personal attachment to Whataburger, like they do with likewise beautifully packaged Shiner beers. I think people intuit craft at a human scale and it makes them feel a sense of belonging. 

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