Squiggles: Dain Fagerholm's Subreddit Spawning GIF Art is Helping the Visually Impaired

A Seattle artist exploring a relatively new medium has conquered Tumblr and won over MTV with his wiggling creatures.

In this bi-weekly column, we highlight doodlers, scribblers and scrawlers from the Seattle area. If you have any comics or animations you think we should know about, email ksears@seattleweekly.com.

Dain Fagerholm is a very nervous man.

"I don't want people to think I'm some strange fantasy guy," Fagerholm laments. "This is just what I draw, I can't help it."

He seems like he feels guilty about how surreal his work is.

"I would love to draw things from real life, I just have a tendency to do fantasy. It’s really a therapeutic thing for me—a way to deal with everyday anxieties, the stress of everyday life and loneliness. I don’t know… I’ve already gone to my therapist today."

Fagerholm has nothing to worry about though—over the past two years, he's unwittingly become the most popular Seattle artist you've never heard of. The key to his meteoric success? His work doesn't live in galleries, but on Tumblr.

Fagerholm has been hailed by Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, The Creators Project and Complex as one of the top artists in the relatively new field of "GIF Art."

Fagerhom had been uploading his Edward Gorey inspired drawings of monsters to Flickr since 2010. The flat images weren't cutting it though—he wanted to figure out a way to make his art stand out amidst the sea of other artists posting their work online.

Having gone to film school and studied digital design, Fagerholm knew about depth mapping, a techinque photographers had been starting to use to give their images a sense of motion and life (a tool that's become a trademark of Seattle concert photographer Trevor Crump).

"I've always been interested in 3D and I love those 3D comics that come with the glasses," Fagerholm says, "so GIFS just clicked instantly for me."

In February of 2012, the first day Fagerholm posted an animated GIF version of a pen drawing he'd done, he suddenly started getting a lot of emails.

"I got these notifications from Tumblr saying 'Congrats! You have a new follower.' By the end of the day, I had 6,000 of them in my inbox, so I had to turn the thing off," Fargerholm says. "It was totally amazing to me to get that sort of attention, since I'm such an introverted person. I just spend my time drawing and walking dogs."

Since that first fateful GIF, Fagerholm has populated his Tumblr with a bestiary of wide eyed wiggling creatures that have flooded blogs and forums across internet. He is credited in spawning a new subreddit called "Wigglegrams," where people inspired by his stereoscopic techniques post their own 3D GIFs.

He's even recieved messages from people attesting to an unexpected medicinal effect his work has had.

"I’ve had people who only have vision in one eye send me messages saying that looking at my GIFs are the first time they’ve been able to perceive depth," Fagerholm says. "I never thought my GIFs would be beneficial to people with one eye, but people have written about it helping them with depth perception on forums too."

In a way, Fagerholm's entry into the nascent world of GIF art couldn't have been timed more perfectly. The Oxford English dictionary declared "GIF" the "Word of the Year" in 2012, a year that also saw the arrival of the file format's 25th anniversary. Moving the Still also made its debut: the first "large-scale, open call festival for original GIF art" that debuted at Miami Art week and featured a comissioned short film on the history of the file format animated by the brother of Fleet Foxes frontman, Sean Pecknold.

The newfound interest in the medium landed Fagerholm an unexpected gig creating GIF advertisements for the MTV Music Video Awards. "I made about five for them, and one of them got 50,000 hits in one night. It was amazing how much people responded."

Fagerholm is hoping to use his talents to land more corporate GIF gigs—but in the meantime he's looking to expand the world he's created through his work into a video game for the iPad or iPhone.

"This world I'm creating... I think this world is kind of a better version of ours." Fagerholm says. "It’s a wiggly world, a scratchy world."

Fagerholm trails off a bit before finishing his thought.

"I think it'd just be a much better world to live in."

​Check out more of Dain Fagerholm's GIF art at his website here.

 
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