*Omar “Chilly O” Mitchell is a Graphic Artist and Clothing Designer who’s hand-painted and screen printed designs are currently being worn by trendsetters and tastemakers in music, art and sports across the country.
Prior to his success in the arts, Mitchell was a social worker nearly a decade before deciding to leave the field and follow his passion of visual art.
Recently, he collaborated with Alpharetta-based Aio Wireless to create a series of limited edition tank tops for the brand’s “Inspiration Series” which taps local artists to provide a wider network of exposure for their crafts.
Here is a brief video about the collabo:
Following is a brief Q&A with “Chilly O” that further discusses his background, his art, what inspires him and why he decided to work with Aio Wireless.
Q&A w/ Omar “Chilly-O” Mitchell
1. Tell us a little bit about your background. Where are you from? How did you transition from your career as a social worker into becoming an artist full time?
I’m originally from Pittsburgh, but have lived in various places throughout my life including New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Denver and Virginia. I did social work for 10 years and really enjoyed helping people; but, after some time, it became limiting to my personal growth. I’ve always had a passion for entrepreneurship and a dream of having my own t-shirt business. When I was in college I actually worked as a street merchant selling graphic t-shirts with urban and rock themes.
2. How did you get the name “Chilly O”?
Chilly O is actually my nickname from college. I went to Norfolk State University, an HBCU in Virginia; and back when I was in school, my house was the hang-out spot for a lot of the guys. People from all over the neighborhood would stop by to chill and play video games. I always thought I was a pretty cool guy and one day one of my friends said I was “too cool” and started calling me Chilly O; and the name just stuck. It’s just a fun and cool name. I’ve always been about fun, adventure and positivity so the name “Chilly O” fits right along with that.
3. What’s your artistic background? Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
I come from a family of artists. My father and my brothers are all classically trained, so it’s in my blood. You could say I’m more self-taught because I learned a lot just going through the process of creating designs on my own. More recently I’ve branched out to learning photography and I’ve fallen in love with that art form.
4. Tell us about the designs you’ve created for Aio Wireless. What are they called? Is there a meaning or message you wanted to convey with the pieces?
For my designs with Aio Wireless, I decided to use a robot because that’s how I thought about communication. I wanted to pick an object that a diverse group of people could identify with, so the robot made sense from a technology perspective. Robots have a futuristic appeal and they make you think about forward thinking and progression and that’s how I see Aio — especially with how they approach their marketing. Plus, people who are into street wear really dig robots, so it all just meshed together well.
5. Where do you draw inspiration to create your pieces? Is there any school of thought or theme that keeps you motivated?
My inspiration comes from everywhere. The adventures I go on… my friends who are artists like Brandon Sadler… and just everyday colors and objects. Early in my career, I was very much influenced by Japanese Street Wear and Action Sports. Today, I like to take complex things and simplify with fun hues and colors that make people gravitate towards the art. A lot of my original inspiration for the business and marketing of my brand came from the things that the Mighty Shirt Kings were doing in New York in the ‘80s as well as some of the pioneers in hand-painted shirts in Washington, D.C. I saw the business model work there through popular music artists and athletes wearing the designs, so I decided to bring a similar technique to Atlanta.
6. How did you become aware of Aio Wireless and what prompted you to work with the brand?
I was invited to a meeting with a few representatives from Aio. I guess someone there had heard of me or was a fan of my work. At first, I was a bit skeptical because my circle of friends typically does not hang around corporations like that. However, after the presentations, I saw that Aio is really into pushing creative forms of expression. A short time after, I was invited to design a t-shirt for the brand and I was really impressed that they were looking to highlight the artists along with the artwork. Also, I really liked the positive vibes that were shown in their marketing. I thought it was really cool and fit along with some of the stuff I was doing.
7. How is the Aio Inspiration Series different from what you’ve seen other brands do with artists? How do you see the connection between the wireless industry and the art world?
I think Aio’s marketing strategy is super relatable and I also think you’ll start to see other wireless brands start to change their marketing to fit with the times and not be so rigid in their approach. It’s not forced on you or overbearing and it’s not corny. Aio has a genuine and youthful appeal, and kids today are a lot smarter so they recognize that. Aio doesn’t place a stigma on you, no matter your income or what neighborhood you come from and that’s important.
8. What advice would you give other aspiring artists who want to take their work beyond the canvas or computer screen?
When it comes to art you have to remain true to yourself and your vision; but, you also have to understand it’s a business. If you want to be successful, you have to market yourself and that’s hard for some artists who are more introverted. You have to promote yourself in order to push your art. It’s extremely hard – especially, for some of my friends who are graffiti artists. But, just like any other business, you have to have a vision and a plan if you want to be successful.
9. What other projects are you working on? Where else can we find your work?
Right now, I’m doing a lot of freelance work. I’ve been organically picking up new projects through social networking. I work with a lot of emerging music artists and there are some beverage companies that have approached me to do some things as well. My next big project will be to start documenting the creative renaissance that is going on in Atlanta. There are some really cool and intelligent things going on in the city that the world is not seeing. I definitely want to start using my influence to bring exposure to the people who need it; especially within the African American community. Here in Atlanta there are a lot of young black kids doing great things other reality shows and ratchet music to showcase their creativity.
C. Nicole Pierce