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Gavin Snider, Illustrator/Musician, Saves Kansas City With A Sharpie

Credit Gavin Snider
Gavin Snider

Gavin Snider’s Kansas City Reconstructed illustration project started with a billboard in the Crossroads neighborhood of downtown Kansas City, Mo., and has grown to more than 50 drawings of the city’s sometimes iconic, sometimes not-that-noticeable buildings.

After a lifetime of drawing opposite his twin brother Grant (subject of a separate story here), Gavin Snider, 29, went to the University of Kansas to study architecture. Because he had to do so much illustration at school, he stopped drawing for himself for a time.

“I started playing music and learning guitar and starting bands — really bad bands at first,” he says.

But as the bands got better, Snider started drawing posters to promote them.

“That put me back in touch with that childlike sense of wonder and excitement. The idea of the poster was to be the first thing you see when you walk into the room, so whether it’s an octopus attacking a spaceship or a giant sloth blowing up the Student Union, it was always goofy things that had no relation to my architecture at all,” he says.

After school Snider got a job with Hufft Projects, an architectural design firm in Kansas City. Meanwhile, his personal creative breakthrough came in the fall of 2012, when he drew a cityscape for the Charlotte Street Foundation’s billboard on 19th Street above Missouri Bank in the Crossroads.

“I was pulling these old Kansas City Star articles and old photographs from the (Kansas City Public Library’s) Missouri Valley Room for historical reference and drawing the cityscape of these buildings,” Snider says. “That project was hugely successful. I felt like I had somehow reconnected to this dreamlike world of drawing and illustrating as a kid to this architectural very physical, very tangible world that I see every day.”

Snider started heading out into the city on Sundays with a pad of paper, a Sharpie and a couple of markers.

“You see them all around and you start to take them for granted, but Kansas City has this incredible historic building stock — beautiful old buildings, most around the turn of the century, late 1800s, early 1900s and they’re all over the place.”

Sometimes he’d draw landmarks like the Liberty Memorial. Other times it would be houses on a street corner or an urban grain elevator.

“My drawing became almost a sort of therapy where you get out and you take a moment to stop, pause, reflect, look at something you’d never seen before or had just passed,” he says. Now he does these drawings whenever he travels, as far away as Sweden or Brazil.

Snider kept up his guitar playing as well, and he’s now drawn the cover for a new CD to be released by his band, Sad American Night, on Nov. 14 at the RecordBar. It’s an image he saw while out on a run one night: The view from a bridge in the Armourdale neighborhood, looking east over railroad tracks that bend toward downtown Kansas City.

“I always think what Kansas City has going for it more than any other city is this approach — whether you’re coming from the north on I-29 and coming across the Missouri River, or on I-70 and driving over the West Bottoms, you always have this incredibly dramatic, exciting view of the city on a hill,” he says. “That’s inspired me as a creator, inspired me in my personal life wandering around and drawing things, it’s inspired me as a musician.”

The city’s skyline has been a source of constant inspiration — but so has his twin brother.

“We’ve had that act of creation between the two of us going back and forth, almost a lifetime conversation,” he says. “It’s probably what made me keep drawing to the extent I have today, and helped us reach these different creative goals along the way by pushing each other.”

A free press is among our country’s founding principles and most precious resources. As director of content-journalism at KCUR, I want everyone in our part of America to know we see them and we’re listening. I work to make sure the stories we tell and the conversations we convene reflect our complex realities, informing and inspiring all of us to meet the profound challenges of our time. Email me at cj@kcur.org.
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