things to do in salem, ian staber, esotericalligraffiti, punto urban art museum

It’s such a small world, you guys. It turns out the one of the artists who completed a mural as part of the Punto Urban Art Museum is not only friends with my brother but he also knows a handful of my family members who are in Connecticut. How random is that? I absolutely love seeing people chasing down what fulfills them, finding zen within a creative space and manifesting the ideas in their minds. After it was brought to my attention that Ian was one of the artists and after creeping his work online a bit (haha), I knew he would be an awesome fit for a little interview. I reached out to see if he wanted to chat and the following is a little Q&A style blog post, so you can get to know Ian a bit and his work in our beloved witch city.


Can you provide a little background on yourself as an artist?

“Sure! I am Ian Staber, professionally trained as an architect from Northeastern University’s undergrad and graduate program. I work for LaFreniere Architects in Central Square in Cambridge where we do all types of work commercial, residential, multi-family, you name it. When I first started working there, I was commuting from Gloucester on the commuter rail, which gave me 3-4 hours of commuting time each day. That is how I taught myself calligraphy.

I had always been interested in graffiti, and sketched throughout high school in blackbooks and on the sides of notes, but never pushed it beyond that. It was about three and a half years ago that I discovered Calligraffiti, which is essentially the application of calligraphy on a large scale in the streets, on walls, and wherever you would expect typical graffiti to be. When I discovered Calligraffiti, I immediately knew that it was what I wanted to do. It could be my niche, my creative outlet, my arena to fuse artistic technical abilities with the graffiti culture that I followed and loved.

So, I used that commute time to teach myself calligraphy, knowing that I’d want to build a solid foundation to be able to successfully do Calligraffiti. There are tons of resources out there to teach yourself. I just focused and practiced until I felt I had a good enough understanding of the countless rules associated with calligraphy to apply it in the street. While I was still practicing traditional calligraphy, I was practicing Calligraffiti and was pushing both skill sets simultaneously.

Now roughly 3 years later, I am getting mural gigs, having galleries seek me out to display my canvas work, and still practicing traditional calligraphy. I just had a 3 gallery show and am currently working on a traditional calligraphy project.”

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What was your experience like working on the Punto Urban project in Salem?

“The Punto Urban Art Museum has an amazing program. They are focused on breaking down socio-economic borders between Salem and The Point neighborhood, while creating community pride and boosting the local businesses all at the same time. There aren’t many mural programs like this. My specific favorite part is that they own most of the buildings, which are rent controlled housing, so instead of ushering in gentrification, they are just giving the residents more pride in their community. This in turn helps it stay clean and safe. Hearing the kids that live there talk about their neighborhood is great. I’m sure at one point they didn’t know how to talk about their home but now they say with pride, “oh I live in the one with the hummingbird” or “the farmer” or “the one with all the gold letters”.

It also was the first large scale mural that I had the opportunity to complete alone. While I love collaborating with other artists, especially friends, It was nice to let my imagination run with a ridiculously large wall like this. I am really hopeful it can be the stepping stone for more similar opportunities.”

Do you have any influences you could point to that inspired the work you did in Salem? In a few posts on IG you mention “Rings” by Aesop Rock. Can you explain how that song played into your work? Does music heavily influence other work you do as well?

“Rings is a song that is all about an artist reminiscing over good times spent creating art and the nostalgia Aesop Rock has for it. It reminds us not to let the brush stay down too long. It inspires me to keep writing every day. That being said, Aesop Rock’s lyrics have always made their way into my art because it is easy to recall a lengthy verse or section of the song to write on a wall and I don’t have to reference something to know the sequence. They are also quite varied and tend not to repeat too much which lends itself to a diverse texture. There are even a few Z’s up on the wall in Salem!”

Working on such a large piece, what are some of the logistics of executing the artwork so it comes out right? Painting up the side of a building poses challenges and planning on a serious level. Did you have help with this?

“Being an architect came in handy on this project for sure. I went to the site before hand, took a few pictures and measured a window and a few other key dimensions, went back home and drew the elevation with the windows in CAD. Once I had the elevation drawn, I started attempting to put my visions into plan. The window placement on the wall is not symmetrical, even though they may appear to be, so that messed with some initial plans. I created the final version of the design with the plan to provide ease of installation, due to lack of time, while still being a cool layout that engages the entirety of the wall. I was also considering using the wall around the corner, but at the last minute this was changed up and given to another artist. I actually completely changed and finalized the design the night before beginning the mural. It was fairly easy to lay out, and then from there I was just able to paint away. The brick were surprisingly straight so doing the horizontal bits was super easy to layout and paint.”

things to do in salem, ian staber, esotericalligraffiti, punto urban art museum

What made you chose the design and colors you did for this piece in Salem? Is it all aesthetics or were there more deliberate, symbolic choices behind it?

“Well besides making it fairly easy to layout, so that I could use as much time as I had actually painting, I did choose the rings because of the song. Also when I was planning on a design that could wrap the corner, I was intending on simply flipping the ring to the other side to make a complete circle. So, it had versatility in design. I choose the colors because those are some of my favorites – gold on black first and foremost, with teal and royal purple accents, and orange for balance between those two. For every color, I actually used 3 to 5 different colors and blended them together in my cup. I use spray paint, sprayed into a cup and then dipping a brush into that, partly because spray paint lasts longer on walls, and partly because I have more options for colors. So, if you get up close and personal with the mural, you can see 3 different colors in each brush stroke, because I love the way that makes the letters varied and creates a texture within the color field.”

I understand the language you use is based off a custom script of your own. Can you explain a bit of this or the process that went into creating this?

“My custom script is just a way of writing the English alphabet that I have developed. It is a combination of traditional calligraphy techniques with the structure of Chicano and west coast graffiti hand styles. That graffiti style lettering is the oldest in the United States and it resonates with me the most. I am Hispanic and growing up looking at graffiti, I was always drawn to Hispanic artists and writers. I believe a solid foundation in history is most important when creating something that can feel refined. There is an aspect in my alphabet that comes from my heritage as well. I was searching for a way to incorporate my Ecuadorian culture into my custom alphabet and it comes by way of the number of slashes that are featured in each letter. They relate to an ancient Incan form of communication, the Quipu, which uses different numbers of knots on small ropes.”

things to do in salem, ian staber, esotericalligraffiti, punto urban art museum

Will we be seeing more of your work in Salem in the future?

“I sure hope so! My family and I are hoping to buy a house soon and honestly Salem is one of the best looking places in the state! It has culture, restaurant life, walkability, closer proximity to work in Cambridge, and clear appreciation for art. My favorite part of Salem is that residents take pride in their weirdness and quirks, and rather than apologize for it, tend to celebrate it.”

While working in Salem on your art, were there spots you frequented? Favorite areas to rest for a break, areas that were inspiring to you, etc.?

“Having a small baby at home who wanted Dad around made it difficult to spend too much time lingering after painting. I got there at 7 or 8 in the morning and painted straight through til dusk each night for 5 days, only stopping for a quick lunch or grabbing more paint from storage. That being said, the restaurants in the area have amazing Hispanic cuisine and great beer, so if I did go out, I was thoroughly satisfied.”

What does this piece in Salem aim to say? The Punto Urban Museum is a social justice art project focused on awareness of socioeconomic barriers. Did you work those themes into your contribution or have them in mind while creating?

“This piece is about celebrating art and the process, enjoying the culture of creating art, and not letting your skills stagnate or deteriorate by keeping it up. My favorite line from the song is “Routine day with a dirt cheap brush, then a week goes by and it goes untouched, then two, then three, then a month, and the rest of your life you beat yourself up.” That alone inspires me to keep doing some calligraphy everyday, whether it is practice or a canvas piece or a wall.”

Any words of wisdom for fledgling artists out there who are wanting to hone their skills?

“Get excited about what you are doing. If you need to look at it from a different point of view to refresh yourself, look to history and practice pre-existing forms. Then the next time you do what you intend, you will have that established, historic knowledge in the back of your mind while creating what you want. And just go get out there! I was so surprised how accepting and inviting the mural community in our area has been. If you have the right attitude and just work as much as you can, you will be amazed at how many opportunities you will get and the network you will build.”

Where can you find Ian online?

Instagram: @esotericalligraffiti

Video of the work done: Vimeo (<– definitely check out the video!)

Ian can be reached via email at with questions or collaboration inquiries.

Video shot by Jordan Garry of Salem. The video has the song Rings by Aesop Rock as the background. Ian obtained permission to use the song from Rhymesayers Entertainment, which is the record label. Pictures used in this blog post were provided by Ian and are copyright Jordan Garry as well.

To read more about the Punto Urban Art Museum, click here. Enjoy and thanks so much to Ian for taking the time to chat with me!! <3