Bobby Solomon is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fox Is Black, a blog that focuses on design, music, and culture in general. He currently lives in Los Angeles where he works as an art director at Disney Interactive. He has a boyfriend named Kyle, who runs TFIB sister site, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and together they have the two most awesome dogs on earth—Dottie and Scooter.
Interview date: January 16, 2013
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We’ve followed Bobby’s blog for a long time and have downloaded our fair share of wallpapers from The Fox Is Black’s Desktop Wallpaper Project, which is why we were excited to finally have a chance to talk with the man behind it all. It wasn’t a surprise to learn that Bobby works really hard—he runs TFIB and has a full-time job at Disney!—but we loved that even though he’s super busy, he has a really positive attitude about life, challenges included. It was fun learning about his early years, hearing what he’s up to now, and getting a glimpse into his future plans. Best of luck, Bobby, and thanks for sharing your story with all of us!
Describe your path to becoming a designer and founding the blog, The Fox Is Black.
It all started when I moved to Los Angeles in 2005. Before that, I lived in a suburb of Sacramento, California, called Roseville, which is where I grew up. I always knew I wanted to be an artist, but I didn’t know exactly what that meant. I did art in high school, but I wasn’t a very good student. I graduated in 2000 and then went to junior college to study fine art for two years; I never got a degree.
In 2005, I moved to LA because otherwise, I was never going to do anything else with my life. Once there, I had an opportunity to take classes through Art Center at Night. I enrolled in a product design class and an environmental design class, which helped firm up the idea that I wanted to be a designer.
Meanwhile, I needed a job desperately. My mother and grandmother helped support me for the first few months I was in LA and eventually, they couldn’t help anymore. I found a job as an assistant to a photographer; she paid me $5 more per hour than I had ever been paid and I thought I was rich. Being an assistant, I learned a lot of great skills, but even though I was doing some serious learning, it wasn’t what I wanted to do forever. While working there, I started to get bored and wanted to do something more creative. I had been really inspired by Cool Hunting and similar blogs and thought, “I can do that. There are people out there who will be into the things I’m into.” As a result, I started a blog in 2007 called Kitsune Noir, which I later renamed The Fox Is Black.
I ran the blog in addition to my day job and it started to open some doors for me. I had contacted LAist, the LA version of Gothamist, to ask if they needed an arts and design editor; they didn’t have one at the time, so they said sure. Even though I didn’t know what I was doing, I faked it. I also used their credentials to go to cool shows.
A few years later, a woman I worked with at LAist contacted me about a design position at a startup. I had never been a real designer and I didn’t have an education in design, but I said yes to the job and that kind of thing continued to happen. I left that job to work at MySpace and then, when MySpace was bought by Justin Timberlake and two ad guys, I posted on my blog that MySpace was likely to close up shop and I should start searching for work. Another woman who followed my blog reached out to me and because of that, I now work at Disney. The blog has taken me many cool places and I’m very thankful for it.
How long have you been with Disney and what are you doing there?
I’ve been here since July 2011 and I’m now the Art Director in charge of user experience, design, social media, and marketing.
That’s awesome. Was creativity a part of your childhood?
Yes. I was a giant comic book nerd—in fact, I still am. Now, I can download them on my iPad so it’s a lot less evident. I also like to draw, paint, sculpt, and make things. Even in high school, I’d stay up super late into the night to hack my G.I. Joes and turn them into other weird things.
“I’ve always said that the blog is just a thing I do and a pastime that I’m not too worried about…I’ve started to treat it more like a big deal this year and have been more proactive with it…I hope to make it more like my full-time gig—Lord knows I’d love that.”
You said that you didn’t have a formal education in design, but somehow it found you. Did you have any “aha” moments along the way when you realized you wanted to design?
A couple come to mind. In the late 90s, early 2000s, I read Kaliber10000 and Design Is Kinky, which started to get me thinking more about design. I had never been exposed to it before because I lived in a small town and was only exposed to what I saw on TV and in the movies or what I read in magazines. Actually, one thing that inspired me was Dwell magazine. When that came out, it was pretty cool because I like houses and architecture, and the whole magazine was really well laid out. Those are just a few things that led me down the path to design.
Have you had any mentors along the way?
I guess I’ve had a lot of heroes. Geoff McFetridge is absolutely one of my heroes and now, I can actually email him—that’s still weird to me.
Shephard Fairey was also a hero of mine in the late 90s. When I was still living in Roseville, my friends and I made posse stickers similar to the “André the Giant Has a Posse” sticker campaign. Back then, you could upload your own posse stickers to the Obey Giant website and be part of this giant dump of images. There was even an issue of While You Were Sleeping magazine that featured our images in a spread. We made a “Bea Arthur Has a Posse”, “Theo Huxtable Has a Posse”, and “Megosh Has a Posse.” That’s how we were reppin’ in Roseville. Do you guys know who Megosh is?
He’s Willow’s best friend in the movie, Willow.
[Tina] I haven’t seen that movie since I was a kid.
Really, it was more like the Internet was my mentor. I just wanted to soak in all of this knowledge and I knew there were so many interesting things and people out there. Finding new stuff got me excited and made me want to create more. I was inspired by people who bridged the space between design and illustration.
Has there been a point in your life when you decided to take a big risk to move forward?
Moving to LA was my first big risk, but it wasn’t scary by any means. In fact, it was the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done. My mother and grandmother helped me move down here and when my mother was getting ready to leave, she asked, “Are you going to be okay?” I remember thinking, “Yes, I will be so okay.”
The second risk is actually happening now. I’ve always said that the blog is just a thing I do and a pastime that I’m not too worried about. I’ve started to treat it more like a big deal this year and have been more proactive with it. I’m going to start making some big changes to the site and, in addition, will be making t-shirts and things. I hope to make it more like my full-time gig—Lord knows I’d love that. There’s no good time, but it feels right because the blog is in a good place, people know it and enjoy it, and they know who I am. I’m going to start making some strides and it’s a little scary.
That’s awesome! We can’t wait.
It’s going to be fun.
You talked about growing up in a small town and being eager to move. Did you find it challenging adjusting to a bigger city?
I lucked out because I didn’t think it was scary at all; I was actually really excited to leave. It wasn’t the teenage angst of, “Fuck this town!” I just knew that there were so many bigger opportunities in a place like LA. Coming from Sacramento, the best move probably would have been to go to San Francisco because it’s so much closer and is still a big metropolitan area, but I hate the rain so I couldn’t do that.
When I came to LA, I moved to Altadena, which is essentially as north as you can get. It’s very suburban, so it was like moving from one suburb to another, which I think helped me to avoid burnout because the city can be overwhelming. During the first year, I drove into LA often, which was a 45 minute commute. I lived in a house with two roommates and after a year, our landlord kicked us out so her son could move in. That ended up being the best thing ever because it forced me to have to move, get into the city, and become a part of it.
I had a car, but then I had a gap between my jobs and was going to try to go freelance. I was horrible at it and had to sell my car. I had no car in Los Angeles and people said, “You can’t not have a car here,” but it was great. I rode my bike everywhere and then I saved up to get a nice-ass bike because I figured that if I wasn’t going to have a car, I should at least have a nice bike. I did that for a long time, even when I was working at MySpace and making good money. It was perfect. I did start dating a guy who has a car and now, here we are, two years later; he has a car, but I still don’t.
Moving can be scary, but if you’re open to it, I don’t think it is. You have to accept it all as a challenge. When I moved to Hollywood, I had a studio apartment. It was one room with a kitchen, a desk with my bed next to it, a hall, and then a bathroom—that was it. I made the most of it and eventually moved to a better place. I love it here and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. It’s good to take that jump; it’s a challenge and you have to want it—you can’t be lazy about it.
You mentioned your mom and grandma already. Are your family and friends supportive of what you do?
Yes. I was raised by my mother and grandmother, who were like my two parents, because my dad left before I was born. My mom and grandma were awesome and are the most supportive people on earth. They helped me move to LA. and the summer before I moved, they told me, “We’ve saved up a little money if you want to do this.” It was like the Eminem song, “You only get one shot…”—I’m not going to sing it, but I will say that I knew I only had one chance at it.
I’m an only child as well, so I’m the baby. I’m not too much of a spoiled brat, but I certainly did get my way a lot (laughing).
Do you feel a responsibility to contribute to something bigger than yourself?
That would be nice. I feel like I might already do that subconsciously through The Fox Is Black. The site was always about sharing people’s work and really appreciating what they do. I never wanted to be “The Fox Is Black guy”; that was never, ever the plan. From the beginning, I wanted people to see that there’s amazing work out there. I like being able to surface some of that stuff and say, “Check this out,” which is why I like to write about it, too. I don’t think I’m the deepest writer, but I’m good at sharing. I see a lot of sites that post a ton of images from artists and I wonder, “What’s the value in that?” The images and content are just scraped off of another website and it’s basically a gallery, not a celebration of the person. My approach is more, “Let’s find some really cool shit and talk about it.”
There’s also The Desktop Wallpaper Project, which is really just a way to see the work of talented people. Now, it’s become such a big showcase for that that people want to do it and be a part of it. I think a huge chunk of my traffic comes from the wallpaper project. People know that they can come back every Wednesday and see new work.
I think everything I do is tied together by my belief that there are some pretty talented people out there in the world and we should appreciate them and what they’re doing. In that sense, I’ve tried to give back to people.
“The site was always about sharing people’s work and really appreciating what they do. I never wanted to be ‘The Fox Is Black guy’; that was never, ever the plan.”
Are you satisfied creatively?
Yes. I’m too satisfied right now (laughing). I have a full-time job here at Disney where I work on advancing and developing the website. That’s my day job. In the mornings and at night, I work on The Fox Is Black. Every other day, I get up at 6:30am because it’s my turn to take the dogs out. Then I work until 8:30–9am, go to work, come home, eat, pet the dogs, and go back to work until 12–1am. Could I be doing different things that would potentially make me more satisfied? Maybe, but I’d say I have a pretty full plate right now and I definitely can’t complain; I’m pretty happy.
Earlier, you mentioned some of your plans about how you want to focus more time on your blog. Is there anything else you’d like to try in 5 to 10 years?
I think that most of all, I’d like to turn The Fox Is Black into its own thing. I admire Evan and Josh, the guys from Cool Hunting. That was one of the sites that inspired Kyle and I and now, we get to hang out with those guys when we go to New York. I would love to be able to do what they do; they’ve created something really interesting: it’s a blog plus an agency. Moving that way and being able to work with bigger companies and do interesting things would allow me to do what I want to do by being creative and having a good budget to work with.
If you could give advice to a young person starting out, what would you say?
You don’t necessarily have to go to school. School can be a really great thing for some people, but it’s not for everyone.
If you’re passionate enough, you will find a way to do what you love doing. If you’re passionate enough, you are probably going to succeed as long as you’re willing to put in the time and effort. You can’t be lazy and expect things to be handed to you. You can’t complain. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, then go do something else.
I think a lot of people get stuck—in their role, in their hometown, in a situation that they think they can’t get out of. I was raised by a single mother and she never made very much. Now, I can say I’m doing pretty well for myself. I’m an art director at Disney and I have a crazy blog that allows me to speak to people all over the world—I did that and I’m proud of it. You, too, can change anything or walk away from anything—you just have to have the guts to do it.
How does living in LA impact your creativity?
My partner, Kyle, and I started a blog called Los Angeles, I’m Yours. I had been wanting to do a love letter to Los Angeles, but when I wrote about LA on The Fox Is Black, no one cared because that audience is too global. I was talking to Kyle about creating a site where we wrote about the things we like: art, food, and drinks. That was how we started Los Angeles, I’m Yours.
Kyle has taken it on and it’s completely his. I’m the editor-in-chief, but I really just pay the hosting bills. Kyle has done such a fantastic job and we’ve met so many friends and built so many amazing connections because of it. It has been our way of showcasing the creative talent here. We love this city and are happy to be able to encapsulate that in the blog. There are sites about LA that explore many interests, but I don’t think there’s another site that really expresses what LA is about like ours does. It’s a Fox is Black for LA. We’ve found so many people who were glad to discover it and it’s inspired both of us to continue finding what’s new and cool in the city in order to share it with everyone.
Is it important to you to be part of a creative community of people?
Definitely, but what’s interesting is that I don’t think my community is in LA. I think of the Internet as my creative community. Unfortunately, LA is pretty spread out and doesn’t have a central spot where people gather or where there are pockets of creatives, like you would have in DUMBO. The other thing is that LA is so heavily focused on the movie industry, so it’s a different breed of people.
Twitter is my community; it’s my lifeline at this point, which might be horrifying to some people. It keeps me feeling connected and I think that’s true for a lot of people who aren’t in centralized cities. With a network like that, you do feel like you’re a part of something. That’s important to me because I can talk to these people, ask them questions, and engage with them about design things.
Through The Fox Is Black, I’ve met so many people that I now have this net of individuals who I can reach out to. One example is Jon Contino, who I know you guys interviewed. When we did the Nets redesign on the blog, it was just this crazy idea in my head. I knew he would do an amazing job and he’s the most Brooklyn dude I know. I wrote him and asked him to do it and he agreed. I wrote my critique on the existing logo and he did a redesign; it blew up. It was so cool to connect like that because we are a part of the same community. I love it.
For some random reason, I was thinking about this today: I consider a lot of people my friends, even if I’ve never met them before. It seems to be a very contemporary, modern-day way of thinking, but it’s also true. We look out for each other and if someone needs something, we’re there. It’s good and it’s very 21st century, but that is the way it’s going.
You talked earlier about your typical day, but do you want to share more about that?
That was pretty much it. No matter what, I get up at 6:30am every morning because our dog, Dottie, wants to eat; it’s all she cares about and she wakes us up by pacing back and forth around the bed, panting nonstop. We have two dogs: Dottie, who is the bigger, crazy one, and Scooter, who is smaller. I love them both.
Once I’m up, I get my blog posts ready. I try to post the first one at 7am my time because that’s 10am for you New Yorkers—I’m at the end of the publishing world, which sucks for me. I publish my already prepared posts every hour and a half until noon when I’m in the middle of my workday. I also have three full-time writers and four part-time contributors for the blog and I spread their posts out throughout the day.
I arrive at Disney for work around 10am and leave around 7pm. I go home, eat, and then start working on my posts for the next day; I usually write three posts a day. I work till midnight and then post something because that’s when Europe is waking up and I try to think of it very globally minded. I’ve been running the blog for almost six years now, so it’s become a part of my routine.
Do you do a lot of work on the weekends or do you try to take time off?
I’ve been doing a good balance of both lately. This new year has been good. I’ve been able to relax the last few weekends, however, I do start to ramp up again on Sundays in preparation for the week. I have been doing a better job of not doing too much stuff lately. Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of it (laughing).
Current album on repeat?
I’ve been listening to Belle and Sebastian’s Fold Your Hand Child, You Walk Like a Peasant for the last two days. It might be my favorite of their albums, which says a lot, because I like them all. It’s really good.
Do you have a favorite movie or TV show?
My favorite movie used to be Fight Club. Then it was Lost in Translation. Nowadays, I don’t know. I think the last exciting movie I saw was Prometheus. It was fun and I like super sci-fi stuff like that—when it gets really nerdy.
I don’t have cable, but have been watching Game of Thrones and Absolutely Fabulous.
Your favorite book?
I can tell you that I just finished reading a book called Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson, which is about robots taking over the world and he did a good job of not making it cheesy. I just started reading his new book called Amped. I also read a lot of comic books!
What’s your favorite one?
Anything that Brian Michael Bendis is writing. I’m a big X-Men nerd.
Your favorite food?
My favorite actual food is oysters—and Chipotle burritos. My favorite genre of food would be sushi; I can eat a lot of sushi. We also have really good Mexican food here, especially late-night drunk tacos.
What kind of legacy do you hope to leave?
Oh, what? (all laughing) I never thought about leaving a legacy. There’s not a lot of permanence in what we do and everything seems so fleeting. When I think of a true legacy, I think of people who are architects and leave a building behind for a hundred years. Our culture has become so hyper-condensed and no one is going to remember us for our LOLcats.
I think I’m more excited about having a good time and living in the moment while I’m here. I’ve had some amazing times and some really rough times, but through it all, my motto is: be thankful for what you’ve got.