Novato Shop & Studio: Get in here

by Casey Dunau

Having opened last month in their first storefront location, Novato Shop & Studio is an art forward retail shop and gallery with a private studio built into it, owned and operated by long time Bellingham resident and musician Logan McQuaig. The space, half filled with art, half filled with clothing, a sweatshirt with an M.C. Escher style skate park on its front hangs from a crowded rack. Across the room a painting depicts a bald Harry Potter staring into space from the wrong side of a jail cell. Old School punk rock plays softly from the store’s record player.

“The goal was to make a space that was really comfortable, and really interesting,” said McQuaig, who spent years in such local punk bands as 84 and Serious Black.

First and foremost an artist, McQuaig’s perspective shows in the store’s layout. Art pieces and clothing coexist without competing for attention, arranged with the type of care usually reserved for large-scale galleries. Though the store went from concept to reality in only a few short months, there is a high attention to detail in all of the work.

“With music and with art, I can’t do something only 95 percent. I have to do it 100 percent,” McQuaig explained.

Some of Logan's shoe art. COURTESY PHOTOS

Some of Logan’s shoe art. COURTESY PHOTOS

For him, opening Novato meant the chance to spend more time making art. He drew as a kid but only picked up a paint brush two and a half years ago. And as the cliché goes, necessity is the mother of invention. A thick red curtain and a small dividing wall separate his private studio from the rest of the store. Utilizing a system of semi-seclusion, McQuaig can work on his art and run the shop at the same time.

“Before, I was painting close to full time and working a 50 hour-a-week job as well. I’m working 15 hours a week less now.”logan shoes 2 web

McQuaig still keeps his day job at the Copper Hog, but logs fewer hours there. The money he makes bartending helps stabilize his cash flow through the treacherous beginnings of small business ownership. It’s a blue-collar business plan, and one that echoes the shop’s own homegrown vibe.

Much of Novato’s art and clothing is filled with pop culture imagery, in large part because that’s the work McQuaig himself is most often commissioned to make. One of his most popular series is a collection of Vans shoes over which he hand paints anything from ant colonies to Seattle sports heroes. Each design is unique, a work of art in its own right, and he already has some famous buyers. Macklemore owns a pair with the Space Needle on the left shoe, and the old Kingdome on the right. Wesley Schultz of The Lumineers has his own pair with his hometown New York Giants painted over the top. Fieldgulls, the leading Seahawks sports blog, featured yet a third pair on the homepage of their site.

But McQuaig isn’t quick to mention any of the celebrity endorsements. He’d rather throw the spotlight to other northwest artists. Building up the community is another key tenant of the Novato mission. The store currently features nine Bellingham artists, and there’s not a single piece of art or retail that didn’t come from Washington State.

“I’m going to try to keep it as northwest as possible. You could start a successful store that has only Whatcom County in it. There’s an insane amount of talent here, and people want a place to show it,” McQuaig said.

Novato and McQuaig represent a new generation of businesses and owners cropping up in Bellingham and across the country. They are pioneers working double time to start organizations that are regionally oriented and community focused. It’s all pretty optimistic for a guy who spent nearly a decade making some of the most serious and cynical punk music in Bellingham. But likely those are the exact qualifications that make him perfect for the job.

Published in the May 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine