Demystifying The ‘Starving Artist’: An Interview With Artist And Engineer Nate Lubeck

Many people claim to want to change the world, but how many actually take the steps to do something to help others? Our very own Ozobot Sr. Software Engineer, Nate Lubeck, is using his skills to create opportunity for change. When he’s not crafting solutions for Ozobot’s website and software products, Lubeck spends his time on Eternal Transit, an art practice that spans sticker bombing, technology, transit, and urban ecologies.

We are lucky to have someone like him on our team, and we are excited to share his story with all of you! Read on to discover how Lubeck is tackling both the starving artist myth and food insecurity with his boundary-crossing projects.

What did you do before you worked at Ozobot?

Before I worked at Ozobot, I was at Solar Story as an Engineer. Before that I was an Engineer at Agent Ace with PA & Adrienne (fellow Ozobot employees). I also worked at as a Front End Engineer.

For me, Art and Engineering, there is no difference. It’s all the same thing. I have this problem that I need to solve and so I use whatever tool is available at whatever time to solve the issue.

What are some projects you are currently working on?

I have a project that I have been working on for six months or so and it is an urban foraging app. The idea is that there is food growing in neighborhoods and you want to be able to find it and know where it is, right? I had a friend who said, “It would be really cool if, when I was skating down the street and saw an orange tree, I could plot it and then people would see it on a map.” So, I built an app around that to where you’d essentially login and plot where you are and add the plant and it automatically populates across the whole ecosystem. That is something that I have been interested in: being able to feed people regardless of where you are at in the world.

With the same tech that is used for the app, I am building a scavenger hunt game that is based on skateboarding. It’s like H.O.R.S.E—same kind of concept—except the idea is that at some spot somebody can designate it and say, “Ok, at this place you have to do this trick to get an S.” You can either go within a region or even worldwide.

At Ozobot, I am working on building out a WordPress CMS for Marketing right now so that they can update information from a WordPress editor and then be able to update the site accordingly. It signals and fuels the rest of our other initiatives across the ecosystem. 

Tell us about your art! How did you come up with these unique ideas?

For me, I have this conflict of “I’m an Engineer and I’m an Artist.” How do those two things go together, when traditionally you have to pick one or the other? Kind of like the organic lines with Geometry, that is kind of how I see the world. How do I make these two things that aren’t necessarily supposed to go together, end up working?

One thing that I want to do at some point in life is be an Agronomist. A lot of people are transitioning to plant based. If everyone today were to say, “Ok, I’m going to convert to a plant-based diet,” we don’t have the infrastructure to support that. So, that was another piece of me wanting to create some sort of platform or system that isn’t just finding your own food, but then take it a step further. From selling food to neighbors, to restaurants, to becoming certified organic. There are all these different layers that I see being utilized in that application.

At the end of the day, I want to make cool stuff, I want to change the world, and I want to make money. As long as what I do meets that criteria, game [on].

I can work anywhere that I want to, but I want to make sure I do something that adds value and not just say, “Hey, I’m getting my paycheck and onto the next thing.”

Being able to create opportunity (whether in art or engineering) and asking myself, “How can I use my skills to make someone else’s life better?”: that is the jist.

What motivated you to be an engineer who also practices art? Did the education system nurture that interest, or did you have to take matters into your own hands?

I have always been both. My mom was an artist and my dad was an engineer (before he became a pastor), so I can’t remember not being that way. But, when I was in high school I took every single ROP class. The graphic design stuff was really cool and interesting, but instead of sticking just into graphics, I went into programming. Programming just kind of always followed me wherever I have gone.

What I figured out was that I could make more money doing engineering, so that was a bigger piece of it. I have always done art, but I only recently learned that in order to be a great artist, you don’t have to suffer. I said, “Ok, I can be an artist and I can be an engineer and my engineering funds my art.” Once I realized I didn’t have to be a “starving artist” all bets were off. I don’t limit myself anymore. 

You get to have one conversation with your teenage self. What advice do you give him?

Double down on BOTH engineering and art. Don’t limit yourself to just one practice. To be successful as an artist and produce great work, you don’t have to suffer as much as it is personified. It doesn’t have to be that way.

How important is collaboration to your work? Who have you collaborated with recently?

I try to collaborate. I am a big proponent of community and collaboration. I mentor for NodeSchool, so stuff like that. I am always trying to figure out how I can give back. But, it is difficult. For whatever reason, to get people to collaborate is hard. Maybe I just haven’t talked to the right person yet.

Being here with Ozobot and the engineering/creative team, this is like my tribe now. A lot of us share those art/engineering similarities. 

What is something you hope people take away from your work? 

Things are constantly moving. That’s the whole idea of Eternal Transit, things are always moving and you are always going to be some pivot point. Sometimes you just need to change your perspective or look at something a little bit different. More of that and not just accepting what the masses or whoever deems as “should be this way”. It’s all perspective.

Eternal Transit is all of Lubeck’s work put together, from food and foraging apps to sticker bombings of sites and transit lines throughout Los Angeles county. As a proud Ozobot team member, Lubeck shares a commitment to 21st century education and also puts his own spin on STEAM: Skateboarding, Tech, Engineering, Art, and Music. 
See more of what Nate Lubeck is up to, and keep tabs on his new projects by following him on Instagram: @eternal.transit.

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