Photo by Zealot Incognito / @zealotincognito
Inside his Mira Mesa studio, Herschel Arcelao, who goes by the name Ethos One, is quick to point out he isn't quite sure he's an artist.
"I wouldn't say I'm the best artist," Ethos says. "I can write my ass off, but can I draw figurines and things like that? No, I haven't got to that yet. I just write a lot."
As evidenced by his contribution to this week's cover, Ethos is certainly more than just a guy who writes. The Mira Mesa native says he got into custom lettering when he was in elementary school and became fascinated with cursive writing. By the time he reached middle school, he got into the local graffiti culture and was out tagging regularly. In high school, he was the go-to guy in school for girls who wanted a custom look for their binders. But it wasn't until he was out of high school that Ethos says he began studying calligraphy and Old English lettering. Soon enough, he was even studying things like the Thai alphabet and ancient Hebrew to create what he calls a "cool hybrid."
"Everybody has their favorite artists and taggers, but I never really based my style on anyone," he says. "I never just picked one person to look up to. I wanted my own style."
Watching him do it, he has the process down to a science and his hand glides across the page as if the lettering was his first language. He's become a bit of a fixture at Thumbprint Gallery's pop-up shows at places such as Basic and Urbn. Heís even being hired for hip-hop shows where he'll sit at a booth and create custom letter pieces for patrons. He mostly works for tips, but says he makes pretty good money.
"A lot of times people will get too drunk and end up leaving the piece I created at the bar," Ethos laughs. "But some people are really appreciative and tell me they love it. They'll roll it up real nice and take it to their car so it doesn't get messed up."
Some people, he says, are more appreciative than others.
"Some folks will buy me shots or throw some weed into the tip jar," he says. "I find some crazy stuff in that tip jar, man, I'm telling you."