There’s a seemingly endless supply of inspiration for artists online, whether it’s on Instagram or Tumblr, or even through podcasts. But all that browsing can have a negative effect too, especially for young artists looking to find their footing in a competitive, creative space.
“The hardest thing when you’re just beginning is that it’s not going to happen right away,” said Jimmy Bryant. “Being creative is a struggle, that’s part of what makes you a good creative. The biggest thing is you’ve got to work really hard. It’s going to take a while and as long as you’re putting in the work, it’s going to work out.”
Jimmy, a member of the INPRNT artist community, has spent the last several years working as an art director at AMB3R, a Denver apparel company. Jimmy also does personal and freelance design work under the name Atomic Child, which he’s used since 2007 after being inspired by Keith Haring’s iconic work Radiant Child.
Growing up in Sturgis, South Dakota, Jimmy loved drawing and was encouraged both at school and at home to pursue his dreams of becoming a professional artist. He devoured comic books and after high school, Jimmy moved to Denver to study illustration at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. He used his degree to do freelance illustration work for nearly a decade while holding down a “regular job.”
“I turned 29 and thought, what am I doing with my life?” Jimmy said. “I’m not going to be 30 and not doing what I love.”
So Jimmy quit his job and started freelancing full time, focusing his work mostly on music merchandise, like T-shirts and hats. At the time, Jimmy’s style featured a lot of gore and monsters, which were popular in the mid- to late 2000s.
“T-shirts and music merchandise are based off trends,” Jimmy said. “Now it’s evolved into one-color, simple, clean designs. You’re only going to get paid for what you get approved. So I slowly moved my art toward that direction.”
Today Jimmy’s art has a more graphic look with simple shapes and colors that evoke stained glass. Living in Colorado Jimmy is inspired by the outdoors and adventure, themes that occur often in his work.
“When I get to do my own thing, I like to draw nature or do graphics from nature,” Jimmy said. “I really love the beach. I’ve always been drawn to that, since I grew up in the middle of the US with no beach.”
Jimmy doesn’t have easy access to a beach in Denver either, so he heads up to the nearby Rocky Mountains instead to go camping. “I love getting out of the city, hopefully somewhere where cell phone service is a little rough,” Jimmy said.
And while he still finds inspiration in nature, Jimmy’s work continues to evolve. “Recently, I really love to draw food. It’s my new thing, doing detailed illustrations of food.”
That’s all part of a challenge he set for himself this year: to grow his Instagram account. Jimmy spends most of his days at AMB3R, where he parlayed his experience designing T-shirts into a job as an art director a few years ago. Then he comes home from work to pursue his freelance career, which he’s recently put more of a focus on.
“I still really want to work for myself,” Jimmy said. “I want to be my own boss, to be in control of my own freedom.”
After he’s met any pending deadlines, Jimmy puts on one his favorite podcasts, like Adventures in Design, and spends a few hours working on his personal projects. He’s set a goal to create one new piece of art every day this year. To do that, Jimmy created a system that allows him to find simple shapes and apply different landscapes to them.
“I just like to open that new file in Photoshop and just create from there,” Jimmy said of his process for creating personal work. “I find some color palette inspirations and create without a sketch.”
Jimmy’s years of work as a freelancer and art director, and time spent creating his own work have paid off. He now has freelance clients that range from professional sports teams like the Orlando City Soccer Club to musicians like The Grateful Dead. Even though Jimmy has found success, he hasn’t lost the excitement that made him want to become a professional artist in the first place.
“In the beginning, the most surprising part was that I was actually creating things out of my own mind and people were paying me to create those things,” Jimmy said. “My art actually has value. When those people come to you asking you to work for them you feel like you belong in that system. It’s still kind of surprising to this day. Now it’s just bigger clients, like national sports teams. Now I’m into creating my own products. I put it out there and get orders in and it’s the best thing in the world.”
But making a living in a creative field hasn’t always been easy. As any freelancer knows, there’s a lot more that goes into having a successful career than just creating your work.
“The most challenging part of being a professional artist is realizing that you have to spend a lot of time not doing art,” Jimmy said. “You have to try to be a business person so you can be an artist.”
That’s one reason that Jimmy started selling his Atomic Child prints through INPRNT this summer. “I was trying to create different streams of revenue and I really wanted to do prints. Now I have another avenue to sell a different type of product to people who are following. It makes it so much easier.”
That’s a very good thing for someone who says his whole life is centered around his art.
“I really spend a ton of time creating artwork,” Jimmy said. “It’s my hobby, it’s my passion, it’s my job, I don’t want to do anything else.”
Photography by Ashley Heafy
The foundations of Jeremy Aaron Moore’s professional art career were laid way back when he was a child growing up in Cortez, Colorado. But his path from being a kid who loved to draw to becoming a full-time artist with a roster of clients wasn’t a straight one.
After participating in a competition for young artists in high school, Jeremy attended Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design to study illustration. But he became disillusioned when he realized that most of his peers weren’t finding work in their fields after graduation.
“I have nothing against art school as long as you have the money. I went and learned a lot in art school. But there’s a lot of really great alternatives available now,” Jeremy said. He would encourage young artists today to take workshops or even reach out directly to their favorite artists to learn right at the source.
Jeremy said that the best thing for a young artist to do is to “get a sketchbook and fill it up, get another sketchbook and fill it up until you have 50 of them.”
But at the time, Jeremy wasn’t sure what he really wanted to do. So he left school and became a cave guide.
“I’m really into outdoor stuff,” Jeremy said. “I grew up where it was pretty much required to go rock climbing, hiking and rafting. Being in Colorado is awesome for that.”
While Jeremy didn’t make any art during this time, he wasn’t done with creative pursuits. In 2005, he went back to school at Fort Lewis College to pursue a degree in art education with an eye to being a teacher. But Jeremy yearned to make his own art.
“I tried to get away from it, but I can’t. I tried to teach, but I just couldn’t do that. I can’t really do anything but this,” Jeremy said of becoming a professional artist.
In the past, Jeremy had mostly focused on painting, working in acrylics and oil. But it was around this time that digital art was really taking off and once Jeremy got hooked on it, he couldn’t get enough. One of the first digital artists that really inspired Jeremy was Jason Chan. That was also how Jeremy found INPRNT, where he now sells prints of his own work.
Eventually Jeremy switched to doing digital art full time. And while he sometimes misses the tactile nature of painting, he doesn’t miss cleaning brushes.
Over the years, Jeremy continued to build his portfolio and started freelancing for various clients. He learned the stuff they don’t teach you in art school, mostly about the business of art.
“When I started out, I didn’t know the difference between what was popular and what was being bought, what’s marketable and what will sell. I had to find a target market,” Jeremy said.
Now Jeremy works mostly with clients in the publishing industry and pursues his own art on the side when he has time. And when Jeremy needs a break from the studio, he heads outside to work on his vintage cars. A few years ago, he bought an old Volkswagen bus that broke down on him almost immediately. He learned to fix it himself, which turned out to be a sort of zen experience.
“The confidence that I got from learning how to take apart and put the engine back together was huge,” Jeremy said. “I thought, ‘Maybe if I can do that, I can figure out how to make this career work.’”
Jeremy is heavily involved in the local art scene in Denver, where he now lives after having resided in Portland, Oregon. He recently moved into an art studio in the RiNo district, an up-and-coming area with lots of galleries, breweries and other craft businesses.
“In Portland, the music and art scene is so cool. It’s saturated with artistic types,” Jeremy said. “With Denver, I’ve kind of been waiting on it. Out of nowhere this last summer there was this growth of murals and artwork. There’s a really cool scene happening here.”
And Jeremy has been a part of that growth. He runs a group called the Denver Illustration Salon, which began three years ago with a few illustrators and now has 2,000 members who are artists of all types. The group meets regularly to sketch together, often at some of the local galleries.
The community Jeremy has found in the Denver Illustration Salon has been invaluable. And so has the one he’s created at his new shared art studio. For years Jeremy worked alone out of his home, often in the basement. But having a space to go to has been a real game-changer.
“Having a studio is really nice. I have some studio mates that are really cool, friends in town who are also illustrators to bounce ideas off of and get feedback,” Jeremy said. “As an artist, working from home can be a struggle. All of those years, I always thought that would be the best part.”
It turns out what Jeremy really loves is being able to work for himself, especially the flexible hours and control over which projects he takes on. But being a freelancer has its challenges too.
“It’s a little different than I thought it would be. It’s more of a job,” Jeremy said. “It was always kind of a false summit. There’s always so much work to do to go higher.”
To stay on top of his game, Jeremy is always looking for inspiration. He finds it in all sorts of places, like the podcasts One Fantastic Week and Your Dreams My Nightmares by one of his favorite artists, Sam Weber. Jeremy also finds inspiration scrolling through digital portfolios of fellow artists or attending trade shows like Spectrum Fantastic Art Live or Comic Con.
And when the muse just isn’t coming? “I bang my head into the wall. I just keep working,” Jeremy said.
Photography by Ashley Heafy