Robert Sammelin likes to borrow a phrase that his wife often uses to describe his artwork: “Funky.” He thinks of it as a quality-assurance test. If she looks at one of his pieces and says it has funk, then he knows it’s good.
He and his wife share the same hometown in Sweden, located above the Arctic circle. It is perpetually dark there nine months out of the year, and perpetually bright during summer when the sun never sets. The couple eventually moved to Stockholm, where Robert developed his skills without any formal training and having never attended art school. He has been drawing constantly since he was a kid, resulting in what he called “a mishmash, a hodgepodge” of the multitude of influences he has absorbed over the years, including comic books, movies, music and fashion.
Robert landed on his current trademark style in his late teens. Years later, he’s well known around the world for his work that he thinks of as “slightly subversive, kind of a play on gender stereotypes.” Many of his subjects are strong women who ride motorcycles or tote large weapons. As for his technique, a surgery on his wrist helped him discover a new favorite medium that helped him grow as an artist. He started using brushes more often because of physical limitations after the operation. He said that at that point, everything just clicked.
Today Robert still likes to base his personal work around traditional mediums like ink, though he often adds color digitally. “I like to mix things up and experiment,” he said. After choosing a medium to work with, Robert simply lets loose and has fun by allowing his subconscious to take over. A fan of comics since childhood, he likes to think of each of his works as a story, building a plot and a world behind each image. He lets his hand “just work its way around the page” while soaking up his surroundings and conversations with family.
One of his favorite past projects is his collection of mock horror movie posters. The one titled Mutantiliation was inspired by his son, who mashed up the words “mutant” and “mutilation” to come up with the name and concept. The youngster served as art director for the piece, asking Robert to include zombies, “a guy with forks for teeth” and burning cities across an apocalyptic landscape. He also told his dad, “You can draw a cool lady, because I know you like those!”
Powerful women are among Robert’s favorite subjects, fueled by a desire to portray something different from the drawings he saw when he was growing up. He says that back then it was like “he is always strong, and she is always at his feet.” He never liked that disparity. That’s why today he wants to turn those ideas around in his art. “It’s important to me, and it becomes more important as people take note of it,” he said. He appreciates watching social changes unfolding and awareness increasing over the years, especially as a father raising a child, and he credits the strong women in his life for inspiring him daily.
Robert also likes to choose subjects that are technically difficult and challenging to draw, from mechanical objects to architecture. That’s how he started drawing one of his favorite subjects: vehicles, especially motorcycles. He thinks of motorcycles as a sort of modern “horse” and believes they represent nostalgia, freedom and a tantalizing subculture. However, these days he finds himself drawing fewer vehicles and focusing more on complex architecture, though he has not published many of his architectural pieces to the public.His interest in architecture is an extension of his day job in video games, where he works with 3D environments. Robert enjoys the polish and realism that he and his team work toward in their games, but also likes experimenting with personal work where his subjects can be “a bit wonky, a bit off. That adds to the fun factor of it.” So he chooses not to use tools like rulers when drawing because they tend to take away some of that uniqueness. “I’m too impatient to make it look perfect. If I do it by free hand, it still has that fluid kind of imperfections that go along with how I draw,” he said. The one time he does use a ruler? To draw the panels of his comics.
He is currently working on series of comic books in collaboration with a writer friend. For this work, titled The Kali, Robert has chosen to use a signature color palette with a foundation of reds, blues and purples. He’s also updating the way he uses digital color, adding texture as a way to make it feel more real. “I think I mimic what it would look like if I was actually to color it on paper,“ he said. He has been working on The Kali in his spare time, and when it’s finished they expect to have five issues. Robert works on personal projects like this one at night and on weekends.
“It becomes deeply personal, the things I do in my spare time,” he said. The work he does for fun is very different from what he does as a concept art director, managing a team that works collaboratively on large video game projects. “Predominantly we make action games, shooter games, these kinds of titles that are blockbuster, mainstream things,” he said. So when he has free time, he takes the opportunity to make artwork that is more absurd and subversive. After a long day, Robert comes home to make dinner and enjoy time with his family. He’ll usually draw for three hours before going to bed.
“My whole life revolves around drawing, it seems.” He said it helps that the work he does at home is so different from what he does at the office because he feels he is getting the best of both worlds. With a busy career as an art director and every spare moment devoted to his personal artwork, Robert relies on INPRNT to create beautiful prints of his work. “I was immensely impressed with the quality,” he said.
One thing Robert does not do is use a sketchbook. “I ruin mine instantly,” he explained. Taking a more relaxed approach, he prefers to get his ideas down on a single piece of paper as quickly as possible—just a loose framework in pencil. He gave the example of a musket combined with an axe as something that might pop into his head that he would feel compelled to draw in the moment. “I try not to overthink anything. I do most of it just because it’s fun, and I do sort of whatever pops in my head, but I always want to try and twist it.”
Robert has had his current job in the video game industry for over a decade. Previously he worked all kinds of jobs, from train conductor to teacher to record shop manager. Meanwhile, he was teaching himself art without any outside help due to a stubborn streak he said he inherited from his family. As a teen, he decided that he would teach himself to draw so that if he became really great one day then nobody else could ever say, “I taught him everything he knows.” But by working various jobs and only drawing on the side, he found his career going nowhere.
So he stopped drawing entirely for five years. “I didn’t touch a pen or anything. I just got fed up with it not heading anywhere.” He said it eventually led to a breakdown. That’s when he quit all of his other jobs and suddenly resumed furiously drawing. He wanted to follow his dream. “It was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “My wife just said, you used to be really good at this, why not give it a go?” So Robert put together a portfolio of concept art, then landed a job in video games.
As an art director, Robert follows one simple rule of leadership: “If everything goes really well, it’s the team’s credit; if it goes to hell, it’s my fault.” This gives his team a sense of security and makes them feel more comfortable trying new things, taking risks and experimenting. Robert is responsible for leading the group as well as hiring them, having handpicked most of the artists he works with. “I have a really great team that inspires and spurs each other on. I am far from the best painter in that group, I’m far from the best illustrator, but the reason I am where I am is that I have a drive, a will to just move forward and really think about things.”
Robert said revising or redrawing old work is one way he likes to practice, along with seeking outside influences for unexpected inspiration. “It’s the nature of the entertainment industry to be super derivative, and that’s why I try to always encourage myself to do the opposite. At least you will find an edge that you don’t see somewhere else.” That’s one reason he loves fashion and music as sources of inspiration. “Leafing through fashion magazines while listening to punk rock is super interesting, because every once in a while a phrase or word will pop up, and you’re looking at a weird polkadot dress, and you can sort of mix and match those around.”
His style may be inspired by a blend of influences, but the result is uniquely his own. “I truly can’t stop drawing. I think that’s the thing,” said Robert. At home or at work, listening to punk records or watching an old horror movie, he is always creating freely. “That’s my job. My job is to hold a pen.”
Tristan Henry-Wilson grew up in Nashua, New Hampshire, where as a child he gravitated toward many of the same things other young boys love: comic books and cartoons. Along the way he decided to become a professional artist, transforming his passions for painting, design and animation into a successful career. In high school Tristan realized that while he loved drawing and art, he was not yet the skilled artist we know today. Instead of being discouraged, he doubled down.
“I wasn’t really that good at art. I didn’t really stand out at it,” Tristan said. That realization only made him work harder. “That’s when I started taking private art lessons and becoming obsessed with it. I was introduced to oil painting and decided at that early age that this is something that I wanted to be really good at.”
His self-described obsession with art led him to apply to Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, but he ended up going to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia because it was more affordable. His dream at the time was to become an animator for Disney, but reality would soon get in the way. “I’m from a very lower income family. Both of my parents are Jamaican and I’m first-generation,” said Tristan. “I didn’t have an understanding of money.”
It turned out that Tristan didn’t feel a strong connection to SCAD, so he transferred to Ringling. “My whole mentality as an artist is to be better than everyone else. I wanted a painful experience. I wanted everyone to be obsessed with art.” At Ringling he studied illustration, deciding to become adept at the technical aspects of draftsmanship so that he could later teach himself 3D and animation. Like many in his generation, Tristan graduated from college with a lot of debt and no clear path forward. After college, Tristan bounced around a lot of low-wage jobs in Florida and New York City while struggling to find a way to turn his talents into a career in the arts.
“The story of my life has pretty much been looking around seeing how other people are doing it and imitating it on the fly,” Tristan said. “I started landing freelance graphic design jobs. I realized that if you act as if you’re something then you become that something.” This strategy worked and Tristan won a design job at Godiva Chocolatier. Within five years he had gone from a junior designer to an art director at the company. Always looking for a new challenge, Tristan decided to make the jump to an advertising agency where he could work with more creatives.
At that time, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge had recently gone viral and was making the rounds online. Tristan loved the concept behind the videos and decided to participate. Wanting his video to stand out, he took inspiration from the opening sequence to the TV show 24 and used it as an opportunity to learn something new. So he taught himself video editing and motion graphics software like Adobe After Effects and Premiere. “I learned more about motion design and motion graphics and quickly became obsessed,” Tristan said. “I essentially became an animator within a year. I found a way to take my passion for design and make it move.”
People are often surprised when they hear that Tristan started with oil painting and illustration, then taught himself all the digital tools he needs to be a graphic designer and animator. “I show people my work and they wonder, you’ve been doing this for how long?” Tristan said. “Draftsmanship is so hard and requires so much discipline that it helps you pick up anything else. It can’t be harder than drawing. We’re so lucky to have so many resources available for free or next to free. The only thing stopping you is your own sweat equity.”
But Tristan’s shift to digital hasn’t stopped him from working in oil paints. He’s currently creating a series called Nebula Dresses that combines his love of painting with his interest in the cosmos. “It marries my love of painting with this newfound obsession with space. I just wanted to paint this series,” Tristan said. “It’s a reset button on everything I’ve ever done to make this short body of work. In the last year as I’ve become obsessed with animation, I look at painting less as filling that artistic part of my soul. If something doesn’t move, I just want to make it move. I want to create an animation for the paintings, to bring them to life.”
Tristan hasn’t released the Nebula Dresses series for sale as prints yet, but when he does, they’ll be on INPRNT. Tristan has known INPRNT’s founder, Joshua Zika, since they both attended Ringling. They each had a different focus in school but respected each other’s creativity and feedback, staying in touch after leaving Sarasota. “After I moved away, Josh would always comment on my work, giving positive feedback or critiques,” Tristan said. For awhile, Tristan left oil painting behind to focus on working digitally. When Tristan returned to the traditional medium for a new piece, Joshua encouraged him to keep going. “He was like, this is what you should be doing. Then I did it and that was it. I hadn’t worked digitally for another 10 years. So when he started INPRNT, I will never even consider running prints from anything else for any reason.”
In addition to his interest in space, Tristan is inspired by the natural world here on earth. He now lives in New Jersey with his wife and daughter, where he has come to appreciate the state's beauty. “It’s not uncommon to see bald eagles outside in my backyard, or bears and deer,” Tristan said. “Those are things that I find really inspiring. Being alone with nature is an opportunity I get to have.”
But Tristan is also inspired by a darker force. “What pushes me the most is that a couple of years ago, I had an existential crisis,” Tristan said. “I gave up a lot of the belief systems from my upbringing and gained an appreciation for the finality of life. You only have so much time to get things done that you want to get done. If they were important to you, you need to do them now.”
To that end, Tristan can’t remember the last time he was creatively stuck. He’s always working on building his skill set or painting a new project. It’s what keeps him sharp and creatively engaged. “When it comes to painting, all art really, you do it and you keep doing it and you like what you’re doing because you’ve put your hand down and come up with something that at least some of the time pleases you,” Tristan said. “You gradually get better by just doing what you like doing every day. Practice becomes effortless. That’s why artists are so talented. They like practicing.”
And while that can be enjoyable, it’s when things get hard that you really grow as an artist and person. “This is something that I want my daughter to learn: embrace the frustration,” Tristan said. “I enjoy the frustration. If I’m frustrated working on something, I love it. I know that I’m going to come out learning something at the end. It feels better when you get that payoff. It makes you want to try that much harder and figure out how to do it. It prevents you from backing off and closing doors that you just wouldn’t have gone down. And it’s applicable to other areas of your life.”
Photo by Amber Renee, courtesy of Megan Kott
Work and life blend together as seamlessly as the watercolor paintings of husband-and-wife illustrators Justin DeVine and Megan Kott. They often parlay their shared interests, including painting and animals, into artistic collaborations. After falling in love while founding a popular Drink and Draw together, they've continued producing new creative projects and events as a married couple.
The pair met several years ago working in California’s Bay Area as graphic artists painting signs for Whole Foods. They were part of a team that traveled to help open new stores with colorful artwork and signage, and it was during one of these trips that their relationship—and artistic collaboration—took off. “We were talking about a Drink and Draw in Austin,” Justin said. They both thought that “would be a cool thing for us to do. [A few weeks later we] met up in a funky little bar in Oakland to drink some drinks and draw some stuff. At first a few friends would come. When we left the city last year, we had 50 people coming a week.”
Creating Oakland’s largest Drink and Draw is just one of the ways Megan and Justin have found to share their passion for art over the years. “That’s where we really built up our creative community and fell in love,” Justin said. “Probably the strongest example of work that we have done literally together is Chimera.” For this project, which you can view in Megan and Justin's INPRNT shops, one artist painted the head of an animal and the other painted the body of a different animal. It led to some mesmerizing combinations, like a praying mantis head on a fox’s body or the head of a goat on the body of a duck.
Megan and Justin have also collaborated on producing and curating art shows. “The biggest project we undertook was a David Bowie tribute show,” Megan said. “It started as a life celebration show tied to his album release on his birthday.” But while they were in the process of securing a venue, Bowie passed away. The show went on with 20 different artists participating, 400 people attending, and an all-female David Bowie cover band playing tunes all night.
Although Megan and Justin were part of a flourishing creative community in Oakland, the rising housing costs and long commutes there ultimately led them to Megan’s native Michigan. They now live in Detroit’s vibrant Corktown neighborhood. It's a historic residential area established in the 1800s that's famous for its colorful Victorian homes and annual St. Patrick's Day parade.
“We lived in a small apartment [in Oakland] and couldn’t afford a studio on top of that,” Megan said. “It was hard because we wanted more space. So we decided to try Detroit for a couple of years and it’s been a really good landing pad. We have a studio and we have a painting area in the basement, too.”
This studio is where Megan and Justin now work. Megan has done a lot in the area of children’s textiles and graphics, and she has two new projects coming out this fall from Chronicle Books. Previously, she partnered with the same publisher to create a collection of temporary "cattoos" featuring her signature humorous cat paintings.
“I also run my side gig of doing pet portraits and cat drawings. That’s been my big thing,” Megan said. “The cat thing, that’s just been the most successful. It’s so much of the zeitgeist right now. I really would just be happy if I could paint animals for the rest of my life.” Megan's custom pet portraits range from simple busts to complex renderings of elaborate fantasy worlds where companion animals can surf waves or explore outer space.
Megan primarily works in watercolors after having been introduced to them as a child by her aunt, a prolific watercolorist herself. “When I was seven or eight, we had a family reunion and I had the chickenpox,” Megan said. “She stayed at home with me and taught me really rudimentary watercolor techniques. I went to art school hoping to study that more, but was told that watercolor isn’t a serious painting medium. So I dropped it for a good ten years. I picked it up again around the time that we started Drink and Draw.”
Justin always liked to draw as a kid and studied painting in college. Prior to leaving Oakland for Detroit, Justin was working full-time as an illustrator at Amy’s Kitchen. He has kept them as a client and does work for them most weeks, along with his other clients in industries ranging from retail to arts and entertainment. On the side, Justin likes to stay fresh with daily drawing challenges. He primarily does pen and ink drawings that he colors digitally or with watercolors. Like his wife, Justin often makes animals his subjects, more often focusing on wild animals. In some of his other work, he invents parodic mash-ups and re-interpretations based in pop culture.
“I’ll do sort of regular projects to keep my hands busy,” Justin said. “For two years in a row in September or August I did 31 fictional characters in a row. On days when I don’t have commissioned work, I’ve been really enjoying going through some of my old sketches and figuring out which of those I can develop further.”
Megan and Justin are both established in their artistic careers today, but they still remember what it was like when they were just starting out. To anyone in that stage, Megan has some advice. “There’s room for everyone. People get worried about not doing something that’s already been done before. No one is going to have your take on it. It’s going to be completely individual coming from you. I’m big on helping people and not keeping art secrets.”
Justin echoes that sentiment, addressing a concern that is common among beginner artists. “It’s important not to compare yourself to other people’s skill levels. There are lots of people who look at people who are incredibly talented and think, ‘I won’t be able to do it like that, so it’s like why bother to do it at all.’ That’s counterproductive and hurts all of us creative types.”
One of the ways Megan and Justin spread the word about their art is by attending conventions; they’ll be at a different event every month for the rest of the year. It’s all this convention-going that got them started with INPRNT, where the couple has been selling work since 2013. “We wanted something where we could buy our own prints,” Megan said. “It’s a really great resource for artists to bring nice prints to conventions. It’s the best quality, least expensive option. I recommend it to people.” Justin agrees, “Before when I would pay to have my own prints, I could never afford nice prints and the qualities would vary wildly. The first time I tried INPRNT I thought the quality is so great and it’s so consistently great.”
Their most recent convention was Cat Camp NYC, where Megan displayed her cat-themed wares including prints, pins, and pillows. Next month, their itinerary includes events in Chicago, Los Angeles and Cincinnati. For this artistic couple, part of their relationship is being creative and collaborative, often inspired by their love for animals. When they're not attending conventions, they will continue their work together under the watchful eyes of their three cats: Griffin, Thessaly and Davos.
Like most kids, Lily Padula loved to draw while growing up in a beach town outside of New York City. She excelled in school and imagined she’d take a pretty traditional career path until an art teacher encouraged her to pursue art professionally. Her parents were also very supportive of the idea.
So Lily went to the School of Visual Arts in New York City to pursue a degree in illustration. One sought-after career path when she was starting out was being an editorial illustrator for newspapers or magazines. But shrinking budgets at many of these organizations have led to staff cuts in those positions. Lily didn’t let that discourage her. Instead of trying to land a staff job, she went the freelance route.
“To be a freelancer, to be an illustrator, you have to be multi-faceted and wear a bunch of hats,” Lily said.
These days Lily does a lot of editorial work for major newspapers like The New York Times and The Boston Globe. But she also works online in the world of native advertising and sponsored posts. Lily has a diverse client roster, which includes companies like Universal Pictures, Spotify and Converse. She encourages young artists to carve out their own careers. This could mean drawing comics or zines, as Lily and many of her friends do either for clients or themselves. “Find what makes you happy drawing-wise,” Lily said. “More likely than not there’s a way to make money at it.”
Lily knows this firsthand. She said that in college she wasn’t the best draftsperson, but over time it became clear to her that you don’t have to draw a human figure perfectly to be a successful illustrator. It’s more important to be able to work with color and have good composition. Lily positions herself as an ideas-oriented artist.
That helps a lot when she’s working with clients. When Lily starts on a project she comes up with word lists and associations for the idea she’s trying to convey in the image. Then she creates lots of small thumbnails to nail down the major elements of the composition and takes it to the sketch phase. She used to do this with paper and ink, but now Lily does all of her work digitally.
“I tend to take more time in the sketch phase in client work and less in personal work,” Lily said, “My personal work tends not to be so much about quickly communicating a specific idea. It tends to be more about mood and narrative. I’m trying to figure out a way to do that more in my professional work.”
Lily’s professional and personal work have different styles, which is important to her. In her client projects, she tends to use brighter colors and more complex compositions, while her personal art focuses more on darker, more eerie themes, like a zine she did about UFOs and the paranormal.
Pursuing her own work on the side is critical for Lily. “It’s really important to help your professional work grow," she explained. "You have to keep yourself interested.”
Like many freelance artists, Lily works out of her home, which is in Brooklyn. She lives with her boyfriend, who is also an illustrator. Lily finds both support and inspiration in the New York City artist community.
“A good portion of my friends are illustrators and we refer each other for jobs,” Lily said. “I go to them with struggles, to get some extra eyes on [my work]. In general there’s a lot of other illustrators here and it’s inspiring to be around that energy.”
Illustration tends to go through trends and styles that go in and out of popularity. So while Lily does draw inspiration from her fellow contemporary artists, she also looks to other time periods and mediums to get the creativity flowing. “The museums here are incredible,” Lily said of living in New York. “You can go to the Met for free and look at beautiful paintings to get inspired.” Even when inspiration isn’t at hand, though, sometimes you just have to keep going. “There’s a myth going around that you can only work when you’re feeling inspired,” Lily said. “But you just have to power through no matter what and keep making work.”
Sometimes creative hurdles need a little more breathing room. Then it’s time to walk away for a bit to let the project breathe. “Being in nature is helpful, if you’re feeling overwhelmed,” Lily said. “My parents live in a small town near the city. I go out there and clear my head, to get away from the usual grind.”
It also helps to have hobbies outside of making art. When the weather is nice, Lily enjoys walking and riding her bike around Brooklyn. She also loves cooking and reading science fiction, dystopian and true crime books, and recently finished The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Travel is also important to her, whether she’s jetting off to London, Los Angeles or Toronto for work or play. And when Lily is really stuck, she relies on some advice she received in college. Someone told her to “make lists of things you like to draw. Go to that and make some doodles. You’ll have an ever-expanding vocabulary of things you can draw.”
This helps a lot when Lily is between projects; a freelance career comes with a lot of work that has nothing to do with making art. “The running the business aspect of it, doing promotion, being productive. It’s striking a balancing act between creating and managing,” said Lily. “You gotta keep at it and not be discouraged by the nature of freelancing.” This is what attracted Lily to INPRNT, where she’s been selling art prints since 2013.
“I had seen other illustrators and artists selling prints there,” Lily said. “For a while I was trying to make and ship prints myself, but it was a huge time-suck for not that much money.” Lily also appreciated that INPRNT was curated, leading to a higher level of work across the site. “It also had a better rate between artist and supplier. I was impressed with the printing and how easy it is. It’s totally worth the fee that they take.”
Using INPRNT helped inspire Lily to create Artists for the People, a community of artists selling affordable prints to raise money for organizations doing important work in the US. Each month, a new group is chosen to receive all of the profits from the prints sold through Artists for the People, plus a 10% match through INPRNT's charity donation program.
“I was horrified on Election Day. I woke up feeling sick and wondering, what can I do? I’ve been using INPRNT for awhile for my own personal shop, so I’m going to contact them and see if I can get people together to raise money this way,” said Lily.
Artists for the People has already had a great response from artists who want to contribute their work to raise money for important causes, listing dozens of prints for sale in a variety of styles and themes. Some of the prints are political, but many are not. All of the prints will help the work of groups like the ACLU, which was the project's first beneficiary.
“Art can have an impact on the world,” said Lily, “and I wanted to help raise some money and stand up for what I believe in.”
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