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