Tell us who you are and what you do!
I grew up in Horn Lake, Mississippi. Right outside of Memphis, Tennessee. I grew up playing sports and loving the outdoors. My father taught me at a young age that being a black man, I was going to have to work harder. I’m going to have to struggle longer. Growing up in Mississippi, the country side of me comes out in my work. Bold and to the point. This art thing came into my life at the age of seven. I always had a talent for it and that talent became a passion in high school. Once I figured that sports wasn’t going to work out for me, I needed something to keep that fire lit. That’s when I started to take art very seriously at the age of fourteen. I was heavier than most growing up, and all the things that come with that broke my spirit for a while. I can honestly say that art saved me. It wasn’t really an escape, but it gave me validation that I wasn’t as worthless as people tried to make me feel. Drawing was something that they couldn’t take from me.
I received my BFA in Graphic Design from Mississippi State University (May 2016). One of the things that I’ve learned through my upbringing and experiences is that, you shouldn’t place your value on what other people think or say. And segwaying that to art, no one should value your work more than you do. Sure, do work for other people, but make sure it’s something that you’re proud of.
This past September I became the creative designer for a start up clothing company owned by Eric Pickens, The COOL Clothing. We are based in Memphis, TN. We’re still putting everything together and plan on having a small launch in Memphis “The LookBook” around Mid March 2017. I’m very excited to be working with Eric on something like this, especially with this much responsibility. I’ve done some of the designs and branding (aside from the title) myself. Even though I am apart of this business, I am still available for any freelance jobs I can get. I’m always open for new opportunities. My next step is to get to a point where I can do graphic design full-time. While I personally feel like I’ve earned it already, I’m still waiting for my time to come. Thankfully, my upbringing and experiences have prepared me for this challenge that most post graduates face.
What is the inspiration for your work?
I’m inspired by people and things with passion. You can look at something and see if it’s done with passion or not. I want people to see that my work has passion. I want to prove that I take what I do seriously. I always think that I have to prove myself. In my head, I’m always behind, and that thought is what inspires me. I listen to a lot of Les Brown and his old school approach to achieving helps me out as well. Any time I draw a portrait for someone or help somebody brand their company, I care about this stuff.
My work varies. I do everything from computer work in Illustrator, to watercolor portraits, to screen printed t-shirts. My personal favorite medium is Prismacolor pencil. On my website I try to keep it mostly graphic design stuff as that is the job I’m going for, but it is a must that I display that I can draw and illustrate. That’s the one advantage I usually have in my favor. I don’t really look to other artists for style as I try to stay original as possible. I’m a fan other people’s style of course, but I want stay true to me. I don’t really take their style, but I take their approach.
Art allows you to see things the way that artist sees things, through their art. I get a lot of inspiration from people like Mike Thompson (MikeT Artworks) who has been my favorite illustrator since the age of eleven. My first time being exposed to his work was in a SLAM Magazine I mentioned earlier. He’s the one that really made me want to get into drawing portraits. When I got to college I started following Aaron Draplin. I’m a fan of his outlook on the business. There’s a sense originality and versatility he brings to his work. And his story is crazy. I recommend getting his book, Pretty Much Everything. Stéphane Casier of Yeaaah! Studio is someone that I’ve been getting into because I think we artists can relate to him. From his book, Quality Goods he mentioned how he just wanted to create, and get away from the “structured” side of the business. He just wanted to get back to what he loved doing. I love that.
What would you say to prevent an upcoming artist from making the same mistakes you have made?
One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t have the ambition and the fire that I have now, back when I was younger. So, I would tell young artists to start NOW. Get better NOW. Make sacrifices NOW. Embrace that constructive struggle NOW. Do what is hard NOW. Because I guarantee you that if you’re not doing that, someone else out there is, and you’re behind.
What obstacles have you faced as a Black Artist/Business Owner?
I was often mistaken for someone that I wasn’t. It has always been hard for me to relate to people. I was always the sore thumb. I think I can speak for all artists by saying that we think differently. We see things differently. It’s less black and white and more grey area. Artists, we live in that grey area. We crave for that grey area because that’s where some of our best work is created. So, growing up black and having that artistic mindset was difficult. Everybody is wondering what everybody else is doing or who’s dating who, and I’m over here astounded by the blossoming flowers outside. My teammates are looking a basketball magazine and they’re talking about how they’re going to be on the cover one day, and I’m thinking, “Man I want to draw that picture.”
Being overlooked always has been that hump I had to get over. I remember back in high school, I would get every award imaginative. Petty awards however. Yet, my teacher helped another student get a scholarship to an art school. The same teacher who thought I deserved awards and better grades on projects, recommended her instead of me for that scholarship. How can one justify that? In college, a couple of my teachers assumed that I was someone who didn’t take himself seriously. Therefore with an exception to a few teachers, I didn’t receive the same amount of effort that some of my peers did. They were mistaken. They would be astounded at my illustrating skills. I would get offended because why did they have low expectations in the first place? What did they expect? I’ve been an artist since I was seven years old, which makes sixteen years. Little did they know that I had dreams and goals that they wouldn’t prepare me for. I was the guy in class who would do whatever it took. I bought less food at the store in order to be able to buy ink and other supplies for my projects. I stayed in on weekends teaching myself new techniques and methods. I pulled all nighters for the sole purpose of wanting to get better at my craft.
I came home with less than fifty dollars to my name three semesters in a row just from paying for things for school. I’m the guy that wants to succeed that badly. That’s the guy they ignored. Being ignored and condescended in that way messed with my confidence a bit. It had me thinking, “Maybe I’m not worth their time? Maybe this isn’t for me. I mean, you don’t really have to get a degree for art right?” As a black man, stats say I shouldn’t have even made it to college. And they are definitely not in my favor as far as making it to see graduation. All my life I’ve exceeded expectations, so what’s another challenge? Right there is where I remembered who I am. I lost 95lbs before the age of 20. I broke my ankle and walked a mile and a half to class for a three week period. Making all those sacrifices just shows you who I am. I was broken once, and that’s never going to happen again. All that to say, nothing’s going to stop me.