Kevin-John is a rad artist who has created many pieces for sports teams & players and also most recently for the Fine Arts arm of Disney Parks. I could go on & on, but I’ll go ahead & let him tell you how it is.
I must tell you first though, as I listened to the audio he sent me of his answers,there was constant sounds of his pencil moving. This guy is the real deal.
1) What brought you into the world of art? Did you always focus on creating pieces based around sports?
Unprofessionally, meaning art in general, drawing sketching & painting, has always been a part of me. It’s just something that just comes out; you can’t prevent it. As long as I’ve been around I remember picking up any crayon or pencil that I could find when I was a really small child & just trying to replicate anything I saw on paper. Back then it was Batman & dinosaurs, that sort of thing.
Professionally, I started when I was a senior in high school selling my art. Basically what brought me into that was that I worked a retail job part time in high school, was bringing home $80 a week & realized that I could do much better by selling art. So I came up with some pieces that I thought would sell in my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania. At the time we were really enthusiastic about local history & the landmarks & things like that around my town, so I created art based around those things & then would sell them through local galleries & gift shops.
The sports art came about 10 years later and that was again driven by need. I met some pro athletes & they asked if I could do portraits of them playing football or whatever [sport], [as] they would like to have it for their sports room at home or one guy was opening a restaurant and wanted it [f0r that], so that’s how that came about. I was a sports enthusiast and an athlete myself so it was an easy transition to make; it was something that I understood visually how to make that work. I built my brand nationally based on the sports art [and] until about 4 years ago, that [is what] I was most known for.
2) You made the move from Pennsylvania to Florida- what caused that big of a transition? How did it effect your art?
I moved to the east coast of Florida 4 years ago. I was on a trip to Walt Disney World & I’d always heard about the coast here, so I rented a car & drove out. It was February, it was 85 degrees, and beautiful and palm trees everywhere and I was knee deep in ocean water that was warm and beautiful and blue. Back home in Pennsylvania we were getting just absolutely shellacked by a huge snowstorm & I just said ‘this is where I need to be. I have no reason to stay there,’ so I made a plan. Looking back, that was about six years ago now.
[It has affected my art] in ways I’d never expected. I expected to just move forward with the sports brand, continue [on]. I started doing some pop culture art & that was going well.
Once I got here, the opportunities for different type of art are just endless. I’ve never been an artist that has been ‘inspired’ to create art, I’m kind of a ‘paycheck artist’. If I think that it will sell, I’ll produce it, that’s my job. Once I got here, there’s the beach & palm trees & sand & the surf, I’ve been quite inspired to create coastal art, which I’ve done a lot of [now]. I’ve also always had a passion for the tiki culture. There’s a little bit of that here on the island, so I’m developing a whole series of tiki culture art. It’s a situation where I’ve never been inspired before, but this place it’s just so beautiful that it continues to inspire.
3) How did you get involved with creating work for Disney? That has to be a dream for any artist! Do they give you subjects to create works around or do you get free reign?
Disney became familiar with my art work, it wasn’t something i was searching for. I’ve always loved sports & then I worked in sports, I spoiled where I play with work, which is a blessing & a curse at the same time. I wasn’t looking to do that with Disney- Disney was my playground; it’s one of the reasons I moved to Florida & now they were offering me this contract to create art for them. I am so blessed to be able to do it- it didn’t take much convincing on my part after I realized what their direction was with me. Their direction for me is to create experiences in the parks that people can take home with them to relive those park experiences in art work form. that’s as much direction as they give me, they don’t suggest one way or another what I do. I essentially come up with concepts for new pieces I’d like to create, I then present those concepts & it goes through a bit of a review process & then that’s pretty much it. Then I create the art, it goes through approval & then it finds it’s way into the galleries in the parks here [in Orlando] & also Disneyland.
4) You have done some amazing pieces for the Disney parks & I especially loved the footage you shot while creating your Tower of Terror painting, showing the process. It was a really cool look “behind the scenes”. What inspires you to make videos such as this & share tests on colors & concepts with your friends on social media?
I have always been strong with marketing in my art. Its one of the reasons my brand has become so successful because I’ve been so strong with marketing the art. I think that means more than just showing the completed product. I’ve always been a proponent of talking with my client base and introducing them to Kevin John the person, as well as Kevin John’s art. I think it adds a little more dimension to the art to know who the person is behind it [and] creating it. Along with that, here comes social media, with fans following me from all over the world & they are able to have this intimate look into my studio everyday, me creating this art, so why not put videos up & share that process with them. Photos, commentary, that sort of thing. I don’t give away any of my trade secrets, if you will, however I do like to give my fans an intimate look at the process. It creates excitement for new, upcoming pieces.
The last two pieces that I produced for Disney, the Tower of Terror piece & the Tiki Room piece, I promoted it in [the months leading up to] the release. we’re talking hundreds of hours in the creation of this artwork from concept sketch to final product. So the fans are really watching this along the way & I think they gain an appreciation for how long it takes to create the piece of art & how labor intensive it is & my passion for it, that I don’t just sit down in an afternoon & whip some paint on a canvas & off it goes to sale. They’re paying $6,000 for an original because of everything that went into that piece, as well as the quality & what it looks like. I think the re was so much anticipation for those two pieces that they sold immediately. I’m honored that they sold so quickly.
5) The million dollar question: How does one make creating your art your job? You’ve been at it for quite a few years & have an impressive list of clients & I know that is a dream for myself & many other creative folks that I know.
29 years as a professional I celebrate this month (March). How do you do it? Talent is a component, but I think that is lower on the list than what a lot of people believe. Hard work. When I talk to artists or do interviews, a lot of the questions are similar to [these]- the word ‘inspire’ comes up a lot. I think that the general public believes that an artist kind of floats through the world & all the sudden is hit by this ‘inspired vision’ and then sits down & creates this masterpiece & sends it out into the world for sale, & then goes back about his or her day for the next few weeks or months, until [they] are inspired again to create another piece. That maybe true for some artist, but for me, inspiration has a little bit to do with it, but production is more the fact.
I work an easy 70 hour work week every week. It’s the hardest I’ve ever worked my life, over the last 20 years specifically. I didn’t go to college or art school, so I kind of earned my bones, gritty in the streets so to speak, learning on the fly & kind of inventing it on my own. It was just something I knew I always wanted to do. This was how I was going to make a career and I don’t look at it as ‘I’m an artist, I’m going to run this like an art process’, I’m a business owner, I own a business, the product is art, iI am the CEO, I am part of the marketing team, I am part of the sales team, part of the production team & I’m the sole laborer. So you look at business owners; what type of hours & effort do they put into a business? Just one of those job titles would dedicate an easy 40-50 hours a week, so I’m doing all of those different jobs, there’s no way you can do it part time & there’s no way you can do it in a 40 hour work week. It is non stop, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
I am lucky if I take a Friday off every couple of weeks.I try to reserve Friday as my day off, I work Saturdays & Sundays. Even then, I’m still answering emails, checking social [media]. When I’m mobile I’m still on my phone constantly. That is how I think you become successful at this. It’s not about the art, it’s about running it as a business, as a business owner would run a successful company along with wearing different hats along the way. So you have to learn all those disciplines as well, you have to learn what it takes to wear those different hats, not just the artist hat & I find very few people are able to do that. I have forgone having children, all the normalcy of having a ‘normal 9-5’ for this. My career & my brand is everything for me. And I’ve sacrificed everything for it.It’s not unlike musicians [who] sacrifice everything to be on tour, everything [else] takes a back seat.
Bonus Question: You often talk about going to estate sales, on a quest for tiki themed items. Any tips on going home with something awesome? Also, for the record that Magnum PI mug you posted the other day is now in my radar to seek out!
[Estate sales are] just recreation to get out. I can’t always plan to be that far away from my studio, even on a day off, so down here in FL, there’s estate sales every weekend throughout the entire year. It’s something I’ve always done. My grandmother used to refer to me as an Old Soul. I think I have kind of an attachment to history, so when I go to estate sale or yard sales, [the people are like] “the tools are over there, the men’s fishing equipment & boots are over there” & that’s the last thing I want to look at. I look at the old decor & vintage accutremont , things of that nature. It links connective tissue from today & our past. We have such a recent, young history in our country here, it’s not difficult to find items that can link you to 50 years ago or 100 years ago, and i appreciate the craftsmanship & beauty.
I’m really drawn to atomic age, mid century modern decor. MY whole house kinda looks like the Jetsons, kinda 1950s vibe, so I love to collect that. The tiki culture is rolled right into that, so i snatch up tiki mugs when i can.
Tips? You’ve got to be persistent. You cant’ just go out one day a year & expect to scoop all of the prized booty that you could desire. I hit sales atleast a couple times a month. I went out two weeks ago with a friend & we didn’t find one piece [and] we hit 25 sales. Last weekend, on my birthday, I went out & scooped 5 or 6 pieces, it’s just luck of the draw. Stay consistent, that’s my Kevin-John estate sale tip.