Early Inspiration for Youthful Artistic Passion

As an artist it can be hard to find inspiration while growing up in a monotonous environment, but For Jacob Thomas, with the passion that he had for drawing and painting, he was able to overcome his mundane environment to immerse himself into the world of artistry.

At the age of 19 Jacob found the opportunity to escape from his birthplace in Maryland. With his passion for drawing in mind, he traveled to Pittsburgh for the coast guard and while there he decided to attend the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

Fortune in Pittsburgh

Jacob“When I was in the coast guard in Pittsburgh I joined the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. It was more of a desk job when I was in Pittsburgh for the coast guard, ” Thomas said. “That’s kind of how I got Andy Warhol’s influence because Pittsburgh is like his hometown.”

Jacob received his degree in graphic design without having any clarity about pursuing a career as an artist. He always had a love for art, but he took it to another level while at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

Discovering the Illustrator

“I didn’t know there was a career at that point for people who liked to draw; I just knew I liked to draw,” said Thomas. “So when I went to school, that was when I learned the word illustrator and sort of became obsessed with that. I didn’t have the confidence to go into a career of illustration at that point. So, I chose graphic design as my studies, but I chose a lot of illustration classes along the way.”

After receiving his degree Jacob began working at a print shop, using his graphic design skills. At the time he was also working at different frame shops. But, eventually he left those jobs to be his own boss as a freelance designer.

First Job and the Big Move to NY

“One of my first jobs was a freelance job for the Art Institute,” said Thomas. “My friend worked there as a graphic designer and we designed their student catalog.”

When Jacob first got into business, it was hard to make ends meet with the startup clientele that he had. But In 2004, things started going to another level for Jacob. He moved to New York to help take another company to the next level.

“In 2004 that’s when I was hired by a guy who had a small company called Decko Zone and he hired me to basically take his company in a different direction and get different types of clients. He was used to just doing strictly pattern designs,” Thomas said. “He hired me to become an illustrator. I built my portfolio, he gave me salary, and I got clients.”

Victory over Discouragement

Growing and evolving in the world of art sometimes took a toll on Jacob. Going against other people’s ego’s wasn’t something that he was used to. But with the help of his close friend and mentor, John Ritter, Jacob was able to embrace his passion to overcome discouragement of  his success.

“We still talk ‘til this day. We’ve known each other for over a decade now. We’ve collaborated, I’ve worked with him on his work as a ghost illustrator,” Jacob says about his relationship with his friend John Ritter. “He was the first person to get me to understand how to think. It wasn’t just about technique.” Thomas continues, “It wasn’t just about can you draw this thing; it was like, well, why are you drawing it?”

The Gifts of John Ritter

Jacob

PHOTO BY: LEV RADIN / SHUTTERSTOCK

Since Mr. Ritter is a very successful illustrator, Jacob has been able to gain knowledge and wisdom.  According to Jacob, John’s style reminded him of previous well-known artists.

“At the Art Institute everyone was just Warhol fanatics,” said Jacob. “And then here comes this guy, John, who tells me right off the bat ‘Oh I don’t know how to draw, but I’m this illustrator working for the New York Times’.”  Jacob continues, “And, I’m just like well how are you doing this? And then he shows me his style and it was very Andy ‘Warhol-ish.’ It was almost as if Andy Warhol was alive making art.”

Beyond the technique aspects of things, John caused Jacob to have a different perspective on having a career as an illustrator. Understanding the business side of things helped Jacob to adapt to the professional world as an illustrator. This has helped Jacob develop his own craft. His work is shown in a broad spectrum of billboards, newspapers and publications.

Sources of Creative Inspiration

“For my personal work I’m inspired by what’s around me. So it could be the news or my home environment, things that happened to me personally,” said Thomas. “Some days I really like to just draw something and other days I hate drawing. Like right now I’m working on a mural and it’s more of a wallpaper kind of thing where I’m ripping, tearing and collaging. It’s a collage kind of thing. And that’s really a fun way of making art.”

Into the Professional World of Illustrator

Upon graduating, Jacob stepped into the professional world of an illustrator. After creating so many freestyle pieces to bring more exposure to his work, he was able to get various publication projects to start off his career.

“My first time in a commercial kind of art setting was a communication art setting,” Thomas then begins to reminisce over previous projects that he did when first coming into the professional world of illustration. “I think I had a book cover that was self published by a guy. I think that was technically my first published piece. But communication arts was like what I consider my first big published piece. Then Vibe magazine hired me to do a portrait job, that was like my first paid job.”

Enjoying the Challenge of Variety

Some processes for different projects might be more difficult than others. For Jacob however,  the challenging process can still sometimes be enjoyable. His creativity has made room for the variety of concepts that are continually evolving around the world today.

“For me the thing that I like the most is variety. If I’m doing 50 portraits, as much as I love to draw people, it kind of gets a little bit old too,” said Thomas. “So I think the best project, just to generically sum it up, would be high budget and give me as much creative freedom as possible.”

How Jacob’s Work Reflects Life

JacobSome of Jacob’s work reflects some of the social issues prevalent  in  society today. Different pieces like “In My Head”, “Bad Business”, and “Gun Law” speak volumes with different messages about these issues.

“It’s kind of like I’m giving a general feeling from the media. It’s like I don’t know the answers and I don’t pretend like I have it all. Cause I know it can get really complicated and it’s like I don’t know the answers. But it’s still like I have this role reaction to what I’m seeing,” Thomas begins to elaborate on the message behind his piece, ‘Gun Law’. “I just feel like with that particular piece it’s kind of like, I feel like America is sort of falling apart and something needs to be done…”

Courage and Confidence

Despite of what people think or say in regards to sensitive pieces like ‘Gun Law’, Jacob’s passion has brought him to be confident about his craft. Evolving as an illustrator has forced him to be unconcerned about viewer’s opinions.

“I really don’t care what people see,” said Thomas. “Like, I have a love for it, so it’s like I know people are just going to have their reactions. It doesn’t really concern me because I’m going to need to do it anyway. Whether people react to it negative or get something out of it, my ego is kind of removed from it and I’m more like this is like eating and breathing. I need to make this. ”

Advice: Do Quality Work

Jacob’s passion and drive as an illustrator has allowed him to meet some incredible people, like Prince William. One of Jacob’s art pieces was presented to him as a gift through another company called Shutterstock. Jacob is now established as an award winning illustrator that creates custom art for television, billboards and advertisements. Jacob leaves us with some wisdom for other young illustrators who want to be successful like him.

“First and foremost it’s about the work,” said Thomas. “I would say make good work. Make at least 15-20 pieces of work. Don’t get caught up in it’s my style; just pay attention to that voice in your head [that says]  what you’re interested in and how your interested in creating something. Your style will essentially be your brain. Whatever you interact with in your life, your brain is collecting all of that and it’s going to make the decisions in your artwork for you. So that style will just naturally evolve.”

Recently Jacob was commissioned to do a mural piece for the Empire State Building. So, be sure to be on the lookout for that. You can check out some of Jacob’s pieces on his website http://www.jthomasillustration.com/ 

Jacob Thomas