Written by WonderRoot Intern Martin Brown
Born in Miami, and raised in Indianapolis, Justin Coelho is a graduate of The Savannah College of Art and Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in Illustration/Communication Arts. He recently moved to Atlanta, and his involvement in the PCM Artist Market and WonderRoot put him on our radar. I was really struck by the vivid colors and detail present in his water colors and ink drawings, and as an artist myself, I wanted to ask questions based around the experience of being an artist. I asked him questions about motivation, inspiration and challenges he has overcome as an individual making a living from being creative. From his website, I found a quote that helped me frame my inquiries:
“Each piece is allowed a certain amount of wiggle room for surprise, I do this because most of the elements I keep in my ingredient list originally came from accidents. Even if I did become comfortable with my work I wouldn’t allow it. I have a very strict mentality on the things I need to work on, reminding myself what this next piece needs that the last did not receive. I am constantly climbing a tree with each branch being the next goal on how I want my work to look and feel. Each branch I reach I tell myself, “No, go higher.” This is how I keep my work in constant growth by not accepting the branch I have currently climbed upon. But with that in mind I stop once in a while and enjoy the view.”
Q: Based on information I gleaned from your website, it seems that you have figured out a good way to stay in a creative groove. Could you further explain your “tree of goals” concept and how this helps you reach higher within your work?
A: The statement on my website is referring to my inner voice or self critique. It explains my “Artist’s Gap.” I know I have certain tastes and aesthetics among all creative media and it is part of my journey to create work that fits the mold of what personally drives me. Each new piece is a learning experience, and I know it’s going to be a while until my body of work is where I really want it to be. That is the “gap” that I am trying to close, the “end of the climb” in this “tree of goals”. A really interesting filmmaker that I know from undergrad, Bryan Tan, once explained to me that this gap may never close. That may sound pessimistic, but it’s really not because as an artist you sometimes set the bar at an unattainable height, and having this constant climb is how you grow. Each piece shows a slight glimmer of magic, and it is my mission to learn what works and what doesn’t to keep that magic flowing.
Q: As an artist myself, one of the first things I noticed was the difference in the styles/techniques that you use. Are you more drawn to using ink and sticking to black/white, or do you feel like your watercolors demand more of your attention?
A: They sort of go hand-in-hand. Watercolor is my medium of choice and how I market myself, and my knowledge of drawing is the foundation for my paintings. I have been drawing ever since kindergarten and I am really obsessed with depicting line and form. The drawings on my site are more of a display of my hand with brush and ink. In my lookbook, which I have on display at the artist market for people to flip through, I even include some preliminary sketches of finished paintings to show people my process. I love sketching in black and white but when it comes to a finished piece there’s nothing like playing with color and creating a bouncing vibrancy.
Q: What is the best thing about being an artist in Atlanta?
A: I just recently moved to Atlanta so there’s still much more for me to experience but so far I really enjoy the diversity! There are so many different kinds of people who are involved in a variety of disciplines. I experienced this when I attended SCAD in Savannah, and that was what I missed most after graduation. Half my family is Brazilian and the other half Latvian, so I really enjoy this collective group of people from different backgrounds. As an artist I couldn’t survive in a place void of culture.
Q: Describe one difficult situation in regards to being an artist that you were able to overcome in the past year.
A: Probably my grudge with Photoshop. I’ve always been a lover of traditional work but I received a degree from SCAD in Illustration/Communication Arts, so along with my personal fine art, I am beginning to work on a more practical style that leans more towards commercial illustration markets. I’ve always used PS as a tool for retouching and adjusting my traditional paintings but I am now starting to play around with watercolor brushes to create illustrations in the digital realm.
Q: What does inspiration feel like to you? What do you do when you are struggling to feel motivated/inspired?
A: It’s hard for me to describe the feeling while avoiding the “lightbulb” cliche. I guess it’s like a song that’s always there playing in my head but most of my waking life I can’t hear it, until something sparks and then all of a sudden I can. When I’m uninspired I try not to fight it too much, I’ve found that that can sort of add fuel to the fire. Genre bending music and film usually works for me though, something that creates a mood that is foreign or mysterious to me or reminds me of that distant song. Sometimes this doesn’t work but when it does I’m very happy.
Thanks Justin! We’re glad to have you as a part of the artist market!
Justin’s Website: www.justincoelho.com
Interested in becoming a vendor at our Artist Market? Applications are open! Click here: https://www.wonderroot.org/artist-market-at-ponce-city-market/
Martin Brown is graduate of Guilford College, he is a Programs Intern at WonderRoot and an illustrator.
Martin’s Instagram: @dadchic