Today we’re chatting with John Golden, an artist/illustrator based in Wilmington, North Carolina. I’m a big fan of John’s work, both from a content standpoint, but also from a business point of view. I love his work, but I also appreciate that he stays true to his style, but doesn’t limit himself to a certain muse or genre. The work is commercial, but not commonplace and when it comes to making art for people to connect with, he hits it out of the park.
Give us a little background. Where are you from, born and raised?
I was born in Boston while my dad was going to school there. Lived there about 6 weeks before heading back to be raised in Huntington, WV, Charleston, SC and Wilmington, NC. The bulk of my childhood was spent in Wilmington and the South.
How did your creativity start? How old were you when you started doing art, how did it begin and flourish?
My mother was something of a child prodigy in art. She moved away from art in college and taught in English for a while afterwards. We did projects together, and I remember an amazing Halloween costume she made (for me) where she painted a skeleton on a black bodysuit.
When we moved to Charleston, SC my mother began to do craft shows with her Bread Dough jewelry and Macrame. I learned how to make Macrame Owls and Pot Holders. We spent a lot of time at craft shows. It was 1976, the bicentennial and eventually there were revolutionary period costumes involved. That’s right, we bridged the gap between the American Revolution and Macrame. My mother took up watercolor while we lived there.
When I was 11, we moved to Wilmington, NC and and my mother opened a gallery downtown there. She gave me a corner of the shop and helped me to make a few linoleum blocks that I would print and sell there. I had always done art in school, drew instead of paying attention, but “John’s Corner” was the start of my professional art career. I spent my afternoons (for a few years) at the gallery, and messing around Downtown Wilmington. I really feel my love of texture came from spending so much time in a somewhat urban area that was decaying and being torn down.
What were you doing before you started selling your art? How did you transition from that to selling on Etsy?
When I started Etsy, I was freelancing in Broadcast Design. It’s a mixture of Graphic Design and Motion Design/Animation, but basically graphic design for television. I had been working in the design field for about 16 years, and I was fortunate to have worked on some pretty visible projects with some really talented people.
I really felt like freelance work was beginning to slow down for me, and my wife had clued me into Etsy. I was still selling my work in our gallery, and was in a good position to get my work out via Etsy. I spent about a year and a half finding my feet on Etsy before sales there were good enough for me to say, I can do freelance, or I can do Etsy, but not both.
The equipment I used to freelance is pretty much the same equipment I used to create the finished pieces I was selling at the time, so the transition mostly involved learning the ins and outs of Etsy and order fulfillment.
You’re a full time artist now, the dream of many on Etsy. What would you say was the tipping point for your success? Was it a gradual success or can you pinpoint a certain series of events that launched your business?
One day, it occurred to me, “I’m doing this now, this is what I do”, and it was like I was committing to being a full-time working artist. Two days later, I was contacted by a publishing company, which has allowed me to get my work out to people in a way that I could not do on my own. I feel like committing to making my living from my art opened the door to opportunities that I might not be able to embrace if I were not giving my full focus to being a working artist.
This has been a gradual process with enough significant opportunities and events to keep it going. Getting some of my work into catalogs has helped a lot to get my name and work out there. Having my Dog Series picked up by Target.com was instrumental in creating widespread exposure. I just had two pieces based on my Lunastrella Series become available in Target Retail stores, and I expect that will make my work more recognizable.
You’re work is quite diverse in subject matter, from domestic pets to typography. Can you talk a little about your inspiration for the different series’?
Everything I make stems from my affection for something. The Dog Series was born out of my own dogs. I love Tin Toys, and we did my son’s nursery in that theme in the late ’90s. We could not find a lot of wall art to fit that, so I started making some. The By Order of the Management Series was started for my children, and inspired by my desire for them to grow up to be good people. Typography has been such a big part of my life for so long, I had to make some art with it.
Who or what inspires you most to create? Do you have any rituals?
Inspiration comes from everywhere for me. I have an extensive library of books featuring old advertising and illustration that has inspired much of the styles I use. The only ritual, if I have one, is to try and create a style that fits the subject matter. Then I ask my wife for her opinion. If she likes a piece, it generally does well for me.
If you had to give up your art today, what would you do instead?
If I had to stop creating my art, I would like to teach others how to create theirs. If I had to switch careers, I’m not sure what I would do, but it would need to be something that makes people happy.
What does the future hold for John Golden? What projects are on the horizon?
Hopefully, continuing to make my living from my art. Definitely continuing to get my work out in front of people. Project-wise, I have some new pieces I want to create within my current series of work, and I have some new series I would like to start. And I have a few series that I need to finish. The list of dogs left to do is a mile long.