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Life & Work with Jack Kinyon

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jack Kinyon.

Hi Jack, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I’m not sure exactly when I fell in love with visual storytelling, but five sounds pretty safe. Back then, Calvin and Hobbes and The FarSide ruled the Sunday papers. They introduced me to the idea that someone could make a living out of drawing. Imagine that! Before long, I was “borrowing” paper and pens from Dad’s home office and cutting off cardboard box flaps to make my own comic books. While the adventures of “Bob and Teeth” aren’t going to win any Eisner awards, they grew my love for drawing and encouraged me to keep telling stories.

As the years passed, the storytelling bug kept biting. In middle and high school, my four brothers and I started our own comic company and sold original content to our neighborhood and church friends. In college, I became the school cartoonist and was privileged enough to illustrate a story of our school mascot. Upon graduating, I decided to pursue animation, eventually moving to LA to train as a background/environment artist. 

This year I’m taking time off from school to develop my portfolio and see if I can break into the entertainment industry.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Oh, yeah. The struggle is real.

While it isn’t easy living in LA (aka the rent is too @#$% high), the biggest challenges are internal. As a 30 years old artist who’s trying to break into the entertainment industry, it’s almost impossible to not be envious of my younger peers. When attending Brainstorm, a fantastic concept art school in Burbank, I was surrounded by the next generation of Michelangelo’s and Rembrandt’s. Seriously. The student art there will blow your mind. And many of these students had just graduated from high school! No matter the improvement, I always felt like I was failing to catch up with them. It’s hard not to let that get to you.

Besides my age, there’s also the common self-deprecation that all artists have to fight. Why aren’t you as good at painting as her? Why didn’t you finished that drawing last night like you said you would? Why is your artwork so boring? Thoughts like these crouch in the recesses of the mind, ready to pounce whenever I’m about to start drawing. Every artist has to battle these thoughts, and I’m no different.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
My main artistic focus is background and environment design for animation and video games. There’s nothing more exciting than helping clients bring their world to life or creating a stage for their characters to perform on. For every environment I work on, I create a written history and then collect a large assortment of reference photos. While you need your imagination to create exciting compositions, the history and reference give the design a level of believability. You want viewers to say, “Sure, that place could exist. I buy it.”

Last year I got to design a spooky steampunk bar for an upcoming project. In spite of 2020’s craziness, it was a blast developing the look of this creepy location. I tried to get into the creators’ minds and figure out how to create the bar’s atmosphere. Asking yourself questions helps a lot. Who works at the bar? Why do people go here? What would make the bar seem dangerous and unsettling? You need to know the history of the place if you’re going to design something believable. This project was an absolute delight, and I can’t wait to do more soon!

Can you talk to us a bit about the role of luck?
I would call it Christ’s providence, but, yes, it’s played a big role in my career. Here’s just one example:

Before moving to LA, I worked as an art teacher on the east coast. I had been saving up money for the move, but didn’t know how I was going to support myself long term. The thought of moving across the country with no job prospect was unnerving. As the school year drew to a close, I prayed that I would find a job in LA quickly, but secretly doubted God was listening. To be honest, I felt abandoned by God. The year had been extremely rough, and, to top everything, I almost cut off my thumb tip while hanging the school’s art show. If some friends hadn’t pitied me and helped out, the show likely would have been a disaster.

After a long day of hanging student artwork, my friends and I grabbed dinner at a local restaurant. The conversation quickly turned to how I was going to support myself in LA. I confessed that I didn’t know and was honestly just focused on finishing up at the school.

Then the amazing happened. One of my friends said, “I know a remote graphic design gig that you should apply for. I had to turn the job down because I’m getting married, but you should totally apply. Give them a call.”

What’s the harm in trying? I called them up soon after and managed to get an interview. “Eh, they’re probably looking for someone with more website experience,” I thought as I put the phone to my ear. 

After a short interview, they offered me the job. By the time I flew to LA, I already had the financial support to stay long-term and a schedule that allowed me to take concept art classes.

It’s weird to think about. No hurt thumb, no job in LA. Guess the Lord really can redeem all things.

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