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Meet Mitchell Henson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mitchell Henson.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Mitchell. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Even at an early age, I was always creative, making things out styrofoam egg cartons, masking tape, string and straws. I did a lot of drawing. My earliest memory of drawing was doodling on tithe envelopes in church instead of paying attention. I would dig red clay out of the river bank and do small sculptures. My parents encouraged my creativity. So, I attended the after school gifted art program starting in middle school. I was accepted to the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Art at Furman University during my senior year in high school. Around this time, I was exploring the idea of becoming a medical illustrator. My dad took me to a medical illustration firm in Atlanta, Ga. to show me what the work environment was like. It seemed pretty boring but, I had no other definite ideas of how I was going to make a living doing art.

At that point, that’s what I resigned myself to do. The following fall, I attended the College of Charleston where I majored in Art and Biology. I was also on the college diving team. My attention was all over the place. I found that I didn’t have the focus to be a good biology student and couldn’t imagine the reality of being a medical illustrator. I knew I had some sort of artistic ability but couldn’t envision making a living doing it. Around my junior and senior years in college were pretty dark times. After graduation, I got a job in vinyl sign shop where I was promised I would be trained to learn corel draw, a graphics program. Instead, I was stuck doing post graphic prep work and sign installations. It was fun work but I didn’t feel like I was making any progress. I took on a second job working at a popular restaurant in Charleston where I realized I could make a lot more money in less time. I quit the sign shop job after a year.

While working at the restaurant, I did some artistic projects for them and began doing more creative things on my own time. That is a time in my life where I began fully exploring my abilities as an artist. I had time, energy and space to create whatever I wanted to try. I participated in group shows and even created a few solo show for myself. I experimented with acrylics and oils on canvas, color pencil drawings, oil pastels, portraiture, sign making, costume design and some wood sculpture. I had my hands in every discipline of the visual arts but, wasn’t that great at any of them. A good friend of mine had moved to LA and he kept encouraging me to move there. He and some other friends told me I’d work at Trader Joe’s as an artist. I had no idea what Trader Joe’s even was. Plus, if they hired artists, how was I gonna bust in there and get hired? I ended up moving to LA. I found an opening at a location in Chatsworth and got hired pretty quickly after arriving in LA. I also began taking graphic design courses at Santa Monica College. Learning photoshop and illustrator became an invaluable skill for my job and my personal creativity.

After a few years of the new exploration of making signs for Trader Joe’s, I began working alongside another artist 20 years my senior. His name was Dennis Eagleson and he had already had a life’s worth of experience painting billboards and other signs all around LA. His experience came from before the computer era so his knowledge was of everything done by hand. He and I became fast friends, working in a tight workspace and having to cooperate to get things done. I worked with Dennis for ten years in this environment. I believe the amount of knowledge I learned from him was much better than what any university could offer. I could feel my abilities improve and my confidence rise. During those years, I did paintings and drawings on my spare time. I have yet to commit to a certain genre of art or have a personalized style. Currently, I am still doing art for Trader Joe’s. I’m also producing more of my own creations, as well as taking some commissions.

Has it been a smooth road?
Relative to most artists, I believe my path has been pretty smooth. However, those couple of years at the end of college, I felt completely lost. I felt the expectations as a citizen to get a job on schedule. Meaning, complete high school, complete your college degree then, go work that career with that degree. During that time, art was not delivering an answer for me to stay on that schedule. I simply thought I was facing the reality that art was not going to be my career. I am the type of person to only take risks to a certain point. So, I did a comfortable balancing act of maintaining a tolerable income doing artistic jobs. Ultimately, I want to make the leap and survive off of my own creativity. The obstacle and challenge is to have an income (while keeping an artistic job) until that can happen.

Please tell us more about your art.
I cast a wide net of the things I do, which I exhibit through pics and descriptions on FB, Instagram, my website and word of mouth. Some people know me as the guy who will do your family portrait as The Simpsons, a portrait of your dog, a pop art portrait, a mural for the front of your business, hand-painted signs, design a logo for your business or a show promotion that I can make using photoshop. I have yet to really specialize in anything, which is a curse and a blessing. The thing that I am most proud of about what I do is that I am a problem solver. People want something expressed with the best quality aesthetics possible. I try to help my clients conceptualize the best way to exhibit their vision including elements of composition, color and durability. I’ll do sketches showing them various options until they feel comfortable with moving forward.

And sometimes, I really do feel what sets me apart from others is that I come with options. This sort of thing leads to one job turning into 2 or 3 more jobs for the same client. For example, someone wanted me to paint a mural on the front of their business. They express to me that they needed someone to design and build a sandwich board. That became an extra job. Then, they wanted lettering painted on an interior wall and needed color and font advice. There’s another job. And for all of these things, I use photoshop to show them pretty close to what they will get before I start.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I’m not sure I will ever be completely at ease as an artist in Los Angeles. But that’s all a part of the exhilaration. I had a lot of experiences that were like “training wheels” along the way. I tried new things and collected new skills as I moved forward. Each time I was presented with an opportunity or a project, the phrase “strike while the iron is hot” entered my thoughts. I don’t think it would be a comfortable experience for someone just starting out. I don’t think there’s anything LA can do about that. That’s just the nature of the beast in any city that will present a challenge. Never say never, though. Each artist has their own journey, along with the amount of stress they will tolerate. I do not prefer “the trial by fire” approach. But for some, that is the motivator.

Contact Info:

  • Website: www.mitchhenson.com
  • Email: mitchthenson@gmail.com
  • Instagram: @Mitchhensonart
  • Facebook: Mitch Henson Art

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