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Spotlight Artist: Jim Atherton!

I've been following Jim for many years and have been amazed at his consistency of drawing. He's does amazing computer illustration but my favorite are his random sketches either from his imagination or observation. I look forward to getting to know him better.

Jim, introduce yourself...

I was a college baby, arriving while my parents attended BYU in Provo, UT. Shortly after, my father enrolled in the Army as a counselor. I officially earned the title of Army brat as well as becoming a very well-travelled 5-8 year old. We spent those 3 years stationed in Germany and traveled to many of the countries in that area including East Berlin, while the wall still stood. I have very vague memories of being extremely bored while walking in the Louvre, with it’s wooden floors. I suppose that the greatness I was subjected to as a young child must have influenced me to some degree. Like the founder of SketchWallet, Ralph, I too was signed up for Art Instruction schools at the ripe old age of 12. I also fit into the drop out category. However, I still have some of the reference materials that they gave to me as part of the program. I have used them over the years as I have taught some of the basics I learned to my own 5 children.

I finally discovered the art realm during my junior year at Simi Valley HS. The teacher was an eccentric, Japanese genius. The world later got to know him as Bruce (Kanegai) from season 12 of Survivor: Panama (CBS). I attribute so much of what I love about art to his teaching and example. I did well in high school, placed in some local art contests and ended up with a few scholarships upon graduation.
My college experience was local for the first 2 years where I attended Moorpark Community College. I really began to grow my skills there by taking a figure drawing class taught by a legend, Frank Sardisco. I discovered that I love sketching and drawing observationally.

A few years later I found myself married and living in northern Utah working my way with my wife through Utah State University. I found work in an illustration studio, as part of a publishing company and fell in love with Adobe Illustrator. I couldn’t get enough and was driven to learn as much as I could about digital production and the Adobe suite of applications, back in 1994. When work and clients were slow I would spend all my extra time going through tutorials and was soon one of the experts on the illustration team. I soon helped to develop and design art programs for textbooks which was the main focus of the composition house. I still work for many of the same clients/publishers that I became familiar with so many years ago. I have been a freelancer, on my own since 1996. Just like any self-employed artist, some years are lean and some are better.

Our family moved to Las Vegas from SoCal in 2001 and we’ve been in LV ever since. It has been a great place to raise our family. I even found time to get back in to skateboarding when I turned 30. I still skate regularly on my 4 ft mini ramp in my backyard. It’s definitely how I stay young. A lot of that skateboarding is still on Youtube on my “Oldskater” account. The skate community is a lot like the art community. It has a similar vibe of self-expression and personal growth while your peers cheer you on from the sidelines.

In 2012 I started a Facebook/Instagram page to hold myself more accountable artistically. My oldest daughter and I made a goal to sketch every day, and post those results on that account. Why everyday you ask? Well, that goes back to Sensei Bruce. One of the things he taught us was to “draw every day.” I finally got around to it. I’ve seen a huge increase in my ability to be creative in all the areas of my field, but especially when it comes to sketching. Like most professional artists out there, I struggle with feeling that I have to have something perfect before I can share it. The sketch every day goal helped me to overcome that insecurity and be happy with producing something, no matter how “good” it might be. Finished not perfect.

Christmas 2017 I got a Sketch Wallet as a gift. I had been watching the Kickstarter for quite a while, and was very excited about having a sketch book with me wherever I went to help me meet my daily sketch goal. My Sketch wallet didn’t disappoint. You can see from my Instagram account that it is my #1 go-to for daily art and sketching, even over sketching on the iPad, which I also enjoy. I currently own 3 sketch wallets, the gray canvas original, a medium brown leather and a kids one designed by Parker Jacobs (gift to my 11 year old son).

I am still working in the publishing field, and am often sketching concepts that I turn into published illustrations. While I love working in desktop publishing, I am always trying to push myself with new challenges that I enjoy. I have always been a fan of children’s book illustration. Even though I have illustrated 6 children’s books, I don’t feel like I’ve done all I want to do in that industry. I’m always on the lookout for the next story opportunity.

Daily sketching in my sketch wallet has reminded me of how much I love traditional mediums like pen and ink on paper. I hope to keep pushing myself and creating art that I love for many years. Hopefully I’ll still be skating every day too.

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