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Personal Growth

Tavis Coburn: Defying Convention

We sit down with artist Tavis Coburn to get the skinny on collaboration, overcoming frustration, and the power of determination.

Through a unique multi-step process, artist Tavis Coburn creates striking artwork for advertising and editorial clients like Footlocker, NFL, Time Magazine, and The Discovery Channel. Influenced by sub-retro design periods, his process consists of painting, digital design, and hand silkscreening each individual piece.  We sat down with Coburn to get the skinny on collaboration, overcoming frustration, and the power of determination.

Coburn does not have a secret formula for creating successful work for his clients; rather, he thinks his best ideas occur through open-minded collaboration.  “I wouldn’t say my more successful projects can be credited to one particular idea, or approach.  I find that my biggest successes are handled in the same fashion as any of my other jobs.  Perhaps the magic happens when I’m able to work with a really open-minded art director and when the client is willing to leave their comfort zone and go out on a creative limb for the project. The best ideas result from respectful interaction between myself and the art director, when ideas from both camps are shared and treated with equal importance”

Your creations should come from a place of personal passion, rather than mimicking others or following trends.

In speaking of his unique style, he explains: “When I started work as an illustrator, back in 2000, I defied convention by avoiding the standard paint-on-paper approach and opted for a style that married traditional with non-traditional media: my process integrated painting, digital design and screen-printing.”  But working in new forms often means meeting resistance from conservative clients.  Coburn handles this issue by choosing his battles and staying focused on the overall piece, rather than getting mired in every detail. “Producing something that hasn’t been seen before is always one of my greatest creative challenges.  Often, clients lean towards a past piece, hoping that I’ll recreate it or repurpose it for their needs.  I think this limits my growth as an artist and gets monotonous after a while.  I overcome these frustrations by fighting for ideas that I believe are important to the overall integrity of a piece.  I may not win them all, but it feels triumphant when I do.  Sometimes the smallest creative victories can make all the difference in the context of a piece.”

When it comes to productivity, Coburn admits efficiency is a challenge and, like most successful creatives, has found ways to help him achieve deadlines — however incidental they may seem. “I don’t consider myself to be terribly savvy when it comes to organization and time management, [but] I’ve started to use a stopwatch widget, to time each illustration I create. Now, I have a true sense of how long it will take me to complete a new commission. This helps me plan out a realistic work back schedule. Also, a clean desktop is key.” And of course, sheer determination also plays a large role in his success. “I’m super-driven and tend to be a perfectionist. I put 110% effort into every single job I do, in spite of myself. I can’t help but stay on track.”

Coburn’s tireless motivation promises to carry him well into the next stages of his business. “I’m motivated, on a daily basis, to create powerful pieces of design.  Right now, my main goal is to transition Tavis Coburn Illustration from a small illustration shop into a full-service art and design studio.” For others hoping to emulate his model, his advice is simple: “Stay true to what inspires you and strive for originality. Your creations should come from a place of personal passion, rather than mimicking others or following trends. The most successful illustrators aren’t afraid to experiment and walk their own creative paths.”

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