Artist Spotlight w/ Tristan Henry-Wilson
Feb 14, 2023
First, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Tristan Henry-Wilson and I’m a freelance illustrator. You could call my work imaginative realism or surreal. I have a traditional oil painting background that influenced my current digital painting approach.
The son of Jamaican immigrants, I grew up in New Hampshire. I studied illustration at Ringling College of Art and Design, lived up and down the east coast, and landed in Manhattan. Then, my Italian wife ushered me off to the Garden State of New Jersey, where we live in a lovely house with two amazing young girls.
My 6-year-old is on the autism spectrum. My 4-year-old taps me on the shoulder whenever she sees a little girl of color in a book or shows she’s watching, “Daddy, I like her. She looks like me!” Diversity, accessibility, and inclusivity aren’t buzzwords for my family, they’re daily parts of our life. That’s why it’s important that I create the art that they — and others like us — can see ourselves in.
Once you have an ounce of evidence that your work is professional grade, it’s time to abandon fear. That client you’re not emailing, the artist you look up to that you haven’t reached out to for advice, the personal project you never finished — that’s all fear, and it’s not doing you any favors.
Can you tell us about your experience and the role you are primarily filling?
I’ve worked for years as an art director, designer, and animator, both in-house and freelance. I lived on the brand, agency, or freelance side of the pipeline for Google, Samsung, HBO, GODIVA Chocolate, and others. As a freelance illustrator, it’s easier to understand the client’s or customer’s needs when you have a rounded history. Big-name clients are cool, but nothing beats seeing the art that you created, with your own hand, in print and out in the real world. That’s what makes being an artist fun.
If you could speak directly to the resourcing gods and powers that be, what would be your ideal project?
An illustration in my portfolio inspired the client, and they reached out to collaborate. They felt my diverse subjects and visual problem-solving were perfect for their book cover or ad. Perhaps a director’s title sequence needed illustrative paintings to bring their immersive vignette to life. We talked throughout the process, had fun along the way, delivered, and looked forward to working again.
Do you have any dream clients?
Studio: Elastic. I’ll never forget when I saw the Halt and Catch Fire titles for the first time. I think I’ve fallen in love with everything they touch.
Publishing: Pantheon Books because of the efforts they’ve made with black authors. Tor Publishing Group and Orbit Books because I’m a bit of a geeky sci-fi/fantasy nerd, and The Folio Society because they create absolutely gorgeous books.
Editorial: Time Magazine because when I grew up all the greats had art on the cover of Time, Flaunt Magazine because it taught me you could push the boundaries of your work and still get paid to do it, and Vogue because fashion is also kind of my thing.
Lastly, do you have any memorable stories, life lessons, or tall tales you can share from your adventures as a freelancer?
Recently, I’ve felt my goals as an illustrator hit a hard stop at what I’d consider the 90% mark. I’m a hard worker and can create an engaging image but there was something holding me back from reaching my potential. One night, I had an honest conversation with myself and realized I was afraid.
Once you have an ounce of evidence that your work is professional grade, it’s time to abandon fear. That client you’re not emailing, the artist you look up to that you haven’t reached out to for advice, the personal project you never finished — that’s all fear, and it’s not doing you any favors. More brilliant folks than I have discussed overcoming fear. Listen to them. Once you tackle fear, instead of chasing your dreams, your dreams will follow you.
Finally, create beautiful artwork that inspires a sense of wonder. There are so many ways to create art. Your work needs a unique voice. The art I create has to be beautiful for me to be happy, but the idea behind each piece must feel clever. That’s the best way to defeat Skynet and content saturation.
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