Fashion Illustrator Sunflowerman Creates 'Visual Cues'
Updated: Dec 28, 2022
Our guest for episode 31 is men's fashion illustrator, Sunflowerman. From his wholesome upbringing in Grand Rapids, MI, to his creative collaborations with Dickies and Leon Bridges, Sunflowerman shares how his time in London, Paris, and Milan inspired him to revive the lost art of men's fashion illustration. Host, Cabus, kicks off the episode by asking how the name Sunflowerman came to be.
photo provided by artist
As his super hero-sounding name suggests, there is an origin story behind the name "Sunflowerman" that harkens back to his childhood summer camp in Grand Rapids, MI. In a skit class, he was challenged to pull a random item out of a bag and use it to create a skit. As fate would have it, he pulled out a shower curtain with pictures of sunflowers on it, tied it around his neck like a cape, and declared himself "Sunflowerman."
He then created stories and illustrations around this character in grade school where he experimented with his drawing and painting style. Sunflowerman shares that his high school art teacher was a key part of his creative formation. She encouraged him as a potential career artist and introduced him to watercolor painting, which continues to be his favorite medium.
After high school, Sunflowerman followed his creative interests to art school, attending Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University in Grand Rapids. He shares that after growing up in a conservative Christian bubble, art school gave him his first opportunity to really explore who he was and what else there was for him to explore in the world.
"I was born with a pencil in my hand. I've always been drawing since before I have memories of it."
photo provided by artist
Sunflowerman shares that he ended up dropping out of KCAD and enrolling in the Savannah College of Art and Design campus in Atlanta, GA. While he enjoyed the Illustration program there, he ultimately decided to cease his university studies. Sunflowerman says he doesn't believe an artist needs to pay $40K per year to learn how to draw and paint.
An art school degree is mostly about connections, he says, which he did not realize at the time. He suggests that if you are an artist in art school, you focus on meeting gallerists and collectors as well as connecting with your professors who are likely to be well-connected in the art world.
Despite his distaste for the art school system in America, Sunflowerman met some great friends at SCAD, including his now wife. When he dropped out, he had no plan except to somehow find a way to make his own career in art. While working at a Home Goods and a pizzeria in Atlanta, Sunflowerman would come home from work around 10 pm and paint for 4-5 hours straight—a schedule he says he kept for months.
While he wasn't making much money yet from his art, he began to shift his focus to pursuing relationships with the robust art community in Atlanta. He volunteered at an arts organization and did small art shows here and there. He says there was no real theme to his work that was connecting with people yet.
Sunflowerman unintentionally found his way into the men's fashion industry when he painted a portrait of a friend in a suit that caught the attention of an influential person in London. This led him to discover the huge market for fashion art and the potential for pursuing it as his career.
His rise in the industry continued through the popular Tumblr hashtag, menswear, as well as Blogspot and the early days of Instagram. Doors began to open for him and also inspired him to explore his own personal style. At this point, Sunflowerman began visiting menswear shops in Atlanta to connect with people in the industry and show them his work.
"I learned that showing myself off to the world was a key component to building a career."
photo provided by artist
After four years in Atlanta, Sunflowerman and his girlfriend moved to her hometown of Fort Worth, TX, and got married. They then ventured abroad to Greece, Croatia, and Portugal for nine months and then did another stint overseas for 15 months a couple of years later. While Sunflowerman says he can't put his finger on how their travels shaped him exactly, he says the experience changed his entire perspective on what he wants for his life.
When asked how men's fashion differs in Europe than in the States, Sunflowerman says that apart from New York City or Los Angeles, fashion isn't a part of the lifestyle of most American men. Whereas, in Europe, fashion is much more ingrained in the culture, especially in Italy where the norm is a pair of loafers and a nice cut suit.
From the moment he arrived in Fort Worth, Sunflowerman says the creative community has been very accepting of him. In his experience, they're interested in people who are doing different things and who can add something to the city.
Inspired by his visits to the menswear shops in Atlanta, Sunflowerman says he intentionally looked for interesting people in Fort Worth who he could connect with. He would find people on Instagram and DM them to ask if they'd be interested in meeting up for coffee. He took coffee meetings 3-5 times a week, which greatly helped him build community.
"Networking can just be finding somebody—a gallerist, a collector—somebody who is open and willing to talk to you. Just get to know them a little bit. No real objective other than I'm here, you're here, let's meet."
Sunflowerman says that one of his early art projects in Fort Worth was a collaboration with the Fort- Worth-based clothing brand, Dickies, where he was asked to paint a portrait of Leon Bridges on a piece of Dickies fabric. The project turned into a wider collaboration with other Fort Worth artists, including the production company, Twelve Midnight, who filmed a documentary about the project.
When asked how his brand has been influenced by the city of Fort Worth, Sunflowerman points to a number of items that he's wearing by Fort Worth designers. He says he has naturally taken on the mantle of Fort Worth because the city has been so willing to accept him.
Sunflowerman says visual cues, like clothing, are important branding markers for artists. While living in Atlanta, he would wear a bright pair of yellow glasses, which made him recognizable to the public. He later swapped the yellow glasses for a signature hat and now features a top knot as his signature look.
"These visual cues are important in branding. It becomes the thing that people can grab onto when they see you on the internet or in person."
Cabus then asks what advice Sunflowerman would give to anyone emerging onto the art scene and trying to find their way. Sunflowerman says, in general, he doesn't think he has good advice to give, but that he can speak from his own personal experience. For him, going after what he wanted and going all in was important. He admits that he had safety nets, like family, to fall back on in the early days, that other people may not have, but that going all in on his creative work and seeing what came of it was huge.
As far as his current creative endeavors go, Sunflowerman plans to paint more watches and focus more on watercolor. He mentions he tried to pivot into purely digital art at one point in his career and realized that it wasn't for him. He also recently reprised the cover art for Fort Worth-based singer/songwriter, Abraham Alexander's song, Stay, which he re-released in September 2022.