I have held off telling this story for several years, but the time is right, as I have had a few conversations lately with folks that this might help.
Many of you know that I grew up in the small lake town of Erie, Pennsylvania. A sweet town, where people rarely leave and trends rarely make it there until they aren't trends anymore. Most of the people you see, are people that you have known most of your life. Erie is nice, but it does have it's limits for people who want to shoot for the stars.
I went to high school with a guy who I would end up seeing at the gym a few times a week, 30 years later. Nice enough kid. We would chat. He is a part time gym teacher who is trying to make art his full time profession. By this time (mid-2000's), I had carved out a foothold for my brand, nationally, in sports art. Things were rolling and he would often stop me at the gym or call me to ask advice or recommendations for materials, etc. I don't like to "give away the keys to the castle", but I always obliged. After all, he was a friend and spreading around good karma is superb for the soul. What's the harm?
Well, as KJ Studios began to grow, the brand would pick up great momentum and we outgrew Erie. I was doing very little work in my hometown because the money and opportunities were so much greater elsewhere. It's just the way it is. I always wanted to live on the beach, so we moved KJ Studios to Florida in 2012. 6 months after the move, I get a phone call out of nowhere from Disney. Gasoline on a fire. BOOM. This was the third major shift on my career at this point. We embraced the blessing and have worked seriously hard on this new opportunity, adding to my already very intense schedule of 50-60 hours a week.
The guy from Erie would continue to text and call for advice from time to time. He had been trying to copy my style, right down to the paint drips, and even started branding himself as a sports artist. Pretty much trying to poach from what I had spent 30 years building. The last time that we spoke, he called me while we were celebrating The Girlfriend's birthday at the Magic Kingdom. I took the call, anyway. He wanted to know how HE could become a Disney Artist, like me. Tons of questions and really pushing for it. I am always honest with people, especially when giving career advice. I was encouraging, but I was also fairly blunt with him about the chances. His skill was not at a Disney level. I also spoke to him about the theft in creating Disney art without proper license, as he started doing. I tried to encourage, but he seemed to think that this was all just a lucky, easy path to artist stardom. It is not. I told him about the boatload of personal sacrifices that I have had to make for years to continue to fuel this thing. The toll is a cost that not many are truly willing to bare. Branding and building a name is traditionally very difficult and takes a very long time unless you are blessed with tremendous capital. However, once there, the calls will come.
I wished him luck and moved on with the birthday celebration.
Within a few weeks, KJ Studios was granted another incredible opportunity that we spoke about with much excitement on social media. I LOVE sharing the good stuff with you all, as it may just inspire and juice your hustle.
I was soon after made aware of negative comments that he was making about me....the prices that I was able to charge for my art....and the fact that "your name means nothing." My name. My name means nothing. After 30 plus years in the business, selling thousands of pieces of art and creating images for some of the largest companies in the world, I took this as an insult. It also cut deeply because I had spent so much time giving out free advice to this guy. Something that I normally charge for through my consulting service. Time is not free.
I immediately phoned him to discuss this and to inquire about what I had said or done to cause such a nasty set of remarks. To this day, he has not answered that message or text. He is a coward. I get it.
However......this really burned inside of me. Disappointment and betrayal would soon become anger. I began hash tagging my art posts with #WhatsInAName . His comments, became fuel.
As I have done ever since I was a very young boy...I would internalize insults and would replay them on an endless loop in my head. All of it. All of them. At 50 years old, you can imagine that loop contains the insults, doubting words and bullying of hundreds of people who now lay in my wake watching me overcome all of the things that they said that I never would. From personal insults about me or my art, I put in the work to make them all regret their words....or at least, eat them with a nice side serving of crow. Constant change, improvement and personal growth was fueled of "juiced" by all of this negativity.
When you find yourself at your lowest. Remember those insults. When you feel that it looks bleak and you cannot push one more step further, replay their words. Let it burn in your belly. Now, put in the work needed to prove them all wrong. All juiced by their jealousy, negativity and hate. The results, no matter how long they take to achieve, are as sweet as Kevin-John Chocolates by Romolo.
Before I began writing this...I tried to include his name....ironically, I cannot for the life of me remember it. That's powerful.
So, use that juice. Get it done. Keep pushing for greater things, a greater you.
Next time, I'll tell you the story of "Those silly Star Wars drawings and Star Wars dolls that you play with will get you nowhere."
#WhatsInAName #HowDoYouKJ #ThatJuice