We had the good fortune of connecting with AJ Reinhart and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi AJ, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
“AJ, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Whenever this question was asked of me as a child, I always had one response . . . “I don’t know, but I’m going to love and enjoy what I do.” I have been fortunate enough throughout my 20+ year career to say I have accomplished this.

As for why I pursued a creative career that is a bit more complicated, but a story I feel worth telling. Early on in my life I was heavily influenced by creativity and artists. I like to recognize 3 individuals for this inspiration.

1. At the age of 6, I started taking private art lessons in my neighborhood. My instructor who I studied with for many years influenced me greatly. She encouraged me to explore many forms of media. She taught me about graphic design in the late 80s, early 90s and helped me develop a portfolio to submit to private art schools after high school. She taught me what a mentor is and what they should be.

2. Chuck Jones was an animator for studios like Warner Brothers and worked on classics like Looney Tunes, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Tom and Jerry. I know this may seem odd to hold someone I didn’t actually know so dear as a personal inspiration, but what really brought my attention to Mr. Jones was not the cartoons themselves, but the way he told a story, showed expression, and stylized the characters. It was like nothing I had ever seen before, and I always thought there was something very expressive to his work. It showed me that you can make something different or out of the norm, something that was different than what people might be expecting. It was my first lesson in style and artistic individuality.

3. My Uncle Joe. Uncle Joe was always supportive of my art as I grew up and had an interest in what I did. He often took me to museums and art shows, but that is not what influenced me so much towards a creative path. At almost the age of 80, he decided to start pen-and-ink drawing and got pretty good at it too. So good, in fact, one of his drawings was selected to hang in the Governor’s Mansion in Pennsylvania. He told me that the reason he decided to start drawing after waiting so long in his life was because of me. He was inspired by me, by how I approached life and art and how I chose my own path in college and decided on Art School. This was incredibly humbling to me and quite unexpected. It was not till years later that I realized the lesson I learned from him. That lesson was you can be influential in what you do no matter how big or small it is, and you should always be humbled by that and respect that.

The combination of these influential people (and many others) and these life lessons really rooted me on a path towards a creative field. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience that creativity through many avenues from Web Design, Graphic Design, Product Design, User Experience Design, Photography, and Illustration. I feel now I’m on a path that is leading towards my own personal creative freedom in Wildlife Photography and Art at www.animalcompanions.pictures and www.ajreinhart.com.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I think what I am most proud of now when it comes to my art is that finally after years and years of a professional career in various design disciplines, I am coming into my own art. I had forgotten about a world of creative freedom and representing an image as you see it. My photographic journey has only started in the past few years. However, I feel what I have experienced throughout my 20+ year professional career has helped me in many ways with my photography.

In that 20+ year span I have learned many valuable lessons in design and life. Self-confidence was always a hard thing for me to acknowledge and accept. I never felt I knew enough, or always felt I could be better. This self-criticism was stressful, and I’d often burn out without even realizing it. Then I started painting again, digitally animals. Just for fun. I watched a lot of tutorials online, and it was a good release for my creative stress. But I was bothered by google-searching animals and replicating others’ photos as paintings. Sure I was drawing them by hand, but the original reference wasn’t mine and that bothered me. So I bought a camera with a long lens and started shooting my own photos with the full intention of creating my own references to paint from. But something happened. I enjoyed being outside, taking in the environment. I soon began to understand birds, lots and lots of birds and was photographing them continually. I did this for almost two years in the Bay area of California.

Then COVID happened, which was a blessing in disguise. In my professional career, I had the opportunity to work remotely, permanently, and anywhere within the United States. I am now exploring new grounds in Colorado. I am also not very far from the Tetons. My passion for wildlife and capturing them in their natural habitat has grown exponentially. I have never felt more connected with nature than I do now. And I go out and capture the animal’s essence through my eye, my creative interpretation, but focusing on letting the wildlife be just that, wild in their world and environment.

My brand is just emerging. And I hope people are out there enjoying what I produce and share. I want you to be part of my journey. I believe every picture tells a story, every post shares something amazing. Right now I just want to share and grow that brand, but one day who knows, maybe I’ll be taking people out or mentoring them on their own journeys to experience this vast world of wildlife.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Ha! Wow! This is a tough question and easy one all wrapped up in one. Tough because I have only been in Colorado for about 6 months. So I’m not all that familiar yet with all the hot spots. I could do a quick search and pull something together in Denver I’m sure, but that’s really not my style. Not really a city person, and if you saw how I dressed you’d know I don’t keep up with the latest trends.

Now this question is easy because I have explored some amazing places here in Colorado while out photographing wildlife. Colorado is abundant with vistas and natural beauty everywhere. I think one of the first places I’d take someone would be the town of Estes Park. This short 45-minute drive will take us up the Big Thompson River Canyon where we quite possibly will be pulling over to see some Bighorn Sheep on the cliff walls. Once in Estes, we can hit a few of the tourist trap shops. They are always fun but better have that wallet full. We can grab a coffee and sit at the riverside for a spell before we jump back into the car and head up into Rocky Mountain National Park. Oh did I forget to mention we’d probably encounter dozens of elk in the town itself if we are there during the rut. I witnessed this for the first time this year, and it’s absolutely mind blowing.

Once in the park we will head to some of my top spots, Sprague Lake, Moraine Park, Sheeps Lakes. Although the best time is at sunrise, we’d probably miss out on that as most of my friends aren’t early risers like me.

Once we head back out we can drive to Fort Collins for dinner where we can enjoy some amazing food at Ginger and Baker, the most amazing Chicken Pot Pie ever! Or for a more sophisticated pallet we can enjoy a nice charcuterie paired with some wine at The Welsh Rabbit Bistro. Now I’ve gone and made myself hungry so . . .

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d like to dedicate my shoutout to my wife and two boys. They have followed my journeys in my career, and I know it has not always been easy. First my wife, she is my best friend. She understands me more than I understand myself; for her to be by my side day in and day out motivates me to be the best father and husband I can. She has so many of her own creative endeavors and so much energy that she inspires me to try new things. I also know she can be my biggest critic, which is a good thing to have when you are working creatively and want to be able to iterate and improve on your work. I could not do what I do without her.

Next are my two boys, so unique in their own ways but then so similar too. I learn more from them every day than they probably do from me. They are a perfect example of how I should have been at their age. They are an inspiration to all young men.

My family provides me with the foundation for what I do creatively. They provide me with the fuel to continue when things seem difficult, stressful, or too challenging. I’m proud and happy to dedicate this shoutout to them.

Website: www.ajreinhart.com

Instagram: @ajanimalart

Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/ajreinhart/

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ajreinhartphotography

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