We had the good fortune of connecting with Jimmy McMenamin and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jimmy, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I believe that taking risks is a necessary step in order to grow as a business and as a person. There are so many different areas of my career that I’ve learned specifically from taking risks. I continually find myself pursuing an area of art that I know nothing about, like graffiti, airbrushing, sign painting/lettering, sculpture, wood working, screen printing, and the list goes related to the business/client end of things.
I risk failing every time I start, but I started each none the less, not really knowing if it will work out. Will it just be too difficult for me? Will it take years of work to get where I want? Maybe. But it’s never wasted time pursing a risk, even if it doesn’t turn out how you expected. I learn from these wins and losses and that’s something I can’t say if I simply didn’t try. I believe that putting yourself in uncomfortable situations will give you more perspective, more empathy, and more respect to those that are pros in the field.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. I was always interested in art and learning new techniques and methods. I was very interested in graffiti and graffiti culture in high school and that’s definitely when lettering became my focus. I would draw graffiti and mess around with traditional wildstyle lettering, all in a sketchbook, never trying to paint it. I was accepted to Rutgers University where I studied Marine Science and Ecology. At the same time, I was being pulled towards graffiti in a stronger way, I was seeing it everywhere and a few friends were painting so we all formed a crew and started painting heavily. That was right around 2006, and I was painting graffiti weekly and also working a full time job pertaining to my major.
After graduating college, I was searching desperately for a cool job that fit my degree. I worked a handful of jobs, considering them as stepping stones to a grander career, possibly something in a marine research field or with Fish & Wildlife. These years were my busiest when it came to graffiti. My friends and I had a pretty strict weekly routine of painting freights 3 times a week, and we stuck to that up until recently. These are definitely the years that built my foundation as well as my reputation for being a ‘straight letter’ guy in the national freight graffiti community. For me and my friends, it was more of an excuse to meet up a few times a week, catch up on things, vent about work, and get some work done. After painting for years on end, it just becomes a routine, less of an adrenaline rush, more of an escape from the day to day stresses. Even during these years I remember having a checklist of different techniques I wanted to paint (cracked, slimy, ripped, upside-down, bevel, chrome, etc), probably a bit a foreshadowing of things to come.
While I was working a crappy job and painting graffiti a handful of nights a week, I was also juggling occasional mural jobs. In 2008, I was painting a legal graffiti wall in Camden and was asked by a roller rink owner to paint the entire rink floor a Las Vegas strip theme. I had never done any murals before this, had no idea how to price it out, what supplies I needed, or how long it would take. This definitely planted the seed and I realized I could quickly make a week’s pay in only a few hours. At this time I was already using Glossblack as a business name, originally with the intention of creating handmade fonts for sale, but that quickly faded away as mural business started to take over. I would promote on Craigslist routinely and mostly directed my skills at daycares and other cartoony jobs. Fast forward to 2015, a client gave me full artistic freedom on an empty corner lot. I painted a large ‘PHILLY’ in an illustrative chrome effect as well as a vibrant letter-based fence surrounding it, right in the heart of Fishtown. After that, I could really tell that things started to snowball and I was painting murals almost weekly, as well as picking up some major corporate clients.
2016 is when everything fell into place. My wife and I were newlyweds, expecting our first child, emptied our savings account and bought a home, purchased a much needed new car, and with all of these new financial burdens, I decided to quit my day job! …and it was absolutely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. For the longest time, I had wished to be able to support myself (and my family) with my art but I never really imagined how this was possible. I think I always relied on the idea that I would work for someone, maybe painting a movie set or learning faux finish, etc. Looking back, I feel like it was smacking me in the face for years, that spray painting large scale work was my specific strength, and that’s the avenue I should be pursuing. That lettering and the way I approach letter structure/texture is unique to me, and no one else, and that’s what will become my brand or trademark.
Today, I feel so fortunate to be where I am. Some days I say to my wife that ‘I’m glad I’m not cleaning a fish tank right now’ or ‘I’m glad I’m not sitting in traffic right now’, which are both things I was doing daily only two years ago. It still feels a little weird to have this new freedom to a degree and I want to make the most of it. As much fun as it is to work on my own art, I actually enjoy the pressure and challenges of working with a client and their brand image. It’s a great honor to be trusted to that degree, that a major company is willing to collaborate or put their image in my hands. For someone to come to me and request my vision for their brand is the highest form of flattery and also a great reminder that I’m doing something right. Moving forward I want continue to sharpen my skills, test my boundaries, provide a high quality product to my clients, and always stay positive and thankful that I’m doing what I love.
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?
If we are talking about Philadelphia, I’d likely have a long list of sandwich spots to choose from. Make sure the outtatowner trys a few cheesesteaks, since that seems like a requirement when visiting Philly. Otherwise, everything that is very touristy is within walking distance…Love Statue, Art Museum, Center City, etc. For a small public artwork tour, I think visiting Fishtown would be our final stop for good food and drinks.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My wife has been my biggest supporter and cheerleader when it comes to following my path as an artist. Her, along with family and friends, saw my potential and trajectory before I really ‘believed’ it and went full time, and that support continues today.
If I were to shoutout a good human being and artist that I admire greatly, it would be Victor Fung at Greetings Tour. He floated me some big jobs early on, which I’m very thankful for to this day. I admire his graffiti roots, the way he handles his mural business/client work, and the thought behind his nationwide mural tour idea, it’s genius in my eyes for many reasons.
Instagram: @glossblack @cooldude_xvi
Other: Just search “Glossblack LLC’ on Youtube or Facebook.
Jared Polin Charles Thorpe