We had the good fortune of connecting with TJ Smith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi TJ, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I come from the green hills and thick forests of western Pennsylvania. I grew up on the land that was once my great grandma’s, in a house my dad built and where my parents still live today.
I know that my early days spent playing in the woods with my sister, helping my dad in the wood shop, or sharing my wild future dreams with my mom has built the foundation I now rely on in my personal pursuits. Playing outside left a love and comfortability for the outdoors that will never pass. Watching my dad instilled a confidence in working with my hands, bringing sketch ideas to life in the physical world, a skillset that would transpire into a design and art career. Then there were those moments when I would share some hair brain ideas with my mom and she would always believe so deeply in my ideas, no matter how out there they were. That support gave a willingness to continually dream big, rebel against the naysayers.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Well my career has been one of shiny object syndrome aha. Really my art and or creative path is multidisciplinary, leading to a lot of hat wearing. Where I am today is certainly a more physical and multidimensional arena then where I was at the start of my creator journey. My first real design job was at a small studio in Truckee, California. It was just a three man team including me. That early job taught me magic in the realms of professional design, client management, production, presentation, ha pretty much all the inner workings of any agency. Plus on paper I was always a 1099er and being in a freelance position at the beginning really formed a land to develop all the back-end, non creative duties of business. The combo of a small team and personal business has loaded my pack with many gadgets useful for today’s journeys.
Going back to the very beginning, I grew up as one who loved to draw and experiment with more “fine art” practices. Then I earned a degree in graphic design and those two crafts has left me with this analog/digital creative process. The graphic designer leads my works to embody concept, a reason for objects to exist and tell a story. Then the artist allows for truer self expression and wildness in ideas. I believe that those opposing views on creation sets me apart from ones who are only versed in fine arts or graphic design. There is a connected thread overall and that are the themes of nature and contemporary aesthetics.
As of late I have been painting quite a few murals. Something that was new for me, as I never painted much and certainly not to the scale I am today. I’d say murals have been some of the most exciting wins and challenges of my creator journey. I remember my first solo mural in Alt Space Telluride where the size was 15 x 40 ft and my heart was racing when I first put paint to wall. My brain was saying “there is no undo button here, bud,” but I knew I had to just go for it and learn along the way. That’s been my thought through most challenges. To just go in with a logical path and be ready to pivot if lines get messy. You will always learn from those messy situations. It also helps if you show up with a rag.
To speak to my most current proud moment, I recently opened a shop and gallery on Main St in downtown Grand Junction. I bring this up in relation to the question about what I want the world to know about my art. This physical location is the ground floor of a brand that has been in the workings since I was a child, though I had no idea then what I was building towards. At a glance the Stray Wild brand uses art/design to educate on an Earth-minded lifestyle. It is a place that teaches a way of life that I follow and believe in. A path that is more connected and respectful of the wild and civilized beings that inhabit this Earth. If you are asking me what I want the world to know about my art, it is that creativity as a whole has the power to inspire and motivate positive change in the direction you aim it. I want to align my art with my love of nature to foster a better world for all.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Well, I would like to start out by saying this hypothetical itinerary takes place in late spring, my favorite time of year. Ok, in no specific order I would share with my buddy the Colorado National Monument, say a late day hike leading into a rim-side view of the Book Cliff Mountains. We would also have to hit up the Grand Mesa, the world’s tallest flat top mountain. Swim around in some alpine lakes, take in the wild flowers and look for moose between the trees. Then we can’t forget a day in Palisade, drinking whiskey, wine and beer, maybe sleeping in the next day and breakfast at Cafe Sol aha. Every morning we could visit Copeka Coffee or Kiln Coffee Bar, the best two coffee shops around in my opinion. Anyone who visits would have to just walk the downtown beat and admire the architecture, art on the corner and new murals popping up. I personally can’t go a week without visiting a thrift store, so we would have to hunt for some treasures there. Dinners would consist of Bin 707, Namaste Nepal, No Coast (I love sushi), Pablos Pizza and just cooking at home. My girlfriend and I love to entertain and would want to invite the neighbors to join in on the fun. To wrap up the week we would take a moto ride down through Unaweep Canyon for some tall climbs and granite views.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Looking back to high school I would like to thank my art teacher Mr. Schelkamp. He was one of those teachers that loved the creative realm and guided students who showed similar interests. I’d say my overall school career was spent mostly focused on drawing and tracking town the arts path, never seemed to fit into the academics box, though I love those subjects now. Really he just noticed my passions for art and turned my on to graphic design. A creative career that is more sustainable. I truly thank him for showing me a way to express my creativity and make a living.
Also a shout out to my older cousins Neil and Adam, for sharing Flash MX and Photoshop 7 with me at an earlier age of 13. That initial exposure to the programs helped big time in app efficiencies.
Lastly I want to give a virtual high-five to Shoutout Colorado as well. A special thanks for their interest in my story. Cheers!
Ammon Pierce Will Campbell