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The Artist Behind #IAmMore: An Interview with Julian Gaines

Voyager Sopris Learning
The Reading, Writing, and Math Intervention Specialist
Updated on October 25, 2018
  • #IAmMore
  • Literacy

Join the Movement

Julian Gaines is a globally recognized artist whose work is unique, inspiring, and embodies what it is to be MORE. We recently caught up with Ju, as he is known to many, to talk creativity, working with Nike®, and finding inspiration from the people in his youth who saw his potential and helped propel him to a level of success only he knew he had the capability to achieve. Because of his work and belief in the potential in every child, Voyager Sopris Learning® commissioned Julian to create our signature #IAmMore graphics, which have been focal points of the movement and campaign designed to give teachers and students a voice and share their stories of what makes them more than meets the eye—or more than the challenges for which they are labeled.

Two weeks ago, we shared Part One of our inspiring conversation with Julian. Here is Part Two.

VSL: As a child, did others around you recognize your artistic talent? Or did you have to convince them? Who made you feel that they saw your talent and who you are?

Julian: I was extremely blessed to grow up between two artistic parents. My dad is very, very artistic. He taught me how to draw and how to shade and attention to detail. My mom, she’s very, very creative, she writes calligraphy. So, I’m like, I got really good handwriting from watching my mom write and my mom is my best friend. As I grew up, I felt like everything my mom does is dope. I always thought, ‘Oh man, look at how cool my mom is,’ and her writing is just so fluid and nice. I grew up using AOL, you know instant messages and stuff. But I wanted to be different. So, I would pass notes to girls. I had this theory that if a pretty girl’s getting seven notes from seven different boys, which one is she going to read twice? The one with the good handwriting, right?

VSL: Your parents always believed in your artistic talent, right? Is that where you felt the acceptance that you were MORE than what others saw on the surface?

Julian: My mom is a huge influence, yes. She really believes in only doing what she likes, not what others think you should do, and she passed that on to me. She has a master’s degree in guidance counseling and she does some modeling and other things. What I learned from my mom is that she’s like, ‘You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, but if you’re going to do something, do it to the best of your ability.’ She was never like, ‘Oh you’ll never be successful in the arts thing.’ She knew I had talent and she made me feel good about it. I’ve been selling art to my peers since I was like 12-13 years old and she was always really affirming, so for me, that’s really been the deal. Now, on the other hand, my grandparents have been a little more skeptical up until the point when I had success with Nike and they released my own Nike shoe and I had success doing all kinds of other things. Now, granddaddy’s a little bit like, ‘Oh, wow, you might be somebody.’ But before he was like, ‘What are you doing?’ My grandparents just wanted me to get a real job and because of my mom being adamant about not doing stuff I don’t want to do, I stuck it out. I’m not here to do things I don’t want to do.

VSL: You were fortunate to have your mom’s support and insight! What would you say to adults who lean toward the same philosophy as your grandparents?

Julian: I think a lot of parents are actually just waiting to hear their kid be a lot more adamant about what they want to do. Because, then, it doesn’t give them very much ground to dictate what you can do. If you know what you want to do, then they just got to respect your gangsta. And, so like, if you’re teetering but you’ve given your parents some vibes, naturally they’re concerned about you. But try to listen and hear what that kid is saying. Don’t micromanage. Instead, let them blaze their own trail. Then, encourage them to be and do what they want not what you imagine they should be.

VSL: What words do you have for students today who have yet to discover their niche, or their strengths, or their talents? You know, the ones who others around them haven’t yet discovered what makes them tick.

Julian: Here’s what I would say to the kids who haven’t really found their niche or their gift yet: Your gift is whatever you’ll do for free. Whatever you love to do so much that you’ll do it for free, that’s how much you love it. Like, I’ll create and draw all day for free. It makes me happy. Now, just put tax on it. That’s how you do what you want to do. You find what you’ll do for free and you put tax on it or start to charge for it, figure out how to get paid for that.

For me, I like to paint and I always have, even when I was in high school. Whatever you want to do, you know, whatever it may be, only you know. When you sit on the corner of your bed and you look in the mirror, and you’re like, ‘Aww I don’t want to do nothing but THIS.’ Whatever that this is, as long as it’s legal, then that should be, that’s your gift right there. You know what I’m saying. That’s really what I try to tell the kids that I talk to. I have a friend who’s a mechanic, he’s like, ‘I’ll sit and talk cars all day.’ OK, perfect bro, there’s so many avenues in this day and age. You could have a talk show on YouTube about cars. You could start your own, like open up a car, find ways to do what you love in a creative way.

The whole premise for my shoes was to show kids that anything’s possible. I created. I sat and I saw, I looked, I was like man there are no shoes for creatives. We have shoes for every other instance in the world, except creating, where…and frankly you can be an artist longer than you can be an athlete. So, I saw a problem and I was like, ‘How do I fix this problem?’ I was working at a brand-ambassador level and people weren’t really trying to help me, so I went to the source. I packed up and I flew to Oregon and walked into Nike. I started hustling my meetings out here and my ideas and one meeting led to another and I ended up getting the right person who allowed me to create the artistic shoe.

Once you realize what your gift is, then everything is going to start to unravel before you.

VSL: The #IAmMore movement is ongoing, but the contest comes to a close at the end of October. What would you tell teachers out there? Why is it worthwhile to enter?

Julian: Yeah, seriously, #IAmMore is all about what I went through. It’s a great way to tell every kid, ‘We see YOU.’ There is so much potential in every kid. They just need others to give them the push and encouragement. I’d tell every teacher out there to go today to post photos and videos and enter to win the $1,000 grand prize for your classroom!

What makes you MORE? What do you see in your students beyond the obvious? Visit weareteachers.com/Iammore and join the movement. You can also watch this #IAmMore webinar for inspiration.