John L. Hill is an Atlanta based celebrity portrait artist who has painted for some of the most popular names worldwide including Dr. Dre, Steve Harvey, Kemba Walker, Russell Westbrook, and more. We had the opportunity to talk to John and learn about his journey and how he pursued his long time passion to become the successful artist he is today...
What is your profession and how long have you been in this line of work?
“I am a portrait artist- I’ve been doing portraits since I was ten years old, and
I’ve been drawing in general, consistently, since I was nine. But I would say I got into the business side of everything in 2016. So ever since 10 years old, I have been developing my craft as a portrait artist.”
Where did your passion for art stem from and what helped give you ambition to keep working towards your dream job?
“Well, first, I wouldn’t exactly consider what I do ‘a dream job.’ I was just always good at it and I guess that stemmed with my dad. He was an artist before me, he went to college for art at the Art Institute of Atlanta. He ended up having kids and didn’t pursue it as aggressively as I am. He was good at it, and he definitely instilled in me an eye for detail which I picked up on. I started drawing and it eventually got to the point where I wanted to impress him, so that’s where you can say it stemmed from. But the drive to continue going was really just realizing that I was good at it, even from a young age. If I look back and see my stuff from fifth, sixth, seventh grade you know I would say it sucked right now. But compared to the kids doing it at the time it was actually really good, and so I guess that kept me going and motivated. But I don’t know if I would consider it my dream job; it was always so effortless for me that I didn’t see it as something I would ‘work’ at… it just fell into place. My dream job was to be in the NFL… but the cool thing is that now I have gotten plenty of NFL players as clients.”
When was the first moment of success for you?
"It’s been a rollercoaster when I think about that question. I wanna say I sold my first actual piece in my senior year of high school which was 2012. My language arts teacher asked me to draw, with pencil, a picture of her and her husband for their 25th anniversary. After that, I got into doing tattoos that same year a little bit after when I went to college out of my dorm. So that’s when I think I knew I could make something out of this. But I got tired of tattooing, it got boring after a while. When you’re a tattoo artist people come to you with their ideas, and say “could you do this this way exactly for me.” That was tough. I couldn’t be creative, especially not as creative as I am now. After that, I dropped tattooing and got a job. But in the beginning of 2016 I got back into pencils and pens on paper, and I looked up to this artist named CJ Henries. She did pen drawings which really inspired me and I started doing those too, which was when I knew I could start selling this artwork and actually attempt to make a living off of it. By the end of that year Steve Harvey actually asked me if I could do a Mohhamad Ali knocking out Sonny Liston in pen form. He had already had one commissioned from another artist but he didn’t like it, and asked me to do it instead because he’d seen my work. After that I quit my job.”
What was your job before becoming a professional portrait artist?
“I used to deliver appliances for Lowes and Home Depot, and that’s actually what taught me a lot of the skills that I have now. Attention to detail, problem solving, communication. My dad was actually doing the same thing after he left college, so he taught me that. I worked on a truck from twelve years old, he always had me under his wing because I’m the oldest son.”
What has been your biggest failure in your career that you have grown from?
“When I was doing pen, pen to paper, I hit a wall. I wasn’t selling like I wanted to. I didn’t have too many followers on instagram which is where most of my sales come from. So I guess that was problematic for me as well. Pens weren't doing exactly what I wanted them to do so that is when I switched over to painting which was in the beginning of 2018. I also have had times where I have struggled financially where, you know, this was the only thing I was doing and the only thing that I wanted to do and I had to figure out a way to pick things up.”
What’s a funny or crazy experience you have had in your career?
“When I met Dr. Dre I actually stumbled upon him. Last year when Nipsey Hustle passed I had just started my series, “Not Perfect but Progressing” and I had a few people ask me to do a Nipsey Hustle piece, so I did. So I DMed it to a bunch of people who were actually kind of close to [Dr. Dre] seeing if I could get this painting to those people. Only one person responded and it was “The Game”. He asked me if he could have it so he invited me to the studio the very next night. So, I was at the studio and [Dr. Dre] was actually recording his final song which was featuring Nipsey Hustle for his last album. I didn’t see him initially. I was sitting in the lobby watching a basketball game, I can’t remember who was playing. So, anyways, I was sitting on the couch and this guy came up behind me and he was like ‘did you paint that?’ and I was like, yeah. And I turned my head to look at him and I had to double take because I realized it was Dr. Dre. And he introduced himself like I didn’t know who he was, haha. So, uh, yeah I think that was my coolest moment.”
What is your advice to others struggling to follow their dream and pursue their passion?
“You really just have to put it out there. I think that is the only advice that I can give over my experiences. In seventh grade, I drew a picture of this girl that I liked and it was terrible. I thought that it was good in the moment, but now I look back and it was terrible. But, I gave it to her. And you know, despite all the fear that I had, I gave it to her. So really, the only thing you can do is just put it out there. You know, you need to overcome that fear in some way. Obviously, there are different ways to do it but I think just jumping in is the best way. Also, you’ve gotta give it all you got. You can’t half step it. One, you are going to miss opportunities, and it’s not going to take you to where you are supposed to be.”
In your own words, what is your Hopeless Vision?
“I want to become one of the most well known artists that there is. I think that’s my ultimate goal. Hopefully sooner rather than later but I think that’s my ultimate goal, to become one of the greatest, most well known artists in the world. Not just the United States but the world.”
John will continue following his dream, and persuing his passion as he strives to be his own Hopeless Visionary!
Make sure to show some love and follow John on Instagram: @jlhill_art