If you have ever driven around downtown Denver or strolled through the side streets of Five Points, you’ve likely seen the eccentric colors of some of this Denver artist’s murals, boasting portraits of famous celebrities, musicians, athletes or even a beautiful rose or two. Perhaps you caught him during one of his live painting shows at the Meadowlark Kitchen or his more recent interactive exhibit at The Redline Contemporary Art Center.
Regardless of how you’ve come across him, watching the ease and admirable concentration with which Thomas Evans (aka Detour) produces his work, you’d likely guess that he has always known and planned for this path. But that is not the case.
“There was a series of events that led me to doing art full-time,” said Evans.“I’ve been painting or doing art since I was a kid; mainly because my dad was military so we moved around a lot. So when I moved from place to place, I basically used art as one of those connecting elements to make friends.” After graduating the University of Colorado, Evans spent a short time interning at an ad agency before leaving to try to join the military. “I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do at that time; applied and everything, but during the application process I tore my knee and basically had to drop out.” It was this “bump” in the road that set him up for the incredible journey that would, later on, put him back into the realm of art.
Evans spent a period of time out of work, during which he was donating art to a non-profit. They were auctioning off trips to Tanzania when he asked to tag along on the next one. The non-profit had a connection with an individual out in Tanzania who ran a school, and after being contacted and invited to come out, Evans was there the following week, December 31 of 2014. He lived and worked for the Indigenous Education Foundation of Tanzania for eight months, handling their marketing communications and coaching basketball while taking some art and entrepreneur classes on the side.
“It was the most fun I have ever had. Very simple living- no reliable electricity or water; you had to get food from the market every day. It really humbled me. I was taking bucket showers, I was wearing pretty much the same thing and walking everywhere, so I got over that fear of failure,” said Evans.
After returning to the States, Evans felt he had come back empowered.
“This was the same time when I started to figure out how to make my work interactional, and that led me to the decision to go at it full time and give myself a year to see how it goes. That was pretty much the catalyst that made me go at it full-time.” As one would imagine, taking the plunge to being a full blown “creative connoisseur and a visual artist” is not a transition that happens overnight and is one that would require a lot of sacrifice, discipline and faith.
“There was lot of anxiety when I wasn’t making any money doing the art and mainly it was at the beginning; and that was because my art was still, for me, raw.” Even despite this period of time when the artist hadn’t brought in any paychecks, he kept pushing when most would retreat back to the stability of old jobs. “It definitely takes time and patience,” Evans noted, “I knew I had to stick it out because a lot of this stuff doesn’t really come overnight. It takes a little bit of time for the returns, so I had to wait six months, seven months, eight months to see something I did nine months ago.”
One of his biggest “returns” came from one of his projects, “They Still Live,” (a photo project covering the exploration of his ancestry and a discovery of self), that was featured in in the Huffington Post.
“I started that about two years ago and it was only like about half a year ago right before the show that a lot of that became public and started getting a lot of press around the project. It definitely takes time and patience, but once you have that understanding, I think you are better able to keep your sanity or just hold onto those small wins; and over time, those small wins start to happen more frequently and get bigger and bigger. So for me, just having the understanding is important.”
That is not to say that the artist was never intimidated by his journey, “it’s scary because your art is on display in public, but after diving into that realm, I’m making mistakes but I’m also getting better at the same time. So I tell people always to definitely get outside their comfort zones, don’t stay in one area because you’ll get boxed in real quick and it’ll be a little more scary trying to get outside that box. So do it early and consistently as possible.”
Even now, when he seems to be at the pinochle of success, there is still a lot the artist devotes to his work to stay relevant and at the top of his game. “I think the hours is what I really sacrifice because I don’t really go out a lot. Anytime I’m at an event it’s always work related- I’m doing art or I’m doing live art or I’m revealing a mural or something like that; I’m networking.” Evans spends typically more than 12 hours in the studio each day, sometimes getting in as early as five or six in the morning and leaving as late as midnight. “I had to put in that time, and I feel like I lost a lot of it not pursuing what I wanted to for a long time, and now I feel like I’m making up for that lost time. […] Basically, I try to do that as much as I can every day; just to make sure I’m being productive and putting in a lot of work and gaining ground on my goals.”
Escaping from the “chains” of the standard nine to five desk job to spend hours in a studio painting may seem like a romantic notion of work, but Evans emphasizes the level of discipline required to stay afloat in this field.
“There are freedoms to it, but there’s also a lot of drawbacks because you can’t rely on someone else to do the paycheck or your 401k or tell you what to do that day. It’s all on you, you have to make your own schedule and you have to stick to it and you’re accountable for yourself and every aspect of your business or your art.”
For most, such patience and trust in oneself and abilities in order to pursuit one of life’s biggest risks- to bait one’s true passions- seems daunting. Many feel that it is too late, too hard or too risky to make such drastic change, but Evans disagrees, advising that “there is never a time when it is too late to change what you want to do and pursue your passion. Mainly, because not everyone peaks at the same time. You get one life and you have to use it wisely. Not doing what you want to do in life when you can do it and you’re able to do it, is not wise.”
His advice for anyone wanting to or ready to make a big career change or chase their dreams? “Prepare now- almost prepare yesterday. Mainly to reduce the risk of failure and setbacks, you want to make sure you’re prepared. Plan for at least a year, I’d say, on that transition and getting your feet wet, because it doesn’t come overnight and you have to work at it […] give yourself small goals and give yourself long term goals to kind of reach. And then, when you start to gain confidence at that new job you want to do or new skill set you want to master, you start to feel better about yourself and it gives you some reason to keep going on.”
It is evident that his perseverance and hard work has been paying off; with partners like Bare Conductive, Meadowlark Kitchen, Goodness and The Temple, a 38.2 thousand person following on Instagram alone and media coverage spanning across outlets like the Huffington Post, Westword and Colorado Public Television/PBS, it’s easy to say that the artist has made it, but Evans still sees himself as still learning. “For me, it’s weird for someone to say that ‘I’ve made it,’ because I see myself as more of a student than a master. I always want to be learning and challenging myself and learning new things about art and just experiment with different techniques and mediums.”
If there’s one thing we can count on in the future from this Denver artist, it’s his innovation and evolution. “I really want to travel and keep creating and creating in different ways; in five years, in ten years, it’s an ongoing process.”