Meet John Hill: An Artist on the Path to Greatness

The self-taught celebrity portrait artist from Atlanta is on the path to greatness

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Jason Koeppel/ONE37pm

Meet John Hill, a self-taught celebrity portrait artist who is making a name for himself with jaw-dropping work and has a unique awareness of the talent he possesses. Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, Hill is slowly becoming a key artist to watch out for in the entertainment industry. Known for his diverse skillset and his willingness to push boundaries, the artist has created lifelike portraits featuring the likes of Kobe Bryant, Elvis Presley, The Notorious B.I.G. His work is in such high demand that he currently has art owned by Dr. Dre, Russell Westbrook, and Steve Harvey. As he closes out a widely successful 2020, the artist spoke with ONE37pm’s Tyler Schmitt about his success so far.

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Tupac Portrait / John Hill

Widely requested and in high-demand, Hill is currently booked out for two or so months with existing commissioned work. With each piece of art requiring a specific creative process, Hill simply goes with the flow.

“Usually I would say, right now the time averages about 15 to 20 hours, but I usually span it out about 2 to 3 days depending on the size. With the unity fist I did (inspired by the Black Lives Matter Movement)—that only took me about 8 hours. It was basically my fist, but I just threw a lot of color on it. It was a spontaneous thing.”

Sometimes when a person receives a lot of success in a short amount of time, we tend to think their success is “overnight.” In reality, however, that is rarely ever the case. Like many others, Hill has had to grind to get to where he is today, and even after all of his accomplishments, that grind is still very much a daily thing. 

“I’ve been an artist since I was 9 years old. I started portraits at 10—I’m 26 now, so sixteen years. So I think all of that time I’ve used to develop my craft. I’ve been through drawing tattoos, drawing with pencils, drawing with pens, etc. My dad was an artist as well, so I think that’s where I got it from. My main dream growing up was to actually play football, but it didn’t happen. When I left college, I got a regular 9-5. I was an appliance delivery man. With art, however, it was something that I was good at, but I used it more so as an escape back then.”

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John Hill

As Hill continued to navigate through life, art never left him. Whether it was doing tattoos on the side or just simply a therapeutic release, the passion kept knocking. With any career in the arts, there comes a defining moment where a decision has to be made on whether you’re going to drop everything and pursue your dreams. For many, this can mean walking away from stability and into a path of uncertainty. It’s a bold move, but one that has paid off in the end for John.

“So I was doing tattoos for a minute, but I kind of got bored of it. My sister invited me to do an art fair in a small town. So I got to drawing on small canvases, and I ended up selling one at the fair. That got me back into drawing on actual material. I wound up finding inspiration in this artist C.J. Hendry, and she used to draw with pens. It was a challenge, but I learned how to do it.

At that point, I was still an appliance delivery man, and Steve Harvey is a family friend. One day I was in his office (he was always bragging about my tattoos), and he came up with the idea to draw a picture of Muhammad Ali knocking out Sonny Liston. So that opportunity was when I quit my job. That was the longest piece I’ve ever done. It was 36 by 40 inches, took 68 hours because I was doing it by pen. I framed it, took it back to his office, and he loved it! It’s cool because when Steve goes live on Instagram, you can kinda see it in the background sometimes.”

It was at that moment that Hill instantly knew that art was his calling. However, after quitting his job, Hill had some uncertainty and doubts about whether quitting was the right move. While there were some financial issues, the feeling of pursuing art was still a natural one, and with the utmost confidence, Hill never doubted himself or the journey that was ahead. 

“Selling my work and getting traction was hard. I feel like the social media world is really difficult to navigate. Getting an audience off of pictures is hard, and I think it was because back then, I was doing black and white portraits. So I had to adjust that. I switched from pens to painting. I had always stayed away from painting because it’s really messy, but switching was the best decision of my life.”

Hill’s energy and dedication were reciprocated when a mutual friend’s sister featured his work in an art gallery, which was a huge step in his career. Years later, some of the entertainment industry’s finest are reaching out to the young artist for commissioned work.

“I think people have just been naturally drawn to my work. For instance, when I met The Game—I sent him the picture of Nipsey Hussle that I had created because I wanted to do something special since he had just passed. So I sent it to him, and I wouldn’t have known that the painting was that good if I hadn’t put it out there.”

Now with dozens of pieces lined up, many artists have become inspired by Hill’s story. The 26-year-old had a piece of advice for those looking to follow in his footsteps.

“If you focus on the progression of this craft instead of perfection, then you can make a difference. You can make something out of yourself. I painted iconic figures in an unfinished way because while they’re imperfect, they didn’t let that slow them down. They found out that they had a gift, cultivated that gift, and put it back out there in the world. So put your work out there, and ultimately that will build your confidence as an artist as well.”

With an upcoming Dr. Dre collaboration in the works, and a t-shirt line featuring the unity fist painting mentioned earlier in this article, Hill is sure to be a force for years to come. If his previous artwork is any indication, his next piece will always be better than his last.

You can keep with John Hill on Instagram and Twitter and purchase his artwork and merchandise on his official website.

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