Kyle enjoys naps, high fives and Judge Judy. He also likes teaching himself graphic design software and then rendering pictures of Star Wars characters into kitschy poses.
I met Kyle at a small street fair in Seattle. I was drawn to the giant 12”x16” print of Darth Vader sipping tea in a sunny meadow. His booth stuck out amongst the home-brewed kombuchas and household knickknacks. I was giggling at the prints, just like nearly everyone who walked by. I couldn’t help but buy one - a print of two Stormtroopers riding a tandem bicycle through a field of sunflowers.
I asked Kyle how his sales are, thinking this is a side hobby, a creative itch he scratches outside his regular graphic design job.
“Sales are amazing,” he says. “Online, I’ve had fifty orders a day and I've had zero. In person I consistently do well enough that working one day a week is more than enough to live.”
“I’m extremely lucky,” he adds.
Just months before, Kyle was bussing tables. He was using his off-time to learn graphic design skills and then put them in practice, rendering CGI pictures and merging them into scenes. One night, he put a completed photo and submitted it on Reddit: a print of C3P0 laying on his elbows, staring dreamily on a summer day. It got a million hits.
The buzz grew. Soon, people started asking how to purchase them. George Takei shared one on his Facebook page, which surged his popularity even further. One of his posts was picked up by Huffington Post and Mashable, pushing the explosion. Within a few months, Kyle was shipping out dozens of prints, all over the world. He had to quit the restaurant so he could satisfy his customers’ needs. He now does this full-time.
And how he learned the skills to make these prints?
“YouTube,” he said, smiling.
I made Kyle’s journey sound simple; in reality it wasn’t so. Kyle spent 8 years in the restaurant, working as a busser. Eight years. While it was a “job”, and a grind, it gave him the time to watch online tutorials and tinker with his skills.
Kyle had no intention of being a self-employed artist. It’s not like he sat down and thought of ways he could make a living online. He started learning these skills because he wanted to get a job in 3D modeling, and his restaurant job allowed plenty of time to do this. He never thought he was good enough, so he just kept learning.
Selling prints, he says, “wasn’t even a possibility in my mind.”
Yet now, his side project has become his full-time living.
Sales continue, and Kyle keeps working on his art, always improving and learning new skills.
“Sometimes there’s anxiety over starting a new picture,” he says. “I’ll think, ‘there’s so many ways I can get this wrong’. I usually just turn my brain off, listen to music and go.”
“Even if I’m not making progress,” he says, “it’s still fun and feels good.”
To check out Kyle’s art, head to http://kylesgallery.com/