There are different pathways to success and personal fulfillment, and one Creston Community High School graduate has managed to illustrate this fact.
After graduating CCHS in 2010, Tyler Downey enrolled at Kirkwood Community College with the plan of transferring to the University of Iowa or Coe College to study art and printmaking. After attending Coe and eventually transferring to Northwest Missouri State University, he felt, that after two years of college, it just wasn’t for him.
Downey, who said he somewhat idolized the spirit of the hippies of the 1960s, decided he wanted to head west to “see what else is out there.”
“I kind of had this vision of what California was, and obviously it’s not the same thing as what I had thought it was. I kind of left with that and always thought I needed to see more than Iowa,” he said.
In 2012, with his bags packed and art supplies in tow, Downey set out on a hitchhiking adventure, making stops in Montana, California, Oregon and Hawaii, where, in each state, he briefly lived while working at various national parks and restaurants, while supporting his need to create art.
Downey said it was on the road, not in school, where he honed his artistic eye.
“I didn’t feel like I got much from college as far as artistic training. I did enjoy printmaking and working with some of the equipment, but I definitely would say that some of the things that I learned as far as value, or color, or composition pretty much just came from trial and error,” said Downey. “I met a lot of artists, musicians in my traveling and I kind of picked up little tips and tricks ... along the way. I just kind of learned as I went.”
Downey said his mother told him that when he was very young, he would wake at 5 a.m. and sit for hours drawing at the kitchen table. He remembers how upset she would be when he’d forget to put a place mat underneath his work and his latest creations would be etched into the tabletop.
“She said, ‘All you ever wanted to do is draw,’” said Downey.
And, he has never stopped.
During his travels across the U.S., Downey met his fiance Elly in California. The pair eventually relocated for a short time to live in Elly’s native New Zealand, before traveling to Nepal, Berlin and eventually New York City, where the pair settled two months ago.
It was during a trek in Nepal when Downey said he decided to pursue art as his career.
“I kind of hit a point when I was trekking in Nepal where I realized I spent a lot of time working so that I could afford to be an artist,” he said. “I realized if I work all the time to try to afford to do what I love, I don’t have any time to actually do it. So, I might as well do what I love.”
After Nepal, Downey spent five months in Berlin, where he was commissioned by Kristina Saborio, the author of “Two Brothers,” to illustrate her 80-page book in pen and ink. The work made him realize that freelance work offered a good balance of financial support and freedom.
Life as a freelancer
Downey said the greatest part of freelancing his talent is the ability to choose between projects and having the ability to work from wherever he is at.
“If you get on as a graphic designer for a company, you’re kind of stuck designing logos in an office. So, the freedom to say, ‘Hey, I really love this project and I’d like to take this on,’ or ‘I think this project is boring and I don’t really want to do it,’ is really nice to have,” he said.
However, freelancing is not for the faint of heart.
“Easily the most difficult part is always searching for new jobs. They are very quick jobs ... and very infrequent, so it’s always feeling like you have to hunt for the next one,” he said.
But, the hustle is well worth it for Downey.
“The work is very rewarding for your spiritual side,” he said.
Aside from his work for Saborio, Downey has written, illustrated and published his own children’s book and is in the process of a second, which he hopes to release within the next month.
In his first book, “Starmaker,” a boy wakes up one night to find the stars are missing from the sky. He later finds himself on a quest through space to find where and why.
“It’s kind of an adventure story, and I feel like most of mine are,” said Downey. “It’s more of a story to inspire kids to do something greater than themselves. I just really liked the idea that kind of a message, because it’s really easy, especially being in a small town, when you have less inspiration or less opportunity, it’s good to remember that you can do anything, anywhere.”
Downey pursues a similar concept in his second book, “Travel Bug.”
“Travel Bug” tells the story of an ant, who travels a bit too far from the ant hill, is washed away and sets out on his journey back home. During his adventure, he meets a slew of other insects along the way – each using their gifts to guide him home.
“Each other insect he meets either has an insecurity or a flaw,” said Downey. “He helps them overcome that and in turn they help him get closer to home.”
Downey said the story is to spread the idea of how readers can overcome personal flaws and how helping others is often mutually beneficial.
In his personal and professional pursuits, Downey has worked in a variety of mediums from sculpting to printmaking.
“Creating artwork is always a pleasure, but I have found myself specifically drawn to literary illustration; whether it be for editorial purposes or children’s books. I really enjoy the way I am able to work with the words to help complete a story with imagery.”
A portfolio of Downey’s work can be found on his website, illustyler.com.