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Inside the Focused Mind of Artist Terrell Jones
Terrell Jones (AKA @terrelldom) on his childhood, pursuing his dreams, artists he has his eye on, his BIG career goals, advice for new artists, and much more.
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A Conversation with Rising Star Terrell Jones
Terrell Jones is an artist based in Michigan.
Less than two years ago, Terrell was working in a FedEx warehouse, while hustling on nights and weekends to make art and working on commissions to help pay the bills.
Now, Terrell is a rising star in the digital art world, with an instantly recognizable style that he calls Pop-Precisionism.
November 2022 was a breakout month for Terrell:
He had his highest secondary sale ever (with Turbo)
He did a 48-hour open edition of his piece Born 2 Die, and sold 1,139 editions at 0.15 ETH apiece (171 ETH total).
Terrell joined me on Zoom from his home in Michigan. He was sitting on the floor in a black tee, a camo BAPE STA hat, and white, corded earbuds. The conversation was immediately easy and free-flowing. He smiles and laughs a lot. When he talks he gestures constantly with his hands for emphasis. He talks quickly and clearly has a million ideas rolling around in his mind.
I was bullish on Terrell before our conversation. Afterward, I couldn’t help but be more certain that he is going to have a special career.
We discussed Terrell’s childhood, his story of quitting his day job to pursue his dreams, artists he has his eye on, his BIG career goals, advice for new artists entering the space, his favorite Air Jordans, and much more.
I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.
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A Conversation with Terrell Jones
Monty: Tell me about your childhood. How did you get into art?
Terrell: I've been an artist for as long as I can remember. In my earliest memories, I always wanted to draw or doodle. I was the kid that drew on the walls and on my homework.
One of my earliest art memories is my older brother coming home from school one day, with a really cool drawing of a Dragonball Z character. I remember wanting to recreate that and make more cool things.
My family was pretty artistic growing up. When we were kids, we used to always draw with each other and have different drawing challenges. You know, we'd all be watching Saturday morning cartoons and drawing our own characters afterward, building cardboard forts, making cardboard weapons, and making our own little superhero outfits and stuff.
But the most artistic person in my life when I was a kid was definitely my Aunt Linda. She’s someone that I've always looked up to ever since I saw her art - she's a portrait artist and her work is super fire. Every time I saw her when I was a kid she gave me art utensils or tools or art books or sketchbooks. She pushed me forward in that way.
Going through the years, it got more serious. It started off with little school galleries and then it evolved to galleries outside of school and then different auctions and stuff.
I even started doing commissions in high school - I was drawing tattoos and stuff for classmates for like 10 bucks. I've always had an entrepreneurial mindset. When I was in middle school I would sell breakfast to kids that arrived late. I was like, “Hey, I got a $1 breakfast bar.”
Around 2014/2015 I got into designing shoes as well. I never actually produced any physical shoes, but I got into the shoe design world. I took different workshops and I was able to intern with New Balance and Pensole Academy. That was a really cool experience.
Do you collect shoes?
Definitely. I have too many. [Laughs]
You featured the Jordan 4s in your piece Business Calls.
Yeah! With all my pieces I try to add some specific style. I like to focus on details like that.
What are your favorite Jordans?
Probably the Is, IVs, and Vs.
[Editor’s note - after our conversation, we were DMing on Twitter about shoes, and Terrell expressed to me his particular fondness for the Jordan IV Military Blue colorway.]
You describe yourself as a Pop-Precisionist. Tell me about that term.
I have this friend - he's a legend - Rozwell. We were having this conversation one time where he was saying how I have a recognizable style and the way to really cement it and to leave my imprint at this moment in time is to coin my style and give it an actual name that hasn't been used before. I was also definitely inspired by Grant Yun with his “Neo-Precisionism” art movement.
My art has a lot of city pop influences like Hiroshi Nagai and pop art inspirations like Warhol and David Hockney and Ed Hopper. So I wanted a good phrase that brings all those inspirations together and encapsulated my unique style. I was on a flight one day and the term “Pop-Precisionism” just appeared in my mind.
I like the term because you can ask questions and delve deeper into it what it means and all that, but also if you were left to your own devices to infer meaning on your own, you can kind of make sense of the term.
Tell me the story of how you got into tokenizing your artwork and selling NFTs
I minted my first piece on Foundation in March 2021 and that piece sat for at least four months, maybe more.
What I didn't realize at that time was that you needed to build a community around your art. I was on Instagram and I had my Foundation link in my bio, but I learned that you can’t really sell NFTs with the Instagram crowd. Twitter's really the place for it, but I didn't know that at the time and I wasn't really sharing my art on Twitter.
Then later that year around May 2021 is when I quit my job at the FedEx warehouse because I just wanted to take art more seriously. I knew that I would never forgive myself if I didn't ever try to do art as a full-time thing and try to just follow my dreams, so I quit my job.
“I knew that I would never forgive myself if I didn't ever try to do art as a full-time thing and try to just follow my dreams, so I quit my job.”
At that point, I got way more into actually trying to tell stories with art. And, I began focusing much more seriously on composition and color theory. I wasn't classically trained and I never went to school for art so I didn't really know much about color theory or composition or any of those things in the traditional sense. So as I learned more about art theory, I started to focus on creating art that would mean more than just “something that looks cool.”
My genesis piece eventually got a bid in August 2021. And from that moment on I got really serious. Like I was a person that used to watch movies and shows all the time, and after that sale, I was like, “No more movies, and shows and stuff.” I made a decision that I was just going to do art from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed - like I'm just gonna dedicate every living moment to art.
What does a day in the life of Terrell look like right now?
Right now I'm just trying to keep the momentum going. So I wake up, shower, and hopefully, I eat, but honestly, there are some days where my first meal is at like 7 or 8 PM. Then I work on art all day.
Sometimes I'll listen to Twitter spaces while I work. Sometimes I'll listen to music. Sometimes I'll listen to the Proof podcast.
When I work I try to get lost in it. I don't ever want to be thinking too much about what I’m doing. I want to get caught in a trance or flow state where I can just work for an unknown amount of time, and then I'll just look down and be like, oh, like, I just finished this piece without even realizing what was going on. Like there are certain pieces where I can’t even tell people exactly how I made it because I don't remember, I wasn't really all the way there in a sense.
So yeah, that’s basically it - I hopefully eat and then work all day [laughs].
Talk me through exactly how the burn mechanics will work for Born 2 Die.
The first burn will be 1 for 1. The burn mechanics that Manifold has are super simple. You insert however many pieces you want to burn, and you’ll receive the same number of the new piece I am creating for the first burn. That burn will be open for 48 hours.
Then there will probably be either another claim or an exclusive drop between then and the next burn. And then there'll be another burn at a certain point.
I think I'm gonna have a third burn, which will be a double burn. So burn two Born 2 Die editions in order to get that piece. I feel like if you're burning two then that third burn should be a way crazier piece. So we'll see. I definitely have cool ideas in mind.
Then, there might even be a fourth burn.
So if somebody wants to still hold at least 1 edition of Born 2 Die after all the burns, it sounds like they're going to need at least five to start with, and maybe more?
Yeah, five would be the number. Like you said - maybe more. But five, five is definitely the number for the three confirmed burns.
Any predictions for how many Born 2 Dies are left after all the burns?
People seem to love this piece, so I think some people are reluctant to burn it. But I would say around 300 or 400. But we'll see, we'll see. After the third burn, I am going to look at the total number left and if the number is too high for me, there's a burn idea I have where I make an edition of 5, and then I would do something crazy, like a 20-for-1 burn in order to redeem one of those pieces. We’ll see.
As you start to earn more and more money for your work, I am curious - has more money affected your psyche, life, or relationships in any way, good or bad?
For me personally, I don't feel like money will ever change me. Because I know who I am and who I'm not.
But I do think that getting more money makes me more comfortable. Like when I was working at FedEx, I was doing commissions and art at the same time. So, you know, I would come home from a shift and literally start working on different commissions. At the time, my art was mostly, if not all, commissions because I needed the money. So I didn't really have a choice in how to spend my time or in what art to do.
Now, with having more freedom of time, I feel like I can do a lot more. It's one thing when I'm working for money that I need to use immediately. It's another thing when I'm working, and I know that I don't need any money right away, and that makes me more free to just create.
Like if I wanted to make a piece right now, I could work on it for a year, and I don't have to feel like “Oh, no, they need this piece by next week, and I need the money because otherwise I'm gonna miss rent.”
So I think money adds comfort and freedom which is nice. And I can work on art in a way that is a lot more calm. Like now everything doesn't need to be like a fight-or-flight survival exercise. That's what more money has meant for me.
“I always tell people if you want to be great at something you need to know who was great before you so that's why I study like the Warhols, the Minjuns, the Murakamis, the Condos of the world.”
What is it about Terrell Jones that's unique and allows you to do the things that you do? There are lots of people who can draw as well as you do. But you have put these puzzle pieces together and now you're accomplishing these big things and gaining a lot of traction and interest. So what is it about you that has gotten you to where you are? In other words, what’s your secret sauce?
I'm perceptive. I know what people like. I know what I can do. I know what I can't do. I know different elements of stuff that will resonate with people. I know that if I make a piece that, you know, kind of looks like a Yue Minjun piece, but the colors are like a David Hockney but something else is like Edward Hopper, and something else is like Phil Hale. I know that if you put a lot of just historical and cultural significance into art, people don't even realize that something is clicking in their brain where they're going, “Oh, I've seen or I've seen that before.”
So there are different ways to kind of just blend stuff together without stealing. It's more just like, taking the right inspiration. I just know what people like. And I know how to get there without sacrificing any of the integrity of my work. Let me see how to say this without offending people. Okay, this is a way to say it... I always kind of say that, “Talent is plenty. But taste is few.”
There are a lot of talented people that don't necessarily know what stories they want to tell, or they don’t know what they want their art to convey. And I feel like I do.
I always tell people if you want to be great at something you need to know who was great before you. That's why I study the Warhols, the Minjuns, the Murakamis, the Condos of the world.
I have a stack of probably like 40 or 50 art books just full of art. And I can go to those books at any time. I'm feeding myself so much of the past greats because I don't feel like I can have any context for my own work if I don't understand what has happened before me. There's no way that you can do anything new if you don't know what has been done before you.
Tell me more about your art books - do you have any art books that come to mind that you'd recommend right now?
Hebru Brantley just came out with a book that's super fire. I’d recommend checking that one out.
Actually one of my goals is to have an art book - maybe even next year. We'll see.
When you're feeling unfocused or overwhelmed, what do you do? Do you have any routines or practices that you use to help yourself relax or focus?
Usually, I would watch sports, but all my teams right now are losing, so don't know if that's gonna help (laughs).
Definitely, between big pieces, I have decompression days. So that's like a day where I'm not touching art. I just watch movies or shows or sports. Or I go outside or go eat somewhere, or go take a walk. I just get away from all of it, you know?
I’m a believer that if you feel like you need a break, then take a break. Because I've been in a position before where I fell out of love with art. And it felt like too much of a chore to me. I know how that feels, and I know how not to get back into that place.
Besides continuing to release new work, what goals do you have for the coming years?
I definitely want to get involved with Sotheby's.
I would like to be in the MOMA as well.
But I still haven't had a solo show (laughs), so that probably comes before any of those. I'm in talks to do that.
I also want to bring a lot more physical stuff into the world. Figurines, plushies, and stuff like that. Maybe even watches, because I'm super into watches.
Zooming out 20 years, when you think about your dream career, what else comes to mind?
I think doing everything on a bigger level.
Another big goal of mine is to have a scholarship, where someone that is similar to me in that they are the kid who drew on all their homework - I want to be able to put them through art school. That would just be cool.
I didn't get to go to college or study art for financial reasons, and there are lots of things I had to learn on my own and teach myself that I wish I would have been able to learn in art school. So if I could help others afford that path, that would be awesome.
“Just know why you're doing things. Don't ever get caught in that thing where you're just looking at things happening around you and you're going, ‘Oh, these people are doing this so I must have to do this.’ Never get caught in that cycle of just people-watching and thinking that you need to do everything that everyone else is doing. “
What advice would you have for artists who are trying to break into the NFT world?
First of all, study. Just live in the world before you're ever just like, “Okay, it's my first day, let's go mint!” Like, just calm down, and just absorb the world.
Even when I had sold that first piece, I was still just absorbing the world and listening to spaces every day when I was working, and just trying to understand the whole NFT space and community and how different things work, and how the mechanics work.
There's so much that I know now that if I were to have a conversation with myself back then I'd be like, “What's all this jargon you're talking about? What's this? What's that? What's proof of stake?” There are so many things that I know now because I just sat back and learned.
Just absorb the knowledge of the space, and how different things work, how different artists work, how different jobs can go, you know, there are so many different ways to do everything. And you should learn them all. Because maybe you do something similar to other artists. Or maybe you look at everything that they're doing and say, “There's a cooler way or a different way to do this that I thought of because I looked at the way those artists did it.”
You have to understand the past to be able to change the future.
Another thing is to figure out what are you trying to tell people. You know, what are you trying to convey through your art? What are you trying to portray? What is the purpose of your art? Why did you make this piece?
It doesn't have to be something profound. It doesn't have to be like, oh, you know, this piece was made because of some tragedy that happened in 1979. Even if it's just like, I made this piece to look cool, alright, and that's the purpose, then that's good.
Just know why you're doing things. Don't ever get caught in that thing where you're just looking at things happening around you and you're going, “Oh, these people are doing this so I must have to do this.” Never get caught in that cycle of just people-watching and thinking that you need to do everything that everyone else is doing.
Keep your narrative. Keep your story. Just know why you're doing things. Just know yourself.
What are three specific NFTs or artists on your wish list that you'd love to acquire at some point?
I definitely got to get a piece by ACK.
I definitely got to get a piece by XCOPY.
I definitely need something by Grant Yun.
And something by Matt Furie - his work is always so insane.
Are there other more under-the-radar artists that you're digging or collecting right now you think people should know about?
Definitely. There are a bunch of amazing artists I am already collecting. They’ve got their own worlds and I'm just in love with so much of their art. Here are a few:
So besides your pieces for the Born 2 Die burn, can you give us any hints about other upcoming artwork?
I have an idea for an XCOPY-inspired piece I am making. I won't get into too much detail about it, but it'll be the bidder edition to end all bidder editions.
I am feeling the energy around this one after XCOPY followed me while I was in Miami at a SuperRare brunch during Basel. I already have the whole piece in my head. I just need to go do it.
But first I am focused on all the burn pieces for Born 2 Die.
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