I’ve noticed a thread of sorts through the young entrepreneurs I’ve met over the last year or more. They are passionate about what they do. They are willing to work impossibly hard hours to make their dream happen. And they try very hard to do it while limiting their financial liabilities. In other words, lots of sweat and very little or very controlled front-end investment. Justin Helton whose studio and shop Status Serigraph opens officially today exemplifies all of the above.
Though only just out of his twenties, Justin’s resume reads like that of someone much older. He studied design at Pellissippi State and followed that with a fine arts degree in Print Making from UT. While there he arranged an internship that allowed him to work with the owners of Blue Cats, a former venue just down the street from his new location. A steady stream of quality musicians moved through the place and Justin began designing posters for their performances. He parlayed his work in the internship into money for side projects.
After graduation he decided to contact Ashley Capps at AC Entertainment. It seemed like a bold move to me, but it reveals another trait of these young business people. When I commented as much he said, “What could he do? Tell me “no?” But he didn’t. Justin’s design talent won him the job, part time at first and later full-time as a creative director. He worked for AC Entertainment from 2007 to 2012 while continuing to pursue side jobs for various artists.
Ultimately, he had a decision to make and it was relatively simple: He’d dreamed of having his own business and the time had come. He’d saved enough money from the side jobs to get started without any debt, a fiscal conservative streak which he attributed to his wife’s influence. He’d built an inventory and had excellent relationships with bands and others with whom he’d worked. He landed a large design job for Sierra Nevada that paid well. And he found a location he loved where he could establish a presence in the city.
His screen print concert posters will look familiar to many of you. You’ll find them at Nothing Too Fancy and, in fact, if you look at their logo, you’ll also see an example of his work. You’ve no doubt seen some of his work for bands like Wilco, Phish, the Black Keys and many others. He’s also designed album covers for the Black Lilies and the Dirty Guv’nahs, so he keeps some of it local.
Many of the posters are available online at the Status Serigraph website and now they will be available in his studio shop. He also has tshirts and hoodies. You’ll also sometimes find him at festivals and other events. The posters are all limited runs, so if you see one you like, you best grab it quickly.
In some respects he’s living his dream and he’s living the dream of many of us. First, of course, his dream was to own his own business and he’s accomplished that at a very young age. But also, he loves the music and musicians he works with. His designs appeal to fans and the bands because he, himself, is a fan. He fondly recounted hitting the road with little to no cash to see Phish perform, never imagining at the time that he would later work with Trey Anastasio and later with the re-grouped band itself. That’s a pretty heady journey that would excite many of us.
Justin is hosting an open house as a part of the First Friday festivities downtown tonight. The store is located at 310 West Jackson, Suite 102. Walk to the end of the 100 block from downtown and turn left on Jackson and you’ll see him. He promised to have something to eat and beers in a cooler, so drop by and tell him, “hello.” Tell him you saw his story here. Buy a poster. The quality is exquisite. His work is exceptional and he’s a very nice guy. He’ll probably even sign a print for you, if you’d like.