Growing up in McAllen, a small town on the border of south Texas, there was a lot of time to get lost in my own imagination. I always had an interest in art starting from a very early age. My earliest memories of art are of creating superheroes out of every color of crayon in the Crayola box (with highly creative names like “Brick Red Man”.) Everyone in my family was artistic in their own way: my dad and sister were creative writers, and my mom would paint and make crafts for the house. Throughout elementary and middle school, I drew comic book heroes and video game characters for myself and friends. In high school, I started learning more realistic drawing techniques as well as beginning to make money with my art. I would sell celebrity pencil portraits in the school cafeteria to my friends, and I began working as a caricature artist on Friday nights at a local book store. Once I realized that art could actually be a career, I felt I had the discipline to make it my livelihood. This led to my interest in pursuing an art degree, I attended and received my BFA in Studio Art at the University of Texas – Austin.
While in art school, I first began to explore lots of personal topics and different materials in my fine art. I challenged myself to be very skilled technically, I spent many hours in the school library reading up on classical art and the fundamentals (anatomy, color, lighting, etc.) Our instructors were very hard on us in critiques, and my work was shaped by my teachers pushing me to loosen up and challenge my thoughts on art. It was in these early years that I really began to develop my own “characters” and the themes that continue to show up in my art.
After graduating art school, I found stable work in teaching art. Growing up with both of my parents as teachers, I always had an interest in teaching. My high school actually had a specific track of curriculum designed for pursuing teaching. Over the course of my years in Austin, I consistently taught at several private art schools, museums and workshops while showing my work in galleries. I also searched high and low for as much freelance work as possible. I worked on a number of book covers, graphic novels and mobile games while in Austin. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was going through a heavy career change in my art.
In my late 20s, I reached a crossroads with art. While I had been pursuing a “fine art” lifestyle – showing work in galleries, taking personal commissions – all along my interests and art were better suited for illustration. I had never considered myself an “illustrator” or even a “concept artist”, yet I had taken dozens of freelance projects that fell under those categories. After researching these careers and the artists involved in them, I decided from then on that I wanted to work in illustration and entertainment. Instead of seeing my work in galleries, I was eager to see it in books, games and movies. I shifted all my focus and training away from gallery work, and I became heavily involved in the worlds of concept art and illustration. This meant that I would have to change my outlook on art and develop an entirely new set of skills.
After spending my entire life in Texas, I moved out to Oakland, California with my then-girlfriend (now wife!) to pursue a better art career. Upon arriving, I landed a number of teaching positions, one with a Chinese art school and others with private tutoring and small studios. This gave me the time and income to continue pursuing freelance while heavily improving my skills.
Recently, I began to focus the content of my art more. Since I was young, I had always drawn and been interested in fantastical characters and stories. I loved the wild worlds I found in video games and movies. In art school, I struggled to create my own characters and stories to use in my assignments. My instructors were very hard on my ideas and how they were presented. What I didn’t realize at the time was I was trying to do “illustration” in a more “fine art” setting. Now that I was out in California trying to become an illustrator, I revisited all of those old characters and stories and found a home in the one category where they all can fit in: fantasy art. Fantasy art felt like a home for all of my characters because the community and fans are open to wildly creative narratives and worlds. I’m now pursuing work in the fantasy industry as well as starting the early stages of writing my own stories.
I’ll finish with what I consider my biggest inspirations to make art:
– I love creativity in every part of life, and I love giving people the chance to be creative and feel creative. This is my main motivation for being an art instructor.
– In my own work, I want to tell stories and create characters that resonate with our more hidden emotions. I enjoy exploring the strange and mysterious parts of life, it’s healthy to let your weird side out.
– Finally, I respect people who do things well, I’m inspired by the countless artists before me and next to me who create amazing work. I feel I owe it to the viewers of my work that I train, explore, and become as great of an artist as I possibly can be. I owe it to them for letting my work be a part of their lives, however big or small.
Follow David on his Instagram @Tenorioart