Johnny Nguyen found he enjoyed the comfort of a pencil in his hand from an early age while growing up in Urbana, Illinois. Tracing the covers of GameCube games, like Spiderman 2 and old Disney movies, onto sheets of copy paper led him to create his own sketches.
Now a recent graduate from UF in business management and economics, the 21-year-old artist still loves to work with his hands. Most of his paintings were studies of different artists, but lately, he’s been inspired by Franklin Booth’s illustrations and Studio Ghibli films because of the attention to detail and whimsical nature.
“I’ve always liked having story elements to the things I create,” Nguyen said.
When Nguyen moved to Cape Coral, Florida, in 2010, he found a plethora of art classes at his school, something he hadn’t seen from his low-income school in Urbana.
“When I moved down to Florida, I took every art class I could in middle school, and I took every art class in high school,” Nguyen said. “I took drawing classes, I took painting classes because I loved it.”
He also joined art organizations like the National Art Honor Society.
Nguyen’s longtime friend turned college roommate, Brian Gurges, has known him since high school. Gurges described their friendship as two peas in a pod.
During their senior year of high school, Nguyen collaborated with other friends of Gurges to recreate a painting of the Last Supper as a birthday present for Gurges’ 18th birthday.
Since coming to UF, the pair have only grown closer and will continue living together in Gainesville for the next year.
“I think both of us were a lot more introverted, especially him and I’ve seen him coming into his own and selling his art and it's some stuff he's super proud of,” Gurges said. “He's really making an impact in the community, and it's so exciting to see him do that. I'm super proud of him.”
After seeing friends become burnt out from art school, Nguyen decided to major in computer science with a business minor when he started at UF in 2019. Eventually, he decided to pursue a dual degree in business management and economics, and he hoped to find a place in the business world where he is still creating art.
Gainesville was unlike any place Nguyen had lived before. The areas of Urbana and Cape Coral he lived in were small towns where not much happened, he said. Gainesville offered something new for him with independent art markets like Flashbacks Recycled Fashions or the How Bazar, he said.
He found a home in the Gainesville art scene by attending markets from these local venues.
“It's something I really wanted to be part of and be involved in,” Nguyen said. ”It just gives me motivation outside of school and work to make more art, meet more people that are interested in art, and surround myself with people like me.”
One of Nguyen’s favorite things about art during high school was collaborating with other artists through classes and art organizations. Because he wasn’t an art major, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for him to come together with other artists to create together, he said.
He created The Artists, a UF student organization for students of all majors to come together to create art in all mediums during his sophomore year. To promote the club, he created flyers, and he posted them throughout campus and on social media. About 70 people attended the first meeting, and the club has continued to grow since then, he said.
One of the attendees from the first meeting of The Artists was psychology behavioral analysis major, Alyssa Leong.
Leong saw Nguyen’s flyers everywhere on campus, she said.
Leong feels that she and Nguyen have both grown as creators and friends since they first met. Nguyen helped her learn how best to print her art to sell, she said.
“It’s always nice seeing how both of our small businesses grow with each market,” Leong said.
“He is truly inspiring with his go-getter attitude and amazing artwork.”
Contact Gracey at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @graceydavis_.
Gracey Davis is a UF journalism junior and Avenue staff writer. Gracey is a self-described girl boss, secretary for FMSA and a passionate Philly sports fan. If you're looking for her, try the Marston basement, where she often pretends she's a STEM major.