Travell Blackman: Artist, designer and business phenom

A graphite pencil portrait by Travell Blackman

Continuing along last week’s topic of art and entrepreneurship I thought it would be beneficial to share a few stories of persons who have found ways to successfully bridge the gap between the two seemingly disconnected modes of operation. It is my hope that these accounts would encourage persons who are interested but maybe hesitant to take a step in this direction in order to shape a more sustainable creative practice of their own.

Travell Blackman is no stranger to the local art scene. On any given day social media users would find his exceptional artwork on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, with hundreds of likes and comments expressing interest in commission and/or acquisition. Blackman’s regular announcements of specialized workshops for both children and adults have also increased his popularity online and strengthened his position as the go-to person for meeting any creative requirement.

His is a prolific career that extends as far back as his adolescent years. In a recent interview he explained that his serious pursuit of art began at the age of sixteen after his father suggested he enroll at the E.R. Burrowes School of Art. At that time he was two years below the school’s age requirement but an exception was made in his case based on the strength of his portfolio. Three years later he completed the certificate program and was recognized as that year’s Best Graduating Student. It was while in his second year that he began submitting entries to the National Drawing and Watercolour Competitions held biennially at the National Gallery of Art, Castellani House. He won an award that year and every year he submitted works since.

Travell Blackman hard at work on a commissioned couple’s portrait

After Blackman graduated from the E.R. Burrowes School of Art he taught at President’s College for two years. He admits that although art was just as highly regarded as the other subjects taught there, he soon grew tired of the dull routine of following the same syllabus year after year. It was after leaving the teaching environment that he decided to adjust the course of his career to something that gave him a greater sense of personal fulfillment.

“Around 2006 I met some friends and we started a small business called Smart Enterprise. We had spent an entire year planning and researching before we even started. When we did start we were in a small room with one desktop computer but we had tons of ideas. We met every day for hours to talk about what we could do and how we could do it.

The company was divided into different departments so we dealt with things like marketing and procurement. We also had Smart Clean and Maintenance. During the Cricket World Cup our company received large contracts for maintenance and housekeeping. We even started the Guyana Shopping Guide, which was the only one at the time. Smart Enterprise had gotten really successful after a while but because of the difference in vision of the partners involved we started butting heads. Eventually I left and the company dissolved around 2010.”

At this point he explained that he felt it necessary to shift gears once again to something a bit more relaxing, as he describes it. Interestingly enough, his idea of relaxing translated to being actively engaged in something that encouraged his growth as a creative practitioner as well as a businessman. So that same year he enrolled at the University of Guyana to pursue a degree in computer science.

“You might wonder how someone could move from a certificate in art to a degree in computer science because they’re so vastly different. But they’re really not. They’re both in the realm of creating. Computer science is all about problem solving. It basically involves creating something intangible with codes and programs. We can look at a real world situation and figure out how you can use the computer or any electronic media to simplify or make that situation much easier. So you need to be able to analyze a situation really well in order to figure out methods of simplifying it for the user. It needs to be so simple that persons with any level of IQ could look at it and understand it completely.”

After he graduated from the University of Guyana in 2014, he decided it was time to get back into business. This time around he was determined to ensure a different and more successful outcome. He used the knowledge he had previously acquired about professional business practices to launch Innovign, a company designed to cover his expertise in both art and computer science.

“I try to incorporate the two as much as possible. Computer science itself relies a lot on art. For example, if you’re going to create a website or an app, the first thing a person will see even before experiencing the functionality is the look of it, the design. And if you have an understanding of design then you will have a visually pleasing application. So they work nicely hand in hand. Sometimes you might run into an application that is really good but just not appealing. It doesn’t draw you in. Then there are others that are really nice visually but terrible when it comes to usage. So you just need to find that balance. Innovign combines art and computer science to create that balance.

The company is divided into different departments to focus on different areas. So there is Innovign Art, which deals with art production and education; Innovign Developers, which covers things like web and mobile applications; Innovign Graphics; and Innovign Décor. I’m working on these areas until they are able to sustain themselves before moving on to others, instead of trying to do all at once.”

These children were all smiles with their finished paper flowers

Blackman has managed to develop an efficient routine that allows him to focus equally on each component of his business at different times of the year. The seasonal nature of the work commissioned for Innovign Décor grants him time to concentrate on his portraiture service, something he admits is always in constant demand. He also offers regular after school art classes for children as well as more specialized workshops for both children and adults.

“One of the main reasons I started this was because I recognized that art in Guyana was not something that was highly appreciated. I wanted to show people that this is serious. And for them to take art seriously we need to start with the younger generation. If they can develop a liking from a young age then we can nurture their development.

Because of the nature of the business, it’s not something that your life depends on. It’s more of an indulgence. The challenge for me is to convince people that the money they spend would be worth the while. So I’m always thinking of new and fresh ways to convince the public that there’s value to this. It’s challenging at times. Sometimes things don’t always work. I’ve tried a few things that didn’t work out well but that is all a part of the learning process.”

A group of satisfied participants after completing one of Innovign’s paper flower workshops

Although he admits the task of managing one’s own business can be quite daunting, particularly for someone trying to balance it with his creative practice, Blackman remains confident in his ability to continue building on the dream he envisioned as a child.

“Owning your own business calls for a lot of patience and belief in what you’re trying to create. That belief is sometimes what fuels the drive when things get really hard. If you don’t have that kind of commitment then you shouldn’t get into small business. The success doesn’t happen overnight. My firm is still pretty young. I started this in 2015 and I’m still trying to figure out ways in which I can make things better so that the business can grow.

Right now I’m in the process of building the developing department. I’m working with two other persons on an application that the public could benefit from and that could see a number of persons gaining employment. Once that can sustain itself, like the art, we’ll move on to another project. So we’re still growing and I’m looking forward to working with more people.”

For more information about the services offered by Innovign you can visit their website or find them on Facebook as Innovign Art.

This article was first published in the Pepperpot magazine of the Sunday Chronicle newspaper on April 16, 2017. Click on the link to be redirected to their website:

#GuyanaChronicle #DominiqueHunter #TravellBlackman #Guyaneseartists #Entrepreneurship

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