Degree helps artist turn passion into career

Detour uses marketing skills to turbo-charge his art business

September 5, 2018

Thomas Evans (MBA ’12), artist

Thomas Evans (MBA ’12, BS ’08) has always been an artist, but he studied business at CU Denver and took a job at a marketing agency after graduation. When he discovered advertising wasn’t quite for him, he planned to follow his family’s footsteps into the military – until, that is, he tore his ACL in a martial arts class and instead went on a volunteer trip to Tanzania.

You could say he took a few detours. When Evans returned from Africa, he followed his true calling and became a full-time artist.

For the past four years, Evans has been a professional artist, working under the name Detour, a name inspired by the title of a breakdancing VHS tape he’d bought while living in Germany. He’s created pieces for companies including Red Bull and Sprite. Most recently, he’s painted portraits of David Letterman and Jay-Z for a Netflix marketing campaign.

His CU Denver Business School education, which included an emphasis in marketing, helped him turn his passion into a career.

“Marketing is one of the biggest things right now. With the internet, you can find your own collectors, find your own buyers, find your own places to show,” said Evans. “We still need galleries and museums, but you have a lot more control than you used to, and my college career really helped me in that.”

Turning a passion into a career

At CU Denver, Evans worked on campus in Student Life & Campus Community, helping organize events like lectures, convocation, Spring Fling and Fall Festival. Meanwhile, he found himself surrounded by a diverse, dynamic and supportive group of people who reinforced his artistic side. All those experiences, as well as the spirit of social activism on campus, helped inform his decision to become a professional artist.

“I could put on my own shows, and market and host them,” said Evans. “The people I was around at CU Denver were always encouraging me.”

Upon pursuing art as a profession, Evans realized his skill sets in marketing and business were every bit as important as his creative flair. Among the challenges he faced were securing studio space, helping people see his work and getting his name into the art community.

First, he became the resident artist at Meadowlark Kitchen, which is owned by a friend. As his work there grew in popularity, it became a conduit to wider recognition of his paintings and murals. A buzz began spreading about the Denver artist named Detour. Evans also started to engage on social media; Netflix, for instance, found him on Instagram.

“So, now it’s just trying to figure out how to still do the work I’m passionate about, how to scale up, how to do bigger projects,” he said.

Finding an artistic voice

Denver artist Thomas Evans (MBA ’12) applies the business skills he learned here to market his work.

Evans’ style evolved from mostly realistic pieces to a penchant for live art, in which innovative pieces are created at public events and performances. At live-art projects, he could no longer dawdle with mixing paint or pausing for contemplation. He learned to adapt: he began favoring quick-drying acrylics and latex over slow-drying oils and learned how to do things like stretch canvases.

This led to experimentation with bigger canvases and different types of tools and textures. Ultimately, the distinct Detour style emerged.

“It was a slow progression from experimentation to implementation,” said Evans.

The other important aspect of his artistic growth has been travel, first to Tanzania and later all around the globe. Just this year, he’s taken trips to Argentina and France. For Evans, it’s all about getting outside his comfort zone. Embracing new experiences, he said, is crucial to discovering and refining an artistic voice.

“You have to get out there, explore the world and shake things up a little bit,” he said. “That’s when something unique about you starts to come out in your work.”