Photo courtesy of Stephen Gomez

John Smalls is an artist and designer working and living in Harlem, New York. He is well known for creating graphic designs and illustrations for major apparel brands and the mixed martial arts community. For over fifteen years, John has worked in the areas of art and design, serving as an art director, product designer and illustrator. His work has been exhibited in galleries all over the United States and his limited edition prints and sports apparel are widely collected and in-demand. He is a dedicated artist who is continuously exploring the foundations of art while also innovating and seeking out new creative challenges and techniques.

Originally a native of Philadelphia though early travels also offered him the opportunity to call the West Coast home is in many ways the “physical embodiment of raw urban artistic talent in its purest form”. At an early age he embraced his inner muse and allowed his artistic visions to flow freely. John has lived and traveled throughout the world allowing him the opportunity to meet and grow with people of vast cultures and races all of which becomes more and more evident in the diversity found within his artistic expressions. After traveling the world and cultivating a worldly urban distinctive style, Mr. Smalls has returned to the East Coast though his style continues to transcend any regional limitations placed upon him. Some artists find themselves limited in the mediums of expression due to the confines of attempting to “earn a living” whereas for John art is more than simply a means of earning a living but rather a medium to express true living – A life filled with artistic expressions manifested from pain, suffering, love, life, death, hope and redemption. John Smalls is a true visionary who utilizes pure artistic energy to create true masterpieces.

Below are responses to questions I am frequently asked……

How did you get into illustration? I started out looking for work as an artist at the age of 19 which lead me to graphic design. From there my passion and love for illustration kind of evolved. I was always an illustrator but hadn’t really focused on it until the middle of my career.

How would you describe your style? Bold lines and minimal color.

What tools do you use? India ink, brushes, pen nibs, Procreate and Photoshop. And of course pencils and paper. Nowadays I’m sketching a lot of things out on the iPad Pro and recreating them work on paper or canvas.

What inspires you? Some of my original influences came from Saturday morning cartoons and the Sunday comics. I grew up on comic books and animation. To me the people who made those cartoons where the greatest artist on Earth. Now I gather inspiration from life. Basically the visuals I see on a daily basis, either on the subway or walking around the city. They’re so many different inspiring imagery floating around.

How do you choose the color palette to work with? Well, I’m colorblind. So the colors you see in my work I don’t or can not see them the same as you do. I normally start with primary colors and mix and adjust as I see fit. Sometimes what I think is gray can actually be a mild tone of pink or light green.

If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be doing? Custom motorcycle builder.

What do you charge for projects? For all questions involving rates please contact

Solo & Group Exhibitions List:
2014 Journey through Jiu Jitsu, Space Gallery, Long Island City, NY
2007 Visual Slang: The Modern Urban Imagination, Abrons Arts Center / Henry Street Settlement, New York, NY
2006 Touch and Feel: Messin’ with the high and low, Red Saw Gallery, Newark, NJ
2006 Enough is Enough, Weston Hall Gallery at the New Jersey School of Architecture, Newark, NJ
2005 Expectations, The Paul Robeson Cultural Center Rutgers University, New Jersey
2005 Arthouse Highland Park Arts Festival, New Brunswick, NJ
2004 Hip Hop Political Convention Art and Resistance Show, Newark, NJ
2004 San Antonio Cultural Arts Huevos Rancheros Gala, San Antonio, TX
2001 Films on I.C.E. Preview 2 San Antonio, TX
2001 Black Out (A Groove Essential Production), Austin, TX
2001 Beat Kitchen Festival of Hip Hop at Bruno’s Art Space, San Antonio, TX
2001 SA Town Poetry Slam, San Antonio, TX
2001 First Friday Art Exhibition at the Ellis Bean Art Space, San Antonio, TX
2001 3rd Annual Mad Media Manifesto Exhibition San Antonio, TX
2000 Eye Con and Will Exhibition at the Art Asylum San Antonio, TX