Written by Abbie Walker | Photographed by Paul Wolf
Sneaky Beans is an enclave for many of Jackson’s creative people and Justin Nowland knows plenty of them by name. But the thirty-year-old manager of the Fondren hotspot is an artist himself. When he’s not mixing up lattes and helping run the business, he’s sketching out his next creation.
Originally from Georgia, Nowland moved to Mississippi to study art at Belhaven University. After graduating in 2008 with a drawing emphasis, he worked at Universal Studios in Orlando doing caricatures and then spent some time living out in Los Angeles. He eventually returned to Jackson and has been working at Sneaky Beans for over two years now. But his passion for art is still strong.
Nowland’s medium of choice is pen and ink. He describes his style as “simplified, clean, and exaggerated.” Most of his work has a humorous theme, with vibrant animals or characters as common subjects. He says he is inspired by the children’s book illustrators of his youth—Robert Lawson, P.D. Eastman, and Dr. Seuss. But his favorite artist is Heinrich Kley, a German illustrator and painter.
Though he loves to make people laugh with his art, Nowland says he has been working on some more serious content in the past several months. He is delving into graphic storytelling and has created several autobiographical short stories that he says center around growing up and the changing of life.
“Hopefully I’m always evolving and so is my art,” he says, noting the progression in his content as he’s matured.
Nowland has participated in several local art shows, including Priced to Move last December. He plans to showcase his new narrative series within the next year, but Nowland’s current overall goal is to simply “keep drawing and keep getting better.” He says he’s not concerned about “making it big” as an artist. Instead, he wants to focus on developing his voice as a visual storyteller.
Nowland doesn’t know what the future may hold for him, but he expresses that he is quite content “slinging coffee” at Sneaky Beans. He loves his coworkers and getting to chat with the regulars. It has also been a great way for him to do something that he enjoys and to connect with people in the Jackson community, especially other artists, like his sculptor friend Jordan Hess.
While living in Los Angeles, Nowland says he had a hard time plugging into the artistic community there. But he says that Jackson, on the other hand, is full of talented people and is small enough that he can be really involved with the art scene.
“It’s also a good place for small businesses,” he adds. Since Sneaky Beans acts as a kind of local art gallery in itself, Nowland doesn’t even have to leave work to share his prints. But he has a humble attitude about what he does.
“I just draw a lot,” he says.