Ryan Upp

Age: 31
Find him: In the classroom
Hometown: Cleveland
Words of wisdom: I’m not releasing anything through art or dealing with emotions. The way the viewer reacts is more important to me. I just make art that I find aesthetically beautiful.
Go-to artists: A group of artists from the 1800s called the Pre-Raphaelites. And art nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha, who did beautiful, whimsical theater posters and high-end liquor advertisements.
I’d like to grab a beer with … my grandma. She’s a sweet old lady. We have the best conversations and she’s been a huge inspiration to me.

The sensible young man inside Ryan Upp said no to an art school offer. He took a sensible 9 to 5 with his father’s printing company and — quite sensibly — pushed his love of drawing and photography aside.

Until, after seven years of a desk job, the sensible young man was overruled.

“I needed to do something for myself. I knew I wanted that art degree. Everyone was like, ‘Are you sure you want to do that?’”

Ryan had his own hesitations, too, but immediately after enrolling in the Art Department at Cleveland State, he knew he had made the right choice.

“I don’t regret anything. It wasn’t even that I was learning new skills. I just needed to be in that environment again. It forced me to create work, which I hadn’t done in a while.”

Ryan knew the odds of making a living through art were stacked against him, and that made him work even harder. It paid off. Even before school ended, he was winning awards and landing top-tier placements. His work appeared in The New York Times and The Cleveland Institute of Art. He curated the “25 Under 25 Emerging Photographers” at Cleveland State. He won top honors at the university’s juried student art show.

Now, at 31, he’s hit artistic heights that someone twice his age would be proud of. But of all the giant leaps his career has taken, there’s still something that trips him up again and again: that first small step.

“The hardest part of creating a piece is definitely starting. I struggle with that even after 10 years. I will sit and struggle with something for two weeks. I’m overwhelmed by the idea of a blank canvas.”

So, what’s his advice?

“Once you start, that’s the biggest battle. It only gets easier from there. I just look for one element that intrigues me.”

For his Art of Tröegs piece, it was the details in the Perpetual IPA label.

“I kept thinking about the gears. I didn’t want it to be too steampunk-y, but even in the hair of the woman, there are a lot of gears interwoven. You just start with an idea that inspires you. You might think it’s someone else’s idea, but by the time you finish, it’ll be yours.”

It’s that kind of advice that has led Ryan full circle, back to a sensible career, but one that keeps both feet firmly planted in the art world. He’s the resident teaching artist for The Center for Arts-Inspired Learning in Cleveland, and he’s right where he wants to be.

“As soon as I started teaching, I knew this was it. I stopped caring about winning that next “Best in Show” award or selling a piece. I get so much satisfaction out of the kids getting excited about art and learning something.

“It’s really hard to make money as an artist. It doesn’t matter how good you are or how hard you work. It’s still hard. I’m lucky to have such a great job in the arts.”

Art of Tröegs

It’s your turn to get in on the art. Take a piece of Tröegs – bottlecaps, cans, labels, whatever – and create a piece of art. The winner will be $500 richer, and they’ll get their name in lights when we open our brand new art gallery this summer in Hershey, PA. MORE