Elijah Rutland builds creative skills and a successful design business with Adobe Creative Cloud
Georgia native Elijah Rutland is making a name for himself through his pop designs. His custom shoe designs are finding fans across the U.S., while collaborations with Mercedes-Benz, Beats by Dre, Nike, and the NBA have raised his profile even further. Rutland honed his artistic skills while studying graphic design at Florida A&M University (FAMU). FAMU is an Adobe Creative Campus, and Rutland took advantage of the university’s Adobe Creative Cloud access to develop his skills as a digital creator. But he didn’t always think that he could make his living from art.
In this article:
- Exploring the possibilities of digital art
- Finding audiences with major brands
- Developing professional creative skills
“I always heard that if you major in art you’ll be starving and broke,” Rutland recalls with a laugh. “My freshman year at FAMU, I actually studied business administration. But the more I studied, the more I realized that everything in business is created by an artist — from the products and packaging to marketing and branding. It made me realize that there are a lot of things that I could do while following my passion as an artist.”
Exploring the possibilities of digital art
Art has always played a role in Rutland’s life. As a child, he would spend hours drawing and coloring — first superheroes, and then shoes. “My parents never wanted to buy me expensive Air Jordans, so I started drawing my own,” explains Rutland.
In high school, he turned his hobby into a business. Through Fix My Sole, Rutland paints sneakers with one-of-a-kind custom patterns. His colorful designs have found loyal audiences online, encouraging him to expand his design services to clothing, hats, murals, paintings, and prints. Despite this success, Rutland didn’t start seriously working with digital art until his sophomore year at FAMU.
“I grew up working in very physical mediums: painting shoes or drawing in my sketchbooks,” says Rutland. “Working with a tablet is very different. I can sketch an idea whenever I get inspiration. And I don’t worry about wasting pages in my sketchbook. It makes me feel like I can experiment more digitally.”
With access to professional creative apps at FAMU, Rutland explored new ways to express himself through digital media. Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator quickly became favorites, whether accessing the apps on his desktop or logging into online versions on his tablet. But Rutland also learned to use apps such as Adobe Express to create social media posts or InDesign to create engaging content layouts.
“Adobe InDesign really challenged me at first because I didn’t understand the importance of having a good layout,” says Rutland. “Having that experience has been helpful. It makes me more aware of how everything works together, and I could take that lesson into my own art.”
Finding audiences with major brands
Rutland’s bold designs helped him stand out through several major collaborations in his senior year at FAMU. Mercedes-Benz USA commissioned Rutland to design custom Nike Jordan Air 1 sneakers that celebrate the sleek silver stylings of Mercedes-Benz vehicles in shoe form.
Later that year, Rutland was invited to become a part of a collaboration between Nike and House of Hoops. The project was a mix of real-life art with a virtual reality art gallery available to audiences at gyms, parks, and other athletic spaces around the U.S. As part of the project, Rutland designed a digital art piece as well as a one-of-a-kind shoe box.
Rutland also participated in the “Beats Black Creator” program, designing custom Beats by Dre headphones worn by Team LeBron/Team Durant during the 2021 NBA All-Star Game. The design uses bold black lines on a bronze background to create the impression of a sketchbook celebrating Black History Month and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) such as FAMU.
“It was a surreal feeling to see players I grew up watching wearing my work,” says Rutland. “The project was a great fit for me, because the design process was a lot like how I paint a pair of shoes. I had to think about how the design will look when it’s printed over the headphones. I did the design in Photoshop and Illustrator, but then every part needed to be turned into its own asset. I’d never seen the 3D modeling they did before, and that was a cool experience.”
Developing professional creative skills
While Rutland continues to build his company, he is also exploring the field of animation. He has held several internships for Warner Bros. Animation and Disney Television Animation where he learned about the animation production process and assisted on painting backgrounds for animated series. Rutland is able to create anywhere from two to four backgrounds a week, painting over the line work digitally.
“Having experience with Photoshop really helped me work through the backgrounds faster,” says Rutland. “The clipping mask was huge for me to get the paint just where I wanted it. But one of the important things to remember is that there’s a dozen ways to do anything. You have to experiment and learn the way that works best and fastest for you. That’s why it’s so great that FAMU is an Adobe Creative Campus. Now more people can try out software and find the best way of working for themselves.”