David Zimmerman is asked all the time if he has a history with graffiti. His bold line work and quirky characters suggest a street art influence, but Bigshot Robot is not a former tag name. It started small, the name of a “storytelling clothing company” launched as a collaborative project, but it’s grown and developed into David’s personal moniker. Some of the projects started beneath the umbrella of Bigshot Robot are sitting on the back burner, but David is always looking for new opportunities to learn and expand his already impressive skill set. He still releases collectibles and apparel through his website (www.bigshot-robot.com) while expanding his professional portfolio.
Zimmerman graduated from UWM in 2012 after six years of trying to find his niche. Born into a long line of engineers and lawyers, David managed to be both a creative and grounded kid. It seemed at first that art would not be the way to go even if it’s what he truly desired. “I can't say it enough, but I really do wish I had someone tell me art can be an incredibly viable and rewarding career path,” David said. He entered college out of high school in the Architecture program with hopes that the design element would appeal to his creativity while the engineering would keep him from going down the path of a starving artist. However, two years into his studies he switched briefly to photography. He was getting closer to what he was looking for, but he switched again. “I didn’t really know anything about graphic design at the time,” he admitted. “It was between graduating in six years, or eight years. I chose six.” He finished his degree with a hybrid major of Graphic Design and Printmaking.
Following graduation Zimmerman landed a job with a marketing firm, working the usual five days a week behind a desk. He enjoyed the work, and was grateful to be employed in his field, but after two years he was feeling creatively stunted. David prefers a more challenging and collaborative environment. He’s very outgoing and personable. It’s hard to picture him alone in a cubicle, drawing with a protractor - a single fluorescent bulb flickering above his head.
“Collaboration is one of my favorite things. It switches your style, and your thought process. It’s one of the only ways to learn. Trying to fit your style in with someone completely opposite of your own is a great way to grow not just as an artist, but as a person.” David’s marketing job was lacking this vital element, and his commissions were picking up, so he took the plunge and went full-time freelancing. He found work where he could. He took on private commissions, and organized and participated in some events. Zimmerman is a man about town. Much of his work is done publicly. It was during this time working for himself that he picked up a lot of live painting shows. He would go to a bar and paint in front of the crowd, often selling some of his own work. Recently, he teamed up with Milwaukee Home and Rusty Dog Coffee to release a new packaging design. Rusty dog is based out of Madison, and features pictures of Wisconsin’s dogs. When Milwaukee Home’s founder submitted her own pooch to be featured she cashed in a favor with Zimmerman.
“I had promised her a portrait of her dog a long time before that,” he says, smiling sheepishly. The label looks great. It’s David’s distinct style with elements of both Rusty Dog, and Milwaukee Home. The dog is wearing one of the locally iconic shirts, and David re-designed the lettering of the package itself to make it cohesive. If David learned anything freelancing it was that going a little beyond the first time will mean you are called again.
While freelancing, David came across many of the small details that he wishes he would have been told about sooner. “There’s a lot of little stuff,” he said. “Things like when you need to fill out a W-9, or…how to charge tax on a commission or something.” He also discovered how, even though working for yourself is satisfying and rewarding, it can occasionally be a grind. “You have to put all of your time into it. Non-stop. Every day.” When you’re working for yourself, he says, you’re working if you’re awake. The biggest thing, he says, is learning the basics of working for yourself. Many artists struggle with really getting themselves out there. David started by performing live paintings at Bad Genie, and later was asked to design posters for one of the many trendy and artistically-driven events hosted there. Zimmerman attributes exposure and networking to much of his success as a freelancer, but he admits that he jumped into it prematurely.
“Because of my upbringing I have a good work ethic, and I could survive freelancing, but barely. I wasn’t able to save anything,” he explained, “a broken arm or an accident and my savings would have been gone.” David recently accepted a position working for an advertising agency, but he does not feel as though he has taken any steps backwards. The work is different than what he was doing right out of college. Now he is the only illustrator with the company, and the projects have variety to keep him engaged. He can work on up to ten different projects a day, and each presents a new challenge. “There’s so much to learn. I’m still young,” he says. Not unlike collaborating directly, he sees working on a creative team as a chance to develop new skills anywhere from creative direction to animation. He was put in charge of an animation project, giving him experience for one of his more perennial goals: producing an animated show.
“Eventually I will be working for myself full-time again,” he says. While he values his current employment he has many long-term goals set for himself in the future. He hopes to collaborate more, expand on the Bigshot Robot collections, and spend some more time designing characters for a potential show or movie. David produced a short for this year’s Gallery Nite themed “Bold.” He also hopes to put together a screen printing show - half collaboration, half competition. He has plenty of ideas ready and waiting, and plenty of passion to back it up. “Throw me in there,” he says with conviction. “I’ll figure it out.”
Written by Kathryn Skjoldager