Industry Watch

Adam Turman in his studio

Making the scene

How Adam Turman became a go-to muralist and illustrator in the Twin Cities

"I call myself an illustrator, not a fine artist," Adam Turman, 38, says during an interview from his print studio.

Turman is a captivating mash-up of dirty blonde Californian, tattooed badass, beefy mountain biker, and extroverted artist. He's like Dennis the Menace, grown up and gone good.

The Berkeley-born, Edina-bred Turman graduated from the University of Minnesota with a graphic design degree in 1999. He was hired right out of the gate by Yamamoto Moss's interactive design firm Aisle Five. He later moved on to Larsen Design, then landed a long-term gig at the in-house marketing department of the U of M's College of Continuing Education.

Working on the U's shoestring budget, Turman did "just about everything. If they needed something, you basically did it or learned how to do it," he says. The position was good for financial stability and a benefits package, but one side of Turman's talents remained untapped: illustration. "They didn't even really know I did that," he says.

It wouldn't be long until the entire Twin Cities arts community knew. In 2003, Turman befriended David Witt, a St. Paul artist who goes by the name DWITT, at a poster show called Plaster the Town. DWITT referred Turman to a colleague, and soon Turman was working with a design collective, doing pro bono gig posters for First Avenue, the Triple Rock Social Club, and Radio K. Turman initially garnered attention for his sultry pinups, iconic skylines, and vibrant colors. Locals soon started recognizing his art and contacting him to collaborate on projects.

Turman's mural at Butcher and the Boar

Turman's favorite format is murals, and the one he did for the Minneapolis restaurant Butcher and the Boar was epic. Originally, Turman was hired to cover a 20- by 10-foot section of the exterior of the downtown restaurant.

"All you need to do is give Adam a spark and he will set it on fire," says Tim Rooney, a co-owner of the restaurant who cherry-picked Turman for the mural.

Rooney provided the palette and the landscape, then Turman went to town, incorporating a foxy bicyclist surrounded by wheat stalks, set against the backdrop of the Twin Cities skyline.

"He doesn't want to reproduce himself," Rooney says of the breadth of Turman's art.

Turman completed the project in October 2011, Butcher and the Boar opened, and patrons praised the work so much that Turman was asked back to extend the mural, totaling 180 feet by June 2012. Now you'll find lovely ladies frolicking in the snow and local landmarks reflected in a woman's sunglasses, among other Turman trademarks, all over the walls.

"I'm not interested in stuff unless I have a purpose to do it. I really like limitations, I like an assignment," Turman says.

And he's had plenty. Turman's art appears on products for the CurrentCurt's Salsa, the Electric FetusPeace Coffee, and Speedhound Bikes, among many other companies. He exhibits his work at craft fairs, poster shows, and private galleries throughout Minnesota.

"Adam does four things really well," says Robert Kasak, who commissioned Turman for a mural at 612Brew, a brewery and tap room he cofounded in northeast Minneapolis. "He does cityscapes, bicycles, beer, and girls. And those are my four favorite things. So it was an absolute lock for us."

Turman worked on the 15- by 15-foot wall of the brewery in the evenings. Because 612Brew was still in its build-out stage, there was no power. Turman plowed ahead anyway, aided by propane heaters and lights connected to a generator. "He'd be in there every night, adding more and more detail until it was done," Kasak says. "It was so amazing to watch him paint. We'd sit around and we'd bullshit, we'd have some beers, and we really got to know each other and we really connected. It was a great experience."

Turman's completed design incorporated the brewery's street signs, a bicycle bearing a growler, the Lowry Bridge, and, of course, a babe in boots, beer in hand.

"It's by far the marquee of the brewery," Kasak says.

Taking the plunge

At this point, Turman's workload was steady, but he wanted to make sure he had a "huge safety net" before dedicating himself full-time to his art. "I have run my small business very, very, very conservatively," Turman says.

But after his wife told him, "You need to try this and have the opportunity to get to the next level," Turman wrote up a business plan and a financial schedule. With their children in school during the day and the family's health insurance provided through his wife's employer, Turman finally took the plunge and left his day job in January 2013. He's been consistently busy ever since.

Turman's main challenge now is that he doesn't have a clone. Maintaining a balance between the bureaucratic side of the business and his creativity has been tricky. "It's my hand, so I can't have someone else do the drawings," he says. While he has hired a part-time printing assistant (Brian Geihl, a graphic design grad from St. Cloud State University), Turman's presence is still paramount. "I'm the one picking the colors, I'm the one who knows how it should look," he says.

As for steps to success, Turman insists that the best thing he did was launch his website with a URL that's easy to remember. "Making it easy for people to find me was really important," Turman says. "There are other artists — like Bansky — who are incredibly difficult to find, and that's super intriguing, people love that, but for my audience, that's not true."

On, you'll find a portfolio, time-lapse videos of Turman painting murals, a map of galleries that sell his work, a FAQ, a guide to working with him, and an online shopping system.

Turman has also put in ample face time on the local scene. Being sociable, networking, and saying "yes" as often as possible were other strategies that paid off. Last but not least: Don't forget your manners! "Do good work, be a good person, and be responsible," Turman says.

As for art education, Turman sees it as beneficial, both for learning about the history of one's craft as well as adding caché to a résumé. "It ultimately makes life easier," he says of a college degree, although, "I really believe there's a core talent that is really hard to learn and is next to impossible to teach. It's in there and it just comes out."

From the looks of it, Turman's talent supply isn't running out anytime soon.