Exploring boldly

Adam Vicarel’s artwork and adventure

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Themes such as growth and decay, weathered with time and hand-hewn tend to pop up again and again in Adam Vicarel's artwork.
Courtesy of Adam Vicarel Artwork

When Adam Vicarel first moved to Colorado with big dreams and an empty wallet, he thought he’d made a huge mistake. It was the summer of 2014, and the designer had just spent five months backpacking around the globe before settling into a new “normal life” in downtown Denver.

Lost in daydreams of his carefree adventures, the new urban environment was startling. Maybe moving to a new place as a freelance artist on a dime had been a bad idea. But, in truth, he was less worried about how he’d make ends meet and more concerned about maintaining his connection with the great outdoors. Nature was this self-described “bug-eating adventurer’s” greatest artistic motivator, after all.

Then fall foliage hit. It was a last-minute trip to see the aspens changing in the Maroon Bells that shook Vicarel out of his nostalgic daydream and into a gold-and-red speckled reality; the jolt of restarting life in Colorado was actually exactly what he needed.

It was this leap of faith — a life-changing move from Ohio in pursuit of snow-capped mountains, like-minded creatives and personal freedom — that catapulted his career as an outdoor adventure artist. Several seasons of fall foliage later, Vicarel’s art career has taken off wildly.

He’s come to accept that chasing bold dreams requires long hours in the studio, but he knows hard work — and giving up that cushy 9-to-5 paycheck — were well worth the reward.

“Sure, I put in more hours ‘working’ than most people, but I feel immensely fulfilled. I travel a lot for work, I draw a lot for work, and I connect with a ton of incredible humans through my work,” he says. “When I reflect upon these aspects of my work, I realize that people often spend their entire lives trying to find a vocation that’s fulfilling, while retaining sanity by regularly indulging in their avocation. I was fortunate enough to find in my mid-20s that my vocation and my avocation are one in the same.”

Courtesy of Adam Vicarel Artwork
Artwork by Adam Vicarel

Vicarel now runs a boutique brand, design and art studio, Vicarel Studio. Across his multiple artistic styles, including hand-drawn typography, Vicarel finds the inspiration for virtually all of his artwork in the outdoors. “Perfectly imperfect,” as he calls it, is exactly what his base of 25,000 Instagram fans expect regularly.

“Themes such as growth and decay, weathered with time and hand-hewn tend to pop up again and again in my work. Mostly, but not always, this means drawn by hand, and my desired aesthetic is frequently derived from these core themes,” he says.

While global adventures inspire a good portion of his work, the adventure opportunities Vicarel has uncovered in Colorado constantly motivate him to grow and create. That’s why he risked a comfortable career and steady paycheck to move here in the first place.

“I came out here with the hopes of being surrounded by people who shared a similar mindset,” he says. “I’ve always been turned off by the idea of ‘living to work.’ I so frequently chat with people who are out here because they love the lifestyle this city affords them. The ability to work in a city and have plenty to do — food, drink, music — as well as be a short drive from the mountains is amazing.”

Like more and more millennials, Vicarel began to question the cookie cutter 9-to-5 life during his first years post-college. The Cleveland native started his career designing T-shirts for a small company in Dayton, Ohio. While he loved the company and learned a great deal about design, he felt restless. He was lacking one critical factor — the missing link in both his personal, and therefore professional, life: adventure.

With a bit of planning and a boatload of courage, Vicarel quit his job to embark on a five-month backpacking excursion through Southeast Asia. At the time, Vicarel had barely scratched the surface of his artistic capabilities; he focused primarily on his day job with a few passion projects here and there. But this bold decision to risk it all reaped major rewards — rewards he would have never discovered in the confines of a 9-to-5 job.

Vicarel began lettering on the trains from one destination to the next, and came to two life-changing realizations while volunteering in the Philippines to restore homes and buildings damaged by 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan.

First, the change of scene helped him uncover entirely new artistic possibilities, including a wood and steel typography series as well as his hand-lettered map line. Both styles are integral to his work today, and continue to be popular in his online store.

Additionally, this month in the Philippines opened Vicarel’s eyes to a new, more meaningful way of living.

“I was blown away by the fact that these people were living in poverty, their village was destroyed; however, they were always smiling and happy. They were surrounded by those that they loved. They were outside and doing what they loved on a daily basis,” he says.

Courtesy of Adam Vicarel Artwork

Four weeks in the Philippines confirmed the nagging voice in the back of Vicarel’s head was right. He didn’t want a white-picket-fence normal life. He wanted his life — not just his overseas adventures — to be daring, adventurous and, ultimately, fulfilling.

“This mindset in the Philippines massively juxtaposed that of the U.S. — anxious, sad, angry, stressed — all self-induced due to a societal pressure to get a job that makes you money as opposed to one you feel fulfilled by,” he says. “Culturally, we are constantly buying things that we cannot afford, then working a job that we hate in order to one day pay for them. That’s ludicrous.”

Vicarel returned to the States knowing he had to pursue a life of meaning by breaking from the norm, but he faced the question many aspiring entrepreneurs ponder behind their safe 9-to-5 desks: how?

Instead of sitting on the question with excuse after excuse, Vicarel made a bold decision. He packed up his life and just went for it.

When Vicarel moved to Denver in 2014, he had the support of a growing community on Instagram who loved both his artwork and his inspiring journey to “freedom.” Because Vicarel was authentically himself — a bold doer, adventure seeker and bug eater (seriously, he talks about eating bugs on a regular basis) — this social media community actually sparked several early career opportunities.

Within one year, Vicarel transformed his hobby sketches into brand collaborations with companies such as Coleman, and more recently, Sharpie. Since the big move, he’s translated his fusion of art and adventure into design work for outdoor- and Colorado-based brands, including Mountain Standard, New Belgium and Zeal Optics. And he’s paying it forward by teaching aspiring designers how to fine-tune their skills and pursue their artistic dreams through speaking gigs and workshops.

Of course, with great success in entrepreneurship comes hard work (and long hours). After early freelance successes, Vicarel quickly found himself back in the “all work, no play” rut after his move, and didn’t like it. That’s why he’s coined the term “pursuing balance” as a tagline that guides his daily life.

Courtesy of Adam Vicarel Artwork

“Both nature and adventure constantly remind me that there’s more to life than working,” he says. “I absolutely love what I do, but sometimes design can become all-consuming. For the past few years I’ve found a rhythm of working my tail off, and then taking big trips — anywhere from one to 11 months. These adventures prove to be massively beneficial for me mentally and for my career trajectory.”

Fortunately, he has an advantage when attempting to pursue balance in Colorado — outdoor adventures are right outside his door.

Staying up all night to watch the 2016 Perseid Meteor Shower at Twin Lakes was one instance where Vicarel found much-needed artistic stimulation. He also took his adventure icon, his father, on a trek to Boulder Lake while creating content like a fusion of typography and photography for Coleman. And during a branding project for Zeal Optics, Vicarel spent a week in the mountains of Aspen shooting and collaborating with inspiring athletes.

Come winter, life for this snow-loving Coloradan gets even sweeter.

“A few years ago, some friends and I hit up Breckenridge for a ski trip. One of my best buddies and I got the sixth chair on a lift to the back side of Breck, and had 12 to 16 inches of fresh, untouched powder,” he says. “The two of us absolutely bombed the mountain. I was laughing so hard the tears that escaped my goggles froze to my face. I’ve never had a more joyous, laughter-filled seven minutes of my life.”

No matter the volume of work, outdoor adventures for this artist are only beginning. In fact, Vicarel often comments that he wants to be able to share fascinating stories with his grandkids one day — though undoubtedly, he’ll be adventuring (and of course eating bugs) right along with them.

But for now, Vicarel is continuing to pursue his own personal balance through artwork, the great outdoors and chasing big dreams, while simultaneously using his platform to inspire his fans to do the same.

“I have been fortunate enough to build a business that revolves around creating, and I was afforded this opportunity through following just this principle — exploring boldly,” he posted to Instagram recently. “My current position would have never been possible without the experiences and perspective gained through quitting my job and traveling for the majority of 2014. Funny how something as counterintuitive as quitting a job and traveling can actually lead to the best job opportunities of my life. I chalk it up to following my gut and exploring boldly.”