When he creates, Iven Jones, a.k.a. ‘Sleepy the Artist,’ tunes into the melodic beats of Biggie, Tupac and Nas. This self-taught Des Moines artist lets the lyricism soothe strokes on a canvas dedicated to Black culture. Raised by artistic parents, Jones learned to draw inspiration from the world around him at a young age.
“I remember when I was a little kid, I would watch my dad and my moms do these little doodles,” Jones said. “It looked like they were just scribbling on paper. Then, they’d color it in, and it’d be this cool abstract design. From that to basketball cards, anything I saw I would sit up and I try to draw it.”
Jones didn’t know what abstract art was at the time, but he started out by creating designs that mirrored the style. He would see images like his uncle’s drawing of a pink panther and trace it over and over again until eventually, he could capture it on his own. Mirroring his surroundings on a canvas, whether the images be tangible or simply fiction, was essential.
Growing up in Chicago provided endless inspiration for Jones, but in grade school, he found that not every art program was prioritized due to a lack of public school funding. He took matters into his own hands, building a portfolio of pieces filled with hues of green, yellow and blue, exploring his own identity along the way.
In an early painting, he illustrated a little Black girl with pigtails holding a doll that resembles her own beauty.
“If we don’t show positive depictions of ourselves, no one else will,” Jones said.
Although he displayed a passion for the arts early on, it wasn’t until high school that Jones took his sketches to new mediums. A close friend introduced him to old-school graffiti with some spray paint and a city landscape.
“I grew up in a pretty much all-Black neighborhood, so everything that I knew growing up was about us,” Jones said. “People that look like me will always be my inspiration to keep going and doing what I do.”
Jones spent hours creating and drafting work to premiere at showcases. He visualized a clear image of what he wanted to communicate through the canvas and let the techniques he learned pour out. He sought a community – and found one in Des Moines.
After moving to Des Moines in the summer of 2016, Jones attended art shows beginning at 8 a.m. and ending at midnight, all in hopes of selling his work. Local annual wine-over-art events at Jasper Winery in Des Moines provided an opportunity to showcase talents live during a silent auction featured throughout the night. Jones took advantage of those silent auctions to sell his original paintings.
Unfortunately, the path of an artist is rarely easy. The first couple of years after moving to Des Moines weren’t successful for Jones and his art career. He experienced a lot of self-doubt while trying to find his footing in this new space. When selling art at a local event, he recalls moments when onlookers didn’t see the value of his work.
“I remember I had this Spiderman painting,” Jones said. “This dude asked how much it was, and I told him it was 100 bucks. He said it wasn’t worth that and walked away. I sat in the studio that night crying. I called my mom and told her I was thinking about quitting. She told me, ‘No you gotta keep at it.’”
But things are looking up for Jones. Early in 2023, he sold his first $1,000 piece, originally priced at $600. The painting uses elements of Afro-surrealism to depict a Black person with wide eyes and a deep stare. Looking back, there are the foundations of this style in the countless sketchbooks that have helped form a portfolio of art he now proudly shares with the world.
“Whatever you do, don’t quit,” Jones said. “At the beginning, it might be slow, but keep going. Something’s gonna come of it.”