During the annual Indianapolis 500 race, names like Scott Dixon, Rinus VeeKay and Tony Kanaan rose to the top of every fan’s list.
Running for autographs, fans were looking for these names. But not a young boy, he was looking for Justin Patten, a local artist most racing fans may never have heard of.
But they would know his art.
Strolling through the world famous establishment, the young boy who followed Justin and Rachel Patten’s business on social media ran up to Justin with tears in his eyes.
His father explained that the boy had been waiting for the moment to meet Justin for a year and had saved his money to buy Justin’s artwork.
This solidified a giant leap that Justin and his wife, Rachel Patten, have taken.
“Moments like that are really uplifting,” Justin said. “It really gives a lot of energy to the situation and just makes me feel like … I’m doing the right thing. I think we constantly have these feelings like, “This is what we have to do.”
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was Justin and Rachel’s first experience creating products outside of what was, at the time, his part-time paint job. Around the Ball State University campus and at The Village’s Cardinal Fanstore, Justin’s work is displayed as the iconic Ball State Cardinal in a new and artistically expressed way.
It was the first year that Justin and Rachel, now both former teachers, did not set up a classroom for the school year. They run Storm Striker Art full time with Rachel on the business side and Justin creating art.
“I quit teaching this year, so that was the first year I wasn’t going back,” Justin said. “It was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.”
Although it’s only now that his artwork has become a full-time job, Justin joked that it was his full-time job when he still had a full-time teaching job. . Growing up, Justin was a growing sports fan and entertainer, always trying to blend the two.
“They always clashed a bit growing up,” Justin said, “Like art people would say, ‘Maybe you need to focus more on art,’ or sports people would say, ‘Maybe being that you need to focus more on the sport’, and I was kind of like, ‘I really want to do both together.’ This is where I ended up over time, and it took a little while to get there.
Rachel, who taught in the Indiana public school system after graduating from Auburn, actually met Justin when he was playing vintage baseball for the Indianapolis Hoosiers.
Justin Patten poses with a painting of Samford Hall at Auburn University. Patten creates collegiate art for major collegiate universities, including Ball State University. Justin Patten, photo provided
A graduate of Indiana University at Purdue University in Indianapolis, Justin taught art for five years before his school dropped the art curriculum altogether, leaving him to move around in different subjects.
“He was teaching these other things like robotics and stuff,” Rachel said. “They were cool, but he really missed art, which led him back to making art at home.”
Justin began painting while still teaching; he said he wanted to paint in a way that made his art feel like his own. It started with a few paintings for friends and family, then a few to sell on the Etsy e-commerce platform, and then it just kept growing.
After the wife of the man who bought one of his first paintings wanted to hang it in their living room, Justin started thinking about audiences who might like his work.
“My thing as an artist has always been to create paintings and actual art for fans and alumni rather than anything printed,” Justin said. “I wanted to make real art that people could buy at an affordable price.”
For the past 10 years, Justin would come home from school and paint from 4 p.m. to midnight with a break for dinner.
“It’s definitely a chore as an artist, like producing work all the time,” Justin said. “Then, you know, there’s always the business side of things where you’re dealing with paperwork and stuff, which is never the exciting part. But whenever I paint, I always say to myself: “That’s exactly what I want to do. It’s the best thing I can do. It’s the right place.’”
When it began to cost more for daycare for the couple’s two children than it did for teaching Rachel, she quit and started home daycare while Justin continued teaching by day and painting by night.
“So we had this little house, and we had four toddlers and a baby,” Rachel said. “Then our kids went to school, then they came home, so I had this house full of a billion kids. He would come home and paint. We didn’t have a studio because that the house was only 1,200 square feet, so he painted in the dining room which was our large family room, which was also the nursery.
It was a busy time for the Pattens, but one of the pair remembers it fondly.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Justin said. “Sometimes I would have a baby in a BabyBjörn, and I would have the baby here [in my arm]and I was painting and playing with the baby while I was painting… there was a lot going on at the same time, but I feel like we always had a lot going on at the same time.
Rachel joked that Justin’s artwork was busy, channeling all the busy energy of their lives into the final product.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 and Rachel’s daycare closed. As a result, the couple faced another big question.
“Then we were like, ‘What are we going to do? Once again? ” Justin said. “So we were like, ‘Let’s make T-shirts and see what happens and stickers.’ And so we started working with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on that, and it kind of got our feet wet and started the process of creating some of the products outside of my paintings as well.
He started painting randomly for a while based on people’s requests and around 2017 he started looking for colleges that offered artist licenses. After attending larger schools like Alabama and Wisconsin, Rachel and Justin decided they needed to go to the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) to get a full license.
“There’s a craft license, which is rare, not all colleges do that, and I think some of them are even gone at this point,” Justin said. “Actually, the first college I started in was Oklahoma State.”
Client Michelle Lidey was first introduced to Justin’s work at a local arts and crafts show where she was also a salesperson. He was making parts with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway logo.
“Just his colors and vision, his take on the logo was really cool,” Lidey said. “We bought t-shirts and sweatshirts and garden flags and all sorts of things with that initial [IMS] logo, then I started following him on social media and saw he started doing some college stuff.
Lidey’s daughter had recently started at Ball State, so when Justin walked out with Ball State merchandise, she said she bought Cardinal gear.
Coming out of the pandemic, Rachel opted to stay home and work full-time in the business.
“Last year the business grew so much,” Rachel said. “I ran the business with two very busy, athletic kids who played sports and tried[ing] to run the business with him away all day, we either had to grow or start saying no to projects.
The choice then was for Justin to return to full-time teaching and full-time painting or go all out in the business.
“We were like, ‘If I come back, it’ll be really crazy; if I stay home, it’s gonna be crazy,” but Rachel and I are working with the company, and we’ve decided that if it’s really crazy and we’re together, I think we can handle it better,” Justin said.
Justin and Rachel Patten pose for a photo in front of one of his paintings. This was the first year that Justin and Rachel had not returned to a classroom at the start of the school year. Justin Patten, photo provided
Once everything was integrated, the business continued to gain traction and grow with professional teams like the Chicago Cubs licensing job at Storm Striker.
“Creating art for teams that I love, like the Cubs are my favorite team, and I was like, ‘I’m painting for the Cubs right now? Interesting, how cool,'” Justin said.
He said the Patten family dog was named Wrigley after the stadium in Chicago.
Even the company name has ties to the Patten family. Striker, a term that refers to the batter in vintage 1800s baseball, is the middle name of their eldest son and the latest term in their company, Storm Striker Art.
All of Justin’s work was at one point a painting, before being photographed, edited and turned into a design for sale.
“It’s always been really important to me,” Justin said, “to make sure everything comes from me coming from a painting that I’ve done.”
From 12 years teaching in Lawrence, Indiana, to about six years teaching in Zionsville, Indiana, Justin refers to his path to his art style as a “journey”.
“I just really wanted to do things that people could really appreciate and be proud of,” Justin said. “I want people to have works of art that I paint, that I made with my hands, that they can hang in their homes and know that it is a real work of art that someone has made , not a print.”
Contact Daniel Kehn with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @daniel_kehn.