Jiminai is sitting at Bennu coffee shop on the Eastside of Austin recounting his recent trip to Japan. He includes details of long nights waiting for trains that wouldn’t arrive until five in the morning, being in the country amidst cherry blossom season, talks about how complex the Japanese waste management system is, and how everything in the country is considered — meaning nothing is extravagant like the United States; products, restaurants, and transportation are only as much as needed, nothing more.
Jiminai stands out anytime he’s in Japan. He’s American and he has visible tattoos. In Japan tattoos were traditionally a part of the Yakuza culture — Japanese gangsters —so things that are commonplace in the United States like tattoos and sunglasses are signs to older locals that someone may be gang affiliated. But Jiminai, the monicker he goes by to brand himself as a designer, is far from dangerous or violent. If anything, his art might suggest the opposite. He uses fine detail, intricate lines, and delicate stylings to bring to life his ideas in a real space.
He started drawing as a kid, but took a break in middle school and high school to partake in the popularity contest centered around high school sports and other signs of cool during adolescence. He picked drawing back up in college at Texas Tech where he minored in printmaking and majored in advertising. The program wasn’t design driven, however, and didn’t really give him an opportunity to make use of many of his skills. But through the school’s newspaper, the Daily Toreador, he began to pick up design related advertising work; Indesign, Photoshop, Illustrator and any creatieve program he could get his hands on.
Our conversation returns to Japan, and then the present, and then back again. He mentions the trip he took after graduating college in 2009. “ I love the Tokyo subway system,” he chimes. “The way they identify each different line with a different color. It’s simple,” he says. This is comical, because his work as an artist is anything but.
Jiminai was born Austin Cashell, and raised in Odessa, Texas, a town that’s on the map because of the oil industry, and for depicting high school football in the state of Texas through the book — and later a film adaption — Friday Night Lights, written by Buzz Bissinger. The story follows the Permian Panthers of Odessa, the high school that Jiminai attended. He competed in gymnastics and held the state record on Pommel horse while competing with two state championship winning teams. But, he says these younger years were a product of something else — Cartoon Network.
In Odessa, Cartoon Network and Comedy Central were a channel apart from each other. He and his friends would go back and forth between the the channels throughout the day. They would watch programs like Welcome to America, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day. Then he started watching Toonami, the programing that was known for introducing anime to young American audiences. Jiminai was entranced by shows like Dragonball Z and Gundam Wing.
As he got older, he began to watch Adult Swim, the late-night and more adult oriented programming that would come on Cartoon Network. The programs opened Jiminai up to content that featured adult themed topics, like divorce, dating, alcoholism, and “all sorts of weird stuff.”
In college Jiminai binge watched Naruto once, all 200+ hundred episodes in about a week and a half, and he quickly became fascinated by the complexity and plots that anime had. He was a sponge and he soaked up cartoon, animation and comic art.
Jiminai became the moniker or handle, because “being Austin in Austin gets annoying,” he jokes. It’s like a mask in a play, and he chooses how to represent Jiminai when the time is appropriate. “When I go to a bar and do something silly or stupid, that’s Austin. When I eat food, that’s Austin. When I work out, that’s Austin. But Jiminai is the brand.”
Jiminai is who you hire, who you follow on social, and Jiminai does the work that is meant to wow, excite, impress, or inspire. Jiminai is the romanized version of Gemini, or ジェ- ji (technically jye) み- mi な- na い- i in Japanese, which is a strong influence on his character and artistic style, dating all the way back to being introduced to anime through Cartoon Network. Jiminai speaks some Japanese. He can get around the language, but he admits that he’s been leisurely learning it since 2007 and not as serious as he should be.
His first solo art show was in 2014, and the way he drafted his artist statement even made sure to include odes to his upbringing and the childhood influences that shaped his art and persona. “28 years of anime, 100+ hours of Tumblr scrolling, and a product of being a 90’s kid,” that’s the formula to get the cocktail that comprimes a creature called Jiminai. A creature who creates a combination of print production, digital design, illustration, branding and user experience.
And he’s had some projects that truly stand out. He created a Red Bull Sound Select poster for headliner, Run the Jewels, and he used to live screen print for Applied Pressure, a local producer collective. He even did custom event-specific designs for Lapalux, Riff Raff, and other artists who came through Austin, though Jiminai recounts Riff Raff only playing for 20 minutes after rushing off stage. “I was told it was because he thought there were aliens on the stage and he freaked out, most likely due to some extracurriculars,” he laughs.
It worked out for Jiminai though. He made a shirt of the rapper for his personal clothing company, Sugoy, a Japanese word for “awesome” or “amazing.” Through the clothing line he designed event-specific shirts for headliners that came to town, and designs for Applied Pressure before ending the project in 2014.
Jiminai has bounced around, working for startups and doing various projects. For now he is completely a freelance artist. It’s worked out since he started freelancing. Right off the bat he picked up a big project for SXSW with an activation for Take 5 Candy, and a few jobs for people who were looking to rebrand some of their product lines. He was recruited to create a number of illustrations for RBMA Radio’s Live From Atlanta Week, which included the United States of Bass party, and he got to illustrate artists like Jermaine Dupri, Manchester Orchestra, Don Cannon and DJ Drama, Zaytoven, Metro Boomin, Black Lips, Abra, and others.
But for Jiminai, art would be the dream. “This is current, this could change in a month, this could change in a year, but I’m not trying to be a fine artist who has famous pieces in the Blanton in 2059” he starts. “I would rather reach a mass audience than create a couple of insanely priced pieces and be known as that.” He doesn’t want to be the famous artist type that’s only known for 10 works throughout his life.
“The dream scenario would be to find a beneficiary or sugar momma and just do art all day everyday,” he jokes. “Or win a million dollars on the lottery. And even if I had won that billion, remember when the billion lottery happened?” He continues. “I wouldn’t have stopped doing art. That will never stop. I could have just stopped doing anything for anyone else and I could have a proper studio.”
This sentiment is similar to many of the creatives who call Austin home. Like Jiminai says, it’s a city full of talented people who are working normal jobs in an attempt to finance their passions, or eventually make it big doing whatever creative thing it is they do. He points at the coffee shop window. “One of the baristas in there is a very talented artist, even went to school for it, but she still works here. And she works weird shifts,” he says, referencing how local creatives work graveyard shifts, or sporadic doubles to allow themselves the free time to pursue their crafts.
So Jiminai is trying to hustle. Even to the extent of working on the who he knows, rather than the what. “You can be Van Gogh, but if you never get in front of the right person, I mean you’re cutting your ear off for no reason,” he says to emphasize the importance of making the right connections rather than being an artist who is trapped in their studio all the time.
He approaches his window as realistic as possible, like a pragmatist. He’s on the cusp of turning 30-years-old, and Jiminai needs a 401k, an IRA, and the plethora of “adult crap you’re supposed to have just to survive.” He knows he can’t retire on his current bank account, so he’s got to decide when his window will close. Where he’s at now he can spend the next few years making art everything. He knows that if it doesn’t work he has fallbacks of design and project management. He’s not even opposed to labor work that will allow him to use his hands, like being a carpenter at a woodshop or builder of some sort.
“If it’s your passion and you can do it at all hours of the night and it makes you happy, this is the window to attempt it,” he says. He continues the thought by reciting stories of famous actors and artists who endured homelessness and odd jobs before finally getting their big break.
Follow the author, Diego Contreras, on Twitter @thediegonetwork