For five years, Jimmy “Heartcore” Breen, packed his t-shirt designs in dozens of cardboard boxes and plastic tubs, trekking across the United States and Canada. Each morning while on the road, before his friends rose to take on the days of pumped punk music and moshing under the summer sun, the graphic designer would rise to pitch a display tent and table near the most popular band on the roaming tour, boxes of t-shirts in tow.

Breen became fascinated with drawing at age 19. A business major at the time, his mind wandered in the USF Tampa classes, drifting to the designs his mind weaved. He envisioned urban text; intricate lines contrasting sharp-cut shapes, and pop art color screaming out from thick-lined letters, splayed across t-shirts and posters for the labels of his favorite bands.

“I didn’t really have a good knowledge or designers,” Breen said,

“The whole t-shirt thing kind of blew up on me. I was constantly creating designs.”

Flipping through a copy of Alternative Press, he found the best news a potential graphic artist and music fan could: Fueled by Ramen, a label he favored had moved to a Tampa location. He whisked himself to the office, introducing himself as an artist and t-shirt connoisseur.

Impressing the label, he landed a job printing merchandise and continued to develop his brand and style. He printed up to 1,500 shirts a day.

 

Exposure with Fueled by Ramen led to the development of his brand, Heartcore. Heartcore was inspired by the popular emo music culture of the early 2000’s. Indie pop rockers soon began to call him “Jimmy Heartcore,” spawned by Spitalfield lead singer Mark Rose.

His name began to spread amongst small punk bands, including the fledgling Fall Out Boy, who happened to be opening for Silverstein at the Orpheum, a small venue in Ybor City. Soon, Breen was connecting with many up and coming acts, sharing his tees and design work with travellers from across the world.

He developed designs for the bands and joined them on tours, from 97x rock concerts to road trips on the Vans Warped Tour. For several solid months, he would drive his truck loaded with t-shirts and sell in tent kiosks across the country. As his reputation for design grew, so did his repertoire with bands, which lead to sharing tour buses with acts, including Hawthorne Heights and The Matches.

 “It’s like a whole subculture of guys that are always in bands, traveling around the country,” Breen said, “When you meet people on tour, it’s a unique kind of relationship. Everybody spends minimal actual time together but you become friends really quickly.”

His designs often create a sense of familiarity. Any fan of punk rock to hip hop may own one of his designs splashed across a t-shirt from a concert, from popular alternative band All Time Low to singers Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars to rapper Jay Z. His fine art visits the Campus Grind on occasion in the monthly rotating student gallery.

Business grew difficult with the economic crash of 2008. Record companies had switched 360 degree deals with bands, which allowed them control of not just music but merchandise, too. In previous years, printing designs was commissioned independently. His success as a designer carried him through, but the decline of work for his printing business resulted in a focus away from the production side of merchandising into a design role. He closed his print shop but maintained his freelance design relationships. He focused on a few band clients and began offering his design chops to major record labels.

 According to Warner Brothers merchandise production manager Amy Zaglauer, Jimmy Breen has submitted over 500 designs to the company over the past seven years.

“He has a great knack with style with a wide variety,” Zaglauer said. “He is extremely fast when I need him to be.”

Offers from record labels for permanent positions came Breen’s way, but his independence as an artist drove him back to school. Currently a senior at USFSP, he studies graphic design and maintains freelance commissions for Atlantic Records, Live Nation, Warner Brothers, and other companies.

With a Bachelor in Fine Arts degree, Breen plans to continue with Atlantic Records and develop as a freelance graphic designer.

“I make my own hours and I’m my own boss. I can make as much money as I want to and work hard to make it.” – Jimmy Breen

“I make my own hours and I’m my own boss. I can make as much money as I want to and work hard to make it,” Breen said.

Involvement with USF  St. Petersburg brought Breen to contribute to graphic design curriculum as more than a student. When the university sought out professors to join the graphic design program, he joined the search committee.

Printmaker and graphic design professor Erika Greenberg-Schneider recognized Breen’s talents as a designer and student.

“Before, his thought process had to do with client relationships. Now, all of the sudden, he had to dig into himself to develop different kinds of work,” Greenberg-Schneider said.

Greenberg-Schneider acknowledged his ease with silk screen production and offered him a chance to teach it. “I do everything here but silk screen. To be with your peers and know what you do in a subject and sharing that, you have to earn their respect,” she said.

A Facebook page was set up for questions from graphic design students. Jimmy contributed tutorials and advised with curriculum to help explain the silk screen process, a printing technique using woven mesh and stencil with ink to produce an image.

“We often don’t think of what we can learn from each other,” Breen said.

“Professors give a broad spectrum but students offer new skills.”

Students specialize in different art forms, from comic artists to video game designers, so exchanging knowledge and skill sets is critical.

He develops current projects in his Old Northeast home with a 5-foot by 4-foot desk with dual computer monitors pushed together. A simple screen printing set up allows him to produce his own designs on the spot.

He starts his day mid-morning, checking email for projects first, then a glass of water. Work progresses on and off throughout the day unless it’s a tight deadline. He holds himself accountable and maintains solid relationships with clients. Good work is done on time and if there’s time to walk the dog or stroll around Weedon Island, he’ll spare it.

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