Davonta Beckham stands in front of a crowd at TedxFortWayne in March.
At 23-years-old, he’s tall and thin with a friendly demeanor. He’s wearing khakis, and a blue button-down shirt with a green cardigan over it. He’s talking to the crowd about the power of imagination.
“For a moment, I’d like to ask you to close your eyes and imagine yourself as a child,” Beckham says. Beckham draws all of his pieces by hand.
He tells the audience about a time when he tried to fly as a child by jumping off his parents’ couch. It’s something a lot of kids do, he says—whether they’re pumping their legs on a swing set, or bouncing on a bed, or leaping off a couch.
Children believe they can fly.
“Think about how confident you were in that moment,” Beckham says. “Even after realizing it was actually humanly impossible to fly, you probably got back up and tried again—not to be disappointed in your inability to fly, but to feel the exciting rush of that trying, that jumping, that taking the risk brought.”
But as he continues to talk, his tone turns serious.
“You know, maybe some of you have had moments where you felt like your wings were damaged. Maybe things didn’t go as you expected. Maybe you felt like you failed, or maybe even when you jumped off the couch as a child, and you landed on the ground, you got back up, and said, ‘Man, what’s wrong with these things,’” he says looking down at his arms in a moment of exasperation.
“Today, I want to share with you a moment when I truly lost my wings. But through that experience, I actually learned what it truly means to fly."
Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Beckham moved to Fort Wayne to attend Indiana Tech on a track scholarship.
In high school, running was how he felt a sense of purpose in life. But when he broke his foot twice in college, he took it as a sign that he needed to find a new passion to fill his downtime. Beckham uses his art to share motivational messages.
“You can get really low in those moments,” he says. “So I just started drawing and focusing on art.”
Beckham has been an artist of sorts since he was a kid, but he let his art take a back seat to athletics for awhile. Then, as he admired the work of other artists on Instagram, like KAWS (Brian Donnelly), Paper Frank, and Hebru Brantley, he began to see how powerful art could be.
“I started realizing what art really was, and that people are really impacted by it,” he says.
So Beckham started thinking of ways that his art could impact people, and he started with a simple idea.
“I just drew this lightbulb,” he says. “We all have so many ideas, and I thought: What if we could see our ideas in real life? What if they could be tangible and really do things?”
So he gave the lightbulb eyes, hands, and feet with running shoes, and he put it into different scenarios, like playing basketball or running track.
Before long, it evolved into a fully animated character with a face, a name, and a personality. Beckham's friends started asking him to draw custom pieces of art for them using the lightbulb to tell their story or express their ideas.
For instance, if they played tennis, the lightbulb might be impersonating them in a match.
And with that, the Art of Beckham was born.
Over the last four years, Beckham has not only continued to draw, he's created a whole cast of cartoon-like characters who run around his mind and make up their own personalities and storylines.
He talks about him like they’re his friends. Idea is Beckham's first and main character.
“Let me introduce you to my characters,” he says, and a smile spreads across his face.
His characters are all simple, everyday objects that have been reimagined with a symbolic, powerful purpose. The main character is the lightbulb, whose name is Idea, and he’s almost always smiling.
“He’s a charismatic light in his own life in which he leads us to find the treasures that we have buried deep inside of us,” Beckham says.
Idea’s sidekick, Dream, is his best friend. Dream is a cloud who is imaginative, brave, and always on the move, Beckham says. Dream is a fast-moving cloud.
“Although he looks very inviting, he’s not always easy to grasp,” he explains.
Then there’s Knox the Box. He looks like a simple box, but there's more to him than you might expect.
In fact, of all of Beckham's characters, Knox is perhaps the most complicated and the most misunderstood, he says.
Knox started out as the villain who would try to box Idea in. But the more Beckham drew him, the more he realized there was more to his story than that.
“Can I share Knox’s narrative with you really quick?” Beckham asks.
He says that Knox was a box who used to love helping people. He opened himself up to allow people to put their treasures inside of him—their most prized possessions.
But then people came back and took things away from him, and he got bitter about it. He also let people stand on top of him to reach higher places, and after they used him, they left him behind.
“Knox became so selfish, so resentful of people that he closed himself up,” Beckham says. “He just doesn’t know how to trust people again, so he’s a closed, sad box who wants to box people in and limit them.” Knox is more than just a box or a villan.
But that’s not all he is.
“There’s one thing left inside of Knox, and that’s another reason he won’t open up,” Beckham says. “There’s one thing inside of him that he just won’t share.”
Knox has a treasure, too.
After coming up with the first three characters, Beckham created a family of three more. A donut family, to be exact, just because he likes donuts.
He calls the donut family the Froster's.
“They believe that no matter what—no matter how challenging life can be— life can also be sweet,” Beckham says. “There’s something about it that can be sweet.”
Beckham explains that his own family has been an inspiration to him in his artwork. His mother, father, and two brothers (close to him in age) were the first ones to believe in his art and support him back home.
“They’re just … the best ever,” Beckham says.
The Froster's are a family of donuts.
His father is a pastor, and his mother is an artist. His younger brother is into politics, and his older brother is into bodybuilding. But while they have different interests, they all share a common desire to do good in the world.
“We all have our own thing, but we encourage each other so much,” Beckham says. “My whole family sees people for who they are, and we want to encourage them: You can do it. You can be it.”
Today, Beckham is a part-time graphic design intern in Fort Wayne while earning his master’s degree in marketing at Indiana Tech. He’s drawing custom illustrations of his characters for friends and clients in his spare time, and he's currently updating his website to showcase his characters and products.
He sees his art as a way of paying forward his family’s spirit of encouragement and hope that he grew up with.
“I owe the world the same thing,” he says. “If you have this idea, go for it. If you have this dream, you’ve got to chase him. If you have this limit, he can also help you if you let him.”
And across northeast Indiana, the Art of Beckham is making a difference.
In August, Beckham participated in his first highly successful art festival at Jefferson Pointe where he introduced Fort Wayne to his characters and sold hand-drawn prints and buttons to fans young and old.
“There was this lady, she bought a button of every character, and she told me, ‘If I could buy this for every person in my family, I would,’” Beckham says.
Beckham sells buttons with his characters on them.
Now, he’s writing a series of children’s books about his characters, too. His first book is called If You Knew You Could Fly. It tells the story of how Idea first met Dream, and how with a little imagination, anything is possible.
For inspiration, he doesn't have to look far. Children enjoyed meeting Beckham's characters at Jefferson Pointe.
“I’m a kid at heart,” Beckham says. “I hope I never change.”
But he also knows that being a kid, like being an adult, isn’t easy, and perhaps that’s what gives his work such broad appeal.
“I really want to speak to the practicality of life, and life is not easy all the time, even for the little kids,” Beckham says. “I know that, and I think that’s why it’s impacted people from young to old. I think people relate to it because it’s very honest.”
While his characters may be fictional, his message rings true.
“If we let life tell us how high we can go, we might find ourselves on the ground, but the imagination—the imagination is boundless,” Beckham says. “Sometimes, life may call us to slow down. We may fall, but when we do, the magic is in getting up and deciding to fly again.”
Follow Art of Beckham
Davonta posts updates about Art of Beckham on Instagram and Facebook. See his website at www.ArtofBeckham.com.