From the tip of Walter Champion IV’s pencil a hippo roars to vibrant life.
Walter Champion IV takes time to hand-sign cards that are sent out with each T-shirt order.
The quick strokes and strategic scribbles combine to form a drawing that’s deft and detailed – an image that exudes the energy of the alpha animal it represents. The artwork becomes that much more impressive when you realize Walter was four when he drew it. Even more impressive still when you learn the hippo penciling was the inspiration for a T-Shirt brand that has Walter, now 6, installed as creative director.
Juvenile Virtuoso, as the nascent line is called, features Walter’s hippo drawing on several styles of T-shirts. It’s just the beginning of a tee collection Walter’s parents say is aimed at revealing the hidden talents of child artists and supporting a worthy cause. The brand is also a testament to the power of imprinted T-shirts to convey powerful messages with layers of meanings.
“T-shirts are experiencing a renaissance,” says Walter’s mom Adepeju Champion, who started Juvenile Virtuoso in March with her husband, company president Walter III. “People are using them to display thoughts and feelings and affiliations with different ideas. We wanted to highlight the really beautiful things kids are capable of.”
To that end, Juvenile Virtuoso expects to hold three or four new T-shirt releases annually. Child artists will create the graphics. Walter IV will play a lead role in selecting which designs make it onto T-shirts, and occasionally contribute additional designs of his own. A portion of sales will benefit Arts For Healing, a nonprofit organization that provides art therapies for individuals with disabilities. Children affiliated with Arts For Healing will be among the contributing artists. The next release is scheduled for August.
“We want to use T-shirts to do something bigger than just make money,” says Walter III, who, like his wife, is a physician. “The whole concept is to encourage kids to pursue art, to show why that’s important and what they can do with their abilities. Also, we have a child (Walter’s brother William) on the autism spectrum, and we’re passionate about supporting a charity like Arts For Healing.”
For Walter IV, it’s a thrill to see his art on T-shirts, and to view pictures of people wearing his tees on Instagram and Facebook. “He’s just amazed that people like what he does,” says Walter III. So much so, in fact, that Walter IV takes time to hand-sign cards that are sent out with each T-shirt order in a high-end gift box that also includes Juvenile Virtuoso merch, such as a branded pencil.
“Drawing is something he’s used since preschool to calm down his nervous energy,” says Adepeju. “All the positive reaction he’s received has been a real confidence-builder.” Walter IV draws every day at a table in the family home. Animals are his favorite subjects. “Drawing makes me happy,” he says.
For now, Juvenile Virtuoso is in the startup stages. Nonetheless, the venture has garnered growing media attention, and Walter III said it’s possible that partnerships with retailers and larger-scale production could be pursued. Whether or not that happens, though, the Champions will be happy if Juvenile Virtuoso does some good and inspires children – including their son – to use the potential they possess.
“My favorite part is seeing what our son is going to do next,” says Walter III. “I just want to be part of his vision.”
The young artist creates designs like these every day.