In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, 16-year-old Isaiah Wakeham pitched in to help with the recovery efforts, using his hands, his truck, and his most powerful tool—a felt-tip pen.
The talented artist had just launched a website featuring his designs. He decided to sell T-shirts imprinted with his Texas Doodle to raise funds for disaster relief. Aided by creative adults who helped spread the word, Isaiah’s campaign raised thousands of dollars. His church, Bayou City Fellowship, is administering the money through an independent fund.
Isaiah recognized that the storm, which dropped an astounding 40 inches of rain over four days, was truly a community-wide disaster.
“I don’t know a single person in Houston who wasn’t affected” either by personally experiencing loss or being closely connected to someone who did, he said.
Isaiah’s mother, J Wakeham, described Isaiah’s response to the storm in an email.
“Isaiah helped rescue residents by boating them to shelters,” she wrote. “He spent the next week pulling soaked sheetrock, cutting out carpet, and loading the debris of people’s homes into his truck to haul to dumpsters.”
But Isaiah wanted to do more.
“When I had the chance to use art to help out my city,” Isaiah said, “I couldn’t pass it up.”
Isaiah’s passion for art developed early, but his skill was nurtured in a somewhat atypical fashion.
As his mother explained, she homeschooled Isaiah full-time through middle school, but her expertise did not cover how to make great art.
“I can’t draw to save my life,” J admitted. She described how, when Isaiah was very young, he asked her to sketch a bicycle, but all she could manage were the two wheels. Her son had to fill in the remaining details.
Fortunately, J added, homeschooling also provided the flexibility and extra time for Isaiah to interact with numerous artists.
Isaiah drew inspiration from longtime family friend Jarrett Krosoczka, known especially for his illustration of children’s books. (Isaiah apparently once sported a mohawk for a birthday party themed after Krosoczka’s book, Punk Farm, but that’s another story.)
An artist friend from church, Jamie Wells, taught a class at Isaiah’s homeschool co-op. Isaiah took this class, and helped out in the art studio run by Jamie and her husband Jeremy Wells.
And while his family attended Houston’s Ecclesia church, Isaiah witnessed the worshipful creations of an artist who was employed as a full-time staff member.
Because of these opportunities, J said, “My lack of artistic ability did not hold him back.” Instead, the connections they made through a broader homeschooling network “gave him the things I was not able to give him.”
Isaiah’s Texas T-shirt fundraiser came to life through a convergence of influences and encouragement.
During his freshman year at the private high school he now attends part-time for dual-enrollment credits, he took an art class where the teacher pushed him to explore a variety of media.
“That helped me expand and grow,” Isaiah said. “For the past two years I’ve been building off that.”
He also followed the work of Filipino artist Kerby Rosanes, renowned for his fantastic and highly detailed black ink illustrations.
“He’s inspired a lot of my stuff in terms of style and atmosphere,” Isaiah said.
A year ago Isaiah sketched his Rosanes-esque Texas Doodle for a church camp he attended. This summer, Isaiah’s dad showed him how to build a website that included an online store. So when the hurricane hit, Isaiah was ready to quickly repurpose a design he had already finished to help his community.
He also benefited from some high-profile publicity.
Storror, the London-based sports team that engages in urban acrobatics known as parkour, promoted Isaiah’s T-shirt campaign on Facebook. So did Krosoczka.
Christian musician Robbie Seay, who is also the worship pastor at Bayou City Fellowship, helped bring attention to Isaiah’s art.
But the biggest boost probably came from a social media post about Isaiah by author and educator Amy Mascott. She wrote: “When I see cool people doing great things for the world, I smile, but when I see cool kids doing great things for the world, I want to sing and dance crazy around the kitchen. Amazing, right?”
Still Learning and Growing
Though gratified by the success of his fundraiser, Isaiah said he wants to keep improving both his talent and his business. He hopes to study art in college while simultaneously developing new designs and products.
“I have big goals,” Isaiah said. “I want a full brand—something that will support me.”
He has already applied doodle-style art to objects such as sneakers and a cell phone cover. In addition to T-shirts and hoodies, he added, “I’m looking into making socks, mugs, and stickers.”
And how does he stay motivated?
“The biggest thing,” Isaiah said, “is setting your goals and standards and focusing on those every day. Don’t think of it as some future thing—it’s something you can make happen today.”
And while Isaiah works on fulfilling his artistic goals in the present, his mother can’t help but think of the past. After all, she said, his accomplishments are simply the natural culmination of what her own parents fought for when they went to court in the 1980s to defend their right to teach their children at home.
“We were [in] one of the precedent cases that helped legalize homeschooling in Texas,” J recalled.
In a way, home education represented a major creative effort by her parents, which is still bearing fruit in Isaiah and his three siblings. And their creativity is being shaped by the broader, burgeoning homeschool community.
To sum it up, J said: “We’ve been blessed to be around artistic people.”
Photo Credit: Photos courtesy of Wakeham family.