The creative juices always flowed freely when two friends, roommates at the time, talked art and influence in conversations that lasted late into the night.
Both had worked in Santa Barbara’s service industry as bartenders and servers for a number of years, and they dreamed of creating something that would have a lasting impact on the community in a creative, positive way.
Jason Rio Hernandez was a talented artist, stashing his black and white work away on floors, shelves and anywhere else it would fit. Derek Guilin graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2010 with a history degree and an interest in starting a business he felt passionately about.
The two finally put the idea into action last month by launching the Will Rise Project, a new Santa Barbara-based company dedicated to highlighting the work of local artists in whatever form that takes.
Guilin, 28, and Hernandez, 31, prefer to think of Will Rise as an organic, community-based movement, a platform promoting lesser-known artists.
The Southern California natives are taking advantage of the fact they both work in local bars/restaurants — Guilin as a bartender at Santa Barbara Brewing Company and Hernandez as a server at Benchmark Eatery and Le Cafe Stella — to host events at similar venues, including an upcoming show Friday at Tonic.
“It’s a pretty tight-knit family, for sure,” Guilin said of the restaurant business.
The co-founders hope to grow Will Rise as a brand, selling T-shits with the work of local artists. They also want to eventually expand the venues.
“Will imagine, will create, will rise,” Hernandez said, reciting the project’s motto. “Will rise as a person.”
Guilin said his friend was the inspiration for the project, bearing so much talent after taking a handful of graphic design classes at Santa Barbara City College.
The pair knows there are more artists like him.
Hernandez, who dreams of becoming an artist full time, said he’s also looking for local subjects to inspire pencil and wood drawings.
He designed the Will Rise logo, depicting a wrinkled homeless man holding a bird, from an Internet image.
“He’s got all this amazing artwork, and he’s just putting it under his bed,” Guilin said. “I just want to build this and see what it could be.”
“It’s exciting,” Hernandez added.
The next Will Rise Project event is at 9 p.m. Friday at Tonic, 634 State St., featuring a raffle of artwork, giveaways, merchandise table, two deejays and drink specials.