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This Is Us: Terry Robinson

Terry Robinson at home in Oakhurst, photo by Jennifer Moss

I always wanted to be an artist and was given a guitar at age 11.

My dad was the artist in the family, and my mom was the musician. She played organ at our church. I started getting into music when I was about nine, collecting albums. Remember those? My record collection started with 45s  of the Rolling Stones’ Time is on my Side and Donovan’s Mellow Yellow. My mom tried to teach me how to play organ, but I’m a little dyslexic, and couldn’t tell which line the notes were sitting on. So throughout my life I’ve learned to play music by ear.

My first concert was Jimi Hendrix when I was thirteen. My parents just dropped us off at the stadium in San Diego and it was wild. Going to concerts and hear live music became a big part of my life.

Album cover by Terry Robinson

My dad was the artist who taught me how to paint and draw from the age of five. Dyslexia definitely slowed down my reading. But if I had to write a paper, I’d just put a bunch of illustrations in with it, and that would get me a good grade! That set the tone for me to become a graphic designer and illustrator.

Of course, you don’t become a commercial artist right out of high school. I worked in warehouses to save money for art school and eventually attended Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Many of the top illustrators in the entertainment industry came out of that school. You had to submit a portfolio of your art to get accepted.

During school I managed an apartment complex filled with writers, photographers, artists, and other ne’er-do-wells, many who went on to become leaders in their fields. Art Center Students there included Tom Kinkade. Yes, that Thomas Kinkade. He roomed with  James Gurney, who did Dinotopia and art for National Geographic. The writer Mark Verheiden, who worked on movies like The Mask and Timecop, was also a tenant. We even had a short-lived jam band where he played drums. So much talent lived there. It was an inspiring fun place to be.

“Fish out of Water” by Terry Robinson

Before the internet, artists would leave promotional samples of our work with potential clients in hopes of getting jobs. I had some of my best work, like “Fish out of Water” on promotional pieces, hoping they would pin them to their walls, This led to many jobs.

In 1990, an ad appeared in the L.A. Times for a graphic artist/illustrator for Sierra Online, a computer game company in Oakhurst. At the time they were the largest employer in the mountain area and their games were sold internationally. They were among the biggest computer game companies in the world launching the adventure game genre.

Within a week, I was hired. I was so excited to get a permanent job near Yosemite that I put money down on a house here before I worked a day. I told my future boss I didn’t know how to use a computer. He said they would put one on my desk and I could learn at my own pace as long as I was able to give them art like I had done in Hollywood. I soon became one of the first artists using Photoshop as a painting tool for illustration and graphic design. It was one of the most gratifying jobs of my life.

After Sierra Online left the area, some of us couldn’t bear to leave these beautiful mountains. The internet allowed us to work with people all over the world. I slowly retired from commercial art and replaced it with my other love: making music. Now you can find me at local venues playing or listening to music. I feel very lucky to live here in these beautiful mountains surrounded by such an ever growing population of creative folks.

Terry Robinson planted roots here almost 30 years ago. He still loves painting, hiking, kayaking, photographing the outdoors, and most of all singing and playing music. He often joins others performing at the local open mics and will be performing weekly all summer at The Marina Grill at Bass Lake.


This is Us is a series of local profiles with first-person stories curated by Jennifer Moss, written in a way we can get to know the people in our community on a little deeper level. Click here for more information about this series.

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