You’ve got to expect something unique and special from a guy with the Instagram name @CoolUrbanHippie. Eso Tolson wears that name well, just as he wears many hats as a real-life, all-encompassing artistic being. Read on to learn a bit about Memphis’ Resident Creative Director.

Let’s Stay in Memphis: Memphis College of Art and Artistik Approach

Brandon “Eso” Tolson moved to Memphis from his native East St. Louis in 2008 to complete his Bachelor of Fine Arts, with a concentration in graphic design, at Memphis College of Art. Eso didn’t come to Memphis necessarily expecting to stay put after graduation. However, it was at MCA that he met his Artistik Approach bandmate and Illustration major, Siphne Sylve.

Eso and Siphne (and several former bandmates) started Artistik Approach to harness a different type of artistic expression; different from what they were learning through their formal educations.

With its beginnings in dorm room jam sessions and school talent shows, Artistik Approach took off, eventually founding a monthly collaborative event (with TamEd Productions) called Artistik Lounge, an event that still occurs monthly at Minglewood Hall in Midtown Memphis. After Artistik Approach made a name for itself in Memphis, Eso decided to stick around the 901 after graduating from MCA in 2010.

To learn more about Eso and Siphne’s “Acapella/hip-hop/funk/soul/jazz-fusion” band, Artistik Approach, visit their website,


Eso Tolson and Siphne Sylve, of Artistik Approach. Photo courtesy of Eso Tolson.

Freelancing, Choose901, and the Downtown Commission’s Light Pole Banner Project

After graduating, Eso immediately threw himself into the creative freelancing lifestyle. His first big job was a rebrand and graphic design project with Broad Avenue resident, Collage Dance Collective. From there, his freelance career picked up momentum, eventually leading him to work with Memphis mega-movement, Choose901. Eso worked both as a graphic designer with Choose901 and as the host of several videos produced by the organization.

After working with them for about a year, Eso left Choose901 to return to full time freelancing (though he still does contract work with the organization and notes that his time at Choose901, “an organization that embodies everything he could love about a company,” helped him immensely in building his career and making a name for himself in the Memphis community).

Fast forward to 2015, five years into freelancing in Memphis, local artist, Kyle Taylor approached Eso about a project for the Downtown Memphis Commission. Kyle was the art director and lead designer for the Downtown Commission’s Light Pole Banner Project. The banners are part of the Commission’s 2015 rebrand.

When Kyle met with Eso to discuss collaborating on the banners, he noted that he wanted them to be a tribute to Memphis, with a focus on the city’s tight knit community. “He also wanted to focus on love and happiness through the musical lyrics of Al Green,” said Eso. As Eso notes on his site’s portfolio, “the concept was to use music phrases from the music city to reinforce and establish a sense of hope and community.” The result of this “truly collaborative effort” is something with a very musically-Memphis look and feel.

Main Street banners, a collaboration with Memphis artist, Kyle Taylor

Main Street banner project for the Downtown Commission, a collaboration with Memphis artist, Kyle Taylor

Eso Banner 1

“You be good to me. I’ll be good to you. We’ll be together. Walk away with victory.” – Al Green. Banner (featured as part of the Downtown Commission’s light pole banner project on Main Street in Downtown Memphis) by Kyle Taylor and Eso Tolson.

Light pole banners embellished with holiday sparkle. Photo by Mercedee McCurry.

A Creative Direction

After his time at Choose901 ended, Eso worked to master letter-form. From his typography self-study, came a signature letter-form that’s uniquely his own.

Eso on his signature letter-form: “I wanted something organic – not too pretty or whimsical. This particular style of type is a mix of hand-letter, graffiti, and calligraphy. There’s a blend of brush strokes. The result, I hope, is something urban, without being crass or unapproachable.”

You can see Eso’s one of a kind letter form on the Downtown Commission’s Light Pole Banners (his collaboration with artist, Kyle Taylor) and on his Embrace Your Inner Memphis branded products. To learn more about Embrace Your Innner, check out the movement’s Facebook page.

So, what’s next for our own Musically Creative Designer, Eso Tolson? “I’m working to be Memphis’ go-to freelancing, entrepreneurial, creative, music maker,” said Eso. “I want to help people make brand ideas come to life through a mix of strategy work and creative collaboration. I’m working to be a freelancing creative director for the city of Memphis.”

To see Eso’s creative direction in action, check out his recent work with musician, Brennan Villines.

As you can see from the many links in this post, Eso’s consistently working to become a part of the fabric of Memphis; part of the “art, design, culture, and social aspects of this city,” he says.

Portfolio spread. Photo by Darius B. Williams

Portfolio spread. Photo by Darius B. Williams

Eso at Desk_Darius B. Williams

Eso at work. Photo by Darius B. Williams

We concluded our interview by asking Eso, a passionate and busy creative doing a lot of great things in and for our city, how he makes all this work. His advice to creatives just starting out:

“There’s a learning curve for freelancing creatives. Once you get clients, even one client, you’ve got to build trust, be professional and timely with your work, understand how you work – whether you need long deadlines or if you work better under pressure. You also have to continuously be a good steward of your work. Always be consistent. After you learn these things, that’s when the doors really start to open.”

Thanks again to Eso for taking the time to chat with us. We’re excited to see what’s next for this passionate, hardworking, creative spirit. To learn more about Eso and his work, visit his website:

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I'm a native Memphian, a University of Memphis alum, and a writer. I enjoy taking in the sights, sounds, and tastes our wonderful city has to offer. Pros: I'm bookish and fancy myself a good conversationalist. Con: I talk about cats and Crossfit more than most might appreciate.

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