Swiger Studio turns trash to treasure, uplifting youth along the way

Posted 6/3/24

JD Swiger, a Gulf Shores native who operates Swiger Studio alongside his brother Michael, didn't quite channel his artistic influence from the very beginning. Now, though, the business has grown to a …

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Swiger Studio turns trash to treasure, uplifting youth along the way


JD Swiger, a Gulf Shores native who operates Swiger Studio alongside his brother Michael, didn't quite channel his artistic influence from the very beginning. Now, though, the business has grown to a point that beautifully allows local and youthful expression to rise.

Swiger began his journey heat pressing t-shirts from a dorm room at Huntingdon College, where he graduated with a digital arts degree in 2014, granting him the opportunity not only to develop a valuable side hustle at the time, but also something that caused his artistic vision to blossom through both experimentation and failure. Following a year in Australia bartending on a work visa at Hard Rock Cafe, Swiger returned to the Gulf Coast in 2016 with no money and little to validate the degree he had earned, leading him to explore commercial videography work in the area that would form a graphic design niche.

Ultimately, Swiger reunited with his brother in 2017 and rebranded to Swiger Studio — now at 1538 Gulf Shores Pkwy Unit 6 — in what would quickly diversify his impact and reach. By 2019, after creating for years admittedly without a real thematic structure deeper than face value, Swiger made a promise to himself that he would be known as more than just a painter. This meant finding a way to bring ideas with meaning to life, where the message was just as powerful as the artwork.

"Every artist is so vulnerable," Swiger said. "You're putting your heart and soul into a piece of artwork, only crossing your fingers in hopes that it's accepted. It takes a lot of failing to get to a point of success. To be able to do this in my hometown is a blessing to me. I traveled recently, and I was so excited to get back to Gulf Shores. I feel like I can make an impact here. I have a lot of love for this place, and I always have. Even when I was younger I tried not to take it for granted."

Swiger's epiphany came in a unique form — turning trash to treasure.

The inspiration surfaced from personal experience, watching cigarette butts fall to the sand and beach goers failing to dispose of their waste, leaving it all to float through what many find as South Alabama's most attractive feature. This sat with Swiger in a personal way, sparking a realization of what would passionately tie him to his roots while moving others in the same breath.

"It made me want to put a sign in their face," Swiger joked.

The now 32-year-old visionary started gathering unbelievable amounts of recycled plastic and trash, not quite knowing how he could present it, yet centering his aesthetic on generating much-needed awareness around the issue of constant littering throughout the island community. Over the years, with every piece incorporating objects found across the Gulf Coast, Swiger expanded upon his experimentation and developed what has now garnered region-wide recognition and become an eye-opening experience for locals and tourists alike who visit his studio, through captivating pieces from a knight covered in Swisher Sweet wrappers to a life-sized plastic pelican on display in his studio, among others.


Recently, Swiger has also dove head first into uplifting the next generation of creators.

Alyssa Oubre, like Swiger a Gulf Shores High School graduate, spent the majority of the 2023-24 academic year working as an intern with Swiger Studio, using her skills as a certified Part 107 Commercial Drone Pilot and upstarting a multimedia business in Gulf Shores dubbed Grace's Coastal Lens. The 17-year-old was also a key contributor to the Gulf Shores student-built airplane and First Flight project unveiled earlier this year.

"One of the most important things an artist can do right now is show that it's a viable career for anyone that has passion in any type of creative field," Swiger said. "Showing kids that multiple income streams through art is possible — that's what we tried to do with Alyssa. Something I'm more passionate about than anything else honestly is inspiring youth to realize that art and creative careers are a real option for anyone coming through that field."

Swiger labeled Oubre a "rare exception" to the typical youth you might encounter these days, driving her success both within the studio and outside the internship. Oubre came aboard with a ready-made game plan, seeking guidance on logo design, business licensing, how to file taxes, what to charge clients and all of the questions necessary to build a business foundation, which Swiger said helped the internship progress seamlessly.

"She's already got a few clients that I would've never thought of," Swiger added. "It's so worth it to see her make money and start a business. At the end of the day, I know what we've done with Alyssa and the internship is going to come back to us in some form. We can only hope that she grows into a multi-million dollar company. That's our goal. That's what we see for her. I wasn't blind to that either. There was always a thought like, 'she might take some clients,' but to help a 17-year-old start a business and get off her feet, I don't see that as a threat. I didn't have that mentor. No one to say, 'you can make money through art.' It's always scary until someone shows you it's not that bad."

Oubre said she will soon be starting a paid internship with Thompson Engineering, thanking Swiger for the vote of confidence that positioned her to take this next step.

"I never would have thought someone as young as (Swiger) would be so involved in helping the younger generation learn more," Oubre said. "Not many people take the time to do that. I've worked with people in the past that stress me out just standing next to them, but he is always relaxed and cares a lot about anyone he's around. He's taught me a lot as well. He gained no benefit from taking the time to help me. He took me under his wing for free, and I couldn't have asked for a better mentor to work with."

More than just a drone pilot turning a childhood passion into a viable revenue stream, Oubre has become a local blueprint for the dedication it takes youth to establish an entrepreneurial path to success — something she hopes others will follow.

"I think everyone should try to start a business at some point," Oubre urged. "You don't need a lot of money to start something. It gives you a sense of responsibility because no one is going to push you to work that hard and get your business off the ground. That's you. It makes you build yourself up. You can get help from other people, but the only person to make it happen will be yourself."