Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

Is there a difference between the artistic and the commercial? There doesn't have to be, at least for Zac Calbert.

The Tuolumne County resident makes his living as a graphic artist creating images and prints for clothing, posters and other items. They're pieces of art, but they're also products for purchase.

"Everyone says they love art, but no one wants to pay for it," said Calbert, 28, who lives near Twain Harte. "If I can make a piece of art and put it on a product, then great."

At the same time, Calbert is working to establish a place for young, creative artists to show and see work in town. He and a handful of other artists recently opened a gallery to host exhibits with unique themes that might otherwise not come to Sonora.

Calbert has been working in graphic art since graduating from California State University, Long Beach, about six years ago. For most of that time, he's been working in

Tuolumne County with local clients on product design, website and marketing.

He specializes in a number of mediums, including screen printing for clothing, woodcuts, linocuts and posters. In an area where much of the art is focused on the Central Sierra's natural, rural beauty, Calbert's favorite subject matter is often unconventional - video games, comic books or mythical creatures.

He's even made art out of bowling pins, some of which were recently displayed at an exhibit in the bowling alley at Black Oak Casino.

Born and raised in Sonora, he graduated from high school in 2002 before heading to Long Beach. Though he was athletic - playing soccer and rugby, wrestling and skiing over the years - he showed an artistic streak as well.

Calbert said at one point near the end of high school, he looked through a lot of his school work and noticed a theme.

"The only thing I had on my work that was consistent was doodling," he said.

Graphic art was a logical area of study for him, as it was a "marketable" form of art, he said. Though artistic, Calbert said he was sometimes turned off by the affectations of peers who identify as artists.

"I used to hate the term 'artist' growing up," he said.

The field also offers a chance to blend old media with new. Much of the work in graphic design is created digitally using a computer. And yet he uses more tactile tools like screen prints and woodcuts to transfer those images.

"It's nice to be able to translate that in a physical medium," Calbert said. "I can create perfect stuff on a computer all day. That's not as interesting to me."

After graduating from college, he spent a short stretch in Colorado before returning to Sonora. While doing some freelance design work early on, he also did some work at Columbia State Park as a blacksmith.

Calbert said he's thought about relocating to a larger market - San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York - where some have suggested he'd have more opportunities.

He agrees there are more places in those markets that show and accept his kind of work. But between the Internet, and what he said is a growing group of young artists in the Mother Lode, Calbert said he's opting to stay put.

"In the end, I just realized this is the type of environment I can flourish in," he said. "If I can't make a dent here, what's the point of going somewhere bigger? If I can carve out a niche here, I can do things my own way."

He's also working to keep that group growing. He's been involved in a number of local art shows, and now he's helping host some of them with a local collective called the Greater Good.

They've recently opened a gallery at 1 E. Linoberg St., off South Washington Street in downtown Sonora. Calbert shows and sells some of his work, but the space is also used to display work by both local and out-of-town artists.

They recently wrapped up a video game themed show, which included a variety of pieces like a Zelda propaganda poster, Super Mario quilt and an altered pinball machine. Next up, the Greater Good will host a horror and science fiction inspired art show just in time for the month of October - and Halloween.

The hope, he said, is to be a place where people - especially young people - have a place to experience art and music they might otherwise have to travel out of town to see.

"Growing up here can be a very sheltered existence," Calbert said. "Hopefully, we can be a little bit of a stepping stone."