Widely collected and acclaimed surf artist & surfboard painting pioneer Drew Brophy talks about his career in art…
Drew, tell us about your background, where are you from, where do you reside now, where do you work from?
DB: I'm originally from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I grew up surfing in a place with few surfers. Instead of avoiding crowds we looked for each other for company! Surfing in Myrtle Beach, like other places on the East Coast, I felt as if I were part of a select group of people that knew a secret that other people didn't get - surfing. What a simple, great thing. After high school I moved to the North Shore of Hawaii where I feel every surfer should go and experience the scale and extremes of surfing. Three years after that, I came to San Clemente, California for a summer to work and discovered it was a great place to live and establish my career, it was a lot easier to make money here than Hawaii. I'm still living and working in San Clemente twelve years later!
You set out to be a professional surfer, tell us a bit about that…
DB: When I was a kid I was one of the best surfers in South Carolina, and I had dreams to be a pro-surfer like anybody else. I was surfing the same contests with Taylor Knox and Shane Beshan, Donovan Frankenreiter, all the guys from that era. But being from South Carolina was a barrier - it was so much effort for me to be in touch with what was going on and to actually get to the contests, earn the money, get on the plane, that by the time I got to where the contest was, I was so worried about where I would sleep that night that focusing on competing was second. I didn't succeed in the contests! After failing to be a competitor on the amateur level, I decided my goal would be to make it to Hawaii and surf waves of that level.
…And how did you come to be an artist?
DB: Other than surfing and playing the guitar, I was good at painting. Surfing failed, I played in a lot of bands and it wasn't for me, so I was left with art!
As an artist, where do you draw inspiration from?
DB: The environment, the sun, the waves, life, mainly surfing.
I've seen your work described in many ways, and always passionately, whether it be from an inspired artist or a feature about your work. SGMag.com describe your work as - "Seeing his paintings is like seeing his dreams"… How would you describe your art?
DB: I would describe my art like this: I dream of surfing perfect, gnarly waves. I dream of idyllic places, a simple life, and in my dark moods I dream about how in their absence it's a curse. I guess as I get older and learn to understand life better, I'll one day learn how to paint well, then maybe I'll paint something really meaningful!
"A prolific artist, Drew completes about 100 new art pieces a year" - That's quite something, I felt very unproductive reading that! …How do you find the time to create such a body of work, with such impressive and original results?
DB: In the last 3 weeks, I did 25 complete ink drawings, 9 commercial paintings, 3 fine art paintings, 3 abstract paintings (one is 4' x 8'). You must understand that I live and breathe imagination, art. This is my job, this is all I do other than surf and play guitar. This huge output is an example of a painting schedule that I put myself on for a time period. Then I'll go into a business schedule where I don't create anything for a few weeks, and then the cycle starts again. It's necessary for me to block the two out (business vs. painting) because they don't mix.
You are known as the artist who pioneered the art of painting surfboards. How did that first come about…?
DB: I started painting my own surfboards as a kid. I had a neighbour named Dick Rosen who went to Japan and brought me back a set of POSCA paint pens. Those pens changed my life. I was no longer constrained to sponge painting and air brushing. The first thing I painted with these pens was a dragon. Everyone lit up over it. From there, I painted friends' boards and explored the possibilities of what I could do on a larger scale. So I approached the local surfboard shapers and retailers asking if I could paint boards like this. They were nervous about this new technique and weren't interested. Then I went to Hawaii, and I was confident companies like Local Motion, T&C, and others would be receptive to my painting their boards with these techniques. But they weren't either! At that time in Hawaii most of my paint pen boards were for the underground surfers who charged the waves every day - the real local surfers.
In the spring of 96' I moved to California and my goal was to paint surfboards at Stewart as they did the most volume at the time. He hired me, but only wanted me to airbrush. Then I approached other successful shapers, like Spider Surfboards - and they didn't get it either. There was only one other person I knew of that painted surfboards like I did - Matt Biolos of Lost. So I approached Matt and said "you are better at shaping and I'm better at painting - let me paint your boards", it was an instant success. Finally someone got it! We went all over the world shaping & painting loads of surfboards. That was about ten years ago, and it changed the way surfboards are painted forever.
I've painted thousands of surfboards since then, and my boards are collected all over the world. I get e-mails every day from artists worldwide wanting to know about my painting techniques, how to get a job doing this, how I blend my colours, and so on. The greatest thing is, many artists now paint surfboards the way I always envisioned. Fifteen years ago this profession didn't even exist!
Is it true that you have a number of high profile collectors of your surfboards and paintings, both in and out of the surf industry…?
DB: Yes, it's true. Some of the collectors of my paintings on surfboards include the Hard Rock Casino, Eddie Vedder, Vince Neil, Uncle Cracker, and others. I limit my full-board paintings to 12 a year now, which helps keep up the value and make it special for the collectors.
You are an ocean activist/conservationist. An admirable quality in a surfer nowadays, tell us more about this…
DB: I've been fortunate to travel all over the world and it's clear that the ocean and environment needs our help. Groups like Surfrider Foundation know the issues and need all our support. I'd do anything for them. Some people have money, some have time, some have fame, I have art. It's important to me to be able to participate.
Tell us about Son of the Sea…
DB: Son of the Sea is a company my wife Maria and I started in 2002. It is an agency that represents artists in the surf industry and beyond. We focus our efforts on licensing, which Maria handles. She interacts with our clients and the artists we work with. There is a great need for artists to have someone handle their deals and look out for their best interests. She's an expert on that. We currently represent several artists on a full time basis and we help out many more on a need by need basis. We mentor a lot of artists too, helping them with their careers and difficult decisions.
Your website takes full advantage of modern Internet technologies, from video tutorials, to QuickTime 360° camera angles of your workshop, to Podcasts, MP3's and even RSS feeds… You're truly exploring every avenue there is for communicating your art to your fans… Tell us more about these innovations of yours…
DB: Our website has evolved so much over the years. In 1998, a friend of mine pressured me to get a website, so I did. Since then, it's been the best decision I ever made. It allowed me to be an entity all my own without help from the surf industry or anyone else. My friend Charlie took over my website a few years ago and added his talent and wit, making it fun and interactive, always on the cutting edge. Yeah, I feel that demonstrating and communicating with artists is the best way to show people how this is done. It's not often you find yourself in front of people wanting to know information or advice from you. It feels good to be able to pass the information on. I wish I'd had someone to turn to for answers!
And finally, what does the future hold for Drew Brophy and Son of the Sea?
DB: Some exciting new things going on: Seven Films is putting together a 'Paint your Board with Drew Brophy' video, which will be released in Spring 2008. I have a sunscreen line coming out in the spring. I'm working with Sesame Street on a limited edition clothing line for children. Maria just sealed a deal where my art will be on merchandise at The Hard Rock Restaurants - their guitar and rock & roll items. Overall, my goals are to continue living the dream of surfing, painting, sharing a life with my wife and son, helping my fellow artists and having a positive impact upon our art community. The cool thing about being an artist, you never retire, you just get better and better!
Thanks again Drew for this insight into your work.