Finding a Porpoise in Life (Part 2)
Throughout my career I’ve had to prove myself to people who have given me opportunities. I started my art career painting surfboards for Eric and Melanie Swanson. They were taking a chance on an unproven kid, and it was a steep learning curve for me. The first surfboard I designed took me eight hours from start to finish - I didn’t understand the complexity of drawing a design and cutting it out with a razor. I took so much time to draw a really intricate design on the board and then found out the hard way that the cutting took about 20 times longer than the drawing. As the boards became more popular, I started working more and more – sometimes all through the night. It was great to be a working artist but it was only paying me $5-10 an hour.
One customer who would stop by the surf shop every so often was a friend of my bosses. His name was Buddy Brown and he worked for Morning Star Screen Print and New Wave Designs in Vero Beach. He’d seen my art and asked me if I’d ever done any screen printing or created any art on a computer. I hadn’t, but I told him I’d be willing to learn. Buddy put a lot of trust in me - he hired me knowing that I’d still have a long way to go. I learned as much as I could about graphic design and using Photoshop – This would have been about 25 years ago so at the time it was Photoshop 3.
Working for Morning Star was a great experience – it seemed like they worked with every company in the area, screen printing, creating logo and t-shirt designs. When I started at Morning Star, they took up a quarter of the building they were in and had a job board of 5 to 10 jobs. A few years later they had taken over the whole building and the job board had 30 to 40 jobs at any one time. At this point I was five years into my career and between the screen printing and the surfboard design, I was able to make a decent living from being an artist.
Two customers at Morning Star – Steve McCulloch and Marilyn Mazzoil – initially came in for some t-shirt designs, but they became regular customers and friends of mine. They both worked for the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. One time they came to see me, I was talking to Steve about surfing, and showed him a surfboard I was working on which had a dolphin design on it. Steve mentioned that the Oceanographic Institute was thinking about creating a Protect Wild Dolphins license plate for the state of Florida and asked me if I wanted to create the design for it. I saw this as a real opportunity and knew I had to dedicate a lot of time to it, so I asked Buddy for some time off, which he was kind enough to give me.
When I was thinking of what to draw for the plate, I couldn’t help but think back to when I was on the beach, trying to figure out how to make a living in art and then seeing the dolphin jump out of the water. That moment was my inspiration for the art you see on the license plate. I created a prototype and Steve and Marilyn were really happy with it. They started a long and arduous application process to get the plate made.
Wild times with Steve Diossy
Creating the design took me about a year and a half. Although it isn’t a complicated piece of artwork, it was more of a technical challenge. I even flew up to 3M in Minnesota to make sure they were able to produce the image exactly how I wanted it, getting the balance of the colors right. The Protect Wild Dolphins plate became available to buy in 1998 and quickly became the biggest-selling plate in Florida. The last I’d heard it had raised over $20 million for marine mammal research, although that was a few years ago so I’m sure it has raised even more by now. Although I didn’t get paid for the license plate, I always say that doing it paid me in opportunities – it opened the door for me and gave me the chance to collaborate with Wyland and Guy Harvey on the Florida license plates they designed too.
You always need people to support you as an artist. I’ve been lucky that people gave me opportunities and I’ve always worked my hardest to repay their faith in me.