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Finding My Work and Myself

02 November 2018 Written by  By Pat Businger
Published in November 2018 Articles

A Local Artist Describes the Motivations that Led Him from One Media to Another

I was a tattoo artist, and am now a poster artist, sign painter, and muralist. I’m completely self-taught and, for example, learned to do murals by decorating the walls of our house. My first paying mural job covered the entire 12 x 28 foot wall at Brandon Johnson’s GolfBallin golf supply store. He told me about the project, and I told him that I would do it. “Can you actually do something this big?” he asked. I had never tried to do anything that large, so I didn’t know that I couldn’t. Therefore, I confidently answered, “Of course!” (I was sure that I could!) !e mural, which turned ou  fine, shows three holes from the course at Diablo View Country Club. It has turned out to be a work in progress because Brandon keeps asking me to add more images. I did a mural at First Generation Farmers, and painted a sprawling WELCOME TO THE FARMLY sign while a bunch of chickens were running around at my feet. My next First Generation project will be painting a chicken coop on a large front door. My custom signs, posters, shirts, and mural business is going well. Social media is even bringing me projects from customers who are out of state.


Brentwood has a reputation as a family town and especially as a good place to raise kids. Brentwood was certainly a good place for our parents to raise three siblings and me. !e four of us turned out to be artistic in various ways. My older sister Theresa is a competitive Irish step-dancer. My older brother Steven has always been into drums and guitars. Joseph, the youngest, is head chef at Lumpy’s Diner. Even as a child I could pick up a pencil and draw something cool whenever inspired to do so. However, that seldom happened. I was a late bloomer and an adult before finally finding art through needles and brushes.

Not only did Mrs. Collins have no hard feelings, but after failing her second course in my junior year, she added a note: “It was a pleasure to have Patrick in the class.”

My problem with art was my rebellious attitude. In high school art classes I wouldn’t recognize that there were lines, let alone show any willingness to stay between them. For example, if our teacher, Mrs. Collins, assigned us to paint a watercolor of a bowl of fruit, my buddy Cody Wilson and I would draw the bowl but then fill it with images that existed only in our imagination. Mrs. Collins was never angry at our refusal to follow her directions; she simply gave us failing grades. I flunked both art classes I took with her.

Not only did Mrs. Collins have no hard feelings, but after failing her second course in my junior year, she added a note: “It was a pleasure to have Patrick in the class.” Not only that, but the next year she invited Cody and me to become her assistants. We did things like set up little art baskets and performed other simple tasks. It was a pretty comfortable gig for a couple goofballs like us, because Cody and I might take the whole period to run a simple errand. Sometimes we would get back to class just before the final bell, and Mrs. Collins would ask, “What took you so long?” We never said much in reply because she knew the answer before she asked the question. On our final day as her assistants, Cody and I completely ignored the task list Mrs. Collins gave us and spent the whole period hanging a little swing from the branches of a tree by the art wing for kids to enjoy.

The great thing that happened to me that senior year was becoming friends with Sean Shackelford. We had a few classes together and were teammates on a couple sports teams. I admired the IRISH PRIDE tattoo Sean had across the back of his calves. “I’m Irish,” I told him. “We might be relatives. Let’s be friends, at least.” 

A couple months later I attended a homecoming party at Sean’s house and met his brother Carl, who was the artist who had tattooed the backs of his brother’s calves. I learned that Carl was self-taught and running a tattoo business out of his house. I subsequently watched as he did a tattoo for one of his loyal clients. I was impressed with how good the tattoo looked but also at how easy it seemed. “I could do that,” I thought. For the first time in my life, I had found an art-style that actually challenged me.

Following graduation in 2012, Carl took me under his wing and I began learning from him by watching him tattoo clients. I especially closely observed the first of what would become a set of tattoos on my arm.

My initial attempt with the medium was tattooing ROMULO on the arm of my cousin Johnny. Romulo was our great-grandpa’s first name and the middle name both of us shared. It was pretty bad, so following a year of training and practice, I went back and cleaned it up.

The first personal tattoo I created on my own body was a practice effort. I tattooed the word MOM on my thigh and framed it with a heart, ribbon, and three shamrocks representing Mom’s other three children. I showed it to her, thinking she would be pleased at the honor. But when she saw the tattoo on her 17-year-old son, she looked at me and said, “!at thing’s on there for life, you know.” She never brought the subject up again for the next two days, but on the third day she confronted me with the fact that I had reached a fork in the road. She said she would back me up if I chose tattoo artist as a career but that it was a serious matter. !at was a sobering discussion. I realized that if I was actually going to do this, I had better back myself up, so I began to plan my tattoo artist career, which I imagined would end up with a couple shops.

My girlfriend Cady let me tattoo an owl on her ribs and later a rose on her foot. She complained loudly about that rose, saying, “!at’s the most excruciating pain ever!” I accused her of being a crybaby, but then began to tattoo a matching rose on my own foot and discovered that the pain was so terrible I could never bring myself to complete the design. So now valiant Cady has a rose on her foot leaving me, the wimp, with only the outline of a rose on mine.

My new career was moving forward nicely until two years ago, when I got into a foolish battle with my brother Joe. I punched him in the face, but Joe has a head like a cinder block. I failed to hurt him but broke my right wrist so badly that the surgeon had to insert a titanium plate. He then fitted me with a cast that immobilized my wrist and fingers. My tattoo business was on hold for four months. However, paint brushes do not require the fine movement of a tattoo needle so, following two weeks of inaction, I began teaching myself to paint with oils, using the “one-shot” enamels that are favored by sign painters. the cast wouldn’t allow me to grip anything normally, so I learned to grasp the brush between my thumb and middle finger and then made brush  strokes by moving my right arm with my left hand.

At the beginning I was simply experimenting to learn the extent of my abilities and limitations. However, six weeks after breaking my wrist, I was creating artwork good enough to hang on the walls of my family’s home. Kayla Byrne recognized my emerging abilities and commissioned me to create a few signs for her home. I hand-painted signs with gold leafing, following the style and colors Kayla requested. I was off and running with my new career.

My neighbor, Jen Moniz, came to my studio one day carrying a fancy sign that had the words You & Me. She requested that I make two for her so she could hang one in her house and give the second one to her friend. I posted the results on Instagram, and Kayla asked that I do a You & Me in a different style for her. Requests began to come in from other people. I also began to design custom shirts, especially for a Brentwood-based basketball/life training organization called “Chosen Training.” One day I told my brother, “Your face changed my future.”

Social media began to spread the word. Cady, who by then was my wife, became a helpful partner in the business. At the beginning she would simply take the orders, come into the studio where I was working, and post them on my to-do board. Orders began to pile up. Sometimes Cady would post one order and then 15 minutes later come back in laughing with another order. It became difficult to manage the work, so we created an Excel spreadsheet on my laptop and began structuring the workflow. Word of mouth was our first advertising method but when Cady began pushing the business on social media, orders really took off — some of them from out of state. It turned into a real business. My wife is keeping this on the rails.

I’m anticipating some good things happening in the future. We’re planning to have a brick and mortar location. We also plan to invest in the community and are hoping to sponsor art workshops through the schools. I’m talking with the city about doing a mural at City Hall. I’m especially excited about conversations I’m having with the owners of a local winery about wrapping a mural around two enormous water tanks.

The tanks are 28 feet tall, which will probably require working from a boom lift. I’ve never done such a huge project before, so I don’t know that I can’t. (I’m actually sure that I can!)

Photos by Casey Quist

Read 1618 times Last modified on Friday, 02 November 2018 07:16
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