When you think of surf artists, Drew Brophy should be one of the artists to immediately pop in your mind. The guy went from living, surfing and painting his own boards in South Carolina to living in Hawaii and airbrushing boards to painting thousands and thousands of boards for Lost Enterprises. He’s been one of my favorite artists since I was a grom and if you’ve been surfing for any period of time, chances are you’ve seen some of his incredible work. Drew doesn’t work directly in the surf industry anymore but he’s still keeping busy and creating art. When not out surfing or hanging with his fam, he and his wife run an art agency called Son of the Sea and he has his own tv show in Southern California. Drew is a living legend in the surf community and I was very fortunate to have the chance to ask him some questions, which he was kind enough to answer.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Been a professional artist my entire life. Never went to college – jumped right into the business of painting for a living. It was a hard road at first, but now I think I have it figured out…
How did you get into art?
It’s the only thing I was good at. That and surfing.
Was it your plan to be an artist working in the surf industry?
I just wanted to surf more, and I was good at painting surfboards. So I did work for the local surf shops in South Carolina, and that led me into painting surfboards and licensing my art for surf companies.
These days I don’t do much work in the surf industry. Most of my customers are in other industries. The Surf Industry has become a private club, and I’ve never been one to join clubs. I just like to surf.
Where does the inspiration for your work come from?
Surfing, nature and the waves. Things you see while you’re surfing.
I feel that if it weren’t for you painting surfboards the whole board art game would be totally different today. How did you get into painting boards?
I was painting my own boards in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina at a young age. I traveled a lot for surf competitions and began to get noticed more for the art on my boards, than my surfing!
Then I got a job airbrushing at Pro Glass on the North Shore of Hawaii. They pretty much made all the boards for traveling shapers, like Rusty, Al Merrick, Diffendorfer, everybody you could think of. I painted boards for all the best surfers at that time. It was great! Plus, I got to surf Pipeline.
But what I really wanted to do was paint the boards with Paint Pens, but no company would let me. It was so different from what surfboards looked like at that time, they were all scared to try something new.
I begged every company in Hawaii to let me do it. Nobody got it.
I moved to California looking to find a surfboard company that would let me do it. All the companies in California were scared to try something new, too. All they wanted me to do was airbrush flames and stripes.
So I got a job airbrushing boards at Ron House’s Factory, Surf Glas, and painted all the Stewart boards. The factory ran 24-hours a day and they probably made more boards than anybody at that time. It was 1996.
After I finished doing my work at Stewart, I would ride my bike home and every day I’d pass Matt Biolos shaping bay. He painted funny little creatures on the boards. He was the only guy doing anything cool on surfboards at the time.
He’s the first guy ever to give me a chance to do what I do best. Lost let me paint anything I wanted. It exploded. Next thing I knew, I was painting surfboards all over the world. In a short number of years I painted literally thousands of surfboards.
I made sure my signature was on every board I painted. And that’s when it all changed.
Are there any pieces of your work that mean so much to you that you’ll never sell or give away?
Not really. My next one’s always going to be the best.
You and your wife started Son of the Sea, can you tell me what that’s all about?
It’s a corporation that we formed to represent my work. Son of the Sea is the master licensor of my copyrights and trademarks. It’s basically an agency. The name came from the meaning of our son Dylan’s name; Dylan means Son of the Sea in Welsh.
You’ve embraced the use of sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and have a pretty legit website and blog. What’s your take on all that and has it helped you as an artist in any way?
The technology is a great business tool. Before we had cell phones and emails, I used to have to Fed Ex drawings to clients. Or send them by fax. Then the internet came around and it’s just another tool. Quite simply, the more people that know what you’re doing, the more people will appreciate it.
We had a website before most people even knew what the internet was. I can remember my friend Joe Parsons talked me into letting him set up a website for me. At the time, I didn’t realize how important it was.
But now, you can’t do business without it.
A lot of artists do their best to keep their techniques and creative processes to themselves. You’re almost the exact opposite with how you do expos and have an entire YouTube channel showcasing how you create art. I think it’s great, but why the different mindset from most?
It’s a cool gift to be able to give to somebody. It didn’t take long for people to want to paint their own surfboards the way I was doing it. It was exciting to think that after all this time of trying to do something different, that so many people now responded to it and want to try it themselves. What an awesome gift to give.
If giving my secrets away will help other artists get to where they’re going, that’s great. My ideas are what separate me from others, and no one can duplicate that.
There are a lot of artists out there who copy my style. Hopefully they will evolve their style into their own.
Just like I was influenced by Rick Griffin and Bill Odgen; you can see their influence in my art, but I have my own distinct style.
Can you give us a quick rundown of your creative process and how you get started on a new piece?
My surf paintings are usually inspired by somewhere I’ve been. They start out as simple thumbnail sketches that are more about composition than detail. When I find one I like, I know it’s going to be a good painting.
When I’m painting I listen to music and just power through it until it’s finished. I do everything pretty loose; I don’t agonize over it being perfect. I’m not creating masterpieces, I’m creating art to make people smile or make them think.
What about being an artist do you enjoy most?
Being an artist is less about painting pretty pictures and more about thinking differently. I enjoy when somebody sees something that I created, and it causes an emotion in them, or makes them stoked to be a surfer.
What’s next for you?
There are still a lot of places that I haven’t surfed yet…
Who is your favorite surfer?
The guy having the most fun. Cause that’s who I want to be.
Favorite surf movie?
I don’t watch many surf movies; I’d rather go surf places and experience it for myself.
Thanks so much Drew for taking the time to answer my questions! Anything else you want to tell the SURFBANG readers?
I’m on a tv show called The Paint Shop. It shows what life is like as a surf artist and what’s happening in the studio. You can watch full episodes online. Go to thepaintshop.tv. I hope you all like it.
I’d like to send a huge thank you to Drew and his wife Maria for taking the time out of their busy schedule to answer my questions! When I said Drew was all over the internet, I wasn’t kidding. Below are a bunch of links where you can follow all the stuff Drew and Maria have going on.
|The Paint Shop
|Son of the Sea, Inc