Ever-sporting an infectious grin, wild silver hair and a lead pencil, Don Collins is as much of a die-hard social activist as he is an enthusiastic artist. One of the quirky Texan’s earliest creative memories centers around the gift of coloring books, Crayons and blank sheets of paper given to him by various family relatives. “All of the women folk were constantly saying, ‘He loves the colors, he loves bright’ – – and I did. I still do,” Collins relates with a laugh. Although he remembers attending every art class offered up through grade 6, Collins’ formal art training reached its peak in 1972 when a NASA employee-turned-art-teacher offered the 19-year old, then serving a year-long prison sentence, a series of one-hour art lessons. That seed of artistic expression would prove to lay dormant, however, over the next forty or so years because once released from prison, all of the sketches and other artistic pieces that Collins had created were thrown out; he didn’t pick up a pencil or paintbrush again until 2008 when a dramatic sensory experience at a local music concert breathed new life into Collins’ artistic endeavors. Now, almost two and half years later, the man with a perpetual twinkle in his eye is so passionate about art that it is almost impossible to stumble upon Collins without a sketch pad, pencil and color in hand at literally any time of day or night.
Collins best describes his art work as free-form liberationism, often incorporating his passion for social change with his view of the world around him. “Like impressionism or expressionism,” explains Collins, “my painting is all of the above, depending on the music I’m listening to and the mood I’m capturing and how I throw my paint. Life’s your canvas,” he continues. “Paint it!” The dedicated sketch artist most often finds his inspiration from forms around him, whether they be trees in the park — a representation of worship as the altars of a living God, notes Collins — circles of homeless men or even the goblet shapes during Sunday’s communion. Although proficient in a wide variety of artistic mediums, Collins gravitates towards watercolor, acryclic and soft pastels as well as towards charcoal, pen and ink, and lead.
Acting as the energetic mastermind behind NoStudio Studios, a holding space for homeless artists and itinerant souls with a bent towards creative self-expression, Collins’ personal viewpoint and encouragement to others it “to be true to yourself, be true to your heart, be true to your God, and,” he concludes with conviction, “you will create beautiful art your whole life.” It is no great surprise that this mantra serves as a source of inspiration for all who cross the artist’s path.
“Art is like writing,” states visual artist Robert Franklin. “A picture speaks a thousand words – millions, billions, trillions, gazillions of words, all represented in one teeny-tiny micro dot on a piece of paper.” Originally born in Victoria, Texas in 1954, Franklin has been an OTR or On the Road man for most of his life, although he has settled down in Houston for the present. Franklin has been a primarily self-taught artist since childhood, although he has studied with great success under various established artists at several different art schools, and his imaginative work is as intricate as it is colorful. Much of Franklin’s art is the result of an emotional outlet. “When I’m in a nice mood,” he explains, “I create pictures of beauty. When I’m in a nasty mood,” he continues with a mischevious look in his eye, “I draw monsters. Sometimes they’re goofy-looking; sometimes they aren’t.” Franklin’s favored mediums of pen, ink, marker and pencil alternately produce abstract combinations of squiggles and lines as well as fantastical portraits, surreal still-life works and stylized sketches. When asked, Franklin says that his work could best be described as erratic. As a result, it’s no wonder that the free-thinking artist greatly prizes the variety of personal interpretation allowed for in interactions with his work. “It’s my freedom,” Franklin concludes. “It’s a way of communicating on a different level.”
“My earliest memory of making art is being given a box of Crayons as well as some pencils and paper and being told to go play in the corner – and actually enjoying it,” confides the man with a faint Texan drawl whose callused fingers were once more familiar wielding a blow torch than the metal pencil now making the most frequent appearance in his hand. Almost 35 years later, animation artist John “Mouse” Smith is now rarely seen without his trademark army green bandana, wry smile, battered set of headphones, or electronic drawing pad on hand.
After an initial spark of interest in art as a child, Mouse continued to doodle throughout most of his early years of education until attending the Dallas Comic Book Convention in the ’80s. At that point in time, he shares, his perspective on and passion for making art was completely transformed. “I realized that animation was one of the ultimate art forms,” he says, “because you have the ability to breathe life into your character. You need to give an impression of so much more than simple pigment and lines. Animation takes [art] another step forward: it is no longer a static image. It moves, it has a voice — it’s alive.” Although the largely self-taught artist has had an extremely wide and varied range of job experience over the years that allowed him to pursue his artwork on the side, manual labor occupations that have included working at a movie theatre, a refinery, a landscaping company, a tree crew, a chemical processing plant, a fast food restaurant, and even a Renaissance Festival, a recent car accident served to propel him towards pursuing art as a more full-time vocation. “If you’re trying to pursue making art as a career,” he shares, “be damned sure that you want to turn your art into your job — if you can’t do both, if you can’t enjoy it and live off it, don’t even try. I love it,” he continues, “and I think that comes out through my work.” With an artistic background in multiple mediums such as sculpture, woodworking and paint, Mouse’s primary outlet has been in creating graphic pieces with an electronic pencil and drawing pad as well as an expertise with digitally-mastered editing and programming.
Much of Mouse’s artwork centers on a fascination with exploring and capturing the human form as well as with expressing the imaginative. Whether he’s creating brief, simple pencil sketches or intricate works of far-off galaxies that require hours of attention to fine details, Mouse carries the same amount of passion into whatever it is he’s creating at that moment. “I would best describe my art as thought-provoking, playful and,” Mouse paused and then laughingly concludes, “sensual.”
Donald Collins raised $425 to pay Mission Year Argentina’s bills for one month through the sale of his painting Baptism of America.